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She’s been a maths teacher, a management consultant, a CEO, a yoga teacher. Today, she’s a writer and a Sanskrit student. Meet Shyamala Benakovic, an ANU student of Sanskrit and so much more…
Melbourne-based Shyamala has always believed in following her passion. And her passions are many. She studied mathematics and education at university, which led her to research and then to teaching in schools. Later, she moved to studying accountancy and joined one of the Big Five Accounting firms before going fulltime into management consulting. Shyamala worked as a management consultant for 10 years before she gave it up to be a stay-at-home mum. It was during this time that she delved deeper into the practice of yoga and mantra meditation, which she had learnt as a child during prayer sessions at home in Malaysia.
Shyamala’s interest in yoga and chanting led her to enrol in a two-year extensive yoga teacher training course with the Centre of Adult Education in Melbourne. She then taught yoga to adults and children from 2008 through to 2011, when she was appointed the CEO of Yoga Australia, the peak body for yoga in Australia. In 2019, she started studying Sanskrit at ANU. Prior to that, her knowledge of Sanskrit was related to yoga and chanting, and she was initially interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the yogic texts and the chants she had learned as a child. However, once she started learning Sanskrit, she became interested in it as a spoken language and its place in early Indian literature and poetry. I like the structure and the neat precision of the alphabets and words. She wrapped up her role as CEO of Yoga Australia in January 2020, and has since been working on Sanskrit studies along with yet another passion—writing.
Shyamala completed Sanskrit 2 in November 2020 and is now looking forward to continuing with Sanskrit 3 in 2021. In the meantime, she is also working on a few writing projects, namely short stories and memoir writing. Some of these will published later in 2021 in various Australia literary magazines. Her journey in the study of Sanskrit so far has been enriching for various reasons, according to Shyamala, but the three main driving forces have been a very knowledgeable faculty; the online delivery of the course that enables her to study from Melbourne; and the spoken component of the course, which makes it current and not a language solely linked to prayers and ancient scriptures alone.
“I am grateful to ANU and its Sanskrit language faculty for delivering this language and making it so accessible.”
The Little Red Book of Sanskrit Paradigms, compiled and written by Associate Professor McComas Taylor, is an indispensable tool for all students of Sanskrit.
Understanding this beautiful language and its influence on other Indo-European languages for Shyamala is paramount, and she has found reading Indian literature in Sanskrit to be a profound experience. What’s been so rewarding to grasp is the complexity of the Sanskrit language itself, with so many iterations of just a single word. Learning Sanskrit has helped her appreciate her Indian culture and its influences on the world and other languages. And of course, it is the language of yoga and relevant to all yoga teachers and practitioners who want to understand the science and practice of yoga and explain the philosophy related to the practice. It additionally works well with Shyamala’s writing projects by connecting her to her culture and heritage. Interestingly, Shyamala also believes that learning Sanskrit has improved her English-language skills by enabling her to learn how to think in different languages.
On her ever-evolving path of learning and opportunity, Shyamala intends to continue learning the language so she can read and write in Sanskrit fluently and sometime in the future, hopefully be in a position to teach the language to others like her.