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The Case For Sanskrit As National Language Of India

In my previous column, I had raised the possibility of adopting Sanskrit as the national language of India. But Hindi, along with English, has been our official language since independence. Therefore, before I move on to make my case for Sanskrit I will examine the status of Hindi and its qualifications as the official language and/or national language.

Hindi is a regional language

Based on massive historical evidence in the form of lakhs of books in Sanskrit written by authors spanning over several millennia and spanning the length and breadth of India and covering every imaginable branch of knowledge, one can say with confidence that at the pan-India level Sanskrit is mukhya (principal) and all other languages including Hindi are gouṇa (subordinate). What is mukhya can never become gouṇa, and what is gouṇa can never become mukhya. No power on Earth or Heaven can alter this fact. This is the essence of my argument that Hindi as official language is such a deeply flawed idea.

Firstly, lets us look at the number of Hindi speakers in the country, who incidentally, belong only to North-India. As per the 2001 census only 25% of population had declared Hindi as their native language. An additional 20% speak one of many dialects of Hindi. Even if we add these up and say that about 45% of India speaks ‘Hindi’, still, it is less than 50% which could have been an excuse for foisting a language on the entire nation. States in the west, east and south have no emotional connection to Hindi at all. Furthermore, these states have languages of much greater antiquity than Hindi and even regard Hindi as an inferior language.

Secondly, Hindi, like other regional languages, but unlike Sanskrit, has never been a medium of higher learning. This should be actually the most important criteria for a language to be elevated as a national or official language.

The third problem is the vast gulf between ‘official’ Hindi that is loyal to Sanskrit and the popular ‘Hindi’ on TV and in ‘Hindi’-movies that is completely overrun by Urdu. Though geographically speaking Urdu is an Indian language, it is rooted in Persian and thus disconnected with the greater Indian civilization that is firmly rooted in Sanskrit. This two-faced nature of Hindi is confusing and the Urduized ‘Hindi’, which is the public face of Hindi, is completely disconnected with the essence, heart and soul of Indian civilization.

Finally, even the use of ‘official’-Hindi is more of a window-dressing since it is not used in the most important tasks of the Government; for example, the actual making of the laws, i.e. putting a law into writing, is done in English. Only the original English text is considered official and authoritative and not the Hindi translation. Most of the official documents like international agreements etc. are also in English. This is the situation in spite of repeated efforts at pushing Hindi for almost seventy years by the Government. The Government has failed to do what it preaches.It should be clear to any rational person that Hindi as official language has failed. Therefore it is time we reconsidered Sanskrit which was anyway the choice of half of the Constituent Assembly of 1949 that voted on the choice of official language.

*On September 11 1949, the then Law Minister Dr. B.R.Ambedkar supported by Dy.Minister for External Affairs Dr. B.V.Keskar and Mr.Naziruddin Ahmed sponsored an amendment declaring that the official language of the Union shall be Sanskrit. The amendment had thirteen other signatories of whom eleven hailed from South-India including nine from Madras (now Chennai). When asked by a PTI correspondent ‘Why Sanskrit?’, Dr.Ambedkar’s short reply was ‘What is wrong with Sanskrit?’ Dr.Ambedkar also wanted the Executive Committee of All India Scheduled Caste Federation to pass a resolution supporting Sanskrit as official language, but he had to withdraw it due to opposition from the youth members of the Federation.

Why Sanskrit?

For several millennia, Sanskrit has been the sole medium of not only religion and ritual but also of philosophy & metaphysics, poetics, mathematics and the sciences, law, jurisprudence etc. Sanskrit has always been the common language of all literate persons pursuing studies in various traditional disciplines. To this day, in scores of gurukulams, and in several Sanskrit departments, the medium of instruction and the common language for everyday interaction is Sanskrit. 

The logical structure and power of expression of Sanskrit is well-known. Especially, Sanskrit is distinguished by the extraordinary vastness of its vocabulary. The size of Sanskrit vocabulary as testified by the dictionary project at Deccan College, Pune, is one crore or ten million. According to Merriam-Webster, the size of modern English vocabulary including scientific words is about one million. If Sanskrit lacks the words for modern science & technology it is because we have not bothered to learn and use Sanskrit.

There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind about ability of Sanskrit to cater to the needs of the modern scientific & technological age. As early as the 1940’s, the great Sanskrit scholar, linguist and nationalist Acharya Raghuvira single handedly compiled a dictionary which he called ‘A Greater English-Hindi dictionary’. In this dictionary he had coined one lakh fifty thousand Sanskrit words for more than thirty-two areas of Administration and Law and for scores of scientific disciplines. His visionary idea was that this dictionary could serve as a reference for all Indian languages thus facilitating use of Indian languages in all modern education. Unfortunately, this pioneering work was quickly forgotten as the states failed to appreciate its importance and the threat that English would eventually pose to regional languages.

Declare Sanskrit as National Language

In summary, the following unique qualities of Sanskrit make it the only choice as national language of India:

(a) Unlike other regional languages, it is an independent language, i.e. it has a built-in mechanism to generate new vocabulary based on a vast store of base-words and roots. This incomparable power of generating words for every human endeavor and aspiration is Sanskrit’s greatest strength.

(b) It has proven its ability to not only to be the medium, but due to its innate power, also a driving force in the pursuit of man’s worldly pursuits as well as his aspiration for highest spiritual knowledge and enlightenment.

(c) It is the only language that for several thousand years has been continuously link language for educated people from ALL parts of India.

(d) No state or region can claim Sanskrit as its own, but at the same time its vocabulary pervades ALL state/regional languages thus giving it a national identity. This simple fact seems to have been lost to those in the Constituent Assembly who voted in favor of Hindi.

Therefore, the position of Sanskrit as the national language and also the official language is unassailable. Fortunately, though English and Hindi were chosen as official languages for the conduct of official proceedings, the Constitution did not declare any language as the national language.

India currently does not have a recognized national language.

Therefore, Parliament should declare Sanskrit as national language and the Central Government should envisage a National Mission for Sanskrit Literacy. The status quo may be maintained – for now – with regards to English and Hindi as official languages.

An awakened and united India

But what could or should Sanskrit literacy achieve? Surely this cannot be about merely replacing one language with another. The advent of Sanskrit as a common voice will help unite all Indians by awakening them to their shared history. People will find out for themselves, as did Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, that India’s vast intellectual and spiritual heritage has nothing to do with caste, ethnicity or race and that it can be embraced by all of humanity. This will greatly help unify all Indians to overcome inimical internal and external forces. A stronger India will emerge that is confident in its own skin and its innate strengths.  It can chart its own future course as well as influence the larger humanity, based on its own high principles and values. The sleeping giant will finally awaken.

*Sourced from the book ‘Samskrit, The Voice of India’s Soul and Wisdom’, by NCERT (May 2001)

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(This article was published by IndiaFacts in 2015)

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