Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Schooling in Sanskrit

 Feb 9: No desks and benches or arm chairs. No fancy uniforms with ties. And definitely no extra classes on languages like French and German. This school in Kathmandu still follows the traditional teaching method with Sanskrit as the language of instruction.

Spread over 31 ropanies of land in Gaushala is one of Nepal´s premier Sanskrit-medium schools, Ved Vidyashram. Established in 1974 (2031 BS), this school imparts education free of charge.
Students sit on mats for classes, speak fluent Nepali, wear daura surwal, address their teachers as “gurus” and fluently recite Sanskrit verses.

For 12-year-old Sandesh Pyakurel, a fourth grade student, it´s his first year at Ved Vidyashram. The Birgunj native said he came to study because his parents wanted him to learn Sanskrit. And though the school is different, Pyakurel said he is happy to be studying Sanskrit -- one of the ancient languages in the world.

While the fourth graders walk to their class, Sushant Poudyal of Sarlahi, said, “It´s a fun language,” adding, “This is an ancient language and we should be able to preserve it.”

It´s from the fourth grade that Ved Vidyashram starts admitting new students. Currently, 200 students from across the country are on its rolls. Every year some 50 students are admitted from among 200 applicants, said Keshav Prasad Adhikari, the school´s principal. Students are made to undergo a rigorous written and verbal exam to get enrolled.

“We normally do not admit students above fourth grades as it is difficult for them to start from the scratch,” Adhikari said. In the fourth grade classroom, students seated cross legged with their hands neatly placed on their knees chant Sanskrit verses in complete harmony, without referring to any book.”

“It´s called Rudri,” said Pyakurel. He said the forth grade students are made to memorize altogether 63 mantras relating to life and death.

“I´ve already memorized four chapters,” he happily said.

While the rest of the students their age are studying to become doctors and engineers and are busy spending time on social networking sites, students at Ved Vidyashram are proud to be studying Sanskrit.

An assertive fourth-grader Poudyal said, “If everybody studies English, who will do this? Someone needs to study Sanskrit. The country would always need priests, and we´re being groomed for the job,” adding, “Actually, there is a shortage of priests now.”

But for Hari Kant Mishra from Sarlahi, who will graduate from the school this year, the decision to study Sanskrit wasn´t his own. He said his siblings are studying to become doctors, engineers and chartered accountants. “My parents wanted someone to join this school,” the 16-year-old said.

He, however, said he enjoys studying Sanskrit now. “There is a demand for people with knowledge of Sanskrit language,” he said.

At Ved Vidyashram, however, students are not only trained in Sanskrit.

Principal Adhikari said that the school follows government-set curriculum, which comprises Nepali, social studies and math along with five other courses in Sanskrit -- Sanskrit grammar, Sanskrit literature, Sanskrit karma kanda, Ved and Jyotish (astrology).

After the tenth grade, a majority of students graduating from Ved Vidyashram pursue higher studies at Balmiki Campus -- a Sanskrit-medium college affiliated to Nepal Sanskrit University -- or campuses in India, while others practice karma kanda, the duties of a priest in Hinduism.

“Teaching is a good option,” Adhikari said. “But there are a lot of other prospects.”

Prakash Poudel, student from Taplejung, said, “Iam planning to become a priest in the Nepal Army. And then if I want to be an Acharya or something, I want to study further.”