A Letter From Grandpa
By Niranjan Shah
My dear Nikita and Sanjna:
In the heart of London, a British school has made Sanskrit compulsory subject for its junior division because it helps students grasp math, science and other languages better. Warwick Jessup, head of Sanskrit department, says: “This is the most perfect and logical language in the world, the only one that is not named after the people who speak it. Indeed the word itself means perfected language.” Paul Moss, headmaster of the school, says: “The Devnagri script and spoken Sanskrit are two of the best ways for a child to overcome stiffness of fingers and the tongue. Today’s European languages do not use many parts of the tongue and mouth while speaking or many finger movements while writing, whereas Sanskrit helps immensely to develop cerebral dexterity through its phonetics.”
Leon Maclaren, who was trained as a barrister but was in essence a philosopher, founded the St. James independent schools in 1975. Education at the schools he established caters for the intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual needs of children, and the curriculum is wide-ranging, including science, mathematics, languages, music and fine art. And at its junior school, students must learn Sanskrit as a second language for six years. The school’s meals also are fully vegetarian.
Although it draws on some Indian traditions, the school is also roped in the Christian ethos. School supports the Christian tradition of the nation, but seeks to discover and teach the unifying principles common to all great faiths of the world. Maclaren was influenced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his technique of Transcen-dental Meditation. He also drew upon the teachings of the Shantananda Saraswati, the Shankarachrya of the North. As a result, many philosophy courses of the school began centering on Advaita Vedanta.
Maclaren also founded the school of Economic Science more than half a century ago. The school offers courses in philosophy and economics to adults.
American authority on civilization Dr. Will Durant wrote that Sanskrit is the mother of modern languages. San-skrit helps students in their overall cognitive development. Paul Moss, says: “Sanskrit is the mother of most Indo-European languages.”
Warwick Jessup has taught Sanskrit in St. James Independent School for the past 20 years. He explains: “Sanskrit in its most ancient form predates both these (Latin and Greek) languages.” All Indo-European languages, including English and many languages that are spoken all the way from the Americas to Iceland to the Bay of Bengal descend from Sanskrit.
Sanskrit is the culmination of millennia of endeavor to refine speech and thought so that the human race can aspire to the heights of civilization and fathom the depths of philosophical profundity. It is the pinnacle of achievement of people of enormous intellect. A line of scholars consciously refined the language. Panini was at the end of this line. Panini mentions in his “Ashtadhyayi” 64 grammarians before him. Hanuman is considered the ninth grammarian. All these grammarians have perfected Sanskrit. That is the main difference between Sanskrit and modern languages and even other classical languages.
Sanskrit, thus, is an Indo-European heritage, and students from seemingly diverse backgrounds are united as they realize that the different modern languages that they speak are intimately related. Of perhaps even great significance than all the benefits is the opportunity to imbibe deeply the universal ideas that have been enunciated by great poets of antiquity. Sanskrit is a perfectly phonetic language, unlike English. In English, the spelling of words is not a consistent guide to their pronunciation, but in Sanskrit, once students learn the sounds, they are able to read words easily, and that gives them a lot of confidence. “It is one of our most popular subjects at the junior level” says Sanskrit teacher Jessup.
Some linguists of the old school of Max Muller still mention that an Indo-European language very similar to Sanskrit is the mother of languages. This theory is out now because they have never been able to find such a language.
— Grandpa’s blessing
Niranjan Shah, a civil engineer, who pioneered famous high-rise buildings in Baroda, is a broadcaster in India and the USA and a prolific writer. Under “A Letter from Grandpa.” he has been writing since 2002 on India’s historical, philosophical, and literary heritage. He can be reached email@example.com