India is said to be a nation of nations, with hundreds of languages and dialects spread all over the length and breadth of its borders. Each of these languages holds deep significance to not just their own communities but also to that of others and the entire nation as a whole. Be it Surdas ke Dohe written in Braj bhasa or Narasimha Purana written in Odia, all languages have contributed immensely to the greater Indian culture. Hence, it becomes pertinent to not only preserve these languages but also promote them further as they aid connectivity between the various groups of India. The effort to expand Indian languages rests not only in the hands of the Indian government but the masses as a whole who are to be the speakers of these.
Sanskrit (or Saṃskṛtam) is an Indian language that holds immense importance for Indian cultures, be it linguistic, cultural or religious. It is aptly called “deva bhasha” for its integral importance during the various Vedic rituals and ceremonies. Considered to be one of the oldest and most systematic languages in the world, it has been called the "mother of all Indian languages''. The word Sanskrit means "refined" or "perfected" in English, and the language is known for its precise grammar and complex structure. It has two main registers, namely the Vedic Sanskrit under which the Vedas have been penned and Classical Sanskrit whose grammar was fixed by the great philosopher Panini. Sanskrit’s influence has emanated far beyond the border of India and enriched cultures across Asia, notably countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand. The Indian government has made considerable efforts to revive the popularity of the sacred language in the last few years but can go even further by promoting it as a link language for Asian civilisations. Recently, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea James Marape acknowledged that India can be the best leader for the “Global South” that finds itself against the aggression of the Western nations again and again. With the increasing influence of the nation, it comes as no surprise that others are looking up to India again.
One of the most important steps the government has taken is the digitisation of centuries-old manuscripts. Most of the manuscripts have not been read as a consequence of their geographic isolation and the delicate nature of the material they were written in. As these manuscripts are being digitised, they will unravel the mysteries of the ancestors to their descendants in time. This is especially important for vulnerable groups that are at risk of losing their culture in the face of calamities or negligence from external factors. Languages such as Odia, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam have already been accorded the status of classical languages by the Indian government on account of their unbroken continuity with the contributions of their ancestors. If the same efforts were to be extended to other languages, it would certainly aid in retrieving knowledge of many issues that people are unaware of at present.
Promoting luminaries that have contributed greatly to Indian work is another commendable step that can be considered to foster consciousness among vernacular languages speaking groups. While contributions of larger writers such as Valmiki, Ved Vyas and Kalidasa are better known, lesser-known figures from hinterlands and isolated pockets of Meghalaya can also help in bringing neglected groups into the mainstream. A notable example of this is U Sib Charan Roy Jaitdkar Sawian, the Khasi nationalist leader who was very fond of Indian languages such as Sanskrit, Bengali, and Assamese apart from his native Khasi. His father, U Babu Jeebon Roy was also a patron of Indian civilisation like him having translated epics such as the Rama Charitmanas and Bhagavad Gita into Khasi for the larger masses to read. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put extra emphasis on the recognition of the tribal leaders who have been relegated to irrelevancy until now despite their immense contributions to the greater civilisation.
The unavailability of study material for vernacular languages has also been one of the biggest challenges they face against English which has a ubiquitous advantage in terms of content availability. The government is making fruitful attempts to process the contents of all Indian study materials available into vernacular languages for the ease of their speakers. The usage of Artificial Intelligence can come a great way in saving money and time for such an endeavour. Dr Buddha Chandrashekar, the Chief Coordinating Officer of the All India Council for Technical Education is notably working on this through Anuvadini, a software model that aims to translate materials from Indian vernaculars among one another and English. When expanded to all Indian languages, it can save the government immense sums of money and time that would otherwise be wasted on translating each material manually.
The Indian government has also made promising endeavours into the larger Indosphere realm, connecting with countries that share a close culture to that of India. Historical roots of Sanskrit with Southeast Asia have been noted since the days of massive Hindu thalassocracies such as the Khmer kingdom (Kambujadesa) and the Majapahit empire (Wilwatikta) that have left behind immensely strong footprints of Indian influence. Apart from just religious codes, Sanskrit also served as a regal language beloved by poets and learned men of these kingdoms. Even to this day, the royal family of Thailand gives patronage to the Indian language owing to civilisational connections.
A few years ago, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn was honoured with the Global Sanskrit Award in India for her incomparable contributions to Indian civilisation in her kingdom of Thailand. Promoting such people can come a great way for India to reconnect with these nations that are culturally similar to that of India. Apart from just reviving linguistic connections, it can provide the locals the impetus to have a more favourable view of Indian civilization again. The government has already announced funding to renovate Angkor Wat (called Parama Vishnuloka in Sanskrit) in Cambodia to revive cultural ties. Recently, the Indonesian government also announced it will open up the Prambanan (called Shivagraha in Sanskrit) to Hindu pilgrims from India and other countries. This will likely encourage locals to learn vernacular Indian languages and Sanskrit to make contact with Indian tourists.
In conclusion, it can be said the expansion of the Indian economy and the development of new forms of technological advancements can help Indian communities not just revive age-old culture but also expand them to new shores which had lost contact over the due course of time. Connections that were lost as a consequence of foreign occupation and loss of subsequent continuity with ancestors can be revived back by the daunting efforts of not just the government but the Indian community as a whole.
The title image is an 1814 manuscript of Serat Rama Keling, a Javanese adaptation of the Ramayana in the Brahmic Aksara Jawa (Javanese script), provided by the author.
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