Avid blogger and linguist Shripad Abhyankar's innovative web lessons have made Sanskrit learning more fulfilling than ever before. Thanks to his selfless activism, more and more students of the language are making the right beginnings rooted in self-study. Sudhir Raikar reports...
Sanskrit was an integral aspect of upbringing for Shripad Abhyankar. His tryst with the subject began at age five, learning Shree-Rama-RakSha-stotram from his father, a high school teacher of English, Hindi, Marathi and Sanskrit. Many students came home for Sanskrit tuitions and their text lessons invariably became supplementary education for little Shripad. Besides, his grandfather was a BhikShuka (Brahmin mendicant) which meant recital of mantras and Vedas was common during rituals and observances. So before his formal Sanskrit curriculum from the eighth standard onwards, he had learnt word-forms for countless nouns, pronouns and adjectives as also forms of many verbal roots in different tenses and moods as part of his daily recitation.
Abhyankar elaborates, "My father wanted me to win the coveted Jagannath Shankar Sheth Prize at the Matriculation examination. Sadly, I could not fulfil his dream having scoring 88 percent marks as against the winner who secured 96 percent."
Abhyankar enrolled for science at college with Sanskrit as an optional subject. He studied Meghadootam by Kalidas and Svapnavasavadattam by Bhasa, although four years of college were exclusively devoted to science and engineering until his graduation in mechanical engineering. Later during his early employment days, at the industrial township of Kirloskarvadi in Sangli district of Maharashtra, Abhyankar undertook a self-study of Bhagavad-Gita as a pastime.
Abhyankar says, "In the course of this self-initiated learning, I needed to test my knowledge of Sanskrit, grammar in particular. I sifted through several websites in the process and on the suggestion of a gentleman called Himanshu Pota, founder of the forum learnsanskrit-dot-wordpress, my blog slabhyankar-dot-wordpress-blog was born in November 2009."
Enthused by the public response, Abhyankar embarked upon an independent study of shlokas and subhashita-s apart from the Gita. Two more blogs devoted to the two subjects followed in due course.
"Various subjects came to mind from time to time, all related to self-study of Sanskrit. Some Sanskrit scholars even advised me to attempt a deeper study of Sanskrit grammar", reveals Abhyankar.
During one such course, Abhyankar learnt about the examinations conducted by the along with free classes organized in K J Somaiyya Complex in Vidya Vihar, Mumbai. He cleared both Part I and Part II examinations in one seating. Following an email interaction with a gentleman called Manoj Bhavsar, Abhyankar taught Sanskrit for over a year to small groups in the form of classroom sessions where he came to know of various courses run by many institutions, all aimed at self-study of Sanskrit.
"But by my own assessment, I found most learning material not well-graded to facilitate the learning. And while the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan books are undoubtedly a treasure trove of graded learning, the six-monthly schedule of the examinations hampers the actual progress", says Abhyankar.The outcome of this deliberation was a free online course, which at this point offers 37 lessons in simple Sanskrit at the blog titled simplesanskrit-dot-wordress.
Abhyankar employs an innovative method to lure any beginner towards a seemingly intricate subject. Rather than attack the grammar head-on, he begins with simple proverbs and phrases, explaining the meaning and significance of the adage before turning to the finer aspects like case and conjugation. And he insists on memorizing the proverbs which unknowingly but automatically adds to the readers vocabulary and delight in the same breath.
Although his rich and varied blogs, or as he calls them in his chaste Sanskrit, have been well received by readers across the globe, Abhyankar has kept the flame of self-study ablaze in different directions. An upshot of one of his public lectures on "Ways and means to promote Sanskrit across the globe" was an offline program of Sanskrit self-study which is popular even today. Abhyankar keeps himself occupied with his personal musings in yet another blog samskrutacharchaa-dot-wordpress. He soon realized that the subject merits a distinct study. A new blog jyotirvigyaanam-dot-wordpress ensued, presently a re-post from his other blog called samskrutacharchaa.
Apart from Sanskrit, Abhyankar is fluent in Gujarati, Marathi and Kannada. This soft-spoken man, a mechanical engineer and consultant of industrial pumps and valves, has taught us that there are no full stops to any exploration based on self-study and selfless initiative. With activists like him in our midst, it shouldn't be long before we mark a new innings of Sanskrit as the spoken language of choice regardless of the speakers caste, creed, scholarship or status. May his tribe grow!