Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Past Beckons

The news that Columbia University, a world-class institution, is offering three fellowships in Sanskrit studies exclusively for Dalit scholars, might startle many — wonder as they would as to how such a closed ‘Brahminist’ enterprise can serve the 21st-century India. But there lies the fact of life. The Columbia University announcement, thanks to the initiative of its brilliant Sanskritist don, Prof Sheldon Pollock, is a classic attempt at expanding the scope and reach of Sanskrit pursuits. How is it so praiseworthy? Why, is it not Sanskrit study that opens our windows to the treasure called ancient Indian wisdom relevant exceptionally in this age of nanoscience too? It is a great literary tradition that serves as a continuum from our uniquely rich past to the present times, journeying through such pages of history as were simply awesome, intellectually. And do we not owe our present secular or pluralist spirit to those times when there was nothing that was not secular or pluralist? Sanskrit study and research, therefore, is a key to appreciating what essentially has inspired us to laid the foundation of a modern secular, democratic state — the ethos of the past that have remained so. This is not all. Sanskrit study also opens the indigenous science front, be it mathematics, astronomy, ayurveda or the holistic yoga. Now that Dalit scholars too can unravel that rich world at Columbia University, a wonderful literature will be celebrated anew. But more of that should have happened here itself. THE SENTINEL

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