Any promotion of Sanskrit as a language in India is seen as an affront to ‘secularism’ by certain self-proclaimed Liberal-Secular custodians of the country. Circumlocutory articles are written in the English language falsely claiming that any study of the ancient Indian language is a sign of “backwardness” and a political tool of the saffron forces.
But things are different in the West.
In what will help advance the study of Sanskrit in the US, a famous Indian-American couple has gifted $3.5 million to Chicago University.
The Chicago University said that the Anupama and Guru Ramakrishnan Professorship in Sanskrit studies has been established to support a faculty member whose work focuses on Sanskrit.
The University is one of the earliest institutions in the West to offer Sanskrit as a course. The first classes on South Asia’s oldest literary language – and still in use – were held at the University in 1892 and have been held regularly ever since.
Guru Ramakrishnan is the founding partner at Meru Capital Group. His wife Anupama is on the advisory board of the Agastya Foundation, a Bengaluru-based NGO that funds and operates educational programmes in rural India.
Guru is a 1988 Booth alumnus who began his career with Morgan Stanley before co-founding the hedge fund/private equity firm Old Lane in 2005. Four years later he founded Meru Capital.
This gift to the Chicago University is not a first for the Ramakrishnans; they had in March 2014 gifted $3 million in the form of an Endowed Scholarship Fund to support the annual tuition fee of three Indian students enrolled in Chicago Booth’s Full-Time MBA Program.
The chair of the new Ramakrishnan Professorship will be held by Gary Tubb, a distinguished professor in South Asian Languages and Civilisations and faculty director of the University of Chicago Centre in New Delhi.
Tubb, who has been a Sanskrit scholar since he was an undergraduate student at Harvard University, praised the Ramakrishnans for their “serious interest in and respect for the way Sanskrit is studied”. He is the author of ‘Scholastic Sanskrit: A Handbook for Students’.
Attracted to the language because it provided “access to a long and rich history of human thought”, Tubb said that Sanskrit is the “single language that provides access to an extraordinarily broad range of texts and histories”.
“We are delighted to fund this chair in Sanskrit – one of the oldest languages that has given the world the Vedas, Upanishads and other exceptional works of spirituality, poetry, music and dance,” the Ramakrishnans said.
According to the University of Chicago more than 60 of its faculty members are engaged in the study of South Asian history, culture and language. Among others is Wendy Doniger, the writer of ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’.
The announcement of the Ramakrishnan Professorship comes as the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations celebrates its 50th anniversary.
In fact, Sanskrit as a study is increasingly finding takers in the West. Countries such as Germany have witnessed a tremendous rise in those looking to study the ancient Indian language.
At least 14 universities in Germany offer courses on Sanskrit, and all of them are struggling to accommodate the high numbers of scholars.
Dr Hans Harder, head of the department of modern South Asian languages and literatures (modern Indology), at Germany’s Heidelberg University warned last year that an entire civilization will disappear if Indians stop teaching their children their own language.
“A significant part of the global cultural heritage will become extinct if major languages like Hindi and Bangla fall prey to Indian English which, in the process, has only got poorer,” he had told Daily Mail in April 2015.
But Harder is not worried about the continuation of Sanskrit or any Indian languages in India because it his country that has seen a phenomenal rise in number of scholars and because of people such as Ramakrishnans.