Learning Samskrtam with Laughter A Novel Approach to an Ancient Language

Photos by Jayesh Mistry

Photos by Jayesh Mistry

By Padmashree rao

HOUSTON: Even Lord Ganesa must have been smiling when an audience of all ages waited with curiosity on August 29, that Friday evening of Ganesa Caturthi. It was the introductory class of the “Easy Sanskrit (Sulabha Samskrtam)” camp in the Chinmaya Smrti hall at Chinmaya Prabha, Houston. Soon, curiosity melted into light-hearted joy when Swami Ramakrishnananda, the acarya from Chinmaya International Foundation (CIF), Veliyanad, introduced everyone to the beauty, grace, poetry, and timeless value of the Sanskrit language, with easy humor. From the very first minutes of that opening class, it was obvious that learning Sanskrit from Swamiji was going to be a hilarious adventure!

With curiosity giving way to eager interest, the audience came back the next morning on August 30. All night before, the tune of the great poet Kalidasa’s “Thatham thatham tham thathatham thatham tha…” from King Bhoja’s story that Swamiji had narrated, had been repeating itself in many brains! The way Swamiji had harmonized the interpretations of “Tat Tvam Asi” in deep, yet simple, words had been an eye-opener. There was something fascinating about the way this Swamiji was teaching the ancient language of our scriptures – it was like Sanskrit never before.

The word had spread around in Houston. Those who had thought that they will just attend the introductory lecture came with more eagerness the next three days. The audience was diverse – the Acaryas Gaurangbhai and Darshanaben Nanavaty were promptly there, and so were the Bala Vihar teachers. Fathers, mothers, children and grandparents sat together, ready with their notebooks. Those who knew absolutely no Sanskrit as well as those who had learned Sanskrit in their schools and colleges in India – both categories sat equally ready to listen to Swamiji as he began the class.

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There was not even a minute of boredom, as Swamiji charmed and challenged everyone to learn without inhibition. People had to stop themselves from rolling with laughter when Swamiji play-acted, sang opera-style, mimicked accents, and often ‘cooked up’ hilarious examples, quoting mouth-watering Indian delicacies! And, after a while, the sheer fun and unadulterated taste of learning took over. Adults became children and learned to rap vowels, consonants and verb conjugations in Sanskrit, taking cue from teenagers and young adults. The children, who were pleasantly surprised to see a Swamiji advocate the rap method, immediately connected with the learning process! Many looked amused at their parents’ antics and their efforts to keep with the rhythm of the youngsters.

Yet, learning never took a backseat to the unending episodes of laughter. Having navigated the alphabet and carefully identifying the many groups of pure consonants through strange ‘classification’ methods, by the third class, Swamiji expertly led the alert audience into the expanding Sanskrit world of nouns, indeclinables, and verbs.

Swamiji likened the whole learning process to a house-building project. In just three classes of about four-and-a half hours, the functional four walls and a simple roof made a simply elegant “home of Sanskrit” take shape. Nouns of three genders, and their twenty-four forms, the changeless indeclinables, and the entertaining combinations of the 2200 verb roots, along with pronouns – all soon came together in happy, coherent sentences. The members of the audience were amazed – they actually could build simple sentences in Sanskrit and speak! What a joy to glimpse into the language of the sages!

Encouraging everyone at each step, Swami Ramakrishnananda then gently introduced the “past, present, and future” tense forms of some common verbs. Any tension in the learning process vanished when Swamiji taught with dramatic flair, often using reverse logic techniques. The audience “remembered to forget” whenever he led the revision games!

The acarya and author of the “Sulabha Samskrtam” courses in many formats (home-study, online, DVD etc. at www.chinfo.org ) has made it his life’s mission to make Sanskrit a familiar and loved language. He illustrated how knowing just basic Sanskrit can open the doors to greater understanding. In his concluding session, he presented a few of the very familiar verses from the Bhaja Govindam and the Bhagavad Gita, and helped the audience to read in the light of what they learned so far. To get such insight into a realm that had seemed so unreachable made everyone feel grateful for this unique Samskrtam camp, straight from the land of Sri Adi Sankaracarya.

Nobody wanted that camp to end; such was the magic of the Sanskrit classes taught by Swami Ramakrishnananda. When Swamiji concluded and praised Chinmaya Prabha Houston for the excellent organizational support during the camp, the Houston audience of almost two hundred Samskrtam students felt reluctant to leave – the rap tunes, the “rice, mustard, jilebi” jokes, and “the T-dal vs. C-dal” dilemma really made the “Sulabha Samskrtam” camp an experience hard to forget!

For further information on Chinmaya Mission Houston and, its activities visit www.chinmayahouston.org or Call Jay Deshmukh 832 541 0059 or Bharati Sutaria 281-933-0233