In conversation with Ashutosh Dayal Mathur, a Sanskrit Scholar and a Professor, in Delhi University
Ashutosh Dayal Mathur has been teaching Sanskrit at St. Stephen’s College since Aug 1981. He also takes classes for Masters in Delhi University, and is also a mentor for M.phil and PhD students. He has done his PhD on Medieval Hindu law, that was published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi in 2006.
He is very keen in theatrics and had participated in Sanskrit plays on T.V / stage performance, he has also acted in T.V serials, as well as read news on radio. He worked for 10 years in local English weekly an has written nearly 100 short humorous pieces.
My meeting with him was just so much fun. I was accompanied with one of my friend Meenakshi Vashisht, who happens to be his student, and she is equally fascinated by his talks. The conversation went from Delhi’s medieval past, love for theater, Sanskritic-English to what not. He has been staying in Delhi for generations and has some really interesting memories to share. His ancestral house is at Nai Sarak.
He is interested in social and cultural studies, Dharma shastra i..e the traditional discipline dealing with society and law as well as hardcore philosophy.
When asked what are the myths about the Sanskrit language, he states, ‘ that Sanskrit is not a popular subject ; That hardly any one studies Sanskrit ; that no one speaks in Sanskrit ; that Sanskrit is used only by a minuscule minority among upper caste Hindus for rituals and that it has no in India in any other form’.
Tell me about the influences in your growing up years.
My parents of course. They discussed issues that made me socially conscious. Both my teachers at St. Michael’s Grammar School ; Mr. E. Mendonzathe founder ;my Sanskrit teacher Mrs. Asha Tiwari went out of the way to really‘build me’ block by block. Prof. Harsh Kumar of St. Stephen’s College – through his own example taught me how to be a committed teacher – committed NOT to his own advancement NOT even professional and academic – but to do everything for the advancement of students – studies and research included.
What was the drive to becoming a Sanskrit Scholar?
It was an unknown pull –theater, some bit of interest in Indian philosophy and religion , culture /desire to know so that efforts could be made to expose the wrongs and promote what was right ; social reform etc etc
How would you like to define yourself professionally- a teacher, a writer etc… ?
A teacher and a grass root worker given to the promotion of Sanskrit
What makes Sanskrit relevant in the contemporary city?
Abiding cultural value –without sounding pompous or chauvinistic, it can be said that Sanskrit forms an inalienable part of Indian intellectual and cultural tradition – Delhi being the cultural capital of India allows every aspect of Indian culture to grow. NSD (National School of Drama)-does Sanskrit plays in various languages / Mahabharat/ Ramayana / Puranas,continue to enrich various dance forms, huge amount of literature in different languages being produced around themes from Sanskrit works, and though much of it is highly critical but criticism is also one way of relating to the tradition
Sanskrit’s relation to the city.
Every thing from the most glorious to the most obnoxious gets lost in the insane crowd that Delhi has become. Feigning ignorance about everything or worse rejecting every thing with a shove of hand is a part of Delhi chauvinism !!!
However, Sanskrit has a very big presence in Delhi. Sanskrit continues to be the most read language in schools after Hindi and English ;Sanskrit is taught in about 40 colleges in Delhi ; IGNOU also has several courses in Sanskrit ; there are two exclusively SANSKRIT universities in Delhi – Shri Lal bahadur Shastri Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth and the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan ; the latterapart from being a deemed university is also the principal funding agency ofthe Ministry of HRD for Sanskrit universities, colleges and schools all overIndia. Sanskrit scholars are honoured by govt. of India every year in Delhi / the Sahitya Akademi awards one modern Sanskrit author every year / The Delhi Sanskrit Academy of the Govt. of the NCT of Delhi is a most vibrant organization which organizes various inter school and inter college activities in which thousands of students participate every year. Every year dozens of national and international seminars, symposia etc on various aspects of Sanskrit studies are held in Delhi ; some NGOs hold Sanskrit camps in various parts of the city to propagate the language ; several religious and cultural organizations including the Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Shankar Vidya Kendra, Ramakrishna Missions etc … holds various Sanskrit related activities. It is only a very biased mind which will refuse to take cognizance of this mind boggling volume of Sanskrit activities in Delhi.
Sanskrit is a repository of many forms of performing arts- dance,theatre, literature etc… Do you think the Sanskrit is drawing more patronage through these mediums?
Yes and increasingly so.
Do you think Sanskrit needs to be popularized? How do you think it can be done? And what do you think needs to be popularized of the language?
I would shun the expression‘popularized’ I will say it is time now for India to rediscover, strengthen and showcase its many talents in different fields – business industry, technology but also her ancient and medieval knowledge traditions ; cultural traditions languages / literature’s/ religious traditions/ and this will most certainly mean a sizable emphasis on Sanskrit apart from India’s many other languages .
Would you be averse to using Sanskrit in a popular way ?
But simultaneously its‘purity’ will have to be preserved ; let it change the way all living languages do but in some part it will have to remain constant – unchangeable – immutable or eternal.
Are there any non-Brahmin/ Muslim learners of Sanskrit?
Non Brahmins in thousands ,Muslims in dozens.
What is the best and easy way to learn Sanskrit?
Any institutions that are doing researches in the language – all universities in India / Indian national Science Academy, ITO, doing pioneering work in the field of science in ancient and medieval India / Indian Council for Philosophical Research
How far do you think is the blame that western influence has taken us far from Sanskrit valid?
if have a choice / let them have the freedom to choose // if western influence is growing so is every other influence / more and more people are also turning towards their own traditions / when did fundamentalism and obscurantism ever become weak in India ??
Has Sanskrit always been segregated because of its sacred status, as can also be said for languages like Latin.
Sanskrit has always had a much more direct presence in people’s lives – the sacred is only a small and(due to utter ignorance ) the highly overrated part of Sanskrit/ there is so much secular outside the domain of the sacred / various disciplines like law, mathematics/astronomy / agriculture/ linguistics and grammar / literature / literary criticism // this needs to be rediscovered and placed before Indians first and then before the world so that this whole notion of Sanskrit being the language of a religion gets a quick burial.
Can you tell me something about people learning Sanskrit. What is driving them to learn the language? Is there any religious aspect related to learning Sanskrit?
The desire to know the intellectual/cultural/philosophical tradition of India / religion as such is not a part of Sanskrit studies // we do not teach temple worship // religion in India has a much wider connotation than merely the idea of a god and man’s relation with him // only the secular west sees religion as separable from ‘ALL‘ Life as such. // so there is so much outside religious in Sanskrit which people ant to know // they associate it with India and not with a religion .