10-DAY SPOKEN SANSKRIT COURSE |  Sri Aurobindo Society, Singapore  |  27 May to 5 June 2005

Review of an Experience

by Jayanthy

Sometime in the beginning of April, we were asked, “There is going to be Sanskrit class conducted in the centre. Would you join?” It was to be a 10-day course on spoken Sanskrit. The course conductor was named as a certain Anuradha Choudry, whom two members of our society, Dhana and Kiruthika, met during the Youth Conference in Auroville in February 2005. I signed up for the course right away. The mere mention of the word “Sanskrit” had a particular draw. One had come across many Sanskrit words in books, one remembers struggling to read romanised forms of the words, and even now, one cringes at the memory of mispronouncing many of these. One even remembers how, with great enthusiasm and perseverance, one had attempted a self-study of Sanskrit alphabets from the glossary of a particular spiritual text. There was enough prompt to making that 10-day commitment to being with this language.

Later on, one caught a glimpse of the course conductor’s face on a flyer that advertised the course. Neither the face on the flyer nor the brief introduction to the course prepared one for what was in store for us at the classes that began on 27 May 2005 and ended on 5 June 2005.

We were swept off our chairs, off our feet in a matter of minutes from the moment classes commenced. Some of us are still floating around in the world that Sanskrit introduced to us, by way of speech, writing and mantras. Some of us have been locked in orbit while some have descended upon Earth, once again. On the first day, one entered an almost full class at our centre premises, which was to become our “Sanskrita vargam” (Sanskrit class). Anuradha, our course conductor, was facing the class, quietly awaiting the appropriate moment to begin. She appeared well prepared, mentally, emotionally and physically, and later on, one was to find out, perhaps spiritually too, very well prepared, for the class. Anu was a confident young lady. She wore a soft smile as she surveyed the room full of her prospective students. At 7.05pm, the classes began with her request, “Trivaram Om karam?” This request promptly filled the room with the cosmic vibration, OM, one of whose many meanings being, ‘Welcome to the Gods’. How apt that was, Sanskrit being a “Devasya bhasa” or language of the Gods. It made sense to appreciate this language as the one which was used to communicate to us realms of the Infinite, complete as it is, as well as of the finite that burst forth from the Infinite, and while bursting forth maintained still its Infinity and completeness – as one particular mantra we learnt seemed to explain (Purnamatha, purnamidam….).

Back to our first class, Anu started a conversation with us right at the start with “Mama nama Anuradha. Bhavatiyah nama kim?” (My name is Anuradha. What is the respected one’s name?) and we were compelled to reply “Mama nama ……”. The bond was sealed immediately and firmly between student and teacher. She then addressed us as Mahodayah and Mahodayaa and elevated us to levels we never found ourselves in ordinary moments without Sanskrit. With a beginning such as this, we spun our way into webs of Sanskrit sentences by the day. We crawled, tottered, walked and fell. Some of us managed to walk long distances and eventually, broke out into a run. Some of us were gradual and slow to progress but steady as we grounded ourselves in the grammar of this ancient language, both structured and scientific and fascinating. Some of us stuttered and stammered and struggled all the way, but found great comfort and joy and contentment in just being in our “Sanskrita vargam” entertained by our guru, feeling spiritually uplifted as well, most of the time.

So what was it that kept us so rooted to our space and turned away from ticking time during those 2 hours? What was it that kept us actively engaged in class after a hard day’s work? What was it that made us narrate short stories and enact skits in Sanskrit on the last day of our course? What was it all about? A few factors moved us during those days of Sanskrit.

There was, for one, the feeling we had for Sanskrit that made us sign up for the course. As mentioned earlier on, there was this innate need to connect with the language. That was the first draw and the force that determined our commitment to the 10-day course.

Another reason, and perhaps the most important reason that got us coming for more of Sanskrit after each passing day, was the teacher. Our teacher was a unique personality in the room. She took charge of the class from the beginning with such ease and quiet confidence, with such candour and simplicity. She was not even, it seemed, trying. It just came to her, however she handled the class, naturally, from within. And the within, as was revealed to us more and more each passing day, was a deep ocean of knowledge and goodwill, skill and patience, strength and determination and an innate love for the work she was doing. Throughout the lesson, she wore that infectious smile of hers, radiating a warmth that engulfed us all. That was captivating. Her perpetual smile seemed like some sweet flower in bloom throwing out its fragrance in abundance. Her child-like nature that often stood in front and played with us and teased us, bonded us well and learning the language became a pleasure. Anu’s personality was a huge draw in this respect.

It was evident that Anu had a strong ‘abhimana’ for Sanskrit. She swore by Sanskrit, ate and drank it, breathed it. Fascinated by the sound of Sanskrit, she has pursued her postgraduate work in Sanskrit and is currently pursuing her PhD in Sanskrit. Her involvement with the language was such that it touched some cords within us novices and drew us to it. Anu gave a lot of life to the way in which teaching was carried out. In fact, watching her teach in itself was a learning experience, especially for those of us engaged as teachers in schools currently. In an interview with her, Anu points to her conviction that Sanskrit can change the quality of life for the better, as the single most important driving force behind the work she is doing now with the language. She cites Sanskrit as “Avashyakam!” (necessary). Anu works with an organization named Sanskrita Bharati. This organization started as an experiment in Bangalore in 1981 to bring Sanskrit back into the daily life of India, for a start. The organization devised a natural and effective technique of ‘listen-speak-read-write’. This method, Anu says, enables millions of people around the globe to converse fluently in simple Sanskrit.

Born in Bengal, Anu has been traveling extensively since she was young as her father belonged to the Military. She has been in Pondicherry for the past twenty years. She received her education at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. Anu’s trip to Singapore was certainly a blessing for us all. To Anu, Singapore represents a miracle that conscious planning can bring about. She summed up her experiences in Singapore as “Uttamam!” (excellent) and hoped that Sanskrit can play a major role in serving as a link in South East Asia amongst the different groups of people in the sub-continent.

A hand was definitely at work that arranged this whole experience for all of us, the teacher as well as those taught. At the background, stood a force at work showering its grace upon us. Each time I focused on the background of the room, perhaps to offer thanks for the experience, I would catch The Mother’s smiling face in the back drop. The captivating smile of Mother spoke a few poignant words of grace. Every night I would think to myself, “How graced by the Mother’s love is this child standing in front of us now and how doubly graced we are with such a guru who speaks the very language of the Gods with such grace and teaches it with such ordinary simplicity!” Could this be “The hour of the Gods”? Maybe a fraction of a second of it or the beginning of the beginning!  What fabulous moments those were, so soul stirring in ways inaudible and invisible.

But our stint with Sanskrit cannot be a thing of the past. The links must be maintained, the language practiced. As Anu says “Sanskritam Vadattu, Sanskritam  Pathatu”. Let  those of us who attended the course heed this request of our teacher.


A Vote of Thanks from a Student
V. Navaratnam

For all of us, the 10 days were spiritually uplifting, culturally enriching and socially satisfying.  I was pleased to be here in this class among people with similar social values and cultural beliefs as well as with people with varied ethnic backgrounds and ages. The youngest in the class was easily one-tenth of my age.

We were fortunate to have Anuradha Choudry as our teacher.  God has been generous to her.  He has enabled her to pack so much of talent in so small a frame.  As a teacher she displayed the following strengths:

(a) She made effective use of her communication skills and co-ordinated them well with her dancing and singing skills.

(b) She combined education and entertainment and kept us laughing while learning.  In fact, I have not laughed so much in so short a time.

(c) She had us involved and engaged from start to the finish. There is a Chinese saying: “If you tell me I will forget, if you show me I may remember, if you involve me I will understand”.

That was what she did.  From the very start she got us involved with a hook-introduction:   “Mama Nama Anuradha”. “ Bavatah / Bavatyah Nama Kim?” (My name is Anuradha. Sir/Madam, what is your name?).

(d) She also instilled a sense of pride in us in belonging to the Hindu/Buddhist culture- a culture, which spreads the message of  “Lokhah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu” (May the Lord bless the whole world with eternal peace and goodwill).

We are indebted to the Sri Aurobindo Society of Singapore for inviting Anuradha to Singapore. We would also like to thank Kiruthika and Dhanalakshmi for the efficient planning that went behind the conducting of the course.

Dhanyavaadahah  (Thank you)