The South Asian Times

20 November 2018 11:15 AM

Sanskrit draws learners from many ethnic groups

Special to The South Asian Times

New York: With a long red “tilak” on his forehead, lighter skin and rare name, Bhima-Karma Saragrahi was a cynosure of many eyes at a recent Sanskrit residential camp-cum-convention held in Parsippany, New Jersey. Though it was his first time at such an event, the 40-year-old felt at ease because of his familiarity with the ancient language.
After studying up to the 10th grade and undergoing a course on the Bhagavad-Gita, he left the US for India at age 21. Saragrahi believes that the “esoteric and deep culture” of Hinduism required the study of Sanskrit. He spent several years in India learning Hindi and further improving his Sanskrit.
Based in Boston, he makes a living working in real estate. He is good with Indian musical instruments, including “mridangam” which he played at the convention last month. During his spare time, he offers music lessons.
His parents converted to Hinduism through  ISKCON founder Swami Prabhupada when they were teenagers. “I am the second-generation follower of the Sanatana Dharma,” Saragrahi says.
Another attendee was Sanskrit student Doriano Miletic (Dayapuri), 58, an immigrant from Croatia. “By attending this kind of conventions, one can learn the language and improve it,” he said. The Queens-based engineer and his wife follow the precepts of Hinduism into which they were initiated by a Rajasthani guru. They also prefer vegetarian ‘saatvik’ food.
The Jaahnavi convention, organized by the California-based Samskruta Bharati USA, drew nearly 300 people, including children and teenagers. In fact, a group of teenagers, speaking the ancient language fluently, welcomed the attendees with folded hands.
Lalith Gannavaram from Trumbull, Connecticut, is a 12th grade student. Sporting “vibhuti” on his forehead and wearing traditional clothes, he looked like a “gurukulam” student. He has learned the language from an early age. “It was intrinsic,” noted the boy, who is planning to study for his bachelor’s degree in Texas next year.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based Chrystina Passanisi said the wisdom that Sanskrit gives is helping in her study of Vaastu Sastra and southern Indian architecture. Passanisi, who attended the language classes during the convention, runs a women’s clothing boutique.
Nanik Ram, 35,  a physician from Boston, sees ancient wisdom in the language and plans to resume his study of Sanskrit shortly. He expects to attend the convention next year also.
The goal of Raghavendra Kundalagurti, who works at Barclays, is to study the Vedic literature in its original form. He finds such a convention helpful.
For retired Voice of America employee Satish Bhatia, 76, it was an opportunity to meet with the speakers. He felt  the gathering and its proceedings were better than last year. Bhatia urged the organizers to make more videos available so that more  people would get help learning Sanskrit.

There are a about 10,000 fluent speakers of the language in the United States and Samskruta Bharati wants to raise the numbers exponentially.

Jagannath Bharadwaj, 59, was an attendee from West Palm Beach, Florida. He works as an accountant and it was the second time he participated in a Sanskrit convention; the previous one was in Dallas attended by about 100 people. The Tamil Nadu native attended an advanced-level class at the convention.

According to Prof M.G. Prasad, Sanskrit is an “ornament one can wear.” It improves one’s language and culture, he added.

Jaahnavi Toolsidas – a fifth grader -- wants to learn the language to study the Gita. She echoed a known fact that Sanskrit is the most scientific language. Juhi Chitkara, a sixth grader, wants to learn it to gain knowledge of other languages such as Hindi and German.

For Mexican Vanessa Acevedo, from Montreal, it was an opportunity to know the language more effectively which would help her teach it in the future. The 37-year-old wearing traditional Indian dress, who speaks Spanish, French, English, Hindi and Sanskrit, is interested in learning more about India and its culture and she believes Sanskrit is a vehicle to achieve it. “I am realizing that dream now,” she told this writer.

Update: 17 Oct, 2017