Anantha Kalyana Krishnan has dedicated many decades of his life for the spread of Samskrita in Tamil Nadu. A devotee of Sringeri Sharada Peetham, he is currently the President of Samskrita Bharati, South Tamil Nadu and Chairman Sanmargadarsi Trust and continues to strive hard for the revival of Samskrita language and Sanatana Dharma. On behalf of IndicToday, I interviewed him about his life and work on revival of Samskrita.
You have been associated with Samskrita Bharati for many years now. Please share with us about your life journey and your journey into Sanskrit.
I was born and brought up in Tattamangalam, Palakad district of Kerala. We spoke Tamil at home, which was our mother tongue. In my childhood, Sanskrit was nothing more than another language to me and I had rudimentary lessons in class 5 and 6. When I got admitted to the boarding school run by Ramakrishna Mission at Calicut, there was no Sanskrit and Malayalam was the only language available. Up to my plus two I gained fairly good basis in Malayalam. Nearby my home there were a few Sanskrit teachers and my father wanted me to learn Sanskrit under them at least during vacations. The teachers were very keen to impart too. I reluctantly went to them for a few classes and gave up, my interest being on sports and games. Later when I started graduating in Bombay, serious reading became a part of my lifestyle. During this period I read in the Free Press Journal news paper an interesting report headlined “New Epic”.
Sri P. Kunjiraman Nair was a renowned poet of Kerala. He was the chief guest of an event organised by Bombay Kerala Samaj. The poet had gone to Delhi to participate in some event from where he had travelled by train to Bombay. In the First Class compartment a passenger tried to pick up some conversation with the dhothi clad poet in English which he did not understand. Then he spoke in Hindi. Now the poet understood, but not knowing Hindi, he replied in Sanskrit. The fellow passenger happened to be the Vice Chancellor of Kurukshetra University and a Doctorate holder in Sanskrit and they travelled for 36 hours conversing in the ancient language of the land. This caught up my imagination and sowed the seeds of desire to learn the Language.
After graduation, while searching for a job, I was engaged in teaching school children in a tutorial college back at my native place. At this point I tried to learn Sanskrit with some self study materials. I felt the grammar rules are complicated and it is too late to venture into Sanskrit. As I started reading on various topics relating to our heritage & culture, I came across quotations from the scriptures. The inability to understand them in their true context made me uncomfortable and sad that I had wasted those great opportunities during my young days. I got employed in the Customs and Central Excise department and the job was such that there was not much time to devote to study. During 1992 I visited Mumbai and happened to witness a conference of scholars under the Sringeri Sankaracharya at the Sankara Mutt, where the discussion was entirely in Sanskrit and I could not follow a wee bit, the topic being Mimamsa.
It was in 2002 that a few volunteers of Samskrita Bharati contacted me and invited me to their classes known as Dashadina Sibiram (10 days spoken class). The duration was for 2 hours and there was no fee. Only condition was that I must attend on all 10 days. I did not believe their claim that one can speak in Sanskrit after just 10 days training @ 2 hours a day. It seemed to me like a publicity gimmick with some hidden agenda. Nevertheless with an open mind I decided to give a try.
Right from the fifth minute I was speaking in Sanskrit, answering the questions put to me by the instructor in Sanskrit. I experienced a new charge travelling within me. My late father’s fervent hopes were sprouting up. There was no looking back. I attended the follow up classes and later the instructor training camp. I became an instructor, who can conduct the 10 days class. I conducted scores of such classes and gained fluency in spoken Sanskrit and slowly picked up the grammar rules and started writing short passages. When the Sankaracharya of Sringeri visited Coimbatore in 2012, I had the fortune of drafting and reading the Welcome Address in Sanskrit which the Acharya commended as “Well drafted”. In a flash I felt I had passed out of a university. During that visit Samskrita Bharati had arranged a programme called Guru Vandanam to pay respects to His Holiness. There again I read out a speech in Sanskrit. His Holiness during his benedictory speech singled out my name for commendation.
Outside of Tamil Nadu it is often assumed that no language other than Tamil can strive in Tamil Nadu. Especially the political history paints Tamil Nadu has being anti-Sanskrit and anti-Sanskrit-based traditions. What has been your experience trying to promote Sanskrit in Tamil Nadu?
You are right in your assumption. The actual reality is entirely the opposite. There is a political spectrum that has been thriving on Anti Sanskrit, Anti Sanatana Dharma, Anti Hindi propaganda. Even though the forces riding this bandwagon have captured power, the social spectrum of the land remains unaffected by all these hatred mongering for the past 60 odd years. Tamil and Sanskrit are the two eyes of our culture and the people of Tamil Nadu continue to have great regard for Sanskrit. About 40 percent of the Tamil spoken today has Sanskrit vocabulary. People continue to name their children by selecting names from our scriptures. The main scriptures in Tamil like Tirukkural, Divyaprabandham, Tiruvasakam, Tirumantram, Tiruppugazh, etc. have Sanskrit inter-spread in them. The great poet Kamban has mentioned in his preface to his version of Ramayana that he has adapted it from Valmiki Ramayana which is an ocean. We get a warm welcome wherever we go to teach Sanskrit. People in every nook and corner are keen to learn Sanskrit, to enable them to access the Gita, Vishnusahasranama, Ayurveda texts, etc. We are unable to reach out to all areas due to paucity of volunteers.
Can you share with us about the activities of Samskrita Bharati in Tamil Nadu and your vision and mission for the state?
The activities of Samskrita Bharati has become well rooted in Tamilnadu during the past 20 years, even though the early seeds were sown from 1981 onwards. The untiring and dedicated efforts of volunteers most of whom are women, especially homemakers have kept the spirit alive. We had several batches of youngsters who worked as volunteers for a few years before getting employed or married. Fresh batches keep coming to carry forward the work.
Our main thrust is on the 10 days at the rate of spoken classes being conducted two hours per day, from which learners are enrolled to take up formal study of grammar and texts through a distance learning scheme spread into 4 parts of 6 months each. We encourage the learners to attend the instructor camps so that they turn out to be instructors.
Today we have more than 6000 persons who speak in Sanskrit on a daily basis. More than 50000 people have attended our spoken classes. 18000 people have taken the distance learning programme. 3500 instructors have been trained to teach the 10 days class. We have a special co-curriculum course known as Balabharati for school children. Nearly 60000 children have enrolled in it. Hundreds of managements are ready to adopt it in their institutions. However we are unable to supply teachers.
Our vision is to spread Sanskrit to every village and every school as an optional language, so that the public at large get an opportunity to access our ancient scriptures and their sense of being a Bharatiya gets a quantum boost. We are trying to enlist more and more youngsters into this movement as a patriotic service, create job opportunities for those who are willing to take up Sanskrit as a serious subject of study. There are several thousands of unemployed housewives. If we are able to enlist their services on a part time basis we will be able to make deep inroads. Even if there is no State patronage, people’s participation can bring about a sea change.
In 2017 you established ‘Bhashyam Sanskrita Sikshana Kendra’- a permanent training centre for Sanskrit at Mahadanapura. Can you please share about the centre, its activities, and how it was established?
As I mentioned earlier, during the past 2 decades the Sanskrit propagation activity gained a deep foothold and we got the confidence that the movement can spread to all areas. Since our training programmes were being conducted in schools and colleges during vacations, during the rest of the year we were unable to find any suitable place to train our volunteers and provide them residential facilities. We have different types of courses for different strata of people. Moreover our volunteers too needed to be trained further and their learning level has to be upgraded. In 2016 we took a decision to look out for a spacious place to start our permanent training centre, where we can have residential facilities for women volunteers too. We also drew up the different types of training programmes that can be conducted.
During our visit to Sringeri, we brought up the idea before Sri Sri Bharati Theertha Mahaswamigal. His Holiness blessed the venture and gave an amount of Rs 1 Lakh as Sharada Prasada. We were expecting to take a while to search for a place. Now with initial funding from Acharya, we had to launch a serious hunt. From Tirunelveli to Trichy we made great efforts to locate a suitable place. Due to high price of land or due to unfavorable logistical viability each place got ruled out.
During 2017, the Sringeri Jagadgurus announced their tour programme of Tamil Nadu. We wanted the Bhoomi Pooja to be performed by their Holinessses. Luckily we got directed by a well-wisher to Mahadanapuram, near Karur where Sri V. Rajaram, founder of M.D.Venkatraman Educational society was willing to give his place for our activities. On visiting Mahadanapuram we came to know that there lived a scholarly saint known as Bhashyam Swamigal, who spoke in only Sanskrit, as per an undertaking he had given to the then Sringeri Acharya Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati Swamigal. Sri Bhashyam Swamigal had the fortune of learning Vedanta from the Swamigal and was also given the task of teaching basic Sanskrit lessons to Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha Swamigal in his poorvasrama as a 12 year old. During his stay at Mahadanapuram for more than 30 years Sri Swamigal used to train local children to perform Sanskrit Dramas during Sivaratri, Vaikunta Ekadasi etc. We were thrilled that Goddess Sharada was directing us to the right place.
There is an Adhishtana Mantapa, a Pathasala and prayer hall in Mahadanapuram belonging to the Nilamavu Mutt of Sirsee Taluk. The last Swamigal of Nilamau Mutt had handed over the property to the Sringeri Mutt. The Sringeri Acharyas, whenever they tour this part of Tamilnadu, used to stay for a day at Mahadanapuram and perform Sharada Chandramouleeswara Pooja. Within a couple of days of our selecting the training centre at the M.D.Venkatraman Educational Society premises, the officials from Sringeri Mutt came to verify and finalise Acharya’s place of accommodation and Pooja at Mahadanapuram, and selected our training centre as the suitable place for the Sringeri Acharyas. What a divine intervention. On 8th June 2017 Sringeri Acharyas performed their poojas at the premises and the place was formally handed over to us.
After demolishing the old structure we have built a few classrooms and a few other rooms to accommodate the trainees. We have also taken on lease a few houses to accommodate women trainees. There is a kitchen and dining hall and a permanent cook. Every month we have 5 days residential course for fresh learners from outstation towns. Apart from this we have short duration training sessions to our volunteers, teachers, students of Ayurveda etc. The Training centre is a four crore rupees project of which only half has been completed. We are awaiting some financial support to complete the project.
Please also share about the recent installation of the Murti of Sri Adi Shankaracharya and Sri Bhashya Swamigal at your Mahadanapura campus.
Since this village has been sanctified by the stay of a great sage who dedicated his life to the study of our scriptures and gave importance to Sanskrit as a spoken language, we had decided to name the centre as Bhashyam Samskrita Sikshana Kendra. (The actual Deeksha name of Bhashyam Swamigal was Satchidananda Theertha. But due to his mastery of Sankara Bhashya, Chandrasekhara Bharati Swamigal himself called him as Bhashyam Swamigal)
Sri Bhasyam Swamigal used to tour Madurai, Tirunelveli, Rajapalayam, etc. to give lectures on Vedanta. One of the devotees, sometime in the mid of 2019 arranged a Vigraha of Swamigal to be installed at our training centre after the completion of the construction work. The Vigraha arrived in November 2019. Around the same time Swargeeya Swamini Swatmabodhananda Saraswati had contacted us and enquired about our willingness to install a Vigraha of Bhagavatpada Sankara, supplied by the Indic Academy. We were thrilled about the whole thing and this Vigraha too arrived in February. Since we wanted to install the Vigrahas of Bhagavatpada Sankara and Bhashyam Swamigal in a grand function, we were looking out for a suitable guest of honour. We had arranged a 3-day Raghuvamsa class for our volunteers, numbering around 50. The next day too happened to be an auspicious day. So without waiting for any VIPs we performed the installation ceremony as per Vedic rituals Punyaha Prokshanam, Abhishekam and Deeparadhana. Apart from our volunteers more than 100 locals too participated in the function. The local people were elated at the arrival of Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya in their midst.
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