The New Indian Express (12-01-2001)

At IIT Delhi, the S in Sanskrit stands for Science

Besides string theory and computer architecture, students of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, wiil soon have the option of studying Sanskrit texts and the precise science of Sanskrit grammar.

IIT Delhi is offering its students a glimpse into Sanskrit classics after a directive from the Ministry for Human Resources and Development. The ministry had sent similar letters to around 40 institutes in the country, including the other IITs and the Indian Institute of Science in July. Now almost a year later, IIT Delhi has drafted the curriculum while the others are yet to get back.

``Once the proposal is passed, we will send the Delhi IIT model with another circular to others. It's been easier to deal with IIT Delhi because they are here,'' said an official at the HRD ministry.

The inter-disciplinary programme in Sanskrit will be an elective course meaning students have a choice to opt for it out of several other courses, most of them in the humanities and social sciences.

While the HRD Ministry wanted a full-fledged centre, IIT plans to ``integrate Sanskrit studies into the IIT system of education'' and to start degree-awarding programmes. ``The idea is to remove the impression that Sanskrit is just a language. Sanskrit is on the lines of mathematics and linguistics,'' said Wagesh Shukla of IIT's maths department, who is also a Sanskrit scholar and has speaheaded the effort.

``We have notions of what constitutes science which comes from the West. Sanskrit embodies an alternative approach to intellectuality,' he says that the proposal had been accepted in principle and only the formalities have to be fulfilled.

B.Tech, M.Tech and other students will have the option of studying treatises on sciences like the Carakasamhita or on poetics like the Rasagangadhara or in public administration and management like the Arthasastra.

The decision to start the programme will be ratified by the Senate, the highest decision-making body at IIT, and then the HRD ministry. But ``in principle'' the programme has been accepted. But in IIT itself there is growing concern about the induction of Sanskrit into the system. ``Our boundaries are defined in IIT. This is like introducing technology in Sanskrit institutions,'' said one professor on the condition of anonymity.

While students are confused about the utility of the course. ``It'll be interesting as an option,'' said a final year student. ``But they should also start some foreign language course which will help us in our careers,'' he added. ``If you want to study Sanskrit, IIT is not the best place. I would not take it as an option and I don't think people would go for it,'' says Lavanya Sharan, a second-year B.Tech student.

But Shukla dismisses these murmurs of dissent. ``Why is it that anything Indian is saffronisation? Our emphasis is on things based in science and technology,'' he said. The course structure would introduce students to the ``Orders of Thinking available in Sanskrit,'' to compare the Orders with Western thought. The curriculum has been prepared by a core group of IIT professores and an advisory committee with Shukla as the convener and other experts in the field like Vidyaniwas Mishra and Kutumba Sastry of the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan.

The other plan is to translate selected texts from Sanskrit and to prepare course material based on Sanskrit texts which may be used by other institutions. IIT will also start a text encoding initiative and create Sanskrit-based software and CDs and DVDs.

The HRD letter, dated 25 July 2000, to IIT Delhi specifically said that the department would ``prepare monographs on the basis of original Sanskrit texts of various disciplines'' and to prepare textbooks for the purpose of using in courses.

But IIT has decided to concentrate on the scientific areas. One text which will be taught will be the Astadhyayi, the grammar of Sanskrit which is ``responsible for the modern linguistic sciences and is supposed to be the forerunner of artificial intelligence.'' The programme will also conduct research into the use of Sanskrit as a ``programming language.'' ``Sanskrit is almost like a computer language. The traditional scholar is a species which is dying out. Something had to be done. We want to give our students an opportunity with Sanskrit studies,''