NEW DELHI: The sprawl of yoga mats on Rajpath may have been rolled up, but India’s display of soft power is set to roll on. Only this time in Thailand. Starting this weekend, a contingent of 250 Sanskrit scholars from India led by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is expected to descend on Bangkok to participate in the four-day longWorld Sanskrit Conference (WSC).
The robust Indian participation with full government blessings is a barely disguised attempt to lay claim to a language that is for the Sangh Parivar at the core of Indian identity and culture. Swaraj, the guest of honour at the event, will deliver her speech in Sanskrit, the symbolism signaling the seriousness the government attaches to the event.
It is the first time that an Indian government has put its might behind this event, which was first held in Delhi in 1972 and has since been held across the globe every three to four years. The conference was held twice during the time of the previous NDA government headed by AB Vajpayee, in 2000 and 2003.
This time around, the Indian contingent will include a 30-strong team from the RSS-affiliate body Sanskrit Bharati led by the organisation’s president, Chand Kiran Salooja. Sanskrit Bharati’s main purpose is to promote the ancient language, which is closely associated with Hinduism.
Dinesh Kamath, all-India organising secretary of Sanskrit Bharati, expects that this time around Sanskrit will get its due.
“Such conferences have taken place in the past. But this is the first time western scholars claiming expertise in Sanskrit but having distorted views on Indian culture are not being promoted in the event,” he said.
“Till last year, only scholars presenting a western and modern view of Sanskrit were encouraged to speak, but this time we have rooted scholars, people who understand both Sanskrit and Bharat,” Kamath said, adding that the idea was to promote India’s soft power – yoga, ayurveda and Sanskrit – to as many parts in the world as possible. “This government is doing that like nobody in the past and we are willing to support them with our efforts,” he said.
MEA sources told ETthat the foreign minister is personally monitoring the WSC preparations with close cooperation with the Indian Embassy in Bangkok. Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who is a scholar of Sanskrit, is Royal Patron of the WSC. As many as 550 Sanskrit scholars from 60 countries are participating at the meet with 50 each from Germany, Japan and Thailand.
Two Sanskrit plays – Karnabharam and Prabhavati – will be hosted by India at the opening and closing ceremonies attended by President of Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Lokesh Chandra.
Messages from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and HRD Minister Smriti Irani will be delivered at the conference. The HRD Ministry is part funding the conference while Thailand’s Silpakorn University, which has a Sanskrit department, is its co-organiser. The main focus of the event will be discussions on “pedagogy in Sanskrit,” according to Sanskrit Bharati’s Kamath.
“Presently, Sanskrit is being taught using English, Hindi or other foreign languages. The outdated start with grammar approach is used, which has not done anything to improve the popularity of the language. We are looking at offering people quick ten-day courses after which they will start speaking in Sanskrit,” said Kamath, an RSS pracharak for 33 years. Sanskrit is presently taught in 254 universities in 40 foreign countries, a number Kamath expects to increase after the latest conference.