Where everyone speaks Sanskrit

Dhaka, Tuesday   07 April 2020


Where everyone speaks Sanskrit

 Dhrubo Ekramul daily-bangladesh.com

 Published: 11:12 PM, 6 October 2019  

File Photo

File Photo

We almost everyone found the word Sanskrit in our Bangla grammar book while studying the history of Bangla Language. We recognize the Sanskrit as an influential Language for Bangla. Sanskrit is regarded as the ancient language in Hinduism, where it was used as a means of communication and dialogue by the Hindu Celestial Gods, and then by the Indo-Aryans. Sanskrit is also widely used in Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Once upon a time, the language was used in literature, academic, and official purpose. But, can you imagine such a place still exists where people are using Sanskrit to communicate in their daily life?

Mattur, a small sleepy village on the banks of the perennial river Tunga in Shimoga district near Shivamogga city of Karnataka in India. Enter any home in Mattur, and you will be greeted with Bhavatha nam kim (What is your name?), Katham asti (How are you?) and Coffee va chaayam kim ichchhathi bhavan (What will you have, coffee or tea?) in eloquent and poetic sounding Sanskrit. Mattur is one and only village in the world where residents still converse in the classical language of Sanskrit.

Like its significance, the structure of the village is also unique. The entire village is square, like a typical agraharam, with a central temple and a village pathshala.  The Vedas are chanted at the pathshala in the traditional way. The students learn them meticulously in their five-year course, under the careful supervision of village elders. After observing their education system you might think that, Time-machine has taken you hundreds of year back.

According to the teachers, learning Sanskrit helps the students develop an aptitude for math and logic as well. At the pathshala (school), students collect old Sanskrit palm leaves, expand the script on computers and rewrite the damaged text in present day Sanskrit to make it available to the general people through publications. Even, over the years, many students from abroad have also stayed and undergone crash courses at the pathshala to learn Sanskrit.

But, never limit their educational qualification as Sanskrit learners or as backdated students. The schools in Mattur have some of the best academic records in the district. Many of Mattur’s young go abroad to study engineering or medicine and the village boasts of at least one software engineer in every family. Mattur has produced over 30 Sanskrit professors who are teaching in Kuvempu, Bengaluru, Mysore, and Mangalore universities.

The residents of Mattur

An ancient Brahmin community migrated from Kerala and settled down in Mattur about 600 years ago. About 5000 people are currently living there. Residents are basically agrarian who primarily cultivates areca nuts and paddy. Everybody in Mattur, from the vegetable vendor to the priest, understands Sanskrit. Most of the people speak the language fluently too.

Another interesting sight of this community is Sanskrit graffiti on the houses’ walls. The slogans painted on the walls are ancient quotes such—Maarge swachchataya virajate, grame sujanaha virajante (Cleanliness is as important for a road as good people are for the village). Some families also have the sign “You can speak Sanskrit in this house” proudly written on their doors.

Other than Sanskrit, they also speak a rare dialect called Sankethi, which is a mixture of Sanskrit, Tamil, Kannada, and bits of Telugu. The Sankethi dialect has no written script and is read in the Devanagari script.

Sanskrit's root

Maybe you are thinking that the residents there are practicing the language for a long ago. No, it was not rooted so far ago. In 1981, an organization named Sanskrit Bharati that promoted the classical language by conducting a 10-day Sanskrit workshop in Mattur. Seeing the villagers eagerly take part in the unique experiment to preserve Sanskrit, the seer reportedly exclaimed, “A place where individuals speak Sanskrit, where whole houses talk in Sanskrit! What next? A Sanskrit village! ” It was a call the residents of Mattur took to heart. This is how Sanskrit became the primary language of the village. It is really a great success to make a trend in a very short period of time.

Since the language is spoken by people wearing jeans and t-shirts or while talking over a cell phone or riding a motorbike, Mattur has become a quaint metaphor for ancient India in modern times.

We know that language is an ever changeable subject. Day by day many words are being added to the dictionary and some are being lost. Many languages also have been lost their existence because of having no practices. But, at that time reestablishment, a language in a certain area to keep its existence longer is undoubtedly a unique and admirable initiative.