What an experience… 18 people from 6 different countries, no two people the same age and most from as varied as sociocultural backgrounds as possible… and those are only the first few of the several striking things about the SPANDANA workshop. All of us, the participants, received aesthetically appealing kits, containing a notebook, Ashram guide, grammar aids, pen, bookmarks and our own copy of the famous book The Wonder That Is Sanskrit, which marked the beginning of the first day. During the Introductory session, our facilitator—Dr Sampadananda Mishra or Sampad-da as he is fondly referred to—unfolded little-known facts about the language. The class was astonished to hear that Sanskrit has over 300 million words, which is more than most languages of the world put together. In fact, there are over 100 ways to say, ‘You’re a lion!’ in Sanskrit, which speaks volumes about its rich vocabulary.
From the very first day, Sampad-da encouraged the class to interact in Sanskrit, beginning with asking each other’s names and moving on to identifying our body parts, family relations and objects around us. As the class furiously took notes, we learnt that Sanskrit is an inflectional language, where word order in a sentence is of less importance than it is in most other languages. The post-lunch session was all about understanding, learning and appreciating the Sanskrit alphabet, during which we realized that a Sanskrit pundit has the most flexible mouth and can easily adapt to different accents.
Incidentally a Sanskrit Exhibition was going on at the same time as the workshop and the participants got a chance to visit the exhibition on Sunday evening, the first day of the workshop. This was an enriching experience, where the classical language described the various parts of machinery, day-to-day items and ancient Indian games and traditions.
Second day onwards, classes began at 6 am, before sunrise, to the chants of sacred and calming mantras, the meaning and significance of which Sampad-da explained in his characteristic inimitable style. The remainder of the day was spent learning the various aspects of the mother of all languages, and trying to converse in it. A notable routine of the workshop during the ‘Let’s Speak Sanskrit’ sessions was developed when everyone tried to make innovative and witty sentences in Sanskrit, which entertained the whole class as well as our straight-faced but amused guruji. By the end of the week, most of us could translate our thoughts and express ourselves in Sanskrit with a little help from our notes and Sampad-da.
The techniques Sampad-da employed to help us memorize what we had learned, and these methods included memory games, playing Sanskrit Whispers, weaving stories using the Sanskrit words provided and translating popular stories to Sanskrit. The presentation on Srimad Bhagwad Gita left the group overwhelmed and impressed beyond belief, and requests to purchase the CD started pouring in immediately. A similar response was seen when Sampad-da introduced ‘Chhandovallari’, a multimedia CD that contains lyrical components of Sanskrit.
On the pre-final day, the class was given three topics, of which one or more could be chosen by a team/individual for presenting their thoughts before the class. The topics were ‘What Sanskrit Means to Me’, ‘Usefulness of Sanskrit’, and ‘Sanskrit, India and the World’. A few participants made speeches on the topic of their choice, while some teams added poetic elements to their presentations. Mahalakshmi, a participant from Hyderabad, sang proverbs in Sanskrit representing her team, as did Andrea, from Italy, for his respective team. Shreya and Shubhra, from California and Mumbai respectively, performed a slam about all three topics using words from Sanskrit.
By the last day of the workshop, the entire group was more like a group of friends bonding over love for a common language, which was new yet intriguing to them all. Soon after, Shivakumar, fondly called Shiv-bhaiya, made a presentation about the various ongoing projects of Sri Aurobindo Society. Then there was a final discussion session, where everybody was encouraged to share their Sanskritical journey. Finally, certificates and sweets were handed out to participants and everyone parted with a promise to attend the advanced course six months hence, departing with memories from the previous seven days, wisdom from a great facilitator like Sampad-da and a copy of a group photograph they would cherish for a long time.