What an experience… 29 people from 15 different parts of the world, 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 the participants received aesthetically appealing kits, containing notebooks, a map of Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry), grammar aids, pen, bookmarks and a copy of the famous book The Wonder That Is Sanskrit, which marked the beginning of the first day. During the Introductory session, the facilitator—Dr Sampadananda Mishra (a Presidential award-winning educator, scholar, and Director of Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture [SAFIC], an initiative of Sri Aurobindo Society) 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 everyone’s names, a little on their background and moving on to identifying human body parts, family relations and objects around. As the class furiously took notes, the participants learned 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 members realized that a Sanskrit pundit has the most flexible mouth and can easily adapt to different accents.
The 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 the straight-faced but amused Guruji. By the end of the week, most of the group could translate their thoughts and express themselves in Sanskrit with a little help from their notes and Sampad-da.
The techniques Sampad-da employed to help them memorize what they were learning and these methods included memory games 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. A session post-lunch divided the participants into four groups, with a group leader each, which was to then conduct a group discussion on the title ‘Sanskrit and Our Education System’. After in-depth and thought-provoking discussions, all the four groups came up with presentations on their conclusions on the topic. It was a very beneficial exchange of ideas to take up Sanskrit in the education system of India. Replicating the procedure on the previous day, the class was again distributed into four groups for another group discussion, this time on the title ‘Sanskrit in Daily Life.’ After some very fruitful and comprehensive discussions, another round of presentations was held. This was followed by ‘Vagvardhanam’, a really unique session which was conducted completely in Sanskrit, unlike earlier sessions that were executed in English to help the participants with learning of Sanskrit. This session made the class realize how far they had truly travelled in terms of imbibing and learning the Sanskrit language.
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. In order to encourage the group to their newfound love for Sanskrit further, Sampad-da gave an extended presentation on all the online Sanskrit resources—dictionaries, thesauruses, tutorials, word banks, blogs, videos, audios and e-books—available so that their learning would not be confined to days spent at SPANDANA. Then there was a final discussion session, where everybody was encouraged to share their Sanskrit journey as a feedback. Finally, certificates and prasad 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.