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SPANDANA—An Intensive Workshop on Sanskrit for Beginners
WHEN Jan 24–30, 2016
WHERE Society House, Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry

SPANDANA, an intensive workshop on Sanskrit for beginners, was held from January 24 to 30, 2016, organized by Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture (SAFIC) at the Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry. A total of 46 participants from various parts of the world attended this week-long workshop.

The workshop began with a brief introduction by each of the participants; each spoke of what inspired them to attend this workshop being conducted by Dr. Sampadananda Mishra, Director, SAFIC. 

“.... how beautifully it connects with the universal forces, how beautifully it explains the root of the creation, philosophy of creation, philosophy of life, what we are contemplating. This is the beauty of the language.” 

Introducing the Sanskrit language in the aforementioned words, Dr. Mishra spoke of some of its interesting features. By quoting the example of the word ‘fire’, he explained how this word has 34 different names in Sanskrit, each based upon one property of fire. Thus, the participants were made aware of how Sanskrit is not an object-based but rather an attribute-based language. Another aspect highlighted by Dr. Mishra was the fact that Sanskrit is a highly flexible language with regards to the grammatical arrangement of the words in a sentence. He further spoke of the concept of palindrome sequences in Sanskrit poetry, as well as of the beautiful verse constructions made possible by use of selected alphabets of the Sanskrit language. At every instance, the participants were provided a variety of examples to illustrate the uniqueness of this language.

Some of the sessions during the workshop were dedicated to topics that introduced the participants to various facets of Sanskrit so as to enable a holistic comprehension and learning of the language. There were sessions dedicated to understanding the science behind the Sanskrit alphabet (Varnamala) and Sanskrit metres (Chandas), where the participants were given to understand a few technicalities of the subject matter. The sessions on Sanskrit grammar (Vyakaranam) gave an insight into some of the basic guidelines to follow in the reading and writing of Sanskrit. 

Every day, two sessions were dedicated to conversing in Sanskrit (Sambhasanam), where Dr. Mishra would introduce a certain group of words related to specific topics such as verbs, food items, time, numbers, and so on. Beginning with speaking simple, few-worded sentences in Sanskrit on the first day, the participants gradually expanded their vocabulary and started experimenting with longer sentence constructions as the days of the workshop progressed. 

Augmenting the eminence of the sessions were group and interactive activities where the participants recited nursery rhymes as well as composed and read out short stories and dialogues in Sanskrit. In the group discussion (Carcagoshti), the participants were divided into groups and were asked to discuss and later present their views in front of the class on either of the two topics: ‘Sanskrit in Daily Life’ and ‘Sanskrit and our Education System’. 

A short introduction on the Srimad Bhagwad Gita was given by Dr. Mishra during one of the sessions. He spoke of how the Gita holds a solution to many of the current-day problems by essentially tackling the root cause of the problem, of how it holds an eternal message that is valid throughout the ages and of why it is revered as one of the greatest scriptures in the Indian tradition. This was followed by a presentation of the CD, created by SAFIC, on the Bhagwad Gita to facilitate the learning of all those interested.

The hour-long Mantra Yoga sessions at the beginning of each day of the workshop were enjoyed by all the participants. Every new mantra that was taken up for chanting was first explained by Dr. Mishra as to what the words meant and in which metre (Chanda) the mantras were set, thus generating a greater sense of appreciation for the mantra. 

Some of the participants showed great interest in melodic devotional songs (Kirtan) performed every evening. The collective singing would be accompanied by the sounds of the harmonium, tabla and cymbals. This experience turned out to be a new element during this workshop as it had never been done before in any of the workshops conducted before.

The last day of the workshop ended with a session on the various Sanskrit resources available on the Internet to facilitate further learning of the language. The participants gave their feedback of the workshop, speaking of what the seven-day journey into Sanskrit learning meant to them and their future aspirations with regards to this. The workshop ended with the distribution of certificates and prasada to all the participants. 

Feedback from Few of the Participants

“I liked most the Mantras, nursery rhymes and chandas sessions. Music makes it easy to remember and the pacing was good with written hand-outs to easily follow. I was happy with the good variety of approaches and the expertise of the facilitator.”—Shivani Ugrin, USA

“The workshop surpassed my expectations and I found it to be well planned. It gave us a better understanding and helped us realising the power and beauty of Sanskrit. And we were able to pick up conversations seamlessly.”—Mayank Bharadwaj, Hyderabad

“I liked most the Mantra chanting, as it was illustrated beautifully straight from the heart. The workshop was excellent and enabled me to reinvent myself.”—Gayatri Sarkar, Bangalore.

“I enjoyed the morning chanting sessions and the nursery rhymes sessions. I would continue to study and chant.”—Diana Schilke, USA

“I liked most Dr. Mishra’s love for his subject and the philosophy of language. Whether it’s the mantra or the Gita or the singing sessions, the whole group would hang on Dr. Mishra. Overall the workshop was excellent.”—Jonathan Walton, England

“I liked most the spiritual orientation of the teaching and the generosity of the teacher in sharing the resources.”—Sally Kinnaird, Australia

“I liked most the Mantra chanting sessions, conversations and other interactive sessions, also the singing of rhymes, story writing and group discussion. It all helped us to get in the language well. I would like to regularise my routine with Sanskrit as an essential part of my day.”—Jasmine Sampat, Mumbai

“Mantra chanting, storytelling and the conversational practice were the best. We got actively involved in using the language in all the above said sessions. I would make effort to improve my changing skill and understanding ability by using Sanskrit regularly and more practically.”—Komala Raveendra, Chittoor, AP

“I liked most the Mantra-chanting and the Bhagavadgita presentation. The subjects in the workshop were all beautifully and thoughtfully presented and explained by our wonderful teacher Sampadananda ji.”—Daniela Boban, England

“I liked most the manner and the methodology followed in the delivering the contents of the workshop. I will try to chant the Mantras daily.”—Nayana Prasad, Pondicherry. 

—Report by Romila Sil

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