Ancient languages gaining popularity at UoP

by KALYANI SARDESAI, TNN, Feb 1, 2009

PUNE, India -- The University of Pune (UoP) is witnessing a rise in the number of students taking up two ancient Indian languages — Pali and Sanskrit. The number of students opting for Pali has shot up to 200 during the current academic year from 20 to 30 in 2005-06.

While around 50 students opted for Sanskrit in 2006-07, the number rose to 65 the following academic year. A total of 82 students are on the rolls this session.

“Pre-2006, there were only about 20-30 students opting for Pali. In 2006, it was 70, in 2007-08, the number went up to 140 while as of today, there are 200 students,” Mahesh Deokar, head of the Department of Pali, UOP, told TOI. (The department, in principle, is distinct from the Department of Sanskrit and Prakrit)

This trend can be attributed to an increasing interest in the languages that are a repository of information on ancient India, not to mention a treasure trove of Buddhist literature, he said.

Taught at the Sanskrit Pragat Adhyayan Kendra on the UOP campus, both Sanskrit and Pali have always dealt with common challenges: Lack of awareness about the subjects, limited career opportunities, as well as a shortage of permanent teaching staff. And though these challenges still persist, the departmental heads say that there are better days ahead.

Here’s why: Pali is the original language of Buddhist teachings, and with Maharashtra boasting the largest Buddhist community in the country, the interest is given. Apart from this, the MA programme in Buddhist literature teaches hybrid Sanskrit, which is distinct from classical Sanskrit and used by the scholars of the Mahayana school of Buddhism (the largest school of Buddhism that spread to South East Asian countries and China), thereby making it a natural choice for Buddhist monks, both Indian and foreign.

However, the challenge of meeting the shortage of permanent staff remains. “We have two permanent staff members, but have asked the University Grants Commission (UGC) for six more posts,” says Deokar.

“Earlier on, it was difficult to find sufficiently qualified staff, as city colleges had long stopped teaching the language, and it was only available at the university level. Old teachers retired, and new ones did not come up. But now, over time, we have managed to create a new set of teachers. In fact, several of our own students can teach, if the posts are created,” he said.

Apart from this, the department has appealed to the Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC) to include Pali as an optional subject. “The UPSC already offers Pali as an optional subject. The MPSC has assured us that it will rethink its earlier decision of taking Pali off the list of optional subjects,” said Deokar.
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