“English is the main language here, isiZulu is the first additional language, we’re phasing out Afrikaans and then there’s Sanskrit,” said Sunita Mego, who teaches the ancient language at St James Preparatory School.
“Sanskrit is more about life skills than being an actual language,” she said.
“The beauty of Sanskrit is its spiritual wealth. Every aspect of the language has some sort of spiritual significance."
Going over what they learned last year, Mego asked the Grade 6 class if they remembered why almost every Sanskrit letter begins with a line at the top.
“God,” the child replied.
“It represents God. It represents the Absolute.
“And we start at the top because everything comes from the Absolute. It comes from God.”
Next, a line going down perpendicular to the line at the top, which represents creation.
“So it starts with God and then it moves into creation and then, and only then, do we make the actual shape of the letter.”
After the lesson she said: “This kind of spiritual wealth is not there in English. It really isn’t.”
However, English is one of the many languages, both Eastern and Western, which Sanskrit has influenced.
“Take, for example, sarpa, which means a snake. You can clearly hear sarpa in serpent. There is a definite etymological link,” said Mego.
According to Wikipedia, “as the oldest Indo-European language for which substantial written documentation exists, Sanskrit holds a prominent position in Indo-European studies”.
“The body of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of poetry and drama as well as scientific, technical, philosophical and religious texts.”
Mego said when one learns any classical language it opens up neural pathways in the brain.
“It sharpens the mind, the brain. It gives the learner greater faculty for attention. A greater ability to really focus and pay attention and to listen.
“To master a classical language the listening must be very accurate - and listening is a skill that is neglected in our curriculum.
“We don’t do enough to actually focus on fine, accurate listening.”
Mego said studying classical languages also gives one a better understanding of grammar.
“There is still value in learning and understanding pure grammar and understanding the relationship between words and between actions and words just takes it to the next level.
“If you understand Sanskrit (and other classical languages) everything falls into place in English.”
She also said Sanskrit was valued by the computer sector.
“There’s something about the purity of the language. It’s very appropriate for programming.”
Mego said she had a feeling there was increasing interest in Sanskrit, including at universities in Germany.
“I get the feeling there is a revival.
“I think people are increasingly looking for deeper answers to everyday issues. That leads people to spiritual paths and to Sanskrit.”
It is taught to children at the St James family of schools, in Durban, Joburg and Cape Town and to adults through the School of Practical Philosophy under which the schools fall.
For further information, visit http://www.stjamesdurban.com/