The introduction of Sanskrit in my life completely changed the way I go about things. It brought about new horizons that I could only dream of reaching earlier. Not only did I develop several close friendships across the country, but I was also introduced to a whole new aspect of my culture. After four years of being immersed in Sanskrit, I can safely say that the knowledge obtained over those years has made me understand that culture and its traditions far better.
This whole lifestyle of mine began in May 2006, when a gentleman from India temporarily working in Erie came to the temple in Pittsburgh. He happened to come on a Sunday, when three religious classes were running. He came to my class with a plan to introduce Sanskrit to us. During that session, he taught us how to introduce ourselves and others, and identify basic objects. Knowing that my parents had studied Sanskrit for two years in school, immediately after the class, I enthusiastically told them about what I learned that day. The following week, we realized that he was going to conduct a Sanskrit class for children every week for 45 minutes.
And so my Sanskrit education started. He taught us for a month, and following September, my parents started a Sanskrit class. From the weekend after Labor Day until the middle of May, I learned several basic concepts of the language, such as action verbs, nouns, (people,places, and things) direct and indirect object pronouns, and the present, future, and past tenses. After that year, several students, many of whom were my friends, dropped out of the class due to various commitments. Therefore, I began to lose interest in Sanskrit. The following year, I really did not learn much new material, and Sanskrit became a distant afterthought. It seemed that chapter of my life had passed.
This all took a drastic turn for the better in June of 2008. I attended a one week, residential Sanskrit camp held for the second time at Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. I gained more knowledge from this camp that included 25 hours of instruction than ever before. Not only did this rejuvenate my confidence in the language, but there I befriended numerous individuals from ages 12 to 16. I was far more involved in my parent’s class the following year, even though once again I learned close to no new material due to the level of the other students.
Nevertheless, I refined my Level 1 and 2 Sanskrit skills. After attending two more camps the following July, I had made the transition from an enthusiastic student to a devoted, dedicated student and advocate of the oldest language in the world. Additionally, I had developed closer friendships with people from all over the continent. After that, I never looked back or regretted any of my decisions concerning Sanskrit. I signed up for a course and tested out of the first level, allowing me to seriously continue my studies in the beautiful language. For obvious reasons, I attended the same, youth residential camp this year, meeting many of my friends. Clearly, the decision to pursue Sanskrit was a life changing one, as I now see it in a positive light.
In conclusion, looking back at how Sanskrit became part of my life, I notice that the most primary reason was peer motivation. Although it may have not been direct counseling and advising by friends, the mere presence of individuals who I have come to know and love persuaded me to stick with the language.
Now, with this acquired knowledge, I am able to understand the traditions and practices surrounding my religion, and the entire Indian culture dictated by these far better. Learning Sanskrit has caused me to have a greater appreciation for all world languages, and has sparked an interest to learn many of these languages. That is how my immersion into Sanskrit was and continues to be a life altering experience.
(Bharat Iyer is currently a 10th grader at Fox Chapel Area High School in Pittsburgh, PA and a third year student in the SAFL program).