Lecture Service for Secondary Schools - We help to motivate your students. Click for details

web counter
web counter


Teachers tell you what to learn, IDYLL shows you how to learn it

Dr H V S Shastry, London, England
w: http://samskritavrittam.yolasite.com/
w: http://www.dynamic-language-learning-dr-bung.com
contact info img

© 2010 H V S Shastry

Dr H V S Shastry:
Learn to chat in Sanskrit

Formerly published as: "New Trends in Conversational Sanskrit"

Paper presented at the 27th Sanskrit Seminar held at STIMW (Sanskrit Tradition in the Modern World), University of Manchester, on 28 May 2010. Edited and adapted for web presentation by Dr Klaus Bung.

I am grateful to Samskrita Bharati who helped me with a number of data I required for this paper. I am also indebted to both of my daughters-in-law, Smt Poornima Shastry, who helped me while I was in India, as well as Smt Sandhya Shastry in the UK, without whose help I could not have used the technical devices.

Try to click on the images to see them enlarged or to watch the video clips or sound recordings to which they refer.

If you want to visit the Indian villages where Sanskrit is spoken and the Sanskrit projects mentioned in this article, visit the linked website where you can find budget hotels and luxury hotels all over India, compare prices, read reviews and book online.

The revival of spoken Sanskrit

Much progress has been made over the last 30 years in the revival of Spoken Sanskrit. New trends are emerging in curriculum, teaching methods and attitudes towards using the language.

Dr Arvind Sharma identified two methods primarily followed prior to this period for teaching Sanskrit. One of these is memorisation and the other is by treating it as a language of the past and only exploring the classical literature. He observes that both these techniques were diminutive and unnatural. The curriculum of Conversational Sanskrit as well as the recently emerging teaching methods could be the third way if we take the lead from Dr Sharma’s thoughts.

Teaching Conversational Sanskrit, which was started in 1980 by Samskrita Bharati, the institution pioneering the revival of Sanskrit, was then called Sarala Samskrtam (Simple Sanskrit). This is a direct method of learning, which encourages the student to talk in Sanskrit from the very first day thereby emphasising oral communication rather than more literary skills.

Before this method was introduced, almost all journals and magazines published in Sanskrit were ailing because they did not have enough readers.

Newspaper cover Notice India TV page
Among them Sudharma, was the only daily newspaper.

India’s National Radio service, All India Radio (AIR)

This poster admonishes: "Can you be one of the hundred committed regular listeners? "

India’s National television service, Doordarshan (DD), were broadcasting national and international news in Sanskrit even before 1980.

But most of these went unnoticed (in the homeland of Sanskrit itself), which also generated much concern among the pioneers of the spoken Sanskrit movement.

The new wave of Sanskrit education acquired popularity soon after 1980, when Samskrita Bharati introduced the Foundation Course (FC).

The syllabus for the Foundation Course required the following formations for active voice constructions:

  • verbs in the present tense and imperative mood,
  • past participle,
  • two of the formations in the participle indeclinable;
  • seven noun formations (singular only).

In the revision classes the same syllabus was taught with more verbs and more vocabulary.

A lot of stories, songs, games and jokes kept the students engaged, keeping the syllabus simple and straightforward. The objective was to engage all the students in Sanskrit dialogue fluently, no matter if there were small mistakes.

Video clip - Prof Chamu Krishna Shastry speaks about using Sanskrit at homeIn 1981 the slogan was, “Don’t talk ABOUT Sanskrit, talk IN Sanskrit”, which was reflected in the behaviour of those who attended the Foundation Course. The whole family was encouraged to attend the course so that they would continue to talk Sanskrit at home. Click here to hear Prof Chamu Krishna Shastry encouraging his listeners to speak Sanskrit at home.

The method for learning spoken Sanskrit was no longer a grammatical exercise of constructing sentences. It contained very few examples from classical Sanskrit literature.

As a result of this new approach, the students developed interest and love for Sanskrit, as with any modern language, instead of merely reverence for Sanskrit as the language of the Holy Scriptures of India. The Sanskrit tutors spoke to their spouses and children only in Sanskrit, which is reminiscent of the way Ben Yehudi revived the Hebrew language (cf also the revival of Irish). Consider also the revival of Latin (once the lingua franca of Europe, just as English is today the lingua franca of the world) as a spoken language (including a Latin chatroom, hosted in Finland).

1. In India, learning Conversational Sanskrit has become a popular pastime

Since students have little time to develop their language skills, new techniques were introduced to encourage using Sanskrit regularly and consistently in their daily life. Some of these were:

  • To write a diary in Sanskrit since no two days are alike, or to describe their day to themselves
  • To stick name tags (to remember the Sanskrit words for them) on the objects at home
  • To ring and greet their friends in Sanskrit
  • To send greeting cards with Sanskrit quotations
  • To read aloud any literature, or a translation, narrate at a party or for a fun, for example a joke in Sanskrit
  • To write small stories, songs, or relate an experience for a couple of minutes.
  • To keep a fixed time each day (for example, dinner time) to converse in Sanskrit.

At the time of inaugurating the Intermediate Level of Conversational Sanskrit in 1983, Prof S T Nagaraja gave the keynote address (Part 1, Part 2) for 160+ delegates and the message became clear. In the Simple Sanskrit curriculum, the way of teaching was to be simple, but that was not to simplify Sanskrit. Without any compromise in the standards, and while safeguarding the complexity of the structure of Sanskrit (both as a language and its literature), the strategy was to deliver a quality education to the students in a breakdown of the levels.

In 1984 the Advanced Level exam of Conversational Sanskrit was held for the first time.

These apart, the renaissance in Sanskrit education acquired the dimension of special space owing to the creation of Sanskrit homes, villages, universities, and a lot of Sanskrit propagators – all of these using only Sanskrit as their medium of communication with one another. The following also added to their benchmarks within the curriculum.

1. The department of publication, which brought out the texts, manuals and all literature in Sanskrit, using the scripts of other languages.

2. Examinations awarding grades and offering distance education in the Sanskrit medium were offered all over India and for students abroad.

3. Teacher training and teaching tools also became available through electronic media.

4. For various activities the representatives of several bodies, such as

joined forces to form the QCA.(now known as QCDA: Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency)

Jointly they achieved the following results in support of Conversational Sanskrit:

A. Formation of hubs

Sanskrit Homes

Video clipIn this video clip Sanskrit students talk about their experiences with exclusively speaking Sanskrit at home.


Sanskrit Villages

video clipIndia TV reports about the village which cannot do without Sanskrit.


The five villages in which only Sanskrit is spokenThe five villages in which only Sanskrit is spoken.


B. Special events

Sanskrit Days to popularise the power of conversation. Open competitions in all in Sanskrit became popular. Examples:

Sanskrit mini-play performed by children

Scene fropm Sanskrit play performed by children


Assembly in square


Video clip of street rally

Drama writing in Uttaranchal


Elocution and debating


C. Monthly magazine in Sanskrit

Sample pages from Sambhashana Sanskrit magazineA monthly magazine was published entirely in simple Sanskrit. It is called Sambhashana Sandesha. During the 15 years of its existence more than 600 pages have been published. The publishers of the magazine are Samskrita Bharathi, Bangalore. They estimate that they have over 100,000 readers (but fewer subscribers) distributed over 10 countries.

D. Online magazines

Sudharma magazine, sample pageDaily magazines in Sanskrit are now available on-line, e.g. Sudharma.


E. Organisations

Loka Samskritam coverPublic and registered organisations teach conversational Sanskrit.



F. Children's monthly magazine

Sanskrit magazine for childrenSamskrita Chandamama (children’s monthly magazine) has been published since 1983.


G. Use of Internet

Those who are conversant in Sanskrit are effectively using the Internet for Sanskrit blogs, emails, websites etc. (Link 2)

Sunday Herald, Newspaper article, Sanskrit goes pop

Click on the image to make it larger.

??? The full text of this exciting and well-written article will appear here soon. Please check every two weeks.

H. From conversation to public speaking

Woman in public speaking competition

The movement for spoken Sanskrit had started with conversation, a comparatively trivial and private skill. By 2000 it had advanced to public speaking and lecturing. For example in the city of Tarunodaya (in the South Indian state of Karnataka) and in Shivamogga (formerly known as Shimoga) (also in Karnataka)

press cutting


I. Revival of the Shalaka Pariksha

The Shalaka Pariksha tradition was revived. Shalaka Pariksha is an exceedingly challenging examination of a candidate’s knowledge about a scripture. (Link 1, Link 2)

Poster Poster


Here is an example from a newspaper report of 2009:

"Samskrit Bharati will conduct Shalaka Pariksha, an old system of examination, in Ahmedabad this year. In this examination the Granthas are fixed before one year for examination and all aacharyas throughout Bharat are informed. The students learn the Granthas and take the examination in which every student has to answer any question regarding that book. There is no criterion for obtaining 33 per cent marks for passing the examination.

Samskrit Bharati has decided to spread its work in downtrodden class of the society. Sanskrit is a very good medium for assimilation of the society. It has already conducted thousands of 10-day spoken Sanskrit classes in rural areas."

Source: Organiser, 1 November 2009

J. Sanskrit Quizzes

Public quizzes like Avadhana were conducted in Sanskrit.

K. New works of entertainment created in Sanskrit

Video clip, Sakshi Sila, Sanskrit playConversational Sanskrit worked through the entertainment media as well. New forms of Sanskrit literature have grown with a variety of materials – related to music, plays, short stories, small novels, jokes and Sanskrit songs etc. Indian folk elements have also appeared in these compositions. As an example, a new Sanskrit folk play, “Sakshi Sila” was staged across several venues. In one venue alone, circa 40,000 villagers watched, understood and enjoyed it. The play has been staged twice in London and is expected to be staged again.

L. Sanskrit films

In India, four commercial films have so far been produced in Sanskrit. They are:

Adi Shankaracharya

Adi Shankaracharya

The life story of Lord Krishna

Radha Krishna
Swami Vivekananda


Filming of a fifth film, entitled "Prabodha Chandrodayam" has started. Donations for this film are still being collected.

M. Academic events entirely in Sanskrit

Some academic Sanskrit departments hold their events entirely in Sanskrit. A recent occasion was in February 2010 at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai Kendra.

Prospectus page 1

prospectus page 1

Prospectus page 2

prospectus page 2

Prospectus page 3

prospectus page 3

Prospectus page 4

prospectus page 4

N. News broadcasts in Sanskrit

O. Advertising in Sanskrit

boy on motorbike in Sanskrit only villagesThe reputation of conversational Sanskrit has been used for a TV advertisement. The modern boy on this motorcycle is able to go anywhere, to villages in the middle of nowhere where he has to ask for directions in Sanskrit because no other language is spoken there."Wonderful!" he says scornfully to himself. (Click on image to make it larger.)

P. New rituals

A motorbike or a motor scooter was given a blessing (puja) when first "launched" on the road by its happy new owner. Normally a puja would be performed by a priest and in classical Sanskrit. This ceremony was performed by the proud owner himself, in conversational Sanskrit.

Motorcycle pujaI have no picture of the motorcycle puja done by the layman in "spoken Sanskrit", but you can click on the photograph on the left to read a description (as is!) given by an American tourist of such a puja done by a priest, and some more pictures. I am giving this link for the benefit of non-Indian readers who cannot even imagine a motorcycle puja. For Westerners, especially in Christian countries, it should really be compared to the launch ceremony of a new ship or the consecretation (dedication) of a church or a newly-built house. It is done in the same spirit, and doesn't anyone riding a motorcycle need God's protection, even in England, to say nothing of India!

Q. Sanskrit as medium of instruction for women

Banner for Panini Gurukul

Panini Kanya Mahavidyalaya is an all women’s institution in Varanasi where a variety of subjects are all taught using Sanskrit as the only medium of instruction.

R. Sanskrit learning in public spaces

Since the Conversational Sanskrit involves only a minimum or no board work, students assemble in public places and onlookers watch the fun in learning Sanskrit in a park, restaurant or a cinema house.

photograph or link to be inserted here ???

S. Sanskrit for all

Fluency of Sanskrit is no longer restricted to any particular part of society. According to a report dated 12 September 2007, at Batla House madrassa (a Muslim school) in Delhi Sanskrit is being taught with the intention of promoting understanding between religions. This is the more remarkable as the general tendency for Indian Muslims is to lean, for religions reasons, towards Persian-inspired and Arabic-inspired Urdu rather than Sanskrit-inspired Hindi. Sadly, in September 2008, there was a police shootout in that very building as part of an anti-terrorist operation, and the police tactics on that day are being questioned in public enquiries and court proceedings.

Village children sitting lined up in Sanskrit schoolJhiri village in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India communicates in Sanskrit


Poster from Uttaranchal declaring Sanskrit the second State languageThe State of Uttaranchal (alias Uttarakhand) in India has declared Sanskrit to be the second state language.


T. Small businesses

Small businesses have started using Sanskrit as their means of communication to carve a niche in the marketplace. An article in THE TIMES OF INDIA (7 May 2010) tells the story of a cloth merchant in Bijapur, Karnataka State, who attracted many customers because he speaks to them in Sanskrit. The article concludes: "Following this attraction at Ram Singh's shop, now barbers, kirana shop owners, beauty parlours, cloth merchants and several traders have begun to use Sanskrit as their business language."

2. Global perspectives

Globally, Conversational Sanskrit has gained greater attention, which can be attributed to these new teaching techniques

In 1986 at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in London, Conversational Sanskrit was taught for the first time, and a course has been held there every year since then. This year (2010) it is to be held in August.

A conference in Edinburgh in 2006 had papers regarding spoken Sanskrit but that was related to the past only.(See Abstracts, p 127/8). sentence not clear; reference not clear???

In 2007 Prof McComas Taylor from Canberra gave a presentation on Conversational Sanskrit at STIMW (The Sanskrit Tradition in the Modern World), Manchester University.

In 2009, also at the STIMW conference, James Madaio reported on the same subject. There have been various events on Conversational Sanskrit in Europe, the UK as well as the US.
This link was not working when tried on 4 July 2010 ??? delete link?
ditto NOT working on 5 July 2010, neither on 7 Juyoy 2010

At the St James Independent School in London, a Sanskrit Speech Competition will be held on 23 June 2010.

The Samskrita Bharati UK had their third successive annual event of Conversational Sanskrit and Teacher Training in Leicester in April 2010. 50 students and 6 teachers participated.

3. The future of Conversational Sanskrit

As Sanskrit education spreads across the globe, one can detect small local variations in terms of preference for communicating, for example using specific choice of vocabulary and sentence formations despite the adherence to standard grammatical principles. Further, using the Internet as a medium affects the approach and nuances within the language. This opens avenues for research taking into account how local cultures and vernaculars affect the language style.

As more and more people converse in Sanskrit, the variation in accents in the Sanskrit language surfaces. The intonations (not the accent), Kaku and such phonemes??? of Sanskrit are appreciated as the Conversational Sanskrit gets a place in the curriculum. By their application, reading of the scriptures with clarity gets prominence.

The Shalaka Pariksha system can be used in the Western context to study bodies of science. There was an event in Bangalore where technicians from the field of information technology contributed to the vital combination of knowledge of Sanskrit and the skills of modern science thereby exploring avenues of integrating the disciplines.

As Sanskrit has very few irregularities, it works as an excellent compatible tool to develop skills in computer programming. Extensive research is already being undertaken in Tumkur, Karnataka State, India, on this subject. Click here to see a note on research in to aircraft design in Ancient India:

Another interesting observation has been made in India among a few fervent parents who have taught their children nothing but Sanskrit from birth. These children have been noticed to have a tendency to invent new words. This ability may lead to the contribution to the subsequent affixes such as Sanadyanta, Yanluk.

boy performing on stageConversational Sanskrit is an excellent tool for the theatre to bring out cultural nuances in dialogue-delivery and oral intonations. Better diction leads to better pronunciation and a deeper understanding of the stories enacted. In this video clip several children perform a play, Veni Samhara, first in Sanskrit and then in English, just below the national speed limit. :-)

In the past, the skill that students acquired when studying Sanskrit was mainly the ability to translate from Sanskrit into their native language (analogous to the objective of European students of Latin and Greek). At best that was called "reading Sanskrit" (or Latin, or Greek, etc). Some students were able to translate from their native language into Sanskrit, which might be called "writing Sanskrit". Even these two skills taken together are generally considered inferior to the skill of communicating ***orally*** in both languages, i.e. speaking Sanskrit and understanding spoken Sanskrit. If students perform orally in Sanskrit as well as they do in their mother tongue, then they can be called bilingual, and that is the ideal towards which we are striving - a skill that is considerably higher than that of only being able to translate from and into Sanskrit. We want to educate people who can think, read, write, speak Sanskrit and understand spoken Sanskrit - fluently.

Two people in the UK who have achieved this ideal are Rev Dr Stephen Thompson and Dr Will Rasmussen.

Dr Will Rasmussen had participated as a teacher in the Conversational Sanskrit Workshop in Leicester. At the Finale, he recalled his own ability in between the stages: He watched his own ability in understanding the Sanskrit texts with the Sutras make a shift after learning with Conversational Sanskrit. He repeatedly attended Conversational Sanskrit Courses for which he travelled abroad as well. He rightly observes that the fluency in Sanskrit acquired by the Sanskrit scholars makes a big impact in comprehending the classical texts, especially the philosophical material (with spiritual contents) in the Vedanta (Sanskrit) literature reveal their meaning by a close familiarity with Sanskrit as a living language through constant association with Conversational Sanskrit.

In the careers of professionals in fields of Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedic Astrology the knowledge of conversational Sanskrit is thought to be very useful. This knowledge encourages a deeper cultural understanding of the sciences that allow more appropriate current interpretations.


Contact Dr Shastry if you want to arrange a course in spoken Sanskrit for a group of students in an academic institution, a temple, a cultural organisation or elsewhere, in the United Kingdom or abroad. He will be pleased to help with your project.

Teachers tell you what to learn, IDYLL shows you how to learn it



Contact Dr Shastry if you want to arrange a course in spoken Sanskrit for a group of students in an academic institution, a temple, a cultural organisation or elsewhere, in the United Kingdom or abroad. He will be pleased help with your project.