Sanskrit is an ancient and classical language of India. The first ever book of the world Rigveda was compiled in Sanskrit. Samskritam means ‘refined’ or ‘sculpted to perfection’. Sanskrit is a cultured language for the attainment of culture. Every syllable and word in Sanskrit is derived from its root. The sounds of Sanskrit language are root-sounds bearing truth-vibrations. As per the Indian tradition Sanskrit language has no beginning and no end. It is eternal, divine and everlasting.
Sanskrit, one of the most scientific languages, is the source of many languages and literature in India. It is believed that all modern Indian languages used in the northern India have evolved from Sanskrit and that of southern India are enriched and nourished by Sanskrit language.
Presently, Sanskrit is introduced in schools in Class 6 when students are around 11 years old, without instilling in them any love for the language in their younger years. However, research concludes that the age at which any new language can be learned easily and with great fluency is from birth to age 6 or 7, after which it becomes much harder. Also, it is taught in a traditional way which consists of prescriptions for translation and gives way to rote learning of conjugation tables.
Against this backdrop, Devabhasha was conceptualized. It is an attempt to empower every child with the ability to understand and converse in Sanskrit. Devabhasha curriculum consists of a set of 8 graded books for classes 1 to 8 and teacher’s handbook for LKG and UKG. The aim is to develop simple conversational Sanskrit rather than the Sanskrit of scholars. Hence, the books contain grade-appropriate text material in the form of stories, poems etc. The focus is on linguistic proficiency rather than on literary finesse.
The three main aims of Devabhasha are to:
- Develop a connect with Indian culture and tradition
- Nurture patriotism
- Foster a deep connect with the soul and the divine through ‘Divyavani’
Major Components of Devabhasha Curriculum
Through Devabhasha, the dream is to enable every child to understand and converse in Sanskrit. Rooted in values, the curriculum has three main focus areas:
Reading Comprehension and Writing
Reading any language is not merely about fluently reading the text. Understanding the text and making meaning of it is equally essential. Hence, reading comprehension is one of the key elements of learning Sanskrit as well.
An integrated approach to develop reading comprehension and writing skills has been adopted. A rich collection of various stories, songs, rhymes, biographies, and plays have been included in the curriculum. There is a special emphasis on children’s interaction with the environment – natural and social. This section has been developed thoughtfully keeping the following elements in mind:
Mechanics of Reading
Various reading strategies are used for generating interest in students. Usually, pictures or visuals of the story are shown to the students along with a simple narration by the teacher. The interaction is two-way where students are engaged actively in the form of interpreting pictures, asking and answering question during the entire story. This is followed by reading the text of the story by students first with the help of the teacher and then independently. Along with this, reading fluency is also developed in students.
Comprehension of text is done through picture interpretation, verbalizing what they see and expressing what they understand through Sanskrit conversation. Various activities are used to strengthen comprehension skills of students.
Additional importance is given to building students’ vocabulary. This is achieved through various means like language learning activities and games.The focus is on building contextual vocabulary. Students are encouraged to describe pictures, objects, places, situations they encounter on a daily basis to help them enhance their vocabulary.
Divyavani : integral part of curriculum
One of the unique features of Devabhasha curriculum is the focus on connecting with the ancient scriptures. A chapter called ‘Divyavani’ has been introduced in every grade which emphasises on universal values brought out through different scriptures like Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. Cultivating the right attitude towards life, imbibing good manners and conduct, developing a constant connectivity with the divine and the skill of self-observation and reflection are the key elements here.
Emphasis on Writing
Equal emphasis is given on writing work. A written exercise connected with the text read is given at the end. This is primarily to build the ability in students to write new sentences and not just rely on the text read.
Various activities that cultivate imagination in students are also stressed upon. This can take the form of either asking students to continue the story and imagine a new end for it or re-imagine the story if any situation or character is modified etc. The activities are typically done in small groups and individual.
The Devabhasha curriculum introduces elements of language through contextual situations and enables students to learn use of grammar in day-to-day use of language. Various theories on language learning believe that children are born with an inherited ability to learn any language. Chomsky’s views are notable in this regard. He claims that certain linguistic structures which children use so accurately must be already etched on the child’s mind. According to him, every child has a ‘language acquisition device’ or LAD which encodes the major principles of a language and its grammatical structures into the child’s brain. Hence, children do not have to learn the rules of grammar in isolation. Rather they must only learn new vocabulary and apply the grammatical structures from the ‘language acquisition device’ to form sentences.This is the basic premise for focusing on functional grammar instead of merely rote-learn grammatical rules.
The four macro language skills namely Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking cannot be taught in isolation as communicating in any language involves a combination of these. Listening and speaking are integrated during reading comprehension, writing and functional grammar lessons. However, special emphasis is given to conversational Sanskrit in the curriculum. Sanskrit is not merely defined by reciting mantras and shlokas, the curriculum is designed in a manner that every student should be able to converse in Sanskrit. Since, the environment of the students does not provide opportunities to actively communicate in Sanskrit, focused time on conversational skills has been provided for in the curriculum.