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During my second year of B.A studies at RYI, I had the opportunity to take Beginner’s Sanskrit language courses. This subject excited me because I fondly remembered taking Sanskrit classes during my fourth grade in elementary school. I still recall those lessons as being noteworthy experiences at the time. However, since I had only taken Sanskrit for a brief period, I had easily forgotten everything over these many years.
My RYI Beginner’s Sanskrit group was comprised of students from all over the world. Our native languages varied from Nepalese, English, German, Bengali, Chinese, Bhutanese, Hindi, Italian and more. In the first few weeks of the class, my background in Nepali language played a significant role in helping me familiarize myself with Sanskrit scripts and vocabularies. However, when we were introduced to the dizzying arrays of declensions, conjugations and other grammatical rules, the course grew quite challenging—though in an interesting way! We had to memorize numerous vocabulary words and grammatical rules every week for regular tests. Preparing for these tests definitely increased my motivation to better apprehend the technical aspects of the language. The course was not easy, as weekly exercises would take me anywhere from six to eight hours to complete, but the guidance from my course tutors, the support from my class mates, and the camaraderie from the senior students significantly lightened the burden.
The chanting sessions of Bodhicaryāvatāra, a seventh century Buddhist text composed by a revered monk named Shantideva (in the picture from Himalayan Art Resources), was among the highlights of the course. Our chant master, Pandit Kashinath ji, taught us how to chant the ślokas in traditional rhythmic meters. Learning how to pronounce the words in Sanskrit correctly and exploring the meanings of the verses were also among my favorite aspects of the course.
Learning Sanskrit has been an enriching experience and I look forward to next year when I will be able to continue studying this beautiful language—whose history is said to stretch back more then 3,500 years!
*Note on Photo of Shantideva.
Photo Credit goes to Himalayan Art Resources https://www.himalayanart.org/items/72081