May 2, 2011
Last year, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham offered a certificate course in Sanskrit to international students for the very first time.
This year, before the certificate class gets underway in July-August, a class has already begun over Amrita’s e-learning platform, for students in European countries.
About 40 students gather every other Friday, in France, Germany and Spain, to attend the class using the A-View system.
The instructor is Mr. Piyush Thomas Goldenberg at the Amritapuri campus. A Sanskrit scholar and a resident of the Amritapuri ashram, Piyush studied Sanskrit with Swami Kaivalyananda at the Panmana Ashram, using the traditional text Laghu Siddhanta Kaumudi.
With a paginated PDF file of Sanskrit learning text, Piyush conveys key points to students located on another continent. The A-View system enables him to draw letters on a white board viewable to students who can then copy the letters on their own.
The whiteboard and the ability to display pages of the PDF are essential elements of the teleclass. These, together with face-to-face video and voice interaction create an ideal learning environment.
“People in Europe have shown a big interest in the course,” shared Piyush.
When Chancellor Amma toured Europe during October-November 2010, she expressed a strong desire that residents of various European Amrita ashrams learn Sanskrit.
She suggested that Piyush teach the classes over Amrita’s e-learning platform. Accordingly, the first class got underway on Friday, April 15, which also happened to be Vishu, Kerala’s New Year Day.
Prior to the first session, prospective students completed a questionnaire, answering three questions: “Why do you want to study Sanskrit?” “Which aspect of Sanskrit are you more interested in?” and “How do you think you’ll use this learning in the future?”
The survey indicated that most potential students desired to understand ancient texts like the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, and wanted to be able to comprehend daily chants like the Lalita Sahasranama.
Their primary reason to study Sanskrit related mainly to their spiritual practices.
Explaining the logistics of putting the class together, Piyush elaborated, “A lot of organization was required on the European side. Classes will be translated for non-English speakers. Video versions will be made available to those unable to attend the tele-classes.”
Can the students not learn on their own using Sanskrit books?
“Many Sanskrit books are extremely complicated, loaded with theory and grammar, and do not provide the practical knowledge that most Sanskrit students search for,” Piyush said.
“Moreover, pronunciation is an integral element, which cannot be learned from books.”
“I don’t expect that students will become Sanskrit scholars from this course, but they will certainly gain an easy introduction to Sanskrit so that they can have a firm foundation for their future studies.”