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Sanskrit Village

British in India

(Credits :  S. Kushala, Times of India)

Siddique Ahmed and Kysar Khan, both Standard IX students of Sharada Vilas School, recite shlokas effortlessly along with their classmates. Even after lessons, whether they are at play or back home, they slip into Sanskrit. Indeed, they are even teaching their parents the language. “Our elders began with a smattering hold over it but can now manage to talk,” they say.

Walk down a few paces from the school where you touch the Ratha Beedhi (Car Street) and graffiti on the wall grabs your attention: ‘Maargaha swacchataya viraajithe, gramaha sujanai viraajithe’ (Cleanliness is as important for a road as good people are for a village). Other slogans such as ‘Keep the temple premises clean’, ‘Keep the river clean’ and ‘Trees are the nation’s wealth,’ in Sanskrit are painted on walls everywhere.

That Sanskrit is the language of Gods need not apply to Mathoor. It is the vernacular of a majority of the 5,000 residents of this quaint, sleepy hamlet situated a little over 4 kms from Shimoga. Away from the hustle-bustle of the district headquarters, Mathoor sits pretty with a garland of arecanut and coconut plantations along the Tunga river, which has now been swelling thanks to a good monsoon.

At the door of K.N. Markandeya Avadhani, a well-known Vedic scholar, a sticker in Kannada greets you: ‘You can speak in Sanskrit in this house’. He says, “This is to tell visitors that in case they are fluent in the language, they can converse with us in Sanskrit.”

Perhaps this inspired BJP leader Sushma Swaraj to deliver a 20-minute power-packed speech in Sanskrit when she visited Mathoor in May during campaigning for the Shimoga by-election.

The practice wasn’t born yesterday. History has it that the Vijayanagar emperor gifted Mathoor and neighbouring Hosahalli, known as centres of learning for Sanskrit and Vedic studies from time immemorial, to the “people” in 1512. The gift deed inscriptions on copper plates have been preserved by the archaeology department.

Mathoor’s Sanskrit-speaking habit got a further boost when Pejawar mutt Pontiff Vishvesha Theertha visited the place in 1982, and christened it ‘the Sanskrit village’. For long a colony of Sanketi Brahmins, the village is now home to different communities including backward classes, Muslims and Lambanis.

Yet conversing in Sanskrit isn’t an adult quirk. Study of the language begins from the Montessori level, where kids are taught rhymes and told stories in Sanskrit — even Chandamama comics are printed in Sanskrit. While Sanskrit is a compulsory subject in school, teachers and students even talk to each other in this language.

At the crack of the dawn, the village resounds with Vedic chants in the many Brahmin households. (Homes are named Trayi, Pavanatmaja, Chintamani, Prasanna-Bhaskara Nilayaha.) in pursuit of higher education. Some are teaching Sanskrit in universities across the state and many others have found jobs as software engineers.

“After completing my engineering course, I came back to stay in Mathoor. I tend the land now and live with my family — about 20 of us across four generations,” says Gopal Avadhani, who is in his late 60s.

Meanwhile, Rukmini, another family member, pipes in: “Coffeya chaaya kim ichchathi” (What’ll you have, coffee or tea)?” Outside, children play and giggle, calling out their names: Manojava, Savyasaachi, Ikshudhanwa, Niharika.

Avadhani recalls the names of many foreign students who stayed with them in true guru-shishya tradition to take crash courses in Sanskrit — “Rutger, Kortemgorst and Vincent came down from Ireland last year”. Vincent, he says, surprised everyone by speaking in Sanskrit at the farewell function. And as people go about their daily routine soon after, there’s more Sanskrit to be heard. At times, the whole village seems like a pathashala — everybody, children and menfolk alike, dressed in white dhotis and angasvatra greeting each other with ‘Hari Om’ (hello) and ‘Katham aasthi?’ (How are you?).

Mathoor, though, isn’t a cloistered hermitage shy of the outside world. Many of its youngsters have moved to cities in search of greener pastures or John Mar, a Sanskrit professor from England, was also in the village for a speaking course.

Samskruta Bharati, a New Delhiheadquartered association involved in promoting the language, has a branch here and Srinidhi, its secretary, runs the show. The organisation teaches functional language for day-to-day conversation.

At dusk, the melodious chanting of the Vedas emerges from around the banks of the Tunga. The river is unusually calm. And the stillness removes one from modernity to another era when Sanskrit reigned and when there were no mobile phones. Or, as the residents of Mathoor would put it, when there was no “nishtantu dooravani”!


Mathoor has produced over 30 Sanskrit professors who are teaching in Kuvempu, Bangalore, Mysore and Mangalore Universities, besides many software engineers. Among the illustrious personalities from the village are Mathoor Krishnamurthy of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore, violinist Venkataram, and gamaka exponent H.R. Keshavamurthy.

Helping themselves 

The main source of livelihood in Mathoor is the cultivation of arecanut, coconut and vegetables. The village has a primary health centre, a co-op society, a few provision shops and two schools.

But the residents don’t raise a din over lack of infrastructure. In fact, the village is an ideal example of self-governance as it were. They pump water from the river directly and have provided all their houses with separate connections. Last year, when the village lake was filled with hyacinth and the government threw up its hands as the cost of cleaning the lake was estimated at Rs 1 crore, they didn’t sulk. About 70 of them got together, swam through the lake and physically removed the weeds. The task was done in 45 days.