CHENNAI: Behind the rundown facade of the brick and mortar heritage building supported by wooden pillars and beams, the Madras Sanskrit College, MSC, continues to be a vibrant centre of studies and research for students from various parts of the country and abroad who make Chennai their home for the love of the ancient language and its literature.
Anurag Mishra from Allahabad and Vipin Bhatt from Uttarakhand are examples of students who have travelled the extra mile to Chennai to pursue Sanskrit studies. "The studies of the 'shastras' here is knowledge-based in line with tradition unlike most Sanskrit universities in other parts of India where modern syllabi is geared to examinations," says Umesh Nepal, explaining why he made the journey from Kathmandu to Chennai, specifically to the MSC in 1995 to pursue his interest in Sanskrit studies.
"Every line and paragraph in the 'Shastras', ancient texts on Vyakarana (grammar), Nyaya (logic), Sahitya (history, Mimamsa (discussion and interpretation of Vedas),Arthasashtra (Economics) and Jyotisha (Astromony-Astrology) is explained here whereas at other Sankskrit universities, just the general context of the treatises is communicated in a functional way," says Umesh who was here for 11 years as student and teacher till 2006 when he landed a Professor's job at the Rajasthan Sanskrit University, Jaipur. In 1995 there were as many as three students from Varanasi alone; later knowledge seekers came from Bihar, he recalls. MSC students and faculty don traditional south Indian white apparel in contrast to northern universities where no such dress code is imposed.
In 1906 when the College was started in rented premises in Mylapore in south Chennai and even in 1910 when the institution was shifted to the present premises erected nearby by the founder V Krishaswami Iyer, a philanthropist and leading member of the Bar, there were less than 25 students but they were very committed as there was then no Sanskrit college anywhere else in southern India. So students were mainly indigenous to south India from Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh apart from Madras province, MSC principal N V Deviprasad told TOI.
"The trend of students coming to the college from northern parts started after 1925 as post-graduates in Sanskrit who had also learnt Hindi as part of the syllabus, were able to get teaching positions in universities in Varanasi (then Benares), Darbhanga, Bhopal and Kolkata, " Deviprasad said. They in turn informed their students about the opportunities to learn 'Shastras' at the MSC and access its library of more than 25,000 books and 100-odd palm leaf manuscripts. In later years, Sanskrit teachers from northern belt joined college faculties in Chennai, Tirupati, Kaladi and Guruvayoor, he said.
A rigorous two-year foundation training in Sanskrit and five-year specialized studies in a chosen discipline make up the minimum seven years of Sanskrit studies, explained Deviprasad. MSC remains a major hub of study of the 'Shastras' even though there are more Sanskrit universities in the north, he said.