The Foundation and Value of Language Education

This is a translation of the author’s original Kannada essay titled “ಭಾಷಾಬೋಧಕಗಳ ನೆಲೆ-ಬೆಲೆಗಳು” published in his work, Bhashabhrungada Benneri.

Translated by Sandeep Balakrishna.

I had averred earlier that one of the tragedies of today is the fact of not prescribing evocative literature at the level of primary school instruction.

It’s not necessary to spell out to the learned what is meant by evocative literature. But for the purposes of easy understanding, it can be described thus: any literature, (no matter its form) which through the gravity of its ideals, appeals to people of different ages and temperaments, remains meaningful from the perspective of beauty and refinement through these stages, grows with them, walks step-by-step with them as a companion in the path of life, lends a supportive shoulder, strokes their back offering solace and illumines their life—that can be summarized as evocative literature. The words of Mahakavi Kumaravyasa’s “To the kings this [his work, Karnata Bharata Kathamanjari] is Heroism, to the brahmanas it is the essence of the Vedas…” illustrate the model of evocative literature.

But in the recent decades, it appears that attention hasn’t flowed in this direction. It’s tragic that the Government has kept numerous chicaneries of religion-caste-region-political parties in mind and has continued to design textbooks resembling manifestos. In this project, history and language textbooks have become the first sacrificial goats.

The goal of making language textbooks for children simple, easily comprehensible, and attractive is certainly praiseworthy. But when all these features work towards creating non-evocative literature, all such efforts will end up becoming fruitless. Besides, in recent times, language textbooks are really no different from those of history, social studies, science, and general knowledge. The subjects that have gained currency in recent times like environmental concern, caste-religion harmony, nation building and leaders who played a decisive role in it…these occupy a major part in textbooks meant for teaching language.

None of these subjects are useless or undesirable. But these deserve to be properly included in science/general knowledge, social studies, and history respectively. Language instruction has its own realm, its own specialty. It chiefly works through literature and grammar. Here, literature preserves its identity through Rasa (Feeling), Dhvani (Suggestion) and Vakrokti (Poetic Expression) at all times. If it’s otherwise, it’ll never become literature in the truest sense of the word. If language-literature attempts to perform the tasks of other topics or branches of knowledge, which are the disciplines that’ll perform its task?

Today, linguistic and literary studies and the disciplines of political science and sociology have become so inseparable that it’s almost as if no distinction exists between them. This sort of Advaita might well be an ultimate ideal. Equally, this sort of inseparability might even be welcome or inevitable at some level. But only chaos will remain if no due difference is retained between each such discipline—at least from the perspective of systematizing education and research—owing to prejudice and lack of foresight.

Because every food item that we eat ultimately becomes united in our stomach, do we cook Payasam, Sambar, Curd, Holige, and Lemon-rice, all of them together in the same vessel? The Dvaita of each item during its cooking interval, the Vishishtadvaita involved in savoring their mixture after realizing the taste found in the mixture’s optimal consistency even as all of them are served on the single plantain leaf, and finally, the Advaita when they’re offered as sacrifice to our digestive fire—isn’t this the proper procedure! In this, each stage has its own significance and priority. The turmoil induced by blind feelings of superiority and inferiority doesn’t exist here. Nor does exist the show of hypocritical equality. What exists is the convenience of practical sense culminating in the harmony of spirituality, of friendship, of cooperation.

Kumara Vyasa. Pic Courtesy: Google Image Search

Therefore, it’s not an auspicious sign when today, ill-informed and half-cooked vegetative promiscuity conducted in the name of research in our literature, art, and related cultural studies are introduced even in the primary levels of education.

Equally, it’s not advisable to impart the realities of the world around us in a brutally open fashion at the primary school level. In this regard, it’s worth recalling the caution of Andhra’s great writer, Vishwanatha Satyanarayana in his pre-independence novel (Veyyi Padagalu—A Thousand Hoods of a Snake). Accordingly, all lessons in language textbooks must not report merely the external physical characteristics of both still and sentient beings like cow, coconut tree, stars and so on. For example, “this is a cow, the cow has four legs, and two horns. It gives milk…this is a coconut tree. It is very tall. Its leaves are long…” and so on. Instead, the system of instruction must be such that it evokes the value of each of these items.

If we can consider the aforementioned example, we can say that the lesson on cow must include the story of the Punyakoti cow or that of King Dilipa and the cow, Nandini. Or the lesson on coconut trees must resonate with the suggestion of the magnanimous life of a coconut tree, which sips salt water and bears pots of sweet, tender coconut water on its head. For example:

प्रथमवयसि पीतं तोयमल्पं स्मरन्तः
शिरसि निहितभारा नारिकेला नराणाम् |
ददति जलमनल्पास्वादमाजीवितान्तं
न हि कृतमुपकारं साधवो विस्मरन्ति  ||

prathamavayasi pītaṃ toyamalpaṃ smarantaḥ
śirasi nihitabhārā nārikelā narāṇām |
dadati jalamanalpāsvādamājīvitāntaṃ
na hi kṛtamupakāraṃ sādhavo vismaranti ||

In memory of the little water it consumed in its infant years, a coconut tree, bearing weight on its head throughout its life, gives sweet water abundantly to humans. Noble people never forget any help given to them.

In lessons describing stars, the strands of the story of Dhruva must necessarily be embedded within. Indeed, the chief aim of literature is to enkindle the consciousness of values. Where’s the foundation for and value of any writing that doesn’t reverberate this?

Values don’t merely mean an awareness of social-political-scientific realities. It’s also an experiential sensitivity of feelings, ideals, and universal experiences (this is chiefly its basis). It’s true that awareness of ideals emanates from realities. It’s from the realities of “cow,” “coconut tree,” and “stars” that we are aware of linguistic and formless features and actions like “four,” “two,” “tall,” “long,” “shining,” and “white.”

But logic is only related to matter, characteristics/nature, action, and genus. And while language has both the ability and responsibility to direct and interpret all these logical aspects, there’s more to it. Language also has the strength and the responsibility to echo emotions, to point towards the value of the soul, all of which transcend the aforementioned logical facets and are only accessible to experience.

Therefore, in the teaching of language, there is an inevitability and an expectation for all vogues of the real/physical world to find fulfillment in the evocative Bliss of Rasa rooted in the experience of idealism. Any effort that forgets or rejects this will ultimately be meaningless.

In light of the discussion so far, the aspects related to the world of values rooted in suggestion (Dhwani) will never be imprisoned in the confines of time, space, and fashion. Which is why they will never be outdated or misplaced. Therefore, it’s our first duty to constantly imbibe them within us. The designs and patterns of gold jewelry might go out of fashion but gold[i] itself won’t.

Our culture and tradition is cyclic, not linear. Which is why our first lesson viz, the “Onaama” (or Om Namah), the Raghuvamsham, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, is also our last lesson (in the sense of completing the education). Even while we conjugate or decline various word forms in different cases and numbers, we begin with “rāmaḥ rāmau rāmāḥ,” “hariḥ harī harayaḥ,” and not with “ghaṭaḥ ghaṭau ghaṭāḥ,” or “sandhiḥ sandhī sandhayaḥ.” Not merely that. Even in our copybooks we used to write, “Rama went to the forest” and not any other stuff.

This is our culture of learning.


[i] The endowment of well-being of this gold is memorization. In this regard, I would like to pray to readers to recall the article that I’d written about the role of memorization in learning [This refers to an essay titled “ಧ್ವನಿಪೂರ್ಣಪ್ರಾಥಮಿಕಪಾಠ್ಯಕ್ರಮ” appearing in the same volume]. The word “Smriti” or memory is also used in the sense of “Smarane” or “recall.” This word not only applies to the root-progenitor “Smara” (Kama, God of Sensual Desire in this context) in the linguistic sense but also in the semantic sense. When we put deserved things into the basket of this Smara (Kama)—that which isn’t opposed to Dharma—it becomes a Purushartha. Else, it will belong to the arisadvarga (Six Deadly Sins)—Kama is chief among the Purusharthas and occupies the first place in the arisadvarga as well. Therefore, if both memory and knowledge extend themselves to the realms of values and universal experience for the adventurous folk who indulge in information-centric pursuits like quiz, everything will be noble, beautiful, and joyous.



Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.

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