Friday, December 16, 2022

Ram Mohan Roy’s View of Sanskrit Education

Stamp Dedicated to the Sanskrit College

(Issued in 1999)

In 1823, work began in Calcutta to build a new Sanskrit college. Ram Mohan Roy was opposed to this college because he was convinced that education in Sanskrit had no practical use. He felt that Anglicization was the best option for India. He wrote, in his perfect English, a letter to William Amherst, the Governor-General of India from 1823 to 1828, to denounce the project for building a Sanskrit college in Calcutta. 

Here’s an excerpt from Roy’s letter:

“We find that the government is establishing a Sanskrit school under Hindu pandits to impart such knowledge as is already current in India. This seminary… can only be expected to load the minds of youth with grammatical niceties and metaphysical distinctions of little or no practical use to the possessors or to society. The pupils will acquire what was known two thousand years ago with the addition of vain and empty subtleties…” (Sources of Indian Tradition, by Theodore De Barry; Page 593)

Roy goes on to say that he was opposed to the Sanskrit college because “the Sanskrit system of education would be something best calculated to keep this country in darkness…” (Page 595)

In the middle part of his lengthy letter, Roy (who was himself educated in a Sanskrit institution in Banaras) makes disdainful comments on several aspects of ancient Sanskrit texts and the system of Sanskrit based education. But Roy’s analysis of Sanskrit culture was outrageously incorrect—those who are acquainted with ancient Indian texts would recognize these aspects as the greatest achievements of ancient Sanskrit literature, philosophy, linguistics, and political theory. 

Most Indians prefer to blame British intellectuals like Thomas Macaulay and James Mill for creating a negative opinion in India and Europe about Sanskrit literature and Hindu culture, which persists till this day, and promoting the Anglicization of India’s education. They ignore the role played by prominent Hindu intellectuals like Roy.

What Roy’s letter to William Amherst proves is that the educated class of Hindus have mostly been people with amnesia. Even intellectuals like Roy did not really possess a sense of India’s history, or even interest in it. They were not aware of the fact that the Indian subcontinent was one of the earliest centers of human civilization. They were not aware of the achievements of Sanskrit literature, philosophy, linguistics, and political theory. 

Despite Roy’s opposition, the Sanskrit College was founded on 1 January 1824, and the college rose to prominence during the principalship of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in 1851.

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