Yesterday morning, 8th February 2012, saw the Clay Sanskrit Library project deliver its latest Outreach session to a group of Year 10 students from Ramsgate, Kent. Last week the students were visited by Cressida Ryan, the Outreach Officer for Merton College, to hear about the reasons to consider applying to Oxford when they make their university choices in 2 year’s time. As part of their reciprocal visit to Oxford, she arranged for them to have a number of sessions with subject specialists including one session on a subject they would not have heard of before but may want to consider… Sanskrit!
The theme of the session was the processes by which ancient civilisations are discovered, understood and how the literature they leave behind for us is deciphered and then translated. We began with a whistle-stop tour of the great civilisations of the ancient world across the Mediterranean, Near East, South and East Asia. The students were then shown a range of different scripts used in the ancient world to compose documents, including the Linear B script of Crete, the still undeciphered Indus Valley Script and the famous Rosetta Stone. We then moved onto the devanagari script used to write Sanskrit – what characters it contains, how they are combined to form other characters and how all of these are put together to record the rich and beautiful Sanskrit language. The students were then set the challenging tasks of writing their own names in devanagari and learning to introduce themselves in Sanskrit. This didn’t seem to pose any problem for these bright and engaged young minds!
The last part of the session explained how Sanskrit fits into a much larger family of languages which includes Greek, Latin, English and hundreds of others. The main ambition of the session was to get the students to appreciate that at university their familiar curriculum subjects no longer operate in isolation from one another: when studying a subject like Sanskrit you will have to cover language, literature and history but can also branch out into anything from philosophy and religion to science and mathematics!
The students thoroughly enjoyed themselves and seemed to take a lot away from the experience. Perhaps some of them will even sign up for a Sanskrit course at university in a few years!