Years ago I wanted to learn Sanskrit. I played around with internet searches and even the Teach Yourself book (yuk), read books on Indology and read about Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. Nothing, really. I was seriously interested in the Yoga Sutras and some other texts, so I bought a Monier Williams dictionary so I could look up word by word what I wanted to know. What a shock I got when I tried looking up anything in MW! Without bothering you with the technicalities of an MW search, maybe you’d get the idea if I say that you might have to dig four entries deep to find the word you want, and then, unless you have a clear understanding of the declensions of nouns and the conjugations of verbs, you may wander in the desert for ever. My years of Latin at high school finally paid off, sorry about all the derogatory remarks I made about it in my text books at the time.
Making my way through the Devanāgari alphabet was what you might call “a big learning curve”, too. All those squiggly little characters, and me with low visual IQ. I couldn’t tell one from another. And to make sense of them in the first place… oh,oh, what are all these various transliteration systems? OMG.
Eventually, some beautiful people put Monier Williams online. Yay! Oh, oops, oh no… They use the Harvard Kyoto system, the nuttiest transliteration system of the lot. At least I don’t have to work out how to paste symbols in their search engine, that’s one benefit of that system…. and I can search in the English alphabet order, oh joy!!!!
Well, after years, I could finally make my way through the Sutras, and I can make a pretty convincing argument for my translation. Some people/sites I really feel grateful to.The amazing online Monier Williams dictionary, and the Cologne University; Wikner and his Sanskrit Introductory; Omkarananda Himalaya Institute for their downloadable Sanskrit font, Itranslator and online Sandhi engine; John Sheldon, former master at Sydney Grammar, who taught Sanskrit to adolescent boys and used his experience to teach me and some others the rudiments of reading real Sanskrit stories and simple texts; Andrew Kelly of Melbourne University, who has a basketful of languages sitting fluently in his head, who showed me the language rather than a few bits of it….and many more. And, of course, the patient Good Samaritan nuns who insisted, in an era when it was totally unfashionable, that their primary school students would learn grammar, and, throughout their secondary years, disciplined them to the study of Latin.
I might come back for another lifetime, just for the pleasure of continuing to enjoy my journey in Sanskrit (and Gaidhlig too, Daibhidh, if you’re reading this).
NEWS: Dr Andrew Kelly is holding a crash course summer school in Sanskrit at Melbourne Univesity in January 2013 – read more here.