SHIVAMOGGA: If there's a village which has one foot in Vedic times and another in the 21st century, it's Mattur, tucked away in verdant Shivamogga district where men, women and children would be more likely to say 'bhavati kusalam' rather than 'oota aaytha.." And that's because from age immemorial, a child is schooled to think, eat and speak Sanskrit.
Located on the banks of the River Tunga, Mattur holds the distinction of being one of the handful of villages where residents still converse in Sanskrit. It is mainly inhabited by the Sanketis, a Brahmin community that settled down in Mattur about 800 years ago. A large chunk of the Sanketis are believed to have migrated to Karnataka from a place called Shankottai on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. For a religious scholar or seer, it is a delight to hear people speaking the language so fluently.
Till the early 1980s, Sanskrit was considered the language of the upper caste Brahmins. It was then that the priest of the local religious centre asked residents to adopt Sanskrit as their native language. At present, the village's population is around 3,000, with 600 Brahmins among them. In all, the Sanketi population in the country is 30,000-40,000.
During a convention of Sanketis held in Mattur in 2010, a team of scholars had gone to Shankottai to trace the links of the Sanketis. But they were unable to find any similarity between the culture and ways of living of the two communities.
Most residents of the village, small children included, can fluently speak Sanskrit and almost everyone understands the language. Young boys are taught Vedas from the age of ten at the local school where English is also taught. Gamaka art, the ancient traditional art form of singing and storytelling is also practised in Mattur.
Sanskrit is the common language on the streets -- from the vegetable vendor to priest, everyone speaks the ancient language. The younger generation wears jeans, T-shirts and rides hi-tech bikes, but when they speak, it's in Sanskrit. That does not mean Mattur is detached from the modern world. Almost every house in this village has an IT professional, with many of them employed abroad.
Sanskrit scholar Mattur Srinidhi told Deccan Chronicle that "though Sanskrit is an informal and friendly language, no one is enthusiastic about it in modern times. Maybe Sanskrit reached a saturation point after a phase of development," he said, explaining why the language lost its popularity.
In 1981, youth leader Chamu Krishna Shastry and a few others approached scholar Na. Krishnappa and said they would like to start a journal in Sanskrit to create awareness in society about the language.
Mr Krishnappa replied that a journal could be launched but people should also be taught to understand and speak the language fluently. Mr Shastry then launched the 'Speak Sanskrit Movement '(Samskrita Bharati) which now exists in 37 countries across the world. Books to teach Sanskrit have been introduced at the nursery level thanks to this movement.
There is a quiet revolution happening in the language of the sages, with new words being added to it. If new words and derivatives are found, they are referred to the Aksharam Unit of Samskrita Bharati in Bengaluru, where promotional activities are undertaken.
The government is doing its bit and has declared that Sanskrit Day be observed on Poornima (full moon) day in the month of Shravana (July-August) every year. The language continues to offer researchers a treasure trove of knowledge with references to the speed of light and loss of weight traced to the Sanskrit shlokas by vedic scholar Vidyaranya. Sanskrit hymns are associated with medicinal value - for instance, it is believed that the chanting of the 'Gayatri Mantra' activates certain cells in the human body.
Sanskrit continues to fascinate the modern mind with the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, undertaking research on 'Bhagavadgita in Management' which proves that the Gita is not just a sacred book of the Hindus but can also offer nuggets of wisdom to management students, Mr Srinidhi concluded. For those who love to delve into history and hunger to hear how the ancients spoke, a trip to Mattur could provide a lot of answers.