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Samskrita Bharati Celebrates World Sanskrit Day

K. Arvind
06/23/2016

 अइउण् ऋऌक् एओङ् ऐऔच् हयवरट् लण् ञमङणनम्
झभञ् घढधष् जबगडदश् खफछठथचटतव् कपय् शषसर् हल्
(Panini’s Maaheswara Sutrani  chanted by  Maestro Ilayaraja, and
performed
a cappella by Samskrita Bharati alumni)

Around 100 Sanskrit enthusiasts from various towns in the Greater Boston area assembled at the Sadhu Vaswani Center, Dracut MA on Saturday June 18th, 2016, to celebrate the World Sanskrit Day organized by Samskrita Bharati USA. The evening of entertainment included hilarious skits in Sanskrit featuring both characters from contemporary America as well as Indian history and puranas, Bollywood songs rendered in Sanskrit, as well as more scholarly topics such as Swami Vedanta Desika’s works, all serving to demonstrate that Sanskrit is very much alive in this part of the world!

VISHWA SAMSKRUTA DINAM

The full-moon day of the month of Shraavana has been declared as Vishwa Samskruta Dinam - World Sanskrit Day. The Greater Boston chapter of Samskrita Bharati USA held an evening filled with Samskrutam (the Sanskrit language) and Samskriti (culture) on Saturday June 18th to celebrate this day (ahead of the declared day to accommodate summer schedules). Sanskrit, which is often called “deva-bhaashaa” (देवभाषा) or the language of the Gods, is a storehouse of Indian wisdom and knowledge transmitted down over the centuries. Samskrita Bharati USA, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, is a non-profit volunteer-driven organization working to revive Sanskrit, and provides many immersive opportunities for adults, youth and children living in the United States to acquire proficiency in Sanskrit.

ENTERTAINMENT PROGRAM

The entertainment program (manoranjana kaaryakrama” - मनोरञ्जन कार्यक्रम), in which students (adult, youth and children) from the Acton, Andover, Ashland, Walpole (MA), and Nashua (NH) centers participated, was compered by Santhi Pasumarthi. The memorable program featured melodious music, hilarious skits, enjoyable expositions and informative talks, mostly in Sanskrit, followed by snacks.

Music

The program started with a traditional prayer (प्रार्थना) by students Sahana Venkatesh, Sadhana Venkatesh, and Mahathi Veluri from Andover), and included songs in praise and support of Sanskrit by Sadhana Venkatesh (“samskrutasya sevanam”), and by recent graduates of the Sanskrit as a Foreign Language Program Srinidhi and Raghava Prasanna (“rachayema samskruta bhuvanam”).  Children from Andover (Sumedha Konduri, Subhang Konduri, Pranav Chivukula and Pramshu Chivukula) sang Panini's Maaheswara sootraani, a collection of verses that organize the phonemes of Sanskrit. Sisters Shankari Lakshminarayanan and Bhavani Lakshminarayanan from Nashua, injected some humor with their modern adaptation of the morning prayerkaraagre vasate Lakshmi that is meant to help visualize the presence of the Gods and Godesses in one’s palm. In their version that pokes fun at our smart phone obsession, the Gods and Goddesses are replaced by Whatsapp, Facebook, and Netflix.  There was also a Bollywood number with a twist. The popular song “aaja sanam madhur chandni mein humfrom the Hindi movie “Chori Chori” was translated into Sanskrit (“ehi re priya madhura chandrikaayaam” by Rajendra Bhave), and rendered in chorus by Sam Mohan, Lakshminarayanan, Chitra, Malini, Shankari, and Sudhakar, under the direction of Sam Mohan.

Drama

The program included about half a dozen humorous skits that provided a great opportunity for conversational Sanskrit enthusiasts to demonstrate their Sanskrit speaking skills. It was a delight to watch the actors dressed in creative and colorful costumes deliver long lines in Sanskrit.

The first skit was a hilarious Saturday Night Live-style burlesque by the Andover adults called “A Day with President Trump” (राष्ट्रपतिःट्रम्प्महोदयेन सह एकं दिनम्). This imaginative skit set in the context of a Trump presidency, light-heartedly caricatured the various characters involved in this year’s election drama including Trump (Bala Gopalakrishnan) Obama (Syam Veluri), Clinton (Arpana Shah), the Mexican President (Venkatesh), Carson (Madhukar Shah), Palin (Sahana Venkatesh), Christie (Surendranath Shenoy)  and Brown (Shrikanth Anantakrishnan), all delivering their dialogs in Sanskrit of course! Pranav Veluri served as the narrator.

The adult Sanskrit class from Acton enacted a clever adaptation of the well-known Birbal tale on the search for fools into a humorous skit “Birbal and 12 modern fools” (वीरबलः - द्वादश मूर्खाः च), in which the Mughal Emperor Akbar (Muralidhar) and his wise minister Birbal (Ramana) visit Boston. In this version, Akbar is bedazzled by the MIT and Harvard types in Boston, and confidently challenges the skeptical Birbal to locate a dozen fools or lose his Internet access for a year. The absurd actions and exaggerated antics of the actors (Poornapushkala, Sreeranjani, Divya, Ritvik, Sreelatha, Atul, Jayanthi, Ramaa, Shrikanth, Gandhi) who played the fools evoked a lot of laughter. Sastry served as the narrator.

The Nashua adult team consisting of Sasidhar, Narasimhan, Malini, Sudhakar, Sukanya, and Lakshminarayanan presented an interesting skit called “Who has the unlucky face?” (कस्य मुखं दौर्भाग्यकरं) in which a clever gardener turns the tables on the King who blames the sight of the gardener’s face in the morning for all his misfortunes.

Radha Narayana stood out and greatly impressed everyone by clear enunciation and delivery of her script lines as the hand fan vendor in the play “The Shrewdness of the Hand-Fan vendor” (करव्यजनवणिजः चातुर्यम्).  A King falls for the fan vendor’s sales pitch and buys a fan that breaks very soon, and once again falls for the vendor’s explanation that the right way to use the fan is to keep the fan fixed and move his head instead. It was hysterical to watch the poor King (Phani Raj) and his assistant (Ravi Jagannathan) waggling their heads in front of the hand-fan to generate some breeze. Hamsini Kanakagiri served as the narrator.

The Walpole adult team enacted the story of the proud scholars who ridicule a boatman for his lack of learning, only to realize to their horror that they lacked swimming skills, the only learning that mattered at the instant when their boat topples over in the flooded river. The props and the costumes used by the actors (Sundar, Prabhakar, Mohan, Rohini, Madhavi, Raghav, Usha) in this skit stood out.

Anuradha Annaswamy (Lord Vishnu), Mandayam Srinivasan (Lord Indra), and Ravi Shreedhar (as Lord Yama) did a satirical skit “Hubub” (“kolahalah”) in which the celestials are so annoyed by the irritating embrace by Indians of modern technologies (e.g., Lord Vishnu’s cell phone emits a continuous hum, a result of the constant beeps from the thousand crore devotees who use whatsapp), that Lord Vishnu decides he needs to incarnate again to deal with this menace.

Acton kids Anika, Ansh, Gautham, Meenakshi, Rohan, Sumedha, and Tara, put together a Sanskrit version (“avadhaanena bhaashataam”) of the 1980’s TV show “Mind Your Language”. The children had great fun in mispronouncing words and transform their meanings completely (“samyak” (good) in Sanskrit was inverted to “yuck” in English, while “gruha paatam” (homework) in Sanskrit was morphed to “Graham crackers”).

Expositions

Suma Anand and Giridhar Anand, Samskrita Bharati alumni, gave a presentation titled “Srimad Vedanta Desikasya Padabandha Vaishishtyam” on the great 13th century Vaishnavite Guru Sri Vedanta Desika and his brilliant poetry. They focused on one of his compositions called “chaturanga turaga padabandha” known for its clever patterns and meanings. They illustrated one such pattern by highlighting two verses both rich in meaning, the second of which consists of exactly the same letters as the first, but only ordered differently.

Santhi Pasumarthi and Pranav Veluri, with narration support from Mahathi Veluri, entertained the audience with their discussion on Sanskrit idioms. They presented quite an impressive list of interesting idioms including “gomukha vyagrah (“tiger with the face of a cow” – similar to “wolf in sheep’s clothes), “mandooka tolanam” (“weighing a frog”, an impossible task), and “kanchi garuda seva” (a task with comparatively poor returns).

Talks

Sam Mohan, coordinator of Samskrita Bharati’s Boston Kendra, gave the inaugural welcome speech in Sanskrit, in which he spoke about Vishwa Samskruta Dinam and its significance. He called it a “vaibhava dinam” or day of celebration for Sanskrit, and suggested that learning Sanskrit can be a life-transforming experience.

Satya Kanakagiri introduced the Chief Guest of the occasion, Sri Mukundan Santhanam. Santhanam, a scholar whose PhD is on “Vishnu Kanchi Vaibhavam” (“The Glory of Vishnu Kanchi”) studied Agama Shastra at the Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeta. He is pursuing research in agamas and pooja kramas, while serving as an archaka at the Sri Lakshmi Temple, Ashland, MA. Sri Santhanam, who has been in Boston only for 3 months, expressed delight and marveled at the presence of so many Sanskrit enthusiasts in this part of the world. He suggested that there are hidden gems of wisdom and scientific knowledge hidden in ancient Sanskrit literature, which can be properly uncovered only by acquiring facility in Sanskrit.

Giri Bharathan invited Sanskrit enthusiasts to attend Jaahnavi, the annual residential camp for families to be held during the Labor Day weekend in New Jersey, in which participants live in an immersive Sanskrit environment. Venkatesh Tyagasamudram proposed a vote of thanks in Sanskrit.



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