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Interviews with Gabriella, well-known YouTube performer of Sanskrit – part 1
Posted on: 16/7/2021

Gabriella, a St James Alumna and  Sanskrit graduate from the University of Oxford has devoted her life to spreading the beauty of Sanskrit. Having studied it for 32 years, she was asked about her Sanskrit journey.

Q . How was Sanskrit introduced to you?

It was introduced by Mr Warwick Jessup. When we were aged 4 at St James Junior School, I remember him teaching our class. Before that, it was introduced in a small way by hearing my Mum chanting a little bit or just hearing Sanskrit in the house before going to school.

Q . How did your mother get into Sanskrit, do you know?

My parents, both Mum and Dad got into Sanskrit from studying philosophy. They were already learning before I came along so they already knew how to read, write and sound Sanskrit.

Q . You’ve been learning Sanskrit for quite a while so what has your Sanskrit journey been like so far? Are you still studying Sanskrit regularly?

Right now, my learning is sketchy. I don’t have regular classes any more so I am not as in-depth with grammar and science as much as I might like to be. Maybe I can work on that one day. At the moment, my learning is more focused on the powerful sounds of Sanskrit – exploring the mantras and the sacred texts.

When I left school, the learning continued at university for 3 years. After university, there were some weekly classes with a professor who taught the Upanishads. We had discussions on the grammar and that was helpful to keep in touch with it.

Shortly after that, I started going to India for Sanskrit study. I first went with a group and spent a bit of time at a gurukulam where we had a short intense course. Interspersed with such visits, I continued with lessons in the UK, carried on my own exploration and went on some philosophy Sanskrit retreats as well.

Q . Have you met any people who just speak Sanskrit natively?

All the people in the gurukulam I visited could speak Sanskrit 100% fluently. It wasn’t their native tongue though, as they didn’t grow up speaking it. As they could all speak fluent Sanskrit, that was the language they used to communicate within the gurukulam. Where I went in Pondicherry the people there often just conversed with each other in Sanskrit even though they could all speak English and their native language. It was really special.

I have a few teachers now who can speak fluent Sanskrit and two people I know have regular chats all in Sanskrit. In an ideal world, I’d love to just speak Sanskrit and give up English and it’s still something I’d like to try at some point but for now, I am  just carrying on.

Q . I have heard that, particularly with the effects of Covid on candidate numbers, there could be pressure on the Sanskrit IGCSE. With that, how would you feel if it was dropped as a recognised qualification in the future?

It would be a great shame because there are hundreds of thousands of people who would want to do it. I feel that if such a thing like the IGCSE gets lost, it’s another sign of discipline getting lost.

In order to learn a language, you do need discipline and the gurukulams in India hold that space. If that discipline is not there, it’s impossible to learn a language. In fact it’s impossible to learn anything. Often people are interested in learning but they might not want to actually devote the time.

Having a structure like the IGCSE in place encourages the regularity of disciplined study. It works really well in the western world and I am sure even in some parts of India, they find the Sanskrit IGCSE really helpful too. I think it is a vital thing to support, to keep the foundation of Sanskrit alive. It sets people up for further study in whatever areas they are interested in. Also, it provides a firm basis for understanding so that when people chant, they feel more connected to it.

Interview by Ayushi – to be continued…..

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