The relevance of Sanskrit at university
Posted on: 22/2/2019


At school, my choice of Sanskrit A Level put me into a minority. My peers certainly respected and sympathised with my decision, but I always felt a bit weird and a bit different in my choice.

In fact, when I was younger, there was almost a need to be defensive about it. Continual references to its value on a CV and its UCAS potential spring to mind.

Feeling ‘cool’…

However, when I got to university, I was completely surprised by the reception that my study of Sanskrit received. I no longer had to explain what it was; tutors and other students were both shocked and impressed, which I found very surprising. Sanskrit never made me feel cool till now! University, as a place where intellectualism and academia are given more respect than in school, has embraced and admired my Sanskrit A level much more than I feel I deserve.

Academic advantages…

But the study of Sanskrit has given me not only an inflated academic reputation but also some practical advantages. My tutor in old English nervously tried to introduce case endings to the class the other day. Charts and grids were handed out but initially I thought there had been a mistake. They were only half full. Where was the 5th case? or the 6th? or the 7th? It turns out other languages can sometimes be a bit lazier than Sanskrit, but I must be careful not to get ahead of myself. Old English is undeniably complicated and challenging, and Sanskrit A level is the perfect platform from which to be thrown into the study of another language. Old English and indeed modern English grammar have become much less daunting, and there’s a tiny part of me that wishes it had samāsas. However,

The big selling point…

I think the big selling point and the most helpful aspect of having some knowledge of Sanskrit at university is its literature. I have just finished reading Virginia Woolf ’s novel, The Waves, which includes references to ‘the Vedas’. References like these are multitudinous and my understanding goes much further than just looking up the citation: the Vedas- “Hindu sacramental writings”. This might be their broad definition but there is so much room for debate, which would have significant consequences on the direction of writing an essay, for example. 

Modern relevance…

In fact, there is even a tone of jealousy among my fellow students who wished they could have had an opportunity like this handed to them on a plate – practically one-on-one tuition at my school. Sanskrit and its literature have so much potential modern relevance: to film, to literature, and to art. My understanding and appreciation are continually changing, references to Sanskrit literature evoking different connotations according to the context. The only thing that remains the same is the respect it gains and its continued relevance in my life, although I no longer sit Sanskrit exams.

Jessica Palmarozza

(article first published between 2011 & 2014)

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