Sanskrit Class Starts in London


Sanskrit, the greatest language of the world, is nearly forgotten in Nepal. Children in school do not read Sanskrit. Sanskrit is the language of our ancestors and each and every household has Sanskrit books. Despite this, Sanskrit is almost dead in Nepal. However, in the developed western countries, Sanskrit is flourishing. Sanskrit is taught in each and every world class Universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and renowned private schools.

In view of the immense benefits of Sanskrit language, which is the root of many languages and thousands of great scriptures are written in this language, Nepalese have started Sanskrit classes in London. Helen Harper, former teacher of St James, a private school in London where Sanskrit is being taught for many years, started the first class to the Nepalese professionals at Paragon College in Acton during the weekend. There will be a face to face class once in a term and other lessons will be through on Monday evening.  The class started with the chanting of mantra from the Vedas.

Sanskrit classes for children will be in London and Nuneaton in the north at the beginning which will be expanded to other parts of the country as there is high demand for this great classical language.    

Helen Harper Promotes Sanskrit in London

However, at St James Schools, an independent school in the heart of London, which is highly revered and recognised across the globe, students study Sanskrit as part of a normal school curriculum.

Helen Harper, Director of ‘Sanskrit @ St James’ said:

“Sanskrit is a universal language and students from all backgrounds benefit by being taught this language. Although many people have only heard of it as being an Indian language, Sanskrit is a classical language par excellence and appropriate to students everywhere.”

“Sanskrit has been faithfully preserved for millenia in the Indian subcontinent but it is closely connected through its roots and grammatical structure with other classical languages: Greek and Latin, as well as the modern European languages including English. To me this indicates unity, not just of language, but of peoples.”                                                                                                        

Why Sanskrit?  She cited the statement: “Sanskrit is rich; rich in vocabulary, rich in literature, rich in thoughts and ideas, rich in meanings and values.’’

“Learning to pronounce Sanskrit clearly and beautifully helps clarity of speech and communication in other languages” she noted. “In my experience, Sanskrit language is also conducive to concentration and meditation” she said.

Sanskrit course books incorporate entertaining stories from the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Ramayana. More advanced students study stories from the Mahabharata, then move on to Bhagavad-Gita verses and Hitopadesha stories in the original. In the St James Senior Schools many students continue with Sanskrit up to IGCSE and some pursue the subject at University.

In reply to a question about why she studied Sanskrit, a former student of Sanskrit at St James school said, “I like Sanskrit because of its beauty, its purity  and it speaks to my heart.’’

Helen has helped develop the Sanskrit curriculum at St James, and taught Sanskrit and Chemistry for over 20 years. What inspired her to learn Sanskrit?  She heard philosophical teachings in English from Sanskrit texts such as the Upanishads, motivating her to go deeper into the Sanskrit for herself.

Her Sanskrit teacher was a very inspiring person and Helen started to learn Sanskrit during her maternity leave when she had been working as a pharmacist. After the maternity leave, she was asked to teach Chemistry at St James Schools, and as she had also learnt some Sanskrit, she was asked to join  the Sanskrit faculty also. She happily accepted and eventually became Head of the Senior Girls’ School Sanskrit department. Since then she has devoted her life to supporting Sanskrit at St James Schools, developing Sanskrit language books and videos for St James students and the wider world, and promoting the teaching and learning of Sanskrit so that as many students of all ages may access this remarkable language. Helen manages two websites for this purpose, communicating with people globally to help them with their Sanskrit study. Helen also tutors adult study groups and continues her own education, attending a Vedic chanting class at City Lit, a further education college in Central London.

Recently, a meeting was jointly arranged in a central London philosophy centre by Helen and Surya Upadhya. Led by Helen, the meeting discussed how to attract young people to the benefits of Sanskrit teachings which include care for family, respect for teachers, and care for the planet. Important factors for a good education today could include understanding about unity between people, conscious awareness, calmness, stillness, concentration and meditation (dhyana). Helen also emphasised that learning Sanskrit should always be enjoyable.

At the meeting, Nepalese representing various organisations stressed the need to promote the classical language of great scriptures including the Bhagavad Gita, Vedas, Upanishad, Puranas, greatest epics of the world, Mahabharata and Ramayana, among hundreds of other important scriptures and philosophical works.

General Secretary of the Forum Chiranjibi Paudyal, Pundit Durga Pokhrel and Narayan Gaunle, Director of Paragon College Prakash Gautam, former chairman of CODEC  Shankar Dahal and Bishnu Wagle, member Bishesh Guragain and Arun Chalise also emphasised that Sanskrit is not just a language but part of a great philosophical, cultural and historical tradition which is immensely beneficial for humanity irrespective of religious, geographical and ethnic background.

Helen inspired the Nepalese living in London to learn Sanskrit, so adults attending the meeting decided to run Sanskrit classes for children and adults in London and in Reading. They also expressed their own interest to sit for the Cambridge International GCSE exam in Sanskrit to lead the way in encouraging younger students.

 Sanskrit scholar Pundit Durga Pokhrel, who has MA degree qualification in Sanskrit and English, said he will sit for the IGCSE exam in Sanskrit so that he can familiarise himself with the course ready for teaching.

Pundit Pokhrel, Pundit Narayan Gaunle and Jagadish Paudel among other Sanskrit scholars living in the UK will volunteer to teach Sanskrit language to the children in Reading and Acton. Prakash Gautam, Academic Director of the London Paragon College will provide facilities. Adults of course are also welcome at these classes.

Participants regretted that Sanskrit which is very popular in the western world including the UK, USA, Germany and other nations, is not being studied in school in Nepal.

‘Development of the St James’ children’s courses was undertaken by teachers who had studied Sanskrit both in eminent UK universities and with Pundits in India, reads the leaflet of the ‘Sanskrit @St James’. ‘Sanskrit literature study provides a channel for the understanding of timeless philosophical principles. Analysis and discussion have the potential to expand cultural, social and historical awareness.’

‘Knowledge of Sanskrit helps yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, poetry, dance and even Mathematics. Work on Sanskrit grammar strengthens mental agility and powers of reason, qualities essential for careers in law, medicine and computing. These Sanskrit courses develop the skills of translating and interpreting concepts in both Sanskrit and English,’ the leaflet states.

Helen explained that ‘Sanskrit @ St James’ is an outreach department of St James which develops, promotes and distributes worldwide, free and published Sanskrit IGCSE examination resources and encourages schools around the globe to teach Sanskrit. “We facilitate free Sanskrit classes for adults, leading to an optional Sanskrit examination.”  Inspired by St James Schools, some of Nepal’s Vedic schools Hindu Vidya Peeth of Dr Chintamani Yogi have also started to teach St James’ school curriculum at IGCSE level.

“Sanskrit is a wonderful language capable of conveying the finest of human values and concepts needed for living a happy and fulfilling life” she concluded.

Our meeting began and ended with chanting of Vedic invocations for mutual happiness, wholeness and peace.

The resources of Sanskrit @St James are available for free through the following links: