MATTUR is a village near the city of Shivamogga in Karnataka State, India, known for the usage of the “language of the Gods” —SANSKRIT, for day-to-day communication, although the general language of the State is Kannada. You will be greeted, on arrival, thus : HARI OM. KATHAM AASTHI ? (Hello. How are you ? )
Mattur and Hosahalli are known for their efforts to support GAMAKA ART, which is an unique form of singing and storytelling in Karnataka. Theses are two of the very rare villages in India, where SANSKRIT is spoken as a regional language. SANSKRIT is the vernacular of the majority of the 5,000 residents of this quaint, sleepy hamlet situated a little over 4km from Shivamgga.The village speaks the language of the Gods ————- SANSKRIT. Siddique Ahmad and Kysar Khan, both 9th standard students of Sharada Vilas School, recite “shlokas” effortlessly along with their classmates. Even after lessons whether they are at play or back home, they slip into SANSKRIT. Indeed, they are even teaching their parents to speak the language of the Gods.
Walk down a few paces from the school where you touch the RATHA BEEDHI ( Cart Street) and graffiti, on the wall, grabs your attention : Maargaha swacchatya viraajithe, gramaha sujanai viraajithe ( Cleanliness is as important for a road as good people are for a village). Other slogans such as “Keep the Temple premises clean”, “Keep the river clean” and “Trees are a nation’s wealth” —— all in SANSKRIT ——- are painted on walls everywhere.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the district headquarters, Mattur sits pretty with a garland of arecanuts and coconut plantations along the Tunga River, which has now been swelling, thanks to a good monsoon.
At the door of K. N. Markandeya Avadhani, a well-known Vedic scholar, a sticker in Kannada greets you : You can speak in Sanskrit in this house.” He says, “This is to tell visitors that in case they are fluent in the language, they can converse with us in Sanskrit.”
Perhaps this inspired BJP Leader, Sushma Swaraj to deliver a 20-minute power-packed speech in Sanskrit, when she visited Mattur in May during campaigning for the Shivamogga by-election. —— The practice, of speaking in Sanskrit, wasn’t born yesterday. History has it that the Vijaynagar Emperor gifted Mattur and neighbouring Hosahalli, known as centres of learning for Sanskrit and Vedic Studies from time immemorial, to the “people” in 1512. The “gift deed” inscriptions, on copper plates, have been preserved by the archaeology department.
Mattur’s Sanskrit-speaking habit got a further boost when Pejawar Mutt Pontiff Vishvesha Theertha visited the place in 1982, and “christened” it “The Sanskrit Village”. For long, a colony of SANKETI BRAHMINS, the village is now home to different communities including backward classes, Muslims and Lambanis.
Yet, conversing in Sanskrit, isn’t an “adult quirk”. Study of the language begins from the Montessori Level, where children are taught rhymes and told stories in Sanskrit —— even Chandamama comics are printed in Sanskrit. While Sanskrit is a compulsory subject in school, teachers and students even speak to each other only in Sanskrit. At the crack of dawn, the village resounds with Vedic chants in households ( homes are named : Tray, Pavanatmaja, Chintamani, Prasanna – Bhaskara Nilayaha)
Some are teaching Sanskrit in Universities across the State and many others have found jobs as software engineers. Gopal Avadhani, who is in his late 60s, says, ” After completing my Engineering Course, I came back to stay in Mattur. I tend the land now and live with my family. ——- about 20 of us across generations.” Meanwhile, Rukmini, another family member, pipes in : “Coffeya, chaaya kim ichchathi ? ( What will you have — coffee or tea ? ). Outside children play and giggle, calling out to each other : Manojava, Savyasaachi, Ikshudhanwa, Niharika.
Avadhani recalls the names of many foreign students who stayed with them in true guru-shishya tradition to take crash courses in Sanskrit ——” Rutger, Kortemgorst and Vincent came down from Ireland last year.” Vincent, he says, surprised everyone by speaking in Sanskrit at the farewell function.
As people go about their daily routine soon after, there’s more Sanskrit to be heard. At times, the whole village sems like a “Pathashala” ——- everybody, children and menfolk alike, dressed in white dhotis and angasvatra greeting each other with : Hari Om. Katham Aasthi ?
Mattur, though, isn’t a cloistered hermitage shy of the outside world. Many of its youngsters have moved to cities in search of greener pastures. ——– SAMSKRUTA BHARATI, a New Delhi-headquartered association, is involved in promoting Sanskrit, has a branch here and Srinidhi, its secretary, runs the show. The organisation teaches functional language for day-to-day conversation.
At dusk, the melodious chanting of the Vedas emerges from around the banks of the Tunga River, which is “unusually calm”. The stillness removes one from “modernity” to another era when Sanskrit reigned and when there no NISHTANTU DOORVANI (mobile phones).
Mattur has produced over 30 Sanskrit Professors who are teaching in Kuvempu, Bengaluru, Mysore and Mangalore Universities.
The main source of livelihood is the cultivation of arecanut, coconut and vegetables. The village has a primary health centre, a co-operative society, a few provision shops and two schools. But the residents don’t raise a din over lack infra-structure. In fact, the village is an ideal example of “self-governance” as it were. They pump water from the river directly and have provided all their houses with separate connections. Last year, when the village lake was filled with hyacinth and the government threw up its hands, as the cost of cleaning the lake was estimated at 1crore, they didn’t sulk. About 70 of them got together, swam through the lake and physically removed the weeds. The task was done in 45 days.