We all are familiar with this sloka, right from our school days. In most schools, the day begins with this chant,
But, some vested interests now want this quotation be removed from schools, giving it a religious connotation.
A quotation in Samskrt, doesn’t mean that it belongs only to the Hindu religion.
Behind every judge of the Supreme Court is a logo which says, “Yato Dharma Tato Jaya.”, meaning where there is Dharma, there is Victory. This is a quote from the Bhagavad Gita. Now, does this make the Supreme Court a religious institution?
We need to take a closer look at this sloka to understand its universal representation, far removed from any religion.
A sloka, a verse sets context to what one needs to achieve.
What does this sloka say?
It says, lead us from unreal to Real, from darkness to Light and from death to Immortality. Peace, Peace, Peace.
Asato Maa Satgamaya
Sat here stands for Truth, Real and Asat for Untruth, Unreal. Which school wouldn’t like to inculcate Truth in its students. Sat here also refers to that which is everlasting, and this prayer seeks that which is permanent and not ephemeral,
Tamaso Maa Jyothir Gamaya
Tamas, stands for darkness, inertia, ignorance. And Jyothir for light, clarity, wisdom. This prayer sets a framework in mind for a student to come there for the sake of knowledge to a school and seek knowledge in the right framework of mind. It is a sloka seeking to leverage mind power successfully, to attain higher levels of knowledge.
In this sloka, the student, a seeker who wants to dwell in knowledge, prays to the Divine to show the path to tread, from ignorance to wisdom, the knowledge of the Sat, as against Asat. This knowledge in turn leads him / her on the pathway to immortality.
Which is what one seeks in the next part of the prayer.
Mrytyor Maa Amritam Gamaya
This part of the sloka seeks to take one from death, mortality to immortality.
Mrithyu, Mrit stands for death and A – mrit, Amrit for Immortality. It is from the word Amrit that the Greek word Ambrotos is derived, which in turn became the latin word Ambrosia, for nectar. It is from this word Ambrosia that that the Christian word Ambrose is derived.
Again, it is from the word Mrit that the words mortal, mortality and immortality have come.
What is sought in this sloka here is not just longevity of the body, but immortality of the soul, the Atma.
Youth, Vitality and Longevity
Youth, vitality and longevity – a search for this has been on since intelligence came into being.
In Indian legends, we have the concept of the nectar Amrit, phonetically similar to Ambrosia, which gives health, vitality and long life. Everyone, including the Divine, yearns after this Amrit, which comes from the churn of the milky oceans according to the symbolic Indian legend of Samudra Manthan. The Greeks later on came up with the concept of Ambrosia, the elixir of life.
This churning is not just a physical Manthan, churning, in an ocean of a bygone era, but churning of ideas in the mind that happens in every knowledge seeker, student in every school.
So this makes this mantra contextual and the right knowledge invocation mantra that is best suited for a school child every day.
The words “mind”, “man”, “human” etc. are rooted in the word Mana for mind, which differentiates man from the rest of the animals, giving human race the classification Manava, one who knows to use his mind, to acquire knowledge, which is symbolized by Jyoti, light.
More on the role of Mind in the coming Mind era, in our book, Brand Bharat – Future From India.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
This prayer ends with calling for peace three times, for body, mind and soul.
Shanti, Peace is one of the core human values that our nation has stood for, and is one of main reasons why this civilization has been a continuous one, and stood the tests of time for many millennia, inspite of facing invasions and plunders.
Peace stands for a host of other qualities like equanimity, amity, harmony, tranquility, calmness, accord, friendship, silence, non-violence etc.
Not about Religion, but Knowledge Seeking
Thus we see that this prayer doesn’t speak about any religion. It is context oriented, the context here being knowledge seeking, and school is a place of knowledge seeking.
Infact, both the words religion and Hindu are alien to this land. The texts such as Upanishads are about philosophies of attaining the formless Divinity. A religion is rigid and dogmatic.
There is no perceivable problem in the quotation as it comes from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.2.28). Brihad means Big, Aryana means forest and Upanishad means to sit close. In ancient times, students used to seek knowledge by staying close to a Guru, in a Gurukul, which used to be located in a forest area.
Raja Janaka, had once, hosted a spiritual conference, which was attended by Rishi Yagnavalkya, Rishika Gargi Vachaknavi and many other Rishi and Rishika.
During the conference, there was a debate between Rishika Gargi and Rishi Yagnavalkya. Rishika Gargi was accepted as a leader by the male Rishi present there and considered qualified enough to debate with Rishi Yagnavalkya, who was one of the foremost Rishi of those times.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is a record of their debate and includes this invocation sloka.
More on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in our book, Breaking The Myths – About Society.
Samskrt, an ancient Indian Language
Mother of Indic and other languages
There might be some who object to the language. Samskrt is an ancient Indian language. It is a mother to most of the Indic and Indo-European languages.
In other countries too
In the current era, even the premier schools from all over the world, be it Germany, England or America, have understood the value of Samskrt and have started introducing it in their daily curriculum and invocation. Then why should we have problem in mouthing this timeless quote, which is an apt way to begin the day for students and to energize themselves.
A narrow mindset
However, many people feel that Samskrt indicates Hindu religion. This has got to do more with a narrow mindset.
Scientific use of Samskrt
Many leading experts have repeatedly pointed out the scientific usage of the Samskrt language, in the modern world.
Dr. B.R.Ambedkar in 1949, sponsored an amendment to Article 310, to make Samskrt the official language of Indian Union in place of Hindi.
The amendment was supported by
1. Dr. B.V. Kesar, Deputy Minister of External affairs
2. Prof. Naziruddin Ahmed
The report on this demand was published in all newspapers on 11th September, 1949.
What happened then?
Samskrt Dropped From Link Language, English Becomes Link Language
Dr. Ambedkar’s proposal fell through, as the bill for Samskrt was unfortunately defeated by just one vote in the Constituent Assemble. This point clearly emphasizes that the father of the Indian Constitution Bharat Ratna Sri Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, very clearly by his actions, wanted Samskrt to be the national and link language of India.
Hindi was chosen as the national language in 1947.
English was chosen as the link language.
With that, India missed the bus and the plot. More on this in our book, Breaking The Myths – About Ability.
Dr. Abdul Kalam
One of the recent proponents of the scientific validity of Samskrt was Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam. He was among the leading scientists of the land and was secular to the core. He was a statesman, musician, and a scientist. An epitome of secularism in the true sense. This eminent scientist himself has used this quotation, multiple time, at different fora.
Thus, there can be no objection to Samskrt or this quotation in any way.
This Prayer, Asato Maa Satgamaya should continue to be a part of our educational institutions, as it represents the timeless ethos of this civilization.