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article imageLeading German scholar awarded in India Special

By Moushumi Chakrabarty     Feb 16, 2015 in World
German scholar Dr. Annette Schmiedchen was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in the country, last month. The award recognizes Dr. Schmiedchen’s work in the fields of Indology and Sanskrit studies.
Classical Sanskrit is the root of many Indo-Aryan group languages and is sometimes a cause of debate among Indians. According to statistics, less than 1 percent of Indians speak Sanskrit, and it is mainly used by priests in religious practices. Specially with reference to the uber-Hindu agenda of the current ruling party government in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party, this issue of Sanksrit revival has not been unmarked by dissension.
For Dr. Schmiedchen, these issues belong in the realm of politics. She believes that studying ancient languages like Sanskrit is crucial to understanding recent times.
“At almost all universities with Sanskrit institutions outside India, there is the tendency to put more emphasis on studies on modern India instead of ancient or classical India. Hardly any Sanskrit scholar would deny that
research on contemporary India is relevant. But as long-lasting traditions play such an important role in Indian history and culture, sincere academic studies on India cannot be pursued without focusing on the pre-modern period as well.
If we are interested in the past, we should not confine ourselves to the last few hundred years, and we should be able to read and understand the original sources. And due to the huge abundance of extant Sanskrit texts, enormous amounts of material can be studied and have to be translated for the first time or to be looked into afresh. No serious researcher can blindly rely on translations and interpretations that are sometimes more than a hundred years old. And there are many important and difficult texts which have never been comprehensively studied so far,” she said.
Dr. Schmiedchen considers the award as a boost for scholars in the field of Indology and Sanskrit studies. She was deeply honoured by the award, and pointed out that it would serve to bring some well deserved attention to the field.
“I regard this award as a great encouragement for Sanskrit-based studies and for women in this discipline. I take it as a token of appreciation not only for my own work, but also for the work of my colleagues in the field of Indology - against the background of severe problems in funding. At several universities in Germany and other European countries, chairs in Sanskrit and Indology, Ancient Indian History, and Indian Art have been closed down in recent years or are in danger.
In my own home town Berlin, four out of five professorships in Indian studies have been abolished since 2001: the one for Ancient Indian History at Humboldt University (2005), where I once studied, and altogether three at Free University – the chairs for Modern Indian Languages (2001), Indian Art (2006), and Indology / Sanskrit (2012). My German colleagues have already uttered their sincere hope that the award would lead to a higher degree of recognition for Sanskrit-based studies in Germany and particularly in Berlin” she added.
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