AS PRIME Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Israel on Tuesday, a city-based vedic scholar Shrikant Bahulkar shared his cherished memories from a recently-concluded two-month stay in the country. Bahulkar, who is associated with Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), was visiting Tel Aviv as the chair representing Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
As part of his stay, he familiarized the post-graduate students at the Tel Aviv University with several topics, including upanishads, vedas, Bhagwat Gita and Buddhism.
Interestingly, Bahulkar said, the university department of East Asian Studies has a dedicated faculty for Sanskrit literature. It also offers courses in Indian regional languages, such as Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu, while they conduct special summer courses in Marathi, he added.
“Sanskrit and vedic studies have already gained much popularity in the US and European countries like Germany. Now, they are growing in Israel too,” said Bahulkar.
Explaining this trend, he added, “They are fascinated with India, our culture, music, languages, traditions and history. College students often make trips to India and thereafter take up dedicated studies in these areas.” In fact, the syllabus during his visit as a faculty to the varsity, too, was chalked out by the students, which he believes simply depicted their interest in learning the subject.
The BORI scholar said the students were hardworking and genuinely interested in the subject, as they would come prepared for the class. So much did his teachings influence the students, that he was flooded with requests to continue with the classes. He now plans to do all the Sanskrit readings with his students over Skype.
Another reason why India and its languages are prevalent in Israel is the influence of the Bene Israel (‘Sons of Israel’), or Jewish born outside Israel.
There are several Jewish families still living in Mumbai, Kochi, and some regions in West Bengal. Bahulkar shared his experience of meeting three Marathi-speaking Bene Israel at the Indian Embassy. “I was at the embassy for some official work and I was taken aback to hear two people speaking Marathi. Upon further inquiry, I was told about their days spent in India and how dearly they missed our country,” he said.
Another reason for India fast becoming a rage in Israel is yoga, said Bahulkar. The recently-observed third International Yoga Day saw over 2,000 students performing yoga at the Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, he added, while sharing that he had met several Israeli yoga teachers, who have been practicing yoga for 12 years.