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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Professor Shrikant Bahulkar: ‘Pune a centre for learning; I’ve been immensely benefitted for Sanskrit studies’

Professor Shrikant Bahulkar, the chief investigator of the Bhagavata Purana Project at Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), Pune, talks about studies, opportunities for learning Indology and the need for higher education institutes to include courses on comparative religion.

Written by Anjali Marar | Pune |
Updated: August 14, 2021 3:21:50 pm
Professor Shrikant Bahulkar (File Photo)

For over four decades, Professor Shrikant Bahulkar has been teaching Sanskrit and involved in Vedic and Buddhist studies. He has authored and edited 12 books and was recently nominated as the Senior Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, UK. Prof Bahulkar, the chief investigator of the Bhagavata Purana Project at Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), Pune, talks about religious studies, opportunities for learning Indology and the need for higher education institutes to include courses on comparative religion. Excerpts.

What opportunities of research await at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies?

This is basically an honorary position not involving any particular assignment. As a Senior Fellow, I now belong to the Faculty of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS), Oxford University, UK. They will incorporate my work in their annual report. I am already working on a research project on the Bhagavata Purana for BORI in collaboration with OCHS. I shall continue my research here in Pune.

You are the third Indian Senior Fellow to be nominated to the OCHS. Besides, as like you, two of the current fellows have roots for their Hindu studies in Pune. Can you comment on how Pune has facilitated scholarly learning opportunities for such a niché subject for so many decades now?

Since my childhood, I have had a passion for Sanskrit. This city has been a centre of learning. I have immensely benefited from the facilities for the study of Sanskrit. There are great teachers, scholars in the field of Sanskrit in Pune. These gurus not only taught Sanskrit but indirectly taught us human values and the pursuit of knowledge.

What advantages do today’s young scholars of Indology enjoy in comparison to when you started off? Over the years, how has the popularity of Indology or religious studies been (in India and elsewhere) like (especially among non-priests)?

The area of religious studies or a study of comparative religion is not so common in India. These days, the students of Indology in India have more facilities for learning. There is ample new material for study. A dispassionate approach is necessary for such studies. Fortunately, there are good teachers who teach the subjects with that approach. There is a good number of students in Indology departments in India. Most of them study the subject out of interest.

In foreign universities, the number of students is limited, maybe 8 to 10 and some of them wish to continue their studies. They not only study Sanskrit, but some pursue Pali and Prakrit languages as they want to do research in Buddhism and Jainism.

In India, religious studies or religion, per se, is increasingly and often seen getting linked with a number of anti-social activities, a basis to divide society and look upon with an agenda. Your views.

I do not think so. A good scholar studies religions out of interest and does not have any agenda. While studying the religions critically, one should be careful about the religious sentiments of the followers of the religions.

Can you suggest ways in which the study of all religions can be introduced at school, college and university levels than what it is being done now ?

In schools, it is good to teach human values taught by various religions. In higher education, there should be courses of comparative religion. This way the students will be motivated to have a critical approach but at the same time, they should have respect for other religions.
The schools and colleges should provide facilities for learning Sanskrit.

A student can get knowledge of Vedas and ancient scriptures through any Indian language or English. It is, however, necessary to study Sanskrit if one wants to do in-depth study and research. In Indian universities, they should teach Pali and Prakrit languages. One of them would be a major subject and two other languages could be subsidiary ones. At the same time, the students who study these classical languages must know ancient Indian history and culture.

Similarly, the students of ancient Indian history and culture must have basic knowledge of all the three classical languages and literature. The curricula should be revised accordingly. But this seems almost impossible.

What changes have you noticed in the studies of Hinduism, Buddhism, Vedas and the Puranas (in India and elsewhere) since the time you were a beginner?

A serious study of various religions and the religious scriptures in those particular classical languages is always a challenge. Generally, one who belongs to one particular religion has a natural love for and faith in one’s religion.

But a student of religious studies should not have any sectarian approach. He or she has to study various religious texts and find out the doctrinal differences between them. This kind of approach has been there. However, sometimes there are some writings glorifying some sects and despising other sects. Such an approach is harmful to society. Such attempts have been made previously as well. I do not find much change in the situation.

What are your present research works and areas of interest that you plan to explore in the near future?

I am working on three major research projects connected with Buddhist Studies, Puranas and Vedas. I have no plans of undertaking new projects in the near future.

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