Art & Culture

How social media can be used to promote Sanskrit

Rohini Bakshi
Rohini BakshiDec 12, 2015 | 21:30

How social media can be used to promote Sanskrit

Three years ago, #SanskritAppreciationHour(#SAH) debuted on Twitter, amid a fair amount of scepticism and doubt. Was this the right medium? Who would it be able to reach? How would it position and align itself? Need it align itself? What were its objectives? How could 140 characters ever be enough to transmit or receive Sanskrit?

Would a non-Brahmin, non-male, non-resident Indian be seen to have any authority to promote "the language of the gods"?


Three difficult years later, #SAH is riding a wave of goodwill and bonhomie. It has a panel of Sanskritajñas (experts) who contribute content and time, and its buoyancy comes from constituents as varied as can possibly be.

From orthodox brahmins trained in Vedic sakhas to wine swilling suburban housewives; from a Jewish-American PhD candidate to a Muslim A level student in Malaysia; from conservatives to those who would like to see Article 377 scrapped and same-sex marriages legalised. It could not be more varied.

The 5th Sanskrit Journalists Conference at AksharDham, New Delhi this week was a pleasant wake up call. Representing #SAH, I had the privilege to view the work of highly committed, creative and knowledgeable people.

The indomitable Dr.Shashikant Joshi, whose blog "Practical Sanskrit (http://blog.practicalsanskrit.com/) has supported thousands of learners around the globe. Creative powerhouse Dr.Sampadanand Misra of Sri Aurobindo Ashram,Pondicherry (http://aurosociety.org/focus-area/indian-culture.aspx), whose various stellar contributions include Divyavani, a 24-hour Sanskrit radio station.

The chirpy team from NectarLand (http://nectarland.blogspot.in/) who are creating fun books in Sanskrit, sure to wean the most committed phone toting kid away from any gadget. Prof. Kamala Bhardwaj who spoke passionately about the discrimination women journalists face in Hindi and Sanskrit media.


And a young engineering student who "wowed" the audience with what we can learn about the mundane, the metaphysical and historical change from ancient board games.


The atmosphere was one of partnership. There was no sense of envy or competition. No concealment of trade secrets. We were all too keen to share best practice, to help each other help Sanskrit. #SAH had its moment in the sun too, but concluded with an eye to the future.

As we approach 10K followers, should we be patting ourselves on the back, or should we begin to realise that we have not even begun to scratch the surface? Did we plan and strategise adequately or did we just get lucky as we bumbled along?

AksharDham, was the perfect prod for such soul-searching. In preparation to present to the august audience, I sought professional help to study social media trends.**

The findings were both depressing and uplifting. Despite all the hype and hoopla, Sanskrit lags far behind most languages in interest levels (globally and in India) based on Google search trends:




It loses out to Latin and Urdu globally. In India, though it trumps Latin, in the last 5 years, Urdu has outstripped it in interest levels. Adding English to the India specific search has the expected results - Sanskrit, Latin and Urdu flat-line in comparison.


However comparisons with Tamil, Telugu and Hindi yield eye opening results:


Admittedly the study does not represent the state of Sanskrit in the non-digital world, however since #SAH is on - and plans to remain on social media, learnings are germane to its future.

India lags far behind the world in internet usage, expressed as a percentage of the population. While North American usage stands at nearly 90 per cent of the population, Indian users are less than 30 per cent (See below).


However, the good news is that internet usage is growing at a blistering pace in India as compared to the global average. Figures collated by Mirum, one of India's leading digital agencies show that Indian internet usage grew 44 per cent in the last one year as compared to 7.6 per cent globally. And while active social media users have grown globally at 8.7 per cent, in India they have grown by 26 per cent.

However while active mobile social users has grown by 23 per cent globally, Indians have been slower to take to this medium, adding just 5 per cent in the last 12 months even though mobile subscriptions have grown by 13 per cent in this period.

For our purposes though, the absolute numbers are huge - there are 159 million active users who access the internet via their mobiles.

And what of the smart phone revolution? At present there are 7.529 billion active mobile subscriptions globally, a number higher than the total population of the world. In the 1st quarter of 2015, smart phones represented 40 per cent of this figure, but more important is that fact that in the same period, sales of smart phones stood at 75 per cent of all phones. The writing is on the wall, globally, at least.

In India, at present, smart phones account for 24 per cent percent of all mobile phones, and in line with global trends, of all mobile phones purchased in Q1 of 2015, 45 per cent were smart phones. Moreover, with the advent of 4G, getting a basic (2G) mobile internet connection is going to become easier and cheaper than ever, so expect internet growth to accelerate.

What do we glean from all this? Perhaps something we already knew by rule of thumb. The internet is growing, mobile subscriptions are growing, the use of smart phones is growing. More and more people are using, and can be reached via social media. So why bother with the research when we already know all this? In the coming three years, #SAH will attempt to emulate a professional marketing company, albeit without any funds or budgets… We need to invest time and effort to understand our "consumers." Where do they live?

What is their inclination toward Sanskrit? How can we persuade them to learn it, to appreciate it? How old are they? What time of day should we reach out to them? Should we have separate messaging mid-morning when young mothers are home and their babies are asleep?

And do something else when teenagers are "studying" with one eye on Facebook? When they receive a whacky picture via Instagram, can we urge then to check how to say "No way, bruv!!" in Sanskrit?

Without belittling past successes, in a sense the #SAH journey has just begun. Yes, we have a large following. Yes #SAH commitment led to this column on DailyO. Yes, the successes of #SAH and this column have led to talks with a publisher to bring out a unique series of study tools for beginners who don't have time to attend a course.

But we have miles to go. I urge you to look for the hashtag #SanskritAppreciationHour and follow our brilliant and entertaining guest lecturers. Even if you don't want to learn Sanskrit just yet, engage with us. Tell us what you think. And give us ideas so that we can serve Sanskrit better.


**I'm grateful to Mirum India, and Mirum, London for the information provided.

Last updated: December 12, 2015 | 21:30
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