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‘I have become a villain’

Hot seat - Nilakantha Pati, vice-chancellor,

Shri Jagannath Sanskrit Vishvavidyalaya, Pur

Do you feel the Sanskrit University is losing favour with students in an era of professional education and IT boom? What are the employment prospects for a Sanskrit graduate?

The IT boom has in fact led to a great demand for Sanskrit. People across the globe are now trying to learn this classical language in their quest for knowledge of ancient age and ancient India as all Vedas and Upanishads are written in Sanskrit. This has opened up more jobs. Since retired persons and foreign students have also evinced interest to learn the language, we have started an MA course in Sanskrit for this academic year. Enrolment will begin soon.

How many colleges are functioning under your university?

We have 222 Sanskrit colleges with 18,000 students. Besides, we have 500-odd students pursuing PG courses on our campus. There are 100 more in B.Ed Siksha Shastri, 100 in M.Phil and 60 at the Ph.D level.

Isn’t that too many Sanskrit colleges for a state?

Yes, the mushrooming of Sanskrit colleges should stop. Ideally, the state should have 60 Sanskrit institutions where quality education can be imparted. It would also be easier for the university to monitor them. It is believed that Brahmins have the exclusive right to study Sanskrit. I want to break that perception. Sanskrit is the mother of all languages and everyone should get the scope to learn it. It is also computer friendly.

It is noticed that many students with a degree in Sanskrit are unable to write their names and utter a complete sentence in the language. Why?

It was happening earlier due to poor education standards in our affiliate colleges. We have de-recognised 22 colleges. They used to admit students but did not have faculty members. They would also write exams on behalf of the students and arrange certificates for them by charging money.

Are things improving?

Yes, slowly but surely. The chancellor (Odisha governor) and the state government instructed us not to compromise with quality of education. Earlier, the pass rate was 94 per cent. Now, it has come down to 50 per cent as we embracing transparent methods. This will tell you if we have been able to improve the quality of education or not. However, I have become a villain in the eyes of many for trying to streamline the system.

Don’t you think the university has failed to attract public attention?

Well, there are 16 Sanskrit universities in the country but we have failed to project ourselves to some extent. We are constantly trying to improve the scenario. I always advise our students to develop a sense of self-confidence.

Are you facing any other difficulty?

Our campus is spread over 100 acres. Of this, 30 acres come under sweet water zone and we cannot construct anything on that area but we have planted many trees. We have requested the government to give us another 30 acres in place of that. The government should also enhance the students’ scholarship amount from Rs 300 to Rs 1000.

What would you say about allegations that funds from University Grants Commission (UGC) are not being utilised properly?

The state government has already conducted a special audit. They have not given an adverse report. Before that, the auditor general, the local fund audit and chartered accountant have conducted audits as per UGC provisions but none found any irregularity.

What are your plans for the university?

We plan to start an international museum-cum-study centre on Jagannath cult that would operate from a multi-storey building on campus equipped with all basic amenities. The state government has accepted our proposal. Puri king has also given his approval. Once we get the required financial support, we will work on it.

Do you feel the university should get a share of the earnings of Jagannath temple?

Yes. As we are propagating Jagannath culture, the temple administration should give us a token amount of the income as goodwill gesture. Earlier, we used to get a share but the state government discontinued it following opposition from a section of servitors.

As a Sanskrit scholar, what do you feel about non-Hindus not being allowed into the temple?

Time has not come to allow them inside the temple because there is always an apprehension that the rich Jagannath culture would be diluted.

Did it pain you that the silver ingots were seized from Emar Mutt while an attempt was also made to sell it?

Yes, devotees had donated it to the temple over the years. It would have been good if the university was given a share of the silver ingots as poor and meritorous students study here. I had also given a proposal in this regard to the Endowment Commission, which manages the affairs of the temple and mutts.

Should devotees be allowed atop the chariots and touch the idols of the holy trinity during rath yatra?

Yes.

Climbing ladder of success

Prof Dr Nilakantha Pati is the only dhoti-clad vice-chancellor of a state varsity. He has done D. Litt from Utkal University, Bhubaneswar. He started his career as a lecturer of the Sanskrit University in 1981 and later climbed the ladder to become the vice-chancellor. He has published seven books and produced 30 research papers

Pati is a board member of the Rashtriya Vidyapeeth, Tirupati, as chancellor’s nominee. He is also a member of the governing body of Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Vedavidya Pratisthan, Ujjain, and Rashtriya Sanskrit Parishad, New Delhi. He was nominated as the chairman of the expert committee constituted by UGC to review the status of the deemed-to-be universities along with its constituent colleges throughout the country

Pati has been honoured with several awards such as Acharya Kumarila Bhatta Award and Viswakabi Rabindranath Thakur Award by Indian Institute of Oriental Heritage, Calcutta in 2011. He was also felicitated as an eminent scholar at the all India Sanskrit Conference and received the Saptarshi Award conferred by Gujarat government

WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN HAD YOU NOT BEEN AN INTELLECTUAL?

I do not know the answer to this question as the goal of my life had been set since childhood.

I hail from a Brahmin family.

My father, who was a Sanskrit scholar, was engaged in the jajamani service (priests performing rituals and worshipping deities on behalf of the jajamans or devotees whom they ministered).

He and other members of my family had decided that I should become a Sanskrit scholar.

So, my destiny had been fixed at a young age.