For the last 600 years, the Sankethis, a community of Brahmins that migrated from Kerala, have been living together and leading an insular way of life. Daily life revolves around Sanskrit. Aham Gacchami (I am going) and other expressions in the ancient language can be heard on the street. Since the language is spoken by people wearing jeans and t-shirts or while talking over a cell phone or riding a motorbike, Mattur has become a quaint metaphor for ancient India in modern times.
Most residents of the village are happy that the Narendra Modi government plans to replace German with Sanskrit in CBSE schools. “Of course, children in India must necessarily study Sanskrit. The Vedas can help children lead fuller lives as they teach about how to lead a better family life, to understand the metaphysical aspect of life and so on,” says Madhukar, who resigned from his job at Cisco as a software engineer and returned to the village to set up a garments business.
Almost every house in this Brahmin village has an IT professional and many of them are working abroad. The Sankethis are proud of their culture and almost every NRI makes it a point to attend rituals and festivals back home.
The crime rate is extremely low, given that the village by itself is one extended family. “There is not a single property dispute pending before courts from this village. We have a culture of cohesion that has been around for generations and we have managed to keep it going,” says Yadu, who, like Madhukar, goes by one name and is a software professional.Not All Are Welcome
It was only last year that, for the first time, a boy from one of the families here married a girl from north India. Until then, the community thrived on marrying within and, at the most, into Brahmin families from nearby areas. The local attitude towards the marriage to the ‘outsider’ is predictable: Many of the local residents are yet to come to terms with the marriage and have stopped visiting their home.
“This family is rich and that is why they dared to break tradition. If any of us commoners were to break tradition, there would be hell to pay,” says a teacher at the school. There is also a sense of fear at the prospect of getting cut off from the rest of the society and many of the youngsters want the castebarriers lifted at the least.
In Mattur, there is a huge gap between the elders and the younger lot in terms of the ideal way of life to be pursued. The elders of this patriarchal society want a strict enforcement of caste norms and it is acknowledged that even today bringing a guest from another caste could be frowned upon.
“I have had to face many embarrassing moments after I brought friends from other castes home. My mother would not like it. I understand we need to change but the elders need time. They cannot change so fast,” says a young software professional from the village who did not wish to be identified. “The community is too rigid. We cannot afford to be cut off for so long,” says Prafulla MS, a Sanskrit teacher at the local school. She adds that the growing inequality between the rich and poor was also causing some consternation.
Holding on to Traditions
“A wedding in the community lasts seven days and there are a number of other rituals and festivals that have to be observed. The rich and landed families can afford all this. What about the poor? But then many of the ceremonies are tied to spiritual beliefs that centre on the afterlife. If there is no money to conduct the rituals, this leads to strife at home,” explains Prafulla. Despite continuing frictions, both the young as well as the old believe that learning the Vedas can help people lead a better way of life.
The Mattur school has one of the best records in the district and boasts of toppers year after year. The teachers at the school say that learning Vedas and the chanting have helped children with their memory and focus. The software engineers here say their training in chanting has helped them with their academics.
Yadu, who works with Hewlett Packard, says that the daily practice of chanting was the reason for the village boasting of hundreds of software engineers. “We naturally developed an aptitude for maths and logic as well,” he said.
But while the village is clearly in awe of Sanskrit and the Vedic way of life, it appears to have no answers for the disconnect between modernity and the ancient language. Despite all the glory that the people here associate with the ancient language, there does not appear to be much of a context for its application. The elders of the village, especially, are against breaking from the tradition of any sort and frown upon “Western values”.