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The Kendriya Vidyalaya Prayer Controversy: Honouring Heritage Or Promoting A Religion?

“Asato mā sadgamaya
Tamasomā jyotir gamaya
Mrityormāamritam gamaya”
The morning prayer in a Kendriya Vidyalaya institution is a pristine, harmonious ritual. The song opens with a prelude in Sanskrit – three little lines which hold immense power:
“From ignorance, lead me to truth;
From darkness, lead me to light;
From death, lead me to immortality.”
The song is a charming melody with ridiculously simple lyrics. The singer prays to a secular deity, wishing for strength and knowledge, while praising duty and love.
“Daya kar daan vidya ka hame parmatma dena
Daya kar maa hamari atma mein shuddhata dena
Hamare dhyaan mein aao, Prabhu! aakhon mein bas jaao
Andhere dil mein aa karke, param jyoti jaga dena
Baha do prem ki ganga, dilon mein prem ka sagar
Hame aapas mein mil-jul kar, prabhu rehna sikha dena
Hamara dharm ho seva, hamara karm ho seva
Sada eeman ho seva, va sevak jan bana dena
Vatan ke vaaste jeena, vatan ke vaaste marna
Vatan par jaan phida karna, prabhu humko sikha dena.“
(“Oh God, give us knowledge, Grant us abundant spirit
Give us purity of soul, Enter  our consciousness
Dwell in our vision, Deliver our hearts  from darkness to light
Make knowledge flow towards us like the Ganges
Make love flow out from our hearts like a river
Show us how to live in harmony
Teach us the joy of noble deeds
Show us how to be honest
Give us the strength to be hardworking
Show us how to love our country and die for her
Show  us how to sacrifice
Lead us to knowledge
Show us the way to purify our souls.”)
The words are precise, graceful, and soulstirring. The song hails honour, brotherhood, and most importantly, it hails learning.
“Oṁ Saha nāvavatu
saha nau bhunaktu
Saha vīryam karavāvahai
Tejasvi nāvadhītamastu
Mā vidviṣāvahai
Oṁ Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ.”
This is the stimulating postlude. One doesn’t need to be a believer to enjoy the depth of these verses.
“Om, may God protect us both (the Teacher and the Student) (during the journey of awakening our Knowledge),
May God Nourish us both (with that spring of Knowledge which nourishes life when awakened),
May we work together with energy and vigour (cleansing ourselves with that flow of energy for the Knowledge to manifest), 
May our study be enlightening (taking us towards the true essence underlying everything), and not giving rise to hostility (by constricting the understanding of the essence in a particular manifestation only),
Om, peace, peace, peace.”
Even as I write these lines, my thoughts stand ‘at attention’ on the assembly ground at 7:30 AM. The prayer is tattooed into my brain, and I am certain that I am not the only student of Kendriya Vidyalaya to feel so.
Students of the Kendriya Vidyalayas have been singing this since the start of the organisation. It is now a part of the identity of the schools.
And, from the start till the end, the spirit is secular. The references to a deity are far and few in between, and the use of ambiguous terms ensure that. One can completely bypass the devotional elements – and realise that the prayer is about honouring learning and knowledge.
“The prayer is in Hindi and Sanskrit. Students of other religions have to compulsorily attend the assembly and recite it.” – such a concern has been raised by people, according to a newspaper report.
Is Sanskrit the issue here? The verses are Vedic in origin, yes. However, in my opinion, their meaning is secular and crystal clear. A language cannot be religious.
Sanskrit (the language) happened to be the medium in which the tenets of Hinduism (the religion) were written down. Both of them came into existence here. Claiming that the prayer promotes Hinduism is ridiculous, because despite the Vedic origin of the verses, their spirit is clearly secular.
The classical language is a part of our heritage – and all things Sanskrit aren’t Hindu. One would be a fool to deny the connection between Sanskrit and Hinduism – however, the language itself has no religion of its own.
The prayer is about learning – and its soul is secular, which makes it apt for an educational institution. Or, is singing about knowledge a “Hindu” activity now?
Featured image source: Kendriya Vidyalaya Danapur Cantt , Patna/Facebook
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