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Last Updated: Friday, 20 February, 2004, 19:16 GMT
UN boost for ancient Indian chants
By Geeta Pandey
BBC correspondent in Kerala

Boy praying in the Vedic tradition
Children are taught to pray to Lord Krishna and worship the sun god
India's Vedic tradition, regarded by Hindus as the foundation of their religion and culture, could be heading for a revival.

The vast body of Sanskrit poetry, philosophy and rituals which make up the Vedas is seen by India's religious majority as the ultimate source of knowledge.

But the ancient tradition has been on the decline in modern times.

Now the United Nations cultural organisation, Unesco, has formally recognised it as part of the world's heritage of oral history.

It says Vedic chanting is an intangible heritage of humanity.

Recognition by Unesco is expected to give a boost to the dwindling number of Vedic centres around India.

Although the Vedas were recorded in writing some 15 centuries ago, they are traditionally learned through recitation and chanting.


In the southern state of Kerala, Vedic chanting is very much part of the curriculum at the Brahmaswam Madham school in the town of Thirssur.

Sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor of a 700-year-old temple, 25 young boys and their teachers pray to Lord Krishna.

Clad in white sarongs, the boys are bare-chested, and their chanting is accompanied by ritualistic hand movements.

Vedas are a symbol of India's culture and tradition and they have to be preserved for thousands and thousands of years
Here the children are learning about ancient Indian scriptures and how the Vedas are considered to be the source of all human knowledge.

Although Vedas were written down in ancient times, they are mostly passed on from one generation to another orally.

AM Kesavan, who is 20, has spent 12 years at the school and wants to be a Vedic teacher.

"Vedas are a symbol of India's culture and tradition and they have to be preserved for thousands and thousands of years," he says.

"My part in it is to acquire this knowledge and pass it on to the future generations."

Kesavan and his fellow students begin the day with a dip in the pond at the crack of dawn.

It is followed by Suryanamaskar - the worship of the sun god. From then onwards, most of the day is devoted to learning the scriptures.

Chanting pupils at the Brahmaswam Madham school in Kerala
Not enough youngsters are entering Vedic schools
Scholars say the Vedic tradition dates back to almost 10,000 years BC, but most historians say 4,000 BC is more realistic.

The principal of the school, Vallabhan Namboodiri, says that when he was a student he had between 55 and 60 classmates.

But he says that has all changed.

"Nowadays, students are reluctant and their parents are reluctant because they want academic studies so that their children can get a better job.

"Also, nowadays most families have one or two children.

"Earlier, there were 10 or 12 children per family, so they could send one or two of their boys to study the Vedas," he says.

Action plan

The Unesco grant is a big boost for this ancient tradition, and it is hoped that more people will now be able to take it up.

Boys swimming at the Brahmaswam Madham school in Kerala
It's hoped that more young people can learn about the Vedic tradition

Sudha Gopalakrishnan, from the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, wrote the proposal for Unesco.

"With the help of this recognition people will be more encouraged to take up this profession," she says.

"The proposal consists of a two-year action plan - schools will be opened throughout the country which will concentrate on Vedic chanting and the students will be encouraged to take it up."

As the day draws to a close at the Brahmaswam Madham school, the children sit by the side of the mossy green waters of the pool.

The water shimmers in the setting sun, and the young scholars recite mantras with their eyes tightly shut.

It is a picture of calm and serenity amid the crumbling walls and peeling plaster.

The students and teachers hope recognition by Unesco will help improve their lot and bring in the much-needed funds to repair the school.

The last several decades has seen only neglect and official apathy.

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