SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, February 28, 2014 (Southern California Public Radio): Arshya Gurbani, president of USC's Hindu Student Organization, hopes one day to learn Sanskrit to better connect with her faith. Gurbani, 21, and the other members of the Hindu Student Organization at USC put their own modern spin on the ancient practice of aarthi during their weekly meetings. They play the devotional song "Om Jai Jagdish Hare" on YouTube as they sing off computer printouts. And coupled with the Hindi songs are verses in Sanskrit, spelled out phonetically so anyone can follow along.
"Growing up, you don't necessarily know what you're saying, but you keep saying certain Sanskrit phrases anyways," Gurbani says. "Now that I'm older, I want to know what it means, and that causes me to look at it more critically than I would have if it were in English or even in Hindi."
Hinduism's canon of sacred texts -- such as the epic poem "Mahabharata" and, within it, the Bhagavad Gita -- is written in Sanskrit, but few Hindus today can read or speak the language. Many Hindu-Americans' religious experiences are taught orally by family members or through translations into modern Indian languages. India's most recent census numbers reported fewer than 15,000 people identified Sanskrit as their native tongue.
But despite being the world's oldest language, Sanskrit has survived and remained largely unchanged due to its preservation within religious and scholarly studies. And now a resurgence of interest among young Hindus is pushing this once deemed "dead language" back into the conversation of what it means to be Hindu.
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