SanskritOn Monday 9th March a group of 13 LVI (Year 12) girls went with Mrs Ross and Miss Aherne to Queen’s College, Oxford to watch a Sanskrit play – The Middle One. For the first time in Oxford, the Faculty of Oriental Languages was producing and performing a play in this Ancient Indian language – written at some point after 1500BC.  

The Middle One, or the Madhyama Vyāyoga, is a one-act Sanskrit play attributed to Bhāsa, and comprises chanting with original dialogue in Sanskrit. The play is comparable with the Oedipus Rex for its subject matter, breath-taking coincidence, and great literary achievement.

The plot is as follows: a fierce demon demands a member of an innocent priestly family to be sacrificed for his mum’s breakfast. How will the family pick out the unfortunate one? With the tragedy looming large, the world protector is also abducted by the demon. Yet soon the demon realises that he has been the subject of manipulation.

We were first treated to a brief lecture by Dr John Lowe of the University of Oxford, who talked to us about the history of the Sanskrit Language and its speakers, and also addressed the question – why learn Sanskrit (a dead language – ie a language no longer learnt by anyone as their first language). He asked in fact why should we learn any language, and went on to answer this by stating that a language shows us how speakers encode and preserve their thoughts, and so an understanding of a language is an understanding of a culture – whether that be a modern one, or a more ancient one.

The play was a mixture of speech and chanting, with some very comical moments, and we all very much enjoyed our afternoon experiencing something very different to our usual Mondays! Some very interesting conversations were had afterwards about languages – and also how impressive the actors had been to retain what seemed to us to be such complex and lengthy dialogue! Congratulations are due to Yizhou Liu who produced the play, and also huge thanks to him for organising a tour of the College for us all afterwards.

Mrs Zoe Ross, Teacher of French


Photo credit:
Reading Sanskrit - Amid Falling Flowers
The Granger Collection / Universal Images Group