Mattur has been on my wishlist since I first heard that all the people of this village can speak Sanskrit. Something that might have been a norm in good old days, but is a rare exception in 21st CE, has to be intriguing.
I wondered if it would be like visiting India that existed 2000 or more years ago. Wanted to know if these people speak other languages or not. I was curious to know if they inherited this Sanskrit speaking or they learned it like we learn languages that are not our mother tongues. So finally, last month I got an opportunity to visit the village and spend a few hours there.
I was in Shivamogga for a wedding in the family. In between the rituals, I took out time to drive to Mattur village, just on the outskirts of Shivamogga city. A dusty road through the fields and Arecanut plantations took us to the village. We were looking for Sh Ashwath Avadhani Ji, who had kindly agreed to show us the village. We did not have his contact number, but we were told to ask anyone in the village. That is vintage style visiting an Indian village, where everyone knows everyone.
We walked around the village that has traditional south Indian houses with pillared corridors opening into the wide streets between them. Platforms below the old trees indicated that conversations still happen there. Young and old, all men wore Veshtis – the traditional south Indian attire. The feel of the place was very different, it had a homogeneity that we now miss in most places. Trust was in the air, as we saw most houses had left their front doors open. Everyone welcomed us inside their homes without any hesitation, without knowing who we are and what is our purpose of visit.
We sat with Ashvath Ji on an open platform after listening to him converse with people in the street in Sanskrit. Personally, for me, it was watching a living dream. I had to pinch myself and tell that I am listening to this Sanskrit Samvad in everyday life in real.
History of Mattur village
Mattur village was given to the Sanketi Brahmins by Vijayanagara Kings who came here from Tamil Nadu some 500 years ago. Yes, Mattur – the Sanskrit speaking village is an Agrahara, which the families living here received as a royal grant. Trayambaka Rai, a minister in the Krishnadevaraya King’s court set up the Trayamkeshwara temple and the village came up around the temple. You can still see the marking of three segments of land around the temple – each one marked for 40 families in the Agrahara.
There are about 120 families and 600 people in this Agrahara, although the total village population is about 2000. They all belong to the same Brahmin caste. No wonder homogeneity exists.
No one really knows how the village got the name. Guess is that it comes from Mahat + Uru which would roughly mean an important place or a big place.
Mattur and Sanskrit
Most of the people are engaged in Sanskrit in some way. There is a school that teaches in Sanskrit to the kids. There is a Ved Pathshala where scholars learn the Indian scriptures. We met students from across south Indian states who were here to learn Sanskrit and scriptures.
When I asked Ashwath Ji, how did Sanskrit speaking begin in this village, his quick answer was – Parampara. It is our tradition. Our ancestors who were well versed in Vedas spoke in Sanskrit. However, in the recent past, the credit goes to a course conducted by Sanskrit Bharti.
When I asked that the tradition must have existed in many parts of the country if not throughout the country, then how did they manage to keep it alive. He said, we are very content people and we are happy with what we have. He also gives credit to the youth who are engaged in nurturing Sanskrit, without whom it would have been difficult to sustain.
Today all the people in the Agrahara and many in the village can speak Tamil which is their mother tongue, Kannada which is the local language and Sanskrit which is the chosen language of the village.
Ashwath Ji told me about a few more villages in South India like Radhakrishna Nagar near Dharwad where Sanskrit is being revived as a spoken language. He also believes that languages are lost when youth migrates to cities. If we stay in villages, the languages will sustain naturally.
It is heartening to see that the village has adopted technology to teach Sanskrit to the world. Many young entrepreneurs here teach Sanskrit online from the village. How I wish more youth could find their livelihood within their homelands.
Must See in the Mattur Sanskrit Village
Ashwath Ji took us for a walk around the village. In a small village of 600 people, we could see so many things. I loved the streets that had a sense of community and openness.
Bank of River Tunga
On the banks of River Tunga, there is an open space where Agnihotras or Havans are performed. I visited in the afternoon and missed attending one. I am sure I would visit it again just to witness this on the banks of an ancient river.
There are 7 temples in this small village. 3 of them Keshav, Sri Ram and Laxmi Narayana Temple are dedicated to Vishnu. Another three Trayambakeshwara, Gowri Shankar, Someshwara are dedicated to Shiva. There is another temple dedicated to Anjaneya or Hanuman.
We visited the Laxmi Narayan Temple located at the entrance of the village and hence also called Durga temple. It is a small one-room temple where women come and do kirtan every evening
Vedshala and Gurukul
The part of the village that I enjoyed the most was visiting Gurukul. A simple old style home where you enter after taking your shoes off has young boys living and learning Indian Scriptures.
Gurukul also has a small library that has Sanskrit scriptures and books. I wish they had funds to create a beautiful library that people can refer to. As of now, they are steel almirahs that store the manuscripts as well as Sanskrit books.
Visiting the school in the village was fun, where I interacted with the 5th-grade students and they surprised me with their knowledge of Sanskrit. May they lead us to a future rooted in our own culture.
The most fascinating part of visiting the village is listening to the conversations in Sanskrit. If you know at least one Indian language, you can follow the conversations to a large extent.
Veergal or Hero Stone
Outside one of the temples, we saw a hero stone erected. Such hero stones commemorating the local heroes are found quite commonly found in this region. Given the limited time, I could not gather the story behind the stone. It does tell me that this Sanskrit speaking village does not live in isolation despite being unique in its own way.
How to reach
You can easily drive to the village from Shivamogga, that is well connected by road and rail to Bengaluru.
Plan to go either early morning to around evening when you can see Agnihotras being performed, Scriptures being chanted by the river.
You can easily cover it in an hours time unless you decide to sit and chat with the people there.