Sanskrit, The Mother of all Languages

Sanskrit ( संस्कृतम् saṃskṛtam , originally संस्कृता वाक् saṃskṛtā vāk “refined speech”) is the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, a philosophical language in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and a scholarly literary language that was in use as a lingua franca in the Indian cultural zone. It is a standardised dialect of Old Indo-Aryan language, originating as Vedic Sanskrit and tracing its linguistic ancestry back to Proto-Indo-Iranian and ultimately to Proto-Indo-European. Today it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand.Sanskrit holds a prominent position in Indo-European studies.

The corpus of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of poetry and drama as well as scientific, technical, philosophical and dharma texts. Sanskrit continues to be widely used as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals and Buddhist practice in the forms of hymns and mantras. Spoken Sanskrit has been revived in some villages with traditional institutions, and there are attempts at further popularisation.

Name

The Sanskrit verbal adjective sáṃskṛta- may be translated as “put together, constructed, well or completely formed; refined, adorned, highly elaborated”. It is derived from the root saṃ-skar- “to put together, compose, arrange, prepare”,where saṃ- “together” (as English same) and (s)kar- “group” (transitive verb). (cf. Norwegian ‘sammen skjær’, Afrikaans ‘saamskaar’)

The term in the generic meaning of “made ready, prepared, completed, finished” is found in the Rigveda. Also in Vedic Sanskrit, as nominalised neuter saṃskṛtám, it means “preparation, prepared place” and thus “ritual enclosure, place for a sacrifice”.

Varieties

Classical Sanskrit is the standard register as laid out in the grammar of Pāṇini, around the 4th century BCE. Its position in the cultures of Greater India is akin to that of Latin and Greek in Europe and it has significantly influenced most modern languages of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

The pre-Classical form of Sanskrit is known as Vedic Sanskrit, with the language of the Rigveda being the oldest and most archaic stage preserved, its oldest core dating back to as early as 1700 BCE. This qualifies Rigvedic Sanskrit as one of the oldest attestations of any Indo-Iranian language, and one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European languages, the family which includes English and most European languages.

Vedic Sanskrit

Sanskrit, as defined by Pāṇini, evolved out of the earlier “Vedic” form. The beginning of Vedic Sanskrit can be traced as early as 1700–1200 BCE (for Rig-vedic and Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni). Scholars often distinguish Vedic Sanskrit and Classical or “Pāṇinian” Sanskrit as separate ‘dialects’. Though they are quite similar, they differ in a number of essential points of phonology, vocabulary, grammar and syntax. Vedic Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas, a large collection of hymns, incantations (Samhitas), theological and religio-philosophical discussions in the Brahmanas and Upanishads. Modern linguists consider the metrical hymns of the Rigveda Samhita to be the earliest, composed by many authors over several centuries of oral tradition. The end of the Vedic period is marked by the composition of the Upanishads, which form the concluding part of the Vedic corpus in the traditional view; however the early Sutras are Vedic, too, both in language and content.Around the mid-1st millennium BCE, Vedic Sanskrit began the transition from a first language to a second language of religion and learning.

Classical Sanskrit

For nearly 2,000 years, a cultural order existed that exerted influence across South Asia, Inner Asia, Southeast Asia, and to a certain extent, East Asia. A significant form of post-Vedic Sanskrit is found in the Sanskrit of the Hindu Epics—the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The deviations from Pāṇini in the epics are generally considered to be on account of interference from Prakrits, or “innovations” and not because they are pre-Paninean. Traditional Sanskrit scholars call such deviations ārṣa (आर्ष), meaning ‘of the ṛṣis’, the traditional title for the ancient authors. In some contexts, there are also more “prakritisms” (borrowings from common speech) than in Classical Sanskrit proper. Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit is a literary language heavily influenced by Middle Indic, based on early Buddhist Prakrit texts which subsequently assimilated to the Classical Sanskrit standard in varying degrees.

According to Tiwari (1955), there were four principal dialects of classical Sanskrit: paścimottarī (Northwestern, also called Northern or Western), madhyadeśī (lit., middle country), pūrvi (Eastern) and dakṣiṇī (Southern, arose in the Classical period). The predecessors of the first three dialects are even attested in Vedic Brāhmaṇas of which the first one was regarded as the purest .

Contemporary usage

As a spoken language

In the 2001 census of India, 14,135 people reported Sanskrit as their native language. Since the 1990s, movements to spread spoken Sanskrit have been increasing. Organisations like Samskrita Bharati conduct Speak Sanskrit workshops to popularise the language.

Indian newspapers have published reports about several villages, where, as a result of recent revival attempts, large parts of the population, including children, are learning Sanskrit and are even using it to some extent in everyday communication:

  1. Mattur, Shimoga district, Karnataka
  2. Mohad, Narsinghpur district, Madhya Pradesh
  3. Jhiri, Rajgarh district, Madhya Pradesh
  4. Kaperan, Bundi district, Rajasthan
  5. Khada, Banswara district, Rajasthan
  6. Ganoda, Banswara district, Rajasthan
  7. Bawali, Bagpat district, Uttar Pradesh
  8. Shyamsundarpur, Kendujhar district, Odisha

In official use

In India, Sanskrit is among the 14 original languages of the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. The state of Uttarakhand in India has ruled Sanskrit as its second official language. In October 2012 noted social activist Hemant Goswami filed a writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court for declaring Sanskrit as a ‘minority’ language, so that it could enjoy special protection as available to minorities under the Constitution of India.

Symbolic usage

In the Republic of India, in Nepal and Indonesia, Sanskrit phrases are widely used as mottoes for various national, educational and social organisations (much as Latin is used by some institutions in the West). For example:

  • Republic of India: ‘सत्यमेव जयते’ Satyameva Jayate “Truth alone triumphs”
  • Nepal: ‘जननी जन्मभूमिश्च स्वर्गादपि गरीयसी’ Janani Janmabhūmisca Svargādapi garīyasi “Mother and motherland are greater than heaven”
  • Aceh Province: ‘पञ्चचित’ Pancacita “Five Goals”

Sanskrit, The Mother of all Languages

Many of India’s and Nepal’s scientific and administrative terms are named in Sanskrit. The Indian guided missile program that was commenced in 1983 by DRDO has named the five missiles (ballistic and others) that it has developed as Prithvi, Agni, Akash, Nag and Trishul. India’s first modern fighter aircraft is named HAL Tejas.