What is Sanskrit? Why Sanskrit?
History, Meaning and Philosophy
Sanskrit is the eldest of the Aryan languages. The exact location of the cradle of the Aryan civilisation is not known, although most scholars agree that it was somewhere in Central Asia, in the vicinity of the Black Sea. The Aryans migrated in many directions, leading to the diversification and evolution of the language into an Indo-European family, with various subgroups such as Indo-Iranian, Italic, Celtic, Germanic, Greek, etc. from which many of our modern languages such as English, Spanish, German, Hindi, Farsi etc. derive.
Sanskrit is considered to be the "elder sister" of all these languages and other now extinct ones, it has probably been in use for the last four to seven thousand years! One of the sub-projects of this Wiki is to trace the etymology of words in our own modern languages back to Sanskrit words and their Sanskrit roots. There is a specific section for this in the +info module. The name Sanskrit means perfectly formed. The clarity and power of its sound and grammar are astounding. Since antiquity it has been used as a means of answering the human desire to discover the reality behind the sensory world; to discover the 'spiritual' realm.
Structure and Grammar
Its structure is made up of simple verbal monosyllabic roots, which are expanded using prefixes and suffixes according to precise grammatical laws, with an infinite capacity to expand and adapt. It possesses a clear structure and precise sounds, preserved in their original form.
Sanskrit has an amazing capacity for expression. The wide variety of words conveys subtle differences in meaning. Since this breadth simply does not exist in other languages, this provides Sanskrit with the greatest capacity of expression. It is the language of philosophy and theology, of the heart and its emotions, of adventure and universal heroes. Scientists are beginning to awaken to its capacity of expression and the precision of its structure for applications in the realms of science, mathematics and computing.
The Vedic texts, the most extensive body of philosophical and spiritual literature in existence today, are written in Sanskrit. These include the Vedas, the Upaniṣads, the Bhagavad Gitā, the Rāmāyaṇa, the Mahābhārata, etc.
Lilavati Manuscript [1700-1900], by Bhaskaracarya, b. 1114, from the Smith Indic Collection
With its letters, called 'akśara' (indestructible), an alphabet of astounding scientific precision is formed. There are five families of sounds according to the mouth and tongue positions used for uttering the sounds. These correspond to the five columns in the diagram below. Each horizontal row also represents a class, according to the methods of articulation used for the proper pronunciation of the sounds. So even its presentation is ordered consciously according to law.
The Sanskrit Alphabet
Sanskrit and My Language
Is my language related to Sanskrit? Below is a table containing the principle, non-extinct Aryan language families, with some examples of member languages. Sanskrit is the elder sister of all of these.
- Two language families are Asian:
- Indian - Sanskrit, Prakrits, Hindustani, Gujarati, Bengali, Nepali, Punjabi, etc.
- Iranian - Avestan, Old Persian, Pahlavi, Farsi
- Several are European:
- Hellenic - Greek and Armenian
- Baltic - Lithuanian
- Italic - Latin and the Romance languages
- Germanic - Gothic, Old English, German, English
- Celtic - Gaulish, Irish, Welsh, Cornish
- Slavic - Slavonic, Russian, Czech, Polish
One of the sub-projects of this Wiki is to trace the etymology of words in our own modern languages back to Sanskrit words and their Sanskrit roots. There is a specific section for this in the +info module. Monier Williams has in fact done half the work in many cases, by including examples of many words in Greek, Latin, Lithuanian, Gothic, Anglo Saxon etc. that derive from his Sanskrit entries, so it should be easier for us to complete the chain to many words in our own modern language.
There are at least a few villages today where Sanskrit is still spoken, and various other areas where it is being promoted in India. Around the world, as in India, there is increasing interest among scholars and students of philosophical and spiritual matters in this powerful language. Its riches are still to be explored in depth, as the fragile modern world finally begins to awaken to this source of wisdom.
We study Sanskrit because through the understanding that the language and its grammar provide, as well as through the purity of its sound, we are closer to understanding the creation, its laws and ourselves. It inspires us and provides clarity to the mind. We therefore have a tool that allows for a deeper understanding of the Vedic texts and their true message.