Vedic and Sanskrit literature comprises the spoken or sung literature of the Vedas from the early-to-mid 2nd to mid 1st millennium BCE, and continues with the oral tradition of the Sanskrit epics of Iron Age India; the golden age of Classical Sanskrit literature dates to Late Antiquity (roughly the 3rd to 8th centuries CE). Indian literary production saw a late bloom in the 11th century before declining after 1100 CE, hastened by the Islamic conquest of India, due to the destruction of ancient seats of learning such as the universities at Taxila and Nalanda. There are contemporary efforts towards revival, with events like the All-India Sanskrit Festival (since 2002) holding composition contests.
Given its extensive use in religious literature, primarily in Hinduism, and the fact that most modern Indian languages have been directly derived from or strongly influenced by Sanskrit, the language and its literature is of great importance in Indian culture akin to that of Ancient Greek and Latin in European culture. Some Sanskrit literature such as the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali and the Upanishads were translated into Arabic and Persian, most significantly by the emperor Akbar, although original manuscripts were usually destroyed by Islamic conquerors. The Panchatantra was also translated into Persian.
Main article: Vedas
Composed between approximately 1500 BCE and 600 BCE (the Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age) in pre-classical Sanskrit, Vedic oral literature forms the basis for the further development of Hinduism. There are four Vedas - Rig, Yajur, Sāma and Atharva, each with a main Samhita and a number of circum-vedic genres, including Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Grhyasutras and Shrautasutras. The main period of Vedic literary activity falls into c. the 9th to 7th centuries when the various shakhas (schools) compiled and memorized their respective corpora. The oldest surviving manuscript of a text composed in Sanskrit is the Devi Māhātmya on Palm-leaf dating from the 11th century CE.
The older Upanishads (BAU, ChU, JUB, KathU, MaitrU) belong to the Vedic period, but the larger part of the Muktika canon is post-Vedic. The Aranyakas form part of both the Brahmana and Upanishad corpus.
Main article: Sutra
See also: Shulba Sutras, Kalpa (Vedanga), Dharma Sutras, and Shastra
Continuing the tradition of the late Vedic Shrautasutra literature, Late Iron Age scholarship (c. 500 to 100 BCE) organized knowledge into Sutra treatises, including the Vedanga and the religious or philosophical Brahma Sutras, Yoga Sutras, Nyaya Sutras.
In the Vedanga disciplines of grammar and phonetics, no author had greater influence than Pāṇini with his Aṣṭādhyāyī (c. 5th century BC). In the tradition of Sutra literature exposing the full grammar of Sanskrit in extreme brevity, Panini's brilliance lies in the nature of his work of a prescriptive generative grammar, involving metarules, transformations and recursion. Being prescriptive for all later grammatical works, such as Patanjali's Mahābhāṣya, Pāṇini's grammar effectively fixed the grammar of Classical Sanskrit. The Backus–Naur form or BNF grammars used to describe modern programming languages have significant similarities with Panini's grammar rules.
Main article: Indian epic poetry
The period between approximately the 6th and 1st centuries BC saw the composition and redaction of the two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, with subsequent redaction progressing down to the 4th century CE. They are known as itihasa, or history.
Main article: Ramayana
While not as long as the Mahabharata, the Ramayana is still twice as long as the Iliad and Odyssey put together. Traditionally, the authorship is attributed to the Hindu sage Valmiki, who is referred to as Adikavi, or "first poet". In the Ramayana, the shloka meter was introduced for the first time. Like the Mahabharata, the Ramayana was also handed down orally and evolved through several centuries before being transferred into writing. It includes tales that form the basis for modern Hindu festivals and even contains a description of the same marriage practice still observed in contemporary times by people of Hindu persuasion.
The story deals with Prince Rama, his exile and the abduction of his wife by the Rakshasa king Ravana, and the Lankan war. Similar to the Mahabharata, the Ramayana also has several full-fledged stories appearing as sub-plots.
The Ramayana has also played a similar and equally important role in the development of Indian and Southeast Asian culture as the Mahabharata.
The Ramayana is also extant in Southeast Asian versions.
Main article: Mahabharata
The Mahabharata (Great Bharata) is one of the longest poetic works in the world. While it is clearly a poetic epic, it contains large tracts of Hindu mythology, philosophy and religious tracts. Traditionally, authorship of the Mahabharata is attributed to the sage Vyasa. According to the Adi-parva of the Mahabharata (81, 101-102), the text was originally 8,800 verses when it was composed by Vyasa and was known as the Jaya (Victory), which later became 24,000 verses in the Bharata Samhitha recited by Vaisampayana.
The broad sweep of the story of the Mahabharata chronicles the battle between two sides, the Pandavas (5 sons of Pandu) aided by Krishna, and the Kauravas (100 sons of Dhitrashtra and their many, many followers). (Pandu and Dhitrashtra were brothers, and Pandavas and Kauravas cousins.) The battle outlines the destruction of the injustice the Kauravas created in Hastinapur. The outcome is that all the Kauravas are slain and the Pandavas' grandchild Parikshit (son of Abhimanyu, who was son of Arjun) becomes the ruler of Hastinapur, a great city in ancient India.
The impact of the Mahabharata on India and Hinduism can hardly be overstated. Having been molded by Indian culture, it has in turn molded the development of Indian culture. Thousands of later writers would draw freely from the story and sub-stories of the Mahabharata.
Buddhist and Jain works
Main article: Sanskrit Buddhist literature
Sanskrit also became a major language for Indian religions such as Buddhism and Jainism. Indian Buddhists began adopting Sanskrit during the rule of the Kushan empire (CE 30-375), at first in forms called Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit which were influenced by the Prakrits. Asvaghosa wrote the Buddhacarita (acts of the Buddha) in classical Sanskrit and later Buddhists also adopted pure Sanskrit. One of the earliest Sanskrit dramas that survives (partially) is also from Asvaghosa, the Sariputra-Prakarana. Most Mahayana Buddhist texts such as the Diamond sutra were written in Sanskrit, as well as Tantric Buddhist texts. Sanskrit survives as a sacred language in the Newar Buddhism of Nepal. Jainism, though more varied in its use of local languages, also wrote many of its texts in Sanskrit.
Classical Sanskrit literature
The classical period of Sanskrit literature dates to the Gupta period and the successive pre-Islamic Middle kingdoms of India, spanning roughly the 3rd to 8th centuries CE.
The tradition of writing biographies in Sanskrit starts with the Harshacharita of Bāṇabhaṭṭa. Other biographical works include Vikramankadevacharita by Bilhana.
Main article: Sanskrit drama
Drama as a distinct genre of Sanskrit literature emerges in the final centuries BC, influenced partly by Vedic mythology. It reaches its peak between the 4th and 7th centuries before declining together with Sanskrit literature as a whole.
Famous Sanskrit dramatists include Śhudraka, Bhasa, Asvaghosa and Kālidāsa. Though numerous plays written by these playwrights are still available, little is known about the authors themselves.
One of the earliest known Sanskrit plays is the Mrichakatika, thought to have been composed by Śhudraka in the 2nd century BC. The Natya Shastra (c. 2nd century AD, literally "Scripture of Dance," though it sometimes translated as "Science of Theatre'") is a keystone work in Sanskrit literature on the subject of stagecraft. Bhasa and Kālidāsa are major early authors of the first centuries AD, Kālidāsa qualifying easily as the greatest poet and playwright in Sanskrit. He deals primarily with famous Hindu legends and themes; three famous plays by Kālidāsa are Vikramōrvaśīyam (Vikrama and Urvashi), Mālavikāgnimitram (Malavika and Agnimitra), and the play that he is most known for: Abhijñānaśākuntalam (The Recognition of Shakuntala).
Late (post 6th century) dramatists include Dandin and Shriharsha. Nagananda, attributed to King Harsha, is an outstanding drama that outlines the story of King Jimutavahana, who sacrifices himself to save the tribe of serpents. It is also unique in that it invokes Lord Buddha in what is a predominantly Hindu drama.
The only surviving ancient Sanskrit drama theatre tradition is Koodiyattam, which is being preserved in Kerala by the Chakyar community.
Main articles: Tantras, Shastra, Siddhanta, and Jataka
Further information: Jyotihshastra
The earliest surviving treatise on astrology is the Jyotiṣa Vedānga as the science of observing the heavens in order to correctly perform Vedic sacrifice arises after the end of the Vedic period, during c. the 6th to 4th centuries BCE. Classical Hindu astrology is based on early medieval compilations, notably the Bṛhat Parāśara Horāśāstra and Sārāvalī (7th to 8th century). The astronomy of the classical Gupta period, the centuries following Indo-Greek contact, is documented in treatises known as Siddhantas (which means "established conclusions"  ). Varahamihira in his Pancha-Siddhantika contrasts five of these: The Surya Siddhanta besides the Paitamaha Siddhantas (which is more similar to the "classical" Vedanga Jyotisha), the Paulisha and Romaka Siddhantas (directly based on Hellenistic astronomy) and the Vasishtha Siddhanta.
The earliest extant treatise in Indian mathematics is the Āryabhaṭīya (written c. 500 CE), a work on astronomy and mathematics. The mathematical portion of the Āryabhaṭīya was composed of 33 sūtras (in verse form) consisting of mathematical statements or rules, but without any proofs. However, according to (Hayashi 2003, p. 123), "this does not necessarily mean that their authors did not prove them. It was probably a matter of style of exposition." From the time of Bhaskara I (600 CE onwards), prose commentaries increasingly began to include some derivations (upapatti).
"Tantra" is a general term for a scientific, magical or mystical treatise and mystical texts both Hindu and Buddhist said to concern themselves with five subjects, 1. the creation, 2. the destruction of the world, 3. the worship of the gods, 4. the attainment of all objects, 5. the four modes of union with the supreme spirit by meditation. These texts date to the entire lifespan of Classical Sanskrit literature.
Main articles: Panchatantra and Hitopadesha
Sanskrit fairy tales and fables are chiefly characterised by ethical reflections and proverbial philosophy. A peculiar style, marked by the insertion of a number of different stories within the framework of a single narrative, made its way to Persian and Arabic literatures, exerting a major influence on works such as One Thousand and One Nights.
The two most important collections are Panchatantra and Hitopadesha; originally intended as manuals for the instruction of kings in domestic and foreign policy, they belong to the class of literature which the Hindus call nīti-śāstra, or "Science of Political Ethics".
Other notable prose works include a collection of pretty and ingenious fairy tales, with a highly Oriental colouring, the Vetāla-panchaviṃśati or "Twenty-five Tales of the Vetāla" (a demon supposed to occupy corpses), the Siṃhāsana-dvātriṃçikā or "Thirty-two Stories of the Lion-seat" (i.e. throne), which also goes by the name of Vikrama-charita, or "Adventures of Vikrama" and the Śuka-saptati, or "Seventy Stories of a Parrot". These three collections of fairy tales are all written in prose and are comparatively short.
Somadeva's Kathā-sarit-sāgara or "Ocean of Rivers of Stories" is a work of special importance: composed in verse and of very considerable length, it contains more than 22,000 shlokas, equal to nearly one-fourth of the Mahābhārata. Like Kshemendra's Brhatkathamanjari and Budhasvamin's Bṛhatkathāślokasaṃgraha, it derives from Gunadhya's Brihatkatha.
Fable collections, originally serving as the handbooks of practical moral philosophy, provided an abundant reservoir of ethical maxims that become so popular that works consisting exclusively of poetical aphorisms started to appear. The most important are the two collections by the highly gifted Bhartṛhari, entitled respectively Nīti-śataka, or "Century of Conduct," and Vairāgya-śataka, or "Century of Renunciation." The keynote prevailing in this new ethical poetry style is the doctrine of the vanity of human life, which was developed before the rise of Buddhism in the sixth century BC, and has dominated Indian thought ever since.
This refers to the poetry produced from the approximately the 3rd to 8th centuries. Kālidāsa is the foremost example of a classical poet. While Kalidasa's Sanskrit usage is simple but beautiful, later Sanskrit poetry shifted towards highly stylized literary accents: stanzas that read the same backwards and forwards, words that can be split in different ways to produce different meanings, sophisticated metaphors, and so on. A classic example is the poet Bharavi and his magnum opus, the Kiratarjuniya (6th-7th century).
The greatest works of poetry in this period are the five Mahākāvyas, or "great compositions":
Some scholars include the Bhattikavya as a sixth Mahākāvya.
Other major literary works from this period are Kadambari by Banabhatta, the first Sanskrit novelist (6th-7th centuries), the Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana, and the three shatakas of Bhartṛhari.
Main article: Puranas
The corpus of the HinduPuranas likewise falls into the classical period of Sanskrit literature, dating to between the 5th and 10th centuries, and marks the emergence of the Vaishnava and Shaiva denominations of classical Hinduism. The Puranas are classified into a Mahā- ("great") and a Upa- ("lower, additional") corpus. Traditionally they are said to narrate five subjects, called pañcalakṣaṇa ("five distinguishing marks"):
Sargaśca pratisargasca vamśo manvantarāņi ca I
Vamśānucaritam caiva Purāņam pañcalakśaņam II
- Sarga — The creation of the universe.
- Pratisarga — Secondary creations, mostly re-creations after dissolution.
- Vaṃśa — Genealogy of royals and sages.
- Manvantara — Various eras.
- Vaṃśānucaritam — Dynastic histories.
A Purana usually gives prominence to a certain deity (Shiva, Vishnu or Krishna, Durga) and depicts the other gods as subservient.
Later Sanskrit literature
The Avadhuta Gita, an extreme nondual (Sanskrit: advaita) text, is held by Western scholarship to date in its present form from the 9th or 10th centuries. Some important works from the 11th century include the Katha-sarit-sagara and the Gita Govinda of Jayadeva.
The Katha-sarita-sagara (An Ocean of Stories) by Somadeva was an 11th-century poetic adaptation in Sanskrit of Brihat-katha, written in the 5th century BC in the Paishachi dialect. One of the famous series of stories in this work is the Vikrama and Vetāla series (Sanskrit: वेतालपञ्चविंशति), known across India today. On the other side of the spectrum, of the 'Bhana' style of drama, Ubhayabhisarika is a one-person drama of an endearing lecher who knows every courtesan and her family by name.
The Gita Govinda (The song of Govinda) by the Oriya composer Jayadeva is the story of Krishna's love for Radha, and is written in spectacularly lyrical and musical Sanskrit.
A central text for several Hindu sects in eastern India, the Gita Govinda is recited regularly at major Hindu pilgrimage sites such as Jagannath temple at Puri, Odisha. The Ashtapadis of the Gita Govinda also form a staple theme in Bharatanatyam and Odissi classical dance recitals.
Beyond the 11th century, the use of Sanskrit for general literature declined, most importantly because of the emergence of literature in vernacular Indian languages (notably Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, and Kannada). Sanskrit literature fueled literature in vernacular languages, and the Sanskrit language itself continued to have a profound influence over the development of Indian literature in general.
Sanskrit continued to be learned by the Brahmans, and also patronized in the courts of many Muslim rulers (notably Akbar). Many translations of Sanskrit works in Persian and Arabic were created. Sanskrit also continued to be used for philosophical literature (the Dvaita school was founded in 13th century). Notable names in Sanskrit literature for this time period are Mallinatha and Bhattoji Dikshita.
Modern Sanskrit literature
See also: Sahitya Akademi Award for Sanskrit
Literature in Sanskrit continues to be produced. These works, however, have a very small readership. In the introduction to Ṣoḍaśī: An Anthology of Contemporary Sanskrit Poets (1992), Radhavallabh Tripathi writes:
Sanskrit is known for its classical literature, even though the creative activity in this language has continued without pause from the medieval age till today. [...] Consequently, contemporary Sanskrit writing suffers from a prevailing negligence.
Most current Sanskrit poets are employed as teachers, either pandits in pāṭhaśālas or university professors. However, Tripathi also points out the abundance of contemporary Sanskrit literature:
On the other hand, the number of authors who appear to be very enthusiastic about writing in Sanskrit during these days is not negligible. [...] Dr. Ramji Upadhyaya in his treatise on modern Sanskrit drama has discussed more than 400 Sanskrit plays written and published during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In a thesis dealing with Sanskrit mahākāvyas written in a single decade, 1961–1970, the researcher has noted 52 Sanskrit mahākāvyas (epic poems) produced in that very decade.
Similarly, Prajapati (2005), in Post-Independence Sanskrit Literature: A Critical Survey, estimates that more than 3000 Sanskrit works have been composed in the period after Indian Independence (i.e., since 1947) alone. Further, much of this work is judged as being of high quality, both in comparison to classical Sanskrit literature, and to modern literature in other Indian languages.
Since 1967, the Sahitya Akademi, India's national academy of letters, has had an award for the best creative work written that year in Sanskrit. In 2009, Satyavrat Shastri became the first Sanskrit author to win the Jnanpith Award, India's highest literary award.Vidyadhar Shastri wrote two epic poems (Mahakavya), seven shorter poems, three plays and three songs of praise (stavana kavya), he received the Vidyavachaspati award in 1962. Some other modern Sanskrit composers include Abhiraj Rajendra Mishra (known as Triveṇī Kavi, composer of short stories and several other genres of Sanskrit literature), Jagadguru Rambhadracharya (known as Kavikularatna, composer of two epics, several minor works and commentaries on Prasthānatrayī).
5. ^ Bhattacharji Sukumari, History of Classical Sanskrit Literature, Sangam Books, London, 1993, ISBN 0-86311-242-0, p. 148.
- Arthur Anthony Macdonell, A History of Sanskrit Literature, New York 1900
- Winternitz, M. A History of Indian Literature. Oriental books, New Delhi, 1927 (1907)
- J. Gonda (ed.) A History of Indian Literature, Otto Harrasowitz, Wiesbaden.
- Prajapati, Manibhai K. (2005), Post-Independence Sanskrit Literature: A Critical Survey, Standard Publishers (India)
- S. Ranganath, Modern Sanskrit Writings in Karnataka, Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, 2009.
|Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Sanskrit|
- ^P. 228 The Sufis of Britain: an exploration of Muslim identity
- ^P. 7 Panchatantra — Five Strategies: Collection of animal fables complied before ...
- ^Useful for comparison: One of the first documents written in the Sumerian language on a stone plaque dates to c. the 31st century BCE, found at Jemdet Nasr; the Gezer calendar written in paleo-Hebrew on limestone dates from the 10th-century BCE.
- ^Amaresh Datta (1987). Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature: A-Devo. Sahitya Akademi. p. 540. ISBN 978-81-260-1803-1.
- ^Ohashi, Yukio. "Development of Astronomical Observation in Vedic and Post-Vedic India." Indian Journal of History of Science 28(3): 185-251, 1993.
- ^Cf. Burgess, Appendix by Whitney p. 439.
- ^(Hayashi 2003, pp. 122–123)
- ^Fallon, Oliver. 2009. Bhatti’s Poem: The Death of Rávana (Bhaṭṭikāvya). New York: Clay Sanskrit Library. ISBN 978-0-8147-2778-2 | ISBN 0-8147-2778-6 |
- ^Matsya Purana 53.65
- ^Swami Abhayananda (1992, 2007). Dattatreya: Song of the Avadhut: An English Translation of the 'Avadhuta Gita' (with Sanskrit Transliteration). Classics of mystical literature series. ISBN 0-914557-15-7 (paper), Source:  (accessed: Monday February 22, 2010) p.10
- ^ abRadhavallabh Tripathi, ed. (1992), Ṣoḍaśī: An Anthology of Contemporary Sanskrit Poets, Sahitya Akademi, ISBN 81-7201-200-4
- ^S. Ranganath (2009), Modern Sanskrit Writings in Karnataka, ISBN 978-81-86111-21-5, p. 7:
Contrary to popular belief, there is an astonishing quality of creative upsurge of writing in Sanskrit today. Modern Sanskrit writing is qualitatively of such high order that it can easily be treated on par with the best of Classical Sanskrit literature, It can also easily compete with the writings in other Indian languages.
- ^Adhunika Sanskrit Sahitya Pustakalaya, Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan:
The latter half of the nineteenth century marks the beginning of a new era in Sanskrit literature. Many of the modern Sanskrit writings are qualitatively of such high order that they can easily be treated at par with the best of classical Sanskrit works, and they can also be judged in contrast to the contemporary literature in other languages.
- ^"Sanskrit's first Jnanpith winner is a 'poet by instinct'". The Indian Express. Jan 14, 2009.
For other uses, see Sanskrit (disambiguation).
Sanskrit (IAST: Saṃskṛtam; IPA: [sə̃skr̩t̪əm][a]) is the primary liturgical language of Hinduism; a philosophical language of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism; and a literary language and lingua franca for the educated of ancient and medieval South Asia. As a result of transmission of Hindu and Buddhist culture to Southeast Asia and parts of Central Asia, it was also a language of high culture in some of these regions during the early-medieval era. When Sanskrit had stopped being used as a main language and lingua franca it was only spoken and used by people of the higher class. It was also used as a court language in some kingdoms of South Asia after Sanskrit became a language for the upper class.
Sanskrit is a standardized dialect of Old Indo-Aryan, having originated in the second millennium BCE as Vedic Sanskrit and tracing its linguistic ancestry back to Proto-Indo-Iranian and Proto-Indo-European. As the oldest Indo-European language for which substantial written documentation exists, Sanskrit holds a prominent position in Indo-European studies. The body of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of poetry and drama as well as scientific, technical, philosophical and religious texts. The compositions of Sanskrit were orally transmitted for much of its early history by methods of memorization of exceptional complexity, rigor, and fidelity. Thereafter, variants and derivatives of the Brahmi script came to be used.
Sanskrit is normally written in the Devanagari script but other scripts continue to be used. It is today one of the 22 languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India, which mandates the Indian government to develop the language. It continues to be widely used as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals and Buddhist practice in the form of hymns and chants.
The Sanskrit verbal adjectivesáṃskṛta- may be translated as "refined, elaborated".
As a term for refined or elaborated speech, the adjective appears only in Epic and Classical Sanskrit in the Manusmṛti and the Mahabharata. The language referred to as saṃskṛta was the cultured language used for religious and learned discourse in ancient India, in contrast to the language spoken by the people, prākṛta- (prakrit) "original, natural, normal, artless."
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, dating back to the early second millennium BCE.
Classical Sanskrit is the standard register as laid out in the grammar of Pāṇini, around the fourth century BCE. Its position in the cultures of Greater India is akin to that of Latin and Ancient Greek in Europe and it has significantly influenced most modern languages of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.[not in citation given]
Main article: Vedic Sanskrit
Sanskrit, as defined by Pāṇini, evolved out of the earlier Vedic form. The present form of Vedic Sanskrit can be traced back to as early as the second millennium BCE (for Rig-vedic). Scholars often distinguish Vedic Sanskrit and Classical or "Pāṇinian" Sanskrit as separate dialects. Although 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) and 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 traditional Vedic corpus; however, the early Sutras are Vedic, too, both in language and content.
For nearly 2,000 years, Sanskrit was the language of a cultural order 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 Indian epic poetry—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-Paninian. 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 the Middle Indo-Aryan languages, based on early Buddhist Prakrit texts which subsequently assimilated to the Classical Sanskrit standard in varying degrees.
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 attested in Vedic Brāhmaṇas, of which the first one was regarded as the purest (Kauṣītaki Brāhmaṇa, 7.6).
As a spoken language
See also: Sanskrit revival
In the 2001 Census of India, 14,135 Indians reported Sanskrit to be their first 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:
- Mattur, Shimoga district, Karnataka
- Jhiri, Rajgarh district, Madhya Pradesh
- Ganoda, Banswara district, Rajasthan
- Shyamsundarpur, Kendujhar district, Odisha
According to the 2011 national census of Nepal, 1,669 people use Sanskrit as their first language.
In official use
In India, Sanskrit is among the 22 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 social activist Hemant Goswami filed a writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court for declaring Sanskrit as a 'minority' language.
Contemporary literature and patronage
See also: List of Sahitya Akademi Award winners for Sanskrit
More than 3,000 Sanskrit works have been composed since India's independence in 1947. Much of this work has been judged of high quality, in comparison to both classical Sanskrit literature and modern literature in other Indian languages.
The Sahitya Akademi has given an award for the best creative work in Sanskrit every year since 1967. In 2009, Satya Vrat Shastri became the first Sanskrit author to win the Jnanpith Award, India's highest literary award.
Sanskrit is used extensively in the Carnatic and Hindustani branches of classical music. Kirtanas, bhajans, stotras, and shlokas of Sanskrit are popular throughout India. The samaveda uses musical notations in several of its recessions.
In Mainland China, musicians such as Sa Dingding have written pop songs in Sanskrit.
In mass media
Over 90 weeklies, fortnightlies and quarterlies are published in Sanskrit. Sudharma, a daily newspaper in Sanskrit, has been published out of Mysore, India, since 1970, while Sanskrit Vartman Patram and Vishwasya Vrittantam started in Gujarat during the last five years. Since 1974, there has been a short daily news broadcast on state-run All India Radio. These broadcasts are also made available on the internet on AIR's website. Sanskrit news is broadcast on TV and on the internet through the DD National channel at 6:55 AM IST.
Sanskrit is the sacred language of various Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions. It is used during worship in Hindu temples throughout the world. In Newar Buddhism, it is used in all monasteries, while Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhist religious texts and sutras are in Sanskrit as well as vernacular languages. Jain texts are written in Sanskrit, including the Tattvartha sutra, Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra, the Bhaktamara Stotra and the Agamas.
It is also popular amongst the many practitioners of yoga in the West, who find the language helpful for understanding texts such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
See also: List of educational institutions which have Sanskrit phrases as their mottos and List of institutions which have Sanskrit phrases as their mottoes
In Nepal, India and Indonesia, Sanskrit phrases are widely used as mottoes for various national, educational and social organisations:
- India: Satyameva Jayate (सत्यमेव जयते) meaning: Truth alone triumphs.
- Nepal: Janani Janmabhoomischa Swargadapi Gariyasi meaning: Mother and motherland are superior to heaven.
- Indonesia: In Indonesia, Sanskrit are usually widely used as terms and mottoes of the armed forces and other national organizations (See: Indonesian Armed Forces mottoes). Rastra Sewakottama (राष्ट्र सेवकोत्तम; People's Main Servants) is the official motto of the Indonesian National Police, Tri Dharma Eka Karma(त्रीधर्म एक कर्म) is the official motto of the Indonesian Military, Kartika Eka Paksi (कार्तिक एक पक्षी; Unmatchable Bird with Noble Goals) is the official motto of the Indonesian Army, Adhitakarya Mahatvavirya Nagarabhakti (अधीतकार्य महत्ववीर्य नगरभक्ती; Hard-working Knights Serving Bravery as Nations Hero") is the official motto of the Indonesian Military Academy, Upakriya Labdha Prayojana Balottama (उपकृया लब्ध प्रयोजन बालोत्तम; "Purpose of The Unit is to Give The Best Service to The Nation by Finding The Perfect Soldier") is the official motto of the Army Psychological Corps, Karmanye Vadikaraste Mafalesu Kadachana (कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन; "Working Without Counting The Profit and Loss") is the official motto of the Air-Force Special Forces (Paskhas), Jalesu Bhumyamcha Jayamahe (जलेशु भूम्यं च जयमहे; "On The Sea and Land We Are Glorious") is the official motto of the Indonesian Marine Corps, and there are more units and organizations in Indonesia either Armed Forces or civil which use the Sanskrit language respectively as their mottoes and other purposes. Although Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country, it still has major Hindu and Indian influence since pre-historic times until now culturally and traditionally especially in the islands of Java and Bali.
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 the Defence Research and Development Organisation has named the five missiles (ballistic and others) that it developed Prithvi, Agni, Akash, Nag and the Trishul missile system. India's first modern fighter aircraft is named HAL Tejas.
Origin and development
Sanskrit is a member of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. Its closest ancient relatives are the Iranian languagesAvestan and Old Persian.
In order to explain the common features shared by Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages, the Indo-Aryan migration theory states that the original speakers of what became Sanskrit arrived in the Indian subcontinent from the north-west some time during the early second millennium BCE. Evidence for such a theory includes the close relationship between the Indo-Iranian tongues and the Baltic and Slavic languages, vocabulary exchange with the non-Indo-European Uralic languages, and the nature of the attested Indo-European words for flora and fauna.
The earliest attested Sanskrit texts are religious texts of the Rigveda, from the mid-to-late second millennium BCE. No written records from such an early period survive, if they ever existed. However, scholars are confident that the oral transmission of the texts is reliable: they were ceremonial literature whose correct pronunciation was considered crucial to its religious efficacy.
From the Rigveda until the time of Pāṇini (fourth century BCE) the development of the early Vedic language can be observed in other Vedic texts: the Samaveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, Brahmanas, and Upanishads. During this time, the prestige of the language, its use for sacred purposes, and the importance attached to its correct enunciation all served as powerful conservative forces resisting the normal processes of linguistic change. However, there is a clear, five-level linguistic development of Vedic from the Rigveda to the language of the Upanishads and the earliest sutras such as the Baudhayana sutras.
Standardisation by Panini
The oldest surviving Sanskrit grammar is Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī ("Eight-Chapter Grammar"), written around the 6th-4th centuries BCE. It is essentially a prescriptive grammar, i.e., an authority that defines Sanskrit, although it contains descriptive parts, mostly to account for some Vedic forms that had become rare in Pāṇini's time. Classical Sanskrit became fixed with the grammar of Pāṇini (roughly 500 BCE), and remains in use as a learned language through the present day.
Coexistence with vernacular languages
According to Sanskrit linguist Madhav Deshpande, when the term "Sanskrit" arose it was not considered a separate language, but rather as a particularly refined or perfected manner of speaking. Knowledge of Sanskrit was a marker of social class and educational attainment in ancient India, and the language was taught mainly to members of the higher castes through the close analysis of Vyākaraṇins such as Pāṇini and Patanjali, who exhorted proper Sanskrit at all times, especially during ritual. Sanskrit, as the learned language of Ancient India, thus existed alongside the vernacular Prakrits, which were Middle Indo-Aryan languages. However, linguistic change led to an eventual loss of mutual intelligibility.
A rock inscription at Junagadh added around 150 CE by Mahakshatrap Rudradaman I, the Saka (Scythian) ruler of Malwa, has been described as "the earliest known Sanscrit inscription of any extent", as the Ashokan and other early inscriptions were in Prakrit of various forms. This "unexpected resurgence as a language of contemporary record" is a sign of a "brahminical renaissance", which continued through the Gupta period, expanding the usage of Sanscrit.
Many Sanskrit dramas indicate that the language coexisted with the vernacular Prakrits. In the medieval era, Sanskrit speakers were almost always multilingual and well-educated. They were often learned Brahmins using the language for scholarly communication, a thin layer of Indian society that covered a wide geographical area. Centres like Varanasi, Paithan, Pune and Kanchipuram had a strong presence as teaching and debating institutions, and high classical Sanskrit was maintained until British times.
There are a number of sociolinguistic studies of spoken Sanskrit which strongly suggest that oral use of modern Sanskrit is limited, having ceased development sometime in the past.
Sheldon Pollock argues that "most observers would agree that, in some crucial way, Sanskrit is dead".:393 Pollock has further argued that, while Sanskrit continued to be used in literary cultures in India, it was never adapted to express the changing forms of subjectivity and sociality as embodied and conceptualised in the modern age.:416 Instead, it was reduced to "reinscription and restatements" of ideas already explored, and any creativity was restricted to hymns and verses.:398 A notable exception are the military references of Nīlakaṇṭha Caturdhara's 17th-century commentary on the Mahābhārata.
Hatcher argues that modern works continue to be produced in Sanskrit, while according to Hanneder,
On a more public level the statement that Sanskrit is a dead language is misleading, for Sanskrit is quite obviously not as dead as other dead languages and the fact that it is spoken, written and read will probably convince most people that it cannot be a dead language in the most common usage of the term. Pollock's notion of the "death of Sanskrit" remains in this unclear realm between academia and public opinion when he says that "most observers would agree that, in some crucial way, Sanskrit is dead."
Hanneder has also argued that modern works in Sanskrit are either ignored or their "modernity" contested.
When the British imposed a Western-style education system in India in the 19th century, knowledge of Sanskrit and ancient literature continued to flourish as the study of Sanskrit changed from a more traditional style into a form of analytical and comparative scholarship mirroring that of Europe.
Public education and popularisation
See also: Sanskrit revival
Adult and continuing education
Attempts at reviving the Sanskrit language have been undertaken in the Republic of India since its foundation in 1947 (it was included in the 14 original languages of the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution).
Samskrita Bharati is an organisation working for Sanskrit revival. The "All-India Sanskrit Festival" (since 2002) holds composition contests. The 1991 Indian census reported 49,736 fluent speakers of Sanskrit. Sanskrit learning programmes also feature on the lists of most AIR broadcasting centres. The Mattur village in central Karnataka claims to have native speakers of Sanskrit among its population. Inhabitants of all castes learn Sanskrit starting in childhood and converse in the language. Even the local Muslims converse in Sanskrit. Historically, the village was given by king Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire to Vedic scholars and their families, while people in his kingdom spoke Kannada and Telugu. Another effort concentrates on preserving and passing along the oral tradition of the Vedas, www.shrivedabharathi.in is one such organisation based out of Hyderabad that has been digitising the Vedas by recording recitations of Vedic Pandits.
Haryana state has over 24 Sanskrit colleges offering education equivalent to bachelors degree, additionally masters and doctoral level degrees are also offered by the Kurukshetra University and Maharshi Dayanand University.
The Central Board of Secondary Education of India (CBSE), along with several other state education boards, has made Sanskrit an alternative option to the state's own official language as a second or third language choice in the schools it governs. In such schools, learning Sanskrit is an option for grades 5 to 8 (Classes V to VIII). This is true of most schools affiliated with the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) board, especially in states where the official language is Hindi. Sanskrit is also taught in traditional gurukulas throughout India.
In the West
St James Junior School in London, England, offers Sanskrit as part of the curriculum. In the United States, since September 2009, high school students have been able to receive credits as Independent Study or toward Foreign Language requirements by studying Sanskrit, as part of the "SAFL: Samskritam as a Foreign Language" program coordinated by Samskrita Bharati. In Australia, the Sydney private boys' high school Sydney Grammar School offers Sanskrit from years 7 through to 12, including for the Higher School Certificate.
A list of Sanskrit universities is given below in chronological order of establishment:
Many universities throughout the world train and employ Sanskrit scholars, either within a separate Sanskrit department or as part of a broader focus area, such as South Asian studies or Linguistics. For example, Delhi university has about 400 Sanskrit students, about half of which are in post-graduate programmes.
See also: Sanskrit studies
European scholarship in Sanskrit, begun by Heinrich Roth (1620–1668) and Johann Ernst Hanxleden (1681–1731), is considered responsible for the discovery of an Indo-European language family by Sir William Jones (1746–1794). This research played an important role in the development of Western philology, or historical linguistics.
Sir William Jones was one of the most influential philologists of his time. He told The Asiatic Society in Calcutta on 2 February 1786:
The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.
Orientalist scholars of the 18th century like Sir William Jones marked a wave of enthusiasm for Indian culture and for Sanskrit. According to Thomas Trautmann, after this period of "Indomania", a certain hostility to Sanskrit and to Indian culture in general began to assert itself in early 19th century Britain, manifested by a neglect of Sanskrit in British academia. This was the beginning of a general push in favour of the idea that India should be culturally, religiously and linguistically assimilated to Britain as far as possible. Trautmann considers two separate and logically opposite sources for the growing hostility: one was "British Indophobia", which he calls essentially a developmentalist, progressivist, liberal, and non-racial-essentialist critique of Hindu civilisation as an aid for the improvement of India along European lines; the other was scientific racism, a theory of the English "common-sense view" that Indians constituted a "separate, inferior and unimprovable race".
Further information: Shiksha and Help:IPA/Sanskrit
See also: Sanskrit grammar § Phonology, and Vedic Sanskrit grammar § Phonology
Classical Sanskrit distinguishes about 36 phonemes; the presence of allophony leads the writing systems to generally distinguish 48 phones, or sounds. The sounds are traditionally listed in the order vowels (Ac), diphthongs (Hal), anusvara and visarga, plosives (Sparśa), nasals, and finally the liquids and fricatives, written in the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST) as follows:
- a ā i ī u ū ṛ ṝ ḷ ḹ;
- e ai o au;
- ṃ ḥ
- k kh g gh ṅ
- c ch j jh ñ
- ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh ṇ
- t th d dh n
- p ph b bh m
- y r l v
- ś ṣ s h
This article is about how Sanskrit came to be written using various systems. For details of Sanskrit as written, using specifically Devanāgarī script, see Devanagari.
Sanskrit originated in an oral society, and the oral tradition was maintained through the development of early classical Sanskrit literature. Some scholars such as Jack Goody suggest that the Vedic Sanskrit texts are not the product of an oral society, basing this view by comparing inconsistencies in the transmitted versions of literature from various oral societies such as the Greek, Serbian and other cultures, then noting that the Vedic literature is too consistent and vast to have been composed and transmitted orally across generations, without being written down. These scholars add that the Vedic texts likely involved both a written and oral tradition, calling it "parallel products of a literate society".
Sanskrit has no native script of its own, and historical evidence suggests that it has been written in various scripts on a variety of media such as palm leaves, cloth, paper, rock and metal sheets, at least by the time of arrival of Alexander the Great in northwestern Indian subcontinent in 1st millennium BCE.
The earliest known rock inscriptions in Sanskrit date to the first century BCE, and the Junagadh rock inscription of Rudradaman I (c. 150 AD) "represents a turning point" as it is a more "extensive record in the poetic style" of "high Classical Sanskrit". They are in the Brāhmī script, which was originally used for Prakrit, not Sanskrit. It has been described as a paradox that the first evidence of written Sanskrit occurs centuries later than that of the Prakrit languages which are its linguistic descendants. In northern India, there are Brāhmī inscriptions dating from the third century BCE onwards, the oldest appearing on the famous Prakrit pillar inscriptions of king Ashoka. The earliest South Indian inscriptions in Tamil Brahmi, written in early Tamil, belong to the same period. When Sanskrit was written down, it was first used for texts of an administrative, literary or scientific nature. The sacred hymns and verse were preserved orally, and were set down in writing "reluctantly" (according to one commentator), and at a comparatively late date.
Brahmi evolved into a multiplicity of Brahmic scripts, many of which were used to write Sanskrit. Roughly contemporary with the Brahmi, Kharosthi was used in the northwest of the subcontinent. Sometime between the fourth and eighth centuries, the Gupta script, derived from Brahmi, became prevalent. Around the eighth century, the Śāradā script evolved out of the Gupta script. The latter was displaced in its turn by Devanagari in the 11th or 12th century, with intermediary stages such as the Siddhaṃ script. In East India, the Bengali alphabet, and, later, the Odia alphabet, were used.
In the south, where Dravidian languages predominate, scripts used for Sanskrit include the Kannada, Telugu, the Malayalam and Grantha alphabets.