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The Wonder that is Sanskrit !

October 2, 2007

Five thousand years before (3000 BC), if we can imagine, was the vedic period, in which Sanskrit was in its oldest form, now being called as “Vedic Sanskrit”, then called “chandas”, was the spoken, written and political language. Let me tell you to easily comprehend, this vedic Sanskrit doesn’t had the words such as “Ishtam”, “Kashtam” etc… Its a wonder that Sanskrit had evolved to be a political, conversational language even before that time. That brings us to the conclusion, it has no definite beginning. For a detailed note on vedic Sanskrit, see Vedic Sanskrit.By 500 BC, that is 2500 years before, Panini formulated the rules and the name “Sanskrit” – meaning “well made” – came into being. This is known as classical Sanskrit. The three major contributors thus formulating the classical Sanskrit – the three saints – are Panini, Katyaayana and Patanjali.

Panini (5 Century BC)

Panini is praised as the first Rishi who systematized the language and written the Ashtadyayi (Grammatical work). By tradition he was from Gandhara (Today’s Afganistan). Though there were other grammatical works, Panini’s ashtadyayi is considered authoritative and even is considered part of Vedas itself.

Katyayana (3 Century BC)

Katyayana is next in line, he is also a Rishi. He has written detailed commentary on Ashtadyayi. Little is known about him.

Patanjali (2 Century BC)

Some say Patanjali is from south India (Trimurthi hills, coimbatore), others say he is from eastern India. Patanjali is also considered one of the 18 siddhars. His commentary on Ashtadyayi is known as “Maha Bashya” or the Great Commentary.

Expressive Sanskrit

Sanskrit as a language does its basic purpose – that is expressing thoughts – in impeccable manner. In Sanskrit language, words can be placed in any order within a sentence and still achieve the proper and correct meaning. Unlike hindi or english, in Sanskrit words can be mingled (sandhi) which is more natural (similar to tamil). There is no vocal sound that cannot be expressed with Sanskrit. See the following poetry where all the letters are placed in the exact order, yet provide meaning:

क: खगौघाङचिच्छौजा झाञ्ज्ञोऽटौठीडडण्ढण:
तथोदधीन् पफर्बाभीर्मयोऽरिल्वाशिषां सह: ॥

“Who is he, the lover of birds, pure in intelligence, expert in stealing the strength of others, leader among the destroyers of the enemies, the steadfast, the fearless, the one who filled the ocean? He is the king Maya, the respository of the blessings that can destroy the foes”

It is evident that Sanskrit provides such a versatility by offering meaning from single letter to complex words which gives immense freedom for writing poetry.

Scientific Sanskrit

A great number of books for politics, mathematics, psychology, medicine, astronomy, history, rationalism, laws, logic, geography, chemistry, engineering, dance and much more. I am not just throwing some academic names, see the following table:

Field Text
Politics Arthasastra, Vidura Neethi
Mathematics Bhaskara’s Lilavati, Baudhayana’s Sulba sutras
Psychology Nagarjuna Bikku’s Sunyatasptati
Medicine Ayurveda, Caraka Samhita
Astronomy Aryabhatia, Bhaskara II’s siddhanta shiromani
History Rajatarangini of kalhana
Rationalism Brihaspatya sutras
Laws Vidhura neeti, Manu neethi
Logic Tharka sastra
Geography Bhoogola nirnayam
Chemistry Rasa sastra (of ayur veda)
Engineering Vaimanika Shastra(Aeronautics), Agamas (Temple construction), Sthapathya shastra
Dance Natya shastra

You can easily see, I have deliberately left out well known bhakti scriptures and philosophical works. There are much more texts in Sanskrits than I have mentioned here. This is only a tip of the iceberg.

Something to think about

Thus, I have given a very concise glimpse on Sanskrit. One can understand how Sanskrit as a language is used in so many fields and yet the literature as well as language has almost died in recent times. Partly the blame should go to the brahmins and the invaders of India including the british. I wonder it may be true, that Hitler took a huge cache of Sanskrit literature for his scientific experiments, given that his symbol was a reverse swastika.

But, even now after sixty years of independence, why scientific texts that are indigenous to India, which were written in Sanskrit were not revivied? A good query to contemplate.

Sanskrit Trivia

  • Sanskrit language has no specific writing script ! At various times it is written in different scripts.
  • None of the Sanskrit literatures/kavyas end in vague or in tragedy.
  • As mentioned above, vedic Sanskrit doesn’t had the words such as “Ishtam”, “Kashtam” etc. These words come up in classical sanskrit
  • Panini has not given the grammatical rules for Udatta – Anudatta swaras – which are found in vedic sanskrit.
  • Panini’s Ashtadyayi has eight chapters and about 4000 grammar rules. It gives about 2000 roots for word formations. Panini himself has referred from about sixty other grammatical works but the earlier grammatical works are lost.
  • The great composition “Kumara Sambhavam” of Kalidasa which by its title indicate the birth of lord muruga (Kumara or Skanda) – has not even a single sloka on lord muruga.
  • Guru, Pundit, Tantra, Shanti, Shakti, Om, Prana, Karma are some of the words that have become common in english parlance
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