Sanskrit is one of the oldest recognised languages that have existed in India for over seven thousand years. The Sanskrit language has been in use longer than any other language in the world. Even Greek and Latin are not used in their traditional context any more as Sanskrit is done. Sanskrit is also the root of a large number of languages including the primary languages of Europe, Iran and the Middle East. Sanskrit root words could be found in places as far as Hawaii.

Sanskrit and its roots can be traced to the Indo-Iranian sub family of the Indo-European languages. Sanskrit came to India from the northwest and was brought in by the Mesopotamians and the Aryan civilisations. It was exported out of India by way of returning people to influence the other Indo-European languages. Whatever its origin, the language has flourished in India and is recognised as a principal official language. It has been the language that has been used by the elite class of people in India and in classic literature. Knowledge of Sanskrit through the ages exemplified a high intellectual and social status of a person in society in India.

Sanskrit is one of India’s twenty two official languages and is regularly taught in schools.  It is broadcast over All India Radio stations and is used mostly in religious and scholarly context. The word `Sanskrit’ means `Wholly Cultured’ and is considered one of the most sophisticated languages of the world. However, there have been no linguistic developments in Sanskrit, leading many linguists to feel that it may be turning into a dead language. It is, nevertheless, recognised as one of the great original cultural languages in the world.

Sanskrit may be termed as a classical language of India. It is also a liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Its position in South Asia is similar to that of Greek and Latin in Europe. It is popular among scholars in and outside of India. Without a proper understanding of the Sanskrit culture, knowledge of India and its traditions would be incomplete.

Sanskrit is known for its beauty and clarity. It is also the most systematic language in the world. Much contribution has been made from all parts of the country for the growth of Sanskrit language.


Pre-Classical and Classical Sanskrit

There are two ages of Sanskrit. There is pre-classical or Vedic Sanskrit and the Classical or the Paninian Sanskrit.

Vedic Sanskrit is the language used in the Vedas. There is a large compilation of Hindu philosophical and sacred texts. The Vedas were composed around 4, 500 BC. During these ages, Sanskrit did not have a written script.  Sanskrit is the original language of the Vedas which were transmitted from the one who recited to the listener of mantras and shlokas. The Vedas were memorised and transferred orally from the guru (teacher) to the shishya (student). People had to understand the six Vedangas to study the Vedas. The Vedas cannot be studied without the six Vedangas. The first three are Shiksha (understanding of the letters and phonetics), Vyakarna (grammar) and Niruktam (root words and etymology). The latter three are Chandas (metrical system), Kalpa (rituals) and Jyotisha (astronomy and astrology).

Shiksha deals with the spoken aspect of the language. It shows how to pronounce the letters of the aksharas or the alphabet. Shiksha divides the letter into three classes. They are swaras, vyanjanas and oushmanas. The letters differ from each other in their meanings depending on the effort and the duration of time for which they are used. Vyakarna is the heart of grammar and it describes meaningful word formations and sounds. Niruktam describes elementary root words that are used in the Vedas. Classification of words into groups of synonyms is an example. There are over hundred synonyms for just the word `water’ as given in Niruktam.

The fourth Vedanga, Chandas, describes the formation of sentences in metrical form. Sanskrit offers about twenty Vedic metres and many more conventional metres unlike English that uses four basic metres. The remaining Vedangas, Kalpa and Jyotisha are connected with rituals and space and time.

The classical Sanskrit followed the grammar rules that were set down by the esteemed ancient grammarian, Panini. These came about in the fifth century before Christ. Panini wrote a grammar treatise called `Astadhyayi’ (meaning Eight Sections). It was made up of almost four thousand sutras. The other ancient grammarians, Katyayana and Patajali, composed commentaries later on the Astadhyayi and added more grammar rules in their works that were Vartikas and the Mahabhashya. These three grammar works are collectively known as `Trimuni Vyakarana’.

Starting from the Rigveda, which is the earliest Vedic text, to the later three Vedas that were the Samaveda, the Yajurveda and Atharvaveda right up to the Brahmanas and the Upanishads, the Vedic period was one of oral tradition.  The three major Hindu philosophic concepts that are formulated in Sanskrit are Dvaita by Madhavacharya, Advaita by Shankaracharya and Vishishtadvaita by Ramanujacharya.   



Sanskrit began to be written down in the Classical Age around 400 BC.  At various periods, many regional language scripts like Brahmi, Kharoshti, Gupta, Sharada, Devanagari, Bengali, Oriya, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam were used for writing Sanskrit. Mostly the Brahmi and the Devanagari were used.  Currently, the Devanagari script is being used to write Sanskrit. This is a phonetic script like most other Indian scripts.

Linguists feel that the structure of the Sanskrit language is near perfect. There are forty nine sounds in the Sanskrit script that are formed in five separate areas of our mouth. The letters are arranged scientifically so that the simple vowels come first, then the diphthongs and consonants in uniform groups depending on their point of pronunciation. All this makes for perfect phonetic accuracy. Each Sanskrit alphabet has a precise sound in every word. Every word in Sanskrit is derived from a root. Prefixes and suffixes are added to a root to create words. The grammar, the form and the word meanings are highly developed.

Sanskrit is also known `Samskritam’. The name means complete and perfect. `Sams’ means entirely or wholly. `Kritam’ means created. When Sanskrit is used in the scriptures, the sound vibrations of each letter are created to have an effect on a person’s conscience.  Sanskrit mantras are made with a combination of sound vibrations. When these mantras are recited, they have a particular effect on the mind and the psyche of a person.

Sanskrit script has retained its purity. The structure and vocabulary have remained unadulterated over thousands of years of existence.



Sanskrit’s grammar is regulated and is exact.  Sage Panini’s Sanskrit grammar called `Astadhyayi’ was written over two thousand five hundred years ago. It gives us the details of how the language is structured and forms the basis for all modern grammar. Sanskrit has a very rich grammatical structure and a huge vocabulary.

There are fifty one aksharas or letters. The aksharas retain their sound as an aspect of non destruction in the phonetic characteristics of the language. The aksharas retain their individual meanings in composed words. The basic unit is a word root. Words are derivatives.  All roots are verbs. There is no real concept of proper nouns. All words are complete verbs and they do not depend on adjacent words for their meaning. It is the words in the sentence that will matter and not their order. These are the main reasons why Sanskrit is such a structured language.

Linguists describe Sanskrit’s grammar as entirely context-free. Non-terminals can be rewritten without any regard to the context in which they occur. This structure was described in four thousand sutras by Panini. He is considered to be the father not only of Sanskrit grammar but also of computing machines.



As Sanskrit is the language of the Vedic culture, it has brought a treasure of literature and philosophy with it. The outstanding Puranas and the hundred and eight Upanishads are the essence of Vedic philosophy. Sanskrit literature has been around for more than two thousand years. Sanskrit language has a unique structure which is perfect. Many scholars have contributed to Sanskrit literature for thousands of years.

Among the famous masterworks of Sanskrit literature are Ramayana written by Valmiki and the Mahabharata written by Vyasa. Mahabharata is one of the prime scriptures and is one of the longest literary epics in the world with over hundred thousand verses. It contains the famous Bhagavad Gita.

Other important works are the Panchatantra written by Visnu Sharma, Arthashastra by Chanakya, poems and plays by the great Kalidasa and Surdasa, the Puranas and the Upanishads. There are treatises that are also available on astronomy, astrology and science.

One of the oldest literatures in the world, the Vedas and the Puranas are still available in the same form that they have been written in at the beginning. There are many scholars who can interpret them today. Such interpretation comes not only by studying the ancient traditions but also through a steady process of assimilating knowledge from various disciplines by means of Sanskrit.


Sanskrit and the Philosophy of Science

Today, Sanskrit can be as modern as any other language. Its grammar is precise and well defined. Many academicians feel that it is the best language for use with computers due to its context-free grammar. The vocabulary of Sanskrit is taken from root syllables and is ideal for labelling new scientific and technological terms.

Scientific principles have always been hidden in the verses of the Vedas and the Upanishads. The concepts and the principles that are found in current day astronomy and mathematics were all hidden in the compositions and treatises of many ancient Sanskrit scholars. The precise structure of Sanskrit offers a lot in the area of computational linguistics research. It is unique on account of it being the only known language that has a built-in scheme for pronunciation and grammar.

Sanskrit is full of philosophy and theology related issues. There are many words within Sanskrit that convey different meanings of a concept that allows only one interpretation when studied with other languages. The language, therefore, has the ability to offer links between concepts using only the words.

Article Posted By : tahnaklView All Articles

Tahseen Nakavi Juror

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Sanskrit , language


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