saṃskṛtam

saṃskṛtam (संस्कृतम्) or for short sanskrit or saṃskṛtā vāk (संस्कृता वाक्) is an ancient sacred language of bharatavarsha that is the language of Hinduism and the Vedas and is the classical literary language of India. The name Sanskrit means "refined", "consecrated" and "sanctified". It has always been regarded as the 'high' language and used mainly for religious and scientific discourse. There are still hundreds of millions of people who use Sanskrit in their daily lives, but despite these numbers, its cultural worth is unsurpassed.

Description

Sanskrit is the oldest language known to man. It is considered to be the very origin of language itself; that from which all languages have arisen or evolved. The Vedas, the universally accepted first scriptures of humanity, were written in the Sanskrit language.

There is also a deeply rooted faith among Indians that Sanskrit itself is the language of the Devas (Gods), which is why this language was known during the Vedic period (6,000 - 8,000 years ago) as Daivi Vak (the Divine speech). The great grammarian, Pānini, structured this language with his grammar in the 7th century BC, and henceforth, it became referred to as Samskritam.

Numerous important works from a cultural, spiritual and scientific standpoint, were written in this ancient language. All of the classic literature of Vedic times was written in Sanskrit too, included the classical texts of yoga, Vedanta and other spiritual and philosophical schools of ancient times, as well as the historical texts in the great sciences of astrology, astronomy, medicine, architecture and the physical sciences.

The language is extremely regular, almost mathematical in its grammar and formulation. It is considered a sacred and mystical language — "the language of the Gods." The script is called Devanagari, meaning "used in the cities of the Gods." Words are constructed from a number of roots, each considered to have an intrinsic quality that embodies the meaning itself, rather than being an arbitrary symbol. Sound is considered the subtlest of all five elements, and controlling sound can help manipulate matter, as through the chanting of mantras.

Etymology

The language name saṃskṛtam is derived from the past participle saṃskṛtaḥ 'self-made, self-done' of the verb saṃ(s)kar- 'to make self', where saṃ- 'with, together, self' and (s)kar- 'do, make'. In modern usage, the verbal adjective saṃskṛta- has come to mean "cultured". The language referred to as saṃskṛtā vāk "the language of cultured" has by definition always been a "high" language, used for religious and learned discourse and contrasted with the languages spoken by the people. It is also called deva-bhāṣā meaning "Language of the Gods".

The Sanskrit Language

Being the oldest language in the world, for more than three millennia, Sanskrit was the lingua franca of the Indian subcontinent — the language of science, knowledge, spirituality and culture. Sanskrit is the common language of the Hindu Scriptures and it is the language of the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Puranas. Sanskrit literature is easily the richest literature in the history of mankind. The word Sanskrit literally means "Perfected Language" or "Language brought to formal perfection". This is quite an appropriate name since NASA declared it to be "the only unambiguous language on the planet". Recently well-known linguists and computer-scientists have expressed the opinion that Sanskrit is the best language for use with computers.1

Devimahatmya_Sanskrit.jpg
Devimahatmya manuscript on palm-leaf, in an early Bhujimol script, Bihar or Nepal, 11th century.

The Sanskrit language is the basis for many of modern Indian languages — Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi — as well as the classical Prakrit and the language of Buddhist scripture, Pali and has also helped shape many current languages including French, German, Russian, English and the South East Asian languages such as Malay, Javanese, Cambodia2, Vietnam, Thai and the Philippines. It shows many ancient forms of words such as father, through, shampoo, trigonometry, and mouse, while guru, pundit, dharma, bandh, and yoga are among hundreds of Sanskrit words that can now be found in the Oxford dictionary.

Sanskrit is a scientific and systematic language. Its grammar is perfect and has attracted scholars worldwide. Sanskrit has a perfect grammar which has been explained to us by the world's greatest grammarian Panini.

Writing System

Sanskrit, like various other Indian and South East Asian languages, uses the Devanāgarī alphabet.

Devanagari is a phonetic alphabet that consists of 13 vowels (svara) and 34 consonants (vyanjana). It is known as a 'syllabic script' — every letter has a unique sound and is a single syllable of each word. The script is written from left to right and does not use any upper or lowercase letters. Most letters have a line across the top. When words are written this line generally extends across the whole word. There are however, some cases where an individual letter may break the line. [4]

Devanāgarī alphabet for Sanskrit

Vowels and vowel diacritics

sanskrit_vwl.gif

Sanskrit vowels and vowel diacritics

Consonants

Unlike in English where consonants each have an individual sound (b=bee, f=ef, k=kay, z=zed), the Sanskrit letters representing consonants incorporate an 'a' sound (pronounced 'ah' - ka, ta, pa) making each symbol a single syllable. This vowel 'a' can be replaced by any other vowel by the addition of extra symbols.

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Sanskrit consonants

Conjunct consonants

There are about a thousand conjunct consonants, most of which combine two or three consonants. There are also some with four-consonant conjuncts and at least one well-known conjunct with five consonants.

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A selection of Sanskrit conjunct consonants

See full list of conjunct consonants used for Sanskrit at: A Practical Sanskrit Introductory by Charles WIkner

Numerals

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Sanskrit numerals and numbers from 0-10

Sample text in Sanskrit

सर्वे मानवाः स्वतन्त्राः समुत्पन्नाः वर्तन्ते अपि च, गौरवदृशा अधिकारदृशा
च समानाः एव वर्तन्ते। एते सर्वे चेतना-तर्क-शक्तिभ्यां सुसम्पन्नाः सन्ति।
अपि च, सर्वेऽपि बन्धुत्व-भावनया परस्परं व्यवहरन्तु।

Transliteration

Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantratāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api cha, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē.
Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi.
Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu.

Translation

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) [2]

History

The Vedic tradition informs us that human beings in former ages were physically and intellectually by far more able than nowadays. Knowledge was passed on by oral reception since the disciples were able to remember everything by hearing it once.3 Thus, no writing was necessary. But at the dawn of the present age — the kali-yuga, or “age of quarrel” — human mankind degraded more and more and gradually lost all good qualities. The duration of life decreased, and with the loss of the keen remembrance the traditional system of acquiring knowledge ceased to be applicable. In order to prevent its decay, the Vedic wisdom had to be conserved in written form. This happened about 5000 years ago by the divine incarnation Shri Vyasadeva. He compiled the presently existing Vedic literature, namely the four Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and the Mahabharata. Thus, he created no new knowledge but rather tried to preserve the original wisdom of human mankind for the oncoming generations.

At that time, devanagari was the language of the whole civilized population of the earth. But due to lack of training and careless pronunciation, the uneducated people began to develop numerous dialects. Before, such lingual alienation had been carefully avoided since it was well-known that the material and spiritual power of the language greatly depends on its purity. Now, however, various dialects came up which, after gradually deviating from the original language, could not be called devanagari anymore. New languages, called prakrta, came forth.

With the further progress of kali-yuga, these prakrta dialects spread more and more, up to the grade of dominating the original pure language. Finally, they were adopted even by the educated circles. The sages and scholars of that time became alarmed. Together with its language, they foresaw the dying-out of the root of Vedic culture. Thus, they invested enormous time and effort to design a standardized grammar, with the aim of preserving the devanagari language in its original purity. Although unnecessary before, this measure seemed to be the only means of counteracting the increasing cultural, intellectual and spiritual decay of the society. [1]

The most successful, hence most prominent amongst these grammarians was Panini. His grammar, surpassing all others in tightness and precision, became the standard and remained so undisputedly until today. Panini was able to joint the original devanagari language into an exact framework of rules, thus preserving it for the posterity. Since his time, this language is called Sanskrit, “joined together, refined”.

According to the Vedic version, Sanskrit is not the result of the prakrta languages; rather, they in opposite have developed from the original Sanskrit language, called devanagari. The present-day Sanskrit is nothing more than the successful attempt to conserve the original language and to prevent its further alienation. And the development of scriptural record is not at all considered as a progress of human civilization — rather, it is a symptom of the increasing degradation of human qualities.

Following this tradition, Sanskrit is the original language of the Vedas. They were transmitted directly from the spiritual world at the dawn of creation. Therefore, their language bears the power to connect the reciter and the receptors of mantra and sloka with the eternal spiritual reality — especially if the mantras contain one of the numerous names of God. Consequently, Sanskrit produces a transcendental sound vibration which is able to liberate the living entity from the material existence called samsara, the circle of repeated births and deaths.

No more than now, as we are forced by an increasing number of archeological discoveries to date the age and origin of human mankind more and more backwards, this version appears to be absurd by no means. At least, no valid empiric reasons force us to dismiss it as mythological.

No matter, however, if we accept the academic opinion or the promotion of the Veda's own version — we have to regard Sanskrit as one of the great original cultural languages of this planet. It has influenced vast realms of our thinking and cognition and is still spoken by many scholars in and outside of India. Without knowledge of its Sanskrit culture, the present India and its traditions are not to be understood.

The Dominance of Sanskrit

Until 1100 A.D., Sanskritwas without interruption the official language of the whole of India. The dominance of Sanskrit is indicated by a wealth of literature of widely diverse genres including religious, philosophical, fiction (short stories, fables, novels, and plays); scientific (linguistics, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine), as well as law and politics.

From the time of the Muslim invasions onwards, Sanskritgradually became displaced by common languages patronized by the Muslim kings as a tactic to suppress Indian cultural and religious tradition and supplant it with their own beliefs. But they could not eliminate the literary and spiritual/ritual use of Sanskrit. Even today in India, there is a strong movement to return Sanskrit to the status of "the national language of India." Sanskrit, being a language derived from simple monosyllabic verbal roots through the addition of appropriate prefixes and suffixes according to precise grammatical laws, has an infinite capacity to grow, adapt, and expand according to the requirements of change in a rapidly evolving world.

Even in the last two centuries, due to the rapid advances in technology and science, a literature abundant with new and improvised vocabulary has come into existence. Although such additions are based on the grammatical principles of Sanskrit, and mostly composed of Sanskritroots, still contributions from Hindi and other national and international languages have been assimilated. For example, the word for television, duradarshanam, meaning "that which provides a 'vision' of what is far away" is derived purely from Sanskrit; whereas the word for motorcar, motaryanam, borrows from the English.

Furthermore, there are at least a dozen periodicals published in Sanskrit, all-India news broadcast in Sanskrit, television shows and feature movies produced in Sanskrit, one village of 3000 inhabitants who communicate through Sanskritalone (not to mention countless smaller intellectual communities throughout India), and schools where Sanskritis fostered. "Contemporary Sanskrit" is alive and well.

The extraordinary thing about Sanskrit

The extraordinary thing about Sanskrit is that it offers direct accessibility to anyone to that elevated plane where the two — mathematics and music, brain and heart, analytical and intuitive, scientific and spiritual — become one.

The only unambiguous spoken language

Relevant to this, there has recently been an astounding discovery made at the NASA research center. The following quote is from an article Sanskrit & Artificial Intelligence, which appeared in AI (Artificial Intelligence) magazine in spring of 1985, written NASA researcher Rick Briggs:

"In the past twenty years, much time, effort, and money has been expended on designing an unambiguous representation of natural languages to make them accessible to computer processing. These efforts have centered around creating schemata designed to parallel logical relations with relations expressed by the syntax and semantics of natural languages, which are clearly cumbersome and ambiguous in their function as vehicles for the transmission of logical data. Understandably, there is a widespread belief that natural languages are unsuitable for the transmission of many ideas that artificial languages can render with great precision and mathematical rigor.

But this dichotomy, which has served as a premise underlying much work in the areas of liguistics and artificial intelligence, is a false one. There is at least one language, Sanskrit, which for the duration of almost 1000 years was a living spoken language with a considerable literature of its own. Besides works of literary value, there was a long philosophical and grammatical tradition that has continued to exist with undiminished vigor until the present century. Among the accomplishments of the grammarians can be reckoned a method for paraphrasing Sanskrit in a manner that is identical not only in essence but in form with current work in Artificial Intelligence. This article demonstrates that a natural language can serve as an artificial language also, and that much work in AI has been reinventing a wheel millennia old."

This discovery is of monumental significance. It is mind-boggling to consider that we have available to us a language which has been spoken for at least 5000 years that appears to be in every respect a perfect language designed for enlightened communication. But the most stunning aspect of the discovery is this: NASA, the most advanced research center in the world for cutting-edge technology, has discovered that Sanskrit, the world's oldest spiritual language, is the only unambiguous spoken language on the planet.

Based on root sounds or vibrations of the Universe

As Quantum physics has now revealed to us, anything and everything consists of vibration. The primary essence of any object or phenomena, then, could be thought of as its own unique pattern, or composite patterns, of vibration.

It is said that the language of Sanskrit itself arises from these vary root sounds or vibrations of the Universe. The various vowels and consonants that make up Sanskrit words represent these core sounds, known as bijas. Whilst in states of deep resonance with the cosmos (in other words, while in meditation), the Rishis, the ancient spiritual scientists, could perceive these bija sounds; and from this profound sense of perception, they recognized the inherent sounds of each and every thing.

A Sanskrit word, then, is not merely a word chosen to name something, but an actual reflection of the inherent ‘sound’ of that object, concept or phenomena. In fact, proper, or rather, perfect, pronunciation of Sanskrit words, it is told, can replicate the exact nature, or essence, of that which it is referring too.

It is also told that if one’s mind was utterly pure, then upon hearing this perfectly pronounced symbol, the Sanskrit word, the image of that object, idea, etc., would immediately appear within the mind and the ‘field of understanding’ of this individual, even if they had never seen or heard of this thing or idea before. Likewise, the perfect pronunciation of a Sanskrit word has the power to manifest and/or influence that particular thing. Sanskrit, for this very reason, is referred to as the ‘perfect language’.

This is, at heart, the essence of one of the principles behind mantra chanting in the vedic tradition. Today there are very few who possess this precise knowledge and ability of ‘perfect enunciation’, and fewer still who are pure enough of mind to be able to receive the innate truths of this language upon hearing it.

Sanskrit is the language of mantra

Words of power that are subtly attuned to the unseen harmonies of the matrix of creation, the world as yet unformed. Vak (speech), or the "word", incorporates both the sense of voice and word. It has four forms of expression. The first, para, represents cosmic ideation arising from absolute divine presence. The second, pasyanti (seeing), is vak as subject, seeing which creates the object of madhyama-vak, the third and subtle form of speech before it manifests as vaikhari-vak, the gross production of letters in spoken speech. This implies the possibility of having speech oriented to a direct living truth which transcends individual preoccupation with the limited information available through the senses. Spoken words as such are creative living things of power. They penetrate to the essence of what they describe, and give birth to meaning which reflects the profound interrelatedness of life.

The unique organization of the alphabet serves to focus one's attention on qualities and patterns of articulated sound in a way that occurs in no other language. By paying continuous attention to the point of location, degree of resonance, and effort of breath, one's awareness becomes more and more consumed by the direct experience of articulated sound. This in itself produces an unprecedented clarity of mind and revelry in the joy of language, as every combination of sound follows strict laws which essentially make possible an uninterrupted flow of the most perfect euphonic blending of letters into words and verse.

Limitation of English Translations

As Hinduism expands in the West, the emerging forms of this ancient tradition are naturally being reflected through the medium of Western languages, most prominent of which, is English. But the meanings of words are not easily moved from one language to the next. The more distant two languages are separated by geography, latitude and climate, etc. the more the meanings of words shift and ultimately the more the worldview shifts. The differences between the Indian regional languages and Sanskrit are minuscule when compared to the differences between a Western language such as English and Sanskrit.

With this problem in mind, the great difficultly in understanding Hinduism in the West, whether from the perspective of conversion or from a second generation of Hindus, is that it is all too easy to approach Hinduism with foreign concepts of religion in mind. It is natural to unknowingly approach Hinduism with Christian, Jewish and Islamic notions of God, soul, heaven, hell and sin in mind. We translate brahman as God, atman as soul, papa as sin, dharma as religion. But brahman is not the same as God; atman is not equivalent to the soul, papa is not sin and dharma is much more than mere religion. To obtain a true understanding of sacred writings, such as the Upanishads or the Bhagavad-Gita, one must read them on their own terms and not from the perspective of another religious tradition. Because the Hinduism now developing in the West is being reflected through the lens of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the theological uniqueness of Hinduism is being compromised or completely lost.

Ideally, anyone attempting to understand Hinduism should have a working knowledge of Sanskrit. Ideally, all Hindu educational institutions and temples should teach Sanskrit, and all Hindu youth should learn Sanskrit. [3]

References


Bibliography
1. History of Sanskrit, Florida Vedic College
6. Sanskrit Words, An Introduction to the Ancient Language of Yoga, by Yogacharya, International Yogalayam.

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