Date- 26th July 2012
Sanskrit is arguably the oldest language still in existence. It was the lingua franca of Vedic India and is the mother of all European languages. As such it is classified as an Indo-Iranian language; which is a sub-group of the IndoEuropean family of languages. Its oldest relatives are Old Persian and Avestan. It held the same prestige that Greek and Latin held in Europe. It is now, however, used predominantly for religious activities. Origins of the tongue are as yet unclear, but what is certain, is that it settled and evolved in India. The word “Sanskrit” means “Refined”. Over the centuries the name took the meaning of “Refined Speech” and “Cultured Language”. The earliest attested text in the language is the Rig Veda from around the 2nd Millennium BC. The ancient copies have not survived except via oral transmission. 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. Its use for sacred purposes, and the importance attached to its correct enunciation all served as powerful conservative forces resisting the norm al processes of linguistic change and conforming into a fully structured proper system.
The oldest surviving Sanskrit grammar is Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī ("Eight-Chapter Grammar") compiled around the 4th Century BCE. It is essentially a prescriptive grammar, i.e., an authority that defines correct Sanskrit, although it contains descriptive parts, mostly to account for some Vedic forms that had become rare in Pāṇini's time. By the 1st Millennium BCE after the composition of the Upanishads, Vedic Sanskrit came to an end giving rise to Classical Sanskrit. This differed from Vedic Sanskrit by deviating from the established rules of grammar by mixing with local dialects and evolving into a new form. Most famous works in this version are the Hindu Epics MAHABHARATA and RAMAYANA. There was heavy influence of Classical Sanskrit in East and South-East Asia mainly due to spread of Buddhism in these areas, which also resulted in the migration of such works and other literature into the Orient some of whom either adopted the language, literature or both. Sanskrit gradually went into decline due to a weakening of the political institutions that supported it, and to heightened competition with vernacular languages seeking literary-cultural dignity. There was regional variation in the forcefulness of these vernacular movements and Sanskrit declined in different ways across the Indian subcontinent. The fact that there was no standardised script for Sanskrit accelerated the decline. Sanskrit survived only as a ceremonial language much like Latin did in Europe. It wasn’t until 1786 when a British Judge Sir William Jones, a philologist, noticed several similarities in Sanskrit, Persian and European Languages. On further researching he concluded that all of them came from a common source lost to time. He initiated the indepth studies of ancient Indian texts and deciphering all the various scripts thereby giving rise to Indology and IndoEuropean Studies.
Date- 26th July 2012
Sanskrit phrase attributed to Kalidas: May Śiva bless those who take delight in the language of the gods. Written in modern Indian and other Brahmi scripts. There was no standardised writing system for Sanskrit until the 19th Century when the “Devnagari” script was standardised for Sanskrit. The language was written in different scripts in different regions. This depended upon the literacy of the locals to spread which was adversely affected by waves of invasions in those regions. These scripts survived due to emigration of Buddhists into Central Asia and the Far East.
Published on Aug 22, 2012