Sanskrit (संस्कृतम् in Devanāgarī) is perhaps the oldest attested member
of the Indo-European language family, and an official language of India.
Seen by many as the Asian equivalent of
Latin, its vast religious and
literary tradition is most famously seen in its Hindu or Vedic traditions.
The first Sanskrit text available is from the early canon of Hinduism from
Vedic culture, the Vedas. Scholars have preserved far more Sanskrit texts
than those in
The word Sanskrit means completed, refined, perfected. Sam (together) +
krtam (created). Virtually every Sanskrit student in India learns the
traditional story that Sanskrit was created and then refined over many
generations (traditionally more than a thousand years) until it was
considered complete and perfect. Sanskrit is considered a more refined
linguistic strain of the Prakrit (Prototype. Pra (prime, first, pre-) +
krt (created)) languages of India which include the lower vernaculars such
Pali and Ardhamagadhi.
The language underwent several stages of consolidation and modification.
In its older Vedic form, it is a close descendant of Proto-Indo-European,
the root of all later Indo-European languages. Vedic Sanskrit is also
practically identical to Avestan, the language of Zoroastrianism. After
the consolidation of its grammar and lexicon it turned into a classical
language of strict esthetic rules and gave rise to considerable literature
of drama, medicine, politics, astronomy, mathematics, alchemy, etc.
Its common origin with modern European and the classical languages of
Latin can be seen, for instance, in the Sanskrit words for
mother, matr, and father, pitr. European scholarship in Sanskrit,
initiated by Heinrich Roth and Johann Ernest Hanxleden, led to the
discovery of this language family by Sir William Jones, and thus played an
important role in the development of linguistics. Indeed, linguistics
(along with phonology, etc.) was first developed by Indian grammarians who
were attempting to catalog and codify Sanskrit's rules. Modern
linguistics, which arose much later in the rest of the world, owes a great
deal to the grammarians, including key terms for compound analysis.
Sanskrit is the oldest member of Indo-Aryan sub-branch of Indo-Iranian.
Vedic Sanskrit and Avestan are the oldest members of the Indo-Iranian
sub-branch of the Indo-European family. Nuristani languages, spoken in
roughly what has become Afghanistan, are grouped with Vedic and Avestan.
The oldest form of Sanskrit is Vedic, in which the Vedas, the earliest
Sanskrit texts, were composed. The earliest of the Vedas, the Rîgveda, was
composed in the middle of the second millennium BC. The Vedic form
survived until the middle of the first millennium BC. Around this time, as
Sanskrit made the transition from a first language to a second language of
religion and learning, the Classical period began. The intense study of
the structure of Sanskrit at this time led to the beginnings of
linguistics. The oldest surviving Sanskrit grammar is Pạ̄nini's c. 500 BC
Sanskrit historically has had no single script associated with it. The
ancient Brahmi characters were used as late as, for instance by Ashoka for
his pillar inscriptions. Later, Grantha was used, as were other scripts
such as Kannada in the South, and
Bengali and other North Indian scripts
in other regions. However, over many years, and especially recently, the
syllabic Devanagari (meaning "as used in the city of the Gods") script has
become the most widely used and associated with Sanskrit. Occasionally, in
regions of India where Devnagari is not the script of the vernacular (as
it is with
Marathi) one will find texts still written in the
local script, such as Grantha in the South or Bengali in the East. Today,
several Latin-alphabet transliterations of varying utility are also
available. For scholarly work, Devanagari has generally but not
universally been preferred for the transcription and reproduction of whole
texts and lengthy excerpts; however, references to individual words and
names in texts composed in European languages are usually represented
using Roman transliteration.
Sanskrit's greatest influence, presumably, is that it exerted on languages
that grew from its vocabulary and grammatical base. Especially among elite
circles in India, Sanskrit is prized as a storehouse of scripture and the
language of prayers in Hinduism. While vernacular prayer is common,
Sanskrit mantras are recited by millions of Hindus and most temple
functions are conducted entirely in Sanskrit, often Vedic in form. Most
higher forms of Indian vernacular languages like
Hindi, often called 'suddha' (pure, higher) are much more heavily
Sanskritized. Of modern day Indian languages, while
Hindi tends to be, in
spoken form, more heavily weighted with Arabic and Persian influence,
Marathi still retain a largely Sanskrit vocabulary base.
Sanskrit is a highly inflected language with three grammatical genders
(masculine, feminine, neuter) and three numbers (singular, plural, dual).
It has eight cases: nominative, vocative, accusative, instrumental,
dative, ablative, genitive, and locative. It has over ten noun