Indian Language - Sanskrit

Sanskrit is an Indo-European classical language of India and a liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It has a position in India and Southeast Asia similar to that of Latin and Greek in Europe, and is a central part of Hindu tradition. Sanskrit is one of the 22 official languages of India. Sanskrit is taught in schools and households throughout India, as a second language. Some identify it as their mother tongue. According to recent reports, it is being revived as a vernacular in the village of Mattur near Shimoga in Karnataka.

Sanskrit is mostly used as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals in the forms of hymns and mantras. Its pre-classical form of Vedic Sanskrit, the liturgical language of the Vedic religion, is one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European language family, its most ancient text being the Rigveda.

The scope of this article is that of Classical Sanskrit as laid out in the grammar of Panini, roughly around 500 BC. Most Sanskrit texts available today were transmitted orally for several centuries before they were written down in medieval India.

Vedic Sanskrit

Vedic Sanskrit is an ancient Indian language, the language of the Vedas, the oldest shruti texts of Hinduism. It is an archaic form of Sanskrit, an early descendant of Proto-Indo-Iranian, attested during the period between roughly 1700 BCE (early Rigveda) and 600 BCE (Sutra language), and still comparatively similar (being removed by maybe 1500 years) to the Proto-Indo-European language. It is closely related to Avestan, the oldest preserved Iranian language. Vedic Sanskrit is the oldest attested language of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family.

From ca. 600 BC, in the classical period of Iron Age Ancient India, Vedic Sanskrit gave way to Classical Sanskrit as defined by the grammar of Panini.


Five chronologically distinct strata can be identified within the Vedic language (Witzel 1989).

Around 500 BC, cultural, political and linguistic factors all contribute to the end of the Vedic period. The codification of Vedic ritual reached its peak, and counter movements such as the Vedanta and early Buddhism emerged, using the vernacular Pali, a Prakrit dialect, rather than Sanskrit for their texts. Darius I of Persia invaded the Indus valley and the political center of the Indo-Aryan kingdoms shifted Eastward, to the Gangetic plain. Around this time (5th century BC), Panini fixes the grammar of Classical Sanskrit.

Classical Sanskrit

There is a strong relationship between the various forms of Sanskrit and the Middle Indo-Aryan "Prakrits", or vernacular languages (in which, among other things, most early Jain and Buddhist texts are written), and the modern Indo-Aryan languages.

The Prakrits are probably descended from Vedic, and there is mutual interchange between later forms of Sanskrit and various Prakrits. There has also been reciprocal influence between Sanskrit and the Dravidian languages.

A significant form of post-Vedic but pre-Paninian Sanskrit is found in the Sanskrit of the Hindu Epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. This dialect includes many archaic and unusual forms which deviate from Panini and are denoted by traditional Sanskrit scholars as aarsha or "of the rishis", the traditional title for the ancient authors. In some contexts there are also more "prakritisms" (borrowings from common speech) than Classical Sanskrit proper. Finally, there is also a language dubbed "Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit" by scholars, which is actually a prakrit ornamented with Sanskritized elements, perhaps for purposes of ostentation (see also termination of spoken Sanskrit).


Sanskrit historically has had no single script associated with it. Since the late 19th century, the Devanagari (meaning "as used in the city of the gods") script has become the most widely used and associated with Sanskrit, yet this was by no means the case earlier. Each region adapted the script of the local vernacular, whether Indo-Aryan or Dravidian. In the north, there are inscriptions dating from the early centuries B.C. in the Brahmi script, also used by the king Ashoka in his famous Prakrit pillar inscriptions. Roughly contemporary with the Brahmi, the Kharosthi script was used. Later (ca. 4th to 8th centuries AD) the Gupta script, derived from Brahmi, became prevalent. From ca. the 8th century, the Sharada script evolved out of the Gupta script, and was mostly displaced in its turn by Devanagari from ca. the 12th century, with intermediary stages such as the Siddham script. The Bengali and other scripts were also used in their respective regions.

In the south where Dravidian languages predominate, scripts used include Grantha in Tamil speaking regions, Telugu in Telugu and Tamil speaking regions, Kannada, and Malayalam. Grantha, though modeled on the Tamil script, was used exclusively for Sanskrit and is rarely seen today. A recent development has been to use Tamil characters with numeric subscripts indicating voicing and aspiration.

Sanskrit Wikipedia

In the News ...

Indian language is new to science   BBC - October 5, 2010
Researchers have identified a language new to science in a remote region of India. Known as Koro, it appears to be distinct from other languages in the family to which it belongs; but it is also under threat. Koro was discovered by a team of linguists on an expedition to Arunachal Pradesh, in north-eastern India.

  "Lost" Language Found   National Geographic - October 5, 2010

Faces of Koro: Photos of "Lost" Language's Last Speakers   National Geographic - October 5, 2010