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संस्कृत विभिन्न लिपियों में.png
Saṃskṛtam in various Brahmic scripts
Pronunciation [sə̃skr̩t̪əm] About this sound pronunciation 
Region South Asia
parts of Southeast Asia
Era c. 2nd millennium BCE – 600 BCE (Vedic Sanskrit[1]);
600 BCE – present (Classical Sanskrit)

A few attempts at revival have been reported in Indian and Nepalese newspapers.

India: 14,135 Indians claimed Sanskrit to be their mother tongue in the 2001 Census of India:[2]

Nepal: 1,669 Nepalis in 2011 Nepal census reported Sanskrit as their mother tongue.[3]
Early form
Also written in various Brahmic scripts.[4]
Language codes
ISO 639-1 sa
ISO 639-2 san
ISO 639-3 san
Glottolog sans1269[5]

Sanskrit (/ˈsænskrɪt/; IAST: Saṃskṛtam [sə̃skr̩t̪əm][note 1], Sanskrit: संस्कृतम्) is a language of ancient India with a documented history of nearly 3,500 years.[6][7][8] It is the primary liturgical language of Hinduism; the predominant language of most works of Hindu philosophy as well as some of the principal texts of Buddhism and Jainism. Sanskrit, in its various variants and dialects, was the lingua franca of ancient and medieval India.[9][10][11] In the early 1st millennium CE, along with Buddhism and Hinduism, Sanskrit migrated to Southeast Asia,[12] parts of the East Asia[13] and the Central Asia,[14] emerging as a language of high culture and of local ruling elites in these regions.[15][16]

Sanskrit is an Old Indo-Aryan language,[6] as one of the oldest documented members of the Indo-European family of languages,[17][note 2][note 3] Sanskrit holds a prominent position in Indo-European studies,[20] it is related to Greek and Latin,[6] as well as Hittite, Luwian, Old Avestan and many other extinct languages with historical significance to Europe, West Asia and Central Asia. It traces its linguistic ancestry to the Proto-Indo-Aryan language, Proto-Indo-Iranian and the Proto-Indo-European languages.[21] Sanskrit is traceable to the 2nd millennium BCE in a form known as the Vedic Sanskrit, with the Rigveda as the earliest surviving text. A more refined and an exact grammatical form called the Classical Sanskrit emerged in mid-1st millennium BCE with the Aṣṭādhyāyī treatise of Pāṇini.[6] Sanskrit, though not necessarily Classical Sanskrit, is the root language of many Prakrit languages.[22] Examples include numerous modern daughter Northern Indian subcontinental languages such as Hindi, Nepali, Bengali, Punjabi and Marathi.[23][24][25]

The body of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of philosophical and religious texts, as well as poetry, music, drama, scientific, technical and other texts. In the ancient era, Sanskrit compositions were orally transmitted by methods of memorisation of exceptional complexity, rigour and fidelity,[26][27] the earliest known inscriptions in Sanskrit are from the 1st-century BCE, such as the few discovered in Ayodhya and Ghosundi-Hathibada (Chittorgarh).[28][note 4] Sanskrit texts dated to the 1st millennium CE were written in the Brahmi script, the Nāgarī script, the historic South Indian scripts and their derivative scripts.[32][33][34] Sanskrit is one of the 22 languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. It continues to be widely used as a ceremonial and ritual language in Hinduism and some Buddhist practices such as hymns and chants.

Etymology and nomenclature[edit]

Historic Sanskrit manuscripts: a palm-leaf manuscript book (top), a religious text (middle), and a medical text.

The Sanskrit verbal adjective sáṃskṛta- is a compound word consisting of sams (together, good, well, perfected) and krta- (made, formed, work).[35][36] It connotes a work that has been "well prepared, pure and perfect, polished, sacred".[37][38][39] According to Biderman, the perfection contextually being referred to in the etymological origins of the word is its tonal qualities, rather than semantic. Sound and oral transmission were highly valued quality in ancient India, and its sages refined the alphabet, the structure of words and its exacting grammar into a "collection of sounds, a kind of sublime musical mold", states Biderman, as an integral language they called Sanskrit,[36] from late Vedic period onwards, state Annette Wilke and Oliver Moebus, resonating sound and its musical foundations attracted an "exceptionally large amount of linguistic, philosophical and religious literature" in India. The sound was visualized as "pervading all creation", another representation of the world itself, the "mysterious magnum" of the Hindu thought, the search for perfection in thought and of salvation was one of the dimensions of sacred sound, and the common thread to weave all ideas and inspirations became the quest for what the ancient Indians believed to be a perfect language, the "phonocentric episteme" of Sanskrit.[40][41]

Sanskrit as a language competed with numerous less exact vernacular Indian languages called Prakritic languages (prākṛta-). The term prakrta literally means "original, natural, normal, artless", states Franklin Southworth,[42] the relationship between Prakrit and Sanskrit is found in the Indian texts dated to the 1st millennium CE. Patanjali acknowledged that Prakrit is the first language, one instinctively adopted by every child with all its imperfections and later leads to the problems of interpretation and misunderstanding, the purifying structure of the Sanskrit language removes these imperfections. The early Sanskrit grammarian Dandin states, for example, that much in the Prakrit languages is etymologically rooted in Sanskrit but involve "loss of sounds" and corruptions that result from a "disregard of the grammar". Dandin acknowledged that there are words and confusing structures in Prakrit that thrive independent of Sanskrit, this view is found in the writing of Bharata Muni, the author of the ancient Natyasastra text. The early Jain scholar Namisadhu acknowledged the difference, but disagreed that the Prakrit language was a corruption of Sanskrit. Namisadhu stated that the Prakrit language was the purvam (came before, origin) and they came naturally to women and children, that Sanskrit was a refinement of the Prakrit through a "purification by grammar".[43]


Origin and development[edit]

Left: The Kurgan hypothesis on Indo-European migrations between 4000 and 1000 BCE; Right: The geographical spread of the Indo-European languages, with Sanskrit in the Indian subcontinent.

Sanskrit belongs to the Indo-European family of languages. It is one of the three ancient documented languages that likely arose from a common root language now referred to as the Proto-Indo-European language:[18][44][45]

  • Vedic Sanskrit (c. 1500 – 500 BCE).
  • Mycenaean Greek (c. 1450 BCE)[46] and Ancient Greek (c. 750 – 400 BC). Mycenaean Greek is the older recorded form of Greek, but the limited material that has survived has a highly ambiguous writing system. More important to the Indo-European studies is Ancient Greek, documented extensively beginning with the two Homeric poems (the Iliad and the Odyssey, c. 750 BC).
  • Hittite (c. 1750 – 1200 BCE). This is the earliest-recorded of all Indo-European languages, distinguishable into Old Hittite, Middle Hittite and Neo-Hittite, it is divergent from the others likely due to its early separation. Discovered on clay tablets of central Turkey in cuneiform script, it possesses some highly archaic features found only fragmentarily, if at all, in other languages, at the same time, however, it appears to have undergone a large number of early phonological and grammatical changes along with the ambiguities of its writing system.

Other Indo-European languages related to Sanskrit include archaic and classical Latin (c. 600 BCE – 100 CE, old Italian), Gothic (archaic Germanic language, c. 350 CE), Old Norse (c. 200 CE and after), Old Avestan (c. late 2nd millennium BCE[47]) and Younger Avestan (c. 900 BCE).[44][45] The closest ancient relatives of Vedic Sanskrit in the Indo-European languages are the Nuristani language found in the remote Hindu Kush region of the northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Himalayas,[45][48][49] as well as the extinct Avestan and Old Persian – both Iranian languages.[50][51][52]

Colonial era scholars familiar with Latin and Greek were struck by the resemblance of the Sanskrit language, both its vocabulary and grammar, to the classical languages of Europe, it suggested a common root and historical links between some of the major distant ancient languages of the world. William Jones remarked:

The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists. There is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothick and the Celtick [sic], though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanscrit; and the Old Persian might be added to the same family.

— William Jones, 1786, Quoted by Thomas Burrow in The Sanskrit Language[53]

In order to explain the common features shared by Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages, the Indo-Aryan migration theory states that the original speakers of what became Sanskrit arrived in the Indian subcontinent from the north-west sometime during the early second millennium BCE. Evidence for such a theory includes the close relationship between the Indo-Iranian tongues and the Baltic and Slavic languages, vocabulary exchange with the non-Indo-European Uralic languages, and the nature of the attested Indo-European words for flora and fauna.[54] The pre-history of Indo-Aryan languages which preceded Vedic Sanskrit is unclear and various hypotheses place it over a fairly wide limit. According to Thomas Burrow, based on the relationship between various Indo-European languages, the origin of all these languages may possibly be in what is now Central or Eastern Europe, while the Indo-Iranian group possibly arose in Central Russia,[55] the Iranian and Indo-Aryan branches separated quite early. It is the Indo-Aryan branch that moved into eastern Iran and the south into the Indian subcontinent in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE. Once in ancient India, the Indo-Aryan language underwent rapid linguistic change and morphed into the Vedic Sanskrit language.[56]

Vedic Sanskrit[edit]

Rigveda (padapatha) manuscript in Devanagari, early 19th century

The pre-Classical form of Sanskrit is known as Vedic Sanskrit, the earliest attested Sanskrit text is the Rigveda, a Hindu scripture, from the mid-to-late second millennium BCE. No written records from such an early period survive if they ever existed. However, scholars are confident that the oral transmission of the texts is reliable: they were ceremonial literature where the exact phonetic expression and its preservation were a part of the historic tradition.[57][58][59]

The Rigveda is a collection of books, created by multiple authors from distant parts of ancient India, these authors represented different generations, and the mandalas 2 to 7 are the oldest while the mandalas 1 and 10 are relatively the youngest.[60][61] Yet, the Vedic Sanskrit in these books of the Rigveda "hardly presents any dialectical diversity", states Louis Renou – an Indologist known for his scholarship of the Sanskrit literature and the Rigveda in particular. According to Renou, this implies that the Vedic Sanskrit language had a "set linguistic pattern" by the second half of the 2nd-millennium BCE.[62] Beyond the Rigveda, the ancient literature in Vedic Sanskrit that has survived into the modern age include the Samaveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda along with the embedded and layered Vedic texts such as the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the early Upanishads.[57] These Vedic documents reflect the dialects of Sanskrit found in the various parts of the northwestern, northern and eastern Indian subcontinent.[6][63]

Vedic Sanskrit was both a spoken and literary language of ancient India. According to Michael Witzel, Vedic Sanskrit was a spoken language of the semi-nomadic Aryas who temporarily settled in one place, maintained cattle herds, practiced limited agriculture and after some time moved by wagon train they called grama.[64][8] The Vedic Sanskrit language or a closely related Indo-European variant was recognized beyond ancient India as evidenced by the "Mitanni Treaty" between the ancient Hittite and Mitanni people, carved into a rock, in a region that are now parts of Syria and Turkey.[65][note 5] Parts of this treaty such as the names of the Mitannian princes and technical terms related to horse training, for reasons not understood, are in early forms of Vedic Sanskrit, the treaty also invokes the gods Varuna, Mitra, Indra and Nasatya found in the earliest layers of the Vedic literature.[65][67]

The Vedic Sanskrit found in the Rigveda is distinctly more archaic than other Vedic texts, and in many respects, the Rigvedic language is notably more similar to those found in the archaic texts of Old Avestan Zoroastrian Gathas and Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.[68] According to Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton – Indologists known for their translation of the Rigveda, the Vedic Sanskrit literature "clearly inherited" from Indo-Iranian and Indo-European times, the social structures such as the role of the poet and the priests, the patronage economy, the phrasal equations and some of the poetic meters.[69][note 6] While there are similarities, state Jamison and Brereton, there are also differences between Vedic Sanskrit, the Old Avestan, and the Mycenaean Greek literature, for example, unlike the Sanskrit similes in the Rigveda, the Old Avestan Gathas lack simile entirely, and it is rare in the later version of the language. The Homerian Greek, like Rigvedic Sanskrit, deploys simile extensively, but they are structurally very different.[71]

Classical Sanskrit[edit]

The early Vedic form of the Sanskrit language was far less homogenous, and it evolved over time into a more structured and homogeneous language, ultimately into the Classical Sanskrit by about the mid-1st-millennium BCE. According to Richard Gombrich – an Indologist and a scholar of Sanskrit Pāli and Buddhist Studies, the archaic Vedic Sanskrit found in the Rigveda had already evolved in the Vedic period, as evidenced in the later Vedic literature, the language in the early Upanishads of Hinduism and the late Vedic literature approaches Classical Sanskrit, while the archaic Vedic Sanskrit had by the Buddha's time become unintelligible to all except ancient Indian sages, states Gombrich.[72]

The formalization of the Sanskrit language is credited to Pāṇini, along with Patanjali's Mahabhasya and Katyayana's commentary that preceded Patanjali's work.[73] Panini composed Aṣṭādhyāyī ("Eight-Chapter Grammar"), the century in which he lived is unclear and debated, but his work is generally accepted to be from sometime between 6th and 4th centuries BCE.[74][75][76]

The Aṣṭādhyāyī was not the first description of Sanskrit grammar, but it is the earliest that has survived in full. Pāṇini cites ten scholars on the phonological and grammatical aspects of the Sanskrit language before him, as well as the variants in the usage of Sanskrit in different regions of India,[77] the ten Vedic scholars he quotes are Apisali, Kashyapa, Gargya, Galava, Cakravarmana, Bharadvaja, Sakatayana, Sakalya, Senaka and Sphotayana.[78] The Aṣṭādhyāyī of Panini became the foundation of Vyākaraṇa, a Vedanga;[77] in the Aṣṭādhyāyī, language is observed in a manner that has no parallel among Greek or Latin grammarians. Pāṇini's grammar, according to Renou and Filliozat, defines the linguistic expression and a classic that set the standard for the Sanskrit language.[79] Pāṇini made use of a technical metalanguage consisting of a syntax, morphology and lexicon, this metalanguage is organised according to a series of meta-rules, some of which are explicitly stated while others can be deduced.[80]

Father of linguistics
The history of linguistics begins not with Plato or Aristotle, but with the Indian grammarian Panini.

— Rens Bod, University of Amsterdam[81]

Pāṇini's comprehensive and scientific theory of grammar is conventionally taken to mark the start of Classical Sanskrit,[82] his systematic treatise inspired and made Sanskrit the preeminent Indian language of learning and literature for two millennia.[83] It is unclear whether Pāṇini wrote his treatise on Sanskrit language or he orally created the detailed and sophisticated treatise then transmitted it through his students. Modern scholarship generally accepts that he knew of a form of writing, based on references to words such as lipi ("script") and lipikara ("scribe") in section 3.2 of the Aṣṭādhyāyī.[84][85][86][note 7]

The Classical Sanskrit language formalized by Panini, states Renou, is "not an impoverished language", rather it is "a controlled and a restrained language from which archaisms and unnecessary formal alternatives were excluded",[93] the Classical form of the language simplified the sandhi rules but retained various aspects of the Vedic language, while adding rigor and flexibilities, so that it had sufficient means to express thoughts as well as being "capable of responding to the future increasing demands of an infinitely diversified literature", according to Renou. Panini included numerous "optional rules" beyond the Vedic Sanskrit's bahulam framework, to respect liberty and creativity so that individual writers separated by geography or time would have the choice to express facts and their views in their own way, where tradition followed competitive forms of the Sanskrit language.[94]

The phonetic differences between Vedic Sanskrit and Classical Sanskrit are negligible when compared to the intense change that must have occurred in the pre-Vedic period between Indo-Aryan language and the Vedic Sanskrit,[95] the noticeable differences between the Vedic and the Classical Sanskrit include the much-expanded grammar and grammatical categories as well as the differences in the accent, the semantics and the syntax.[96] There are also some differences between how some of the nouns and verbs end, as well as the sandhi rules, both internal and external.[96] Quite many words found in the early Vedic Sanskrit language are never found in late Vedic Sanskrit or Classical Sanskrit literature, while some words have different and new meanings in Classical Sanskrit when contextually compared to the early Vedic Sanskrit literature.[96]

Arthur Macdonell was among the early colonial era scholars who summarized some of the differences between the Vedic and Classical Sanskrit.[96][97] Louis Renou published in 1956, in French, a more extensive discussion of the similarities, the differences and the evolution of the Vedic Sanskrit within the Vedic period and then to the Classical Sanskrit along with his views on the history, this work has been translated by Jagbans Balbir.[98]

Sanskrit and Prakrit languages[edit]

Sanskrit co-existed with numerous other Prakrit languages of ancient India, the Prakrit languages of India also have ancient roots and some Sanskrit scholars have called these Apabhramsa, literally "spoiled".[99][100] The Vedic literature includes words whose phonetic equivalent are not found in other Indo European languages but which are found in the regional Prakrit languages, which makes it likely that the interaction, the sharing of words and ideas began early in the Indian history, as the Indian thought diversified and challenged earlier beliefs of Hinduism, particularly in the form of Buddhism and Jainism, the Prakrit languages such as Pali in Theravada Buddhism and Ardhamagadhi in Jainism competed with Sanskrit in the ancient times.[101][102][103] However, states Paul Dundas – a scholar of Jainism, these ancient Prakrit languages had "roughly the same relationship to Sanskrit as medieval Italian does to Latin."[103] The Indian tradition states that the Buddha and the Mahavira preferred Prakrit language so that everyone could understand it. However, scholars such as Dundas have questioned this hypothesis, they state that there is no evidence for this and whatever evidence is available suggests that by the start of the common era, hardly anybody other than learned monks had the capacity to understand the old Prakrit languages such as Ardhamagadhi.[103][note 8]

Colonial era scholars questioned whether Sanskrit was ever a spoken language, or was it only a literary language?[105] Scholars disagree in their answers. A section of Western scholars state that Sanskrit was never a spoken language, while others and particularly most Indian scholars state the opposite,[106] those who affirm Sanskrit to have been a vernacular language point to the necessity of Sanskrit being a spoken language for the oral tradition that preserved the vast number of Sanskrit manuscripts from ancient India. Secondly, they state that the textual evidence in the works of Yaksa, Panini and Patanajali affirms that the Classical Sanskrit in their era was a language that is spoken (bhasha) by the cultured and educated, some sutras expound upon the variant forms of spoken Sanskrit versus written Sanskrit.[106] The 7th-century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang mentioned in his memoir that official philosophical debates in India were held in Sanskrit, not in the vernacular language of that region.[106]

According to Sanskrit linguist Madhav Deshpande, Sanskrit was a spoken language in a colloquial form by the mid 1st millennium BCE which coexisted with a more formal, grammatical correct form of literary Sanskrit.[10] This, states Deshpande, is true for modern languages where colloquial incorrect approximations and dialects of a language are spoken and understood, along with more refined, sophisticated and grammatically accurate forms of the same language being found in the literary works,[10] the Indian tradition, states Moriz Winternitz, has favored the learning and the usage of multiple languages from the ancient times. Sanskrit was a spoken language in the educated and the elite classes, but it was also a language that must have been understood in a more wider circle of society because the widely popular folk epics and stories such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata Purana, the Panchatantra and many other texts are all in the Sanskrit language.[107] The Classical Sanskrit with its exacting grammar was thus the language of the Indian scholars and the educated classes, while others communicated with approximate or ungrammatical variants of it as well as other natural Indian languages.[10] Sanskrit, as the learned language of Ancient India, thus existed alongside the vernacular Prakrits.[10] Many Sanskrit dramas indicate that the language coexisted with the vernacular Prakrits. Centres in Varanasi, Paithan, Pune and Kanchipuram were centers of classical Sanskrit learning and public debates until the arrival of the colonial era.[108]

According to Étienne Lamotte – an Indologist and Buddhism scholar, Sanskrit became the dominant literary and inscriptional language because of its precision in communication, it was, states Lamotte, an ideal instrument for presenting ideas and as knowledge in Sanskrit multiplied so did its spread and influence.[109] Sanskrit was adopted voluntarily as a vehicle of high culture, arts, and profound ideas. Pollock disagrees with Lamotte, but concurs that Sanskrit's influence grew into what he terms as "Sanskrit Cosmopolis" over a region that included all of South Asia and much of southeast Asia, the Sanskrit language cosmopolis thrived beyond India between 300 and 1300 CE.[110]


Extant manuscripts in Sanskrit number over 30 million, one hundred times those in Greek and Latin combined, constituting the largest cultural heritage that any civilization has produced prior to the invention of the printing press.

— Foreword of Sanskrit Computational Linguistics (2009), Gérard Huet, Amba Kulkarni and Peter Scharf[111][112][note 9]

Sanskrit has been the predominant language of Hindu texts encompassing a rich tradition of philosophical and religious texts, as well as poetry, music, drama, scientific, technical and others.[114][115] It is the predominant language of one of the largest collection of historic manuscripts, the earliest known inscriptions in Sanskrit are from the 1st-century BCE, such as the Ayodhya Inscription of Dhana and Ghosundi-Hathibada (Chittorgarh).[28]

Though developed and nurtured by scholars of orthodox schools of Hinduism, Sanskrit has been the language for some of the key literary works and theology of heterodox schools of Indian philosophies such as Buddhism and Jainism,[116][117] the structure and capabilities of the Classical Sanskrit language launched ancient Indian speculations about "the nature and function of language", what is the relationship between words and their meanings in the context of a community of speakers, whether this relationship is objective or subjective, discovered or is created, how individuals learn and relate to the world around them through language, and about the limits of language?[116][118] They speculated on the role of language, the ontological status of painting word-images through sound, and the need for rules so that it can serve as a means for a community of speakers, separated by geography or time, to share and understand profound ideas from each other,[118][note 10] these speculations became particularly important to the Mimamsa and the Nyaya schools of Hindu philosophy, and later to Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism, states Frits Staal – a scholar of Linguistics with a focus on Indian philosophies and Sanskrit.[116] Though written in a number of different scripts, the dominant language of Hindu texts has been Sanskrit, it or a hybrid form of Sanskrit became the preferred language of Mahayana Buddhism scholarship.[121] One of the early and influential Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (~200 CE), for example, used Classical Sanskrit as the language for his texts.[122] According to Renou, Sanskrit had a limited role in the Theravada tradition (formerly known as the Hinayana) but the Prakrit works that have survived are of doubtful authenticity, some of the canonical fragments of the early Buddhist traditions, discovered in the 20th-century, suggest the early Buddhist traditions did use of imperfect and reasonably good Sanskrit, sometimes with a Pali syntax, states Renou. The Mahāsāṃghika and Mahavastu, in their late Hinayana forms, used hybrid Sanskrit for their literature.[123] Sanskrit was also the language of some of the oldest surviving, authoritative and much followed philosophical works of Jainism such as the Tattvartha Sutra by Umaswati.[124][125]

A 5th-century Sanskrit inscription discovered in Java Indonesia – one of earliest in southeast Asia. The Ciaruteun inscription combines two writing scripts and compares the king to Hindu god Vishnu, it provides a terminus ad quem to the presence of Hinduism in the Indonesian islands. The oldest southeast Asian Sanskrit inscription –- called the Vo-canh inscription – so far discovered is near Nha Trang, Vietnam, and it is dated to the late 2nd-century to early 3rd-century CE.[126][127]

The Sanskrit language has been one of the major means for the transmission of knowledge and ideas in Asian history. Indian texts in Sanskrit were already in China by 402 CE, carried by the influential Buddhist pilgrim Faxian who translated them into Chinese by 418 CE.[128] Xuanzang, another Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, learnt Sanskrit in India and carried 657 Sanskrit texts to China in the 7th-century where he established a major center of learning and language translation under the patronage of Emperor Taizong.[129][130] By the early 1st millennium CE, Sanskrit had spread Buddhist and Hindu ideas to Southeast Asia,[12] parts of the East Asia[13] and the Central Asia.[14] It was accepted as a language of high culture and the preferred language by some of the local ruling elites in these regions.[131] According to the Dalai Lama, the Sanskrit language is a parent language that is at the foundation of many modern languages of India and the one that promoted Indian thought to other distant countries; in Tibetan Buddhism, states the Dalai Lama, Sanskrit language has been a revered one and called legjar lhai-ka or "elegant language of the gods". It has been the means of transmitting the "profound wisdom of Buddhist philosophy" to Tibet.[132]

The Sanskrit language created a pan-Indic accessibility to information and knowledge in the ancient and medieval times, in contrast to the Prakrit languages which were understood just regionally,[108][133] it created a cultural bond across the subcontinent.[133] As local languages and dialects evolved and diversified, Sanskrit served as the common language,[133] it connected scholars from distant parts of the Indian subcontinent such as Tamil Nadu and Kashmir, states Deshpande, as well as those from different fields of studies, though there must have been differences in its pronunciation given the first language of the respective speakers. The Sanskrit language brought Indic people together, particularly its elite scholars,[108] some of these scholars of Indian history regionally produced vernacularized Sanskrit to reach wider audiences, as evidenced by texts discovered in Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. Once the audience became familiar with the easier to understand vernacularized version of Sanskrit, those interested could graduate from colloquial Sanskrit to the more advanced Classical Sanskrit. Rituals and the rites-of-passage ceremonies have been and continue to be the other occasions where a wide spectrum of people hear Sanskrit, and occasionally join in to speak some Sanskrit words such as "namah".[108]

Classical Sanskrit is the standard register as laid out in the grammar of Pāṇini, around the fourth century BCE,[134] its position in the cultures of Greater India is akin to that of Latin and Ancient Greek in Europe.[citation needed] Sanskrit has significantly influenced most modern languages of the Indian subcontinent, particularly the languages of the northern, western, central and eastern Indian subcontinent.[23][24][25]


Sanskrit declined starting about and after the 13th-century,[110][135] this coincides with the beginning of Islamic invasions of the Indian subcontinent to create, thereafter expand the Muslim rule in the form of Sultanates and later the Mughal Empire.[136] With the fall of Kashmir around the 13th-century, a premier center of Sanskrit literary creativity, Sanskrit literature there disappeared,[137] perhaps in the "fires that periodically engulfed the capital of Kashmir" or the "Mongol invasion of 1320" states Sheldon Pollock.[138]:397-398 The Sanskrit literature which was once widely disseminated out of the northwest regions of the subcontinent, stopped after the 12th-century,[138]:398 as Hindu kingdoms fell in the eastern and the South India, such as the great Vijayanagara Empire, so did Sanskrit.[137] There were exceptions and short periods of imperial support for Sanskrit, mostly concentrated during the reign of the tolerant Mughal emperor Akbar.[139] Muslim rulers patronized the Middle Eastern language and scripts found in Persia and Arabia, and the Indians linguistically adapted to this Persianization to gain employment with the Muslim rulers.[140] Hindu rulers such as Shivaji of the Maratha Empire, reversed the process, by re-adopting Sanskrit and re-asserting their socio-linguistic identity.[140][141][142] After Islamic rule disintegrated in the Indian subcontinent and the colonial rule era began, Sanskrit re-emerged but in the form of a "ghostly existence" in regions such as Bengal, this decline was the result of "political institutions and civic ethos" that did not support the historic Sanskrit literary culture.[137]

Scholars are divided on whether or when Sanskrit died. Western authors such as John Snelling state that Sanskrit and Pali are both dead Indian languages.[143] Indian authors such as M Ramakrishnan Nair state that Sanskrit was a dead language by the 1st millennium BCE.[144] Sheldon Pollock states that in some crucial way, "Sanskrit is dead".[138]:393 After the 12th-century, the Sanskrit literary works were reduced to "reinscription and restatements" of ideas already explored, and any creativity was restricted to hymns and verses, this contrasted with the previous 1,500 years when "great experiments in moral and aesthetic imagination" marked the Indian Sanskrit scholarship, states Pollock.[138]:398

Other scholars state that Sanskrit language did not die, only declined. Hanneder disagrees with Pollock, finding his arguments elegant but "often arbitrary". According to Hanneder, a decline or regional absence of creative and innovative literature constitutes a negative evidence to Pollock's hypothesis, but it is not positive evidence. A closer look at Sanskrit in the Indian history after the 12th-century suggests that Sanskrit survived despite the odds. According to Hanneder,[145]

On a more public level the statement that Sanskrit is a dead language is misleading, for Sanskrit is quite obviously not as dead as other dead languages and the fact that it is spoken, written and read will probably convince most people that it cannot be a dead language in the most common usage of the term. Pollock's notion of the "death of Sanskrit" remains in this unclear realm between academia and public opinion when he says that "most observers would agree that, in some crucial way, Sanskrit is dead."

— J. Hanneder[137]

The Sanskrit language, states Moriz Winternitz, was never a dead language and it is still alive though its prevalence is lesser than ancient and medieval times. Sanskrit remains an integral part of Hindu journals, festivals, Ramlila plays, drama, rituals and the rites-of-passage.[146] Similarly, Brian Hatcher states that the "metaphors of historical rupture" by Pollock are not valid, that there is ample proof that Sanskrit was very much alive in the narrow confines of surviving Hindu kingdoms between the 13th and 18th-century, and its reverence and tradition continues.[147]

Hanneder states that modern works in Sanskrit are either ignored or their "modernity" contested.[148][verification needed]

When the British imposed a Western-style education system in India in the 19th century, knowledge of Sanskrit and ancient literature continued to flourish as the study of Sanskrit changed from a more traditional style into a form of analytical and comparative scholarship mirroring that of Europe.[149]

Links to modern Indic languages[edit]

The relationship of Sanskrit to the Prakrit languages, particularly the modern form of Indian languages, is complex and spans about 3,500 years, states Colin Masica – a linguist specializing in South Asian languages. A part of the difficulty is the lack of sufficient textual, archaeological and epigraphical evidence for the ancient Prakrit languages with rare exceptions such as Pali, leading to a tendency of anachronistic errors.[150] Sanskrit and Prakrit languages may be divided into Old Indo-Aryan (1500 BCE-600 BCE), Middle Indo-Aryan (600 BCE-1000 CE) and New Indo-Aryan (1000 CE-current), each can further be subdivided in early, middle or second, and late evolutionary substages.[150]

Vedic Sanskrit belongs to the early Old Indo-Aryan while Classical Sanskrit to the later Old Indo-Aryan stage, the evidence for Prakrits such as Pali (Theravada Buddhism) and Ardhamagadhi (Jainism), along with Magadhi, Maharashtri, Sinhala, Sauraseni and Niya (Gandhari), emerge in the Middle Indo-Aryan stage in two versions – archaic and more formalized – that may be placed in early and middle substages of the 600 BCE-1000 CE period.[150] Two literary Indic languages can be traced to the late Middle Indo-Aryan stage and these are Apabhramsa and Elu (a form of literary Sinhalese). Numerous North, Central, Eastern and Western Indian languages, such as Hindi, Gujarati, Sindhi, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Nepali, Braj, Awadhi, Bengali, Assamese, Oriya, Marathi, and others belong to the New Indo-Aryan stage.[150]

There is extensive overlap in the vocabulary, phonetics and other aspects of these New Indo-Aryan languages with Sanskrit, but it is neither universal nor identical across the languages, they likely emerged from a synthesis of the ancient Sanskrit language traditions and an admixture of various regional dialects. Each language has some unique and regionally creative aspects, with unclear origins. Prakrit languages do have a grammatical structure, but like the Vedic Sanskrit, it is far less rigorous than Classical Sanskrit, the roots of all Prakrit languages may be in the Vedic Sanskrit and ultimately the Indo-Aryan language, they differ from Classical Sanskrit.[22][150]

Contemporary usage[edit]

As a spoken language[edit]

In the 2001 Census of India, 14,135 Indians reported Sanskrit to be their first language.[2]

Indian newspapers have published reports about several villages, where, as a result of recent revival attempts, large parts of the population, including children, are learning Sanskrit and are even using it to some extent in everyday communication:

  1. Mattur, Shimoga district, Karnataka[151]
  2. Jhiri, Rajgarh district, Madhya Pradesh[152]
  3. Ganoda, Banswara district, Rajasthan[153]
  4. Shyamsundarpur, Kendujhar district, Odisha[154]

According to the 2011 national census of Nepal, 1,669 people use Sanskrit as their first language.[155]

In official use[edit]

In India, Sanskrit is among the 22 languages of the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. The state of Uttarakhand in India has ruled Sanskrit as its second official language; in October 2012 social activist Hemant Goswami filed a writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court for declaring Sanskrit as a 'minority' language.[156][157][158]

Contemporary literature and patronage[edit]

More than 3,000 Sanskrit works have been composed since India's independence in 1947.[159] Much of this work has been judged of high quality, in comparison to both classical Sanskrit literature and modern literature in other Indian languages.[160][161]

The Sahitya Akademi has given an award for the best creative work in Sanskrit every year since 1967; in 2009, Satya Vrat Shastri became the first Sanskrit author to win the Jnanpith Award, India's highest literary award.[162]

In music[edit]

Sanskrit is used extensively in the Carnatic and Hindustani branches of classical music. Kirtanas, bhajans, stotras, and shlokas of Sanskrit are popular throughout India. The samaveda uses musical notations in several of its recessions.[163]

In Mainland China, musicians such as Sa Dingding have written pop songs in Sanskrit.[164]

In mass media[edit]

Over 90 weeklies, fortnightlies and quarterlies are published in Sanskrit. Sudharma, a daily newspaper in Sanskrit, has been published out of Mysore, India, since 1970, while Sanskrit Vartman Patram and Vishwasya Vrittantam started in Gujarat during the last five years.[165] Since 1974, there has been a short daily news broadcast on state-run All India Radio,[165] these broadcasts are also made available on the internet on AIR's website.[166][167] Sanskrit news is broadcast on TV and on the internet through the DD National channel at 6:55 AM IST.[168]

In liturgy[edit]

Sanskrit is the sacred language of various Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions, it is used during worship in Hindu temples throughout the world. In Newar Buddhism, it is used in all monasteries, while Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhist religious texts and sutras are in Sanskrit as well as vernacular languages. Jain texts are written in Sanskrit,[169][170] including the Tattvartha sutra, Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra, the Bhaktamara Stotra and the Agamas.

Devi Mahatmya palm-leaf manuscript in an early Bhujimol script in Nepal, 11th century

It is also popular amongst the many practitioners of yoga in the West, who find the language helpful for understanding texts such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[citation needed]

Symbolic usage[edit]

In Nepal, India and Indonesia, Sanskrit phrases are widely used as mottoes for various national, educational and social organisations:

  • India: Satyameva Jayate (सत्यमेव जयते) meaning: Truth alone triumphs.[171]
  • Nepal: Janani Janmabhoomischa Swargadapi Gariyasi meaning: Mother and motherland are superior to heaven.[citation needed]
  • Indonesia:[citation needed] In Indonesia, Sanskrit are usually widely used as terms and mottoes of the armed forces and other national organizations (See: Indonesian Armed Forces mottoes). Rastra Sewakottama (राष्ट्र सेवकोत्तम; People's Main Servants) is the official motto of the Indonesian National Police, Tri Dharma Eka Karma(त्रीधर्म एक कर्म) is the official motto of the Indonesian Military, Kartika Eka Paksi (कार्तिक एक पक्षी; Unmatchable Bird with Noble Goals) is the official motto of the Indonesian Army, Adhitakarya Mahatvavirya Nagarabhakti (अधीतकार्य महत्ववीर्य नगरभक्ती; Hard-working Knights Serving Bravery as Nations Hero") is the official motto of the Indonesian Military Academy, Upakriya Labdha Prayojana Balottama (उपकृया लब्ध प्रयोजन बालोत्तम; "Purpose of The Unit is to Give The Best Service to The Nation by Finding The Perfect Soldier") is the official motto of the Army Psychological Corps, Karmanye Vadikaraste Mafalesu Kadachana (कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन; "Working Without Counting The Profit and Loss") is the official motto of the Air-Force Special Forces (Paskhas), Jalesu Bhumyamcha Jayamahe (जलेशु भूम्यं च जयमहे; "On The Sea and Land We Are Glorious") is the official motto of the Indonesian Marine Corps, and there are more units and organizations in Indonesia either Armed Forces or civil which use the Sanskrit language respectively as their mottoes and other purposes. Although Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country, it still has major Hindu and Indian influence since pre-historic times until now culturally and traditionally especially in the islands of Java and Bali.

Many of India's and Nepal's scientific and administrative terms are named in Sanskrit, the Indian guided missile program that was commenced in 1983 by the Defence Research and Development Organisation has named the five missiles (ballistic and others) that it developed Prithvi, Agni, Akash, Nag and the Trishul missile system. India's first modern fighter aircraft is named HAL Tejas.[citation needed]

Several nations in indosphere of greater India have numerous loan Sanskrit words, such as in Filipino,[172] Cebuano,[173] Lao, Khmer[174] Thai and its alphabets, Malay, Indonesian (old Javanese-English dictionary by P.J. Zoetmulder contains over 25,500 entries), and even in English.

Public education and popularisation[edit]

Adult and continuing education[edit]

Attempts at reviving the Sanskrit language have been undertaken in the Republic of India since its foundation in 1947 (it was included in the 14 original languages of the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution).[citation needed]

Samskrita Bharati is an organisation working for Sanskrit revival. The "All-India Sanskrit Festival" (since 2002) holds composition contests, the 1991 Indian census reported 49,736 fluent speakers of Sanskrit. Sanskrit learning programmes also feature on the lists of most AIR broadcasting centres, the Mattur village in central Karnataka claims to have native speakers of Sanskrit among its population.[175] Inhabitants of all castes learn Sanskrit starting in childhood and converse in the language.[176] Even the local Muslims converse in Sanskrit. Historically, the village was given by king Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire to Vedic scholars and their families, while people in his kingdom spoke Kannada and Telugu. Another effort concentrates on preserving and passing along the oral tradition of the Vedas, is one such organisation based out of Hyderabad that has been digitising the Vedas by recording recitations of Vedic Pandits.[177]

Haryana state has over 24 Sanskrit colleges offering education equivalent to bachelors degree, additionally masters and doctoral level degrees are also offered by the Kurukshetra University and Maharshi Dayanand University.[178]

School curricula[edit]

Sanskrit festival at Pramati Hillview Academy, Mysore, India.

The Central Board of Secondary Education of India (CBSE), along with several other state education boards, has made Sanskrit an alternative option to the state's own official language as a second or third language choice in the schools it governs. In such schools, learning Sanskrit is an option for grades 5 to 8 (Classes V to VIII), this is true of most schools affiliated with the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) board, especially in states where the official language is Hindi. Sanskrit is also taught in traditional gurukulas throughout India.[179]

In the West[edit]

St James Junior School in London, England, offers Sanskrit as part of the curriculum.[180][181] In the United States, since September 2009, high school students have been able to receive credits as Independent Study or toward Foreign Language requirements by studying Sanskrit, as part of the "SAFL: Samskritam as a Foreign Language" program coordinated by Samskrita Bharati;[182] in Australia, the Sydney private boys' high school Sydney Grammar School offers Sanskrit from years 7 through to 12, including for the Higher School Certificate.[183]


A list of Sanskrit universities is given below in chronological order of establishment:

Year Est. Name Location
1791 Government Sanskrit College, Benares Varanasi
1821 Poona Sanskrit College Pune
1824 Sanskrit College, Calcutta Kolkata
1876 Sadvidya Pathashala Mysore
1915 Baroda Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya Vadodara
1961 Kameshwar Singh Darbhanga Sanskrit University Darbhanga
1962 Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha Tirupati
1962 Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha New Delhi
1970 Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan New Delhi
1981 Shri Jagannath Sanskrit University Puri
1986 Nepal Sanskrit University Nepal
1993 Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit Kalady, Kerala
1997 Kavikulaguru Kalidas Sanskrit University Ramtek
2001 Jagadguru Ramanandacharya Rajasthan Sanskrit University Jaipur
2005 Uttarakhand Sanskrit University Haridwar
2005 Shree Somnath Sanskrit University Somnath-Veraval
2008 Maharshi Panini Sanskrit Evam Vedic Vishwavidyalaya Ujjain
2011 Karnataka Samskrit University Bangalore

Many universities throughout the world train and employ Sanskrit scholars, either within a separate Sanskrit department or as part of a broader focus area, such as South Asian studies or Linguistics, for example, Delhi university has about 400 Sanskrit students, about half of which are in post-graduate programmes.[165]

European scholarship[edit]

A poem by the ancient Indian poet Vallana (ca. 900 – 1100 CE) on the side wall of a building at Haagweg 14 in Leiden, Netherlands

European scholarship in Sanskrit, begun by Heinrich Roth (1620–1668) and Johann Ernst Hanxleden (1681–1731), is considered responsible for the discovery of an Indo-European language family by Sir William Jones (1746–1794). This research played an important role in the development of Western philology, or historical linguistics.[184]

Sir William Jones was one of the most influential philologists of his time, he told The Asiatic Society in Calcutta on 2 February 1786:

The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.[185]

British attitudes[edit]

Orientalist scholars of the 18th century like Sir William Jones marked a wave of enthusiasm for Indian culture and for Sanskrit. According to Thomas Trautmann, after this period of "Indomania", a certain hostility to Sanskrit and to Indian culture in general began to assert itself in early 19th century Britain, manifested by a neglect of Sanskrit in British academia. This was the beginning of a general push in favour of the idea that India should be culturally, religiously and linguistically assimilated to Britain as far as possible. Trautmann considers two separate and logically opposite sources for the growing hostility: one was "British Indophobia", which he calls essentially a developmentalist, progressivist, liberal, and non-racial-essentialist critique of Hindu civilisation as an aid for the improvement of India along European lines; the other was scientific racism, a theory of the English "common-sense view" that Indians constituted a "separate, inferior and unimprovable race".[186]


Classical Sanskrit distinguishes about 36 phonemes; the presence of allophony leads the writing systems to generally distinguish 48 phones, or sounds. The sounds are traditionally listed in the order vowels (Ac), diphthongs (Hal), anusvara and visarga, plosives (Sparśa), nasals, and finally the liquids and fricatives, written in the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST) as follows:


a ā i ī u ū ṛ ṝ ḷ ḹ;
e ai o au;
ṃ ḥ


k kh g gh ṅ
c ch j jh ñ
ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh ṇ
t th d dh n
p ph b bh m
y r l v
ś ṣ s h
vedic sanskrit consonants
Labial Dental/
Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɳ ɲ ŋ
voiceless p ʈ k
voiceless aspirated t̪ʰ ʈʰ tʃʰ
voiced b ɖ ɡ
voiced aspirated d̪ʱ ɖʱ dʒʱ ɡʱ
Fricative voiceless s (ʂ) ʃ (x) h
voiced ɦ
Flap plain ɾ (ɽ)
voiced aspirated (ɽʱ)
Approximant ʋ l j

Writing system[edit]

Kashmir Shaiva manuscript in the Śāradā script (c. 17th century)

Sanskrit originated in an oral society, and the oral tradition was maintained through the development of early classical Sanskrit literature,[187] some scholars such as Jack Goody suggest that the Vedic Sanskrit texts are not the product of an oral society, basing this view by comparing inconsistencies in the transmitted versions of literature from various oral societies such as the Greek, Serbian and other cultures, then noting that the Vedic literature is too consistent and vast to have been composed and transmitted orally across generations, without being written down.[188] These scholars add that the Vedic texts likely involved both a written and oral tradition, calling it "parallel products of a literate society".[188][189]

Sanskrit has no native script of its own, and historical evidence suggests that it has been written in various scripts on a variety of media such as palm leaves, cloth, paper, rock and metal sheets, at least by the time of arrival of Alexander the Great in northwestern Indian subcontinent in 1st millennium BCE.[190]

Illustration of Devanagari as used for writing Sanskrit

The earliest known rock inscriptions in Sanskrit date to the first century BCE,[191] and the Junagadh rock inscription of Rudradaman I (c. 150 AD) "represents a turning point" as it is a more "extensive record in the poetic style" of "high Classical Sanskrit".[192] They are in the Brāhmī script, which was originally used for Prakrit, not Sanskrit. It has been described as a paradox that the first evidence of written Sanskrit occurs centuries later than that of the Prakrit languages which are its linguistic descendants;[187] in northern India, there are Brāhmī inscriptions dating from the third century BCE onwards, the oldest appearing on the famous Prakrit pillar inscriptions of king Ashoka. The earliest South Indian Sanskrit inscriptions in Tamil Brahmi, written in Pallava script and later Grantha, belong to the first half of the first millennium CE, the rounded shapes of the Pallava script along with Sanskrit migrated with the Tamils to southeast Asia, where it spread and ultimately evolved into Mon-Burmese, Khmer, Thai, Laos, Sumatran, Celebes, Javanese and Balinese scripts.[193][194]

Sanskrit in modern Indian and other Brahmi scripts: May Śiva bless those who take delight in the language of the gods. (Kālidāsa)

Brahmi evolved into a multiplicity of Brahmic scripts, many of which were used to write Sanskrit. Roughly contemporary with the Brahmi, Kharosthi was used in the northwest of the subcontinent. Sometime between the fourth and eighth centuries, the Gupta script, derived from Brahmi, became prevalent, around the eighth century, the Śāradā script evolved out of the Gupta script. The latter was displaced in its turn by Devanagari in the 11th or 12th century, with intermediary stages such as the Siddhaṃ script; in East India, the Odia alphabet, and the Bengali alphabet, were used.

In the south, where Dravidian languages predominate, scripts used for Sanskrit include the Kannada, Telugu, the Malayalam and Grantha alphabets.[195][196]


Since the late 18th century, Sanskrit has been transliterated using the Latin alphabet, the system most commonly used today is the IAST (International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration), which has been the academic standard since 1888. ASCII-based transliteration schemes have also evolved because of difficulties representing Sanskrit characters in computer systems. These include Harvard-Kyoto and ITRANS, a transliteration scheme that is used widely on the Internet, especially in Usenet and in email, for considerations of speed of entry as well as rendering issues. With the wide availability of Unicode-aware web browsers, IAST has become common online, it is also possible to type using an alphanumeric keyboard and transliterate to Devanagari using software like Mac OS X's international support.

Sanskrit on an 18th-century hemp-based paper.

European scholars in the 19th century generally preferred Devanagari for the transcription and reproduction of whole texts and lengthy excerpts. However, references to individual words and names in texts composed in European Languages were usually represented with Roman transliteration, from the 20th century onwards, because of production costs, textual editions edited by Western scholars have mostly been in Romanised transliteration.[197]


The Sanskrit grammatical tradition, Vyākaraṇa, one of the six Vedangas, began in the late Vedic period and culminated in the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini, which consists of 3990 sutras (ca. fifth century BCE). About a century after Pāṇini (around 400 BCE), Kātyāyana composed Vārtikas on the Pāṇini sũtras. Patanjali, who lived three centuries after Pāṇini, wrote the Mahābhāṣya, the "Great Commentary" on the Aṣṭādhyāyī and Vārtikas. Because of these three ancient Vyākaraṇins (grammarians), this grammar is called Trimuni Vyākarana. To understand the meaning of the sutras, Jayaditya and Vāmana wrote a commentary, the Kāsikā, in 600 CE. Pāṇinian grammar is based on 14 Shiva sutras (aphorisms), where the whole mātrika (alphabet) is abbreviated, this abbreviation is called the Pratyāhara.[198]

Sanskrit verbs are categorized into ten classes, which can be conjugated to form the present, imperfect, imperative, optative, perfect, aorist, future, and conditional moods and tenses. Before Classical Sanskrit, older forms also included a subjunctive mood, each conjugational ending conveys person, number, and voice.[citation needed]

Nouns are highly inflected, including three grammatical genders, three numbers, and eight cases. Nominal compounds are common, and can include over 10 word stems.[citation needed]

Word order is free, though there is a strong tendency toward subject–object–verb, the original system of Vedic prose.[citation needed]

Influence on other languages[edit]

For nearly 2,000 years, Sanskrit was the language of a cultural order that exerted influence across South Asia, Inner Asia, Southeast Asia, and to a certain extent East Asia.[138] A significant form of post-Vedic Sanskrit is found in the Sanskrit of Indian epic poetry—the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the deviations from Pāṇini in the epics are generally considered to be on account of interference from Prakrits, or innovations, and not because they are pre-Paninian.[199] Traditional Sanskrit scholars call such deviations ārṣa (आर्ष), meaning 'of the ṛṣis', the traditional title for the ancient authors; in some contexts, there are also more "prakritisms" (borrowings from common speech) than in Classical Sanskrit proper. Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit is a literary language heavily influenced by the Middle Indo-Aryan languages, based on early Buddhist Prakrit texts which subsequently assimilated to the Classical Sanskrit standard in varying degrees.[200]

Indic languages[edit]

Sanskrit has greatly influenced the languages of India that grew from its vocabulary and grammatical base; for instance, Hindi is a "Sanskritised register" of Hindustani. All modern Indo-Aryan languages, as well as Munda and Dravidian languages have borrowed many words either directly from Sanskrit (tatsama words), or indirectly via middle Indo-Aryan languages (tadbhava words). Words originating in Sanskrit are estimated at roughly fifty percent of the vocabulary of modern Indo-Aryan languages, as well as the literary forms of Malayalam and Kannada.[201] Literary texts in Telugu are lexically Sanskrit or Sanskritised to an enormous extent, perhaps seventy percent or more.[202] Marathi is another prominent language in Western India, that derives most of its words and Marathi grammar from Sanskrit.[203] Sanskrit words are often preferred in the literary texts in Marathi over corresponding colloquial Marathi word.[204]

Interaction with other languages[edit]

A text in Tibetan script suspected to be Sanskrit in content. From the personal artifact collection of Donald Weir.

Sanskrit has also influenced Sino-Tibetan languages, mostly through translations of Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit. Many terms were transliterated directly and added to the Chinese vocabulary. Chinese words like 剎那 chànà (Devanagari: क्षण kṣaṇa 'instantaneous period') were borrowed from Sanskrit. Many Sanskrit texts survive only in Tibetan collections of commentaries to the Buddhist teachings, the Tengyur.[205]

Sanskrit was a language for religious purposes and for the political elite in parts of medieval era Southeast Asia, Central Asia and East Asia;[206] in Southeast Asia, languages such as Thai and Lao contain many loanwords from Sanskrit, as do Khmer. For example, in Thai, Ravana, the emperor of Lanka, is called Thosakanth, a derivation of his Sanskrit name Dāśakaṇṭha "having ten necks".[citation needed]

Many Sanskrit loanwords are also found in Austronesian languages, such as Javanese, particularly the older form in which nearly half the vocabulary is borrowed.[207] Other Austronesian languages, such as traditional Malay and modern Indonesian, also derive much of their vocabulary from Sanskrit. Similarly, Philippine languages such as Tagalog have some Sanskrit loanwords, although more are derived from Spanish. A Sanskrit loanword encountered in many Southeast Asian languages is the word bhāṣā, or spoken language, which is used to refer to the names of many languages.[208] English also has words of Sanskrit origin. Sanskrit has also influenced the religious register of Japanese mostly through transliterations.These were borrowed from Chinese transliterations.[209]

In popular culture[edit]

Satyagraha, an opera by Philip Glass, uses texts from the Bhagavad Gita, sung in Sanskrit.[210][211] The closing credits of The Matrix Revolutions has a prayer from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the song "Cyber-raga" from Madonna's album Music includes Sanskrit chants,[212] and Shanti/Ashtangi from her 1998 album Ray of Light, which won a Grammy, is the ashtanga vinyasa yoga chant.[213] The lyrics include the mantra Om shanti.[214] Composer John Williams featured choirs singing in Sanskrit for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.[215][216][better source needed] The theme song of Battlestar Galactica 2004 is the Gayatri Mantra, taken from the Rigveda,[217] the lyrics of "The Child In Us" by Enigma also contains Sanskrit verses.[218][better source needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The exact pronunciation in Classical Sanskrit is unknown. For alternative pronunciations of , see Anusvara § Sanskrit
  2. ^ The Old Hittite language and Mycenaean Greek, along with the Sanskrit language, are the oldest documented IE languages; of these, Old Hittite is dated to be the oldest.[18][19]
  3. ^ The oldest documented South Asian language is not Sanskrit however. It is the language evidenced by the undeciphered Harrapan script from the 3rd millennium BCE.[18]
  4. ^ More numerous inscribed Sanskrit records in Brahmi have been found near Mathura and elsewhere, but these are from the 1st century CE onwards.[29] Indian texts in Sanskrit were already in China by 402 CE, carried by the influential Buddhist pilgrim Faxian who translated them into Chinese by 418 CE.[30][31]
  5. ^ The Mitanni treaty is generally dated to the 16th-century BCE, but this date and its significance remains much debated.[66]
  6. ^ An example of the shared phrasal equations is the dyaus pita in Vedic Sanskrit, which means "father Heaven". The Mycenaean Greek equivalent is Zeus Pater, which evolved to Jupiter in Latin. Equivalent "paternal Heaven" phrasal equation is found in many Indo-European languages.[70]
  7. ^ Pāṇini's use of the term lipi has been a source of scholarly disagreements. Harry Falk in his 1993 overview states that ancient Indians neither knew nor used writing script, and Pāṇini's mention is likely a reference to Semitic and Greek scripts;[87] in his 1995 review, Salomon questions Falk's arguments and writes it is "speculative at best and hardly constitutes firm grounds for a late date for Kharoṣṭhī. The stronger argument for this position is that we have no specimen of the script before the time of Ashoka, nor any direct evidence of intermediate stages in its development; but of course this does not mean that such earlier forms did not exist, only that, if they did exist, they have not survived, presumably because they were not employed for monumental purposes before Ashoka".[88] According to Hartmut Scharfe, Lipi of Pāṇini may be borrowed from the Old Persian Dipi, in turn derived from Sumerian Dup. Scharfe adds that the best evidence, at the time of his review, is that no script was used in India, aside from the Northwest Indian subcontinent, before around 300 BCE because Indian tradition "at every occasion stresses the orality of the cultural and literary heritage."[89] Kenneth Norman states writing scripts in ancient India evolved over the long period of time like other cultures, that it is unlikely that ancient Indians developed a single complete writing system at one and the same time in the Maurya era, it is even less likely, states Norman, that a writing script was invented during Ashoka's rule, starting from nothing, for the specific purpose of writing his inscriptions and then it was understood all over South Asia where the Ashoka pillars are found.[90] Jack Goody states that ancient India likely had a "very old culture of writing" along with its oral tradition of composing and transmitting knowledge, because the Vedic literature is too vast, consistent and complex to have been entirely created, memorized, accurately preserved and spread without a written system.[91] Falk disagrees with Goody, and suggests that it is a Western presumption and inability to imagine that remarkably early scientific achievements such as Pāṇini's grammar (5th to 4th century BCE), and the creation, preservation and wide distribution of the large corpus of the Brahmanic Vedic literature and the Buddhist canonical literature, without any writing scripts. Johannes Bronkhorst disagrees with Falk, and states, "Falk goes too far, it is fair to expect that we believe that Vedic memorisation — though without parallel in any other human society — has been able to preserve very long texts for many centuries without losing a syllable. (...) However, the oral composition of a work as complex as Pāṇini’s grammar is not only without parallel in other human cultures, it is without parallel in India itself. (...) It just will not do to state that our difficulty in conceiving any such thing is our problem".[92]
  8. ^ Pali is also an extinct language.[104]
  9. ^ The Indian Mission for Manuscripts initiative has already counted over 5 million manuscripts. The thirty million estimate is one of David Pingree, a manuscriptologist and historian. - Peter M. Scharf[113]
  10. ^ A celebrated work on the philosophy of language is the Vakyapadiya by the 5th-century Hindu scholar Bhartrhari.[116][119][120]


  1. ^ Uta Reinöhl (2016). Grammaticalization and the Rise of Configurationality in Indo-Aryan. Oxford University Press. pp. xiv, 1–16. ISBN 978-0-19-873666-0. 
  2. ^ a b "Comparative speaker's strength of scheduled languages − 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001". Census of India, 2001. Office of the Registrar and Census Commissioner, India. Archived from the original on 11 April 2009. Retrieved 31 December 2009. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ ""
  5. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Sanskrit". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  6. ^ a b c d e George Cardona (2012). Sanskrit Language. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 
  7. ^ Tim Murray 2007, pp. v-vi, 1-18, 31-32, 115–116.
  8. ^ a b Harold G. Coward 1990, pp. 3-12, 36-47, 111-112, Note: Sanskrit was both a literary and spoken language in ancient India..
  9. ^ Damien Keown & Charles S. Prebish 2013, p. 15, Quote: "Sanskrit served as the lingua franca of ancient India, just as Latin did in medieval Europe".
  10. ^ a b c d e Deshpande 2011, pp. 218-220.
  11. ^ A. M. Ruppel 2017, pp. 1–2, 102–104.
  12. ^ a b Ramesh Chandra Majumdar 1974, pp. 1–4.
  13. ^ a b Charles Orzech; Henrik Sørensen; Richard Payne (2011). Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia. BRILL Academic. pp. 985–996. ISBN 90-04-18491-0. ; Upendra Thakur (1992). India and Japan, a Study in Interaction During 5th Cent.-14th Cent. A.D. Abhinav Publications. pp. 53–61. ISBN 978-81-7017-289-5. 
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  15. ^ Michael C. Howard 2012, p. 21, Quote: "Sanskrit was another important lingua franca in the ancient world that was widely used in South Asia and in the context of Hindu and Buddhist religions in neighboring areas as well. (...) The spread of South Asian cultural influence to Southeast Asia, meant that Sanskrit was also used in these areas, especially in a religious context and political elites.".
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