The word Sanskrit (संस्कृतम्) written in Devanagari.
|Native speakers||14,000 (2001)|
|Writing system||No native script.
Written in Devanagari, various Brāhmī-based alphabets, Thai in vocabularies, and Latin script
|Official language in|| Uttarakhand, India
One of the 22 scheduled languages of India
Sanskrit (संस्कृतम् saṃskṛtam [sə̃skɹ̩t̪əm], originally संस्कृता वाक् saṃskṛtā vāk, "refined speech") is a historical Indo-Aryan language, the primary liturgical language of Hinduism and a literary and scholarly language in Buddhism and Jainism. Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand. Sanskrit holds a prominent position in Indo-European studies.
The corpus of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of poetry and drama as well as scientific, technical, philosophical and dharma texts. Sanskrit continues to be widely used as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals and Buddhist practice in the forms of hymns and mantras. Spoken Sanskrit is still in use in some villages and a few traditional institutions in India, and there are many attempts at further popularization.
The Sanskrit verbal adjective sáṃskṛta- may be translated as "put together, constructed, well or completely formed; refined, adorned, highly elaborated". It is derived from the root saṃ-skar- "to put together, compose, arrange, prepare", where saṃ- "together" (as English same) and (s)kar- "do, make".
The term in the generic meaning of "made ready, prepared, completed, finished" is found in the Rigveda. Also in Vedic Sanskrit, as nominalized neuter saṃskṛtám, it means "preparation, prepared place" and thus "ritual enclosure, place for a sacrifice".
As a term for "refined or elaborated speech" the adjective appears only in Epic and Classical Sanskrit, in the Manusmriti and in the Mahabharata. The language referred to as saṃskṛta "the cultured language" has by definition always been a "sacred" and "sophisticated" language, used for religious and learned discourse in ancient India, and contrasted with the languages spoken by the people, prākṛta- "natural, artless, normal, ordinary".
Classical Sanskrit is the standard register as laid out in the grammar of Pāṇini, around the 4th century BCE. Its position in the cultures of Greater India is akin to that of Latin and Greek in Europe and it has significantly influenced most modern languages of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
The pre-Classical form of Sanskrit is known as Vedic Sanskrit, with the language of the Rigveda being the oldest and most archaic stage preserved, its oldest core dating back to as early as 1500 BCE. This qualifies Rigvedic Sanskrit as one of the oldest attestations of any Indo-Iranian language, and one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European languages, the family which includes English and most European languages.
Sanskrit, as defined by Pāṇini, had evolved out of the earlier "Vedic" form. The beginning of Vedic Sanskrit can be traced as early as 1500–1200 BCE (for Rig-vedic and Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni). Scholars often distinguish Vedic Sanskrit and Classical or "Pāṇinian" Sanskrit as separate 'dialects'. Though they are quite similar, they differ in a number of essential points of phonology, vocabulary, grammar and syntax. Vedic Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas, a large collection of hymns, incantations (Samhitas), theological and religio-philosophical discussions in the Brahmanas and Upanishads. Modern linguists consider the metrical hymns of the Rigveda Samhita to be the earliest, composed by many authors over several centuries of oral tradition. The end of the Vedic period is marked by the composition of the Upanishads, which form the concluding part of the Vedic corpus in the traditional view; however the early Sutras are Vedic, too, both in language and content. Around the mid-1st millennium BCE, Vedic Sanskrit began the transition from a first language to a second language of religion and learning.
For nearly 2,000 years, a cultural order existed that exerted influence across South Asia, Inner Asia, Southeast Asia, and to a certain extent, East Asia. A significant form of post-Vedic Sanskrit is found in the Sanskrit of the Hindu Epics—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-Paninean. 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 Middle Indic, based on early Buddhist prakrit texts which subsequently assimilated to the Classical Sanskrit standard in varying degrees.
According to Tiwari (1955), there were four principal dialects of classical Sanskrit: paścimottarī (Northwestern, also called Northern or Western),madhyadeśī (lit., middle country), pūrvi (Eastern) and dakṣiṇī (Southern, arose in the Classical period). The predecessors of the first three dialects are even attested in Vedic Brāhmaṇas, of which the first one was regarded as the purest (Kauṣītaki Brāhmaṇa, 7.6).
As a spoken language
The 1991 and 2001, census of India recorded 49,736 and 14,135 persons, respectively, with Sanskrit as their native language. Since the 1990s, efforts to revive spoken Sanskrit have been increasing. Many organizations like the Samskrita Bharati are conducting Speak Sanskrit workshops to popularize the language.
Indian newspapers have published reports about several isolated 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:
- Mattur in Karnataka
- Mohad, District: Narasinhpur, Madhya Pradesh
- Jhiri, District: Rajgadh, Madhya Pradesh
- Kaperan, District: Bundi, Rajasthan
- Khada, District: Banswada, Rajasthan
- Ganoda, District: Banswada, Rajasthan
- Bawali, District: Bagapat, Uttar Pradesh
- Shyamsundarpur, District: Kendujhar, Odisha
In official use
In the Republic of India Sanskrit is included in the 14 original 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 noted social activist Hemant Goswami filed a writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court for declaring Sanskrit as a 'Minority' language, so that it could enjoy special protection as available to minorities under the Constitution of India.
Contemporary literature and patronage
The Sahitya Akademi has had, since 1967, an award for the best creative work written that year in Sanskrit. In 2009, Satyavrat Shastri became the first Sanskrit author to win the Jnanpith Award, India's highest literary award.
In mass media
Over 90 weeklies, fortnightlies and quarterlies are published in Sanskrit. Sudharma, a daily newspaper in Sanskrit has been published out of Mysore in India since the year 1970, while Sanskrit Vartman Patram and Vishwasya Vrittantam were started in Gujarat over the last five years. Since 1974, there has been a short daily news broadcast on state-run All India Radio. These broadcasts are also made available on the internet on AIR's website. Sanskrit news is broadcast on TV and on the internet as part of the DD National channel at 6:55 AM IST.
As a liturgical language
As the liturgical language of Hindus, it is used during worship in Hindu temples throughout the world. Also, in Newar Buddhism, it is used in all the monasteries as liturgical language. It is also popular amongst the many practitioners of yoga in the West, who find the language useful in understanding the Yoga Sutra.
In the Republic of India, in Nepal and Indonesia, Sanskrit phrases are widely used as mottoes for various national, educational and social organizations (much as Latin is used by some institutions in the West). For example:
- Republic of India: 'सत्यमेव जयते' Satyameva Jayate "Truth alone triumphs"
- Nepal: 'जननी जन्मभूमिश्च स्वर्गादपि गरीयसी' Janani Janmabhūmisca Svargādapi garīyasi "Mother and motherland are greater than heaven"
- Aceh Province: 'पञ्चचित' Pancacita "Five Goals"
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 DRDO has named the five missiles (ballistic and others) that it has developed as Prithvi, Agni, Akash, Nag and Trishul. India's first modern fighter aircraft is named HAL Tejas.
Origin and development
In order to explain the common features shared by Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages, many scholars have proposed migration hypotheses asserting that the original speakers of what became Sanskrit arrived in what is now India and Pakistan from the north-west some time during the early second millennium BCE. Evidence for such a theory includes the close relationship of the Indo-Iranian tongues with 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.
The earliest attested Sanskrit texts are Brahmanical texts of the Rigveda, which date to the mid-to-late second millennium BCE. No written records from such an early period survive, if ever existed. However, 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.
From the Rigveda until the time of Pāṇini (fl. 4th century BCE) the development of the early Vedic language may be observed in other Vedic texts: the Samaveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, Brahmanas, and Upanishads. During this time, the prestige of the language, its use for sacred purposes, and the importance attached to its correct enunciation all served as powerful conservative forces resisting the normal processes of linguistic change. However, there is a clear, five-level linguistic development of Vedic from the Rigveda to the language of the Upanishads and the earliest Sutras (such as Baudhayana).
Standardization by Panini
The oldest surviving Sanskrit grammar is Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī ("Eight-Chapter Grammar"). 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.
Classical Sanskrit became fixed with the grammar of Panini (roughly 500 BC), and remains in use as a learned language until the present day.
Coexistence with vernacular languages
The term "Sanskrit" was not thought of as a specific language set apart from other languages, but rather as a particularly refined or perfected manner of speaking. Knowledge of Sanskrit was a marker of social class and educational attainment in ancient India and the language was taught mainly to members of the higher castes, through close analysis of Sanskrit grammarians such as Pāṇini and patanjali, who exhorted that one should speak proper Sanskrit at all times, and at least during ritual. Sanskrit, as the learned language of Ancient India, thus existed alongside the Prakrits (vernaculars), also called Middle Indic dialects, and eventually into the contemporary modern Indo-Aryan languages.
Over the centuries, the Prakrits underwent language change to a degree that vernaculars and Sanskrit ceased to be intercomprehensible and had to be learned as a separate language, rather than a distinguished or noble register of the popular language. This transition was completed by the Early Middle Ages (Middle Indic), but a significant number of the elite remained fluent in Sanskrit, a situation directly comparable to the role of Latin in Medieval Europe.
Prakrits dominated in Magadh, the eastern part of India during the time of Buddha and Mahavira, one of which was likely the ancestor of Pali. Apparently in Gandhara the language remained particularly close to Sanskrit for a long time. Mahmud the Gazanavi used Sanskrit on his coins, and Sanskrit was in use as an official language during early Muslim rule in Kashmir.
Patronage and use by the upper classes
Some kings patronized Sanskrit poets. Rashtrakuta King Amoghavarsha is said to have composed a Sanskrit text. Parmara King Bhoja (1010–1053) himself composed and supervised composition of Sanskrit texts. That suggests that Sanskrit was widely spoken and understood in that period by the elite.
In the medieval era, Sanskrit continued to be spoken and written, particularly by learned Brahmins for scholarly communication. This was a thin layer of Indian society, but covered a wide geography. Centers like Varanasi, paithan, Pune, and Kanchipuram had a strong presence of teaching and debating institutions, and high classical Sanskrit was maintained until British times.
Use of Sanskrit lingered on in Kashmir even during the Muslim period as is observed by use of Sanskrit on Muslim tombstones and in official documents.
There are a number of sociolinguistic studies of spoken Sanskrit which strongly suggest that oral use of Sanskrit is limited, with its development having ceased sometime in the past. Pollock (2001), says "most observers would agree that, in some crucial way, Sanskrit is dead". Pollock has further argued that, while Sanskrit continued to be used in literary cultures in India, Sanskrit was not used to express changing forms of subjectivity and sociality embodied and conceptualized in the modern age. Instead, it was reduced to "reinscription and restatements" of ideas already explored, and any creativity in Sanskrit was restricted to hymns and verses. He describes it in comparison with the "dead" language of Latin:
Both died slowly, and earliest as a vehicle of literary expression, while much longer retaining significance for learned discourse with its universalist claims. Both were subject to periodic renewals or forced rebirths, sometimes in connection with a politics of translocal aspiration... At the same time... both came to be ever more exclusively associated with narrow forms of religion and priestcraft, despite centuries of a secular aesthetic.
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”—Hanneder (2002:294)
Hanneder (2009) argues that modern works in Sanskrit are either ignored or their "modernity" contested.
When the British imposed a Western-style education system in India in the nineteenth 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.
Public education and popularization
Adult and continuing education
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).
Many organizations like the Samskrta Bharati are conducting Speak Sanskrit workshops to popularize the language. The "All-India Sanskrit Festival" (since 2002) holds composition contests. The 1991 Indian census reported 49,736 fluent speakers of Sanskrit. All India Radio transmits news bulletins in Sanskrit twice a day across the nation. Besides, Sanskrit learning programmes also feature on the list of most of the AIR broadcasting centres. The Mattur village in central Karnataka claims to have native speakers of Sanskrit among its population. Inhabitants of all castes learn Sanskrit starting in childhood and converse in the language. Even the local Muslims speak and converse in Sanskrit. Historically, the village was given by king Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire to Vedic scholars and their families. People in his kingdom spoke Kannada and Telugu(Tuluva). Another effort concentrates on the preservation of oral transmission of the Vedas. Shri Vedabharathi is one such organization based out of Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh that has been digitizing the Vedas through voice recording the recitations of Vedic Pandits.
Samskrita Bharati is an organization working for Sanskrit revival. It is a tax exempt nonprofit organization with its headquarters in New Delhi, India. The International Centre, “Aksharam,” a complex located in Bangalore, India, is its international centre. It houses a research wing, a library, audio-visual lab, and staff quarters. It also has several state-units spread across the country both in the US and India. The US chapter is a registered nonprofit tax-exempt organization with its headquarters in San Jose, California.
The CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) of India has made Sanskrit a third language (though it is an option for the school to adopt it or not, the other choice being the state's own official language) 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 to the ICSE board too, especially in those states where the official language is Hindi. Sanskrit is also taught in traditional gurukulas throughout India.
In the west
St. James Junior School offers Sanskrit as part of the curriculum. Students from this school are fluent in both spoken Sanskrit and in chanting Sanskrit mantras. In USA, since Sep 2009, high school students have been able receive credits (as Independent Study or towards Foreign Language requirements) by studying Sanskrit, as part of the "SAFL: Samskritam as a Foreign Language" program coordinated by Samskrita Bharati.
A list of Sanskrit universities is given below in chronological order:
|1||1791||Sampurnanand Sanskrit University||Varnasi||Uttar Pradesh|
|2||1961||Kameshwar Singh Darbhanga Sanskrit University||Darbhanga||Bihar|
|3||1962||Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha||Tirupati|
|4||1962||Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha||New Delhi||Central Govt|
|5||1970||Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan||New Delhi||Central Govt||Multi Campus|
|6||1981||Shri Jagannath Sanskrit Vishvavidayalaya||Puri||Odisha|
|7||1993||Sree Sankaracharya University
|8||1997||Kaviguru Kalidas Sanskrit University||Ramtek, (Nagpur)||Maharashtra|
Rajasthan Sanskrit University
|10||2005||Shree Somnath Sanskrit University||Somnath-Veraval,
|11||2008||Maharshi Panini Sanskrit
Evam Vedic Vishwavidyalaya
|5||2011||Karnataka Samskrit University||Bangalore||Karnataka|
Within other universities
Besides this, many universities throughout the world train and employ Sanskrit scholars - either within a separate Sanskrit department, or within a broader focus area - for example, in South Asian studies/linguistics departments in universities across the West. For example, Delhi university has about 400 Sanskrit students, out of which about half are reading it in post-graduation programmes.
European scholarship in Sanskrit, begun by Heinrich Roth(1620–1668) and Johann Ernst Hanxleden (1681–1731), is regarded as responsible for the discovery of the Indo-European language family by Sir William Jones. This scholarship played an important role in the development of Western philology, or historical linguistics.
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 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.
According to Thomas R. Trautmann, after the 18th-century wave of "Indomania", i.e. enthusiasm for Indian culture and for Sanskrit, as exemplified in the positions of Orientalist scholars such as Sir William Jones, a certain hostility to Sanskrit and to Indian culture in general began to assert itself in Britain in the early 19th century. The hostility was manifest by a neglect of Sanskrit in British academia, as compared to other European countries, and was part of a general push in favor of the idea that India should be culturally, religiously and linguistically assimilated to Britain as far as possible. Traufmann considers that this British hostility to Sanskrit had two separate and logically opposite sources: one was "British Indophobia", which he calls essentially a developmentalist, progressivist, liberal, and non-racial-essentialist critique of Hindu civilization as an aid for the improvement of India along European lines. The other was race science, which was a theorisation of the English "common-sense view" that Indians constituted a "separate, inferior and unimprovable race".
The sounds are traditionally listed in the order vowels (Ach), diphthongs (Hal), anusvara and visarga, plosives (Sparśa) and nasals (starting in the back of the mouth and moving forward), and finally the liquids and fricatives, written in 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
The vowels of Classical Sanskrit written in Devanagari, as a syllable-initial letter and as a diacritic mark on the consonant प् (/p/), pronunciation transcribed in IPA, IAST, and approximate equivalent in English:
|n न [n̪]||ṇ ण [ɳ ]||(ñ ञ [ ɲ])||ṅ ङ [ŋ]|
|v व [w]||y य [j]|
|l ल [l̪]||r र [ɽ][dubious ]|
|s स [s̪]||ṣ ष [ʂ]||ś श [ɕ]||ḥ ः [h]||h ह [ɦ]|
The table below shows the traditional listing of the Sanskrit consonants with the (nearest) equivalents in English (as pronounced in General American and Received Pronunciation or the Indian English pronunciation if specified), French and Spanish. Each consonant shown below is deemed to be followed by the neutral vowel schwa (/ə/), and is named in the table as such.
/kə/; English: skip
/kʰə/; English: cow
/ɡə/; English: game
/ɡʱə/; no equivalent
/ŋə/; English: ring
/cə/; no equivalent
/cʰə/; no equivalent
/ɟə/; no equivalent
/ɟʱə/; no equivalent
[ ɲə]; French: agneau, Spanish ñ
/ʈə/; English: stop
/ʈʰə/; English: time
/ɖə/; English (Indian): door
/ɖʱə/; no equivalent
/ɳə/; no English equivalent
/t̪ə/; French, Spanish: tomate
/t̪ʰə/; Aspirated /t̪/
/d̪ə/; French: dans, Spanish donde
/d̪ʱə/; Aspirated /d̪/
/n̪ə/; English name
/pə/; English: spin
/pʰə/; English: pork
/bə/; English: bone
/bʱə/; no equivalent
/mə/; English: mine
/jə/; English: you
/ɽə/; no equivalent
/l̪ə/; French, Spanish: la
/wə/; English w
/ɕə/; similar to English: ship
/ʂə/; Retroflex form of /ʃ/
/s̪ə/; English: same
/ɦə/; English ahead
Vedic Sanskrit had pitch accent: Some syllables had a high tone, and the following syllable a falling tone, though through ellipsis a falling tone may occur elsewhere.
Classical Sanskrit ...
Phonology and sandhi
The Sanskrit vowels are as discussed in the section above. The long syllabic l (ḹ) is not attested, and is only discussed by grammarians for systematic reasons. Its short counterpart ḷ occurs in a single root only, kḷp "to order, array". Long syllabic r (ṝ) is also quite marginal, occurring in the genitive plural of r-stems (e.g. mātṛ "mother" and pitṛ "father" have gen.pl. mātṝṇām and pitṝṇām). i, u, ṛ, ḷ are vocalic allophones of consonantal y, v, r, l. There are thus only 5 invariably vocalic phonemes,
- a, ā, ī, ū, ṝ.
Visarga ḥ ः is an allophone of r and s, and anusvara ṃ, Devanagari ं of any nasal, both in pausa (i.e., the nasalized vowel). The exact pronunciation of the three sibilants may vary, but they are distinct phonemes. An aspirated voiced sibilant /zʱ/ was inherited by Indo-Aryan from Proto-Indo-Iranian but lost shortly before the time of the Rigveda (aspirated fricatives are exceedingly rare in any language). The retroflex consonants are somewhat marginal phonemes, often being conditioned by their phonetic environment; they do not continue a PIE series and are often ascribed by some linguists to the substratal influence of Dravidian or other substrate languages. The nasal [ɲ] is a conditioned allophone of /n/ (/n/ and /ɳ/ are distinct phonemes—aṇu 'minute', 'atomic' [nom. sg. neutr. of an adjective] is distinctive from anu 'after', 'along'; phonologically independent /ŋ/ occurs only marginally, e.g. in prāṅ 'directed forwards/towards' [nom. sg. masc. of an adjective]). There are thus 31 consonantal or semi-vocalic phonemes, consisting of four/five kinds of stops realized both with or without aspiration and both voiced and voiceless, three nasals, four semi-vowels or liquids, and four fricatives, written in IAST transliteration as follows:
- k, kh, g, gh; c, ch, j, jh; ṭ, ṭh, ḍ, ḍh; t, th, d, dh; p, ph, b, bh; m, n, ṇ; y, r, l, v; ś, ṣ, s, h
or a total of 36 unique Sanskrit phonemes altogether.
The phonological rules which are applied when combining morphemes to a word, and when combining words to a sentence, are collectively called sandhi "composition". Texts are written phonetically, with sandhi applied (except for the so-called padapāṭha).
Sanskrit was spoken in an oral society, and the oral tradition was maintained through the development of early classical Sanskrit literature. Writing was not introduced to India until after Sanskrit had evolved into the Prakrits; when it was written, the choice of writing system was influenced by the regional scripts of the scribes. Therefore, Sanskrit has no native script of its own. As such, virtually all of the major writing systems of South Asia have been used for the production of Sanskrit manuscripts. Since the late 19th century, Devanagari has become the de facto standard writing system for Sanskrit publication, quite possibly because of the European practice of printing Sanskritic texts in this script. Devanāgari is written from left to right, lacks distinct letter cases, and is recognizable by a distinctive horizontal line running along the tops of the letters that links them together.
The earliest known inscriptions in Sanskrit date to the 1st century BCE. They are in the Brahmi 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. When Sanskrit was written down, it was first used for texts of an administrative, literary or scientific nature. The sacred texts were preserved orally, and were set down in writing, "reluctantly" (according to one commentator), and at a comparatively late date.
Brahmi evolved into a multiplicity of scripts of the Brahmic family, many of which were used to write Sanskrit. Roughly contemporary with the Brahmi, the Kharosthi script was used in the northwest of the subcontinent. Later (around the 4th to 8th centuries CE) the Gupta script, derived from Brahmi, became prevalent. From ca. the 8th century, the Sharada script evolved out of the Gupta script. The latter was displaced in its turn by Devanagari from ca. the 11/12th century, with intermediary stages such as the Siddham script. In Eastern India, the Bengali script and, later, the Oriya script, were used. In the south where Dravidian languages predominate, scripts used for Sanskrit include Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Grantha.
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 1888/1912. ASCII-based transliteration schemes have evolved due to 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.
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, due to production costs, textual editions edited by Western scholars have mostly been in Romanized transliteration.
Sanskrit grammatical tradition (vyākaraṇa, one of the six Vedanga disciplines) began in late Vedic India and culminated in the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini, which consists of 3990 sutras (ca. 5th century BCE). About a century after Pāṇini (around 400 BCE) Kātyāyana composed Vārtikas on Pāṇinian sũtras. Patañjali, who lived three centuries after Pāṇini, wrote the Mahābhāṣya, the "Great Commentary" on the Aṣṭādhyāyī and Vārtikas. Because of these three ancient Sanskrit grammarians this grammar is called Trimuni Vyākarana. To understand the meaning of sutras Jayaditya and Vāmana wrote the commentary named Kāsikā 600 CE. Pāṇinian grammar is based on 14 Shiva sutras (aphorisms). Here whole Mātrika (alphabet) is abbreviated. This abbreviation is called Pratyāhara.
Sanskrit has ten classes of verbs divided into in two broad groups: athematic and thematic. The thematic verbs are so called because an a, called the theme vowel, is inserted between the stem and the ending. This serves to make the thematic verbs generally more regular. Exponents used in verb conjugation include prefixes, suffixes, infixes, and reduplication. Every root has (not necessarily all distinct) zero, guṇa, and vṛddhi grades. If V is the vowel of the zero grade, the guṇa-grade vowel is traditionally thought of as a + V, and the vṛddhi-grade vowel as ā + V.
The verb tenses (a very inexact application of the word, since more distinctions than simply tense are expressed) are organized into four 'systems' (as well as gerunds and infinitives, and such creatures as intensives/frequentatives, desideratives, causatives, and benedictives derived from more basic forms) based on the different stem forms (derived from verbal roots) used in conjugation. There are four tense systems:
- Present (Present, Imperfect, Imperative, Optative)
- Future (Future, Conditional)
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.
The number of actual declensions is debatable. Pāṇini identifies six karakas corresponding to the nominative, accusative, dative, instrumental, locative, and ablative cases. Pāṇini defines them as follows (Ashtadhyayi, I.4.24–54):
- Apadana (lit. 'take off'): "(that which is) firm when departure (takes place)." This is the equivalent of the ablative case, which signifies a stationary object from which movement proceeds.
- Sampradana ('bestowal'): "he whom one aims at with the object". This is equivalent to the dative case, which signifies a recipient in an act of giving or similar acts.
- Karana ("instrument") "that which effects most." This is equivalent to the instrumental case.
- Adhikarana ('location'): or "substratum." This is equivalent to the locative case.
- Karman ('deed'/'object'): "what the agent seeks most to attain". This is equivalent to the accusative case.
- Karta ('agent'): "he/that which is independent in action". This is equivalent to the nominative case. (On the basis of Scharfe, 1977: 94)
Personal pronouns and determiners
The first and second person pronouns are declined for the most part alike, having by analogy assimilated themselves with one another. Where two forms are given, the second is enclitic and an alternative form. Ablatives in singular and plural may be extended by the syllable -tas; thus mat or mattas, asmat or asmattas. Sanskrit does not have true third person pronouns, but its demonstratives fulfill this function instead by standing independently without a modified substantive.
There are four different demonstratives in Sanskrit: tat, etat, idam, and adas. etat indicates greater proximity than tat. While idam is similar to etat, adas refers to objects that are more remote than tat. eta, is declined almost identically to ta. Its paradigm is obtained by prefixing e- to all the forms of ta. As a result of sandhi, the masculine and feminine singular forms transform into eṣas and eṣã.
The enclitic pronoun ena is found only in a few oblique cases and numbers. Interrogative pronouns all begin with k-, and decline just as tat does, with the initial t- being replaced by k-. The only exception to this are the singular neuter nominative and accusative forms, which are both kim and not the expected *kat. For example, the singular feminine genitive interrogative pronoun, "of whom?", is kasyãḥ. Indefinite pronouns are formed by adding the participles api, cid, or cana after the appropriate interrogative pronouns. All relative pronouns begin with y-, and decline just as tat does. The correlative pronouns are identical to the tat series.
In addition to the pronouns described above, some adjectives follow the pronominal declension. Unless otherwise noted, their declension is identical to tat.
- eka: "one", "a certain". (singular neuter nominative and accusative forms are both ekam)
- anya: "another".
- sarva: "all", "every". (singular neuter nominative and accusative forms are both sarvam)
- para: "the other". (singular neuter nominative and accusative forms are both param)
- sva: "self" (a reflexive adjective). (singular neuter nominative and accusative forms are both svam)
One other notable feature of the nominal system is the very common use of nominal compounds, which may be huge (10+ words) as in some modern languages such as German and Finnish. Nominal compounds occur with various structures, however morphologically speaking they are essentially the same. Each noun (or adjective) is in its (weak) stem form, with only the final element receiving case inflection. The four principle categories of nominal compounds are:
- Dvandva (co-ordinative)
- These consist of two or more noun stems, connected in sense with 'and'. Examples are rāma-lakşmaņau—Rama and Lakshmana, rāma-lakşmaņa-bharata-śatrughnāh—Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna, and pāņipādam—limbs, literally hands and feet, from pāņi = hand and pāda = foot.
- Tatpuruṣa (determinative)
- There are many tatpuruṣas; in a tatpuruṣa the first component is in a case relationship with another. For example, a doghouse is a dative compound, a house for a dog; other examples include instrumental relationships ("thunderstruck") and locative relationships ("towndwelling").
- Karmadhāraya (descriptive)
- A compound where the relation of the first member to the last is appositional, attributive or adverbial; e.g., uluka-yatu (owl+demon) is a demon in the shape of an owl. Karmadhārayas are considered by some to be tatpuruṣas.
- Bahuvrīhi (possessive/exocentric)
- Bahuvrīhi compounds refer to a compound noun that refers to a thing which is itself not part of the compound. For example the word bahuvrīhi itself, from bahu = much and vrīhi = rice, denotes a rich person—one who has much rice.
Because of Sanskrit's complex declension system the word order is free. In usage, there is a strong tendency toward subject–object–verb (SOV), which was the original system in place in Vedic prose. However, there are exceptions when word pairs cannot be transposed.
The numbers from one to ten:
The numbers one through four are declined. Éka is declined like a pronominal adjective, though the dual form does not occur. Dvá appears only in the dual. Trí and catúr are declined irregularly:
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- Academic Courses on Sanskrit Around The World
- Samskrita Bharati, organization promoting Sanskrit
- Sanskrit Alphabet in Devanagari, Gujarati, Bengali, and Thai scripts with an extensive list of Devanagari, Gujarati, and Bengali conjuncts
- Romanized Nepali Unicode Keyboard developed by OOPSLite Technologies
- Sanskrit transliteration software with font conversion to Latin and other Indian Languages
- Sanskrit Documents — Documents in ITX format of Upanishads, Stotras etc. and a metasite with links to translations, dictionaries, tutorials, tools and other Sanskrit resources.
- Gretil: Göttingen Register of Electronic Texts in Indian Languages — a cumulative register of the numerous download sites for electronic texts in Indian languages.
- Gaudiya Grantha Mandira — A Sanskrit Text Repository. This site also provides encoding converter.
- Sanskrit texts at Sacred Text Archive
- Digital Library of India at Ernet.in and IIIT.in — scanned/OCRed copies of public-domain books
- A Practical Sanskrit Introductory by Charles Wikner
- Sanskrit Self Study by Chitrapur Math
- An Analytical Cross Referenced Sanskrit Grammar By Lennart Warnemyr