Sanskrit (संस्कृतम् saṃskṛtam, properly संस्कृता वाक् saṃskṛtā vāk, later also संस्कृतभाषा saṃskṛtabhāṣā, "refined speech"), is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism and Buddhism. Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand.
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 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 language family, the family which includes English and most European languages.
The corpus of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of poetry and drama as well as scientific, technical, philosophical and Hindu religious texts. Sanskrit continues to be widely used as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals in the forms of hymns and mantras. Spoken Sanskrit is still in use in a few traditional institutions in India and there are many attempts at revival.
The word 'Saṃskṛtaṃ' (object form of 'Sanskrit') in Devanagari script
The Sanskrit verbal adjective saṃskṛta- may be translated as "put together", "well or completely formed", "refined", "highly elaborated". It is derived from the root saṃ(s)kar- "to put together, compose, arrange, prepare", where saṃ- "together" (as English same) and (s)kar- "do, make". 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". It is also called dēva-bhāṣā meaning the "divine language" or the "language of devas or demigods".
Devimahatmya manuscript on palm-leaf, in an early Bhujimol script, Bihar or Nepal, 11th century.
Sanskrit is a member of the Indo-Iranian sub-family of the Indo-European family of languages. Its closest ancient relatives are the Iranian languages Old Persian and Avestan. Within the wider Indo-European language family, Sanskrit shares characteristic sound changes with the Satem languages (particularly the Slavic and Baltic languages), and also with Greek.
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 Finno-Ugric languages, and the nature of the attested Indo-European words for flora and fauna.
The earliest attested Sanskrit texts are Hindu texts of the Rigveda, which date to the mid-to-late second millennium BCE. No written records from such an early period survive. 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 Sanskrit language may be observed in other Hindu 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.
The oldest surviving Sanskrit grammar is Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī ("Eight-Chapter Grammar"). It is essentially a prescriptive grammar, i.e., an authority that defines (rather than describes) correct Sanskrit, although it contains descriptive parts, mostly to account for some Vedic forms the use of which had become rare in Pāṇini's time.
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. Sanskrit, as the learned language of Ancient India, thus existed alongside the Prakrits (vernaculars), which evolved into the Middle Indic dialects, and eventually into the contemporary modern Indo-Aryan languages.
Main article: Vedic Sanskrit
Sanskrit, as defined by Pāṇini, had evolved out of the earlier "Vedic" form. The beginning of Vedic Sanskrit can be traced as early as around 1500 BCE (the accepted date of the Rig-Veda). 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 discussions, and religio-philosophical discussions (Brahmanas, Upanishads) which are the earliest religious texts of the Hindu religion. Modern linguists consider the metrical hymns of the Rigveda Samhita to be the earliest, composed by many authors over 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 compilations. Around the mid 1st millennium BCE, Sanskrit began the transition from a first language to a second language of religion and learning, marking the beginning of the Classical period.
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 aarsha (आर्ष), or "of the rishis", 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 Middle Indic literary language based on early Buddhist prakrit texts which subsequently assimilated to the Classical Sanskrit standard in varying degree.
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).
See also: Termination of spoken Sanskrit
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. Accordingly, says Pollock (2001), "most observers would agree that, in some crucial way, Sanskrit is dead". 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.
The decline of Sanskrit use in literary and political circles was likely due to a weakening of the political institutions that supported it, and to heightened competition with vernacular languages seeking literary-cultural dignity. There was regional variation in the forcefulness of these vernacular movements and Sanskrit declined in different ways across the Indian subcontinent. For example, in Kashmir, Kashmiri was used alongside Sanskrit as the language of literature after the 13th century, and Sanskrit works from the Vijayanagara Empire failed to circulate outside their place and time of composition. By contrast, works in Kannada and Telugu flourished.
Despite this presumed "death" of Sanskrit and the literary use of vernacular languages, Sanskrit continued to be used in literary cultures in India, and those who could read vernacular languages could also read Sanskrit. It did mean that 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 religious hymns and verses.
Hanneder (2002) and Hatcher (2007) contest Pollock's characterization, pointing out that modern works continue to be produced in Sanskrit:
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 (2009) argues that modern works in Sanskrit are either ignored or their "modernity" contested. 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.
See also: Sanskrit in the West and Sanskrit revival
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.
Sir William Jones, speaking to the Asiatic Society in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on February 2, 1786, said:
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.
Further information: Śikṣā
Classical Sanskrit distinguishes about 36 phonemes. There is, however, some allophony and the writing systems used for Sanskrit generally indicate this, thus distinguishing 48 sounds.
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 (see the tables below for details):
- 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
An alternate traditional ordering is that of the Shiva Sutra of Pāṇini.
See also: R-colored vowel#Vocalic R in Sanskrit
The vowels of Classical Sanskrit with their word-initial Devanagari symbol, diacritical mark with the consonant प् (/p/), pronunciation (of the vowel alone and of /p/+vowel) in IPA, equivalent in IAST and (approximate) equivalents in English are listed below:
|Letter||प्||Pronunciation||Pronunciation with /p/||IAST equiv.||English equivalent (GA unless stated otherwise)|
|अ||प||/ɐ/ or /ə/||/pɐ/ or /pə/||a||short near-open central vowel or schwa: u in bunny or a in about|
|आ||पा||/ɑː/||/pɑː/||ā||long open back unrounded vowel: a in father (RP)|
|इ||पि||/i/||/pi/||i||short close front unrounded vowel: e in england|
|ई||पी||/iː/||/piː/||ī||long close front unrounded vowel: ee in feet|
|उ||पु||/u/||/pu/||u||short close back rounded vowel: oo in foot|
|ऊ||पू||/uː/||/puː/||ū||long close back rounded vowel: oo in cool|
|ऋ||पृ||/ɻ/||/pɻ/||ṛ||short retroflex approximant: r in run|
|ॠ||पॄ||/ɻː/||/pɻː/||ṝ||long retroflex approximant r in run|
|ऌ||पॢ||/ɭ/||/pɭ/||ḷ||short retroflex lateral approximant (no English equivalent)|
|ॡ||पॣ||/ɭː/||/pɭː/||ḹ||long retroflex lateral approximant|
|ए||पे||/eː/||/peː/||e||long close-mid front unrounded vowel: a in bane (some speakers)|
|ऐ||पै||/əi/||/pəi/||ai||a long diphthong: i in ice, i in kite (Canadian and Scottish English)|
|ओ||पो||/oː/||/poː/||o||long close-mid back rounded vowel: o in bone (some speakers)|
|औ||पौ||/əu/||/pəu/||au||a long diphthong: Similar to the ou in house (Canadian English)|
The long vowels are pronounced twice as long as their short counterparts. Also, there exists a third, extra-long length for most vowels, called pluti, which is used in various cases, but particularly in the vocative. The pluti is not accepted by all grammarians.
The vowels /e/ and /o/ continue as allophonic variants of Proto-Indo-Iranian /ai/, /au/ and are categorized as diphthongs by Sanskrit grammarians even though they are realized phonetically as simple long vowels. (See above).
- There are some additional signs traditionally listed in tables of the Devanagari script:
- The diacritic ं called anusvāra, (IAST: ṃ). It is used both to indicate the nasalization of the vowel in the syllable ([◌̃] and to represent the sound of a syllabic /n/ or /m/; e.g. पं /pəŋ/.
- The diacritic ः called visarga, represents /əh/ (IAST: ḥ); e.g. पः /pəh/.
- The diacritic ँ called chandrabindu, not traditionally included in Devanagari charts for Sanskrit, is used interchangeably with the anusvāra to indicate nasalization of the vowel, primarily in Vedic notation; e.g. पँ /pə̃/.
- If a lone consonant needs to be written without any following vowel, it is given a halanta/virāma diacritic below (प्).
- The vowel /aː/ in Sanskrit is realized as being more central and less back than the closest English approximation, which is /ɑː/. But the grammarians have classified it as a back vowel.
- The ancient Sanskrit grammarians classified the vowel system as velars, retroflexes, palatals and plosives rather than as back, central and front vowels. Hence ए and ओ are classified respectively as palato-velar (a+i) and labio-velar (a+u) vowels respectively. But the grammarians have classified them as diphthongs and in prosody, each is given two mātrās. This does not necessarily mean that they are proper diphthongs, but neither excludes the possibility that they could have been proper diphthongs at a very ancient stage (see above). These vowels are pronounced as long /eː/ and /oː/ respectively by learned Sanskrit Brahmans and priests of today. Other than the "four" diphthongs, Sanskrit usually disallows any other diphthong—vowels in succession, where they occur, are converted to semivowels according to sandhi rules.
IAST and Devanagari notations are given, with approximate IPA values in square brackets.
|p प [p]||b ब [b]||t त [t̪]||d द [d̪]||ṭ ट [ʈ]||ḍ ड [ɖ]||c च [c͡ç]||j ज [ɟ͡ʝ]||k क [k]||g ग [ɡ]|
|ph फ [pʰ]||bh भ [bʱ]||th थ [t̪ʰ]||dh ध [d̪ʱ]||ṭh ठ [ʈʰ]||ḍh ढ [ɖʱ]||ch छ [c͡çʰ]||jh झ [ɟ͡ʝʱ]||kh ख [kʰ]||gh घ [ɡʱ]|
|m म [m]||n न [n̪]||ṇ ण [ɳ]||ñ ञ [ɲ]||ṅ ङ [ŋ]|
|v व [ʋ]||y य [j]|
|l ल [l]||r र [r]|
|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) 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: cat
/ɡə/; English: game
/ɡʱə/; somewhat similar to English: doghouse
/ŋə/; English: ring
/cə/; English: exchange
/cʰə/; English: church
/ɟə/; ≈English: jam
/ɟʱə/; somewhat similar to English: hedgehog
/ɲə/; English: bench
/ʈə/; No English equivalent
/ʈʰə/; No English equivalent
/ɖə/; No English equivalent
/ɖʱə/; No English equivalent
/ɳə/; No English equivalent
/t̪ə/; Spanish: tomate
/t̪ʰə/; Aspirated /t̪/
/d̪ə/; Spanish: donde
/d̪ʱə/; Aspirated /d̪/
/n̪ə/; English: name
/pə/; English: spin
/pʰə/; English: pit
/bə/; English: bone
/bʱə/; somewhat similar to English: clubhouse
/mə/; English: mine
/jə/; English: you
/rə/; English: trip
/l̪ə/; English: love
/ʋə/; English: vase
/ɕə/; English: ship
/ʂə/; Retroflex form of /ʃ/
/s̪ə/; English: same
/ɦə/; English behind
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).
Kashmiri Shaivaite manuscript in the Sharada script (c. 17th century)
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. 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 been considered as the de facto writing system for Sanskrit, quite possibly because of the European practice of printing Sanskrit texts in this script. Devanagari 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.
Sanskrit in modern Indian and other Brahmi scripts. May Śiva bless those who take delight in the language of the gods.
Main article: Devanagari transliteration
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.
Main article: Sanskrit grammar
Main article: Sanskrit grammarians
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.
Main article: Sanskrit verbs
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)
Main article: Sanskrit nouns
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
Main article: Sanskrit pronouns and determiners
Sanskrit pronouns are declined for case, number, and gender. The pronominal declension applies to a few adjectives as well. Many pronouns have alternative enclitic forms.
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)
Main article: Sanskrit compounds
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:
Influence on vernaculars
Sanskrit's greatest influence, presumably, is that which it exerted on languages of India that grew from its vocabulary and grammatical base; for instance Hindi, which is a "Sanskritized register" of the Khariboli dialect. However, 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 to constitute roughly fifty percent of the vocabulary of modern Indo-Aryan languages, and the literary forms of (Dravidian) Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada.
Sanskrit is prized as a storehouse of scripture and the language of prayers in Hinduism. Like Latin's influence on European languages and Classical Chinese's influence on East Asian languages, Sanskrit has influenced most Indian languages. While vernacular prayer is common, Sanskrit mantras are recited by millions of Hindus and most temple functions are conducted entirely in Sanskrit, often Vedic in form. Of modern day Indian languages, while Hindi and Urdu tend to be more heavily weighted with Arabic and Persian influence, Nepali, Bengali, Assamese, Konkani and Marathi still retain a largely Sanskrit and Prakrit vocabulary base. The Indian national anthem, Jana Gana Mana, is written in a literary form of Bengali (known as sadhu bhasha), Sanskritized so as to be recognizable, but still archaic to the modern ear. The national song of India Vande Mataram was originally a poem composed by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and taken from his book called 'Anandamath', is in a similarly highly Sanskritized Bengali. Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada also combine a great deal of Sanskrit vocabulary. Sanskrit also has influence on Chinese through Buddhist Sutras. Chinese words like 剎那 chànà (Skt. क्षन kṣana 'instantaneous period of time') were borrowed from Sanskrit.
Main article: Sanskrit revival
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 Samskrta Bharati are conducting Speak Sanskrit workshops to popularize the language. The state of Uttarakhand in India has ruled Sanskrit as its second official language. 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. Sudharma, the only daily newspaper in Sanskrit has been published out of Mysore in India since the year 1970. Since 1974, there has been a short daily news broadcast on All India Radio.
In these Indian villages, inhabitants of all castes speak Sanskrit natively since childhood:
- Mattur in Karnataka,
- Jhiri, District: Rajgadh, Madhya Pradesh,
- Ganoda, District: Banswada, Rajasthan,
- Bawali, District: Bagapat, Uttar Pradesh
- Mohad, District: Narasinhpur, Madhya Pradesh
In the Republic of India, in Nepal and Indonesia, Sanskrit phrases are widely used as mottoes for various educational and social organizations (much as Latin is used by some institutions in the West). The motto of the Republic is also in Sanskrit.
- Republic of India
- 'सत्यमेव जयते' Satyameva Jayate "Truth alone triumphs"
- 'जननी जन्मभूमिश्च स्वर्गादपि गरीयसी' Janani Janmabhūmisca Svargādapi garīyasi "Mother and motherland are greater than heaven"
- 'सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु मा कश्चिद् दुःखभाग् भवेत्' Sarve Bhadrāni Paśyantu Mā Kaścid Duhkhabhāg bhavet "May all perceive good, may not anyone attain unhappiness"
- Life Insurance Corporation of India
- 'योगक्षेमं वहाम्यहम्', Yogakshemam Vahāmyaham "I shall take care of welfare" (taken from the Bhagavad Gita)
- Indian Navy
- 'शं नो वरुणः' Shanno Varuna "May Varuna be peaceful to us"
- Indian Air Force
- 'नभःस्पृशं दीप्तम्' Nabhaḥ-Spṛśaṃ Dīptam "Touching the Sky with Glory"
- Mumbai Police
- 'सद्रक्षणाय खलनिग्रहणाय' Sadrakshanaaya Khalanigrahanaaya "For protection of the good and control of the wicked"
- Indian Coast Guard
- 'वयम् रक्षामः' Vayam Rakshāmaha "We protect"
- All India Radio
- 'बहुजनहिताय बहुजनसुखाय' Bahujana-hitāya bahujana-sukhāya "For the benefit of all, for the comfort of all"
- Indonesian Navy
- 'जलेष्वेव जयामहे' Jalesveva Jayamahe "On the Sea We Are Glorious"
- Aceh Province
- 'पञ्चचित' Pancacita "Five Goals"
Many of the post–Independence educational institutions of national importance in India and Sri Lanka have Sanskrit mottoes. For a fuller list of such educational institutions, see List of educational institutions which have Sanskrit phrases as their mottoes.
Interaction with other languages
Further information: Silk Road transmission of Buddhism, Hinduism in Southeast Asia, Indianized kingdom, and Sanskritisation
Sanskrit and related languages have also influenced their Sino-Tibetan-speaking neighbors to the north through the spread of Buddhist texts in translation. Buddhism was spread to China by Mahayanist missionaries sent by Emperor Ashoka mostly through translations of Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit and Classical Sanskrit texts, and many terms were transliterated directly and added to the Chinese vocabulary. (Although Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit is not Sanskrit, properly speaking, its grammar and vocabulary are substantially the same, both because of genetic relationship, and because of conscious implementation of Pāṇinian standardizations on the part of composers. Buddhist texts composed in Sanskrit proper were primarily found in philosophical schools like the Madhyamaka.) The situation in Tibet is similar; many Sanskrit texts survive only in Tibetan translation (in the Tanjur).
The Thai language contains many loan words from Sanskrit. For example, in Thai, the Rāvana—the emperor of Sri Lanka is called 'Thosakanth' which is a derivation of his Sanskrit name 'Dashakanth' ("of ten necks"). Many Sanskrit loanwords are also found in traditional Malay, Modern Indonesian, and numerous Philippine languages, Old Javanese language (nearly half) and to a lesser extent, Cambodian, Vietnamese, through Sinified hybrid Sanskrit.
Usage in modern times
See also: Sanskrit in the West
Many of India's and Nepal's scientific and administrative terms are named in Sanskrit, as a counterpart of the western practice of naming scientific developments in Latin or Greek. 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.
Recital of Sanskrit shlokas as background chorus in films, television advertisements and as slogans for corporate organizations has become a trend.
Recently, Sanskrit also made an appearance in Western pop music in two recordings by Madonna. One, "Shanti/Ashtangi", from the 1998 album "Ray of Light", is the traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga chant referenced above set to music. The second, "Cyber-raga", released in 2000 as a B-side to Madonna's single "Music", is a Sanskrit-language ode of devotion to a higher power and a wish for peace on earth. The climactic battle theme of The Matrix Revolutions features a choir singing a Sanskrit prayer from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in the closing titles of the movie. Composer John Williams also featured a choir singing in Sanskrit for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
The Sky1 version of the title sequence in season one of Battlestar Galactica 2004 features the Gayatri Mantra, taken from the Rig Veda (3.62.10). The composition was written by miniseries composer Richard Gibbs.
There have been suggestions to use Sanskrit as a metalanguage for knowledge representation in e.g. machine translation, and other areas of natural language processing because of its relatively high regular structure. This is due to Classical Sanskrit being a regularized, prescriptivist form abstracted from the much more complex and richer Vedic Sanskrit. This leveling of the grammar of Classical Sanskrit began during the Brahmana phase, and had not yet completed by the time of Pāṇini, when the language had fallen out of popular use.