The Glory of Sanskrit
Author : Rajeev Dalvi
It is indeed a privilege to speak on the greatness and glory of Sanskrit. Sanskrit is often hailed as a divine language – Deva Bhasha. Therefore, only celestials are qualified to expatiate on the matchless splendor of this language, and not mere mortals like me. In reality, Sanskrit is as resplendent as the Sun. Therefore, it’s intrinsic worth and value cannot be brought out in full measure in words. Nonetheless, let us share with all something about the history of the growth and development of Sanskrit in ancient India.
How old is Sanskrit? Well, it is as old as the nature. According to modern day historians, the exact antiquity of Sanskrit cannot be established with any degree of certainty. This is because, they have written records only for the past 5000 years. Therefore, histories beyond that period are in the realm of fancy and conjecture for them. The Rig Veda, the oldest among the Vedas, is said to be 10,000 years old, if not older. But, there are no written records to prove this fact. But, the fact remains that Sanskrit was the lingua franca of India for thousands of years.
Sanskrit is the foundation of Hinduism. In fact, it can be said without fear of contradiction that without Sanskrit, there is no Hinduism. The four Vedas and the Upanishads, the Brahma-Sutra written by Veda Vyasa, the two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Bhagavad-Gita, which forms part of the Mahabharata, are all in Sanskrit. There are numerous devotional works and hymns in Sanskrit.
WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF SANSKRIT?
There are four reasons.
1. The accuracy of grammar, beauty of the expressions and the sound of Sanskrit is not found in any other language of the world. It provides the basis for all other Indian languages like what Greek and Latin are for the western languages.
2. Indian culture rests on Sanskrit. Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana, Yoga sutras are all in Sanskrit. It is these that have bonded India together.
3. Sanskrit is rich in literature by poets like Vyasa, Valmiki, etc., It is not that it deals only with spiritual matters. It caters to all needs of all people including finance, politics, law, mental health, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, engineering and many others.
4. It provides values applicable to the whole humanity. It not only provides a hope for the individual that he can rise to the level of the divine and through that concept, one can identify with every one else and thus helps in developing brotherhood in the whole world.
SPECIALITY OF SANSKRIT
1. Expressions of vowels and consonants. Consonants have no independent expression without the vowels. This system is not seen in other languages. (Example: – FRY, DRY. In come and coma, “co” has different expressions. TOP, MOP, JUM, CHUM – here, O AND U have expression like “a”.) Such anomalies are not found in Sanskrit.
2. From the root word, it is possible to create a number of words in Sanskrit. There has been no change in either the words or their meanings from times immemorial.
3. There has been no change in the rules of grammar and hence the same type of poetical works is there irrespective of when the works were created.
4. There is a specialty in the literature connected to Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas. Although there is a difference in the style in these works, there is no difference in the words used.
Let us now learn about Sanskrit history as told by our modern day historians. Sanskrit grew from strength to strength, so long as India was ruled by Hindu Kings. It reached the pinnacle of its glory during the Golden Age of the Guptas. Indeed, the Golden Age of the Guptas was also the Golden Age of Sanskrit. Kalidasa, the one of the literary figures in Sanskrit and author of plays like Meghaduta, Abhijnana-Sakunthalam, Kumara Sambava, Raghuvamsa etc. lived during the Golden Age of the Guptas. It is not only literature, but also all forms of art and science had a luxuriant growth and development during the Gupta rule. Varahamihira, an eminent scientist, lived during the Gupta age and wrote brilliant works on various faculties like astronomy, geography and botany. His brilliant works include Brihat Samhita and Loghu jataka. Arya Bhatta, the great mathematician, laid the foundation of the Number system. Zero was invented by him. He was also a great astronomer who wrote Surya Siddhanta, in which he proved that the earth revolved round its axis. Many such examples can be cited to prove that it is not only arts and literature, but science and technology also made rapid strides during the Golden Age of the Guptas. Decimal system, for example, was invented only during the Gupta period.
There were standard books in Sanskrit on almost all the disciplines in ancient India including science, technology, mathematics, astrology, astronomy, medicine etc. So, it is not as if Sanskrit is literature alone, including devotional literature, and nothing else.
DECLINE OF SANSKRIT LANGUAGE
But the decline of Sanskrit began with the establishment of the Muslim rule in India. Mohamed Ghazni was a marauder who invaded India seventeen times only to despoil India of its wealth. Also, Mohamed Ghauri, not only invaded India, but established Muslim rule in India in the twelfth century. He replaced Sanskrit with Persian, as the language of administration. Since then, Sanskrit was on the wane, though it did not become extinct, thanks to God’s grace.
The British rule came as deliverance to the Hindus who were oppressed, suppressed and depressed because of the tyrannical and ruthless Mughal rule. But the British were no different either. They introduced English as the official language of India in 1835. Some Englishmen did learn Sanskrit with avidity and realized its immeasurable value. One such distinguished Englishman was Sir William Jones, Chief Justice of India, Calcutta. It must be remembered that till 1911, Calcutta was the capital of India during the British regime. It was only in 1911 that New Delhi became the capital of India. The British rule, however enabled Western scholars to learn Sanskrit with a motive to degrade the valuable knowledge of the Vedas, which were available in Sanskrit language. Max Mueller of Germany was undoubtedly the greatest among such cheats. He became such an erudite scholar in Sanskrit that he was able to translate Rig Veda, the oldest among the Vedas and ten principal Upanishads into English, which actually became the foundation for the downfall of peoples’ belief in the Vedic knowledge. Mueller’s translation of the Vedas was like milk touched by snakes. This was what the British contributed to Indian culture.
When India became independent on August 15, 1947, Sanskrit should have been adopted as the official language of India. Instead, Hindi was adopted as the official language of India in 1950. It was an egregious blunder, because Hindi is an undeveloped language, not at all on the standard of Sanskrit. Except for Tulasidasa’s Ramayana, there is no other outstanding literary work in Hindi. Besides, there are no standard works in Hindi on various disciplines, as in Sanskrit.
Cynics and skeptics may well ask whether Sanskrit, a language which fell into disuse eight centuries ago can be revived and made the official language of India and medium of instruction in education. They must cast their eyes wide and see what happened in Israel. Hebrew was the language of the Jews for thousands of years. But, it fell into disuse because the Jews did not have a homeland of their own for a long time and were persecuted in several countries for mote than tow thousand years.But, the Jews had their own homeland when the State of Israel came into existence in 1948 and Ben-Gurion became the first Prime Minister of Israel. It was Hebrew, and not any other language which was adopted as the official language and medium of instruction in education in Israel. But, Israel is none the worse for having adopting Hebrew as the official language, and medium of instruction in education. On the contrary, it had made rapid strides in various realms of human endeavor. Emulating the shining example of Israel, we too can adopt Sanskrit as the official language instead of Hindi, a hybrid language, in a phased manner. But, English should continue to be an associate official language or link language, as well as the medium of instruction in education, especially higher education. But Sanskrit can be introduced as an alternate medium of instruction in education by and by so that in course of time, it can become an effective alternate medium of instruction in education.
This suggestion is of course based on sound commonsense. A person who has been fasting for several days should not be given solid food immediately after he breaks his fast. Likewise, since Sanskrit fell into disuse eight centuries ago, it cannot be made either the official language or the alternate medium of instruction in education overnight. It will take quite some years before Sanskrit becomes an effective official language as well as an alternate medium of instruction in education.
SANSKRIT – A SCIENTIFIC LANGUAGE
Is Sanskrit a scientific language? Is it not an anachronism in this age when science and technology has made rapid strides? Instead of answering these questions directly, let us see quotes of Western scholars about the scientific value of Sanskrit.
A German magazine, which deals with world history of facts about India, has recorded the following facts about the scientific advance of India in ancient times, when Sanskrit was the medium of instruction in education.
I think all of you will agree with me that medicine is a science. The German magazine says:
(1) “Ayurveda is the earliest school of medicine known to humans.
Charaka, the father of Ayurveda, consolidated Ayurveda 2500 years ago.” Today, Ayurveda is gaining ground in the U.S and other countries. Sanskrit was the medium of instruction in Ayurveda in ancient times and there are several standard books on Ayurveda in Sanskrit.
(2) Again, the German magazine of Germany says:
“Susruta, is the father of surgery. 2600 years ago, he and health scientists of his time conducted complicated surgeries like caesarians, cataract, artificial limbs, fractures, urinary stones and even plastic surgery and brain surgery. Usage of anaesthesia was well-known in ancient India. Over 125 surgical equipments were used. Deep knowledge of anatomy, philosophy, etiology, embryology, digestion, metabolism, genetics and immunity is also found in many texts.” Sanskrit was the medium of instruction in medicine in ancient times.
(3) You will agree that astronomy is a science. The Forbes magazine says:
“Bhaskaracharya calculated the time taken by earth to orbit the sun hundreds of years before the astronomer Smart.” As stated earlier, Sanskrit was the medium of instruction in astronomy too during the Golden Age of the Guptas.
(4) Forbes magazine brought out from the U.S. had published a report in its issue of July 1987 that of the languages in the world, Sanskrit is most suitable for computer software, which means that is is most useful for modern technology. Therefore, when Western scientists and technologists say that Sanskrit will fill the bill as a scientific language, doubting Thomases must give up their imaginary misgivings and accept the reality as it is.
Sanskrit and the growth of Indian culture and civilization had been indissolubly bound together in ancient and medieval India. The German magazine says that the world’s first university was established in Takshasila (Taxila) in 700 BC, and more than 10,500 students from all over the world studied more than 60 subjects. The University of Nalanda built in the 4th century BC was one of the greatest achievement of ancient India in the field of education. Sanskrit was the medium of instruction in both these universities.
However, we have lost our moorings after the advent of independence and relegated Sanskrit to the background. This is a massive tragedy. One Western scholar who had mastered Sanskrit recently bewailed that “Sanskrit is slowing dying in India”. But, the silver lining in the dark cloud is that more and more Western scholars are learning Sanskrit with avidity, and realizing much to their pleasant surprise that is a veritable treasure trove.
So, if thousands of foreign scholars well-versed in Sanskrit wax eloquent on the glory of Sanskrit and also write a number of books on the greatness and glory of Sanskrit, explaining in detail that it will be a valuable vehicle of thought even in science and technology, then our Indian politicians will sit up and take notice and eventually veer round to the view that Sanskrit can be introduced as the official language of India and also as an alternate medium of instruction in education. Therefore, till enlightenment dawns on our Indian politicians, a number of whom are either semi-literature or illiterate, we must wait patiently for the restoration of Sanskrit to its pristine glory. There is a famous saying in English: “Those who wait shall also serve”. Therefore, if we wait patiently, then at least our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will serve the cause of Sanskrit, as and when it is introduced both as the official language of India and as alternate medium of instruction in education. Hindi, will soon be drowned by the weight of its own inherent weakness and inadequacies, not to speak of its innumerable dialects, making confusion worse confounded and Sanskrit, which is now like the resplendent Sun completely obscured by the dark clouds, will re-emerge from the dark clouds and scintillate lustrously with re-charged luminosity like the Phoenix, the mythical bird which burnt itself on the funeral pyre and re-emerged from the ashes with renewed vim and vigor. Let us, therefore, pray to God with unflinching faith and what is wishful thinking at present will become a tangible reality in the foreseeable future.
This article originally appeared in http://www.aurovillelanguagelab.org
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