From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Krishna Maheshwari

'Samskritam', also called Sanskrit, is the oldest living language of the world today and one of the earliest ancient languages. The name 'Sanskrit' means complete, perfect. It is comprised of the words Sam (entirely, wholely, or perfectly) and krtam (create, done)[1]. It is spoken openly by majority in 5 known villages today; Mattur and Hosahalli in the State of Karnataka, and Jhiri, Mohad, and Baghuwar in Madhya Pradesh. Sanskrit is more than just a language that is used in the spoken or written form. When used in the scriptures, the resultant vibrations are also engineered to positively impact consciousness.

Among the currently recognized ancient languages like Latin or Greek, Sanskrit is the only language which has retained its purity. Its structure and vocabulary has remained unchanged over the thousands of years it has existed.

The oldest literature of the world, the Vedas, the Puranas and the Ithihasas, are still available in the same form that they were written in at the very beginning. There are many, many scholars who can interpret them today, much the same way great scholars of India did years ago. Such interpretation comes not by merely studying earlier known interpretations but through a steady process of assimilation of knowledge linking a variety of disciplines via Sanskrit.

A Modern Langauge

Sanskrit is as modern as any language can be and continues to be a spoken language. The grammar of Sanskrit is precise and remains well defined. Several academics have stated that Sanskrit is the best language for use with computers due to it being the only human language which has a fully defined grammar and a context-free grammar[2]. Its grammar was fully described by Pāṇini, who composed 4,000 rules for Sanskrit morphology. The grammar for Sanskrit is complete -- they fully describe Sanskrit morphology, without any redundancy[3]. Metarules, transformations and recursions are used with such sophistication that Sanskrit grammar has the computing power equivalent to that of a Turing machine[4].

Sanskrit, the vocabulary of which is derived from root syllables, is ideal for coining new scientific and technological terms. The need to borrow words or special scientific terms does not arise.

From the very beginning, scientific principles have been hidden in the verses of the Vedas, Upanishads and the great epics. Concepts and principles seen in present day mathematics and astronomy, are all hidden in the compositions and treatises of many early scholars.


The precise and extremely well defined structure of Sanskrit, coupled with its antiquity offers a number of areas in linguistics research, including Computational Linguistics. It is also unique due to the fact that it is the only known language which has a built-in scheme for pronunciation, word formation and grammar.

Philosophy and Theology

Sanskrit abounds in philosophy and theology-related issues. There are so many words one encounters within Sanskrit that convey subtly differing meanings of a concept that admits of only one interpretation when studied with other languages. The language thus has the ability to offer links between concepts using just the words.

Emotional Expression

The connoisseurs of the Sanskrit language know that it is the language of the heart. Whatever be the emotion one wishes to display, be it devotion, love, affection, fear, threat, anger, compassion, benevolence, admiration, surprise and the like, the most appropriate words of Sanskrit can flow like a gushing stream.

Definitions in Vedanga

Sanskrit is co-original with the Veda. The Veda cannot be studied without the six Vedangas of which the first three deal with the spoken aspects of the language. These are Siksha, Vyakarna, and Niruktam.

Siksha, describes how to pronounce the letters of the aksharas. Siksha divides the letters into three classes: Swaras, Vyanjanas and Oushmanas. Depending on the effort (Prayatna), place of origin in the body (Sthana), the force used (Bala) and the duration of time (Kāla), the letters differ from each other in their auditory quality and meaning.

The second Vedanga is Vyakarna[5], and is known as the grammar of Sanskrit, which describes meaningful word formations. These word formations are referred to as Sphota, or meaningful sound.

The third Vedanga, Niruktam, describes certain fundamental root words used in the Vedas. Classification of words into groups of synonyms is an example. For instance, approximately a hundred and twenty synonyms for water are given in Niruktam.

The fourth Vedanga, Chandas, describes the formation of sentences in metrical form. Unlike English, which used a very limited number of metres (basically four), Sanskrit offers about two dozen Vedic metres and innumerable conventional metres.

The remaining two Vedangas, Kalpa and Jyothisha, deal with space and time.

The Aksharas (Letters)

Sanskrit comprises fifty one letters or aksharas[6]. Akshara denotes the set of letters of Sanskrit from the first to the last. It also means that the sounds of those letters does not ever get destroyed, and thus signifies the eternal quality of the sound of those letters. As a result, the sound of a word is essentially the sounds of the aksharas in the word.

There are two aspects of non destruction:

  1. the phonetic characteristics of the language, i.e., in any word, the aksharas retain their sound.
  2. the aksharas retain their individual meanings in composed words. For example, the word "guru", consisting of the aksharas "gu" and "ru", stands for a teacher -- one who dispels darkness (ignorance) of the the mind (person). "gu" means darkness and "ru" means the act of removal.

The basic unit is a word-root. In Sanskrit, words are derivatives, unlike other languages where the word is considered to be the basic unit. Words have dhatu and pratyaya. All roots are verbs and there is no real concept of proper nouns. As a result, all words are complete verbs and do not have to depend on adjacent words for their meaning. So, it is the words in the sentence that matter, and not their order, resulting in a more structured language. For example, we can put the words "Ram ne" "Ravan ko" "maara" (in English: "Rama", "killed" and "Ravana") in any order, without changing the meaning. In other languages, these words have to be in order; changing the order drastically changes the meaning of the sentence.


Sanskrit is commonly written using the Devanāgarī script today and over the past few hundred years. Historically, it has been written using the local script common at the time and place of a document's writing. For example, Ashoka's pillar inscriptions were made using the Brahmi script. Later, Grantha was used, as were other scripts such as Kannada and Bengali.

References & Notes

  1. The six unmatched features of the Sanskrit language
  2. Context-free grammar is a term used by computer scientists to describe languages in which non-terminals can be rewritten without regard to the context in which they occur.
  3. This grammar was described in 4000 sutras by Pāṇini, and as a result, he is now considered to be the father of computing machines
  4. Turing machines are basic abstract symbol-manipulating devices which, despite their simplicity, can be adapted to simulate the logic of any computer algorithm. They are important in Computer Science and used to gain insights into computer science and complexity theory.
  5. Vyakarna is also considered to be a Darshana. Each sound is representative of a natural phenomenon, and natural phenomena are described through sounds. The entire description of man's understanding of the universe, nature, and experience are described via the medium of language. Thus, language is a world-view in itself, or a Darsana.
  6. as opposed to alphabet which is a Greek word denoting the first two letters of the Greek: Alpha and Beta. Alphabet has no other meaning except to denote the set of letters in the language.

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