Friday, 13 March 2015

Sanskrit-The Mother of all Languages

Sanskrit is considered as a remote cousin of all the languages of Europe excepting the Finnish, Hungarian, Turkish and Basque. Around 2000 B.C an ancestral group of dialects arose among the tribesmen of South Russia.
With Panini (probably 4th century B.C.) the Sanskrit language reached its classical form. It developed a little thence forward except in its vocabulary. The grammar of Panini, Asthadhyayi pre-supposes the work of many earlier grammarians. Latter grammars are mostly commentaries on Panini, the chief being Mahabhasya by Patanjali (Second Century B.C) and the Benaras-Commentary of Jayaditya and Vamana (Seventh Century A.D.).

It was from the time of Panini on-wards, that the language began to be called Samskarta, perfected or refined, as opposed to Prakras (natural), the popular dialects which had grown over time. In all probability, Panini based his work on the languages as it was spoken in the North West. Beginning as the lingua franca of the priestly class, it gradually became that of the governing class also. The first important dynasty to use Sanskrit was that of the Sakas of Ujjain and the inscriptions of Rudraman at Girnar. Otherwise, the Maurya and the other important dynasty till the Guptas used Prakrit for their official pronouncements.

The Language of the Rig Veda was already archaic, when the hymns were composed and the ordinary people (so called Aryan) spoke a simpler tongue, more closely akin to classical Sanskrit. By the time of the Buddha the masses were speaking languages which were much simpler than Sanskrit. These were the prakrits. The ordinary speech of Ancient India has been preserved for us largely through the unorthodox religions. Most inscriptions of pre-Gupta time are in Prakrit. The women and humbler characters of the Sanskrit drama are made to speak in formalized prakrit of various dialects. A few of secular literary works were composed in Prakrit.

Classical Sanskrit increasing became the language of Brahmins and the learned few. Its use was restricted to certain occasions such as issuing of proclamations and during the performance of Vedic ceremonies. In the towns and villages a popular form of Sanskrit, known as Prakrit, came into the existence. There were a great number of local variations. The chief western variety was called Shuraseni and the eastern variety was Magadhi. Pali was another popular language based on Sanskrit. It, too, was used in the same religions as Prakrit. The Buddha, to reach more people, taught in Magadhi.

Speaking of literature, the four Vedas and the Brahmins and Upnishadas have some literary qualities. Some hymns of the Rig Veda and some parts of the early Upnishadas have some merit. Otherwise, they are mostly dry and monotonous.

In the 1028 hymns of the Rig Veda there is a great variety of styled and merit. The hymns contain many repetitions and the majority of them have the sameness of outlook. A number of hymns show deployment feeling for nature, as for example, the hymns to Ushas. A few Vedic hymns are primarily secular, as for example the Gamester's Lament.
Very title of literary quality is there in the later Vedic literature the Atherva Veda mostly a monotonous collection contains a few poems of great merit. The prose Brahmanas, though written in simple and straight forward language have little literary merit.

Thus the earliest Indian literature is to be found in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The Mahabharata consisting of 9,000 stanzas is probably the longest single poem in the world's literature. Ignoring the interpolations, the style of the Mahabharata is direct and vivid though consisting of repeated clinches and stock epithets, typical of epic literature everywhere. The chief characters are delineated in a very simple outline but with an individuality which makes them real persons.

The other epic Ramayana also contains interpolations but they are much briefer and are mostly didactic. The main body of the poem gives the impression of being the work of one author whose style was based on that of the other epic to show some kinship to that of classical Sanskrit poetry. The style of the Ramayana is less rugged than that of the Mahabharata. It is a work of greater art and it contains many dramatic passages and beautiful descriptive writing.

The earliest surviving Sanskrit poetry is that of the Buddhist writer Ashvaghosa who probably lived in the 1st century A.D. He composed the Buddha-Charitra in a comparatively simple classical style. The Girnar inscription of Rudradaman, dated 150 A.D. is the earliest surviving example of Sanskrit prose.

The earliest surviving prose stories are a few narrative episodes in the Brahmanas followed by the pali Jatakas. It was in the Gupta period that ornate Sanskrit prose was developed. The chief writers in this style were Dandin, Subandhu and Bana.

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