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What is Sanskrit?

What is Sanskrit? Where does it come from?

Sanskrit is an ancient language of the Indian subcontinent. It is one of the oldest and most influential languages in the world, and has had a profound impact on many other languages and cultures, particularly those of Europe and South Asia.

Sanskrit is believed originated in the second millennium BCE as a language; however there is new evidence it could be much much older. The language was originally thought to be an oral tradition, passed down through generations of priests, scholars. However anecdotal evidence indicates it was widely used in academia in Ancient Indian universities (Takshasila and Nalanda) which could very well be the earliest known centers of educations in the world and as the official language in most of ancient Kingdoms throughout India and in Southeast Asia. It was later codified into a written language with the development of the Devanagari script.

Today, Sanskrit is no longer a commonly spoken language, but it is still studied and used in a variety of contexts. It is considered to be the language of classical Indian literature, philosophy, and religion, and is used in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain scriptures, as well as in traditional Indian sciences such as Ayurveda and Yoga.

Sanskrit and English

Sanskrit has had a significant influence on English, particularly in the areas of language, philosophy, and religion. Here are some examples:

Language: Many English words are derived from Sanskrit, such as “yoga,” “avatar,” “mantra,” and “karma.” The Sanskrit language has also influenced the development of English grammar and syntax, particularly in the areas of case inflection and sentence structure.

Philosophy and Religion: Sanskrit texts, such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita, have had a profound influence on Western philosophy and religion. The concepts of karma, dharma, and moksha, for example, have been incorporated into Western thought and are now widely understood and studied in the context of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy.

Literature: The rich and diverse literary tradition of Sanskrit, including the works of Kalidasa and Valmiki, has been an inspiration to English writers such as T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Many English translations of Sanskrit texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras, have also been widely read and studied.

Science and Mathematics: The Sanskrit language has contributed significantly to the development of science and mathematics. The decimal system, for example, was first developed in India and is based on Sanskrit numerals. The concepts of zero and infinity, as well as the principles of geometry and trigonometry, were also developed in India and have had a profound influence on modern science and mathematics.

Influence of Sanskrit on other European Languages

Sanskrit has had a significant influence on European languages, particularly on Latin, Greek, and the Romance languages such as Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. Here are some examples of Sanskrit’s influence on these languages:

Latin: Latin borrowed many words from Sanskrit, particularly in the areas of philosophy, religion, and science. For example, the Latin word “persona” meaning “mask” or “character” is derived from the Sanskrit word “pratyanama” Similarly, the Latin word “pater” meaning “father” is derived from the Sanskrit word “pitar” or “pitru”.

Spanish: Many Spanish words are derived from Sanskrit, particularly in the areas of religion and spirituality. For example, the Spanish word “alma” meaning “soul” or “spirit” is derived from the Sanskrit word “atma”. Similarly, the Spanish word “nirvana” meaning “enlightenment” is derived from the Sanskrit word “nirvana”.

French: French borrowed many words from Sanskrit, particularly in the areas of literature and philosophy. For example, the French word “chakra” meaning “wheel” or “disc,” is derived from the Sanskrit word “chakra” which is also the word for a discus (sometimes used as a weapon). Similarly, the French word “karma” meaning “fate” or “destiny” is derived from the Sanskrit word “karma.”

German: Sanskrit has also had a significant influence on the German language, particularly in the areas of philosophy and religion. For example, the German word “dharma” meaning “righteousness” or “duty” is derived from the Sanskrit word “dharma”.

Sanskrit is also still used as a language of scholarship and research in various fields, including linguistics, philosophy, and computer science. It is studied and taught in universities around the world, particularly in India, Nepal, and other parts of South Asia. It is also studied in universities in Europe, particularly in the fields of Indology, Linguistics, Comparative Religion, and South Asian Studies. Many universities in Europe offer courses and programs in Sanskrit, ranging from introductory language courses to advanced research degrees.

Some of the most prominent universities in Europe for the study of Sanskrit include the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, the University of Heidelberg, the University of Paris, the University of Vienna, and the University of Copenhagen, among others.

In addition to academic institutions, there are also several organizations and centers in Europe dedicated to the study and promotion of Sanskrit and Indian culture, such as the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, the Paris-based Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, and the Vienna-based Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Some Common words

There are many words and meanings that are derived from Sanskrit or Indian origin languages. Here are some examples:

Not common knowledge – but here are a couple:

Mother – Sanskrit word “matru” which became “mater” which lead to “mother”

Father – Sanskrit word “pitru” which became “pater” which lead to “father”

Brother – Sanskrit word “bhrata”

These are widely used as is (almost):

Yoga – “union” or “to join”

Avatar – “incarnation” or “embodiment” or a “manifestation” of a deity

Guru – “teacher” or “mentor”

Karma – “action,” “fate” or “destiny”

Mantra – “sacred utterance” or “chant”

Juggernaut – “massive, unstoppable force” is derived from the Sanskrit word “Jagannatha” which is a name for Lord Krishna in Hindu mythology.

Bungalow – “small, single-story house” is derived from the Hindi word “bangla” which means “Bengali-style house”

Pundit – “learned person” is derived from the Sanskrit word “pandita”

Veranda – “porch or covered walkway” is derived from the Hindi word “varanda”

Chutney – a “spicy condiment made from fruits or vegetables” is derived from the Hindi word “chatni”

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