Thursday, 1 September 2016

Sanskrit, its greatness-2


Much emphasis was paid to intonation in chanting mantras.  The science of phonetics and phonology was called Siksha and we have 18 text books on Siksha, prominent among them being Panineeya siksha, Parasari siksha, Naradeeya siksha, and Mandukya siksha.  Grammar occupies an important place in the structure of the language. Being a well structured language, Sanskrit has a powerful grammar. Panini’s Ashtadyayi, consisting of 4000 verses is considered to be the most comprehensive scientific grammar in the world. This gives the mechanics of the language, including the rules for unambiguous, meaningful formation of new words.  Science of etymology was known as Niruktha.  In Niruktha, every word is explained from its root.  Yāska's Nirukta contains a treatise on etymology, and also interprets many difficult Vedic words. Chandas gives the rule for writing poems and also how every Veda Mantra is classified into various poetic styles.  The book by Pingalacharya is an authentic work on ChandasArthur A. Macdonell (1854-1930) author of History of Sanskrit Literature has remarked:"The Sanskrit grammarians of India were the first to analyze word forms, to recognize the difference between root and suffix, to determine the functions of suffixes and on the whole to elaborate a grammatical system so accurate and complete as to be unparalleled in any other country."

Linguistically, Sanskrit belongs to the ancient Indo-European family and is thus one of the ancestors of English. Maybe this helps to explain the coincidence of words that sound and mean the same in Sanskrit and English, such as bratha and brother.  Will Durant, eminent American historian, in his book, “The Case for India” calls Sanskrit “the mother of Europe's languages.”  Further, it has many a word, for which there is no exact synonym even in the richest modern languages.

Science and Technology

We have to remember that these works went under the name of Veda, a book of knowledge, or as Sastra, a work of specialized or technical knowledge.
Arthasastra – the science of politics.  Kautilya’s Arthasastra is a comprehensive treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy.  This is divided into 15 books. 
Ayur Veda – the science of medicine. The Suśruta Samhitā and the Caraka Samhitā are the foundational works of Ayur Veda.
Shilpa Sastra – the science of architecture. Sage Kashyapa is said to be the author of the work that incorporates civil engineering principles.
Jyothisha – the science of astronomy and astrology. Aryabhatta, after whom India’s first satellite was named, was an Astronomer and mathematician. His work Aryabhateeyam is a compendium of mathematics and astronomy. 
Further Ghandarva Veda, the science of music, musical instruments and dance comes under Sama Veda as an upaveda and Dhanur veda, the science of warfare and archery comes under Yajur Veda as an upaveda

As for the field of Mathematics,  Bhaskaracharya was an authority in Algebra and geometry and his books Leelavathy and Bijaganitha remain important works in quadratic equations and Algebraic calculations

Religious literature 

The volume of religious literature in Sanskrit is immense and we shall see it under five heads
  1. Sruthis – The four Vedas with their collective 20,000 and odd Mantras are called Sruthis as they came down from 3000 BCE by word of mouth initially.  The Mantras were given out by various rishis who divined them in their refined mind in meditation.  These were later collected, classified and codified into four volumes by Sage Veda Vyasa as Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda of which Rig Veda is in poetic form, Yajur Veda is in prose form, and Sama Veda is in musical rhythm.
  2. Sutras – The collective wisdom of Sruthis is classified and cryptically coded in aphorisms.  They give values and responsibilities for individual well-being, family welfare and social harmony in Dharma Sutras aimed at individuals, in Grihya sutras aimed at families, and in Sroutha sutras aimed at society. The two other well known sutras are Brahma sutras, which tries to establish the main theme of the various Upanishads and to resolve the apparent contradictions in certain statements of the Upanishads, and the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, which is the earliest study of a healthy mind, including the subconscious and the superconscious and ways to harness its hidden powers.  Yoga Sutra contains  words to describe states of the conscious and the subconscious and the unconscious mind and a variety of other concepts which have been later evolved by modern psychoanalysis and psycho-therapy
  3. Smritis -   These are in the form of poems which is an elaboration and clarification of the principles of Dharma stated in Sruthis and Sutras.  There are 18 Smritis including the well known Manu Smriti.
  4. Puranas – There are 18 puranas and 18 upapuranas.  These give in elaborate story form with mythological characters the principles of Dharma, concretising abstract ideas expounded in Vedas, with lot of allegories and symbolisms.
  5. Bhashyams – These are commentaries on works of philosophy, in the above four.  The importance of these cannot be overemphasised as in many instances, mere word meaning tends to be misleading and one has to look into the implied meaning to get at the substance.  These Bhashyams serve as beacon light to understand correctly the profound truth of such statements.   These can be in prose or poetry, and some commentaries have sub- commentaries and even sub-commentaries for sub-commentaries making it a voluminous literature.
This is only brief look at the wealth of literature available even today in Sanskrit, the richness of which is immense and remains in part unexplored.  In translation the works of Sanskrit evoked the supreme admiration of Western poets and philosophers like Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Melville, Goethe, Schlegel and Schopenhauer

Sanskrit Now

There is a great interest in the study of Sanskrit as a language in India and in West.  A school in London has made Sanskrit compulsory subject for its junior division because it helps students grasp mathematics, science and other languages better.   London, Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge have chairs for Sanskrit. Some American universities including Yale University and Harvard University have department of Sanskrit while in several others it is part of South Asian departments.  NASA and others have been looking at Sanskrit as a possible computer language since its syntax is perfect and leaves little room for error.  In Australia, Sydney University and La Trobe University offer studies in Sanskrit as part of Asian Studies.

In India in spite of the opposition of pseudo-secularists and false propagandists that Sanskrit symbolises Brahmin domination, it is a heartening fact that the efforts to revive spoken Sanskrit have been increasing.  The state of Uttarakhand in India has made Sanskrit as its second official language. There are more than 20 institutions of higher learning in Sanskrit in India. 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). A daily newspaper in Sanskrit, Sudharma, is published out of Mysore   and there is a regular short news broadcast in Akashvani and in Doordharshan. Most commendable are the efforts of the Samskruta Bharati which is conducting Spoken Sanskrit workshops to popularize the language and has also chapters outside India and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan which has introduced Saral Sanskrit classes for easy learning of the language.  The first community language school for Sanskrit outside India, the Sydney Sanskrit School run by the School of Vedic Sciences, is adopting modern teaching aids and teaches the language through games, quiz, plays and rhymes among other things which plays less emphasis on grammar and more on conversation which makes learning a fun.

Such initiatives and efforts have kindled interest in study of Sanskrit as a language in young and old, in India and abroad. And rightly so for Sanskrit, one of the oldest languages has retained its pristine purity and has maintained its structure and vocabulary even today as it was in the past.  Further Sanskrit has a built-in scheme for pronunciation, word formation and grammar. Its vocabulary is derived from root syllables and is ideal for coining new scientific and technological terms. And it is found scientific principles have been hidden in the verses found in the Vedas, Upanishads and the great epics of India. Concepts and principles seen in present day mathematics and astronomy are all hidden in the compositions and treatises of many early works. It is too well known that Sanskrit abounds in Philosophy and Theology related issues and in Humanities. Moreover it is found in the west that Sanskrit helps immensely to develop cerebral dexterity through its phonetics and the Devanagari script and spoken Sanskrit are two of the best ways for a child to overcome stiffness of fingers and the tongue.  In India the present  Government under Narendra Modi is also taking efforts to formulate a 10-year perspective plan for taking the study of Sanskrit to IITs, NITs, and other science, commerce colleges across India, which augurs well for the future.

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