Summary – Section 3 (Facts 26 to 41)
In this section we discuss the greatness of Sanskrit, our mother tongue.
Fact 26 – We discuss how the British educationist Macaulay decided that India had no literature or history to speak of. This set the tone for the many western so-called orientalists and westernised Indian Sanskitists to look at all Indian writings in a condescending way. In fact, Sanskrit was used by the Westerners to create a divide in Indian society by insisting that it was the Brahminical vehicle for the caste system and was the cause for all that was bad in Indian society. We discuss that the fault of discrimination in Indian society cannot be laid at Sanskit’s door, exactly like slavery was not the fault of the English language! We assert that if Sanskrit was a tool for exclusion in earlier times, it should be actively taught to remove any alleged exclusion, like the English language became the great leveller.
We see that during the present period there is a movement to give Sanskrit its right place in Indian studies.
We then touch upon the breadth and depth of literature available in Sanskrit. We talk of the continuous tradition of Sanskrit from the Vedic period to today. We talk of the great Gandhian Dharampal recording how there was a great tradition of Sanskrit based teaching and learning in India (by all sections of society) till the British came and deliberately neglected and then uprooted this system to introduce Western education systems. We again emphasise that there was a continuous tradition of Sanskrit-based learning in India from the Vedic period till the coming of the Muslim/ Western rule.
Fact 27 – We look at the Vedic period of the language. This period can be split into three sub periods – 1) that of the creation of the four vedas, 2) that of the creation of the Brāhmaṇas, the Āraṇyakas and the Upaniṣads, and 3) that of the creation of the various Sūtras. In this fact we discuss the first sub period and look at the Vedas in some detail. We discuss some of the commentaries on the Vedas, in particular at that of Sāyaṇa and following him, Max Mueller. These scholars interpreted the R̥g Veda from a ritualistic angle, and this remained the narrative for a long time till Aurobindo proposed interpreting the R̥g Veda from a spiritual and psychological knowledge angle.
Fact 28 – The second sub period saw the coming together of the Brāhmaṇas, the Āraṇyakas and the Upaniṣads. We discuss how the Brāhmaṇas were some of the earliest of Indian literature to be composed in prose. They serve as a commentary and explain the significance of the different Vedas. They also try to explain the significance and origins
of the different sacrifices. Many of the Brāhmaṇas contain numerous myths and legends. Many of the later philosophical schools trace their thoughts to some of these Brāhmaṇas. The Brāhmaṇas transition into the Āraṇyakas (‘forest books’) which are of a more mystic and theosophical character. Then come the Upaniṣads which are theological and philosophical speculations on nature, life, world and things. Many of these Upaniṣads are embedded in a Brāhmaṇa or an Āraṇyaka.
Fact 29 – The third sub period sees the creation of the various Sūtras. The Śrauta Sūtras are manuals for Vedic sacrifice rituals while the Gr̥hya Sūtras are manuals for domestic sacrifice rituals and ceremonies applicable to the domestic life of a man and his family from birth to death. As part of the Śrauta Sūtras, we get the so-called Śulva (or Śulba) Sūtras. They are practical manuals giving the mathematics and measurements for the construction of the sacrificial altars and such other constructions. The Śulva Sūtras are some of the earliest
works on mathematics and show an advanced knowledge of geometry (including the earliest form of the Pythagoras theorem), trigonometry and algebra. Another set of Sūtras are the Dharma Sūtras which deal with the ways of everyday life of people. These include the Mānava Dharma Śāstra, called the Manusmr̥ti or the Code of Manu.
The whole area of this Sūtra literature is divided into six classes called Vedāngas. These classes are: phonetics, grammar, etymology, metre, religious practice and astronomy.
Fact 30 – We look at the Prātiśākhyas (also known as a Pārṣada), which are pre-Pāṇini, and which are the oldest books on phonetics and pronunciation in the world. They look at the relationship of the Pada Pāṭha to the actual Veda and look systematically at euphonic combinations and discuss the correct way to recite the Vedas. All the four Vedas, and each of the recensions of them, have one or more Prātiśākhyas associated with them. We discuss the Taittirīya Prātiśākhya as an example.
Fact 31 – We look at the beginnings of the Classical period. This period saw a slow change of the deities worshipped in the subcontinent. The supreme deities that were worshipped seem to have changed from Indra, Varuṇa, Agni and others to Viṣṇu, Śiva and Brahma. The Vedic deities had become secondary. With this also came a big change in the kind of works produced in Sanskrit. The post-Vedic period also saw the flowering of many nonreligious works in Sanskrit.
Two of the first works in Classical Sanskrit would be the two great epics–the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata. We discuss a few details of these two epics. We also briefly discuss the Bhagavad Gīta, the best known and most famous of Indian philosophical texts with a unique pan-Indian influence, which is a part of the Mahābhārata.
This period also saw the appearance of the various Purāṇas which deal with the origins of the world, the earth as well as mankind and of the various ages of the universe. There are stories of the exploits of various heroes and gods. Many of them focus on the exploits of the Avatārs of Viṣṇu while a few of them favour Śaiva ideas.The most well-known and popular Purāṇa is the Bhāgavata Purāṇa; its 10th book, which details the story of Kr̥ṣṇa, being especially well-known.
Fact 32 – We now look at the secular literature of India which came immediately after the various Purāṇas. In this ‘fact’ we look at the poems and plays of the great Kālidāsa. Kālidāsa is considered to be the greatest poet and dramatist in all Indian languages. His main contributions were three great poems and three great dramas. The drama Abhijñānaśākuntalam is considered to be his masterpiece. His other plays are Vikramorvaśīyam and Mālavīkāgnimitram. The great epic poems of Kālidāsa are Raghuvaṃśam and Kumārasambhavam. Kālidāsa’s forte was the simile and the metaphor. Kalidāsa is also the author of one of the most famous lyrical poems in Sanskrit–the Meghadūtam.
Fact 33 – We look at some of the other literature in Classical Sanskrit. Some of the well-known epic poets are: Bhartr̥hari, Bhāravi, Māgha and Śrīharṣa.Some of the other great poets are Ratnākara,Kavirāja and Padmagupta alias Parimala. There are also many great prose writings. Some of these writers are: Daṇḍin, Subandhu and Bāṇa. Bāṇa’s Kādambarī is a romantic novel started by Bāṇa and completed by his son. It can be considered to be the oldest romantic novel in the world.
There are some historical poetic works in Sanskrit.The earliest during the Classical period is the Mūṣikavaṃśakāvyam by Atula of North Kerala. Another historical work is the Rājataraṃgiṇi of Kalhaṇa of Kashmir.
We look at the meta work on drama, the Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharata. We look at the plays of Bhāsa, Śūdraka, Harṣadeva and others. We also look at some of the other poems and dramas of Sanskrit.
Fact 34 – We discuss another genre of literature in Sanskrit – fairy tales and fables. Most
of these are didactic stories with a high moralistic ending. The Pañcatantra is one such collection of fables written in prose. The Pañcatantra has been translated and reworked into many languages. We trace the history of the translations of the Pañcatantra into various languages like Persian, Aramaic, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, English etc. These stories were carried far and wide into Western Asia and into Europe. These tales were also taken to the east, China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia by the Buddhist monks.
Fact 35 – We now discuss some of the important philosophical works in our Mother Tongue. There are essentially eleven schools of philosophical thought and all these different schools produced works extolling their philosophies. Then there were précises, commentaries and explanations of these works as well as commentaries on these commentaries! Many of the works have been lost and are known only from the fact that later authors quote from them.
There are also many law books in Sanskrit. The Code of Manu we saw earlier is one of them. One of the most important law books we discuss is the Arthaśāstra of Kautilya or Chanakya. The Arthaśāstra sets out the duties and obligations of a king and includes books on economics, statecraft, military strategy, law, court systems, running of a government, diplomacy, agriculture, medicine, ethics, social welfare and many other areas. It also gives an account of Indian philosophy. All in all, it is a great compendium of information as it existed then.
Fact 36 – There are many books on grammar in Sanskrit. One of the the oldest is, of course, the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini. Pāṇini uses and refers to some earlier works which have been lost. There are many explanations, interpretations and commentaries of Pāṇini. The most well-known is the Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali, which itself has many commentaries. There are many other grammar books also in Sanskrit.
Then there are the thesauri or kośas. These arrange words and group synonyms together. The most ancient of these is the so-called Nighanṭu. It was the subject of the Nirukta, a commentary together with a treatise on etymology, by Yāska.
The most well-known kośa is the Amarakośa or the Nāmaliṅgānuśāsanam of Amarasiṃha. It is certainly the oldest extant thesaurus in the world. The author mentions several previous
thesauri but these have been lost.
There are many works on astronomy and mathematics. Some of the great astronomers like Āryabhaṭa, Varāhamihira, Brahmagupta, Bhāskara I, and Bhāskara II, all produced well-known works in mathematics and astronomy. The Sūryasiddhānta by an unknown author is one of the best works on Indian astronomy. The Kerala School of astronomy and mathematics produced many great works between the 14th and 17th centuries CE.
Sanskrit also produced works of medicine, Caraka. Śuśruta and Vāgbhaṭa being some of the best writers. In addition, there are many works on arts, eroticism, logic and tantrism. Vātsyayana’s Kāmasūtra is well known and doesn’t need further explanation. There are also panegyrics, works on sculpture and painting as well as music.
Fact 37 – Literature and other works in Sanskrit continued to be produced throughout the Classical period and later. There is no encouragement from the system or the establishment for writers in our Mother Tongue and one of the key obstacles to the continued production of Sanskrit works is a lack of funding. With all these handicaps there are still many works being composed in Sanskrit. There were more than 400 Sanskrit plays written and published during the 19th and 20th centuries. 52 Sanskrit mahākāvyas were written in a single decade, 1961–1970. It is estimated that in the post-independence era, more than 3,000 high-quality Sanskrit works were composed.
So, far from being dead, Sanskrit is a living language kept vibrant by many poets, artists, scholars and researchers. This continuous literature has sustained the continuity of Indian civilisation from the Vedic period to the current time.
Fact 38 – We discuss the contributions of Yāska, the greatest etymologist, who is thought to have lived in the early part of the first millennium BCE. His work is simply called the Nirukta. Yāska applied a practical and scientific method to deriving the origin of words.
The basic premise of Yāska’s study was that all words in a language can be reduced to a set of basic elements called roots. No word in a language is underivable from a root. He enunciated three general principles for deriving words from roots.
He was a secular man and did not ascribe any ritualistic,mystic or supernatural elements to his analysis. Yāska’s Nirukta is the earliest surviving etymological treatise in the world. Yāska was remarkably free of fanaticism and bigotry and followed a very rationalistic approach to his deductions and analyses. There is a well-known commentary on the Nirukta by Durga.
Fact 39 – In this ‘fact’ we discuss the contributions of the great grammarian Pāṇini, who lived around the middle of the first millennium BCE.
His main work, the Aṣṭādhyāyī is written in the Sūtra or aphoristic style with 3,959 Sūtras covering the morphology, linguistics, semantics and syntax of Sanskrit. Pāṇini is considered to be the father of linguistics and grammar.
Pāṇini’s aphorisms are rules that describe facts about the language and how to generate correct grammatical units of the language. The entire structure of the language is defined using these rules.
Fact 40 – Pāṇini’s grammar is a semi-formal system for generating Sanskrit language constructs. The grammar is represented using rules that remind us of the production rules of formal grammars of modern computation theory. We will look at one of these modern formal
grammar notations–the Pāṇini-Backus Form (PBF)–as a way of understanding by comparing some of the properties of Pāṇini’s system.
We arrive at the conclusion that that Pāṇini’s grammar is clearly a context-sensitive, contracting grammar and not a context-free one.
Fact 41– We discuss the European interest in Sanskrit and look at some of the European Sanskritists and their contributions. The best-known of the early European Sanskritists is the Anglo-Welsh philologist Sir Willian Jones. He is the first person to have noticed and talked about the connection between Sanskrit, Latin and Greek, and proposed a common ancestry for these languages.
The best-known European Sanskrit scholar was Friedrich Max Mueller. He was a German, who spent most of his time in England. He pioneered the European study of Indian and other eastern religions He directed the preparation of the 50-volume Sacred Books of the East.
It is to be noted that while the Europeans who contributed to the study of Sanskrit were undoubtedly great scholars, the objective of some of these people (especially the missionaries and native and adopted Englishmen), but not all, were either spreading Christianity among the ‘natives’ or furthering the colonial cause or both. This is the
reason why their contribution and their theories are looked at with suspicion by recent Indian scholars.
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