Updated: Mar 9
Sanskrit: A Language for Religious Arts
Sanskrit is an ancient language that was defined as a perfect way of communicating in the expression of emotion and dialogue with the gods among the Hindus(Pollock, 2006). The vast vocabulary it consisted of, from the ancient times in to the present day makes it unique language in South Asia. Only a likeness can be translated into English at times without the full feeling and expression as intended. The sacred vedic texts and hymns were composed and written in the language.
The language is presented as sacred under the belief that it was generated by the god Brahma who passed it to the Rishis or the sages who lived in celestial bodies. From the sages it was passed to the earthly disciples from whom it spread to the regions and to people. It is therefore considered the gods language and termed as Deva-Vani (Wilke & Moebus, 2011).
In evidence of its origin, and its sacredness, a collection of sacred hymns from the 2nd millennium, that formally were passed through generations(Burrow, 2001) verbally became scribed into text. The perfect description that was employed in the initial version of the text of Sanskrit defines the conservation and consistent use of the language.
The language associates in different and several varieties of the Indo-Aryan languages. The Vedic Sanskrit was found to be associated with the composition of the collection of hymns totaling to 1028. These were used in the religious proceedings of the natives between the 1500 and 1200 BE by the Indo-Aryan tribes(Pollock, 2006). The Vedic period attracted an exceptionally large application of the language into linguistics, philosophical notations and religious texts and literature.
Noted as the pre-classical form of Sanskrit: Vedic Sanskrit is the earliest form of evidence of the earliest Sanskrit text of the Hindu scripture. This is dated from the mid to late second millennium BCE. The religious notations from the various Indian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism were written in the Prakrit languages associated with Sanskrit through the sharing of words and syntax(Bronkhorst, 2007).
In Buddhism, various theories advance that its original texts were written in Prakrit but with time Sanskrit was adopted as the main language of the scriptures and scholasticism of Buddhism. Given that it was regarded as a higher status language, this helped to propel its increased use in India. Thus the most of the Pitakas and Sutras were transmitted and composed in the different forms of Sanskrit and therefore making most of the religious and literary forms of Buddhism to be communicated in classical Sanskrit(Keith, 1993). Even though the decline of Buddhism continually leads to the loss of a majority of Sanskrit Buddhist texts, the sacred language is still used and largely preserved in Newar Buddhism of Nepal.
Jainism is described as one of the ancient religions in the in the Indian Religious traditions along with Hinduism and Buddhism practiced essentially in the South Asia. Even as most of the concepts in the religion are borrowed from the two, the cultural and linguistic background is also linked. Jainism literature is engrained in Sanskrit with the name itself originating from the language. In literal language it means “to conquer”. From its origin in the 7th-5th century BCE, the traditional rituals and sacrifices together with the scriptural notations were ascribed in Sanskrit(Huntington & Huntington, 2014). In the 10th century period, the Digambara writers produced numerous works in literature that was written in Prakrit, Kannada and Sanskrit.
The language can be traced to a long and rich history to which it was attributed to the Gods and their worship. It is believed that due to the use by the people, its purity was watered down through interpretations and translations which are limited in grammar and complexity(Pollock, 2006). However, the language is still significant in the Indian religion under the Hindu temples, the Buddhist religion and the Jain religious practices. Its use is continuously preserved through learning and various forms of literature.
Bronkhorst, J. (2007). Greater Magadha: Studies in the culture of early India. Brill.
Burrow, T. (2001). The Sanskrit Language. Motilal Banarsidass Publ.
Huntington, S. L., & Huntington, J. C. (2014). The Art of Ancient India: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain. Motilal Banarsidass.
Keith, A. B. (1993). A history of Sanskrit literature. Motilal Banarsidass Publishe.
Pollock, S. (2006). The language of the gods in the world of men: Sanskrit, culture, and power in premodern India. Univ of California Press.
Wilke, A., & Moebus, O. (2011). Sound and communication: An aesthetic cultural history of Sanskrit Hinduism (Vol. 41). Walter de Gruyter. Michelle Liz