Wednesday 12 November 2014

 Sanskrit is not just one language, there are several Sanskrits. What we  call Sanskrit today is really Panini's Sanskrit, also known as Classical Sanskrit or Laukik Sanskrit, and this is what is taught in our schools, colleges and universities today, and it is in this language that all our scientists, philosophers, poets, dramatists, mathematicians, astronomers, medical experts, grammarians, jurists, etc wrote their great works. However, there were earlier Sanskrits too which were somewhat different from Classical Sanskrit.

The earliest Sanskrit work is the Rig Veda, which was probably composed around 2000 B.C.  However, it was subsequently continued from generation to generation by oral tradition, and had to be memorized orally in the Gurukul by the young boys by repeating the verses chanted by their Guru.  The Rig Veda is the most sacred of Hindu literature, and it consists of 1028 hymns (richas) to various nature gods e.g. Indra, Agni, Surya, Soma, Varuna etc.

Language changes with passage of time. For instance, it is difficult to understand Shakespeare's plays today without a good commentary because Shakespeare wrote in the 16th Century A.D. and since then the English language has changed. Many of the words and expressions which were in vogue in Shakespeare's time are no longer in vogue today. For instance, in the very first scene of Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' ( which I read in my B.A. English Literature course in Allahabad University in 1964 ) we come across a word ' paddock'. This word, which means a frog or a toad, is no longer in vogue today. Hence we cannot understand Shakespeare's plays today without a good commentary.

Similarly, the Sanskrit language kept changing from around 2000 B.C. when the Rig Veda was composed to about 500 B.C. i.e. for about 1500 years. In the 5th Century B.C. the great scholar Panini, who was perhaps the greatest grammarian the world has ever seen, wrote his great book `Ashtadhyayi' (book of eight chapters). In this book Panini fixed the rules of Sanskrit, and thereafter no further changes in Sanskrit were permitted except slight changes made by two other great grammarians, namely, Katyayana who wrote his book called ‘Vartika’, and Patanjali who wrote his commentary on the Ashtadhyayi called the ‘Maha Bhashya’. Except for the slight changes by these two subsequent grammarians, Sanskrit as it exists today is really Panini's Sanskrit or Classical ( laukik ) Sanskrit.

What Panini did was that he studied carefully the existing Sanskrit language in his time and then refined, purified and systematized it so as to make it a language of great logic, precision and elegance.  Thus Panini made Sanskrit a highly developed and powerful vehicle of expression in which abstract and scientific ideas could be expressed with great precision and clarity.  This language was made uniform all over India, so that scholars from North, South East and West could understand each other.

I am not going into the details about the Ashtadhyayi but I will give one small illustration in this connection.

In the English language the alphabets from A to Z are not arranged in any logical or rational manner. There is no reason why F is followed by G or why P is followed by Q, etc. The alphabets in English are all arranged haphazardly and at random. On the other hand, Panini in his first fourteen Sutras arranged alphabets in the Sanskrit language in a very scientific and logical manner, after close observation of the sounds in human speech.

Thus, for example the vowels, a, aa, i, ee, u, oo, ae, ai, o, ou are arranged according to the shape of the mouth when these sounds are emitted, 'a' and 'aa', are pronounced from the throat, 'i' and 'ee' from the palate, 'o' and 'oo' from the lips, etc. In the same way the consonants have been arranged in a sequence on a scientific pattern. The 'ka' varga (i.e. ka, kha, ga, gha, nga) are emitted from the throat, the 'cha' varga from the palate, the  'ta' varga from the roof of the mouth, the 'ta' varga from the teeth, and the 'pa' varga from the lips.
 Moreover, in each of these vargas or sequences of 5 consonants, the second and the fourth are aspirants.
 An aspirant is a consonant combined with 'ha'. Thus 'ka'+'ha'= 'kha'. So 'kha', that is, the second letter in the 'ka' varga,is an aspirant.
 Similarly, ' gha', the fourth letter in the 'ka' varga, is also an aspirant, because it is made by combining 'ga' with 'ha'.
   Similarly, in each of the vargas or 5 consonant sequences, the second and the fourth is always an aspirant.
 ( It may be mentioned that many languages have no aspirants, e.g. Tamil, Kashmiri, etc. Even English has just one aspirant 'tha' as in 'think').
I venture to say that no language in the world has its alphabets arranged in such a rational and systematic manner. And when we see how deeply our ancestors went in the seemingly simple matter of arranging the alphabets we can realize how deeply they went in more advanced matters.

Panini's Sanskrit is called Classical Sanskrit, as I have already stated above, and it is in contrast with the earlier Vedic Sanskrit that is the language (or languages) in which the Vedas were written.
 All Sanskrit literature, except the Vedas ( which means 1. the Samhitas, 2. the Brahmanas, 3. the Aranyakas, and 4. the Upanishads ), was altered and made in accordance with Panini's grammar ( except some words called 'apashabdas' or 'apabhramshas' which were so enigmatic and inscrutable that they were left as they were ). Thus, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Upanishads, etc, which though held in high respect by Hindus are not regarded as sacred as the Vedas, are all now in accordance with Panini's grammar, and hence easy to understand.
  However, one could not take this liberty with the Vedas. One could not alter the language of the Rigveda and make it in accordance with Panini's grammar. Panini or no Panini, one could not touch the Rigveda or the other Vedas, as they were held to be sacred

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