“The Wonder That is Sanskrit” is a fantastic little book written by Shri. Sampad and Shri.Vijay. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an introduction to Sanskrit.
The common opinion that study of Sanskrit language is reserved only to priests and scholars is no longer true. Today there is an an unprecedented interest among the general public to learn Sanskrit. Some turn to it to study the various scriptures in their primary form. Experts perceive Sanskrit as a tool to gain access to higher learning in various disciplines. Authors are exploring the vast sanskrit literature spanning centuries to turn them in to works of fiction and non-fiction. A genre earlier referred to as mythology and now called puranic fiction has found some serious readership. Many others simple take up study of Sanskrit out of sheer curiosity. The scholars of Sanskrit are acknowledged like never before and most sought after. Parents are also encouraging children to learn Sanskrit instead of foreign languages.
There is a marginal section in our society which has been fortunate to gain exposure to Sanskrit either at school as a third language or at homes where Vedic chanting or prayers are a way of life. However majority suffer from little to no understanding of this ancient language. For someone who has never been exposed to Sanskrit , it can be a very intimidating experience to approach the subject or learn the language.
This book is aimed at readers who have little or no exposure to the language but are eager to learn it nevertheless. This is not a scholarly work. As the title suggests it looks at the Sanskrit language with a sense of wonder. The reader is bound to not just admire but fall in love with Sanskrit. It is packed with anecdotes and references. All the Sanskrit words are transliterated as well as translated for easy understanding and pronunciation. While you are not required to know the Devanagari script , a good understanding of a regional language or mother tongue will definitely enhance the reading experience of this book.The authors point out that knowledge of mother tongue is extremely effective in learning and appreciating sanskrit for Indian readers.
This small book consisting of 200 pages has 10 short chapters touching upon various aspects of the Sanskrit language. There is also well compiled glossary at the end.
First two chapters deal with the structured alphabet system and grammar. Brilliantly addressing the rhetoric ‘Sanskrit is a dead language’, authors establish how Sanskrit has not just survived and thrived over the millennia but it continues to be full of life amongst the many regional languages of our country. Did you know that just by reading the
alphabets aloud with Anusvara, Visarga or Hrusya swaras amounts to practising the Pranayaam? The book quotes Prof. Sampurnanda who says “Sanskrit is not merely alive but it is a medicine to make the dead alive”.
With short sections on fundamental grammar concepts as enunciated in Aṣṭādhyāāyī and Amarakoṣa, the book explains why Sanskrit is not just the most sophisticated
language system but it is essentially a phonetic science of extraordinary merit. This is a fact acknowledged by linguistic scholars around the world. Panini’s Ashtadhyayi which is considered the most seminal work in Sanskrit consists of 4000 sūtras created over two
thousand years ago. Aṣṭādhyāāyī is referred to by Sanskrit students and scholars alike even to this day. One is bound to ask the question as to what makes these sūtra not just stand the test of time but continue to serve as a guiding light for experts through centuries ?
Authors say, the answer lies in the definition of sūtra itself,
अल्पाक्षरं असंिदग्धं सारवत् िवश्वतोमुखम्। अस्तोभंअनवद्यंचसूत्रंसूत्रिवदोिवदःु॥
alpākṣaraṁ asandigdhaṁ sāravad viśvato mukham | astobhaṁ anavadyaṁ ca sūtram sūtravido viduḥ ||
A literary rule/any rule/statement must have the following qualities :
- – It must have minimum number of syllables (alpākṣaraṁ)
- – There should be no scope for ambiguity or confusion (asandigdhaṁ)
- – It should have substance or something worthwhile and valuable to express
- – It should be universal – have wide applicability in diverse situation instead go being confined to specific instances
- – It should be free of error as well as devoid of inadequacies and fillers.
- – It should be based on facts (irrefutable truth) Now isn’t this a great takeaway for not just linguists but also for engineers, mathematicians, lawyers, journalists , artists etc?
If this gives an impression to the reader that Sanskrit is all about strict adherence to rules, one cannot be more wrong. In Sanskrit, as the famous saying goes, there are no rules for those who make the rules.
The chapter titled ‘Interesting and amazing creations in Sanskrit” introduces the subject of adhamakavyas where the greatest literary figures like Kalidasa, Magha and Bhartrihari have playfully indulged in the language to create seemingly gibberish verses which are in fact carefully crafted and grammatically complex literary nuggets.
Take for example, this verse from Magha’s Śiśupālavadha praising the glory of Lord Krishna while he hurls a weapon at the wicked enemy.
“दाददोदद्दुदद्दुादीदादादोददूदीददोः। दद्दु ादं दददे दद्दु े ददाददददोऽददः॥ “
dādado duddaduddādī dādado dūdadīdadoḥ | duddādaṃ dadade dudde dādādadadado’dadaḥ ||
The chapter also explores the wonderful world of Citrakāvyas. A special literary genre, called Citrakāvyas are poetic verses with made up rules for a simple example, avoiding a particular vowel sound or using only one specific vowel sound etc. These clever verses hide profound meaning as well as complex visual patterns for a discerning reader. A classic example is an entire Ramayana composed by Mallikarjuna Bhatta referred to as ‘Niroshta Ramayana’ devoid of any labial sounds that requires lip movement. Imagine a game of ‘read my lips” with verses from Niroshta Ramayna. Niroshta literally means ‘without lips’ and there is a Carnatic raga in its name created by Muthiah Bhagavatar. Interdisciplinarity or study involving the combination of two or more academic disciplines into one activity is an inherent feature of the Sanskrit language. Another chapter dedicated to ‘Beauty and charm of Sanskrit poetry provides further insight on this topic.
The book was written as part of a project titled ‘Resurgent India’ whose endeavour was to discover and document the greatest and highest achievements of India in every field. A chapter on “Sanskrit in Arts, Science and Daily Life” mentions the interesting discoveries math and science which deliberated and expounded complex concepts centuries ahead of the west.
The knowledge of Sanskrit provides access to not just literature spanning 2000-3000 years but scientific studies and technical papers in every possible field known to mankind. Not just history, science and mathematics but also political science, economics, aesthetics, architecture, iconography etc.
The chapter on “A language of upliftment and enlightenment” explores the wonderful world of Nītiśataka, Subhāṣita, and Hitopadeśa along with short paragraphs on Upaniṣad, Gītā. These works composed thousands of years ago are ancient but timeless wisdom.
The last three chapters are reserved for the topic of making Sanskrit the national language of India. This book argues that it is only Sanskrit that could be the national language of India. It Quotes Nobel laureate Dr. C.V. Raman who said
“Sanskrit flows through our blood. It is only Sanskrit that can establish the unity of the country”
and the profound words Shri. Aurobindo who said
“It (Sanskrit) is of utmost value to a nation, a human group-soul to preserve its language and make it a strong and living cultural instrument. A nation, race or people which lose its language cannot live its whole life or real life”
These words are further substantiated by looking at the various regional languages of India which have heavily borrowed the vocabulary from Sanskrit. Furthermore it busts the myths attached to Sanskrit as a “hindu language”, “dead language” or most popular one which tags Sanskrit as “difficult language”. The last chapter on “The language of India’s soul refers to Sanskrit as the common national inheritance and tool to override the regional differences.
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