X-factors of Sanskrit

ॐ सह नाववतु ।
सह नौ भुनक्तु ।
सह वीर्यं करवावहै ।
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

Aum! May He protect us both together; may He nourish us both together;
May we both (teacher and student) work conjointly with great energy,
May our study be vigorous and effective;
May we not bear any grudge against each other.
Aum! Let there be peace in me!
Let there be peace in my environment!
Let there be peace in the forces that act on me!
(We / our are used in the sense of we two)

In this series majority of the posts have been about Sanskrit literature. This is the second and last post about Sanskrit language. Of course any language is enriched by the literature and literature gives plenty of glimpses into the nature of the language.

In the earlier article ‘The Language of Gods’ the legends associated with the origin of the language were mentioned and I tried to establish why it is called the devabhasaha. A few aspects have been highlighted in some other posts also. This post is written mainly to consolidate a few aspects already mentioned and explore more. However the beauty of Sanskrit language is so deep, I do not think a few posts can bring to light all the aspects. Some glimpses can be given, though.

Speaking of the alphabets

Just speak the first five consonants – ka, kha, ga, gha, aun and note the spot in your mouth from where these sounds originate. Then speak the next batch – cha, chha, ja, jha, nya. Well by this time you must have observed that the first batch originate as near to your throaty as possible. the ext. batch a little further up. Like wise the last batch of alphabets pa, pha, ba, bha, ma use your lips. Hope by now you have realised the logical arrangements of the consonants. Well while pronouncing the consonants the stress is on the palate of the lips. Then there are vowels.

The vowels are called swara varna. Swara means something that stands on its own. While pronouncing the vowels the tongue does not touch any part of the palate. Here also if you pronounce serially from a to ai you can feel how the point of the creation of the of sound starts from near the throat and move further. This alphabet system is something unique to Sanskrit. The alphabets of all the Indian languages follow this pattern. Alphabet system of Tamil is also similar. Where it is different is that instead of having separate alphabets in each batch it has only one alphabet. For example Tamil Ka represents Ka, kha, ga and gha.

Such a system takes away the ambiguities associated with pronunciation unlike English where only knowing the alphabets is not enough to pronounce a word.

You and Me

For countable nouns and pronouns every language has two forms i.e. singular and plural. But Sanskrit has three – Eka bachana (Singular), Dvibachana (Dual), Bahubachana (Plural). Some older languages of Indo European languages also had it. But in no other language is it so pronounced as in Sanskrit. All languages that developed later dropped the Dual form for the sake of simplicity. However, it has always fascinated me as to why the ancients had this Dual form.

In any transaction, relationship or conflict at any given point of time there are two main parties. Even though a million people may gather for a speech, there is the speaker and the audience. In both the world wars so many countries were involved, but the allied themselves into two conflicting groups. India may be a multiparty democracy. But there is the government and the opposition.

I am sure the ancient Rishis had deep insight into group behaviour, relationships and conflicts. The most popular Indian philosopphy is the advaita (non-dual) philosophy restablied by Adi Shankaracharya. Concept of non-duality has confused many. Some translate non dual as oneness. But this word oneness does not bring the whole essence of advaita. If duality or dvaita stands for attachment or conflict, by non-duality what is indicated is a state where there is no conflict.

The sloka at the beginning is full of dvibachana. It also in some way indicated that conflict could be part of any relationship, even between a master and a disciple.

The algorithm

So Sanskrit has three bachanas (number indicator forms) against two of all modern languages. That is not all. Against two cases ( indicating whether subject or object) in most of the modern languages, Sanskrit has eight. Further the verb and adjectives have to follow the gender, bachana and the case of the subject. So each noun, pronoun, verb and adjective have multiple forms that has to be memorised by a student of Sanskrit to be grammatically correct. It seems all so complicated. Some may think it will take a life time just to master the Sanskrit grammar.

Well it not exactly so. It all seems complicated untill you understand the underlying principles. It is like the algorithm of a complicated software. To the uninitiated one, any software programme seems so complicated, untill one masters the algorithm. And any algorithm is not simple. But once you master it, the software programming becomes easy for you. Same is the case with Sanskrit.

All the words ever used till now in Sanskrit, there may be seven million of them, can be reduced to about seven hundred root words. By applying a defined structure of prefixes, suffixes and fusion of the words, millions of meaningful words can be constructed. If you have followed this algorithm to form a new word, you do not need to inform another expert about its meaning. If the other person also knows the algorithm he or she will automatically get the meaning.

So Sanskrit seems complex and impossible untill you get the algorithm. Then in stead of the complexity, you realise its profundity and the beauty. The givers of this algorithm are three sages – Panini, Katyayani and Patanjali through their compositions Astadhyayi, Vartikakara and Mahabhasya respectively. Actually the original code is contained in panini’s Astadhyayi and the other two are its elaborate explanations.

I learn that by the age of ten a vidyarthi used to have this algorithm at his back and call since by that time he had memorised all the three above texts.

Why should the Sanskrit Poet have all the fun

Well it is unfair but nothing can be done. You must have already understood from the previous section why it is so. It is all because of this algorithm developed by our ancient seers.

Because verbs and adjectives must follow the subject in letter and spirit and sarvopari (on top of everything) as this language has no concept of the preposition having a separate existence from its corresponding word, you put a word anywhere in the sentence, reorder the words of a sentence any which way you like, neither are you violating any rule of grammar nor are you causing any change in the meaning of the sentence.

The large number of synonyms for every word also helps the poet. If as a poet you are still not satisfied you can create your own word and if you have done so following Panini’s algorithm, you need not fear of being misunderstood or being boycotted by the lexicographer.

Thus as a poet you are already licensed to fiddle with the word order and create new words. Now tell me, as a Sanskrit poet, what more privileges do you want?

***********************************

This is the alphabet X post of Blogchatter AtoZ Challenge 2021. My theme this year is ‘The beauty of Sanskrit and Sanskrit texts’, where in I explore selected compositions in Sanskrit and also some unique aspects of Sanskrit language and texts. Join with me in my journey to understand India’s spiritual and intellectual heritage. All the posts of AtoZ Challenge 2021 can be accessed here.

18 thoughts on “X-factors of Sanskrit

  1. Wow! After reading this post, I’m beginning to envy the Sanskrit poet. He/she has such vast resources of language. But, like you said, one must do the adhyayan and learn the language first.

    Thank you for sharing the shloka at the beginning. It’s pertinent for the times:
    “Aum! Let there be peace in me!
    Let there be peace in my environment!
    Let there be peace in the forces that act on me!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Much needed shloka for present situation and times. Speaking of alphabet reminded me of my Hindi class, where our teacher had taught each letter and how it is spelled, and how tongue and lips move with each line according to its placement. My Mami Ji used to converse in Sanskrit easily, so now I can make out she was well versed with its algorithm and that made her use the language so easily. Yet another great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Haha I loved the license the poet has with Sanskrit 😊. I had learnt Sanskrit in school and I could relate to the algorithm concept you mentioned in the post. Yes, once you understand the underlying rules Sanskrit doesn’t seem that difficult to learn. But now, I don’t think I remember much of what I learnt during school :/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A precious gift from our rich heritage, Devbhasha Sanskrit is unmatchable in terms of its systematic arrangement of swaras and vyanjanas, preciseness, providing the ability to produce new words following the algorithm, and much more. It was one of my favorite subjects in school and recently I got a chance to reconnect to it through a course on spoken Sanskrit. The experience was magnificent and brought back all the nostalgic memories associated with it.

    Liked by 2 people

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