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Oldest living language

THE WONDER THAT IS SANSKRIT: Sampad and Vijay; Published by Sri Aurobindo Society in association with Mapin Publishing, 31, Somnath Road, Usmanpura, Ahmedabad-380013. Price not specified.

SANSKRIT, THE oldest surviving member of the Indo-European family of language, has been, is, and will be a source of infinite wonder for scholars and laymen alike. Acknowledged by Sir William Jones as being "more perfect than Greek, more copious than Latin and more exquisitively refined than either", Sanskrit occupies the pride of place in our cultural life.

Its prestige, sway and authority among other languages of the world are quite unique and undeniable. It is the mother of almost all the North Indian languages.

Although the Dravidian family of languages, comprising Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, is not a derivative of Sanskrit, still any impartial observer cannot deny the profound influence of Sanskrit on these languages. Even Tamil, which maintains a more independent stand than her sister languages, admits an inflow of Sanskrit words. Senavaraiyar, the Tamil grammarian, says that Sanskrit belongs to the entire country and not to any particular region.

Eminent scholars testifying to the glory of Sanskrit language and pointing out the way in which it has permeated our national life down the centuries have written several books, monographs and essays. The Vedas, Upanishads, epics, law texts, Puranas, literary works, works on medicine, astronomy, astrology, and mathematics are all written in Sanskrit.

While one is justified in glorifying one's mother tongue as the best medium for instruction at the initial level, none can deny the need to study Sanskrit for acquiring greater grounding in the mother tongue.

The authors have tried to identify the grounds on which Sanskrit language has become so great.

In 10 well-documented chapters, they have provided a panoramic view of the great language. They have examined Sanskrit language in terms of its purpose and content, the role of its grammar and phonetics, and the challenges it faces. They have also tried to answer the misplaced criticism of self-styled scholars that Sanskrit is a "dead" language.

It is worthwhile to quote in this context the great savant, Dr. V. Raghavan, who refers to this dead language slogan as a "cheap howl" and says: "It is unreasonable to call Sanskrit a dead language. It is so, only as much as archaic Hindi is, or Sangam Tamil is. Sanskrit is all pervasive in the whole literature and thought of the country, and forms their very basis and core. In Sanskrit lies the key to the culture of the entire East and Far East, and in its intense cultivation lies the means to the recovery of the old cultural hegemony of India." With its unbroken literary history for 4000 years, Sanskrit is still spoken fluently and understood widely by a large section of people in India and abroad.

Swami Vivekananda said that instead of blaming the so-called "high" in society for the condition of the "low", our educators would do well in raising the "low" by making them learn Sanskrit.

He observed: "Even the great Buddha made one false step when he stopped Sanskrit language from being studied by the masses. He wanted rapid and immediate results and translated and preached in the language of the day, Pali. That was great; it spread the ideas quickly and made them reach far and wide. But along with that Sanskrit ought to have spread. Knowledge came, but the prestige was not there; culture was not there. It is culture that withstands shocks, not a simple mass of knowledge." It is thus imperative that Sanskrit is the most effective means of preserving, consolidating and strengthening our cultural values.

The present book will go a long way in creating a sense of awareness in some, appreciation in others and a deep sense of wonder in many others about the great treasure we in India have inherited from our sages, viz., Sanskrit.

M. NARASIMHACHARY

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