Saturday, October 16, 2010

History of Sanskrit


Dr. Clyde Winters

Director Uthman Dan Fodio Institute

The Sanskrit language is highly respected in India. It carries the religion and culture of all the people of India. A.B. Keith, in A History of Sanskrit Literature (1928), makes it clear that Sanskrit was probably invented as early as the 6th Century BC. Although Sanskrit is recognized as a major language controversy surrounds its origin. Some researchers see it as language given to mankind by the Gods, while others see Sanskrit as an artificial language created to unify the diverse Indian nationalities. Keith in

A History of Sanskrit Literature commenting on this state of affairs noted that: “ We must not…exaggerate the activity of the grammarians to the extent of suggesting…that Classical Sanskrit is an artificial creation, a product of the Brahmins when they sought to counteract the Buddhist creation of an artistic literature in Pali….Nor…does Classical Sanskrit present the appearance of an artificial product; but rathe5r admits exceptions in bewildering profusion, showing that the grammarians were not creators, but were engaged in a serious struggle to bring into handier shape a rather intractable material” (p.7).

Although, this is the opinion of Keith it appears that Sanskrit is lingua franca, an artificial language, that was used by the people of India to unify the multi-lingual people of the India nation. This led Michael Coulson, in Teach Yourself Sanskrit (1992) to write that “The advantage to using Sanskrit, in addition to the dignity which it imparted to the verse, lay in its role as a lingua franca uniting the various regions of Aryan India” (p.xviii).

According to Arthur A. Macdonell in A Sanskrit Grammar for Students (1997), says that the Sanskrit language is known by many names. It was called Nagari ‘urban writin’, Deva-nagari ‘city writing of the gods’. V. Kanakasabhai in the Tamils Eighteen Hundred Years Ago, says that Sanaskrit is called Deva-nagari, because it was introduced to the Aryas by the Nagas. The characters associated with Deva-nagari are the characters used to write Sanskrit today.

The Naga were Semitic speaking people from Ethiopia. According to Macdonell the Semitic writing was introduced to India around 700BC (pg.2).

The Semitic speakers of Africa founded the ancient civilization of Punt. As a result I refer to the speakers of Ethiopian Semitic languages Puntites.

The Puntite languages are characterized by a basic vocabulary, a system of roots and vowel patterns and the formation of derived verbs by prefixes. The South Arabian languages: Sabaean, Minaean and Hadramautic, are slightly different from modern South Arabic, but analogous to the Ethiopian languages. This represents the influence of the Jectanid tribes on South Arabic.

The major gift of the Naga to India was the writing system: Deva-Nagari. Nagari is the name for the Sanskrit script. Over a hundred years ago Sir William Jones, pointed out that the ancient Ethiopic and Sanskrit writing are one and the same. He explained that this was supported by the fact that both writing systems the writing went from left to right and the vowels were annexed to the consonants. Today Eurocentric scholars teach that the Indians taught writing to the Ethiopians, yet the name Nagari for Sanskrit betrays the Ethiopia origin of this form of writing. In Geez, the term nagar means ‘speech, to speak’. Thus we have in Geez, with the addition of pronouns: nagara ‘he spoke, nagarat ‘she spoke’ and nagarku ‘I spoke’.

Moreover, it is interesting to note that Sanskrit vowels: a,aa,',i,u,e,o, virama etc., are in the same order as Geez. Y.M. Kobishnor, in the Unesco History of Africa, maintains that Ethiopic was used as the model for Armenian writing, as was many of the Transcaucasian scripts. The Naga introduced worship of Kali, the Serpent, Murugan and the Sun or Krishna. It is interesting that Krishna, who was associated with the Sun, means Black, this is analogous to the meaning of Khons of the Kushites. Homer, described Hercules as follows: "Black he stood as night his bow uncased, his arrow string for flight". This mention of arrows identifies the Kushites as warriors who used the bow, a common weapon of the Kushites and the Naga.

Overtime the Nagas were absorbed into the Dravidian population. Today the Naga, are recognized by some researchers as Dravidians.

Recently, Dr. K. Loganathan ,has begun to reconstruct the Tamil and Sumerian origin of many Sanskrit terms. Controversy surrounds the work of Dr. Loganathan because it is claimed that Sanskrit is a representative of the ancestral Indo-Aryan language and has been in pristine shape since Panini. Coulson maintains that “Panini is obeyed and bypassed” .

Sanskrit is not genetically related to the Indo-European family of languages as many researchers have assumed. As a result, Coulson notes that “the syntax of Classical Sanskrit in many major respects bears little resemblance to the syntax of any other Indo-European language (leaving aside similarities in certain kinds of Middle Indo-Aryan writing” .

This view is untenable. W.D. Whitney, in Sanskrit Grammar (1889) observed “of linguyistic history there is next to nothing in it all [Classical Sanskrit]; but only a history of style, and this for the most part showing a gradual depravation, an increase of artificially and intensification of certain more undesirable features of the language such as the use of passive construction and of particles instead of verbs, and the substitution of compounds [i.e., agglutination] for sentences”. Professor Whitney found this characteristic strange because agglutination is associated with non-Indo-European languages like Dravidian.

The Sanskrit language has been under constant change since its creation as various grammarians took liberty with Sanskrit to make it conform to the popular colloquial language forms of the grammarian. As a result, Sanskrit writers have made numerous innovations in writing Sanskrit. Coulson wrote that “The syntax of Classical Sanskrit in many major respects bears little resemblance to the syntax of any other Indo-European language (leaving aside similarities in certain kinds of Middle Indo-Aryan writing”(p.xxii). Dr. Coulson adds that “Furthermore, because of the long history of the language andt the varied sources from which it drew its vocabulary, many Sanskrit words have a number of meanings; and this feature, too, is much augmented by compounding (e.g., because it literally means ‘twice born’, the word dvijah can signify ‘brahmin’, ‘bird’ or ‘tooth’ (p.xxiv).

The diverse origin of Sanaskrit encouraged grammarians and authors of Sanskrit literature to make innovations in writing the language that according to Coulson led to “Panini…[being] obeyed and bypassed” (p.xxii). As a result, Sanskrit is a learned language that has been modified over time by numerous poets writing in Sanskrit and thus we see innovations not in conformity with Paninis grammar by Aƛvaghosa, and Kalidasa (Samkara) .

As you can see Sanskrit is not the first language. Sanskrit was a lingua franca used to povide a common means of communication for the diverse people who formerly lived in North India.



Gin said...

You don't need to go as far as India to see examples of African writing systems. There are ancient ones right in Nigeria such as the Nsibidi writing of the Ekoi (or Ejagham) people who are also in Cameroon. You won't find any authentic images or diagrams of them online, but the writing system is worth researching as it is very similar in development to the oracle bone script that developed into Chinese characters. Other writing systems include Aniocha and Mbari. All of these were created before any European/Arab contact.

Nkrumah said...

I just watched a documentary "The Story of India" by a Mr. Wood...I think it is a BBC Documentary and it puts forward the same idea of linking Sanskrit with the Indo-European languages by linking a few comparative words. What I wondered about it was whether these words being compared were derived one from the other as opposed to coming from common origins.

Where can one can information on these writing systems. Books or otherwise.

Neeta Raina said...

There are about 70 words for 'speech' in Sanskrit - including 'nigada'. It is from Sanskrit 'nigada' that 'nagari' in 'Dev-nagari' is derived. You may check Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English - Sanskrit dictionary to confirm the above information at website:

The writer has confused the Sanskrit word 'nagar'(which means place or town) and the sanskrit word 'nigada' (which means 'speech'.

The other words in Sanskrit speech are - ukti,abhibhASana, bhASaNa, gira, aGgavAkpANimat, vyAhRti,vAc, vANI, aditi, irA,kathA,gadi, gAndharvI, gava, dhenA, bhaNiti, bhAratI, rAdhanA, vAc, vakti, vANi, vipA, velA, etc.

PP India said...

Sanskrit has no particular writing system. it was written in different script in different points of time. you can refer to Wikipedia if you want