Sanskrit was considered by ancient Indians deva bhasha, devavâni, the language of the Gods. The very word samskrita means refined, purified, perfect. It is made up of the primordial sounds, and is developed systematically to include the natural progressions of sounds as created in the human mouth.
The ancient rishis attached a great deal of importance to sound, and hence their writing, poetry or prose, had a rhythmic and musical quality. The Sanskrit grammarians wished to construct a perfect language, which would belong to no one and thus belong to all, which would remain an ideal instrument of communication and culture for all peoples and all time. Such was their great dream.
Today we know that Sanskrit is the oldest and the most systematic language in the world. The vastness and the versatility, the richness and the power of expression can be appreciated even by the simple fact that this language has 65 words to describe various forms of earth, 67 words for water, and over 250 words to describe rainfall.
Sanskrit was a complete success and became the language of all cultured people in India and in countries under Indian influence. All scientific, philosophical, historical and poetical works were henceforth written in Sanskrit, and important texts existing in other languages were translated and adapted into Sanskrit, and this custom endure even today (the translation made by Kapali Shastry of the first Canto — The Symbol Dawn— of Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri is a remarkable example). The sheer volume of Sanskrit literature is immense, and it remains largely unexplored.
Sir William Jones (1746-1794) came to India as a judge of the Supreme Court at Calcutta. He pioneered Sanskrit studies. His admiration for Indian thought and culture was almost limitless. He observed as long as 1784: «The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than Latin and more exquisitely refined than either: yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs, and in the forms of grammar, that could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all without believing them to have sprung from some common source which perhaps no longer exists».
One century after, the renowned Sanskrit scholar Arthur Macdonell summarized: «Since the Renaissance there has been not event of such worldwide significance in the history of culture as the discovery of Sanskrit literature in the latter part of the eighteenth century».
Alain Daniélou, the famous musicologist, settled in India for fifteen years in the study of Sanskrit and Indian music. He said: «Sanskrit is constructed like geometry and follows a rigorous logic. It is theoretically possible to explain the meaning of the words according to the combined sense of the relative letters, syllables and roots. Sanskrit has no meaning by connotations and consequently does not age. Panini’s language is in no way different from that of Hindu scholars conferring in Sanskrit today».
No one has expressed this more eloquently than Sri Aurobindo: «The ancient and classical creations of the Sanskrit tongue both in quality and in body and abundance of excellence, in their potent originality and force and beauty, in their substance and art and structure, in grandeur and justice and charm of speech and in the height and width of the reach of their spirit stand very evidently in the front rank among the world’s great literatures. The language itself, as has been universally recognised by those competent to form a judgment, is one of the most significant, the most perfect and wonderfully sufficient literary instrument developed by the human mind, at once majestic and sweet and flexible, strong and clearly-formed and full and vibrant and subtle, and its quality and character would be of itself a sufficient evidence of the character and quality of the race whose mind it expressed and the culture of which it was the reflecting medium».
Professor A.L. Basham taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London; he has noted that «though its fame is much restricted by its specialised nature, there is no doubt that Panini’s grammar is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of any ancient civilization, and the most detailed and scientific grammar composed before the XIX century in any part of the world».
Panini’s Sanskrit grammar, produced in about 300 BC is, in fact, the shortest and the fullest grammar in the world. According to Sir Monier-Williams, «the Panini grammar reflects the wondrous capacity of the human brain, which till today no other country has been able to produce except India».
Leonard Bloomfield’s characterization of Panini’s Asthadhyayi «as one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence is by no means and exaggeration: no one who has had even a small acquaintance with that most remarkable book could fail to agree».
Frederich von Schlegel said that «there is no language in the world, even Greek, which has the clarity and the philosophical precision of Sanskrit».
Alexander Thompson, one of the best philologists in his times said: «The consonantal division of the alphabet of the Sanskrit language was a more wonderful feat of human genius than any the world has yet seen. Even now Europeans are far behind the Hindus in this respect».
Dr. Raja Ramanna, atomic scientist, in Sanskrit and Science says, «Because Sanskrit grammar is so thorough and precise, the form of the language is well-defined, orderly and perfect. In fact, Sanskrit literature follows such beautiful and accurate mathematical patterns that one marvels at them. Even the Greeks cannot claim such regularity. Sanskrit has the power of organised growth since it is developed in a most mathematical and logical way».
Jawaharlal Nehru said: «If I was asked what is the greatest treasure which India possesses and what is her greatest heritage, I would answer unhesitatingly that it is the Sanskrit language and literature and all that it contains. This is a magnificent inheritance, and so long as this endures and influences the life of our people, so long will the basic genius of India continue».
Sanskrit literature is immense, and it remains largely unexplored — poetry, history, philosophy, music, astronomy, geography, medicine and other disciplines: it is an immense reservoir that needs to be known. In the following words Juan Mascaro pays tribute to the glory of the Sanskrit literature: «Sanskrit literature is a great literature. We have the great songs of the Veda, the splendour of the Upanishads, the glory of the Bhagavad-Gita, the vastness (100,000 verses) of the Mahabharata, the tenderness and the heroism found in the Ramayana, the wisdom of the fables and stories of India, the scientific philosophy of Samkhya, the psychological philosophy of Yoga, the poetical philosophy of Vedanta, the Laws of Manu, the grammar of Panini and other scientific writings, the lyrical poetry and dramas of Kalidasa. Sanskrit literature, on the whole, is a romantic literature interwoven with idealism and practical wisdom, and with a passionate longing for spiritual vision».
According to Richard Gombrich, «the reason for studying Sanskrit today are the same as they ever were: that the vast array of Sanskrit texts preserves for us a valuable part of the cultural heritage of mankind, including much beautiful literature and many interesting, even fascinating, ideas».
The last conference of the International Association of Sanskrit studies held in Turin, Italy, according to Brockington was an eye-opener. There were a number of Sanskrit scholars from the Eastern European countries, including Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Russia.
The usefulness of Sanskrit literature for modern times can be demonstrated in two ways. Firstly, by unravelling the basic knowledge and wisdom that it contained in Sanskrit literature to the world, and secondly by working out new theories and paradigms of knowledge that can be built on the basis of the principles laid down in Sanskrit literature.
Sri Aurobindo himself wrote an Essay in Sanskrit, that we want to reproduce here for the amateur: Ekamevâdvitîyam brahma, “The Absolute is the One without a second”.