From Shyam P
Corrected; thanks for informing.
The foundation of India culture is based on the Sanskrit language. There is a misconception about the Sanskrit language that it is only a language for chanting mantras in temples or religious ceremonies.
However, that is less than 5% of the Sanskrit literature. More than 95% of the Sanskrit literature has nothing to do with religion, and instead it deals with philosophy, law, science, literature, grammar, phonetics, interpretation etc.
In fact Sanskrit was the language of free thinkers, who questioned everything, and expressed the widest spectrum of thoughts on various subjects. In particular, Sanskrit was the language of our scientists in ancient India.
The word `Sanskrit’ means “prepared, pure, refined or prefect”. It was not for nothing that it was called the `devavani’ (language of the Gods).
It has an outstanding place in our culture and indeed was recognized as a language of rare sublimity by the whole world. Sanskrit was the language of our philosophers, our scientists, our mathematicians, our poets and playwrights, our grammarians, our jurists, etc. In grammar, Panini and Patanjali (authors of Ashtadhyayi and the Mahabhashya) have no equals in the world.
In fact Sanskrit is not just one language, there are several Sanskrits. What we call Sanskrit today is really Panini’s Sanskrit, also known as Classical Sanskrit or Laukik Sanskrit, and this is what is taught in our schools and universities today, and it is in this language that all our scientists wrote their great works.
However, there were earlier Sanskrits too which were somewhat different from Classical Sanskrit.
The earliest Sanskrit work is the Rig Veda, which was probably composed around 2000 B.C. However, it was subsequently continued from generation to generation by oral tradition, and had to be memorized orally in the Gurukul by the young boys by repeating the verses chanted by their Guru.
The Rig Veda is the most sacred of Hindu literature, and it consists of 1028 hymns (richas) to various nature gods e.g. Indra, agni, surya, soma, varuna etc.
Language changes with passage of time. For instance, it is difficult to understand Shakespeare’s plays today without a good commentary because Shakespeare wrote in the 16th Century A.D. and since then the English language has changed. Many of the words and expressions which were in vogue in Shakespeare’s time are no longer in vogue today.
Sanskrit language kept changing from around 2000 B.C. when the Rig Veda was composed to about 500 B.C. i.e. for about 1500 years.
In the 5th Century B.C. the great scholar Panini, who was perhaps the greatest grammarian the world has ever seen, wrote his great book `Ashtadhyayi’ (book of eight chapters). In this book Panini fixed the rules of Sanskrit, and thereafter no further changes in Sanskrit were permitted except slight changes made by two other great grammarians, namely, Katyayana who wrote his book called ‘Vartika’, and Patanjali who wrote his commentary on the Ashtadhyayi called the ‘Maha Bhashya’. Except for the slight changes by these two subsequent grammarians, Sanskrit as it exists today is really Panini’s Sanskrit or Classical Sanskrit.
The word Veda (also called `Shruti’) consists of four parts :-
I. Samhita or Mantra, which consists of the four books Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samveda and Atharvaveda. The word ‘Samhita’ means a collection, and Rigveda is a collection of hymns . The principal Veda is the Rigveda, and it is written in poetic verses called ‘richas’. The Samveda is really Rigveda set to music, while about 2/3rd of the Richas (poems) of Yajurveda are taken from the Rigveda. Some people regard the Atharvaveda as a later addition to the Samhitas, which were earlier known as ‘trayi vidya’ consisting of the Rigveda, Yajurveda and Samveda.
II. The Brahmanas, which are books written in prose in which the method of performing the various yagyas is given. Each Brahmana is attached to some Samhita. Thus attached to the Rigveda is the Aitareya Brahmana and the Kaushiteki Brahmana, attached to the Samveda is the Tandya Brahmana and some other Brahmanas, attached to the white (shukla) Yajurveda is the Shatapatha Brahmana and some other Brahmanas, attached to the black (Krishna) Yajurveda is the Taitareya Brahmana and some other Brahmana, attached to the Atharvaveda is the Gopath Brahmana.These Brahmana are written in prose, unlike the Samhitas which are mainly in poetry, and they prescribe the rules for performing the various yagyas.
III. The Aranyaks, which are forest books. These contain the germs of philosophical thought, though in undeveloped form.
IV. The Upanishads which incorporated developed philosophical ideas.
The Brahmanas were written subsequent to the Samhitas, and their language is somewhat different from that of the Samhitas, obviously because the Sanskrit language had changed by the time they were written. Similarly, the Aranyaks were written subsequent to the Brahmanas, and, the Sanskrit of the Aranyaks is slightly different from that of the Brahmanas. The last part of the Veda is the Upanishads, and the language of the Upanishads is different from that of earlier Vedic works for the reason that the Sanskrit language kept changing over the centuries.
After Panini wrote his Ashtadhyayi the entire non-Vedic Sanskrit literature was written in accordance with Panini’s grammar, and even that part of the non-Vedic Sanskrit literature which existed before Panini was altered and made in accordance with Panini’s grammar (except some words called apashabdas).
The Vedic literature is only about 1% of the entire Sanskrit literature. About 99% of Sanskrit literature is non vedic Sanskrit literature. For instance, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas, the works of Kalidas, etc. are no doubt highly respected but they are not part of the Vedic literature and hence they are now almost all existing in accordance with Panini’s grammar.
To illustrate, some parts of the Mahabharata were written before Panini because Panini has referred to the Mahabharat in his Ashtadhyayi. Even such parts of the Mahabharata were altered and made in accordance with Panini’s grammar. Thus today all of the Sanskrit non-Vedic literature is in accordance with Panini’s grammar, except a few words and expressions, called Apashabdas or apabhramshas (as Patanjali has described them) which for some reason could not be fitted into Panini’s system, and hence have been left as they were.
However, it was not permissible to change the language of the Rigveda and make it in accordance with Panini’s grammar. Panini or no Panini, one could not touch the Rigveda, because it was held to be so sacred that it was not permitted to change its language. In fact after having been initially composed may be around 2000 B.C. the Rigveda was thereafter never written and it continued from generation to generation by oral tradition from Guru to Shishya.
Thus the Vedic literature is not in accordance with the Panini’s grammar. However, the non-Vedic Sanskrit literature (which is 99% of the entire Sanskrit literature) is almost all in accordance with Panini’s grammar, including all the great scientific works.
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