As the world celebrates International Mother Tongue Day on February 21, we take this opportunity to celebrate the mother of most mother tongues in India today – Sanskrit. An eloquent prose of grandeur, antiquity and nobility to some, and an irrelevant dead language to many others, let us take a look at why it holds an eminent position today and why it evokes so much nostalgia back in its motherland.
Language of the ancient Aryans
Sanskrit is an Old Indo-Aryan language and has been the lingua franca for the educated in ancient and medieval India. It is the parent language to most of the great provincial languages that are recognised by the Indian Constitution today and its local vernaculars are the source from which the Prakrit languages also developed.
Written in Devanagari and Brahmi based scripts, in due course it came to be a philosophical language of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Īśvarism and Jainism. Moreover, in its grammatical structure, Sanskrit is startlingly similar to other early Indo-European languages such as Greek and Latin.
Tracing back the links
This wondrous language is believed to have originated in the second millennium B.C. as Vedic Sanskrit, which was the earliest form of Sanskrit, dating back to approximately 1500-200 B.C. when “knowledge” was handed down through the generations orally in the north-western part of the subcontinent. In this period there was a large corpus of Sanskrit literature covering a wide range of subjects, including compositions of hymns, poems, drama, poetry philosophy and astronomy.
As of today
In the 2001 Census of India, 14,135 Indians reported Sanskrit to be their first language, while 1669 people used Sanskrit as their first language according to the 2011 national census of Nepal. Apart from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, some areas of south and Southeast Asia, many Buddhist scholars of Japan, China and Thailand also use Sanskrit. Interestingly, the Indian state of Uttarakhand has declared Sanskrit as its second official language.
Some of India’s lawmakers did actually consider Sanskrit as the national language while drafting the Indian constitution. While some hoped Sanskrit would progressively replace English in the years to come, Sanskrit did not of course become the official language of India but it did get included in the list of Indian languages in Schedule 8 of the Indian Constitution. Today, Sanskrit is recognized in the constitution of India as both, a classical language and an official language and continues to be used in scholarly, literary, and technical media, as well as in periodicals, radio, television and film from time to time.
Among the many national, spiritual and social phrases, a popular one is ‘Satyameva Jayate’ which means – Truth alone triumphs.