Sanskrit at U of T
"The Sanskrit language is of a wonderful structure, more perfect than Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either"
Sir William Jones, Third Address to the Asiatick Society of Bengal
Why Study Sanskrit?
- The oldest surviving documents written in an Indo-European language are written in Sanskrit. Its grammar is the closest to Proto Indo-European, as it has, for example, retained more of Proto Indo-European’s cases than other Indo-European languages have.
- It is the cornerstone of scholarship recognizing the deep linguistic affinities between Europe and Asia.
- The importance of the Sanskrit language for the study of Asia can hardly be overestimated; what Greek and Latin have been to Western history, Sanskrit is to the histories, religions, cultures, and societies of Asia.
- Its "discovery" by British colonialists in India was instrumental in generating the field of comparative linguistics.
- For more than three millennia Sanskrit was the lingua franca of the Indian subcontinent, the language of science, knowledge, and culture.
- It formed the basis of several of the world’s great religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and was the primary language for the production of knowledge in these traditions.
- It would be difficult to study any of these religions in their South Asian phases without knowledge of Sanskrit.
- Its spread formed the basis for literacy in much of South and Southeast Asia, as well as Tibet and even today its influence can be widely evident in these areas.
- One of the great classical languages of the world, the Sanskrit language is renowned for the sophistication of its phonetic structure and is the basis for many of modern South Asia’s languages—Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi—as well as the classical Prakrit and the language of Buddhist scripture, Pali.
- Is it hard to learn Sanskrit?
Sanskrit belongs to the Indo-European family of languages and therefore shares many similarities in structure and vocabulary to many European languages (this includes English, although the differences between the two are remarkable). For an Anglophone, studying Sanskrit can be quite challenging, but there are a lot of excellent sources to draw upon, including audio, video, and numerous other electronic aids.
- Is Sanskrit only a liturgical language, or is it still spoken?
As the "language of the gods," Sanskrit had an elite status in South Asia and was closely connected to religion. For millennia, however, it was also the primary language for literature and the arts, as well as for sciences and other branches of knowledge. Like Latin for Christianity, few people spoke it at home. However, nowadays there are several communities in India that practise spoken Sanskrit and use it regularly.
- Once I learn Sanskrit, what do I do with it?
Sanskrit is a doorway into the religious and cultural heritage of South Asia. With Sanskrit, one has access to the most ancient texts of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, as well as to a huge wealth of classical literature. One also has greater understanding of the history of Southeast Asia, because some of the most famous religious and cultural monuments of Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia draw upon Sanskrit literature and contain lithographs of Sanskrit text. In the other geographical direction, numerous Buddhist texts of Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan are translations of Sanskrit texts composed in India.
- Did you know?
- That some of the oldest texts of the world were composed in Sanskrit — around 1500-2000 BCE?
- That the first Sanskrit texts were composed orally, in such tight poetic meter that they have been preserved virtually without change to this day?
- That many European intellectuals in the nineteenth century were influenced by Sanskrit poetry? For example, the German author Goethe borrowed from the great Sanskrit playwright Kalidasa for the Vorspiel auf dem Theatre in Faust.
- That the first texts on yoga were composed in Sanskrit?
- That "Zen" is the Japanese pronunciation of a Chinese word ("chan"), which is a Chinese pronunciation of a Sanskrit word ("dhyan"), meaning "meditation"?