Sanskrit’s Nature and History
By Yamuna Jivana dasa
This is several questions made in the form of an article. I find them intriguing and aspire for answers. I beg kind insightful devotees to offer insights, and, if they find time, to evaluate or critique the answers which i have offered according to my own limited understanding. The very questions are written in bold text. The purpose of this is for my insignificant self to gain clearer understanding on the subject. That would help me in completing a written presentation on Vedic culture, which is under preparation. (Actually, in the whole picture that modern academia has about the Vedic culture, this subject is a pretty foundational one.)
The article is in 3 parts:
1. “Vedic” Sanskrit and Classical Sanskrit – nature and origin of differences
2. Further differences within Vedic Sanskrit itself, as well as within Classical Sanskrit itself
3. Other languages’ relations with Sanskrit
To answer some of the questions, we will need a person who has certain learning in both the linguistics and the scriptures. As i suppose that among us there might be not a very great number of those, i therefore beg you, if you know some devotee of such qualifications, let them know of this humble request, so that they may decide to help here.
The main parts of the main questions are as underlined text. The main parts of the subsidiary questions are as dash-underlined text. There are also smaller questions as normal text.
In responding to this article, i beg devotees to please give clear references, as far as possible, to back up their insights or conclusions. This helps tremendously to define a clear understanding of topics. Also, this inquirer can be reached at email@example.com. Any clarifications will be very welcome.
I humbly thank the readers in advance.
SUMMARY of the PART 1
In the 1st part of the article i tried to summarize upon the differences between the Vedic and Classical Sanskrit, and to summarize a couple of views upon the question of the origins of those differences (http://www.dandavats.com/?p=11538). Mainly, the question is whether we can accept as sastric the view that those differences exist eternally, as two natural and eternal varieties within the unlimited expanse of the Vedic sound. We indicated that such a view is not accepted by the mainstream academy, whose contention is that those differences must have appeared only with time, as a result of natural evolution of language from its crude and primitive, rigid stages of Vedic Sanskrit, to its later, more diversified, creative and sophisticated stages of Classical Sanskrit. We somewhat discussed also a views in between of these two.
The conclusion, though open to revision, was that the sastric and samradayic view is as we said above: As far as i am concerned, the sastric data available to me, and my best reasoning, lead me to conclude that the sastras and parampara maintain that the two systems of Sanskrit , the Vaidika (“Vedic”) and Laukika (“classical”), are two eternally and “simultaneously existing dialects of the same language, one liturgical and the other vernacular,” and that there are unlimited different minor dialects within both of these two major Sanskrit-systems, and all of them existing within original Vedic sound. However, i would beg learned devotees, for their confirmation or otherwise, and for their sharing of some of their insights on the topic.
FURTHER DIFFERENCES WITHIN THE VEDIC SANSKRIT ITSELF, AS WELL AS WITHIN THE CLASSICAL SANSKRIT ITSELF
The next interesting point is that the linguists identify several different “layers” of Sanskrit, or its “dialects”, grammatical and stylistic variations of it, within the Vedic Sanskrit (means within the sruti literature itself). Then, within the smriti-literature itself (comprising Puranas and other classical-sanskrit literature), they also identify several different “layers”, or variations, of the classical Sanskrit itself.
That fact is not inconsistent with the statements of the sastras and sampradaya, for those statements clearly allow that, apart from the major differences between the two major systems, there exist also unlimited different minor dialects within both of these two major Sanskrit-systems, and all of them existing within original Vedic sound, as we said a few lines above, as well as in the part 1 of the article.
The variations within the Vedic Sanskrit i find nicely summarized by Gopiparanadhana P, in the paragraph from which we have cited previously:
„… The four Vedas are considered çruti, including in each Veda the Saàhitä collections of hymns and incantations, the Brähmaëa ritual interpretations, the more esoteric interpretations of the Äraëyakas, and the philosophical Upanisads. To ordinary perception, the language and contents of the Samhitäs, especially of the Rig Veda Samhitä, seem the most archaic. The Brähmanas, Äranyakas, and Upanisads appear to be afterthoughts, speculations by later generations about the meaning and purpose of the Samhitäs; they are written in a variety of successively “newer” dialects, gradually approaching “classical” Sanskrit. The Upanisads seem an altogether different sort of work, discussing as they do otherworldly concerns hardly touched upon in the “older” ritual sruti.“
Some of the Upanishads are even very close, linguistically, to the classical Sanskrit of the Puranas.
Current academic view on the differences
All this provides the reason for the historical linguists to see Sanskrit as a language which, like all other languages we know, gradually developed with the passing of millennia, not having an eternally existing system of standards. Thus they establish a chronology of the development of Sanskrit. In this chronology, those different “layers” of Sanskrit are thought to be phases of its development in the course of time. In that development, the Rig Vedic (samhita) Sanskrit is the ancientmost, then comes the (samhita)mantra-language of the Atharva, Sama and Yajur Veda, as the second “layer”, then there are two other “layers”, and then, as the last, fifth “phase”, comes the language of some of the Upanisads. Other Upanisads are even considered post-Vedic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedic_Sanskrit#Chronology
In such a view, the “phase” of Classical Sanskrit begins with the famous sage-grammarian, Panini, who wrote the most famous known grammar-work on Sanskrit, the Astadhyayi. His work is the most systematic grammar-work preserved, and is the basis of the known classical Sanskrit. There were other grammarians who presented grammars, prior to him, as is known from the references in his work, as well as from the references in the works of significantly later commentators and authors. But, the works of the ancient grammarians other than Panini are lost, except for a few rare pieces.
In this world it is natural that one thinker disagrees with another on certain points, or builds on the predecessor’s points. Since the later historical commentators and authors rebut certain postulates of the ancient authors, and/or build on their opinions, mentioning them in their works, it gives an impression of being an ongoing trend, leading one to conclude that also those ancient authors were in certain disagreement with one another’s opinions on certain aspects of language and its philosophy, and that they didn’t have an already established authoritative system of knowledge on which they were but elaborating and discussing its various aspects. So again there’s an impression of gradual development of language and linguistic thought. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanskrit_grammarians
Then, within the classical Sanskrit literature itself, there are also linguistic differences, which allegedly seem to contribute to the same view. I remember to have read somewhere, that different smritis have different stylistic and linguistic characteristics. I cannot recall where i read it, nor can i say to have any vague but defined picture about what kind of differences those are. But on account of those differences, the historical linguists attribute different dates to different Puranas, Itihasas, and other smritis. And they serve to them as another reason to regard Sanskrit as another evolving language, and to regard the Vedic literature as any other literature that have unorganizedly amassed in time, or as Gopiparanadhana P put it, “to disregard the Vedas’ own claim to being a single, coherent whole.”: “There are many superficial reasons, therefore, for critical scholars to disregard the Vedas’ own claim to being a single, coherent whole. … indologists … try to dissect the separate organs of the Vedic corpus, unaware that the organism is actually alive.” (Tattva S. 12, pp by GPDP)
Is it the only reasonable view indeed?
Now, in this regard, i would first of all want to ask
What kind of differences are, those linguistic differences between the Puranas and Puranas, and between other smritis and other smritis?; Are they such that they necessarily indicate the changes of language with time, or they allow to be explained, perhaps with a little broadening of mind, as simply different styles and moods of literary presentation, which, although being mutually different to a certain degree, may exist simultaneously within a greater and richer original language system? Remember, that is what the Sanskrit should be, according to (my understanding of) the already cited Bhag.11.21.38 with Visvanath CT purport (see it cited the part one), which to me gives a picture of a language system unlimitedly rich and diversified within itself from the very beginning of creation (and even before it), containing diverse usable and allowable language rules, suitable to the needs and moods etc. of a subject which is to be expressed. Is this understanding allowable to apply to those smritic differences?
Now, along the same lines, i would try to suggest a general understanding by which to account for all of the differences we have mentioned thus far, whether srutic or smritic or mutual. So, for all those differences, is it allowable to view them in the way as follows:
(allowable not according to the crude academic evolutionistic prejudices and paradigms, but according to the sane logic and reason)
WHAT ABOUT THIS VIEW?
2.1.1 Basic paradigm for academic view – linear development of each and any structure
In any understanding, the whole picture will depend on the nature of its underlying paradigms, because it is from those basic paradigms that the entire understanding ramifies. So we start from the fundamental paradigms.
The whole academic world of the last few centuries has been built upon the underlying paradigm that every and any organized, or complex structure, is something that cannot exist originally on its own, but is something that has to develop with time and in time. No other possibility is there for the existence of anything complex and consciously organized. So, if there is a complex, many branched, multidivisioned structure, as are the language systems, it could come into existence only by a gradual development in the course of time, through many stages. If something is many-branched, then it necessarily means that each branch of a phenomenon had to develop with time, on its own, due to special factors and circumstances. So the existence of many branches of Sanskrit language and vedic literature can only mean there was a gradual accumulation and stratification of material.
But the above underlying paradigm is not something that is logically provable as a universal law, but is just an arbitrarily chosen assumption, an arbitrarily imposed axiom. After all, such a view is unable to explain its own crucial moment, the crucial moment of the very process it proposes : how the very first organized-ness came about. Thus, the bio-evolutionists were never able to explain how the first living thing came about, and in the same way, there is no valid and confirmable explanation of how the first human articulated language or languages came to exist. How the unarticulated communication, an ugh-ugh-language, where there’s no consistent connection between thoughts and words, became an organized and systematic communication where thoughts are organizedly expressed through precise sound combinations in a precise syntax, without a superior educational direction? How it came about the point where “mmm-aaaa-ugh”, combined with gesticulations, became “May I tell you about the idea that came to my mind all of a sudden?”?
Our view is that the human being, supposed to begin to communicate articulately, ought 1) to already have a ready psychological potential to do so, i.e. to articulately communicate; 2) to be given a superior educational direction which will offer him a live and ready, exact experience of such a communication during an amount of time, thus enabling him to assimilate it (whether external experience, like a child hearing others communicate, gradually assimilates the system; or internal, like a child who suddenly begins to speak a language foreign to his native language, due to the mental revival of memories from a previous life); Is there any other way to make a conscious being a speaking one? As far as i know, only vague ideas, called theories, exist, but far from anything consistent. Is this right?
2.1.2 Vedic basic paradigm – timely manifestation of already existing subtle concepts (béjas)
However, if we adopt a view that an original language, or languages system, exists on its own, then the problem disappears. And our assumption is not deniable logically. It can be denied only if we proclaim and accept the above prejudice, which says the contrary, as a logical axiom.
It is undeniably clear that for any organized-ness, there has to be an organizational concept. Without a subtle or conscious concept of the organization, there can be no organization. Without information, there can be no organization. So any organized structure necessarily requires its own seed – a conscious concept of what will the thing look like. An archetypal set of characteristics of a thing has to be there on a conscious level, in order for the thing to exist.
The Vedic system is exactly this. Any existing phenomenon has its subtle seed, or béja. Subtle means – a conscious idea of it. To understand our simple view on the multidivisioned-ness of Sanskrit language and vedic literature, one has to first deeply familiarize himself with the Vedic concept of existence. One needs to open his intellect to this option, at least, and let it go in. It is so because the whole Vedic logic of existence of things in space and time is radically different from the unfounded but deeply rooted paradigm in the academic mind of the last few centuries, which we described above. In the Vedic concept, seed for each and every one of the living forms already exist, and those seeds consist of the subtle information for each of them, i.e. the conscious ideas, for each of them. The living forms never “evolve” by a blind or unconscious process, independent of subtle information. This holds not only for the living forms, i.e. those that obviously manifest the symptoms of life, but holds actually for any complex or organized structure – no such structure develops independently of subtle information. And the whole universe is such that if we look closely to any detail of universal existence, we will find no unorganized structure – everything in the universe, to be honest, is ultimately very complex, extremely complex. Ultimately therefore, for anything existing in this universe, a subtle organizational plan is required. Indispensable. For a broad and unprejudiced intellect, such a conclusion is inescapable.
Some references about this idea of béjas: you can find it nicely summarized in “Human Devolution” by Drutakarma Prabhu (Michael Cremo), chapter 11, pages 485-486. There he corroborates the idea by the following references: BG 7.10, CC Madhya 19.152pp, S.Bhag. 3.10.7pp. Some of other relevant references would be: S.Bhag. 2.1.25pp, 2.5.11pp, 3.5.27, 7.9.33-34, 11.12.20-23, Brahma Samhita 5.13. One could find many others.
2.1.3 Extending the paradigm to language
What to say then about language, which in itself is not only undeniably organized and complex phenomenon (the linguists know it well), but is also much subtler than the mere things in the universe, and much more interconnected to consciousness and closer to it? So, in order for any language to exist at all, a set of archetypal characteristics of it should already exist somewhere on a conscious plane of the universe. The particular language will manifest exactly then when the time-energy activates its particular subtle set of archetypal characteristics, letting them manifest in the gross reality.
(As far as time, it is a divine energy that activates the latent seeds of things and events in the universe. Anything, any phenomenon and event in the universe, is the particular combination of gunas. When the time, who is the mover of the gunas, brings about that specific combination of gunas which corresponds to that event, and which is until then written on a subtle plane as the event’s seed, then that particular thing or event or phenomenon will manifest – the seed will sprout and bring the fruit. In other words, there is the seed, and when the time makes outer circumstances appropriate, the seed brings about the fruit.).
A language is a system of expressing the ideas through sound. It is extremely subtle. It involves the mind, intelligence, and the subtle prana. The qualitative properties of the system by which one expresses his ideas through sound, will depend on the quality of his internal organs – mind and intelligence, who are the repository of the ideas, thoughts and will. Altogether they may be termed, and often are, as “mind”. According to the guna-combination by which the mind is dominated, his thoughts and ideas will have a certain quality, and will condition by that quality the sound when they become expressed. They will condition by their quality the whole sound system of their expression, which is the language. And, as gunas change, the sound system will also assume changes. Necessarily. Therefore, different languages “develop” by the manifesting of specific combinations of the gunas in the course of time. Thus for any language there already exists a set of its archetypal characteristics, latently present in the gunas themselves.
As far as Sanskrit is concerned, it is samskrita, or refined, purified, or, as we said, it is the inherent feature of båhaté, or çabda-brahma, which means pure vedic sound. As the property of eternal and pure vedic sound, it is also eternal and pure, and it elaborates the vedic sound in many pure verbal varieties, either vaidika or laukika (as per 11.21.38-40), thus reflecting the variegatedness of the transcendence. Because also the higher realms of the universe are predominantly free of lower modes, Sanskrit is also their language. Of course, as we said, on earth it can become, and does become, degraded with ages, becoming mixed with tinges of lower modes. However, the aforesaid pure scriptural Sanskrit, divya-language, in its various varieties of expression and style, remains the lingua franca of the mainstream of the civilization guided by rishis and rajarshis. It specially remains the preserved language for the yajna-performances, meditations, upasanas etc. (vaidika Sanskrit), as well as for illuminated conferences, discourses and speeches (laukika Sanskrit). Until, as we said, Kali-yuga advents, at which point the civilization gradually becomes cut-off from the connection with educational and managerial personnel of the universe, and the pure language remains only in the scriptures.
Sanskrit, sages, vyakaranas
So the Sanskrit dialects and varieties we find in the scriptures are the eternally existing varieties of the original laws of verbal expression. These different eternal varieties of original language exist constantly along with the vedic scriptures. They are inherent in the båhaté, in the ocean of vedic sound. From time to time, however, when the need manifests, they become also codified, in the form of different Sanskrit grammars (vyakaranas), by qualified vedic sages. Presently, of the grammars by such sages we have only the Panini’s vyakarana in full, and some rare pieces of others. It is remarkable that Panini doesn’t take credit to himself for the grammar he presented – he acknowledges it to be a gift by Lord Siva, which means it exists prior to Panini. Anyway, today only this one is available in full, but previously there existed a good number of them. At least, Panini mentions ten other vyakarana-authors previous to him. And Panini is also an ancient sage of vedic times, at least according to the Puranas, which place him as a contemporary of such persons as Bhrigu, Kasyapa, Durvasa, Gautama, Vasistha, Bharadvaja and so on. (This is found in the Brahma-vaivarta Purana, Prakriti 4.57,58 and Ganapati 23.11-15; i found this info in the book “The True History and the Religion of india” by HH Swami Prakasanand Sarasvati , p 549-550.) According to this account, he is not a recent person that lived and composed his grammar around 400 BC, as the current academic view has it.(?)
So the different scriptures may conform to different systems of grammar, which may be somewhat different than those of Panini. And, even with the same grammar, they can convey their respective messages in different styles of language, according to the different moods, needs and requirements. Since at the time when Vyasa and his great disciples and grand-disciples etc. were editing the Vedas, Puranas, etc., these different grammars and vocabularies were known, and also since those great sages headed with Vyasa were expert connoisseurs of those different linguistic styles, therefore so many differences within scriptures and their modes of verbal expression. (As we know, those sages were kavis, geniuses, not just learned memorizers of books’ contents.)
So, differences there should be. Many of them
In that light, is it right, proper and arguable to conclude like this? (and write it as a part of a book dealing with Vedic culture):
1. Generally speaking (?)
Generally speaking, the major differences there are between srutis and smritis. Then, differences there are between the srutis and srutis, and also between smritis and smritis. Then, there are also differences, although somewhat minor, within the same kind of srutis (like between the Rigvedic samhitas and Samavedic samhitas) and between the same kind of smritis (like between Puranas and Puranas, like Bhagavata and Visnu Purana).
Those linguistic diversities in the scriptures are the natural feature of the Vedic sound, and are due to many reasons. They may be due to the scriptures’ inherent diversities in the characters and moods, in their topics, in their purposes and intentions, in their functions and intended roles, in their aims and scopes, and also due to the different mentalities and conditions of those for whom they are meant. The differences may appear within one very same scripture also, of course. So, it is not unnatural that the ritual language, language of sound-formulas intended for exact technical psychophysical energy-effects, has one set of rules, while the language for common communication has another. The former is Vaidika Sanskrit, the latter is Laukika-Sanskrit. Further, isn’t it natural that a liturgical recital (comparable to vedic samhitas) and deeply technical philosophical tractate (comparable to the Upanisads) have different linguistic style of expression and different vocabulary? And that a summary compendium of philosophical hints, intended for easier memorizing of a series of very intricate and wide concepts (comparable to philosophical sutras), be of a still significantly different linguistic features? And that the epics (like Puranas and itihasas), meant for a wider public, be still significantly different? And that between those epics themselves, or even within the one very same work, there be notable differences, depending on the atmosphere, temper, mood and mentality etc. that permeate its particular content, and on the state of consciousness the work aims to produce in a reader? Why should we conclude, on the basis of such differences, that the particular works, or their particular parts, were composed in significantly different ages, or even by different persons, necessarily? No – it shouldn’t be necessary, that the rishis who “composed” vedic samhitas in vedic Sanskrit, were ignorant of classical Sanskrit spoken by the Puranas.
2. For the srutis themselves(?)
For example of how we should expect differences between srutis themselves , we could take the four Vedic samhitas. Thus, Rig Veda samhita and Sama Veda samhita contain many mantras in common. Those mantras are equal, saying the same things in the same words, but are stylized differently. The cause for this is the different usage of those same mantras found in the different Vedas. All the mantras of the four Vedas are meant to be used in yajnas. Each Veda’s mantras are used by different priest in the yajna, and serve different purpose in yajna. In the yajna-performance there were four principal priests. Each of them had his specific functional domain, different than the other three. So, each of them recited specific kind of mantras, suitable for his particular function. Each of the four Vedic samhitas is the repository of one of the four kinds of mantras. One priest recited mantras meant for eulogizing, glorification, offering respectful homages (they are among Rig-mantras). Those mantras are intended for invoking the special guests (demigods and God) to the yajna and offering them respectful festive hails. Meanwhile, the other priest recited mantras that had musical function (they are arranged as extremely complex rythmo-musical patterns, humanly non recognizable as such)(Sama-mantras). Those were intended as a melodious songs for the pleasure of the aforesaid guests. Other samhitas, of other two Vedas, had still another functions. That those different mantras have mutually different linguistic features, it is quite expectable and befitting. It should be so. If, on account of that, we see it necessary to conclude that one of those series of texts came in existence centuries after another of the series, isn’t it just our projection of our evolutionistic pre-assumptions, deeply rooted in us, into the unknown – the vedic texts, whose nature is, we’re bound to admit, ultimately out of our purview?
3. For the smritis themselves(?)
(i found this point in a book “The True history and the Religion of India”(page 236) written by, as for my impression, a respectably dedicated vaisnava, of the name Swami Prakashanand Sarasvati. His exact words are a little bit adapted by me):
Regarding the differences between smritis and smritis, let’s take example of the Puranas. The language of the Bhagavatam is very scholarly, poetic and rich, as it explains the richest philosophy of God’s love, God’s realization along with its other affiliated knowledges. …. The language of the other 17 Puranas is less rich, and the language of the Upanisads sometimes leans towards the Vedic samhita side.
…All the scriptures are Divine powers with their own speciality. We can clearly observe the peculiar character of the Vedas in the tenth canto, chapter 87, of the Bhagavatam, where the Vedas themselves are offering their homage to God. The whole chapter is grammatically perfect, but it is a kind of a twisted and not very charming style of language. This is the style and the character of the Vedas (samhita parts). All the chapters of Bhagavatam, before and after this particular chapter, have elegant literary presentation, but this particular chapter, which is the style of the language of the Vedas, stands out with its own peculiarity.
I know that all this may sound pretty logical and convincing to an open-minded person as a devotee naturally is. However, please, if there is any valid objection, whether scriptural, logical or scientific, to anything above, kindly present it. If you have any idea of an answer to it, please present that also. And if there is any valid confirmation you know for anything of the above, please also do present it. That’s my humble request (and ambitious one, i admit).