Sanskrit, the literary language of the Hindoos, the Aryan inhabitants of India. Originally a vernacular dialect in Hindostan, it has for nearly or quite 2,000 years past been kept artificially in use, like the Latin in Europe, by the labors of grammarians and lexicographers, and the transmitted usages of an educated caste, to serve as the means of learned intercourse and composition. Its name (sañskrta, completed, perfected) denotes it as "the cultivated, elaborated, or perfected form of speech," in distinction from the uncultivated dialects, called Prakrit (prakrti, nature), which sprang from or were contemporaneous with it. The importance and interest of the Sanskrit is twofold. Considered in its relation to Indian history, it contains an immense literature, laying open from a very remote epoch nearly to the present day the inward and outward life of a numerous and highly endowed branch of the human family (India still contains a seventh part of our race); and it is the most ancient and original of the Indo-European languages, and, by reason of its better conservation of the features of their common parent, throws vastly more light than any other upon the history and relations of all.
The latter is the more widely appreciated side of its usefulness, and the one which has most contributed to give currency to its study. Its cultivation by Europeans dates less than a century back, to the establishment of English supremacy in India, nor did it gain a foothold on European ground till after the beginning of the present century. The earliest translations of Sanskrit works were of the Bhagavad- Gîtâ in 1785, the Hitopadesa in 1787, and the Sakuntalâ in 1789. Sir William Jones, and later Colebrooke and Wilson, were the Englishmen who did most in India to foster and advance the study; the Schlegels in Germany and Chézy in France were the first who introduced it upon the continent. Bopp (from 1830 onward) founded upon it the new science of the comparative grammar of the Indo-European languages, of which others before him had given but hints or fragments. Within 30 years the introduction of the Vedas to the knowledge of the world has made a new era in Sanskrit study. Hundreds of Sanskrit texts have been published in the East and in the West; translations from them, with grammars, glossaries, and other apparatus for the learner, are to be found in every cultivated language of Europe; all the considerable universities have instructors in Sanskrit, and its students are everywhere numerous. - The Sanskrit is ordinarily written in a character called dêvanâgarî, "divine city," which, in its present fully developed form, is of a date several centuries later than the Christian era.
The ancient alphabet from which it is descended was derived, according to the best opinion, from a Semitic source. Respecting the origin of writing there are not even any traditions in the Hindoo literature, as regards either its period or its place of derivation; and scholars are still at variance as to whether whole departments of the literature were composed before or after the knowledge of a written character. The earliest dated monuments known are those of the Buddhist monarch Priyadarsi, of the 3d century B. C.; their language is already Prakrit. The dêvanâgarî is written from left to right; it is a complete mode of writing, representing every analyzable sound by a separate sign; it is syllabic, each consonant implying a short a, if the sign of no other vowel is attached to it; if more consonants than one are to be spoken with one vowel, their signs are united into a single compound character. (See India, Races and Languages of, vol. ix., p. 217; and for the method employed in transcribing the sounds, see Writing.) The completeness of this system of written signs, and its nice adaptation of sign to sound, are very evident. Not less evident is the richness of the system of sounds, and the harmony and proportion of its development.
The spoken alphabet has the proper characteristics of an ancient and primitive system, lacking many of the later intermediate vowels, spirants, and the like, and the written alphabet, of course, is correspondingly defective; the English has at least five vowels (or nine, if long and short be counted as separate) and six consonants for which the Sanskrit alphabet has no signs. A peculiar and striking feature of the external form of the Sanskrit is presented by its highly elaborate system of euphonic rules, which have play both in the formation and inflection of words, and also, in a yet more searching and extended manner, in the combination of words into a sentence. The ends sought are chiefly the avoidance of the hiatus and of the concurrence of surd and sonant letters, the assimilation of nearly kindred sounds, and the modification of combinations difficult of utterance; and the physical theory of most of the rules is readily traceable. As an illustration of the euphonic combination of the phrase, we take the words indras apabharan apâm garbhân charati apsu antar; they form the sentence indro 'pabha-rann apâng garbhâmç charaty apsv antah.
That there is something artificial and arbitrary in the strict application of the system of euphonic changes to the sentence is in itself highly probable, since we can hardly conceive that any people, in its ordinary use of language, should so sacrifice the independence of individual words to an exaggerated sense of euphony; and the probability becomes a certainty when we observe that in the Vedic poetry, the earliest and least artificial literature of the language, the euphonic rules, as is shown by the metre, are in great part unobserved. The accents are the acute and the circumflex, corresponding in value to those of the Greek. Neither is limited to any particular part of the word, like those of the Latin and Greek; it may stand, in a word of whatever length, on whatever syllable the rules of derivation or composition may direct. The circumflex but seldom rests on a simple long vowel; it belongs chiefly to a syllable whose vowel is preceded by a semi-vowel convertible into a vowel, as kwã, nadyãs. - As regards the etymological part of grammar, the distinguishing characteristic of the Sanskrit is (besides the great affluence of forms, and the unlimited facility of forming new derivatives and new compounds) its remarkable preservation of original materials and processes, the great regularity and consequent transparency of its formative methods.
In most words there is no difficulty in distinguishing root, affix, and termination, and in recognizing the original form and signification of each. For analyzing words, retracing their history, and referring them to their ultimate roots, the utmost facilities are afforded. This character of the language has determined that of the native science of grammar, on which our own grammatical treatment of it is mainly based. The Hindoo grammar is essentially analytical and etymological, dissecting out roots, affixes, themes, and terminations, and laying down the rules which govern their combination into vocables. About 2,000 roots are catalogued by the native authorities, but the greater part are of no account, being either slightly varied forms of others, or mere grammatical artificialities. The Indo-European roots are far more numerously and faithfully preserved, in form and signification, by the Sanskrit than by any other member of the family. It is this remarkable conservation of materials and processes which gives prominent importance to the Sanskrit in Indo-European philology, making its introduction the inauguration of a new era in etymologizing, and so in the science of language, which is based on etymology, or the history of individual words. - The whole system of inflection in Sanskrit is most nearly accordant with that of Greek; it is decidedly richer in declension, but vastly poorer in conjugation.
In declension, it distinguishes three genders, the masculine and neuter agreeing in theme, and usually in inflection, the feminine having long terminal vowels and fuller endings. The cases are eight: the nominative, with which in most instances the next case, the vocative, agrees in form; two other cases of relation, the dative expressing for, the genitive of; and four cases of position or direction: the accusative, expressing to, direct approach, immediate action; the ablative, expressing from; the locative, in; the instrumental, by the side of, along with, with, by. Each occurs in three numbers, singular, dual, and plural, and the usual terminations are as follows: sing. nom. s (neut. m or wanting), acc. m, inst. â, dat. ê, abl. as (or t), gen. as (asya), loc. i; dual, nom., acc., and voc. âu (neut. î), inst., dat., and abl. bhyâm, gen. and loc. os; pl. nom. as (neut. âni, i), acc. as (masc. n), inst. bhis, dat. and abl. bhyas, loc. su. Adjectives are declined like substantives; as comparative and superlative suffixes they add tara and or îyans and ishtha. The numerals closely accord with those in the related languages. (See Germanic Races and Languages, vol. vii., p. 740.) The pronouns, excepting the first and second personal, distinguish three genders.
They derive themselves from roots of their own, which play also an important part in the development of forms and form-words. Their many irregularities of declension agree nearly with those of the pronouns in the other Indo-European dialects, nor are their roots peculiar. The verb has two voices, an active and a middle or reflexive, which latter, in a part of its forms, serves also as a passive, as in Greek. It distinguishes throughout, like the noun, three numbers, with the usual three persons in each, and the personal terminations are evidently reducible to forms of pronouns, indicating in each case the subject; they are of two classes, corresponding to those of the principal and historical tenses in Greek. In their normal form they are as follows: active: princ. sing, mi, si, ti; dual, vas, thas, tas; pl. mas, tha, anti; hist. sing. m, s, t; du. va, tam, tâm; pl. ma, ta, an; - middle: princ. sing, ê, sê, tê; du. vahê, âthê, âtê; pl. mahê, dhvê, antê; hist. sing. i, thâs, ta; du. vahi, âthâm, âtâm; pl. mahi, dhvam, anta.
The present and imperfect tenses exhibit various modifications of the verbal root into a special stem, on which is founded a division of the verbs into ten conjugational classes; all are analogous with changes which the Greek verbs more irregularly undergo in the same tenses, and with scattered phenomena in the other related languages. The present has an imperative, distinguished by special terminations, and a potential, corresponding to the Greek optative, having for its characteristic the vowel i, or the syllable ya, inserted between the root and the personal ending. Of a subjunctive, made, as in Greek, by an a between root and ending, only fragments remain, in the antiquated dialect of the Vedas. The characteristic of the imperfect is an augment, a prefixed a. Of other tenses, we have an augmented aorist, of double formation, as in Greek; a "second aorist," which is the imperfect of the unmodified root, and a "first aorist," in several varieties, having s as its sign; a perfect, reduplicated, and with peculiar terminations; a periphrastic future, of late growth; a future of compounded origin, the same with the Greek in σω; an imperfect of this future, or a conditional, of very rare occurrence; and finally a precative, or optative of compound formation, belonging to the aorists, also not common.
Fragments of imperative, optative, and subjunctive forms, belonging to the aorist, perfect, and future tenses, are found in the oldest literature, but they are obsolete in the classical Sanskrit. The present, perfect, and future tenses, active, passive, and middle, have participles. Of verbal nouns there is an accusative case (the Latin supine in um), used as an infinitive; also an instrumental case, forming a gerund, or a kind of indeclinable past participle (as bhûtvâ, having been), which is of excessively frequent employment. The derivative forms of the verb, formed at pleasure from any root, are the passive, having a special form only in the present and imperfect, the causative, the desiderative, and the intensive or frequentative. The affluence of verbal forms is thus seen to be great, yet the language is far from making full use of them, and the Sanskrit verb is not to be compared for power of expression with the Greek, or even with the Latin; there is a strong tendency, especially in the later styles of writing, to slight the finite forms, and to construct loose and awkward sentences with the participle and gerund.
Prepositions, in our sense, are almost absent, the prepositions of the other Indo-European tongues having here still their original value as adverbs, directing the action of the verb, but not directly governing nouns; as prefixes to verbs they are of constant application, and play a great part in the formation of derivatives. Conjunctions and adverbs are in part derived from pronominal roots, in part from nouns. - Syntax is a branch of the grammar of very inferior interest, and is even left out in most of our Sanskrit grammars. Whatever expressiveness and rhetorical charm the language has lie chiefly in its boundless wealth of epithets, and not at all in the construction of its sentences and periods; indeed, a period in Sanskrit is next to an impossibility; the formation and connection of its clauses is of the baldest simplicity. The excessive use of cumbrous compounds is also a very general fault in Sanskrit construction, appearing in all styles of composition, but especially the more artificial; to say, for instance, "water-play-delighted-maiden-bathing-fragrant (river-breezes)" for "made fragrant by the bathing of maidens delighted with sporting in the water," is a virtual abnegation of the privileges of an inflected language, and a partial retrogradation to the stiff inexpressiveness of the Chinese. - The construction of Sanskrit metre is based entirely upon quantity, as in Greek, with total disregard of accent.
The most ancient metres are very simple and almost wholly iambic; much of the later versification is remarkable for its extreme complexity, elaborateness, and artificiality. - Literature. The most ancient literature of India, that of the Vedas, as forming a body of works of separate and peculiar interest, has been treated under India, Religions and Religious Literature of; and, with the Vedas, the whole mass also of Vedic literature, the oldest religious literature of the country, and also the two long epics or Itihâsas, the Mahâbhârata and the Râmâyana. The proper Sanskrit literature counts by thousands its works still in existence, while titles and quoted fragments of hosts of others, not known to be preserved in their entirety, are on record. Most of these works are still in manuscript, and the largest collections of manuscripts out of India itself are those of the India office in London, the royal library at Berlin, and the Bodleian at Oxford. The period it covers stretches, if the Vedas be included, from at least 1500 B. C. to our own day. Nearly all of it was composed after the language had ceased to be in the fullest sense a spoken vernacular; hence a tinge of artificiality, growing deeper as more modern times are approached, rests upon it all.
With insignificant exceptions, it is all composed in metre, even works of law, of morality, of science; and, in great part, in the so-called çlôka, a two-line stanza, each line made up of two eight-syllable feet, the movement being rudely iambic. Every department of knowledge and branch of inquiry is represented in it, with the single exception of history; and the want of the historical element is perhaps the most striking general characteristic of the literature. The Hindoo mind, in utter opposition to the Egyptian and Chinese, has ever been little regardful of objective truth, careless of facts, disinclined to observe and record, laying no stress on the events of outward life, heedless of their connection and succession; hence the absence of a chronology in the literary as well as the political history of India, and the uncertainty of centuries resting upon the date of almost every work. Much of this mass of literary productions is of a character which has commanded high and general admiration; but it exhibits the characteristic faults and deficiencies of the oriental mind in no light degree.
The want of history robs it of one great source of worth and interest; much of it is trivial and tedious; and to place even its masterpieces on a par with those of the classical languages would be highly presumptuous. Its interest as a record of the life of a great and highly endowed people, of our own blood, whose influence and institutions have affected all eastern Asia, is not easily overestimated. Of other epic or quasi-epic poems besides the Mahâbhârata and the Râmâyana, we may mention the Raghuvansa ("Race of Raghu"), Kumâra-Sambhâva ("Birth of the War God"), and Nalodaya ("Rise of Nala"), all by Kâ-lidâsa; Magha's "Death of Sisupâla;" and Harsha's Naishadhîya. In the lighter style of lyric and erotic poetry, which is abundantly represented, and by works of greatly differing merit, are the Ritusanhâra ("Seasons") and Meghadûta ("Cloud Messenger") of Kâlidâ-sa, and the Gîta-Govinda of Jayadeva, describing the adventures of the god Krishna among the shepherdesses, the companions of his youth, a favorite theme of Hindoo song. The "Centuries" of Bhartrihari, and other like works, are aphorismic, pearls of thought and style, intended for edification and instruction.
The same ends are served by the collections of fables, of which the most accepted have found their way all over the world; the Panchatantra, through Persian and Arabic translations, has entered almost every western literature, as the fables of Bidpai or Pilpay. A somewhat later collection of the same materials, the Hitopadesa (" Salutary Instruction "), is one of the most popular books of the Sanskrit literature. The Sanskrit fable is much longer drawn than the western, and depends for its interest more on discourse, and less on situation and action. The Hindoo tales, in verse and in prose, are of comparatively small consequence in the literature; the most noted collection is the Kathâsaritsâgara ("Ocean of Streams of Narration"); through the medium of Persian versions, they are regarded as forming the groundwork of the Arabic literature of like class, represented to us chiefly by the "Arabian Nights' Entertainments." The drama is a most interesting branch of Hindoo literature; no other ancient people, excepting the Greek, has brought forth independently anything so admirable in this department.
The most celebrated dramas are the Mrichhakati (" Toy Cart") of Sudraka, and the different works of Kâlidâsa, as the Sakuntalâ, the Urvasî, and "Malavika and Agnimitra," all of which have been edited and translated. The Sakuntalâ is one of the most perfect flowers of the Indian genius; and its selection by the enlightened taste of Sir William Jones and his translation of it into English (1789), whence it passed at once into every language of Europe, was an important epoch in the early history of Sanskrit study. The subjects of the drama are mainly legendary, their catastrophes always happy. They are written in mixed prose and verse, and likewise in mixed Sanskrit and Prakrit; only the higher male characters speaking the cultivated or learned tongue, while the lower, and all the females, talk the vernacular dialect. The machinery of the Hindoo stage is not well understood, but it is believed to have been very simple. The grounds on which Kalidasa has been usually assigned to the 1st century B. C. are now acknowledged to be entirely futile, and the time of the bloom of dramatic composition is as uncertain as other such matters in Hindoo history; more probably it is at least two or three centuries after Christ, or even, as many scholars believe, as late as the 11th century. (See Kalidasa.) The Purânas form a separate class of works, being the religious literature of the middle period, later than the Vedic, preceding the modern and comparatively insignificant tantras and shâstras, all of which have been described in India, Religions and Religious Literature of.
The law books attach themselves to, and are a development of, a part of the Vedic literature, viz.: treatises prescribing the religious observances and rules of life of the orthodox Hindoo; domestic and civil duties, offences and penalties, purification and penance, are their subjects. The oldest and most famous among them is the code as-scribed to the mythical sage Manu; it has been often translated, and is a chief source of authentic knowledge respecting the elaborated system of Brahmanic polity. - In treating of the scientific literature, the grammar, for its antiquity, originality, and profundity, is entitled to the first place. In its inception and method it is entirely peculiar, and it has carried phonetic and etymological analysis further than any but the best modern European science. Here, as more than once in other departments, the early works containing the beginnings of the science are lost; the most ancient extant authority, Pânini, is the supreme one; the immense grammatical literature is made up almost solely of commentaries and continuations of his work.
Its age is uncertain, but it is usually assigned to the 3d or 4th century B. C. Its form is very peculiar; it carries brevity to the utmost extreme, far beyond the limits of orderly arrangement and intelligibility, availing itself of a technical terminology almost mathematical; the 4,000 concise rules which compose it are often compared to so many algebraic formulas. The same style is characteristic of some other departments of the literature, and especially of the text books of the schools of philosophy. Philosophy is another highly important branch of Indian science, and has its roots in the very earliest literature. There are six chief systems: the Mîmânsa of Jaimini and Veâdnta of Bâdarâyana, founding themselves more directly on the Vedas, and so especially orthodox; the Nyâya of Gautama and Vaiseshika of Kanâda, wearing an especially logical character; and the Sânkhya of Kapila and Yoga of Patanjali, atheistic and theistic branches of a school named from the precision affected in the enumeration of its principles. The general character of these systems has been described in connection with the religions of India. The Buddhist Sanskrit literature is immense, and has been carried by the spread of the religion to many other countries of Asia, into whose languages it has been translated.
The astronomical literature is later by some centuries than the Christian era, and nearly all there is of true science in the astronomy of the Hindoos was learned by them from the Greeks. They have made in arithmetic and algebra remarkable original progress; and the Hindoo system of decimal notation has made its way, through the Arabs, to the exclusive use of modern enlightened nations, our usual figures being by origin letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. The acquirements of the Hindoos as regards the interpretation of the symptoms of disease, and the application of medical and surgical remedies, are not insignificant, and their medical literature, which is as yet little known, is regarded as well deserving study; the most esteemed author whose works are preserved is Susruta. Rhetoric, versification, and music are each represented in a department of the literature. Respecting the arts, whether the fine arts or the practical, little of value is known to exist. - The best Sanskrit grammars are, in English, Williams's (3d ed., Oxford, 1864) and Max Müller's (1870); in French, Op-pert's (Berlin, 1859); in German, Bopp's (4th ed., 1868), and, as a manual of reference for the advanced student, Benfey's (Leipsic, 1852). Wilson's lexicon (two editions, Calcutta, 1819 and 1832), an inferior work, but long indispensable to the student, is out of print and very dear; a third edition was begun by Gold-stücker, but never finished.
Westergaard's Radices Linguoe Sanscritoe is very valuable, and a necessary accompaniment of Wilson. Benfey has published a brief hand dictionary (London, 1866), and Morier Williams a very full and valuable lexicon in a single 4to volume (London, 1872). The great Sanskrit-German lexicon of Böhtlingk and Roth (St. Petersburg), an immense and admirable work, was completed in 1875. Bopp's Glossarium Sanscritum (Berlin, 1847) serves the beginner in connection with the texts published by the same author, and contains all the roots and much linguistic information. A good and useful chrestomathy is still a desideratum; of Lassen's (Sanskrit and Latin, Bonn, 1838) a new edition has been issued by Gildemeister (Bonn, 1865); Böht-lingk's (St. Petersburg, 1845) lacks a glossary; Benfey's (Leipsic, 1853-'4) is of small service to an unpractised scholar. Texts to be recommended to the beginner are Bopp's selections from the Mahâlhârata, especially his Nalus (Berlin, 1832), or Williams's Nala (Oxford, 1860); the Hitopadesa of Schlegel and Lassen (Bonn, 1829), or Johnson (Hertford, new ed., 1864), or Müller (London, 1854-'65); the Bhagavad-Gîtâ of Schlegel and Lassen (Bonn, 1846) or Thomson (Hertford, 1855); the Sa-kuntalâ of Böhtlingk (Bonn, 1842), or Williams (Hertford, 1853), or Burkhard (Breslau, 1872); Bohlen's Bhartrihari (Berlin, 1833); and Johnson's Meghadûta (London, 1867).