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Sanskrit

Sanskrit is a classical language of India, a liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and one of the 23 official languages of India.

Its position in the cultures of South and Southeast Asia is akin to that of Latin and Greek in Europe and it has evolved into, as well as influenced, many modern-day languages of the world. It appears in pre-Classical form as Vedic Sanskrit, with the language of the Rigveda being the oldest and most archaic stage preserved. Dating back to as early as 1500 BCE, Vedic Sanskrit is the earliest attested Indo-Aryan language, and one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European language family.

The corpus of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of poetry and drama as well as scientific, technical, philosophical and religious texts. Today, Sanskrit continues to be widely used as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals in the forms of hymns and mantras. Spoken Sanskrit is still in use in a few traditional institutions in India, and there are some attempts at revival.

The scope of this article is the Classical Sanskrit language as laid out in the grammar of Panini, around the 4th century BCE.

History

Sanskrit is a member of the Indo-Iranian sub-family of the Indo-European family of languages. It has the characteristic Satem sound changes associated with other members of Indo-Iranian. It has exerted strong influence on the languages of India, in particular on the Indo-Aryan group.[citation needed]

The verbal adjective sam.skr.ta- may be translated as "put together, well or completely formed, refined, highly elaborated". It is derived from the root sam.(s)kar- "to put together, compose, arrange, prepare",where sam.- "together" and (s)kar- "do, make". The language referred to as sam.skr.ta- va-k "the cultured language" has by definition always been a "high" language, used for religious and learned discourse and contrasted with the languages spoken by the people, pra-kr.ta- "natural, artless, normal, ordinary". It is also called deva-bha-s.a- meaning "divine language". The oldest surviving Sanskrit grammar is Pa-n.ini's As.t.a-dhya-yi- ("Eight-Chapter Grammar") dating to circa the 4th century BCE. It is essentially a prescriptive grammar, i.e., an authority that defines (rather than describes) correct Sanskrit, although it contains descriptive parts, mostly to account for some Vedic forms that had already passed out of use in Pa-n.ini's time.

The term "Sanskrit" was not thought of as a specific language set apart from other languages, but rather as a particularly refined or perfected manner of speaking. Knowledge of Sanskrit was a marker of social class and educational attainment and the language was taught mainly to members of the higher castes, through close analysis of Sanskrit grammarians such as Pa-n.ini. Sanskrit, as the learned language of Ancient India, thus existed alongside the Prakrits (vernaculars), which evolved into the Middle Indic dialects, and eventually into the contemporary modern Indo-Aryan languages.

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