The Wonder that is Sanskrit|May 2, 2006 9:10 AM| by:

Sanskrit: A Creative Force

When we speak about the greatness of Sanskrit we often underline the importance of ancient culture, religion, literature, poetry, science, psychology etc. But we hardly pay attention to the great creative power of this beautiful language. Sanskrit is not just any language but a Force that is ever creative and formative. Not because it created prolifically the most profound literatures, philosophies, religions etc., and refined its own categories till it achieved the highest perfection, but because it is capable of producing new categories, new literatures, new philosophies etc. What could be the reasons behind this creative power of Sanskrit?

    Originating from the Highest Source

Sanskrit is a language which is intuitively metaphysical and revealingly poetic, subtle and suggestive, symbolic and figurative. This language has been evolved and perfected in the Vedas and Upanishads. It is a language of Mantra, ‘a word of power, of illumination, of light’. It is the language which has come in the form of Mantra “…out of the secret depths of our being where it has been brooded upon by a deeper consciousness than the mental, framed in the heart and not constructed by the intellect, held in the mind, again concentrated on by the waking mental consciousness and thrown out silently or vocally – the silent word is perhaps held to be more potent than the spoken – precisely for the work of creation. The mantra can not only create new subjective states in ourselves, alter our psychical being, reveal knowledge and faculties we did not before possess, can not only produce similar results in other minds than that of the user, but can produce vibrations in the mental and vital atmosphere which result in effects, in actions and even in the production of material forms on the physical plane.” Thus Sanskrit is a living and conscious Force, an entity that has directly come from the highest source, and is capable of conveying infinitely more than what the surface sense of language seems to indicate. It is not any man-made invention or mere tool for communication, but in fact a revelation. It is much more than merely a meaning or a sound or a sound devoid of deeper sense other than that attributed by convention. It is a living and creative mode of power, by itself formative and creative and not merely a symbol for lifeless ideas.

    A Language of Great Resonance

The resonating power and vibrational purity of Sanskrit make it a perfect instrument for an integral spiritual growth. Its very name Samskritam means ‘polished’, ‘refined’, ‘sculpted to perfection’. The physical structure of the language is flawless. Its construction follows a logical development. In Sanskrit all the sounds are articulated through five distinct places of articulation located in the mouth: throat, palate, hard palate, root of the upper teeth, and lips. On the basis of this the sounds are either guttural or palatal or cerebral or dental or labial. Though the letters of one group are pronounced from one position yet each sound of that group differs from the other because of its internal efforts. For example: ka, kha, ga, gha and na belong to the guttural group. Here ka is a hard unvoiced consonant with minimal breath, kha is also hard and unvoiced but it is pronounced with maximal breath; ga is soft and voiced with minimal breath but gha is soft and voiced with maximal breath; na is the last sound in the group which is soft and voiced but nasal. For this sound the breath gets released through the nostrils and the mouth. The arrangement of the rest of the consonants in the Sanskrit alphabet follows the same order. The importance of this scientific organization lies in the degree of resonance created by each sound. Thus, the sounds of Sanskrit are amazingly capable of bringing clarity of articulation.

The mere speaking of or listening to the sounds of Sanskrit generates joy, clarity and inspiration. It has a refining influence on one’s consciousness. By a conscious use of this language one gets the result of doing Pranayama. Thus, Sanskrit, with its power of great resonance is highly powerful and potent for creating a happy and peaceful atmosphere in and around the one who uses it consciously.

    Transparent System of Root-sounds

Sanskrit is a language “based on the true and a perfect relation of Vak and artha. Every one of its vowels and consonants has a particular and inalienable force which exists by the nature of things not by development of human choice” says Sri Aurobindo. In Sanskrit the meaning of a word is not derived by chance or from any convention but from its own depth, the system of root-sounds, sound-ideas. It is because of this transparency of the system of root-sounds and clear semantics that Sanskrit has the ability to discover its own history, and eventually it may lead us to the origin of human speech.

“When in English”, for example, “we use the word ‘wolf’ or ‘cow’, we mean by it simply the animal designated; we are not conscious of any reason why we should use that particular sound for the idea except the immemorial custom of the language; and we cannot use it for any other sense or purpose except by an artificial device of style.” But in Sanskrit the word for ‘wolf’ is vrika. If one looks at the history of this word one finds that the word vrika has been derived from the root vrashc meaning ‘to tear’, ‘to cut asunder’. So vrika means ‘the tearer’ and therefore ‘among all other applications of its senses ‘a wolf’. The root vrashc is again a member of a simple root-sound vri which, further, has in it the seed-sounds v and r. So to know the meaning of the root vrashc one has to be aware of the significance of the seed-sounds v and ri, and one also has to see whether these sounds have the same significance wherever they occur. A proper investigation of many Sanskrit words shows that the result does not vary. In this way a Sanskrit word is not a ‘conventional symbol for an idea, but itself the parent and former of ideas. It carries with it the memory of its roots, is still conscient of its own history’. This transparent system of formation of words from the root-sounds follows a natural process and is one of the important factors that makes Sanskrit an ever creative language. It also provides enough clues to rediscover the lost heritage of Sanskrit.

    Unique Significance of Sanskrit Words

Sanskrit words are highly connotative as well as denotative in their implications. Each and every word here has a number of things to suggest. They reveal the inner significances of the objects that they express. If one understands this nature of the Sanskrit language and uses it consciously it will help one in many spheres. Even a perfect understanding of just one word and living the truth that the word carries in it will lead to great results. These are not any fanciful statements but the result of the direct experiences of our ancient Rishis.

A letter in Sanskrit is called akshara which literally means imperishable. This is not merely attributive but the term akshara reveals the whole secret of the speech process or the sound system. It says that the sound is eternal. It does not perish. The letter is also called varna which originally means hue, colour. Thus every letter as a sound symbol is to be seen as a hue. So varnamala, the term used for alphabet, means a garland of colours or qualities or hues for the artist to paint with on the sheet of Reality. The word vyakarana is not limited simply to grammar. It shows the development and growth of speech from its undistinguished stage to the distinguished stage, and while doing so it leads to the Sound-force, the eternal shbdabrahman. The word darshana is not philosophy, but a seeing revelational; svadhyaya is not mere reading but going deep in self contemplation; anushilanam is not just glancing but bringing into conduct. The word sat-sanga is not merely a company of good people but a body of people who have come together (sanga) to ascertain reality (sat). The word chatra is not an umbrella but anything that covers. These are few examples showing the high connotative power of the Sanskrit words. Similarly the significance of the synonyms in Sanskrit has to be noticed. A synonym in Sanskrit is not just one more word for an object, but a word expressing another quality of that object. For example Amarakosha (a synonymic dictionary in Sanskrit) lists 34 words for fire. Each word reveals a particular quality of Fire. The word vahni means that which carries the oblation or offerings to the gods; pavaka means that which purifies; anala means not enough, the fire can devour the entire world, and that is still not enough, so it is anala, the all devourer.

All these show how minutely discerning our ancient Rishis were in their observations. At the same time it also reveals the fact that our ancients, the guardians of the language, were highly conscious in the matter of using the language. They did not use the language just to communicate among themselves. They used it as a tool for discovering the true nature of themselves and all that they saw in and around them. Herein lies the sacredness of Sanskrit – it helps to discover the nature of everything; it helps to discover the sacredness of life. It is a Force functioning at many levels of consciousness, ever purifying, ever formative and creative. So the rediscovery of Sanskrit means to grow conscious of the hidden forces in the sounds of Sanskrit.

Dr. Sampadananda Mishra

(Dr. Sampadananda Mishra is a research associate with Sri Aurobindo Society.)