The Wonder that is Sanskrit|Feb 4, 2006 7:03 AM| by:

Sanskrit – A Self-existent Truth and Power

Life is infinite and rich in its possibilities. All language is an attempt to formulate and communicate the variety and richness of experiences covering the entire gamut of human sensitivity and potentiality. These experiences can be of all ranges and types – the seeing of a physical object through the senses, a feeling, an emotion, a thought, or a vision leading to the highest spiritual realisation. The language must also have the capacity to grow, to meet the demands of completely new experiences. And the language must be able to provide various alternatives and possibilities from which the speaker can choose just the right word and the right structure. He should be able to create a new word to suit his needs and at the same time the listener should be able to understand him.

The greatness of a language, therefore, depends on how perfectly it can communicate and arouse in the listener the exact experience of the speaker. It has to encompass the infinite variety and richness of life, its moods, its depths and its heights and reflect them like a perfect mirror, without any distortions. This is a difficult and challenging task. It demands the capacity to harmonise contradictory qualities. The language must be supple and flexible, capable of subtle shades and nuances, and yet efficient and efficacious, clear, precise and unambiguous. It must be compact and pithy and also rich and opulent; concise yet suggestive, strong and powerful yet sweet and charming, capable of growth and expansion to meet new challenges of the future, and at the same time an inspiring repository of all the great achievements of the past. An impossible demand, one would say. But Sanskrit has successfully met this challenge as perhaps no other language has. This is why it is known as ‘Sanskrit’ – that which has been well structured and refined to the utmost.

The Connotative Power of Sanskrit

Usually, the link between a word and its meaning is primarily denotative and conventional. But in Sanskrit each word has its own connotation, its definite shade of meaning, its special nuance. The word and the meaning are inseparable. They fuse into one another and give life to one another.

This brings us naturally to the idea of synonyms. Those who begin to learn Sanskrit often wonder about the large number of synonyms a word has in Sanskrit. Each language contains synonyms, but many words have few, or none. On the other hand, in Sanskrit every word seems to have not just a few synonyms, but often even ten, twenty or thirty. This appears to be a mystery and a wastage unless one understands their origin and their true raison-d’être.

In most languages, synonyms are different names for the same object. They are words that grow out of a convention and often do not have any inherent significance. One could have used the same word to denote a completely different object and if the convention was sufficiently strong, the word would become a synonym for that object. But this is not so in Sanskrit. Firstly, the name is not just a convention but grows out of a root with the addition of specific suffixes. Therefore, its meaning too is not a convention but is very specific and determined. In other languages, if one does not know the meaning of a word one has no way of finding it out by oneself. But in Sanskrit the word itself reveals its meaning. One can discover the meaning by seeing the word’s root and the changes brought about in it by the addition of prefixes and suffixes.

Therefore, the synonyms of a word are not just alternate names, where one can replace one by another. In Sanskrit each synonym grows out of and reveals a special quality or attribute of that object. Hence one synonym cannot replace another. One has to choose from the many possibilities, the one that conveys best the exact property in mind.

For example, the Amarkosha of Amarasimha, a synonymic dictionary in Sanskrit, lists 34 synonyms for ‘fire’. But each word has a specific and different connotation. For example: Vahni comes from the root vah to carry, and means that which carries (the offerings to the gods); while jvalana comes from the root jval to burn, and means that which is burning; similarly shushmaa comes from the root shush to dry, and means that which dries (the water). It is for the writer to decide which is the most appropriate word for ‘fire’ in a given context.

This is not all. There is one more dimension of the spoken word, the dimension of sound. Again, in most languages, the sound of a particular syllable or word is a historical convention. Sanskrit, on the other hand, starts from a deeper base. It believes that the Sound and the Word are at the origin of creation. It believes that they are aspects of the Brahman, the supreme Reality and they have light, consciousness and power. The sound has potency; any sound cannot be used to denote any meaning. Therefore the meaning of the fundamental Sanskrit roots is also not arbitrary but based on a deeper truth. Through a process of deep contemplation and intuition, it is possible for man to enter into the heart of a sound vibration and discover its meaning. This was the way of the Rishis when they gave meaning to the roots. Thus the root sound a has absolute existence for its meaning. And the root sound ka means possession, mastery, creation. And the root sound la  means love, sweetness.

We come to the amazing conclusion that in Sanskrit all three, the sound, the word and the meaning, become one. They arise out of the deeper truths of life and Reality and not only reveal but lead us, in turn, to realise these truths. The language then becomes universal. It has its own inherent strength and existence and it is no more just a convention or a convenience. It becomes a fit vehicle not only for communication but for transformation as well. It is not just a language. It is a self-existent truth and power.

(Compiled from the book “The Wonder that is Sanskrit” authored by Sampad and Vijay)