Sanskrit is the ancient language of India, whose earliest documents — the Vedas — date back to the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE. From Sanskrit stem modern neo-aryan languages currently spoken in the north of the subcontinent (Hindi,
Bengali, Nepali, Marathi,
Gujarati etc.), but Sanskrit itself still survives as a learned language in journals and radio broadcasts about traditional culture, in literary compositions and in the conversations of the pandits. Sanskrit is the sacred language of Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism.
From a linguistic viewpoint, Sanskrit is an indo-european language akin to the classical languages (Greek and Latin). The discovery of this relationship marked the debut of the branch of indo-european linguistics, whose foundation stone is usually deemed to be Sir William Jones’s famous speech on Indian culture delivered in 1786, where he called the attention of the scholarly world to the affinities obtaining between Sanskrit on the one hand and Greek and Latin on the other, formulating the hypothesis of a common source, which would possibly account for similarities with Gothic, Celtic and Persian as well. The eulogy of Sanskrit he made on that occasion is well worth recalling: The Sanskrit language, whatever may be its
antiquity, is of wonderful structure, more perfect than the Greek, more
copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined that either.
Sanskrit culture has deeply influenced the cultures of Far-East as well as South-East Asia, where it has played a role not unlike that exerted by Greek culture in the West.
The specimen of calligraphy «Śrī» is courtesy of R.K.