Let us start this Sanskrit Learning Series by looking at a few popular facts attributed to the Sanskrit Language.
- What makes Sanskrit so different from all other human spoken languages?
- Why is the Sanskrit grammar described to be so scientific, structured and accurate?
- What makes Sanskrit so special that it is called the Deva Bhasha, language of the Gods?
- Why is Sanskrit said to be the only human spoken language which is unambiguous and suitable to be used in Computers?
- No loan words in Sanskrit?
- How is it possible that we can frame sentences, write books in Sanskrit such that the same text can have different meaning when read in a different context?
- Why is Sanskrit said to be context sensitive in meaning, context free in grammar, and without any need for evolution?
Preface to learn Sanskrit
In this series on learning Sanskrit, we will first try to understand the greatness of the Sanskrit language, the reason which makes Sanskrit stand apart among all the thousands of human spoken languages. The reason for its beautiful structure, accuracy, great potential and representation of knowledge. But please note that this series is unlike any conventional Learn Sanskrit courses. As a preface, you may want to read Why Sanskrit was considered an important language in ancient India?
The approach followed here would be more like watching a suspense thriller movie rather than a boring documentary. So if you are looking for something like a ‘Learn Sanskrit in 5 days‘ tutorial or ‘Sanskrit for dummies‘ quick book, I am afraid this is not for you. My efforts here are so that you appreciate the beauty of this language, and in doing so, learn it as well, slowly but surely.
If you are new to Sanskrit, what is being taught in this lesson here, which is one the core features of Sanskrit alone, will leave you spell bound, for if you do not know Sanskrit yet, you will understand and realize its greatness now and here.
Why Hindu Gods have hundreds or more than thousand names in Sanskrit?
Usually a person has one official name, may be a pen name, some pet names, nick names and so on. So you might be known by at the most 4 or 5 different names. But how about 108 names or even say 1000 names?
If you are a Hindu or know Hinduism closely, you will be aware that in the vedic culture there are deities with just too many names. There are multiple lists of 108 names, 1000 names of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. How can somebody be known by so many different names?
The answer is that each of these names describe different attributes or properties of those Gods or Goddesses. If we take Ganesha for instance
- Ekadatanta refers to his attribute of having one tusk
- Gajavadana refers to his attribute of having an Elephant face
- Mushaka Vaahana refers to his attribute of Mouse being his vehicle
- Vaktratunda refers to his attribute of having a curved trunk
- Vigneshwara refers to his attribute of being the remover of obstacles and so on.
- Ganesha itself refers to his attribute of being the Head of Ganas, the semi divine beings.
If everything refers to his attributes, then what is the real name of Ganesha? Interesting, isn’t it? Let’s move on.
Single Class – multiple names – a core feature of Sanskrit Language
Another similar interesting aspect you come across in Sanskrit is a thing or a class having multiple names – common names that all refer to the same entity. Take the case of Lotus for instance, Kamala is what it is popularly known as in Sanskrit, but also has numerous other names like Jalaja, Vaarija, Ambuja, Neeraja, Pankaja and so on. Similarly ‘Sea’ which is popularly known as Samudra in Sanskrit has numerous other names like Jaladhi, Vaaridhi, Ambudhi, Neereadhi and so on.
Now if you keenly observe the names of Lotus and Sea given above, they look similar except for the last letter. For Lotus the names end with ‘ja‘, while for sea they end with ‘dhi‘. What do the common terms represent then?
The common terms, jala, vaari, ambu, neera all refer to water. Each of them define an attribute of water, and hence they represent water.
Ja in Sanskrit means ‘born of‘. So when you add ‘ja’ to the names referring to water in Sanskrit, you are referring to something that is born of water. Lotus being a flower born in water naturally earns all these names. So take any attribute in Sanskrit which represents water, add ja to it, there you have another name for Lotus!
But why am I here referring jala, vaari, ambu, neera etc as attributes or properties of water, and not as names of water? Aren’t they actually the names of water? We will come to that in a moment.
Before that we will look into the names of sea. dhi in Sanskrit means abundance. Water is abundant in a sea. So you take any name in Sanskrit which refers to the attributes of water, and add a ‘dhi’ to it. There you have a name for sea!
If you were keen enough to observe the other name of Lotus Pankaja, you will see that I didn’t mention a similar name for sea, Pankadhi. That is because, Panka refers to an attribute of mud in Sanskrit, not an attribute of water as you might have expected. Lotus is born in mud and hence also earns the name Pankaja. So what is Pankadhi then? Well, if you know something which is abundant in mud, like how a sea is abundant in water, you can call it Pankadhi. You just created a new name in Sanskrit!
What about the names Kamala and Samudra? Kamala refers to something that has an attribute of pale red color. Since Lotus has this attribute of being pale red in color, it is also called Kamala. Anything which has this attribute of pale red color can be called Kamala as well.
Samudra refers to an attribute or a property of gathering of waters. So any gathering of waters can be called Samudra, be it a Sea or an Ocean.
Sam refers to gathering, like in the word Samsad. Udra again refers to an attribute of water. Sea is a gathering of river waters, Ocean is a gathering of sea waters, hence both Sea and Ocean could be called Samudra. Now just think what are Udraja and Udradhi.
If you are wondering about Samsad, sad refers to the act of sitting. So Samsad is sitting together, members sit together in the parliament, or for that matter any place where people sit together can be referred to as Samsad.
Bonus: What is Kamalaja? You should be able to easily make out, it can refer to anything born out of Lotus, because we saw earlier that Kamala refers to Lotus and ja refers to born of. So who is born of Lotus? Brahma! which is why he is also called Kamalaja. Because he is said to be born of Lotus!
Similarly KamalaNaabha refers to Vishnu because Lotus sprouts out of his navel. Naabha refers to an attribute of navel. So AmbujaNaabha, VaarijaNaabha all refer to Vishnu!
Now we are ready for the great dive into Sanskrit. Before that please note, attribute names themselves do not have a single meaning either. They in turn depend on the attributes of their roots and so on till the very base root. For instance ambara can refers to the attribute of Sky or to the attribute of Cloth. So when we say Shwetambara we are referring to the attribute of cloth, where Shweta means white, so Shwetambara means white cloth or white dress. Even Shukla refers to the attribute of white, so Shuklambhara refers to white dress and Shuklambharadharam refers to the one who is wearing white cloth. But when ambara is used to refer to the attribute of being limitless, it refers to Sky which is limitless.
Ambara can also refer to other attributes like that of a perfume, saffron, a lip, cipher code and so on. These different attribute names are derived from the roots of the word ambara itself! More on these Sanskrit roots in future lessons. Before that…
Sanskrit, all about names of attributes and properties, not of things and objects
There are no names for entities, categories and classes in Sanskrit, its only about referring to them by the names of their attributes or properties. In other words, all names in Sanskrit actually represent knowledge! They tell you something about the entity or class that they are referring to. So if you know ten names of a fruit in Sanskrit, then you know ten different facts about that fruit automatically. Sanskrit itself is knowledge!
While you slowly start digesting this fact, I will explain it further. Let me make it clear again, there are no names in Sanskrit language which refer directly to an object without having to mean anything else related to that object, except for proper names which parents give to their children. In ancient times, even proper names actually referred to an attribute that the child had during birth.
For instance, a girl born on full moon day, might have been named Poornima which means full moon. Ashtavakra was called so because he was born with eight (ashta) observable physical handicaps (vakra meaning curve or twist – remember Vakratunda ?).
So in Sanskrit, You cannot simply name something as for instance Farhanitrate or a procedure as Prerajulisation. It has to say something about the entity it refers to.
Or to be more clear, there are no ‘fixed’ name representations in Sanskrit for Objects. Sanskrit is not a language based on names of objects, unlike other languages. It is purely based on names of attributes. In ancient India even people were given names based on their attributes – proper names indicated attributes as well.
Why Vyasa was also called Krishna Dvaipayana?
Remember ancient Indian history like Mahabharata, Ramayana and Puranas? Krishna was called so because of his dark complexion, Krishna refers to an attribute of having a dark complexion. But were you ever confused why Veda Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata was also called Krishna Dvaipayana. I was confused a lot on this in my childhood. Differentiating between Krishna and Krishna Dvaipayana was an issue for me! Krishna is God Krishna, while Krishna Dvaipayana was the original name of Veda Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata.
Veda Vyas was called Krishna Dvaipayana initially because he had a dark complexion as well and he was born in an island. Dvaipayana means the one who was born in an island. In Sanskrit Dveepa is an attribute referring to an island. So he was originally called Krishna Dvaipayana, while Lord Krishna because of his dark complexion was called Krishna.
Krishna Dvaipayana later collected, re arranged and compiled all the veda into the form as we know them today, and hence he was called Veda Vyasa or the compiler or differentiator of the Vedas. Krishna Dvaipayana was his name by birth, and Veda Vyasa was his name based on his achievements. You can refer to anybody who is of a dark complexion and born in an island as Krishna Dvaipayana, but there is only one Veda Vyasa.
People get more names due to their deeds
As you can see, throughout the ancient Indian history Scholars and Kings were given different names based on their achievements and other later life deeds. Children were usually given names based on their attributes when they were born or in their early childhood, and most of the popular figures in Indian history grew up to earn many different names based on their achievements and based on other incidents in their lives.
Since any thing or a person can have multiple attributes, we find things, Gods, people, all having multiple names in Sanskrit based on such attributes. The next time you come across multiple names in Sanskrit for the same thing or person, remember that is because Sanskrit names are not ‘fixed’ names of objects, but describe their attributes.
In other words, just by knowing the name of something in Sanskrit, you get an idea of one of its attributes, which you cannot get in any other languages we speak. Which is also the reason you find in many Sanskrit verses the same person or object being referred by its many attribute based names to make it clear who or what is actually being referred to. Kesari can refer to Saffron or Lion, but when we say Kesari Gajaari, it definitely is referring to Lion because Gajaari means enemy of elephant and saffron cannot be an enemy of elephant, while Lion is.
In other languages, say English for instance we just have names, and by looking at the name we can’t say what we are talking about unless we know it already. Take for instance the name Lion, it is just that, a Lion. On the other hand look at the names of Lion in Sanskrit. Simha, Kesari, Gajaari all refer to its different attributes like being violent and strong, its body color, it being the enemy of elephants, and so on.
So while in English, Lion is the name of a specific animal, in Sanskrit any attribute of a Lion can be used to refer to it. There is no specific name for a Lion as such – a specific common name. And the same name can also be used to refer to something else which also has that attribute. For instance, Kesari can also be used while referring to Saffron which has the same color, like that of Lion. Simha can be used to refer to somebody who is as powerful or violent.
So remember this always, names in Sanskrit do not refer to objects or persons or entities, they refer only to attributes and properties. You cannot simply go and give an arbitrary name to a thing. That is meaningless in Sanskrit. Sanskrit has a science of its own, it is well structured, well defined, you cannot break these rules. More rules in future articles, but something more interesting follows below.
Sanskrit is a Context based Language
Now you should have also understood why meanings of sentences or words in Sanskrit is context sensitive. And why most of the English translations by pundits who did direct word to word translations are so messed up. You should also by now have understood why when you read those mis-translations, they sound so funny, meaningless. If you translate without understanding the rules of Sanskrit, that is not Sanskrit anymore!
For instance, ambara can refer to an attribute of cloth or sky. If a person translates ambara as sky when it is actually referring to cloth, then you have a goof up! A sentence which was intended to mean “Sun in the Sky” ends up being translated as “Sun is in the dress”. And our wise intellectuals then start mocking Sanskrit texts as being childish, illogical, so on, all because the translation was wrong!
It doesn’t stop here, people can even misinterpret the Sanskrit texts as saying something else while it originally meant something totally different! That is how you end up with all those numerous translations on the Internet of Sanskrit verses being anti-woman, promoting caste system, texts contradicting each other, and so on.
Take for instance the translations making round about people eating beef or killing the cow during the vedic period. The whole basis of this myth is translations of Sanskrit verses like the one which actually means “control your sense organs” which was translated as “kill the cow“, all just because the word used was go/gau can refer not only to cow, but also to sense organs, star, light ray, diamond, etc in Sanskrit.
So when taken out of context and translated using its most popular object, you end up with misinterpretations like these. Sanskrit translation can never be done by going word by word, the entire context should be used as the basis to understand the meaning. And there are multiple rules and hints to understand the context of words which we shall learn in the future lessons of this series.
Embedding Secrets and Mystery in Samskrit Sentences
Because of its context based word meanings, one can intelligently frame great malleable sentences in Sanskrit which can be used to represent multiple facts, ideas etc. This is where the beauty of the sentences in Veda and Upanishads come into picture. Simple sentences can be used to represent n number of different ideas and facts. And vedas and Upanishads are full of such innovative beautifully framed sentences. This is also ONE OF THE reasons why one can form extremely short sentences in Sanskrit meaning extremely complex things, like the famous mahavakyas (great sentences) in the Upanishads, like tat tvam asi, aham brahmasmi, ayam atma brahma etc. Simple they may look, they have enough information hidden in them for one to keep writing books after books on these sentences and the ideas or philosophical and spiritual thoughts they represent.
If you are still not clear, in English when we say Sun rises in the East, we just mean that. Sun is an object, which rises in a direction which we call East. But in Sanskrit we refer to Sun not by a name of its own, but by any property representing Sun. Similarly East is referred to by some property of that direction, so is rising represented by an attribute of the act of rising. So a sentence in Sanskrit which says Sun rises in the East can also represent any fact or information that is a combination of these three attributes.
All the core 8800 verses (shlokas) of Mahabharatha are said to be filled with hidden information and secrets embedded in these rare combination of knowledge attributes! It is said that only Vyasa and his son Shuka were completely aware of all the hidden meanings in them, while Sanjaya (who narrated the war to Dhritarashtra) was aware of some of them!
Sanskrit can create New Names , no need of Loan words from other languages
All languages are filled with loan words borrowed from other languages. English itself has too many loan words borrowed from languages across the world. Sanskrit has fed loan words into core English via languages like Greek, Latin, German etc which themselves had taken numerous loan words from Sanskrit. Read this article for the list of mainstream core English words derived from Sanskrit. Even today English continues to import loan words from Sanskrit like Yoga, Guru, Avatar, Maya, Nirvana, Pundit, etc.
On the other hand in Sanskrit because of its attributes based nature there is no need for any loan words. Loan words are only required when you come across something or some knowledge which is new to that language’s culture. For instance, Yoga was new to English, became a loan word there. With the advent of Internet and related terminologies, many terms like, ‘Download’ and ‘Upload’ were imported into Indian languages. So they have become loan words in our languages.
On the other hand in Sanskrit, because of its attribute based nature, you can always create a new word which can then be used to refer to an attribute of that new knowledge or entity! You will never need a loan word which would be meaningless on its own in a language. For instance in mainstream English, Yoga has no meaning of its own. In Kannada, or Hindi, the word Download has no meaning of its own.
But in Sanskrit you never need such imported loan words. Because of its attribute based naming convention, you can always create as many new words you want. In fact the possibilities are infinite, so immense that you can go on creating new words even for existing objects! This is also one of the reasons why there is no need for Sanskrit to evolve unlike other languages. In fact, because of its very nature, if you import a loan word into a Sanskrit sentence, then the very parsing or understanding of Sanskrit becomes very difficult, unless the loan word is explicitly referred to with its meaning.
An Example of creating new words in Sanskrit
Edit: Since many readers asked about giving a practical example of creating new words in Sanskrit by giving one for Download, have updated the article with one for download and upload. The attribute of descending or fetching is Avataara in Sanskrit, so one word for Download in Sanskrit could be Avataarayati or the act of fetching. Avaroha represents the attribute of going down, so Download can also be Avarohayati
Similarly for Upload we can call it Urdhvayati where Urdhva is an attribute representing upwards in Sanskrit. Aaroha also represents the attribute of ascent or going up and hence Upload can also be called Aarohayati
Not only these, you can create any number of words for upload and download in Sanskrit using the attributes representing upward or ascent, and downward, fetching or descent. For instance consider the terms Unnati and Avanati, which represent progress and downfall respectively. Take the Sanskrit attribute which can represent File, Patrika. So File uploading and File downloading could be Patrikonnati and Patrikavanati respectively! The options are limitless!
Now you also understand why Hindu Gods have chants with 108 names, 1000 names called Ashtotthara, Sahasranaamaavali etc? and why even historic persons like Vyasa, Krishna, Rama, etc have so many names.
Take the case of the names of Lord Shiva. Shiva, Manjunatha, Jagannatha, Vishwanatha, Eeshwara, Ardhanaareeshwara, Mrityunjaya, Mrda, Gangadhara, Shoolapaani, Pashupati, Nagabharana, Nandivaahana, ChandraShekara, and many more all refer to the various attributes of Lord Shiva.
Summary of Sanskrit Lesson 1
- In Sanskrit you cannot simply given an arbitrary name to a thing.
- In Sanskrit things and objects do not have names, it is the properties which have names.
- In Sanskrit you name things by referring to their different properties, and hence the same object, person, place, etc can have various different names each referring to a property or an attribute of that object, person, place etc.
- In Sanskrit you don’t need loan words, because as we come across new knowledge, new things etc we can simply refer to them based on their attributes and properties.
- You can always create as many new names as you want in Sanskrit as long as they refer to the correct property names.
- Sanskrit is context sensitive in meaning of its words and sentences because the same property can refer to different things, objects, persons, places etc in different contexts.
- In Sanskrit you can create great sentences which reveal multiple information in a single sentence or even in a single word. In other words, entirely different information can overlap within a single word or sentence in Sanskrit. The possibilities for composers, writers, poets to be creative in their composition, writings and poems, to encode secretive information in an ordinary looking sentence are all immense. Sky is the limit for Sanskrit authors.
- And we have only touched the tip of the iceberg, more lessons to follow…
- Sanskrit is not a mere language, it is a science in itself and an ocean of knowledge. Samskrit itself refers to an attribute which means the one that has been thoroughly refined.
Bonus: Since most Indian languages are heavily influenced by Sanskrit, we can easily apply these attribute based names in our languages as well. As you all know, almost all these names are equally valid in our local Indian languages as well. So for Indian languages it has been always so easy, every time you need a name, just look towards Sanskrit and there you have it. And they sound so native in our languages, naturally. Be it Kannada, Telugu, Hindi, Bengali and even European languages including Greek, Latin, English, Russian German, Lithuanian – Sanskrit has donated numerous words to world vocabulary.
If anybody claims that Sanskrit evolved from this or that language, then they simply don’t know Sanskrit. There is NOTHING in Sanskrit which is progressive evolution, it is a “designed” language, like computer programming languages. The 2012 root words called dhatus, its ability to create new words on the fly are proof of it. You evolve only when you are not perfect. Sanskrit is a perfect language.
More interesting stuff in the next article. Did you find this first article not just useful, but interesting as well? For I want to make it as interesting as possible. Don’t want to scare people away with complex terminologies and math equations like content. Sanskrit is a complex language, so is Mathematics, but learning both can be fun, only if it is presented in the right way. Someday will also come up with similar articles in Mathematics. Please leave comments, be it queries or criticism or suggestions. Also request learned Sanskrit scholars to point out any mistakes that might have crept in.
Most importantly, please share as much as possible. The world really needs to learn Sanskrit. It is a great language, one of the greatest but little known ancient innovations, and has a great potential.
Below are some great quotes from Sanskrit
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam meaning ‘Whole Earth is a family’.
Sarve jana sukhino bhavantu meaning ‘May all people live happily’
Ekam sat, viprah bahudha vadanti meaning ‘Truth is One, learned scholars know it by many names’
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Heem
Let there be peace everywhere