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संस्कृतम् saṃskṛtam
The word Sanskrit (संस्कृतम्) written in Devanagari.
Region Greater India
Era ca. 1500–600 BCE (Vedic Sanskrit), after which it gave rise to the Middle Indo-Aryan languages. Continues as a liturgical language (Classical Sanskrit).
Attempts at revitalization; 14,000 self-reported speakers (2001 census)[1]
Early forms
Vedic Sanskrit
  • Sanskrit
No native script. Now written in Devanagari and many other scripts.[2]
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1 sa
ISO 639-2 san
ISO 639-3 san
Glottolog sans1269[3]

Sanskrit (; संस्कृतम् saṃskṛtam , originally संस्कृता वाक् saṃskṛtā vāk, "refined speech") is the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, a philosophical language in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and a literary language that was in use as a lingua franca in the Indian cultural zone. It is a standardised dialect of Old Indo-Aryan language, originating as Vedic Sanskrit and tracing its linguistic ancestry back to Proto-Indo-Iranian and Proto-Indo-European. Today it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India[4] and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand.[5] Sanskrit holds a prominent position in Indo-European studies.[6]

The corpus of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of poetry and drama as well as scientific, technical, philosophical and dharma texts. Sanskrit continues to be widely used as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals and Buddhist practice in the forms of hymns and mantras. Spoken Sanskrit has been revived in some villages with traditional institutions, and there are attempts at further popularisation.


  • Name 1
  • Varieties 2
    • Vedic Sanskrit 2.1
    • Classical Sanskrit 2.2
  • Contemporary usage 3
    • As a spoken language 3.1
    • In official use 3.2
    • Contemporary literature and patronage 3.3
    • In music 3.4
    • In mass media 3.5
    • As a liturgical language 3.6
    • Symbolic usage 3.7
  • Historical usage 4
    • Origin and development 4.1
    • Standardisation by Panini 4.2
    • Coexistence with vernacular languages 4.3
    • Decline 4.4
  • Public education and popularisation 5
    • Adult and continuing education 5.1
    • School curricula 5.2
    • In the West 5.3
    • Universities 5.4
    • European scholarship 5.5
      • British attitudes 5.5.1
  • Typology 6
  • Phonology 7
    • Vowels 7.1
    • Consonants 7.2
    • Accent 7.3
    • Phonology and sandhi 7.4
  • Writing system 8
    • Romanisation 8.1
  • Grammar 9
    • Grammatical tradition 9.1
    • Verbs 9.2
    • Nouns 9.3
    • Personal pronouns and determiners 9.4
    • Compounds 9.5
    • Syntax 9.6
    • Numerals 9.7
    • Some peculiar characteristics of Sanskrit 9.8
  • Influence on other languages 10
    • Indic languages 10.1
    • Interaction with other languages 10.2
    • In popular culture 10.3
  • Computational linguistics 11
  • See also 12
  • References 13
  • Further reading 14
  • External links 15


The Sanskrit verbal adjective sáṃskṛta- may be translated as "put together, constructed, well or completely formed; refined, adorned, highly elaborated". It is derived from the root saṃ-skar- "to put together, compose, arrange, prepare"[7] (cf. Norwegian 'sammen skjær', Afrikaans 'saamskaar').

As a term for "refined or elaborated speech" the adjective appears only in Epic and Classical Sanskrit, in the Manusmriti and in the Mahabharata. The language referred to as saṃskṛta "the cultured language" has by definition always been a "sacred" and "sophisticated" language, used for religious and learned discourse in ancient India, and contrasted with the languages spoken by the people, prākṛta- "natural, artless, normal, ordinary".[8]


The pre-Classical form of Sanskrit is known as Vedic Sanskrit, with the language of the Rigveda being the oldest and most archaic stage preserved, its oldest core dating back to as early as early 2nd millennium BCE.[9][10] This qualifies Rigvedic Sanskrit as one of the oldest attestations of any Indo-Iranian language, and one of the earliest members of the Indo-European languages, which includes English and most European languages.[11]

Classical Sanskrit is the standard register as laid out in the grammar of Pāṇini, around the 4th century BCE.[12] Its position in the cultures of Greater India is akin to that of Latin and Greek in Europe and it has significantly influenced most modern languages of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.[13]

Vedic Sanskrit

Rigveda (padapatha) manuscript in Devanagari, early 19th century

Sanskrit, as defined by Pāṇini, evolved out of the earlier "Vedic" form. The present form of Vedic Sanskrit can be traced as early as 2nd millennium BCE (for Rig-vedic).[9] Scholars often distinguish Vedic Sanskrit and Classical or "Pāṇinian" Sanskrit as separate 'dialects'. Though they are quite similar, they differ in a number of essential points of phonology, vocabulary, grammar and syntax. Vedic Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas, a large collection of hymns, incantations (Samhitas), theological and religio-philosophical discussions in the Brahmanas and Upanishads. Modern linguists consider the metrical hymns of the Rigveda Samhita to be the earliest, composed by many authors over several centuries of oral tradition. The end of the Vedic period is marked by the composition of the Upanishads, which form the concluding part of the Vedic corpus in the traditional view; however the early Sutras are Vedic, too, both in language and content.[14]

Classical Sanskrit

For nearly 2,000 years, a cultural order existed that exerted influence across South Asia, Inner Asia, Southeast Asia, and to a certain extent, East Asia.[15] A significant form of post-Vedic Sanskrit is found in the Sanskrit of the Hindu Epics—the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The deviations from Pāṇini in the epics are generally considered to be on account of interference from Prakrits, or "innovations" and not because they are pre-Paninean.[16] Traditional Sanskrit scholars call such deviations ārṣa (आर्ष), meaning 'of the ṛṣis', the traditional title for the ancient authors. In some contexts, there are also more "prakritisms" (borrowings from common speech) than in Classical Sanskrit proper. Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit is a literary language heavily influenced by Middle Indic, based on early Buddhist Prakrit texts which subsequently assimilated to the Classical Sanskrit standard in varying degrees.[17]

There were four principal dialects of classical Sanskrit: paścimottarī (Northwestern, also called Northern or Western), madhyadeśī (lit., middle country), pūrvi (Eastern) and dakṣiṇī (Southern, arose in the Classical period). The predecessors of the first three dialects are even attested in Vedic Brāhmaṇas, of which the first one was regarded as the purest (Kauṣītaki Brāhmaṇa, 7.6).[18]

Contemporary usage

As a spoken language

In the 2001 Samskrita Bharati conduct Speak Sanskrit workshops to popularise the language.

Indian newspapers have published reports about several villages, where, as a result of recent revival attempts, large parts of the population, including children, are learning Sanskrit and are even using it to some extent in everyday communication:

  1. Mattur, Shimoga district, Karnataka[19]
  2. Jhiri, Rajgarh district, Madhya Pradesh[20]
  3. Ganoda, Banswara district, Rajasthan[21]
  4. Shyamsundarpur, Kendujhar district, Odisha[22]
  5. Mohad, Narsinghpur district, Madhya Pradesh
  6. Kaperan, Bundi district, Rajasthan
  7. Khada, Banswara district, Rajasthan
  8. Bawali, Bagpat district, Uttar Pradesh

In official use

In India, Sanskrit is among the 14 original languages of the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. The state of Uttarakhand in India has ruled Sanskrit as its second official language. In October 2012 social activist Hemant Goswami filed a writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court for declaring Sanskrit as a 'minority' language.[23][24][25]

Contemporary literature and patronage

More than 3000 Sanskrit works have been composed in the period post Indian Independence (since 1947).[26] Further, much of this work is judged as being of high quality, both in comparison to classical Sanskrit literature, and to modern literature in other Indian languages.[27][28]

The Sahitya Akademi has had, since 1967, an award for the best creative work written that year in Sanskrit. In 2009, Satyavrat Shastri became the first Sanskrit author to win the Jnanpith Award, India's highest literary award.[29]

In music

In Mainland China, musicians such as Sa Dingding have written pop songs in Sanskrit.[30]

In mass media

Over 90 weeklies, fortnightlies and quarterlies are published in Sanskrit. Sudharma, a daily newspaper in Sanskrit has been published out of Mysore in India since the year 1970, while Sanskrit Vartman Patram and Vishwasya Vrittantam were started in Gujarat over the last five years.[31] Since 1974, there has been a short daily news broadcast on state-run All India Radio.[31] These broadcasts are also made available on the internet on AIR's website.[32][33] Sanskrit news is broadcast on TV and on the internet as part of the DD National channel at 6:55 AM IST.[34]

As a liturgical language

As the liturgical language of Hindus, it is used during worship in Hindu temples throughout the world. Also, in Newar Buddhism, it is used in all the monasteries as liturgical language. It is also popular amongst the many practitioners of yoga in the West, who find the language useful in understanding the Yoga Sutra.

Devimahatmya manuscript on palm-leaf, in an early Bhujimol script, Bihar or Nepal, 11th century

Symbolic usage

In Nepal, India and Indonesia, Sanskrit phrases are widely used as mottoes for various national, educational and social organisations:

Many of India's and Nepal's scientific and administrative terms are named in Sanskrit. The Indian guided missile program that was commenced in 1983 by DRDO has named the five missiles (ballistic and others) that it has developed as Prithvi, Agni, Akash, Nag and Trishul. India's first modern fighter aircraft is named HAL Tejas.

Historical usage

Origin and development

Sanskrit is a member of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. Its closest ancient relatives are the Iranian languages Avestan and Old Persian.[35][36]

In order to explain the common features shared by Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages, many scholars have proposed migration hypotheses asserting that the original speakers of what became Sanskrit arrived in what is now India and Pakistan from the north-west some time during the early second millennium BCE. Evidence for such a theory includes the close relationship of the Indo-Iranian tongues with the Baltic and Slavic languages, vocabulary exchange with the non-Indo-European Uralic languages, and the nature of the attested Indo-European words for flora and fauna.[37]

The earliest attested Sanskrit texts are Brahmanical texts of the Rigveda, which date to the mid-to-late second millennium BCE. No written records from such an early period survive, if they ever existed. However, scholars are confident that the oral transmission of the texts is reliable: they were ceremonial literature whose correct pronunciation was considered crucial to its religious efficacy.[38]

From the Rigveda until the time of Pāṇini (4th century BCE) the development of the early Vedic language may be observed in other Vedic texts: the Samaveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, Brahmanas, and Upanishads. During this time, the prestige of the language, its use for sacred purposes, and the importance attached to its correct enunciation all served as powerful conservative forces resisting the normal processes of linguistic change.[39] However, there is a clear, five-level linguistic development of Vedic from the Rigveda to the language of the Upanishads and the earliest Sutras (such as Baudhayana).[14]

Standardisation by Panini

The oldest surviving Sanskrit grammar is Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī ("Eight-Chapter Grammar"). It is essentially a prescriptive grammar, i.e., an authority that defines Sanskrit, although it contains descriptive parts, mostly to account for some Vedic forms that had become rare in Pāṇini's time. Classical Sanskrit became fixed with the grammar of Panini (roughly 500 BCE), and remains in use as a learned language until the present day.

Coexistence with vernacular languages

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 in ancient India and the language was taught mainly to members of the higher castes, through close analysis of Sanskrit grammarians such as Pāṇini and Patanjali, who exhorted that one should speak proper Sanskrit at all times, and at least during ritual.[40] Sanskrit, as the learned language of Ancient India, thus existed alongside the Prakrits (vernaculars), also called Middle Indic dialects, and eventually into the contemporary modern Indo-Aryan languages. However, linguistic change led to an eventual loss of mutual intelligibility.

Many of the Sanskrit dramas suggest that it coexisted along with Prakrits, spoken by multilingual speakers with more extensive education. Sanskrit speakers were also almost always multilingual. In the medieval era, Sanskrit continued to be spoken and written, particularly by learned Brahmins for scholarly communication. This was a thin layer of Indian society, but covered a wide geography. Centres like Varanasi, paithan, Pune, and Kanchipuram had a strong presence of teaching and debating institutions, and high classical Sanskrit was maintained until British times.[40]


There are a number of sociolinguistic studies of spoken Sanskrit which strongly suggest that oral use of Sanskrit is limited, with its development having ceased sometime in the past.[41]

Sheldon Pollock argues that "most observers would agree that, in some crucial way, Sanskrit is dead".[15]:393 Pollock has further argued that, while Sanskrit continued to be used in literary cultures in India, Sanskrit was not used to express changing forms of subjectivity and sociality embodied and conceptualised in the modern age.[15]:416 Instead, it was reduced to "reinscription and restatements" of ideas already explored, and any creativity in Sanskrit was restricted to hymns and verses.[15]:398 A notable exception are the military references of Nīlakaṇṭha Caturdhara's 17th-century commentary on the Mahābhārata.[42]

Pollock's characterisation has been contested by other authors like Hanneder and Hatcher, who point out that modern works continue to be produced in Sanskrit.[43]
On a more public level the statement that Sanskrit is a dead language is misleading, for Sanskrit is quite obviously not as dead as other dead languages and the fact that it is spoken, written and read will probably convince most people that it cannot be a dead language in the most common usage of the term. Pollock’s notion of the “death of Sanskrit” remains in this unclear realm between academia and public opinion when he says that “most observers would agree that, in some crucial way, Sanskrit is dead”

Hanneder has also argued that modern works in Sanskrit are either ignored or their "modernity" contested.[45]

When the British imposed a Western-style education system in India in the nineteenth century, knowledge of Sanskrit and ancient literature continued to flourish as the study of Sanskrit changed from a more traditional style into a form of analytical and comparative scholarship mirroring that of Europe.[46]

Public education and popularisation

Adult and continuing education

Attempts at reviving the Sanskrit language have been undertaken in the Republic of India since its foundation in 1947 (it was included in the 14 original languages of the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution).

Hyderabad that has been digitising the Vedas through voice recording the recitations of Vedic Pandits.[47]

School curricula

The CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) of India along with several other state education boards have made Sanskrit a third or second language choice (though it is an option for the school to adopt it or not, the other choice being the state's own official language) in the schools it governs. In such schools, learning Sanskrit is an option for grades 5 to 8 (Classes V to VIII). This is true of most schools affiliated to the ICSE board too, especially in those states where the official language is Hindi. Sanskrit is also taught in traditional gurukulas throughout India.

In the West

St James Junior School in London, England offers Sanskrit as part of the curriculum.[48] In the United States, since September 2009, high school students have been able to receive credits as Independent Study or towards Foreign Language requirements by studying Sanskrit, as part of the "SAFL: Samskritam as a Foreign Language" program coordinated by Samskrita Bharati.[49]


A list of Sanskrit universities is given below in chronological order:

Year Est. Name Location
1791 Sampurnanand Sanskrit University Varnasi
1876 Samskrit Pathashala Mysore
1961 Kameshwar Singh Darbhanga Sanskrit University Darbhanga
1962 Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha Tirupati
1962 Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha New Delhi
1970 Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan New Delhi
1981 Shri Jagannath Sanskrit Vishvavidayalaya Puri
1986 Nepal Sanskrit University Nepal
1993 Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit Kalady
1997 Kaviguru Kalidas Sanskrit University Ramtek
2001 Jagadguru Ramanandacharya Rajasthan Sanskrit University Jaipur
2005 Shree Somnath Sanskrit University Somnath-Veraval
2008 Maharshi Panini Sanskrit Evam Vedic Vishwavidyalaya Ujjain
2011 Karnataka Samskrit University Bangalore

Many universities throughout the world train and employ Sanskrit scholars – either within a separate Sanskrit department, or within a broader focus area – for example, in South Asian studies/linguistics departments in universities across the West. For example, Delhi university has about 400 Sanskrit students, out of which about half are reading it in post-graduation programmes.[31]

European scholarship

A poem of the ancient Indian poet Vallana (between 900 and 1100 CE) on the side wall of the building at the Haagweg 14 in Leiden, Netherlands.

European scholarship in Sanskrit, begun by Heinrich Roth (1620 – 1668) and Johann Ernst Hanxleden (1681 – 1731) is regarded as responsible for the discovery of the Indo-European language family by Sir William Jones. This scholarship played an important role in the development of Western philology, or historical linguistics.[50]

The most influential philologist was Sir William Jones (1746–1794). He told the The Asiatic Society in Calcutta on 2 February 1786:[51]

The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.

British attitudes

According to Thomas R. Trautmann, after the 18th-century wave of "Indomania", i.e. enthusiasm for Indian culture and for Sanskrit, as exemplified in the positions of Orientalist scholars such as Sir William Jones, a certain hostility to Sanskrit and to Indian culture in general began to assert itself in Britain in the early 19th century. The hostility was manifest by a neglect of Sanskrit in British academia, as compared to other European countries, and was part of a general push in favor of the idea that India should be culturally, religiously and linguistically assimilated to Britain as far as possible. Traufmann considers that this British hostility to Sanskrit had two separate and logically opposite sources: one was "British Indophobia", which he calls essentially a developmentalist, progressivist, liberal, and non-racial-essentialist critique of Hindu civilisation as an aid for the improvement of India along European lines. The other was race science, which was a theorisation of the English "common-sense view" that Indians constituted a "separate, inferior and unimprovable race".[52]


Classical Sanskrit is an inflectional language with subject–object–verb (SOV) word order.


Classical Sanskrit distinguishes about 36 phonemes. There is, however, some allophony and the writing systems used for Sanskrit generally indicate this, thus distinguishing 48 sounds. The sounds are traditionally listed in the order vowels (Ac), diphthongs (Hal), anusvara and visarga, plosives (Sparśa) and nasals (starting in the back of the mouth and moving forward), and finally the liquids and fricatives, written in IAST as follows:

a ā i ī u ū ṛ ṝ ḷ ḹ ; e ai o au
ṃ ḥ
k kh g gh ṅ; c ch j jh ñ; ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh ṇ; t th d dh n; p ph b bh m
y r l v; ś ṣ s h

An alternate traditional ordering is that of the Shiva Sutra of Pāṇini.


The vowels of Classical Sanskrit written in Devanagari, as a syllable-initial letter and as a diacritic mark on the consonant प् (/p/), pronunciation transcribed in IPA, IAST, and approximate equivalent in English:

Letter प् IPA IAST English equivalent (GA unless stated otherwise)
[ə] a short near-open central vowel or schwa: u in bunny
पा [ɑ] ā open back unrounded vowel: a in father (RP)
पि [i] i short close front unrounded vowel: e in England
पी [iː] ī long close front unrounded vowel: ee in feet
पु [u] u short close back rounded vowel: oo in foot
पू [uː] ū long close back rounded vowel: oo in cool
पृ [ərə] (traditional) or [ri] (modern, North-Central India) syllabic alveolar trill: closest to er in butter in rhotic accents
पॄ [ərəː] (traditional) or [ri:] (modern, North-Central India) syllabic alveolar trill: closest to ir in bird in rhotic accents
पॢ [ələ] (traditional) or [lri], [li] (modern, North-Central India) syllabic dental lateral approximant: le in turtle
पॣ [ələ:] (traditional) or [lri:], [li:] (modern, North-Central India) syllabic dental lateral approximant: longer le
पे [e] e long close-mid front unrounded vowel: a in bane (some speakers)
पै [əy]/[ɑy] ai a diphthong: i in ice, i in kite (US, Canadian, and Scottish English)
पो [o] o close-mid back rounded vowel: o in bone (Scottish English)
पौ [əw]/[ɑw] au a diphthong: ou in house (Canadian English)

The long vowels are pronounced twice as long as their short counterparts. Also, there exists a third, extra-long length for most vowels. This lengthening is called pluti; the lengthened vowels, called pluta, are used in various cases, but particularly in the vocative. The pluti is not accepted by all grammarians. The vowels /e/ and /o/ continue as allophonic variants of Proto-Indo-Iranian /ai/, /au/ and are categorised as diphthongs by Sanskrit grammarians even though they are realised phonetically as simple long vowels.

Additional points:

  • There are some additional signs traditionally listed in tables of the Devanagari script:
    • The diacritic called anusvāra, (IAST: ). It is used both to indicate the nasalisation of the vowel in the syllable [◌̃] and to represent the sound of a syllabic /n/ or /m/; e.g. पं /pəŋ/.
    • The diacritic called visarga, represents /x/ (IAST: ); e.g. पः /pəh/. While pronounced as a fricative, it's assimilable into a succeeding stop,
    • The diacritic called chandrabindu, not traditionally included in Devanagari charts for Sanskrit, is used interchangeably with the anusvāra to indicate nasalisation of the vowel, primarily in Vedic notation; e.g. पँ /pə̃/.
  • If a lone consonant needs to be written without any following vowel, it is given a halanta/virāma diacritic below (प्).
  • The vowel /aː/ in Sanskrit is realised as being more central and less back than the closest English approximation, which is /ɑː/. But the grammarians have classified it as a back vowel.[53]
  • The ancient Sanskrit grammarians classified the vowel system as velars, retroflexes, palatals and plosives rather than as back, central and front vowels. Hence and are classified respectively as palato-velar (a+i) and labio-velar (a+u) vowels respectively. But the grammarians have classified them as diphthongs and in prosody, each is given two mātrās. This does not necessarily mean that they are proper diphthongs, but neither excludes the possibility that they could have been proper diphthongs at a very ancient stage. These vowels are pronounced as long /eː/ and /oː/ respectively by learned Sanskrit Brahmans and priests of today. Other than the "four" diphthongs, Sanskrit usually disallows any other diphthong—vowels in succession, where they occur, are converted to semivowels according to sandhi rules.
  • The pronunciation of vocalic r is as above: much the same as in English "butter" and the Hindi "patr", meaning letter. This cause a great deal of confusion for those who start from the writing systems of West European and modern Indian languages, which do not recognise the vocalic r as an allophone of the consonant r, and which therefore require that a vowel be included in the syllable - "e" in "butter", "i" in "bird", etc -. Other languages have writing systems that include vocalic r. In Croation, for example, "corner" is written "vrj", the "r" doing double duty as a vowel in addition to a consonant.

Indian descendant languages of Sanskrit lost the vocalic r, and Indian pandits came to pronounce it as variously "ri" in the North - as in the name of the god known there as "krishn" -, and "ru" in the South - where the same god is commonly referred to as "krushna". When vocalic r reappeared in modern Indian languages due to the loss of final "a" in Sanskrit loan words such as "patra" > "patr" in Hindi, (which replaced prakrit and apabramsha "patta", the natural derivative of the Sanskrit) it was not recognised by modern speakers that this corresponded exactly to the vocalic r of ancient Sanskrit. The pronunciation remains a bone of contention even now amongst those who are unfamiliar with the ancient Indian science of phonetics (discussed above) in which the sound system is perfectly described.


IAST and Devanagari notations are given, with approximate IPA values in square brackets.[54]

p [p] b [b] t [t̪] d [d̪] [ʈ ] [ɖ ] c [t͡ɕ] j [d͡ʑ] k [k] g [ɡ]
ph [pʰ] bh [bʱ] th [t̪ʰ] dh [d̪ʱ] ṭh [ʈʰ] ḍh [ɖʱ] ch [t͡ɕʰ] jh [d͡ʑʱ] kh [kʰ] gh [ɡʱ]
m [m] n [n̪] [ɳ ] (ñ [ ɲ]) [ŋ]
v [v] y [j]
l [l̪] r [ɽ]
s [s̪] [ʂ] ś [ɕ] [x] h [ɦ]

The table below shows the traditional listing of the Sanskrit consonants with the (nearest) equivalents in English (as pronounced in General American and Received Pronunciation or the Indian English pronunciation if specified), French and Spanish. Each consonant shown below is deemed to be followed by the neutral vowel schwa (/ə/), and is named in the table as such.

alpaprāṇa śvāsa
mahāprāna śvāsa
alpaprāṇa nāda
mahāprāna nāda
anunāsika nāda

/kə/; English: skip

/kʰə/; English: cow

/ɡə/; English: game

/ɡʱə/; no equivalent

/ŋə/; English: ring

/cə/; no equivalent

/cʰə/; no equivalent

/ɟə/; no equivalent

/ɟʱə/; no equivalent

[ ɲə]; French: agneau, Spanish ñ

/ʈə/; English: stop

/ʈʰə/; English: time

/ɖə/; English (Indian): door

/ɖʱə/; no equivalent

/ɳə/; no English equivalent

/t̪ə/; French, Spanish: tomate

/t̪ʰə/; Aspirated /t̪/

/d̪ə/; French: dans, Spanish donde

/d̪ʱə/; Aspirated /d̪/

/n̪ə/; English name

/pə/; English: spin

/pʰə/; English: pork

/bə/; English: bone

/bʱə/; no equivalent

/mə/; English: mine

/jə/; English: you

/ɽə/; no equivalent

/l̪ə/; French, Spanish: la
/wə/; English w

/ɕə/; similar to English: ship

/ʂə/; Retroflex form of /ʃ/

/s̪ə/; English: same
/ɦə/; English ahead


Vedic Sanskrit had pitch accent; some syllables had a high tone, and the following syllable a falling tone, though through ellipsis a falling tone may occur elsewhere.

Phonology and sandhi

The Sanskrit vowels are as discussed in the section above. The long syllabic l () is not attested, and is only discussed by grammarians for systematic reasons. Its short counterpart occurs in a single root only, kḷp "to order, array". Long syllabic r () is also quite marginal, occurring in the genitive plural of r-stems (e.g. mātṛ "mother" and pitṛ "father" have mātṝṇām and pitṝṇām). i, u, ṛ, ḷ are vocalic allophones of consonantal y, v, r, l. There are thus only 5 invariably vocalic phonemes:a, ā, ī, ū, ṝ.

Visarga is an allophone of r and s, and anusvara , Devanagari of any nasal, both in pausa (i.e., the nasalised vowel). The exact pronunciation of the three sibilants may vary, but they are distinct phonemes. An aspirated voiced sibilant /zʱ/ was inherited by Indo-Aryan from Proto-Indo-Iranian but lost shortly before the time of the Rigveda (aspirated fricatives are exceedingly rare in any language). The retroflex consonants are somewhat marginal phonemes, often being conditioned by their phonetic environment; they do not continue a PIE series and are often ascribed by some linguists to the substratal influence of Dravidian[55] or other substrate languages. The nasal [ɲ] is a conditioned allophone of /n/ (/n/ and /ɳ/ are distinct phonemes—aṇu 'minute', 'atomic' [nom. sg. neutr. of an adjective] is distinctive from anu 'after', 'along'; phonologically independent /ŋ/ occurs only marginally, e.g. in prāṅ 'directed forwards/towards' [nom. sg. masc. of an adjective]). There are thus 31 consonantal or semi-vocalic phonemes, consisting of four/five kinds of stops realised both with or without aspiration and both voiced and voiceless, three nasals, four semi-vowels or liquids, and four fricatives, written in IAST transliteration as follows: k, kh, g, gh; c, ch, j, jh; ṭ, ṭh, ḍ, ḍh; t, th, d, dh; p, ph, b, bh; m, n, ṇ; y, r, l, v; ś, ṣ, s, h or a total of 36 unique Sanskrit phonemes altogether.

The phonological rules which are applied when combining morphemes to a word, and when combining words to a sentence, are collectively called sandhi "composition". Texts are written phonetically, with sandhi applied (except for the so-called padapāṭha).

Writing system

Kashmiri Shaivaite manuscript in the Sharada script (c. 17th century)

Sanskrit was spoken in an oral society, and the oral tradition was maintained through the development of early classical Sanskrit literature.[56] Writing was not introduced to India until after Sanskrit had evolved into the Prakrits; when it was written, the choice of writing system was influenced by the regional scripts of the scribes. Therefore, Sanskrit has no native script of its own.[2] As such, virtually all the major writing systems of South Asia have been used for the production of Sanskrit manuscripts. Since the late 19th century, Devanagari has become the de facto standard writing system for Sanskrit publication, quite possibly because of the European practice of printing Sanskritic texts in this script. Devanāgari is written from left to right, does not have distinct letter cases, and is recognisable by a distinctive horizontal line running along the tops of the letters that links them together.[57]

"My name is 'incomplete third word is the name'" (written) in Sanskrit

The earliest known inscriptions in Sanskrit date to the 1st century BCE. They are in the Brahmi script, which was originally used for Prakrit, not Sanskrit. It has been described as a "paradox" that the first evidence of written Sanskrit occurs centuries later than that of the Prakrit languages which are its linguistic descendants.[56] In northern India, there are Brahmi inscriptions dating from the 3rd century BCE onwards, the oldest appearing on the famous Prakrit pillar inscriptions of king Ashoka. The earliest South Indian inscriptions in Tamil Brahmi, written in early Tamil, belong to the same period. When Sanskrit was written down, it was first used for texts of an administrative, literary or scientific nature. The sacred texts were preserved orally, and were set down in writing, "reluctantly" (according to one commentator), and at a comparatively late date.[37][58]

Sanskrit in modern Indian and other Brahmi scripts. May Śiva bless those who take delight in the language of the gods. (Kalidasa)

Brahmi evolved into a multiplicity of scripts of the Brahmic family, many of which were used to write Sanskrit. Roughly contemporary with the Brahmi, the Kharosthi script was used in the northwest of the subcontinent. Later (around the 4th to 8th centuries CE) the Gupta script, derived from Brahmi, became prevalent. From ca. the 8th century, the Sharada script evolved out of the Gupta script. The latter was displaced in its turn by Devanagari from ca. the 11/12th century, with intermediary stages such as the Siddham script. In Eastern India, the Bengali script and, later, the Oriya script, were used. In the south where Dravidian languages predominate, scripts used for Sanskrit include Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Grantha.


Since the late 18th century, Sanskrit has been transliterated using the Latin alphabet. The system most commonly used today is the IAST (International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration), which has been the academic standard since 1888/1912. ASCII-based transliteration schemes have evolved due to difficulties representing Sanskrit characters in computer systems. These include Harvard-Kyoto and ITRANS, a transliteration scheme that is used widely on the Internet, especially in Usenet and in email, for considerations of speed of entry as well as rendering issues. With the wide availability of Unicode-aware web browsers, IAST has become common online. It is also possible to type using an alphanumeric keyboard and transliterate to Devanagari using software like Mac OS X's international support. European scholars in the 19th century generally preferred Devanagari for the transcription and reproduction of whole texts and lengthy excerpts. However, references to individual words and names in texts composed in European Languages were usually represented with Roman transliteration. From the 20th century onwards, due to production costs, textual editions edited by Western scholars have mostly been in Romanised transliteration.


Grammatical tradition

Sanskrit grammatical tradition (vyākaraṇa, one of the six Vedanga disciplines) began in late Vedic India and culminated in the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini, which consists of 3990 sutras (ca. 5th century BCE). About a century after Pāṇini (around 400 BCE) Kātyāyana composed Vārtikas on Pāṇinian sũtras. Patañjali, who lived three centuries after Pāṇini, wrote the Mahābhāṣya, the "Great Commentary" on the Aṣṭādhyāyī and Vārtikas. Because of these three ancient Sanskrit grammarians this grammar is called Trimuni Vyākarana. To understand the meaning of sutras Jayaditya and Vāmana wrote the commentary named Kāsikā 600 CE. Pāṇinian grammar is based on 14 Shiva sutras (aphorisms). Here whole Mātrika (alphabet) is abbreviated. This abbreviation is called Pratyāhara.[59]


Sanskrit has ten classes of verbs divided into two broad groups: athematic and thematic. The thematic verbs are so called because an a, called the theme vowel, is inserted between the stem and the ending. This serves to make the thematic verbs generally more regular. Exponents used in verb conjugation include prefixes, suffixes, infixes, and reduplication. Every root has (not necessarily all distinct) zero, guṇa, and vṛddhi grades. If V is the vowel of the zero grade, the guṇa-grade vowel is traditionally thought of as a + V, and the vṛddhi-grade vowel as ā + V.

The verb gerunds and infinitives, and such creatures as intensives/frequentatives, desideratives, causatives, and benedictives derived from more basic forms) based on the different stem forms (derived from verbal roots) used in conjugation. There are four tense systems:


Sanskrit is a highly inflected language with three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neuter) and three numbers (singular, plural, dual). It has eight cases: nominative, vocative, accusative, instrumental, dative, ablative, genitive, and locative. The number of actual declensions is debatable. Pāṇini identifies six karakas corresponding to the nominative, accusative, dative, instrumental, locative, and ablative cases.[60] Pāṇini defines them as follows (Ashtadhyayi, I.4.24 – 54):

  1. Apadana (lit. 'take off'): "(that which is) firm when departure (takes place)." This is the equivalent of the ablative case, which signifies a stationary object from which movement proceeds.
  2. Sampradana ('bestowal'): "he whom one aims at with the object". This is equivalent to the dative case, which signifies a recipient in an act of giving or similar acts.
  3. Karana ("instrument") "that which effects most." This is equivalent to the instrumental case.
  4. Adhikarana ('location'): or "substratum." This is equivalent to the locative case.
  5. Karman ('deed'/'object'): "what the agent seeks most to attain". This is equivalent to the accusative case.
  6. Karta ('agent'): "he/that which is independent in action". This is equivalent to the nominative case. (On the basis of Scharfe, 1977: 94)

Personal pronouns and determiners

Sanskrit pronouns are declined for case, number, and gender. The pronominal declension applies to a few adjectives as well. Many pronouns have alternative enclitic forms. The first and second person pronouns are declined for the most part alike, having by analogy assimilated themselves with one another. Where two forms are given, the second is enclitic and an alternative form. Ablatives in singular and plural may be extended by the syllable -tas; thus mat or mattas, asmat or asmattas. Sanskrit does not have true third person pronouns, but its demonstratives fulfill this function instead by standing independently without a modified substantive.

There are four different demonstratives in Sanskrit: tat, etat, idam, and adas. etat indicates greater proximity than tat. While idam is similar to etat, adas refers to objects that are more remote than tat. eta, is declined almost identically to ta. Its paradigm is obtained by prefixing e- to all the forms of ta. As a result of sandhi, the masculine and feminine singular forms transform into eṣas and eṣã.

The enclitic pronoun ena is found only in a few oblique cases and numbers. Interrogative pronouns all begin with k-, and decline just as tat does, with the initial t- being replaced by k-. The only exception to this are the singular neuter nominative and accusative forms, which are both kim and not the expected *kat. For example, the singular feminine genitive interrogative pronoun, "of whom?", is kasyãḥ. Indefinite pronouns are formed by adding the participles api, cid, or cana after the appropriate interrogative pronouns. All relative pronouns begin with y-, and decline just as tat does. The correlative pronouns are identical to the tat series.

In addition to the pronouns described above, some adjectives follow the pronominal declension. Unless otherwise noted, their declension is identical to tat.

  • eka: "one", "a certain". (singular neuter nominative and accusative forms are both ekam)
  • anya: "another".
  • sarva: "all", "every". (singular neuter nominative and accusative forms are both sarvam)
  • para: "the other". (singular neuter nominative and accusative forms are both param)
  • sva: "self" (a reflexive adjective). (singular neuter nominative and accusative forms are both svam)


One other notable feature of the nominal system is the very common use of nominal compounds, which may be huge (10+ words) as in some modern languages such as German and Finnish. Nominal compounds occur with various structures, however morphologically speaking they are essentially the same. Each noun (or adjective) is in its (weak) stem form, with only the final element receiving case inflection. The four principle categories of nominal compounds are:[61]

These consist of two or more noun stems, connected in sense with 'and'. Examples are rāma-lakşmaņau—Rama and Lakshmana, rāma-lakşmaņa-bharata-śatrughnāh—Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna, and pāņipādam—limbs, literally hands and feet, from pāņi = hand and pāda = foot.
There are many tatpuruṣas; in a tatpuruṣa the first component is in a case relationship with another. For example, a doghouse is a dative compound, a house for a dog; other examples include instrumental relationships ("thunderstruck") and locative relationships ("towndwelling").
A compound where the relation of the first member to the last is appositional, attributive or adverbial; e.g., uluka-yatu (owl+demon) is a demon in the shape of an owl. Karmadhārayas are considered by some to be tatpuruṣas.
Bahuvrīhi compounds refer to a compound noun that refers to a thing which is itself not part of the compound. For example the word bahuvrīhi itself, from bahu = much and vrīhi = rice, denotes a rich person—one who has much rice.


Because of Sanskrit's complex declension system the word order is free.[62] In usage, there is a strong tendency toward subject – object – verb (SOV), which was the original system in place in Vedic prose. However, there are exceptions when word pairs cannot be transposed.[63]


The numbers from one to ten:

  1. éka-
  2. dva-
  3. tri-
  4. catúr-
  5. páñcan-
  6. ṣáṣ-
  7. saptán-
  8. aṣṭá-
  9. návan-
  10. dáśan-

The numbers one through four are declined. Éka is declined like a pronominal adjective, though the dual form does not occur. Dvá appears only in the dual. Trí and catúr are declined irregularly:

Three Four
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative tráyas trī́ṇi tisrás catvā́ras catvā́ri cátasras
Accusative trīn trī́ṇi tisrás catúras catvā́ri cátasras
Instrumental tribhís tisṛ́bhis catúrbhis catasṛ́bhis
Dative tribhyás tisṛ́bhyas catúrbhyas catasṛ́bhyas
Ablative tribhyás tisṛ́bhyas catúrbhyas catasṛ́bhyas
Genitive triyāṇā́m tisṛṇā́m caturṇā́m catasṛṇā́m
Locative triṣú tisṛ́ṣu catúrṣu catasṛ́ṣu

Some peculiar characteristics of Sanskrit

In the introduction to his celebrated translation of Vidyakara's 'Subhasitaratnakosa', Daniel H.H. Ingalls describes some peculiar characteristics of the Sanskrit language. He refers to the enormous vocabulary of Sanskrit, and also of the presence of a larger choice of synonyms in Sanskrit than any other language he knew of. Further, he writes, just as there exist a vast number of synonyms for almost any word in Sanskrit, there also exist synonymous constructions. Ingalls writes that in elementary Sanskrit examinations he would ask his students to write in Sanskrit the sentence 'You must fetch the horse' in ten different ways. Actually, Ingalls explains, it is possible to write the sentence in Sanskrit in around fifteen different ways 'by using active or passive constructions, imperative or optative, an auxiliary verb, or any of the three gerundive forms, each of which, by the way, gives a different metrical pattern'. Ingalls emphasizes that while these constructions differ formally, emotionally they are identical and completely interchangeable. He comments that in any natural language this would be impossible. Ingalls uses this and other arguments to show that Sanskrit is not a natural language, but an 'artificial' language. By 'artificial', he explains he means it was learned after some other Indian language had been learned by simple conditioning. Ingalls writes: 'Every Indian, one may suppose, grew up learning naturally the language of his mother and his playmates. Only after this and if he belonged to the priesthood or the nobility or to such a professional caste as that of the clerks, the physicians, or the astrologers would he learn Sanskrit. As a general rule, Sanskrit was not the language of the family. It furnished no subconscious symbols for the impressions which we receive in childhood nor for the emotions which form our character in early adolescence.'[64]

Influence on other languages

Indic languages

Sanskrit exerts great influence on languages of India that grew from its vocabulary and grammatical base; for instance, Hindi is a "Sanskritised register" of the Khariboli dialect. All modern Indo-Aryan languages, as well as Munda and Dravidian languages, have borrowed many words either directly from Sanskrit (tatsama words), or indirectly via middle Indo-Aryan languages (tadbhava words). Words originating in Sanskrit are estimated to constitute roughly fifty percent of the vocabulary of modern Indo-Aryan languages, and the literary forms of Malayalam and Kannada.[13] Literary texts in Telugu are lexically Sanskrit or Sanskritised to an enormous extent, perhaps seventy percent or more.[65]

Sanskrit is recognised as a storehouse of scripture and as the language of prayers in Hinduism. While vernacular prayer is common, Sanskrit mantras are recited by millions of Hindus, and most temple functions are conducted entirely in Sanskrit, often Vedic in form. Of modern day south Asian languages, Hindi, Nepali, Bengali, Assamese, Konkani, and Marathi still retain a Sanskrit and Prakrit vocabulary base, while Hindi and Urdu tend to be more heavily weighted with Arabic and Persian influence. The Indian national anthem, Jana Gana Mana, is written in a literary form of Bengali (known as sadhu bhasha); it is Sanskritised to be recognisable but is still archaic to the modern ear. The national song of India, Vande Mataram, which was originally a poem composed by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and taken from his book called 'Anandamath', is in a similarly highly Sanskritised Bengali. Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada also combine a great deal of Sanskrit vocabulary.

Interaction with other languages

Sanskrit has also influenced Sino-Tibetan languages through the spread of Buddhist texts in translation. Buddhism was spread to China by Mahayana missionaries sent by Emperor Ashoka mostly through translations of Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit. Many terms were transliterated directly and got added to the Chinese vocabulary. Chinese words like 剎那 chànà (Devanagari: क्षण kṣaṇa 'instantaneous period') were borrowed from Sanskrit. Many Sanskrit texts survive only in Tibetan collection of commentaries to the Buddhist teachings Tanjur.[66]

In Southeast Asia, languages such as Thai and Lao contain many loan words from Sanskrit, as do Khmer, Vietnamese to a lesser extent, through Sinified hybrid Sanskrit. For example, in Thai, the Rāvana—the emperor of Sri Lanka is called 'Thosakanth' which is a derivation of his Sanskrit name 'Dashakanth' ("of ten necks"). Many Sanskrit loanwords are also found in Austronesian languages, such as Javanese particularly the old form from which nearly half the vocabulary is derived from the language.[67]

Other Austronesian languages, such as traditional Malay, modern Indonesian, also derive much of their vocabulary from Sanskrit, albeit to a lesser extent, with a large proportion of words being derived from Arabic. Similarly, Philippine languages such as Tagalog have many Sanskrit loanwords, although more are derived from Spanish. A Sanskrit loanword encountered in many Southeast Asian languages is the word bhāṣā, or spoken language, which is used to mean language in general, for example bahasa in Malay, Indonesian and Tausug, basa in Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese, phasa in Thai and Lao, bhasa in Burmese, and phiesa in Khmer.

In popular culture


Computational linguistics

Analysis of Sanskrit is similar to Semantic network theory and it may be suitable for Knowledge representation as well as an artificial language for computers.[77]

See also


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Further reading

  • Maurer, Walter (2001). The Sanskrit language : an introductory grammar and reader. Surrey, England: Curzon.  

External links

  • Samskrita Bharati, organisation supporting the usage of Sanskrit
  • Sanskrit Documents—Documents in ITX format of Upanishads, Stotras etc.
  • Sanskrit texts at Sacred Text Archive
  • Sanskrit Manuscripts in Cambridge Digital Library

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