We do not notice that we are breathing until we take a pause and observe our own breath! Samskrit, the most ancient language of the world, is everywhere around us, but we do not notice it just as much. Certain Indologists around the world somehow equate Samskrit with classical languages such as Greek & Latin. In other words they say that it should be treated as a relic that should be shown a place in a museum of dead languages. Sorry, we disagree. Here are some clearly unique instances of the pristine presence of Samskrit all over the nation of its origin, India.
Recitation and Chanting
- Bhagavad Gita, the practical spiritual guide of the Hindus, is recited in its pristine Samskrit form by many practicing Hindus. Kids in many schools and many neighbourhoods participate in Gita chanting competitions. It requires them to chant as many verses from Gita from as many chapters as possible. There are regular programmes on TV too.
- viShNu sahasra naamaM and lalitaa sahasra naamaM are two popular Samskrit chants in praise of Sri Maha Vishnu and Mother Lalita Devi. Many orthodox Hindus can easily recite these two chants, each running into 108 verses each, effortlessly and without the need for any memory aids. There are regular satsangs, or spiritual gatherings, to chant together these sacred verses. These satsangs optionally include a discussion on the importance of these chants. There are regular programmes on TV and scores of books written, both thick and thin, just on these two chants.
- There are scores of online sites that contain downloadable versions of numerous Samskrit slokas and chants. There are both audio and video versions. Youtube is filled with a large number of videos on Samskrit chants and even commentaries on them. These numbers keep growing almost on a daily basis.
Temples, rituals & oblations
- A visit to any of the temples in India will bring you very close to the usage of Samskrit language by the priests in performing some of the most common temple rituals. Not a single temple ritual can be accomplished without the use of Samskrit chants.
- Every single Hindu ritual, starting from the time of birth and all the way up to the end of life requires the performing priest to chant Vedic Samskrit mantras which are often repeated by those who perform them. The context and symbolism is not lost on either the practitioner or the priest.
- On a trip to any of the Hindu pilgrimage centers across the world, one can find many posters and inscriptions that contain various commonly understood Samskrit quotations. These include adages such as dharmO rakshati rakshitaH and vRikSho rakshati rakshitaH. Many Indians are fully aware of not only what they mean but all its full cultural import.
- Before embarking on a new task it is common for Hindus to chant the most prominent Samskrit verse ShuklaM bharadharaM viShnuM, an invocation verse to prevent hurdles. At the minimum this is one verse that every Hindu knows by heart.
- As part of their mandated daily saMdhyaavandanaM, millions of orthodox Indians chant Gayatri Mantra in its original Samskrit format.
- There are mantras to be chanted for every routine activity of the day. As soon as one wakes up one chants karagre vasatE lakShmi, before touching the ground for the first time in the morning one chants samudravasane devi, at the time of taking bath it is ganga cha yamuna chaiva, when lighting a lamp it is Shubham karOti kalyaNam and finally before going to bed it is karacharaNa kRitamva. There is a special mantra for every major and minor routine task. For millions of Hindus these Samskrit mantras are part and parcel of their life.
- When you embrace the feet of elders to seek their blessings many of them bestow their blessings in Samskrit. For students it is unnata vidya praptirastu, for those who completed their studies it is unnata udyoga praptirastu, for the eligible bachelors and spinsters it is seeghramE kalyana praptirastu, for the new married couples it is suputra praptirastu, and for the married women it is dheerga sumaMgali bhava(or akhanDa soubhagyavati bhava).
- Whether on a temple visit or through daily worship every Hindu child and every Hindu adult stands in front of a deity and offers his/her prayers. These prayers are invariably chants of one or two Samskrit verses or some short Samskrit mantras.
- Suprabhatam is an offering to the Gods to wake them up early in the morning in various temples. Each of the temple deities have their version of this suprabhata seva. Those who live near the temples are woken up every day to these Samskrit chants of Suprabhatam.
- Millions of children and adults around the world are taught to chant a special mantra before partaking their food. These two Samskrit verses are borrowed from two separate chapters of Bhagavad Gita.
Music and popular culture
- vandE maataraM is our national song. It was written in Samskrit and Bengali. During their morning assembly in schools across India students sing it in its full fervor. Every Indian school student knows this song by heart.
- Indian classical music, both in the northern and southern parts, is bestowed with some of the most enchanting melodies ever written in Samskrit. Adi Sankara, Kalidasa, Annamayya, Purandaradasa, Tyagaraja, Dikshitar, and many other composers wrote immensely popular Samskrit compositions that are on the lips of millions of Hindus for many centuries.
- There is hardly a movie in India that does not start off without invoking the name of the God through a Samskrit verse. Throughout every Indian movie extensive contextual usage is made of Samskrit words and verses, say for marriages or other rituals.
- Three full version Samskrit movies, Adi Sankaracharya, Bhagavad Gita and Ishti, were released in India.
- There are several Samskrit songs in popular movie culture too. Besides there are also some special songs that are being created for the occasions like the birthdays. Here is the link to the birthday song. Sanskrit lovers around the world are experimenting with the creation of translated versions of some popular movie songs. Here is one such example.
Samskrit Literature and Indian Languages
- All the important spiritual texts of Hindus, especially the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata and Bhagavad Gita were composed in Samskrit. These texts have several translations. It is believed that Ramayana itself has over 1000 translations. None of the translations are complete without the presence of the most important Samskrit slokas from the original texts. These texts have been the part and parcel of Hindu life for thousands of years.
- Ayurveda, the traditional medical system developed in India several centuries ago, is practiced in many parts of the world. Among many others, charaka samhita and susruta samhita are two major Samskrit texts that form the basis of this system. To this day they serve as a major reference for all the vaidyas.
- Bharata muni’s naaTya Sastra is an encyclopaedia of Indian dance forms. Developed around 200 BC, this Samskrit treatise, its translations and commentaries serve as the basis of theatre arts in India. Many of the dance teachers and students pursuing higher studies are expected to be fully conversant with these texts.
- A significant portion of all the words used in all the Indian languages have their roots in Samskrit language. It is by far the only language that is considered the mother of not only all the Indian languages but also many languages around the world. Similarly many of the common Hindu names including names such as Karunanidhi, Hiranmayi, Sridhar, and Srinivas are either Samskrit words in themselves or they have an undeniably strong Samskrit roots.
Schools, Colleges, Organizations, Institutions and Universities
- There are many Vedic schools in India where the future priests get trained for their employment in temples and key cultural institutions. These schools are constantly learning from the vast repository of the existing Vedic knowledge that was all part of our Samskritic heritage.
- radiosai.org is an internet based service that operates from a temple town called Prasanthi Nilayam in AP, India. It broadcasts the chanting of Vedas daily from 8 am to 9 pm. It is tuned into by millions of people around the world. Many of them chant the Vedas in tune with what they are hearing. It is a mass chanting of Vedam that happens every day.
- Samskrita Bharati, a prominent organization driving the resurgence of Samskrit language, organizes many spoken Samskrit shibirs. These shibirs are conducted entirely in Samskrit and the participants learn and improve their spoken Samskrit skills. Thanks to this effort, there are now many families in India that communicate only in Samskrit. It is estimated that there are nearly one lakh Samskrit teachers in India and nearly 1 crore people got benefited by these shibirs.
- The national emblem which is an adaptation of the Sarnath lion shows the Samskrit words satyamEva jayate. This emblem is seen everywhere in India in all the government offices, on seals, currency, and on all official communication documents.
- The most prominently visible symbol in India is that of the Life Insurance Corporation. It contains the Samskrit words – yOgakShemam vahaamyahaM. These words are borrowed from Bhagavad Gita. Similarly there are many taglines of several institutions in India, Nepal and Indonesia that are borrowed from ancient Samskrit texts. Here is a list of such phrases.
- Scores of institutions and Universities across the nation organize spoken Samskrit classes in which basic communication skills and Samskrit grammar are discussed and taught.
- All India Radio(AIR) has been broadcasting it daily news in Samskrit for several decades. To this day this 5 minute Samskrit news item can be accessed from here. Many generations of Indians learnt Samskrit through the radio programmes of AIR.
- Recently launched Samskrit news blog site contains daily news items delivered by school children. There are also several magazines and online newspapers that are published in Samskrit. Here is a list of such publications. sambhaashaNa sandEsha, a monthly magazine, has a dedicated readership of over one lakh people.
Samskrit is a beautiful language that is an efficient medium for preserving and transferring knowledge orally. It is beautiful both in poetic and prose forms. Before we conclude here is a video that contains a short story in Samskrit.
This list can go on and on. I am sure you will probably have your own list that you can offer. If you have anything else to add to the above list, please add them in the comments section.
It is true that our languages suffered huge pressures in large part because of the barbaric Islamic and European invasions. Ever since we gained our independence, thanks to thousands of Samskrit language enthusiasts, Samskrit has been on a steady path of definite recovery. This resurgence is imminent and will happen with or without the help of active government support.