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Sanskrit literature

Sanskrit literature, literary works written in Sanskrit constituting the main body of the classical literature of India.

Introduction

The literature is divided into two main periods—the Vedic (c.1500–c.200 BC), when the Vedic form of Sanskrit generally prevailed, and the Sanskrit (c.200 BC–c.AD 1100), when classical Sanskrit (a development of Vedic) predominated. Sanskrit had, however, become the standard language of the court by 400 BC, and its early literature overlapped the Vedic. The word Sanskrit means "perfected," and the language was adopted as an improvement of the Vedic.

The Vedic Period

The first part of the Vedic period (c.1500–c.800 BC), that of the Veda, was a poetic and creative age, but afterward (c.800–c.500 BC) the priestly class transferred its energies to sacrificial ceremonial. They produced the Brahmanas, prose commentaries, in a later form of Vedic, explaining the relations of the Vedas (which had become sacred texts) to the ceremonials of the Vedic religion. In time the Brahmanas, like the Vedas, came to be considered sruti [Skt.,=hearing, i.e., revealed].

All later works, in contrast, are called smriti [Skt.,=memory or tradition] and are considered to be derived from the ancient sages. The later portions of the Brahmanas are theosophical treatises; since they were meant to be studied in the solitude of the forest, they are called Aranyakas [forest books]. The final parts of the Aranyakas are the philosophical Upanishads [secret doctrine] (see Vedanta). In language structure the Aranyakas and the Upanishads approach classical Sanskrit.

The Sutras [Skt.,=thread or clue] were written in the third and final stage (c.500–c.200 BC) of the Vedic period. They are treatises dealing with Vedic ritual and customary law. They were written to fulfill the need for a short survey in mnemonic, aphoristic form of the past literature, which by this time had assumed massive proportions. There are two forms of sutra; the Srauta Sutras, based on sruti, which developed the ritualistic side, and the Grihya Sutras, based on smriti. Those Grihya Sutras dealing with social and legal usage are the Dharma Sutras, the oldest source of Indian law (see Manu).

The body of works composed in the Sutra style was divided into six Vedangas [members of the Veda]—Siksha [phonetics], Chhandas [meter], Vyakarana [grammar], Nirukta [etymology], Kalpa [religious practice], and Jyotisha [astronomy]. A sutra that is particularly well known in the West is the Kamasutra of Vatsyayana concerning the art and practice of love. Linguistic standards were stereotyped in the middle of the sutra period by the grammar of Panini (c.350 BC), regarded as the starting point of the Sanskrit period.

The Sanskrit Period

Nearly all Sanskrit literature, except that dealing with grammar and philosophy, is in verse. The first period (c.500–c.50 BC) of the Sanskrit age is one of epics. They are divided into two main groupings—the natural epics, i.e., those derived from old stories, and those which come from artificial epics called kavya. The oldest and most representative of the natural school is the Mahabharata, while the oldest and best-known of the artificial epics is the Ramayana. The Puranas, a group of 18 epics, didactic and sectarian in tone, are a direct offshoot of the Mahabharata.

In the court epics (c.200 BC–c.AD 1100), most of which were derived from the Ramayana, subject matter gradually became subordinated to form, and elaborate laws were set up to regulate style. The lyric poems are artificial in technique and mainly stanzaic. The most common form, the sloka, developed from the Vedic anushtubh, a stanza of four octosyllabic lines. Part of the lyric poetry is comprised of gemlike miniatures, portraying emotion and describing nature; most of it is erotic. However, many lyrics are ethical in tone. These reflect the doctrine of the transmigration of souls in a prevailing melancholy tone and stress the vanity of human life.

Sanskrit drama (c.AD 400–AD 1100) had its beginnings in those hymns of the Rig-Veda which contain dialogues. Staged drama probably derives from the dance and from religious ceremonial. It is characterized by the complete absence of tragedy; death never occurs on the stage. Other typical features are the alternation of lyrical stanzas with prose dialogue and the use of Sanskrit for some characters and Prakrit for others (see Prakrit literature).

In Sanskrit drama the stories are borrowed from legend, and love is the usual theme. The play almost always opens with a prayer and is followed by a dialogue between the stage manager and one of the actors, referring to the author and the play. There were no theaters, so the plays were performed in the concert rooms of palaces. The most famous drama was the Sakuntala of Kalidasa. Other major dramatists were Bhasa, Harsa, and Bhavabhuti (see Asian drama).

There is a didactic quality in all of Sanskrit literature, but it is most pronounced in fairy tales and fables (c.AD 400–AD 1100). Characteristically, different stories are inserted within the framework of a single narration. The characters of the tale themselves tell stories until there are many levels to the narrative. The Panchatantra is the most important work in this style. The sententious element reached its height in the Hitopadesa, which was derived from the Panchatantra.

Sanskrit literature of the modern period consists mainly of academic exercises. The main body of modern Indian literature is written in various vernacular languages as well as in English.

Bibliography

Translations of many of the important texts of Sanskrit literature are in The Sacred Books of the East, the famous collection edited by M. Müller. See the histories of Sanskrit literature by A. B. Keith (1928) and A. A. Macdonell (1962); H. H. Gowen, A History of Indian Literature (1931, repr. 1968); R. W. Frazer, A Literary History of India (1898, repr. 1970); L. Siegel, Fires of Love, Waters of Peace (1983).

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Sanskritization

Sanskritization

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The term Sanskritization was first coined by the Indian sociologist Mysore Narasimhachar Srinivas (19161999) in his Oxford University PhD thesis, which was eventually published as Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India (1952). His research demonstrated that, contrary to the British colonial view, the caste system was not static and pan-Indian, but local, dynamic, and fluid. He captured the dynamics of this stratification system in his theory of Sanskritization. Sanskrit is the canonical language of the Hindu scriptures, including principally the Upanishads, and thus Sanskritization is the process by which lower castes attempt to emulate the culture of higher castes. More precisely, this social process involves the adoption by a low caste or other group of the customs, rituals, and beliefs of a high or twice-born caste. One specific example is the adoption of a vegetarian diet, which is not typical of low-caste practice. These social changes are normally followed by a claim to a more elevated position within the hierarchy of castes.

The theory is in fact more complex, because of the difficulties of translation of the notion of caste, which corresponds to what is locally known as jati or kulam. Whereas varna refers to the four main castes (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra), jati refers to the many smaller groups or subcastes by which the Indian system is internally and locally divided. A caste is characterized by endogamy, hereditary membership, and a specific lifestyle. Although social classes are open, caste in principle is not. Whereas social mobility in class society involves the movement of individuals, in a caste system it is an entire community (typically a jati ) that moves up or down the system.

This social dynamic is also associated with a contrast between what anthropologists have called the great and little traditions of peasant society. In his Peasant Society and Culture (1956) Robert Redfield argued that a great tradition is a culture closely associated with religion that is spread over a large territory and embedded in a literary tradition defended by a stratum of intellectuals such as priests. A little tradition, by contrast, is localized, limited, and oral. Little traditions can be absorbed into great traditions and become universalized, or there may be a reverse process whereby great traditions may become parochial. Sanskritization can be seen therefore as the process by which a local community immersed in the little tradition makes a claim for membership in the great tradition by acquiring elements of Sanskrit learning and ritual practice. The whole history of Hinduism can be interpreted as the constant interaction between the Brahmins (as priests and teachers) and the religious customs of other social groups.

The principal ambiguity of Srinivass theory is whether Sanskritization is a radical or conservative process. One can interpret the social mobility of jati as a social safety valve in which able and educated but low-status groups move up the hierarchy of caste to claim their place in society, thereby leaving the existing structure in place. Srinivas, however, saw the process as a progressive feature of a society that was becoming more open and democratic. Although Srinivas did not believe that the caste system would simply collapse under the pressure of modernization, he did argue that it would continue to adapt, especially under the impact of electoral politics at the village level. The increased provision of education, urbanization, and industrialization have had an impact on traditional relations between castes, but approximately one-seventh of the Indian population still bear the stigma of untouchability, despite affirmative action programs introduced by the Indian Constitution of November 26, 1949, rejecting untouchability as an infringement of fundamental rights. The Constitutions principal legal architect was Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (18911956), who, although himself an untouchable, had been invited by the Congress-led government of newly independent India to serve as the nations first law minister. Ambedkar advocated the expansion of educational provision for the untouchables as an affirmative action program. These legal measures in the Constitution have been continuously reaffirmed in subsequent legislation such as the Untouchability (Offences) Act of 1955. However, given the resilience of untouchability in Indian society, it is evident that sanskritization is not a radical solution for social inequality.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Betaille, Andre. 1969. Caste, Class, and Power: Changing Patterns of Stratification in a Tanjore Village. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Dumont, Louis. 1998. Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications. Rev. ed. New Delhi: Vedams Books.

Redfield, Robert. 1956. Peasant Society and Culture: An Anthropological Approach to Civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Searle-Chatterjee, Mary, and Ursula Sharma. 1994. Contextualising Caste: Post-Dumontian Approaches. Oxford: Blackwell.

Srinivas, Mysore Narasimhachar. 1952. Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bryan S. Turner

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SANSKRIT

SANSKRITAlso, especially formerly, Sanscrit [From Sanskrit saṃskṛta put together, well-formed, perfected]. The dominant classical and scholarly language of the Indian subcontinent, the sacred language of Hinduism (with Pali), a scriptural language of Buddhism, and the oldest known member of the Indo-European language family. It is usually written in the Devanagari script, which runs from left to right. Much as Latin influenced European languages, Sanskrit has influenced many languages in South and South-East Asia. Since the 19c, it has also provided loans to European languages including English and French. The most apparent of these loans relate to religion, philosophy, and culture, such as ahimsa, chakra, guru, karma, kundalini, mahatma, pundit, swami, and yoga/yogi, but less direct loan-words in English (borrowed through other languages) include carmine, cheetah, chintz, chutney, juggernaut, jungle, and jute.

All major modern Indian languages (both Indo-Aryan and Dravidian) have a Sanskritized register, used in religious and secular contexts. Indian English, especially when concerned with Hindu religion and philosophy, also freely uses Sanskrit terms, and Indian literature in English makes use of such conventions from Sanskrit as repetition of main themes in paragraphs and an abundance of compounds and embedded clauses. Sanskrit words appear in English texts in two forms: fully Anglicized, as with the variants pundit and pandit (through Hindi pandit); or, in scholarly writings, with various diacritics, following the conventions for transliterating Sanskrit into the Roman alphabet, as with pandita. A representative scholarly text using full transliterations is:
In the Brhad-āranyaka Upanisad (3.9.1) we are told that, when Sākalya asked the sage Yājñavalkya what was the number of the gods, the sage gave a cryptic answer (

Alain Daniélou

, Hindu Polytheism, 1964).

Differences in meaning and use often match the different styles: for example, pandita means a learned brahmin (or brahman, or brāhmana); pandit may have the same meaning and is used as a title for such a person, as in Pandit Nehru; pundit may have the same meaning and use, but is more fully integrated into English, in which it commonly refers to an expert; as in political pundits. Comparably, the term guru may refer to a Hindu teacher, a venerable spiritual leader, or any expert, as in the phrases management guru and usage guru. The extended non-Hindu senses of pundit and guru are often used to suggest that there is something suspect about the persons so described, whereas such terms as Gandhi's ahimsa and satyagraha have positive implications. See BORROWING, CLASSICAL LANGUAGE, INDIAN ENGLISH, INDO-EUROPEAN LANGUAGES.

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Sanskrit

Sanskrit (săn´skrĬt), language belonging to the Indic group of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Indo-Iranian). Sanskrit was the classical standard language of ancient India, and some of the oldest surviving Indo-European documents are written in Sanskrit; however, Hittite is probably the earliest recorded Indo-European tongue with at least one text dated c.17th cent. BC The oldest known stage of Sanskrit is Vedic or Vedic Sanskrit, so-called because it was the language of the Veda, the most ancient extant scriptures of Hinduism. The Veda probably date back to about 1500 BC or earlier, many centuries before writing was introduced into India. Vedic Sanskrit was current c.1500 BC to c.200 BC However, Sanskrit in its classical form, a development of Vedic, was spoken c.400 BC as a standard court language. It became the literary vehicle of Hindu culture and as such was employed until c.AD 1100 (see Sanskrit literature). Even today Sanskrit survives in liturgical usage. Although it is a dead language, it is recognized in the Indian constitution of 1950 because of its association with the religion and literature of India.

Study of grammar by Indian scholars began early. The oldest existing Sanskrit grammatical work was written by the Indian grammarian Panini (c.4th cent. BC), who perceptively analyzed and commented on the Sanskrit language. Grammatically, Sanskrit has eight cases for the noun (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative, instrumental, vocative, and locative), three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), three numbers for verbs, nouns, pronouns, and adjectives (singular, dual, and plural), and three voices for the verb (active, middle, and passive). The language is very highly inflected. The ancient Indian scripts known as the Brahmi and Kharosthi alphabets have been employed to record Sanskrit. Both Brahmi and Kharosthi are thought to be of Semitic origin. The Devanagari characters, which are descended from Brahmi, also were, and still are, used for writing Sanskrit. The comparison of Sanskrit with the languages of Europe, especially by Sir William Jones, opened the way to the scientific study of language in Europe in the 18th cent.

See J. Bloch, Indo-Aryan, from the Vedas to Modern Times (rev. ed., tr. 1965); R. P. Godman and S. J. Sutherland, Devavanipravesika: An Introduction to the Sanskrit Language (2d ed. rev. 1987).

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Sanskrit

Sanskrit Classical language of India, the literary and sacred language of Hinduism, and a forerunner of the modern Indo-Iranian languages spoken in n India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Sanskrit was brought to India (c.1500 bc) by immigrants from the nw. It was the language in which the Vedas were written. This old form of the language (Vedic Sanskrit) gradually became simplified, achieving its classical form c.500 bc. Sanskrit is one of the Indo-European languages. Although only c.3000 Indians are able to speak Sanskrit today, it has been designated one of India's national languages.

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Sanskrit literature

Sanskrit literature Classical Indian literature. The two main periods in Sanskrit literature are the Vedic (c.1500–c.200 bc) and the overlapping Classical (c.500 bc–c.ad 1000). The Vedic period produced the Vedas, the earliest works in Sanskrit literature and among the most important. Later Vedic literature included the Upanishads, which discuss the essence of the universe. The Early Classical period contributed the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. They are significant both as literature and as Hindu sacred works.

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Sanskrit

San·skrit / ˈsanˌskrit/ • n. an ancient Indic language of India, in which the Hindu scriptures and classical Indian epic poems are written and from which many northern Indian languages are derived. • adj. of or relating to this language. DERIVATIVES: San·skrit·ic / sanˈskritik/ adj. San·skrit·ist / ˈsanˌskritist/ n.

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Sanskrit

Sanskrit an ancient Indo-European language of India, in which the Hindu scriptures and classical Indian epic poems are written and from which many northern Indian (Indic) languages are derived.

Sanskrit was spoken in India roughly 1200–400 bc, and continues in use as a language of religion and scholarship. It is written from left to right in the Devanagari script.

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sanskritization

sanskritization See CASTE.

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Sanskrit

Sanskrit •caret • Sanskrit • Prakrit •ferret, inherit, merit •egret • secret •dispirit, skirret, spirit •floret • pomfret • bowsprit •barbiturate •turret, worrit •culprit • floweret • Margaret •cellaret (US cellarette) •banneret, lanneret •hypocrite • preterite (US preterit) •Everett, leveret •favourite (US favorite) •interpret, misinterpret •basset, facet, tacet, tacit •Narragansett, transit •lancet •cresset, Knesset •exit • resit •complicit, elicit, explicit, illicit, implicit, licit, solicit •Tilsit • plebiscite • babysit • deficit •cosset, posset •Quonset • whatsit •corset, Dorset, faucet •gusset, russet •dulcet •tercet, verset •ashet • planchet • bullshit • Bastet •tomtit • bluetit

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