History of Sanskrit

British Period  1818 to 1905     

Introduction - Referring to the popular notion about wide diversity of languages in India Dr S.K. Chatterji, eminent philologist observed, “The meticulous and all inclusive information of the languages current in India, as shown in the Linguistic survey of India shows a total number of 179 languages and 544 dialects. Of the above numbers 116, are small tribal speeches that belong to Burma (at that time Burma was politically a part of India). The consideration of dialects is irrelevant when we mention the languages to which they belong to, for it the great literary languages that matter. Dr Chatterji points out that India has only fifteen great literary languages: 1. Hindi. 2. Urdu, which are but two styles of the same Hindustani speech, employing two totally different scripts and borrowing words from two different sources. 3. Bengali. 4. Assamese. 5. Oriya. 6. Marathi. 7. Gujarati. 8. Sindhi. 9. Punjabi. 10. Kashmiri. 11. Nepali.12. Telegu. 13. Tamil.14. Kannada and 15. Malayalam. The various dialects spoken across the country all find in one or another of the above fifteen their accepted literary form.

The primary importance of S lies not only in maintaining but also strengthening Indian cultural and political unity. Inspite of the great diversity in India the basic character of India, her great all India background, her Indianism, her Bharata-dharma or Bharatayana is linked with Sanskrit. Apart from this S is a great treasure house for all Indian literary languages to draw their words of higher culture from. Modern Indian languages of the Aryan or Dravidian variety are no longer ‘building languages’ i.e. they do not create words with their own native elements. With S in the background they have all become borrowing languages. The much needed development of a scientific and technological vocabulary will mean a greater place for S in modern Indian intellectual and cultural life”.

The orthodox Pandits kept alife the study of S during the 19th century, and their literary output was significant. They were patronized by the Hindu rulers of Tanjore, Cochin, Travancore, Mysore in the South and Kashmir – Rajput states in the North. The old centers of S learning Kashi, Mithila continued to be so. S works written during this period covered various branches of literature as existed before like religion, poetry, drama, grammar, medicine etc.

V S Vaghela ruler of Rewa is the reputed author of no less than fifty works on Rama Cult. A Tamil scholar Appayacharya wrote a number of works with a view to affecting a synthesis of Samkhya, Yoga and Vedanta systems. There was R A Khandekar who flourished at a well-known center of learning Punyastambha and wrote Kosavatamsa, the astronomical works Khetakriti amongst others. Works were also written by A Modak, Gangadhara (two gita govinda imitations). During the rule of Rama Varma Cochin was written the Uttara Naishadha by Arur Bhattatiri. In Kashmir the reigns of Ranavira Singh witnessed a great amount of enthusiasm for S.  The King sponsored no less than 32 works in all branches of S literature. His chief pandit Sahibram wrote, amongst others, a commentary on the Panchasayaka on erotics. In Bengal the renowned Ayurvedic physician Gangadhara Kaviraja wrote the commentary Jalpakalpataru on the famous treatise Charaka Samhita. Reference may also be made to some women writers like Triveni (two imitations of Kalidasa’s Meghasandesa) and Sundaravalli (author of Ramayana Champu). There were other authors too.

S literature also felt the impact of Western influence, though it came late in the 19th century and was mainly exhibited in the composition of short stories in prose, translation of poems and plays from English, and publication of journals of modern type. Rajarajavarma composed a drama, which was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello.

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