History of Sanskrit

The Classical Age 320 to 750 AD   

Quote K M Munshi “Sanskrit, a living language in structure and rich in expression, possessing a rich, varied and beautiful literary achievement, was the living embodiment of Dharma and a powerful integrating force. Inscriptions began to be written in S even in the South. A new thought or a new literary masterpiece in the language attracted the attention of all the intellectual centers. For instance the works of Kalidasa, a contemporary of Chandra-gupta II Vikramaditya, became the models of literary beauty throughout the country within a few years of his death. S continued to be the language of religion and ritual, of statecraft, learning and science, of the law texts, which regulated social conduct, and of literature, thought poetry and drama. It was the national medium of course. The S speaking world was one, all Indian. In North India, the dialects, which the higher classes spoke was not far from S. But in the South Dravidian languages continued to develop on their own lines, no doubt influenced and enriched by Sanskrit. Cultural influences were spread not only through S, but percolated to the masses through the medium of growing dialects that acknowledged the supremacy of S and became subsidiary forces of integration”.

During this period was founded the Gupta Empire, ruled Harsha, the Huns / Arabs invaded India, ruled the Chalukyas and Pallavas in South India.

The political unity and prosperity of India under the Guptas, combined with the staunch patronage they extended to S learning, resulted in the flourishing of S literature in all its branches including sciences like Astronomy and Mathematics. This is evident from the fact that dramatists and poets like Kalidasa, Bharavi and Magha, prose writers like Dandin, Subandhu, rhetoricians like Bhamaha, grammarians like Chandra, Vamana, lexicographers like Amara, philosophers like Gaudapada, Kumarila and astronomers like Aryabhata, Varahamihira, all flourished during this period. That was undoubtedly called an efflorescence of S literature during the Gupta Age.

This period saw the full development of the Puranas but why are they important to us? Quote Winternitz “They afford us far grater insight into all aspects and phases of Hinduism – its mythology, idol-worship, its theism and pantheism, its love of God, its philosophy and superstitions, its festivals and ceremonies, and its ethics, than in any other works”.

Through his works Kalidasa shed lustre on the whole of S literature. The best-known work is his drama Shakuntla. His two Mahakavyas, Raghuvamsa and Kumarasambhava, and the lyrical poem Meghaduta are universally regarded as gems of S poetry. The Kiratarjuniya and the Sisupalavadha, two of the famous Mahakavyas belong to this period. Although examples of fables and romances existed in India from an earlier period, no earlier examples in S are known than Panchatantra. This work became highly popular and was translated into most languages of the world.

The rise of Chandra and Jainendra – two of the several systems of S grammar marks this age (Systems of Sanskrit grammar by Dr S K Belvalkar). Chandra was not only a close student of one of the Acharyas of the school of Panini but has fully utilized their works in an attempt to evolve a system of grammar free from the traditional Brahmanical element.

Summary – The broad and running survey of S literature produced in the Classical Age clearly shows that great advance was made in literature on every side and in every branch. Some of the important sciences like Grammar, Maths, Astronomy and Astrology reached their fullest development in this age. So also this age produced great writers like Kalidasa, Bharavi and Magha. Although this age produced the best towards its close artificiality was slowly but steadily creeping into the domain of literature and was destined to eclipse and stifle all real art. There was a tendency among Jain scholars to prefer S more and more to Prakrit, as being of greater value in their discussions with other schools of thought and of greater prestige. The older commentaries in Prakrit soon gave place to S Tikas eg the Jain scholar Haribhadra composed in S. Amongst the Digambara Jains of the South too there was a preference for S over Prakrit esp. in philosophical works.

Prakrit – The Svetambara Jain Canon and its exegetic literature in the Ardha-Magadhi Prakrit, the few religious texts of the Digambara Jains of the south in the Maharashtri and Sauraseni Prakrits, and the commentaries on Buddhist texts written in Pali constitute the most important Prakrit and Pali literature during this period. Comprehensive works on Jain logic and philosophy were composed in Prakrit during this period.

While Pali and Prakrit languages came to be progressively used for literary purposes, there was a tendency to preserve them in their purer form and so there arose grammars of Prakrit and Pali. Vararuchi’s and Chanda’s are possibly the oldest works in grammar, were composed in S and molded on the pattern of Panini. While the grammar of Pali was written in Pali itself.

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