History of Sanskrit

The Age of Imperial Kannauj 750 to 1000 a.d.   

Quote K M Munshi “The Huns incursions had a devastating effect. The Classical Age lost its vitality. The tottering Gupta Empire was dissolved. Vast social and cultural changes followed. Naturally S, though a still powerful integrating force, instead of being the language of the educated throughout the land, developed a learned character, removed still further from the spoken dialects of the North. In the South the dialects were alien in structure and vocabulary to S. S, therefore, was the language of the learned only influencing the development of the dialects. This age cannot be compared to the classical age in the field of literature. Literary activity in S abounded even in the South. Rigarthadipika by V Madhava, in the reign of the Chola King Paarantaka I, is one of the earliest of its kind in S literature. Literature was also cultivated in Prakrit, Haribhadra being the greatest master of this period”.

During this period ruled the Rashtrakutas, Pratiharas, Palas, Chalukyas and the Pallavas amongst others.

The famous poets of the 6th/7th centuries such as Bharavi / Magha combined real poetic merit with artificiality. During this period artificiality was the found amongst most of the literature. However, it would be incorrect to say that this age had nothing to add to S literature. It saw the rise of a special prose composition-the Champu. Great importance is attached to a politico-historic play Mudrarakshasa of Visakhadatta. It is a play without a heroine, deals with the astute maneuvers of Chanakya to win over Rakshasa, the faithful, clever home minister of the Nandas. To the 10th century belongs the Mahanataka, which holds the unique position in S literature in more ways than one. The Bengali version has fourteen acts while the Devanagari one which is given the name Hanumanataka has only ten.

In Kavya notable contributions were made during this period by Buddhist and Jain authors. In the field of romance there are two notable works, Madhavanala-Kamakandala Katha and Tilakamanjari.

Whatever may be said to be the origin of Champu, it is the most elaborate and artificial form of S literature, calculated to afford to the poet the amplest opportunities to display not only his erudition but also his command over prose as well as verse in one and the same composition. The yearning amongst poets to show their mastery over both prose and verse was responsible for an altogether new form in S literature.

Greater and more fruitful activity was evinced during this age in the field of poetics. It is this age that saw the rise and growth of the various theories of poetics laying stress respectively on factors like Alamkara (ornament or poetic figures), Riti (style), Dhvani (tone, suggestion) and Vakrokti (crooked speech) as the essence of poetry. This may be said to be the golden age of S poetics. To this age belonged great rhetoricians like Udbhata, Vamana, Rudrata, Anandvardhana and Kuntala.

As regards Metrics, the only imp writer during this period was Utpala. Utpala also quotes illustrations from Prakrit which shows that Prakrit metricians too had begun to compose their won illustrations like the S ones. Though the principal Samhitas of medicine had already been composed it was left to this age to bring to perfection the branch of pathology in the masterly work called Rugvinischaya, also known as Madhava-nidana after its author or simply Nidana. This work treats all diseases together. The Siddhiyoga is another interesting work of this period. Interesting is the Nighantu of Dhanvantari, the oldest form of medico-botanical dictionary that we have at present. Another imp branch that kept cropping up is the one dealing with preparations of quick silver and other metals. Importance of quick silver grew because they were deemed to give perpetual youth, life for thousand years, invincibility, and invulnerability. The earliest work on this topic was Rasaratnakara by Nagarjuna.
Maths – Astronomy –Astrology - The most important writer of this age was Aryabhata II, the author of Aryasiddhanta.

Summary – One was that S was generally loosing its position as a spoken language due to the growth of canonical languages of the Buddhists and Jains and various other Desabhashas. S however, continued to used for literature resulting in a growing distance between what was written and easily understood by the common man. The readers of these works namely Panditas did not care for the theme as much but for extraneous factors such as sound, vocabulary, theme. It resulted in the Kavyas becoming more artificial. It increased the distance between the Panditas and the common man, admiration for knowledge of the Panditas but hardly any love for them. All these weaknesses in belle’s letters were more than compensated by the theory of the poetics, which saw its fullest development in this age at the hands of these very Panditas.

It is now agreed that large additions were made to the Puranas during the period under review. The age of the original literature in Dharmasastras is now over and that commentators / writers of digests have taken up the field. Another great name is that of Medhatithi who is the oldest commentator of the Manu-smriti. The greatest name in philosophy is that of Vachaspatimisra. There are three works in Yoga too e.g. Rajamartanda – an excellent commentary on Patanjali’s Yogasutra.

S seems to have influenced even the pronunciation of the Kannada language, and certain old Dravidian sounds like l and strong r are no longer current in Kannada. The chief reason for the differences between Tamil and Kannada alphabets says R Narasimhacharya ‘is to be found in the fact that the grammar of the Tamil language was, to a great extent, systematized independently, and that S modes of pronunciations were almost unknown to the Tamilians, their alphabet though derived from the same source, was greatly altered so as to suit their peculiar phonetic system. The same independence of S influence cannot be claimed to the alphabet of the Kannada language, which has almost adhered to the alphabetical system of S. The same is the case with grammar. Nevertheless, the grammatical structure of Tamil and Kannada will be found to be essentially similar’. From this it is natural to conclude, that not only are Tamil and Kannada sister languages, but also that Kannada was less developed than Tamil when it received the impact of Sanskrit.

Prakrit – During this period, the Prakrits had already passed beyond the stage of a spoken language on the one hand, and were being supplanted by S on the other, both in the field of exigencies and enlightenment, among the learned of all classes and sects. The result was their comparative negligence even amongst the Jains. The Jains respected Prakrit as their holy language, since their Agamas were composed in them. Any new religion, school of thought, spiritual experiment had, if it wanted to gain acceptance, be discussed threadbare – subject to reasoning by the learned of the land. What the wise men of Jainism saw that the wise men would not touch their theories if it were not expressed in Sanskrit. So they took to writing in S to establish their place in the midst of the respectable philosophers of the land. They not only explained their Agamas in S but also wrote treatise in the same language. Siddhasena Divakara was probably the first among the Jain Paanditas to do so. However, the inherent beauty of the Prakrit languages and the sense of sanctity attached to them by the Jains prevented them from falling into obvilion. An important work is Samaraditya-katha a religious tale is written in simple and fluent narrative prose rarely interspersed with long descriptive passages in the ornate style of S writers. Another important work is Kuvalayamala, a religious tale narrated in Prakrit prose and verse on the pattern of the S Champu-kavya. The Prakrit used in this work is Maharashtri.

Apabhramsa Language and Literature

The lst stage of the Prakrit languages is represented by Apabhramsa (A) which has considerable importance on account of the fact that modern languages like Hindi, Gujarathi, Marathi and Bengali have evolved from it. The earliest reference to A is found in the Mahabhashya of Patanjali. It appears that A was not the name of any particular language but was used to denote all deviations from the normal S. Probably Pali and Prakrit were probably known as A about 150 BC.

In the Natyasastra of Bharata we find a lot of information about the languages of that time. It tells us of two languages i.e. S and Prakrit, the latter being only the corrupted or unfinished form of the former. Prakrit again has 3 types, similar – corrupt (vibhrashta) and local (desi). The Desi bhashas mentioned are seven in number namely Magadhi, Avanti, Prachya, Sauraseni, Ardhamagadhi, Balhika and Dakshinatya. In addition there were languages used by the Sabaras, Abhiras, Chandalas, Sacharas, Dravidas, Odras and Vanacharas, which are of an inferior type known as Vibhasha. Northwestern India appears, to have been the original home of the Apabhramas.

But the A known to Bharata was only a dialect not fully developed into a language. The exact date of the Natyasastra is not known but there is no doubt it belonged to the earlier centuries of the Christain era. By the 6th century A had developed to an extent that rhetoricians like Bhamaha and Dandin had to recognize it as a vehicle of poetic literature almost as exalted as S and Prakrit. As the Abhiras referred to in the para above moved from from the Northwest to central / south India the language of the Abhiras must have grown.

The earliest poetry in pure A appears to have been produced in the Doha metre i.e. couplets of varying measure. The Doha verses are more universal and less grammatically regulated than the other forms of poetic compositions. This metre has been adopted by almost all the modern languages of North India, where the medieval saints used it as their favorite vehicles of expression. The Doha compositions fall into two classes according to their subject matter, the romantic and the ascetic. The former is represented by single verses depicting the sentiment of love, pathos or heroism. They appear to be mostly the composition of Bards. The latter is represented by a large number of works composed by Jain and Buddhist saints.

The earliest epics available in A are the Pauma-chariu and Harivamsa Purana of Svayambhudeva, which are the Jain versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata respectively.

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