The Case for Sanskrit as India's National Language

This paper discusses in depth the role and the potential of Sanskrit in India’s cultural and national landscape. Reproduced with the author’s permission, it has been published in Sanskrit and Other Indian Languages, ed. Shashiprabha Kumar (New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 2007), pp. 173-200.


I had first heard from my friends in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, that the Mother wanted Sanskrit to be made the national language of India. Indeed, Sanskrit is taught from childhood not only in the ashram schools, but also at Auroville, the community that the Mother founded. On 11th November 1967, the Mother said: “Sanskrit! Everyone should learn that. Especially everyone who works here should learn that….” Because some degree of confusion persisted over the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s views on the topic, a more direct question was

On certain issues where You and Sri Aurobindo have given direct answers, we [Sri Aurobindo's Action] are also specific, as for instance... on the language issue where You have said for the country that (1) the regional language should be the medium of instruction, (2) Sanskrit should be the national language, and (3) English should be the international language.

-Are we correct in giving these replies to such questions?

Yes. Blessings.

When asked by a disciple on what basis she had said that Sanskrit should be the national language of India, the Mother replied, “I said Sanskrit because Sri Aurobindo had told me so. Actually, Sri Aurobindo’s views on Sanskrit were well thought out and forcefully formulated. For instance, in his “Preface on a National Education” (November 1920), he said:

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History of Sanskrit
Indian influence on Thai language
Indian influence on China, Korea and Japan
Indian influence on Sri Lanka, S.E.Asia literature
History of Hindi
The Dalai Lama Temple at Mcleodganj has two huge cupboards with Sanskrit texts. See pic nos 9 and 10. These translations from Sanskrit are Kagyur (the actual teachings of Buddha) and Tangyur (the commentaries of Buddha by late Indian masters)

Editor – I like to share some thoughts on this issue. If Sanskrit were made the national language (as distinguished from the Official language i.e. Hindi today) at the time of independence more and more people would have studied it. Implications are many. One, there might not have been any anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu. Politicians could never have used this issue to create the north-south divide. Two, North Indians would have been able to understand a wee bit if not fully south Indian languages because all of them have elements of Sanskrit in them. Three, it would have enabled a larger number of Indians to read the scriptures in Sanskrit rather than English translations imparting a different flavor to what was read. Lastly it would have allowed us to understand the languages of many South-Eastern countries where Sanskrit words are used.

The Khariboli form of Hindi which was accepted as the Official Language of India is one of the youngest of the Indian languages. As such it did not come into any literary use before 1800 a.d. and its effective literary employment started after 1850. When we said Hindi literature it meant Brajbhasa, the most important form of Western Hindi prior to 1850.

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