The word samskriti is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word samskriti is culture. However, it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.  


The word samskriti is derived from the word samskrita. The word samskrita is derived by adding the prefix sam and suffix ktah to the root word kri, which means to do, make, perform, accomplish, cause, effect, prepare, undertake, do anything for the advantage or injury of another, execute, carry out, manufacture, work at, elaborate, build, form or construct one thing out of another, employ, use, make use of, compose, describe, cultivate, accomplish any period, bring to completion, spend, place, put, lay, bring lead, take hold of, take to one’s own side or party, or cause to share.


The word samskrita means that which is endowed with a characteristic, the language of the Gods or Sanskrit, artificially produced, cooked, beautiful, auspicious, decorated, cleansed, liquid, earth, made, wrought, excellent, best, ornamented, dressed, clean, purified, finished, perfect, completed, consecrated, initiated, a regularly formed word, a regular derivative, a learned person, a brahmana, a kshatriya, a shudra, language formed by perfect grammatical rules, offering, oblation, made perfect, refined, cultivated, polished, carefully or accurately formed, elaborated, made ready, prepared, hallowed, initiated into worldly life, married, adorned, refined or highly polished speech, a sacred usage, and sanctified. The state of samskrita is called samskriti.


Thus, the Sanskrit word for culture means purified, finished, refined, and perfect. The word signifies a tradition of pride in one’s heritage and having self-respect. Swami Vivekananda insisted that all Indians should study Sanskrit because it gives samskriti, culture. He believed that Sanskrit was not merely another language but the mirror and history of the ancient and modern traditions of India. The culture of India is preserved in all its entirety in religious texts in Sanskrit, the letter and spirit of which cannot be understood and brought to every Indian without the good working knowledge of Sanskrit. That is why, Swamiji wanted that all Indians should be Sanskrit scholars. Only then can the cultural heritage and knowledge hidden in these texts be translated into all Indian vernaculars.


The various layers of intrigue that the Sanskrit language is, carries the great lineage of Indian culture, and gives prestige, power, and strength to Indian culture says Swamiji. According to him, knowledge, culture, and prestige can coexist only through Sanskrit. The strength of a race is its culture, not mere knowledge. And, culture has to be preserved and transmitted through the medium of a language. Without culture and the language in which the culture is preserved, there is no character of a race. Without a character, a nation loses all its pride and significance. A race progresses because of the strength and pride of their culture and culture is always something deep and profound. That is why the Sanskrit word for culture means refinement.


Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata. The Balabodha series as written is a glossary of words and not an article.


To read all articles by the Author

 This article was first published in the June 2019 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe https://shop.advaitaashrama.org/subscribe/

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