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Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Sanskrit, our very own Latin

Many Sanskrit words that are commonly used in English language have been borrowed in their original form and are facile means of communication.

Written by Amitabh Ranjan | October 20, 2015 10:50:58 am
sanskrit A number of Sanskrit words relating to religion and mystic philosophy have been borrowed into English since 1800.

Smriti Irani, our Union HRD Minister, believes that reviving interest in Sanskrit at academic level will propel India on the path of development. If we ignore any perceptible political shade behind the statement, we cannot but appreciate the idea. The Sanskrit texts contain a huge wealth of ancient wisdom much of which has remained unexplored.

One from the Indo-European family, Sanskrit has descended from the language of the Indo-Aryans, a nomadic people skilled in warfare and poetry and who came from Central Asia, entering India between 2000-1500 BC. Written in Devanagari (divine city script) characters, in India it has a classical status like that of Latin in Europe. It is preserved as a scholarly language and considered the ancestor of modern languages like Hindu, Urdu, Bengali, Marathi among others.


Just as Latin and Greek have been rich quarries of words relating to polity, judiciary and science, a number of Sanskrit words relating to religion and mystic philosophy have been borrowed into English since 1800, when Europeans began to translate the Hindu scriptures. From time immemorial, the West has welcomed India’s spiritual heritage with open arms.

‘Ahimsa’, the Mahatma’s unflinching ideology, and ‘yoga’, the latest health fad in the West, have a Sanskrit origin. The first, meaning non-violence, comes from ‘a’ (without) and ‘himsa’ (violence). Yoga is a direct borrowing from Sanskrit, meaning yoke, discipline. It refers to an ancient lifestyle followed by saints involving postural and meditative breathing exercises.

‘Mahatma’, a title for a wise or holy person held in reverence, itself comes from ‘mahatman’, meaning great soul.

Many Sanskrit words that are commonly used in English language have been borrowed in their original form and are facile means of communication. ‘Guru’, ‘mantra’, ‘pundit’ or ‘pandit’, ‘swami’, ‘moksha’, ‘nirvana’ and ‘maya’ are only some of them.

Several more Sanskrit words have come into English via long chains of borrowing over the centuries, through Persian, Greek, Latin, Arabic, the various European languages and, even Japanese.

‘Sugar’ has travelled all the way from Medieval French, Italian and Latin and finally Sanskrit ‘sharkara’ (gravel, granulated sugar).

‘Pepper’ is from Sanskrit ‘pippali’ (papercorn). But before that it travelled from Old English via Latin and Greek.

‘Orange’ is from French ‘orange’, Arabic ‘naranj’, Persian ‘narang’ and Sanskrit ‘naranga’. The Hindi equivalent is ‘naarangi’.

‘Zen’ is the Japanese and Chinese school of Mahayana Buddhism stressing meditation. Its etymology is from Japanese ‘zen’, Chinese ‘ch’an-na’ and Sanskrit ‘dhyana’ (meditation).

The ‘raj’ in British Raj in India came from ‘rajya’ in Sanskrit, meaning rule, sovereignty.

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