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Sanskrit is one of the oldest known Indic languages, with examples of Vedic Sanskrit dating back to approximately 1500 BCE and possibly even earlier eras which are difficult to determine because the language was spoken and sung long before it was written. Indic languages, also known as Indo-Aryan languages, are a large and diverse branch of the Indo-European language family, and Sanskrit is one of the most famous and culturally important of these languages.
The word “Sanskrit” is translated in several different ways, as “complete,” “perfect,” or “pulled together.” The origins of this language appear to lie in vulgar dialects which were organized and codified, first into Vedic Sanskrit and later into a more modern form around 500 BCE. For Hindus, Sanskrit is tremendously important because the Vedas and other Hindu religious texts are in this language, and some Buddhist religious texts are in Sanskrit as well.
This language is the classical language of Ancient India. It was used by all refined and cultured members of society, and continues to be used today in religious liturgy and certain types of high discourse, much like Classical Arabic in the Middle East. Several Indian languages including Bengali and Hindi are descended from Sanskrit, and while the language is not widely spoken in India today, there have been some movements to revive spoken forms, and the influences of this language can be seen on many levels of Indian culture and across Southeast Asia.
Several different writing systems are used for Sanskrit, with one of the most common being Devanagari, partly because it was popularized in the West. In addition to Devanagari, a number of Southeast Asian scripts and the Roman alphabet are utilized for writing in this language. The use of many different scripts reflects the different writing systems used in the region, with residents of various areas using the scripts they are most familiar and comfortable with.
Archaeologists who work in Southeast Asia and India may study this language so that they can gain a deeper understanding of the cultures they study. The language is also studied by historians, religious officiants, and students of religion. Like other classical languages such as Greek and Latin, knowledge of Sanskrit can be critical for people who want to read historic texts in the original language, and for people who want to study language, culture, and religion. A number of colleges and universities all over the world offer training in this language to interested students.