Sanskrit is the classical language of Indian and the liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It is also one of the 22 official languages of India. The name Sanskrit means “refined”, “consecrated” and “sanctified”. It has always been regarded as the ‘high’ language and used mainly for religious and scientific discourse.
Vedic Sanskrit, the pre-Classical form of the language and the liturgical language of the Vedic religion, is one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European language family. The oldest known text in Sanskrit, the Rigveda, a collection of over a thousand Hindu hymns, composed during the 2nd millenium BC.
Today Sanskrit is used mainly in Hindu religious rituals as a ceremonial language for hymns and mantras. Efforts are also being made to revive Sanskrit as an everyday spoken language in the village of Mattur near Shimoga in Karnataka. A modern form of Sanskrit is one of the 17 official home languages in India.
Since the late 19th century, Sanskrit has been written mostly with the Devanāgarī alphabet. However it has also been written with all the other alphabets of India, except Gurmukhi and Tamil, and with other alphabets such as Thai and Tibetan. The Grantha, Sharda and Siddham alphabets are used only for Sanskrit.
Since the late 18th century, Sanskrit has also been written with the Latin alphabet. The most commonly used system is the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST), which was been the standard for academic work since 1912.
Popular culture in other languages
Recital of Sanskrit shlokas as background chorus in films, television advertisements and as slogans for corporate organisations has become a trend. The opera Satyagraha by Philip Glass uses texts from the Bhagavad Gita, sung in the original Sanskrit.
Recently, Sanskrit also made an appearance in Western pop music in two recordings by Madonna. One, “Shanti/Ashtangi”, from the 1998 album Ray of Light, is the traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga chant referenced above set to music. The second, “Cyber-raga”, released in 2000 as a B-side to Madonna’s album Music, is a Sanskrit-language ode of devotion to a higher power and a wish for peace on earth. The climactic battle theme of The Matrix Revolutions features a choir singing a Sanskrit prayer from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in the closing titles of the movie. Composer John Williams featured choirs singing in Sanskrit for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The lyrics of The Child In Us by Enigma also contains Sanskrit, latin and English verses.
The Sky1 version of the title sequence in season one of Battlestar Galactica 2004 features the Gayatri Mantra, taken from the Rig Veda (3.62.10). The composition was written by miniseries composer Richard Gibbs.
Sanskrit has also seen a significant revival in Mainland China. Musicians such as Sa Dingding have written pop songs in Sanskrit.
There have been suggestions to use Sanskrit as a metalanguage for knowledge representation in e.g. machine translation, and other areas of natural language processing because of its relatively high regular structure. This is due to Classical Sanskrit being a regularised, prescriptivist form abstracted from the much more complex and richer Vedic Sanskrit.