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Sanskrit (/ˈsænskrɪt/; IAST: Saṃskṛtam [sə̃skr̩t̪əm]) is the primary liturgical language of Hinduism; and a philosophical language of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism; and a literary language and lingua franca for the educated of ancient and medieval South Asia.[1] As a result of transmission of Hindu and Buddhist culture to Southeast Asia and parts of Central Asia, it was also a language of high culture in some of these regions during the early-medieval era.[2][3] When Sanskrit had stopped being used as a main language and lingua franca it was only spoken and used by people of the higher class. It was also used as a court language in some kingdoms of South Asia after Sanskrit became a language for the upper class.[4]

Sanskrit is a standardized dialect of Old Indo-Aryan, having originated in the second millennium BCE as Vedic Sanskrit and tracing its linguistic ancestry back to Proto-Indo-Iranian and Proto-Indo-European.[5] As the oldest Indo-European language for which substantial written documentation exists, Sanskrit holds a prominent position in Indo-European studies.[6] The body of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of poetry and drama as well as scientific, technical, philosophical and religious texts. The compositions of Sanskrit were orally transmitted for much of its early history by methods of memorization of exceptional complexity, rigor, and fidelity.[7][8] Thereafter, variants and derivatives of the Brahmi script came to be used.

Sanskrit is normally written in the Devanagari script but other scripts continue to be used.[9] It is today one of the 22 languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India, which mandates the Indian government to develop the language. It continues to be widely used as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals and Buddhist practice in the form of hymns and chants.


  1. Damien Keown; Charles S. Prebish (2013). Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Taylor & Francis. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-136-98595-9. ; Quote: "Sanskrit served as the lingua franca of ancient India, just as Latin did in medieval Europe"
  2. Michael C. Howard (2012). Transnationalism in Ancient and Medieval Societies: The Role of Cross-Border Trade and Travel. McFarland. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-7864-9033-2. , Quote: "Sanskrit was another important lingua franca in the ancient world that was widely used in South Asia and in the context of Hindu and Buddhist religions in neighboring areas as well. (...) The spread of South Asian cultural influence to Southeast Asia, Central Asia and East Asia meant that Sanskrit was also used in these areas, especially in a religious context and political elites."
  3. Pollock, Sheldon (2006), The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India, University of California Press, p. 14, ISBN 978-0-520-24500-6 , Quote: "Once Sanskrit emerged from the sacerdotal environment ... it became the sole medium by which ruling elites expressed their power ... Sanskrit probably never functioned as an everyday medium of communication anywhere in the cosmopolis—not in South Asia itself, let alone Southeast Asia ... The work Sanskrit did do ... was directed above all toward articulating a form of ... politics ... as celebration of aesthetic power."
  5. Burrow, T. (2001). The Sanskrit Language. Faber: Chicago p. v & ch. 1
  6. Benware, Wilbur (1974). The Study of Indo-European Vocalism in the 19th Century: From the Beginnings to Whitney and Scherer: A Critical-Historical Account. Amsterdam: Benjamins. pp. 25–27. ISBN 978-90-272-0894-1. 
  7. Staal, Frits (1986), The Fidelity of Oral Tradition and the Origins of Science, Mededelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie von Wetenschappen, Afd. Letterkunde, NS 49, 8. Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing Company, 40 pages .
  8. Filliozat, Pierre-Sylvain (2004), "Ancient Sanskrit Mathematics: An Oral Tradition and a Written Literature", in Chemla, Karine; Cohen, Robert S.; Renn, Jürgen; et al., History of Science, History of Text (Boston Series in the Philosophy of Science), Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 254 pages, pp. 137–157, pp. 360–375, ISBN 978-1-4020-2320-0 
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