4.) Is Sanskrit a Brahmanical Language?

If Sanskrit is a Brahmanical language, then the Buddhists and the Jainas should not have anything to do with it.  Is that the case?

Classical study of Sanskrit even today commences with the study of the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini and the Amarakośa of Amarasiṁha.  According to tradition it was the dynasty of the Nandas, with Jaina leanings, in which Pāṇini’s grammar was declared the canonical grammatical work throughout India.[1]  As for Amarakośa, its author was a Buddhist.  So the Brahmin today commences his studies by memorizing one text which was popularised by a Jaina King; and memorizing another composed by a Buddhist.

The question arises—is this a quirk of history?  This could be the case but one is compelled to note that the most authoritative commentator on Kālidāsa’s poems, Mallinātha, happens to be Jaina.  The basic Jaina text, venerated equally by the Digambaras and the Śvetāmbaras, the Tattvārtha Sūtra of Umāsvāti, is also in Sanskrit.[2] 

It is often not realized that the original canon of some Buddhist schools, such as the Sarvāstivādins, was in Sanskrit.[3]  The earliest Sanskrit epics and plays deal with Buddhist themes and are the work of Aśvaghoṣa, a Buddhist.  The “oldest existent Sanskrit drama” is the Śāriputraprakaraṇa[4] of Aśvaghoṣa, a celebrated poet who prefigures Kālidāsa.[5]  The basic works describing Aśoka’s Buddhistic achievements, the Aśokāvadāna and the Divyāvadāna, are in Sanskrit.

If Sanskrit were solely the language of the Brahmins, then one is hard put to explain the name of Śūdraka as the author of one of the more popular plays in Sanskrit, namely, the Mṛcchakaṭika, and the case of Satyanarian Jatia, a five-term MP from Ujjain, who is Dalit, and at the same time an accomplished Sanskrit scholar.[6]  When the speaker of the Lok Sabha asked the members of parliament to indicate what they wanted included in the agenda, Satyanarian Jatia made his submission in Sanskrit as recently as December 2005.[7]


[1] V.S. Agrawala, India as Known to Pāṇini (Varanasi: Prithvi Prakashan, 1963) pp. 465-468.

[2] Padmanabh S. Jaini, The Jaina Path of Purification (Berkley: University of California Press, 1979) p. 82.

[3] Maurice Winternitz, A History of Sanskrit Literature (New Delhi: Oriental Book Reprint Corporation, 1972: first published 1933) p. 231ff.

[4] M.A. Mehendale, “Language and Literature”, in R.C. Majumdar, The Age of Imperial Unity (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1951) p. 258-259.

[5] Ibid., p. 266-267.

[6] Swapan Dasgupta, “Coloured Views of Saffron,” India Today International, Oct. 26, 1998. p. 46.

[7] See “Parliament Diary”, in Asian Age (December 10, 2005, p. 2): “Once a week, MPs go through the formality of suggesting what they want to be included in the agenda of the Lok Sabha for the following week.  BJP MP Satyanarayan Jatiya made the dreary affair somewhat more exciting by choosing to make his submission in Sanskrit.  Among other things, he wanted the House to discuss the WTO meeting in Hong Kong.  ‘I was also a good student of Sanskrit,’ an impressed Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said. ‘But I have forgotten it now.’”

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8 Responses to “4.) Is Sanskrit a Brahmanical Language?”

  1. nilagriva Says:

    namaste,
    You have a very interesting and scholarly blog. I completely agree with you that calling Sanskrit brahmanical is off the mark by a mile.

    However, two of your statements caught my attention.
    1. That Amarasimha is a Buddhist – I do know for a fact that several commentators have argued against this point. MM Vid. Ranganatha Sharma , the famous Grammarian (based in Bangalore) is one such person. And bhAnuji dIkShita – the author of the famous commentary on the amarakOsha (and also the son/grandson of bhaTToji dIkShita) is yet another.

    Could you please state the source of your statement? Of course, Buddha’s name in the amarakosha does come before that of either Vishnu or Shiva, but heaven and devas come before Buddha and so do asuras!

    2. That Mallinatha, the celebrated commentator on Kalidasa’s works is a Jaina. Please look at the following link where it clearly states that mallinAtha was a tailangi brAhmaNa.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=YCJrUfVtZxoC&pg=PA221&lpg=PA221&dq=mallinatha+biography&source=web&ots=Ksvxm4HJTC&sig=YKwY2fYKeUQTMEt6JBc3u_5KT6o

    Of course, there is mallinAtha, the jain tIrthankara. I don’t think they are related in any way except in name.

    But there are plenty of Bauddha works in Samskrit (all works of nAgArjuna and ashwaghoSha). Jaina works in Mathematics are also in Samskrit.

    You have also brought Sudraka’s case, though he mentions that he was a dvija (a kShatriya and a king) in the introductory verses of the mRcChakaTika.

    I agree with your conclusion that Samskrit is not a brahmanical language at all.

  2. vivek Says:

    hmm … sanskrit has an interesting history.

    Now its widely believed that the Indus Valley Civilization is the birth place of Sanskrit and of course Hinduism. Indus Valley people used hieroglyphics which is now being debated as the language from which sanskrit evolved. Later after the supposedly great migration of Indus Valley people (Harappans) , they brought their Sanskrit and Knowledge (Vedas) to the Gangetic north and the South of India. All these happened before 1700BCE.

    In the Indus valley itself there were two languages — one spoken in the “Meluhha” region (The big city of Mohenjodaro falls in this region) and the one spoken in the “Aryan” region (Harappan region). The “Aryan” language was what became Sanskrit.

    These are not my observations though, but, it seems very logical and acceptable. I gathered this info at this link : http://www.indoeurohome.com/Sanskrit.html

    Makes an interesting read. We sure are descendants of a very advanced (for their age) civilization .

    By the way, my name is Vivek. Currently satisfying my curiosity by trying to unravel the mystery of the history of India ! :). I hit upon your blog while browsing a chainof blogs started off while browsing my friends blog !.

  3. padmanabha rao Says:

    Samskrit has always been an inspiration to all indian languages with the most systematic study of Grammar, Linguistics and sciences. Restricting it to a particular caste is politicising the issue by those who are ignorant or less informed about this language.As a faculty at Degree level, I find students very receptive if you modify your teaching method, and feed them the basics of Samskrit grammar by giving contemporary examples. I always try to impress my students that they are learning a rich language preserved to our generation with meticulous care in spite of historical invasins. I also see that they look upon it as our cultural heritage. The tragedy of historians not presenting about this language in reality is the root cause of many myths about ths gret language that it is not every one’s cup of tea.

  4. Vishwaeshakumaara Says:

    According to Naagavarma(one of the great sanskrit-kannada scholar of ancient times) says “about 156 languages of india including tamil,telugu,kannada etc; are the offshoots of three and half languages that are sanskrit,prakrit,apabhrashikha and paishachika.This proves that all indian languages are the derivatives of these three and half languages.This is stated by Naagavarma in his work “Chhandobudhi”(written in old kannada).

  5. padmanabha rao Says:

    I AM HAPPY TO READ THIS WRITE UP. aS A sANSKRIT FACULTY AT PU AND DEGREE LEVEL i FEEL MUCH DEPENDS ON YOU. hOW YOU CREATE INTEREST IN YOUR STUDENTS IN SPITE OF NON-COMMERCIAL VALUE OF THE sUBJECT, THE cULTURAL hERITAGE HAS TO BE HIGHLIGHTED. iF sAMSKRIT TEACHERS DO NOT ENLIGHTEN STUDENTS ON OUR RICH hERITAGE, WHO ELSE?

  6. Random T. Says:

    This is very up-to-date info. I think I’ll share it on Twitter.

  7. Masoquista Sexo Says:

    hm.. nice

  8. Nichelle Cobourn Says:

    following your blog, great stuff!

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