Introduction to Sanskrit
In India, Sanskrit was the language that was spoken and used by the ancient Rishis. These Rishis were called as मन्त्रद्रष्टारो मुनयः – Mantra drashtaaro Munayaha. The reason for calling them with this name was because they will not create mantras but instead they will see the mantras with the help of their dhristi. Whatever they see they will express it in the Sanskrit language. This is how the sharing of knowledge and wisdom happened in ancient India. Sanskrit is also called as the language of Gods or Devathas and it was also widely used and spoken by the sages.
संस्कृतं नाम दैवी वाक् अन्वाख्याता महर्षिभिः |
The meaning of the word संस्कृतं is refined. The reason for such a meaning is because it was used in the refined form with the strict grammar rules. This was a language used by highly cultured learned people during the ancient times. All the ancient scriptures from the pre-historic times were recorded in this wonderful language till 1100 A.D. The literary works were also written in this language most of which were contributed by the Jains and the Buddhists. It was not the case that the language was used only for literary purpose but it was also used by a large group of people for communication. It is however difficult to fix or find out the dates of the ancient authors and when the literary works were made. Particularly the Vedas were unpredictable and it was well known to the great sages from Ancient India. The main reason why we were unable to find out the dates were because most of the Sanskrit authors don’t speak or speak less about them in their literary works. That was the reason why were unable to date the famous authors such as Valimiki, Vyasa, Kalidasa etc.
There are few authors who have mentioned some information about them in their works. This has helped us to identify the chronology to some extent. But we were unable to formulate anything extensively based on the references in the ancient texts. The external evidences or references by foreign visitors have also helped us identify some dates. But however all these dates are just estimation. With an approximation we were able to determine only the period to which these authors belong to. Some of the dates that we have identified are still debatable.
History of Sanskrit Literature
The history of Sanskrit literature falls under two main periods as per the estimations. These two main periods are Vedic period and Classical period. In between these two periods there was a development of a distinct type of literature called the Sutra literature. This acted as a transition from the Vedic period to classical period. So including this Sutra period, the history of Sanskrit literature can be classified to 3 types of periods as follows:
1) The Vedic Period – 3000 BC to 600 BC and before that
2) The Sutra Period – 800 BC to 200 BC
3) The Classical Period – 600 BC to 1100 AD or even up to the modern time.
The creation of original works almost reduced after 1100 AD after which most of the works were just interpretations and criticism on the earlier works made by the sages. This will constitute more to the classical period. This was applicable for all the branches of learning where the original works were reduced. During the Sutra period the Puranas and Shastras emerged. That is the reason why the early Shastras are in Sutra form which is in the form of formulae.
Transformation of Sanskrit Language and Literature
Like the classification of period and the literature, the Sanskrit Language can also be classified to two major types namely, The Vedic Sanskrit and The Classical Sanskrit. Inside each type of Sanskrit we will be able to see various types of transformation. After several changes and transformation, the Vedic Sanskrit merged itself into the Classical Sanskrit. The phonetic conditions in both classic and Vedic Sanskrit are almost the same. During this transformation many old words were lost and new words were introduced. The usage of many new words were also very common. Apart from the changes to the new words there was also difference in meaning as well. In the Vedic texts we can find the word कर्णेभिः which is used as just कर्णः in the classical form. Similarly we can also see another example which is for the word देवासः that is represented as देवाः in the classical Sanskrit. The concept of introducing new words and new representations continued for a longer period of time until the entry of the great grammarian Panini (about 600 BC). Panini was responsible for creating a complete Grammar guide providing the rules for derivation of each and every word in Sanskrit. With the work of Panini it was very easy to prevent distraction from the actual language. This also helped in prevention of new words being created by providing full list of Nouns and Roots.
There were also changes even after Panini which was handled by Vararuchi in his Vartikas. After this was finally Pathanjali who wrote Vyakarna Mahabhashyam. After this scripture any violations that were done to the rules created by Panthanjali was considered to be a grammatical error. So after Pathanjali Sanskrit Language remained the same without any change from the date of Pathanjali till today.