How Sanskrit Became the Controversial Language of India

May 22, 2018


It would be hard to argue that Sanskrit and Indian culture are not intertwined; but it is precisely this relationship that has aroused public opinion in a nation where language politics has a history of being controversial. Opposed by politicians in southern regions, Sanskrit is culturally more of a Hindu language that is not used by Christians and Muslims. Tamil and a few other languages in India are not derived from Sanskrit. Opponents argue the language should not be imposed on linguistic minorities to promote cultural and religious heritage of Hindu nationalists.

Scholars often disagree saying Sanskrit is still the root of most Indian languages, and although less than 1 % of the population speak it, knowing Sanskrit makes it easy to understand languages like Hindi, Bengali ad Marathi. Truth is, only one Indian state in the north that is home to historic Hindu temples lists Sanskrit as an official language. Based on the most recent census, there are around 14,000 speakers of Sanskrit. As the oldest Indo-European language for which substantial written documentation exists, Sanskrit encompasses a rich tradition of poetry, drama, scientific, philosophical and religious texts of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism.

As a literary language and lingua franca for the educated of ancient and medieval India, the compositions of Sanskrit were orally transmitted for much of its early history by methods of memorization. Starting as a spoken language of the Gods, Sanskrit offers a luxurious literary understanding of the past as it serves as a reader's tool for near perfect human expression. Today, as one of the 22 official languages of India, Sanskrit is used mainly in Hindu religious rituals as a ceremonial language for hymns and mantras. Most students choose to study more relevant languages, including French, German and even Mandarin, which are seen as more appropriate for participating in a global economy.

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