Muslims and Christians made immense contributions towards the development of Sanskrit, said scholar Satya Vrat Shastri, while he rejected the notions that the ancient language was dead and had little relevance in the modern world during an event at the Jaipur Literature festival on Sunday.
Only a few thousand people in India now speak Sanskrit, the standardised dialect of old Indo-Aryan languages like Hindustani, Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, etc.
"It’s incorrect to believe that Sanskrit was never a spoken language and was an artificial expression invented by a group of people to maintain their superiority over others," said Shastri, 83, who received honours and awards in close to half a dozen countries. "For at least 1,000 years, Sanskrit was known as Bhasha – the language of the common people."
In India, where over 1,500 mother tongues are spoken, language has always been a hot-button issue. The Narendra Modi government’s decision to celebrate a Sanskrit week last year was opposed by several politicians from southern India, especially the-then Tamil Nadu CM, J Jayalalithaa, who called it an attempt to impose the culture of one group of Indians on others.
Sanskrit was a living, breathing language and had opened doors to inspiration from Greek, Akkadian, etc, while influencing other international languages like Thai and German, said Shastri, who also taught Sanskrit to Thailand’s Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in the late 1970s. "A language should not be associated with any religion, region or culture," the said.