Encyclopedia Britannica states that the Sanskrit language, (from Sanskrit saṃskṛta, ‘adorned, cultivated, purified’) is an Old Indo-Aryan language in which the most ancient texts are the Vedas – more prominently, the Rig Veda, and the Upanishads, which came into existence on the banks of the Sapta Sindu rivers. It also states that scholars generally ascribe the Vedas to 1500 BCE. There is much room for debate about the Aryan invasion and the dating of the Vedas but that is not the subject of the post here.
In the Indic tradition, it is said that Sanskrit was introduced to human civilization by the sages of Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana Dharma, entails a universal code of conduct, a description of the duties applicable to all humanity. Santana Dharma, later came to be known as Hinduism which is its exonym, it is what the outsiders called Sanatana Dharma which was the philosophy, the way of life, the code of conduct and path to god, practiced in India. There are many theories why the name Hindu emerged, but none of those are relevant to the origin of Sanatana Dharma. India, like Hindustan, too are exonyms, the endonym is Bharatavarsha or Jambudwipa.
A famous verse in Sage Panini’s Ashtadhyayi says that Panini’s grammar that is in current use, in its original avatara, was graced by Lord Shiva himself. In fact
Rig Vedic literature states that it is Shiva himself who created language and passed on its ‘sounds’ to humankind. Hence, the first known organized sounds of Sanskrit are known as the Maheshvara Sutra – Maheshvara being another name of Lord Shiva. Here is the verse from Panini’s Ashta-Dhyayi:
“At the end of His Cosmic Dance,
Shiva, the Lord of Dance,
with a view to bless the sages Sanaka and so on,
played on His Damaru fourteen times,
from which emerged the following fourteen Sutras,popularly known as Shiva Sutras or Maheshvara Sutras”
The fourteen sounds of the Maheshwara Sutra, also known as the ‘akshara-samamnaya’, or the ‘recitation of phonemes’, is also the most ancient known Sanskrit alphabet sequence. Interestingly, this sutra is at the same time considered a powerful Mantra, the vibrations of its sound are known to have healing powers and hence this sutra has also been used by sages for healing. Here is the sequence of the 14-sounds:
1. अ इ उ ण् |
2. ऋ ऌ क् |
3. ए ओ ङ् |
4. ऐ औ च् |
5. ह य व र ट् |
6. ल ण् |
7. ञ म ङ ण न म् |
8. झ भ ञ् |
9. घ ढ ध ष् |
10. ज ब ग ड द श् |
11. ख फ छ ठ थ च ट त व् |
12. क प य् |
13.श ष स र् |
14. ह ल् |
The fourteen sutras contain all the letters of the Sanskrit varnamala- the svaras (vowels) and all the vyanjanas (consonants). The sounds of the alphabet originated from Lord Shiva’s ‘damru’, which in this context appears to be a sophisticated sound device.
The Sanskrit alphabet sequence is known as the ‘Varna-mala’. The word ‘varna’ (वर्ण) means a ‘syllable’ and all the energies related to that syllable – colour, presiding force, the mouth part used to pronounce each syllable, the related body part etc.
Sanskrit is known as the language of the gods. Its fundamentals are scientific and most of its theory is way beyond the cognition of an average learner. In his paper ‘Mantra & Initiation’, Pandit Rajmani Tignuit states, “….on a more subtle level, the Sanskrit phonemes relate to the energy currents which lie deep within the interior of the human body. Each of the 72,000 currents has a distinct sound, although they are too diffuse and vague to be enunciated distinctly. Moreover, the yogis have identified places in the body where two or more energy currents cross. In mantra shastra, the point where two energy currents intersect is called a sandhi, the point where three energy currents cross is called marma shthana, and the point where more than three energy currents converge is called a chakra. Here at the chakras, the vibratory patterns of energy are strong and vibrant. At the center of each chakra a distinct sound predominates, and other distinct sounds are centered around it. That is why, in kundalini yoga, each chakra is represented as having a particular letter at its center, as well as a letter on each petal…….. “.
It is for this reason alone that Sanskrit cannot be regarded as a derived language. Its source is cosmic, like that of mathematics. Each alphabet is generated in the form of a sound energy conjunct with its meaning. If the sound shifts, the meaning dissolves. In other words, any distortion renders both the meaning of the word and the vibration generated out of sync and therefore erroneous.
In a mantra, a different part of the body is invoked and healed by reciting a different alphabet of the ‘varnamala‘. The power lies in the vibration caused by the mantra. Hence, the sound has to be perfect for it is also in tandem with its meaning. If the vibration changes it is no longer effective. The Maheshwara Sutra is a healing mantra too as mentioned above, its sounds arranged in a sequence, designed to create vibrations which it is said, had the power to revive the sick or dying.