Yesterday I returned from Pondicherry after attending a 7 day Intensive Sanskrit Workshop at SAFIC, Sri Aurobindo Society, very fulfilled! All the sessions were excellently taught by Dr. Sampadananda Mishra, Director of SAFIC.
I plan to post day-by-day learnings out of this workshop. So these are just notes that I’ve scribed during the sessions for my future reference. As a side-effect, you may benefit from it, if you are starting to learn Sanskrit. However, as I’m a beginner, there may be many mistakes or loss during translation, so be cautious. In other words, mistakes are entirely mine 🙂 At some places, there are things that I’ve added and I’ll state it explicitly.
At the outset, I would also like to thank Dr. Sampadananda Mishra for taking the time out and offering to correct the posts whenever his schedule permits him. Accordingly, I’ll make corrections and improve it. He has already corrected this post.
First session was Introductions, each participant explained the meaning behind their name and then Dr. Sampadananda Mishra added to it if anyone fell short of explaining theirs.
Session 1: Understanding the Power of Sanskrit
This was the next session that we dived into, a sort of whirlwind introduction to the language. Dr. Sampadananda Mishra explained that each and every word in Sanskrit is conscious of its origin. Sanskrit has (and in general every language) a simple form and a complicated form. The idea in this workshop is to learn the simple form. Having said that it does not mean that Sanskrit is simplified, but its about learning simple Sanskrit, that is, by going back to its origin – the spirit and start learning it from there.
Property Based Language: Other conventional languages are Object-Specific languages, that is, the use of object brings up its picture in the mind. For example, take the word Fan. It immediately brings up its image in mind, it could be a table fan, a ceiling fan or any other fan. The word is used specific to that object. The word fan can have different meanings contextually, but in general it refers to an object. However, in Sanskrit, you are not allowed to have a word that is specific to an object. Does it mean that Sanskrit does not have a word for a Fan or a Tree? Well it does! If it does then how do you say that Sanskrit is not object-specific? An object in Sanskrit has many words. Sometimes even more than 200 words for the same object. So, these synonyms that are used for the same object. Each synonym brings out a specific property of that object and not the object. For example, take the word – Fire. In Sanskrit, Fire is referred by many names – अग्नि, अनल, अपित्तम्, ज्वलनम् (Agni, Anala, Apittam, Jvalanam) and so on…
Now, Lets take the word अग्नि (Agni). The Root Sound in अग्नि is अग् (Ag) – means to move up. It is describing the property of the flame to rise up when it burns. Every word in Sanskrit comes from Root Sound, which is backed by Seed Sound. For this workshop, the scope was limited to Root sounds, Seed sounds are for Advanced workshop (which will be announced later).
Lets take the word अनल (Anala), अनल = न + अलम् and अलम् (Alam) means enough. The न before अलम् negates अलम् and so अनल means not अलम्, which means not enough. Fire burns up everything and yet it asks for more, which is also another property of fire.
Lets take the word ज्वलनम् (Jvalanam), the root sound is ज्वल् (Jval) means to burn, which is yet another property of fire.
Lets take the word शुष्मा (Susma). The root sound is शुष् (Sush) which means dry. It is the property of fire to dry things up.
Thus, it describes the property of the object rather than referring to the object. Sanskrit is a Property-Based language. So, if you have a different experience with the word, you can give it a new meaning and this is exactly what अमरकोश (AmaraKosha) is. It is a online dictionary where you can add new words to it based on your experience. In Sanskrit you are allowed to ask the question – Why अग् (Ag)? Other languages will not permit this.
Another important thing with synonyms is that they are not 100% substitutable by one another. Each synonym has evolved out of a property of that object. The user is left to select the appropriate synonym that brings to the fore the exact property that befits the context.
With Property based languages, there is a shift in thinking towards Properties of the object rather than the object itself. So, why properties? With the focus on properties, we tend to forget about objects, because any object can possess that property. Also, it does not matter whether the object changes the form or appears in a new form and the old forms disappear, because properties are eternal. With property based languages, we can visualise a property-based universe, rather than an object-based universe. As properties are everywhere, they are universal and eternal, whereas objects are impermanent. Sanskrit always deals with that which is eternal and universal. This is why Sanskrit is an eternal language, a universal language. Lets take an example of a plough. In Sanskrit a plough is called हल (Hala). In modern times, we use a tractor whereas in ancient times it was called a plough, so the object has changed. In English, we will use different names for these different objects, but in Sanskrit you can refer to a tractor and a plough by the same name – हल (Hala). हल (Hala) is a word that describes its property/function and not the object.
Now, either a single object or many objects can possess/exhibit those properties. This allows the mind to associate unrelated objects from different contexts having similar properties, however, I would say with Sanskrit, it becomes more than two properties, not just associate, but polysociate (as I would like to call it), essential for the creative energies to fire up and let one’s imagination take-off. Furthermore, we can find out the object that manifests those properties, by inspecting and de-constructing the name. Also, it would not matter whether the same property/properties is/are being fulfilled by multiple objects, we can look-up to any object that does the job.
In my view, learning different languages shapes our thinking and ultimately affects our actions. With Object based languages, an object is the focal point of interaction and so my thinking naturally would tend to be object-oriented and then I’d describe object’s behaviour and properties as if the object owns it. For example, lets say, if we say that the object is a human being, then it can end up critiquing either of us.
I found that Sanskrit’s signal to noise ratio is very good, that is, very high signal, less noise, thus making it very concise. Composing seed sounds to create root sounds and using root sounds to create still larger words and composing words to create still bigger words is at the base of Sanskrit. So, in Sanskrit Composition is THE way to build-up complexity and this composition is governed by rules. This to me is also simple design that we find in computer programming when designing programs. Thinking aloud (I’ve not researched or googled anything on this yet), the program we create is the universe and if we can create a programming language that allows us to express the universe in terms of properties, can we then create Sanskrit-like language to make computer programs or does it already exist? I’m wondering how would that look like? If it exists, is it Haskell? Based on whatever I’ve played with Haskell, the answer turns out be yes, but I’ve yet to use it on a real-life project to be able to confirm. Other languages like Scala, Java8, Groovy, C# span FP and Imperative Programming paradigms (slide 2).
Also from computer programming perspective, composition is THE way to tackle complexity, especially in large software programs, otherwise they have a tendency to become a big ball of mud very quickly. With the ability to compose functions, we can create larger functions and there are rules of composition that we follow. Above 3 and this paragraph is added by me – just being explicit on parts that i’ve added ;).
Now switching the context to Sanskrit back again, lets look at other aspects. Sanskrit is a very beautiful language and beauty comes from order, symmetry and arrangement. All of which are complexity reducing elements. Once complexity reduces, things automatically become beautiful. Lets look at order first. In Sanskrit, if I have to say that my name is Dhaval. I can say it in different ways using the same words and it does not change the meaning of the sentence. For example –
मम नाम धवलः (Mama Naama Dhavalah)
धवलः मम नाम (Dhavalah Mama Naama)
धवलः नाम मम (Dhavalah Naama Mama)
नाम मम धवलः (Naama Mama Dhavalah)
In other languages, the order of the words will change the meaning of the sentence, thus violating its integrity. Here, neither the meaning of the sentence changes, nor using the sentence changes the meaning of the context. For those computer folks amongst us, I’d say that I’m reminded of Referential Transparency that we deal in programming. In Object-oriented computer languages, we have value objects that are referentially transparent, in functional programming languages, we say that a pure function (slides 2-10) is referentially transparent. In Computer Programming, Referential Transparency is with reference to Time (which implies order), whereas in Sanskrit, it is from the perspective of Order of words. So, Sanskrit is immensely flexible while arranging the words to construct a sentence without changing its meaning. However that does not mean that there is no order at all. There are places where order needs in a sentence to be respected, else it can alter its meaning.
In English language, the famous statement made by Napoleon – “Able was I ere I saw Elba”. Phonetically, whether you utter the sentence from left to right or from right to left, the sentence sounds the same and also the meaning of the sentence is not altered. This is called as a Palindrome. In Sanskrit, such a thing is called विलोम (Viloma). Viloma means reverse. In Sanskrit, you don’t just have sentences but can have ‘palindromic’ poems as well. You can check – Ramakrishna Vilomkavyam. In this if you read it from Left to Right, it is for Lord Rama and if you read it from Right to Left, it relates to Lord Krishna. There many Vilom Kavyas (विलोम काव्य) काव्य means poetry. In fact, in Sanskrit, there is Spatial Palindrome, check this post out.
Now lets look at other creative uses of this language in the past. If you are aware of the Shurpankha story from Ramayana, especially the part of the story wherein her nose was cut by Lakshmana. She goes back to Ravana and conveys what all happened to her. The poet was faced with the challenge to create a verse that would physically mimic her voice quality to bring out the expression of her pain and without the nose. The poet did not use any nasal or oro-nasal sounds for the creation of the verse. Pure nasal sound (sound produced from the nasal cavity) in Sanskrit is Anusvara whereas Oro-Nasals sound (sounds produced from oral and nasal cavity) are – ङ (ṅa), ञ (ña), ण (ṇa), न (na), म (ma).
Yet another example can be found is that of Niroshthya Ramayana. The creator of this observed that when a few people pronounced labial sounds: Pa – प, Pha – फ, Ba – ब, Bha – भ, Ma – म. While reciting Ramayana, they would spray saliva all over and this to the creator was disrespectful. So, the person ended up creating a version of Ramayana where the use of all labial sounds was restricted. This resulted in Ramayana, without the word राम – Rama.
Session 2: Sambhasanam (Listening and Speaking Sanskrit)
Initially, when Sanskrit existed, it was not even called Sanskrit, instead it was called भाषा (Bhasha). The Root sound of भाषा is भाष् (Bhash), which means to speak, later on it acquired the name Sanskrit. Also, Sanskrit is actually called संस्कृतम् (Sanskritam). The root sound is सम् (Sam), which means totality, sum, completeness, togetherness, integrity, perfectness and कृतम् (Kritam) means sculpted or created. So, संस्कृतम् (Sanskritam) essentially means sculpted to perfection.
When learning any language, the first step is संभाषणम् (Sambhasanam), which basically listening first – श्रवणम् and then speaking – वदनम्. First, we got introduced to 2 words मम and तव
- मम (Mama) means mine or belongs to me.
- तव (Tava) means thine or belongs to you.
Dr. Sampadanandaji then gave examples of verbless sentences, and yes its possible to construct verbless sentences in Sanskrit, not in English. He also said that through out the 7 days we will only use singular and not plural for things. Here are the examples using it with body parts –
- मम शरीरम् (Mama Shariiram) means my body.
- मम मुखम् (Mama Mukham) means my face.
- मम मुण्डम् (Mama Mundam) means my head.
- मम नासिका (Mama Nasikaa) means my nose.
- मम ग्रीवा (Mama Grivaa) means my neck.
- मम वक्षः (Mama Vakshah) means my chest.
- मम ऊदरम् (Mama Udaaram) means my stomach.
- मम पादः (Mama Paadah) means my leg.
In the above, Neuter Gender ends with अम् (Am) as in शरीरम्, मुखम्, मुण्डम्, ऊदरम्; Feminine Gender ends with आ (Aa) as in नासिका, ग्रीवा; and Masculine Gender ends with अः (Ah) as in पादः. The word वक्षः (Vakshah) is a ‘s’ ending word in neuter gender. During this session we were asked to construct on our own other verbless sentences and speak it out loud to the class. We also learned what the 5 fingers are called in Sanskrit.
- कनिष्ठिका (Kanishtika) means Pinky finger.
- अनामिका (Anamika) means Anonymous finger.
- मध्यमा (Madhyama) means the Middle finger.
- तर्जनि (Tarjani) means the First finger and comes from the word तर्जन (Tarjan) which means to threaten.
- अङ्गुष्ठ (Angushtha) means Thumb.
Then further, a verb was added. We learnt the verb – अस्ति (Asti) and नास्ति (Nasti) – means it is about presence and absence respectively. Example usage in sentence would be
- मम पिता अस्ति (Mama Pitaa Asti) means my father is present.
- मम माता नास्ति (Mama Mataa Naasti) means my mother is absent.
नास्ति means Not Present, that is absent. नास्ति = न + अस्ति (Naasti = Na + Asti). In English न would translate to No). न is negation in Sanskrit. Use of नो (No) is also perfectly valid in Sanskrit.
We then were asked to formulate questions and the next person would answer the question. An example question is – किं तव पिता अस्ति (Kim Tava Pita Asti?) means – Is your father present?
Lets take yet another question – किं तव नाम धवलः (Kim tava naama Dhavalah?). In English it would translate to – Is your name, Dhaval? In response to a question having binary answer, one can respond either with affirmation or a negation.
- An affirmative answer – आम् मम नाम धवलः (Aam, Mama naama Dhavalah) means Yes, My name is Dhaval.
- If you are not Dhaval, negative answers could be
- मम नाम धवलः नास्ति (Mama naama Dhavalah naasti) means my name is not Dhaval.
- न मम नाम सम्पद् (Na Mama naama Sampad) means No, my name is Sampad.
When asking a question here the order needs to be maintained, else its inappropriate and can mean something else.
We completed the session and Dr. Sampadanandaji had a beautiful way of saying good-bye. He said that, today we use many words – Good bye, See you, God bless you, Catch you later etc… and we say that very casually and don’t probably mean it. The Mother was asked this question – What should be our attitude when we depart from each other? What should we say? The Mother said – Be quiet and say – May the Divine Presence be with you. In one of her messages she has said that at every step the unforeseen and the unknown is before us and only the Divine can protect. The verse that we learnt has that sense in it and then led the entire class by rendering the beautiful composition done at Sri Aurobindo Ashram dedicated to The Mother –
It means- We depart from each other to see each other again, rejoicing together again, and for receiving the shower of the Mother’s Grace again. पुनर्दर्शनाय (Punardarshanaya) means to see each other again, पुनर्हर्षणाय (Punarharshanaya) means to rejoice again, पुनर्मातृदेव्याः (Punarmatrudevyah) means from The Mother again, कृपावर्षणाय (Kripavarshanaya) means to receive the shower of Grace.
Well, that’s all for now. If you enjoyed this, check out the post for Second half of this day – Wonders of Sanskrit Alphabets.