Sanskrit: the language with a scientific temper, where art thou?

By October 17, 2017Our Blogs

Over the last nine months a common question to me has been: “So what are you up to now, Anshoo”? “Have started a company called Praavega with a dear friend of mine” has been my response. “Praavega??!! What does it mean”? My response, “Acceleration, in Sanskrit”. “Interesting ! I did not know that” is the usual rejoinder. Of course, I avoid the reference to the extra ‘a’ in the name, forced by someone who had taken the Pravega domain name.

So here we are about 1.4 billion of us (my extrapolation, including the 1st, 2nd, and 3rdgeneration India origin people) associated with Sanskrit through the origins of our names!!! We take immense pride in our names and justifiably so! One of my favorite quote says; “Words have meaning and names have power”. And what could be better than using a powerful language like Sanskrit for names of people? However, our association with Sanskrit ends there, so while we carry it with us, the language is not with us!!!

I am no expert, but the language has long-fascinated me to the extent that I believe we should be leveraging the power of Sanskrit, a language steeped for centuries in the spirit of science and innovation; a veritable platform for original thought and advancement.

Let me share a few things about Sanskrit that are surprising to most.

For starters, Sanskrit is a vital link between the various regions of India. From Assamese & Manipuri in the east, Kashmiri up north, Gujarati in the west to the languages of the South, there is a strong Sanskrit influence running through all these languages like a common thread. One reason why the Indian National Anthem and song written in Bengali could be understood by all Indians is thanks to the Sanskrit elements deeply embedded in our languages & lives. Sanskrit binds.  It acts as the foundation of the nation and reason for its boundaries.

But cultural factors are only the starting point of Sanskrit’s role in fostering a culture of ingenuity and creation.

1) Logical arrangement of alphabets eases learning:

Panini, the grammarian and the father of classical Sanskrit, in his first fourteen Sutras arranged alphabets in the Sanskrit language in a very scientific and logical manner, after close observation of the sounds in human speech, as well as basic human biology.

Thus, for example the vowels, a, aa, i, ee, u, oo, ae, ai, o, ou are arranged according to the shape of the mouth when these sounds are emitted, a and aa, are pronounced from the throat, i and ee from the palate, o and oo from the lips, etc.  In the same way the consonants have been arranged in a sequence on a scientific pattern.

Sanskrit is a phonetic script, in that, each letter is associated with a particular sound, which makes it easier to read, pronounce and spell.  This makes the learning of the language easy.

What’s more the grammatical mechanism is perfect, every tense, mood, every number and person of the verb is fixed and all terminations of the casts are firmly established. This allows the language the expansiveness it needs to express multiple levels of meditation, states of consciousness and psychic, spiritual and even intellectual processes.

What I am essentially arguing is that Sanskrit enables scientific ideas to be expressed with great precision, logic and elegance, and thus, it becomes, not just a language of documentation but a veritable eco-system for the development of science and technology. And as we know, precision is the starting point of a real innovation.

2) Science of molding every dimension into a language:

The perception about Sanskrit as simply being the language of mantras in temples is inaccurate. Prayers constitute just about 5% of the Sanskrit literature.  Over 95% of Sanskrit literature deals with philosophy, law, science, literature, grammar, phonetics, interpretation etc.  In fact Sanskrit was the language of the most advanced minds, tall men and women of ideas and innovation who wrote on a wide spectra ranging from ayurveda to politics, mathematics, metallurgy, town planning, philosophy, grammar, and economics.

The decimal system was perhaps the most revolutionary and greatest scientific achievement in the ancient world of mathematics. It gave us opportunity to account for nothingness to infinite abundance.

Take for example, the Roman numbers.  To write the number one million would be an exercise in tedium–simply because to write one million you would have to write the letter M which stands for millennium (or one thousand) a thousand times. In the Roman numerals there is no single number greater than M, which stands for one thousand.  To write 2000 we have to write MM, to write 3000 we have to write MMM, and to write one million one has to write M one thousand times.

On the other hand, under the Sanskrit based system, to express one million we have just to write the number one followed by six zeros.

The number 1,00,000 is called a lakh in the Indian numeral system. 100 lacs is called one crore, 100 crores is called one arab, 100 arabs is called one kharab, 100 kharabs is called one neel, 100 neels is called one padma, 100 padmas is called one shankh, 100 shankh is called one mahashankh, etc.  Thus one mahashankh will be the number 1 followed by 19 zeros (for further details you may see V.S. Apte’s Sanskrit English Dictionary). On the other hand the ancient Romans could not express any number larger than one thousand except by repeating M and the other numerals again and again.

Take another illustration. According to the Agni Purana, the Kaliyuga in which we are living consists of 4,32,000 years. The preceding Yuga is known as the Dwapar Yug and is twice as long as the Kaliyuga.  Preceding the Dwapar Yug, is the Treta Yug which is thrice the duration of the Kaliyuga. The Yuga preceding Treta Yug is the Satyug which was said to be four times longer than the Kaliyuga.  One Kaliyuga, one Dwapar Yug, one Treta Yug and one Satyug are collectively known as one Chaturyugi (or 43 lacs 20 thousand years).  Fifty Six Chaturyugis are known as one Manovantar. Fourteen Manovantars is known as one Kalpa.

One may or may not believe in the above, but the logic is sound.

3) As a tool to fulfill the search of the beyond; Astronomy:

In ancient India, the intention to discover truth was so consuming, that the depth of concepts ensured its relevance remains timeless.  Aryabhata in his book Aryabhatiya presented a mathematical system that postulated that the earth rotated on its axis. He also considered the motion of the planets with respect to the sun.  The other famous astronomers of that time were Brahma Gupta who headed the astronomical observatory at Ujjain and wrote a famous text on astronomy, and Bhaskara, who also was a head of the astronomical observatory at Ujjain.

It is remarkable that even today predictions can be made about the time and date of solar and lunar eclipses on the basis of calculations made by these astronomers thousands of years ago, and that too at a time when observations had to be made with the naked eye.

Why this is significant is because modern scholars of Sanskrit  have often remarked that many of the new concepts of nuclear physics or modern psychology are easy for them to grasp, since they correspond exactly to familiar notions of Sanskrit terminology.

That’s not all. There are researches on how the creation of language in itself, is very identical not only in essence but in form with current work in Artificial Intelligence.  There is a strong debate on how this natural language can serve as an artificial language, avoiding the reinvention of wheel millennia old.

So today we are in a world where Harvard, Stanford, and other research universities have to  validate and prove that things that we know for centuries are real. I am sure you are familiar with recent “discoveries” about the benefits of yoga and meditation on the human mind and body. The origins of both are steeped in Sanskrit-that gave both the agency and the gravitas they deserved; be it in the rhythmic chanting or the atmospherics prescribed to achieve balance in mind and body-that most persistent of human quests.

More recently, most wellness talk centers on the role of probiotics….long supported by Ayurveda!

While all this is wonderful, the need of the hour is to familiarize ourselves with the rich scientific heritage bestowed upon us in a language that continues to stand the test of time-and build engines to accelerate, and not just revalidate past discoveries.

The youth needs to pick up the right inspiration; incredible outcomes are possible and we have been here before. But the outcomes will not show up with magic, we have to strive for them.  One important lesson to be learnt is that to accelerate a culture of innovation and excellence, we even went so far as to create a scientific language, Sanskrit.

It is this kind of investment that is required to be best-in-class.

The end? No, only the beginning…

For Praavega and all those who believe the name represents a deeper thought and culture than acceleration.

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