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Sanskrit in English

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Sanskrit in English

By Sudhakar Raje


In South-East Asia the influence of Sanskrit was so strong that it

can be seen not only in old inscriptions but also in Sanskrit names

for people and places that are still in use, such as in Indonesia,

Malaysia, Thailand and Burma. In the Middle-East, the present

homeland of fundamentalist Islam Sanskrit had an undeniable presence.


Once upon a time, millenniums ago, the whole world was Hindu. As the

mist of antiquity are dispelled, layer by layer, by unceasing

research in such diverse disciplines as Archaeology, Mythology,

Cosmology, Geology, Linguistics and so on, the truth emerges that

from the very dawn of human civilization Arya/Hindu influence

pervaded the world from East to West.


Worldwide Hindu Civilization


The most obvious evidence of this global Hindu history is of course

the idols and icons of various deities of the Hindu pantheon that

have been found almost all over the world. Some Hindu deities, like

Ganesha, Shiva, Vishnu and Durga, have a truly global presence. The

worship of the Vedic Sun God was a popular religion in the Roman

Empire, Egypt, and all over the Middle-East. As for the western

hemisphere, the history of Hindu culture in the Americas is both

hoary and extensive.


Worldwide Sanskrit

For this worldwide spread of Hindu religion and culture, Hindu

philosophy and science, the one vehicle was the Sanskrit language.

Prof Avinash Chandra writes in his book Rigvedic India, that

emigrants from India settled in various parts of Asia and Europe in

ancient times. This resulted in Sanskrit influence on local

languages. Arnold Toynbee's book Mankind and Mother Earth contains a

map showing Sanskrit speaking nomads to the south-east of the Caspian

Sea. When even nomads moving between Asia and Europe spoke Sanskrit,

it is certain that the language was used by householders and

educational institutions of Asia and Europe in those times.


In South-East Asia the influence of Sanskrit was so strong that it

can be seen not only in old inscriptions but also in Sanskrit names

for people and places that are still in use, such as in Indonesia,

Malaysia, Thailand and Burma. In the Middle-East, the present

homeland of fundamentalist Islam that stretches from Afghanistan to

Arabia and extends to Egypt, Sanskrit had an undeniable presence.

Sanskrit used to be spoken in the Hindu kingdom of Kabul, and a

thousand years ago there was a Sanskrit university here. In Iran, the

Zoroastrian scripture is written in the Avestan language, which is

just a phonetic variation of Sanskrit.


Vedic Ancestry

As for Europe, in his monumental work The Story of Civilization Will

Durant calls Sanskrit "the mother of Indo-European languages". In the

light of recent research by Indian scholars it would be nearer the

truth to say that Sanskrit is not only the mother of Indian languages

but the mother of European languages as well. In fact, this research

strongly suggests that they have Vedic ancestry.


The Rig Veda contains the description of a great battle called

Dasharajnya, the "Battle of Ten Kings", which is the world's oldest

recorded battle. It was fought between the Tritsu King Sudasa on the

one hand and a confederacy of ten peoples or clans on the other.

These ten peoples were Pakhta, Bhalana, Alina, Shiva, Vishanin,

Simyu, Bhrigu, Prithu and Parshu. Collectively they had two group

names—Anu and Druhyu. The Druhyu king defeated in this battle was

named Angara,. His successor, King Gandhara, migrated to the North-

West with his clan and gave his name to the Gandhara country. The

Puranas, which are the historical companion texts of the Rig Veda,

clearly state that major sections of these Druhyus emigrated to

distant lands to the North. Those among them who spread to Europe

came to be known as Celts, and the language they spoke came to be

called Celtic. During the last some centuries before the Christian

era Celtic was spoken over a wide area of Europe from Spain to

Britain. These ancient Celts were originally the Druids, who in turn

were identifiable with the Druhyus.


The languages the peoples that fought the Dasharajnya war spoke had

split into two broad groups, called Satem and Kentum, in the original

Vedic/Indian homeland itself, the Anu speaking the Satem dialects and

the Druhyu the Kentum ones, With the westward spread of the Druhyus

the latter evolved into proto-proto-Indo-European languages, some of

which became extinct, like Latin, while others developed into extant,

spoken languages, including English.


This is borne out by a study of the etymology of English words. For

instance, the words in the Concise Oxford Dictionary (COD) are stated

to have generally Latin roots and frequently Greek roots. As a matter

of fact, in numerous such cases the evolved English word or the

Latin/Greek root has such a striking resemblance to a Sanskrit word,

both phonetically and in respect of meaning, as to clearly suggest

that the root of the given root is Sanskrit. This writer has

identified hundreds of such words in COD. In addition, there are at

least a thousand words in this dictionary where the prefix or suffix

is derived from Sanskrit. COD also lists about 70 purely Sanskrit

words as part of the English vocabulary.


Dr N.R.Waradpande is currently engaged in compiling a full-fledged

dictionary of Sanskrit-based English words, and he is confident of

identifying 10,000 such words. What is remarkable, Webster's, the

world's biggest (18-volume) English dictionary, is said to have as

many as 40,000 words described as "akin to Sanskrit". In fact, says

Warandpande, one-fourth of the total English vocabulary is



Interesting Background

Some English words not only have a Sanskrit etymology but also a

Hindu history. A few such examples are given here:


Abba: This word has not only a Sanskrit origin but also a Hindu

history. Abba means `father', and is derived from Sanskrit Appa—

ap, `water' + pa, `to drink'. There is a Hindu ritual to offer water

to the father after his death, which he is supposed to drink. So

Appa, `drinker of water', means `father'.


Allopathy: Allopathy is an allied development as a branch of ancient

Indian medicine, which prevailed in Europe and other parts of the

world till about the end of the 18th century. Allo means `a learned

borrowing' from the Greek word allos, meaning "other". So `Allo-

pathy' is borrowed from `the other', that is from the ancient Indian

system of medicine, Ayurveda.


Bane: The English word `bane', meaning `a curse', has an interesting

Hindu mythological background. Ancient king Prithu-Vainya was

considered the original Arya king, because he started the practice of

agriculture. He is thus honoured as the founder of the Arya

(`agricultural') civilization. `Vainya' means `son of Vena'. King

Vena, however, was a tyrant, and was described as a curse on Dharma.

So `bane', derived from `Vena', means a curse.


Brahmin: A curious example of how not only a Sanskrit term but even

the Hindu concept underlying it has become established in the English

language is provided by the word `Brahmin'. In his magnum opus Kane

and Abel best-selling British novelist William Archer frequently uses

this term to denote a particular class of people or its style of

speech or accent. According to the Concise Oxford

Dictionary `Brahmin' means "a socially or culturally superior



Elephant: The word `elephant' is an interesting combination of

Sanskrit and Arabic roots. It has three components, al-ibha-danta. Al

is Arabic for `the', while ibha and danta are Sanskrit,

meaning `elephant' and `tooth'. The English word `ivory',

meaning `elephant's tusk', has a related etymology. The Hebrew

word `habbin' is derived from `ibha', as also the Egyptian

word `abu'. This becomes `ebut' in Etruscan and `eboreum' in Latin,

finally becoming `ivory' in English.


Indigo: The English word `Indigo' is derived from the Greek

word `Indikon', which means `from India'. Proof exists that Indigo

was made and used to dye cloth in ancient India.


Non: The English (and also French and Latin) prefix `non' is derived

from the Sanskrit word na/no, meaning `no'. Navneet Advanced

Dictionary (English-English-Marathi) has given about 550 English

words using this Sanskrit-derived prefix. Concise Oxford Dictionary

says the number of English words using this prefix is "unlimited".


Over: The English prefix `over-' is derived from the Sanskrit term

upari, meaning `above'/ `upon', excessive'/ `extra'. Navneet Advanced

Dictionary has given a list of about 170 words using it. Concise

Oxford Dictionary contains about 270 English words formed with this




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