Vedic Sanskrit is an Indo-European language, more specifically one branch of the Indo-Iranian group. It is the ancient language of the Vedas of Hinduism, texts compiled over the period of the mid-2nd to mid-1st millennium BCE. It was orally preserved, predating the advent of Brahmi script by several centuries. Vedic Sanskrit is an archaic language, whose consensus translation has been challenging.
|Native to||Bronze Age India, Iron Age India|
|Era||2nd millennium BCE|
Extensive ancient literature in the Vedic Sanskrit language has survived into the modern era, and this has been a major source of information for reconstructing Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Indo-Iranian history. Quite early in the pre-historic era, Sanskrit separated from the Avestan language, an Eastern Iranian language. The exact century of separation is unknown, but this separation of Sanskrit and Avestan occurred certainly before 1800 BCE. The Avestan language developed in ancient Persia, was the language of Zoroastrianism, but was a dead language in the Sasanian period. Vedic Sanskrit developed independently in ancient India, evolved into classical Sanskrit after the grammar and linguistic treatise of Pāṇini, and later into many related Indian subcontinent languages in which are found the voluminous ancient and medieval literature of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.
The separation of proto-Indo-Iranian language into Avestan and Vedic Sanskrit is estimated, on linguistic grounds, to have occurred around or before 1800 BCE. The date of composition of the oldest hymns of the Rigveda is vague at best, generally estimated to roughly 1500 BCE. Both Asko Parpola (1988) and J. P. Mallory (1998) place the locus of the division of Indo-Aryan from Iranian in the Bronze Age culture of the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC). Parpola (1999) elaborates the model and has "Proto-Rigvedic" Indo-Aryans intrude the BMAC around 1700 BCE. He assumes early Indo-Aryan presence in the Late Harappan horizon from about 1900 BCE, and "Proto-Rigvedic" (Proto-Dardic) intrusion to the Punjab as corresponding to the Gandhara grave culture from about 1700 BCE. According to this model, Rigvedic within the larger Indo-Aryan group is the direct ancestor of the Dardic languages. The hymns of the Rigveda are thus composed in a sacred language which was based on the natural language spoken in Gandhara during the early phase of the Gandhara grave culture at the end of Bronze Age India. This liturgical language over the following centuries came to be separated from spoken vernaculars and came to be known as the "artificial" or "elaborated" (saṃskṛta) language, contrasted to the "natural" or "unrefined" prākṛta vernaculars by the end of the Vedic period.
- Rigvedic Many words in the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rigveda have cognates or direct correspondences with the ancient Avestan language, but these do not appear in post-Rigvedic Indian texts. The Rigveda must have been essentially complete by around the 12th century BCE. The pre-1200 BCE layers mark a gradual change in Vedic Sanskrit, but there is disappearance of these archaic correspondences and linguistics in the post-Rigvedic period.
- Mantra language This period includes both the mantra and prose language of the Atharvaveda (Paippalada and Shaunakiya), the Rigveda Khilani, the Samaveda Samhita, and the mantras of the Yajurveda. These texts are largely derived from the Rigveda, but have undergone certain changes, both by linguistic change and by reinterpretation. For example, the more ancient injunctive verb system is no longer in use.
- Samhita prose An important linguistic change is the disappearance of the injunctive, subjunctive, optative, imperative (the modi of the aorist). New innovation in Vedic Sanskrit appear such as the development of periphrastic aorist forms. This must have occurred before the time of Pāṇini because Panini makes a list of those from northwestern region of India who knew these older rules of Vedic Sanskrit.
- Brahmana prose In this layer of Vedic literature, the archaic Vedic Sanskrit verb system has been abandoned, and a prototype of pre-Panini Vedic Sanskrit structure emerges. The Yajñagāthās texts provide a probable link between Vedic Sanskrit, Classical Sanskrit and languages of the Epics. Complex meters such as Anuṣṭubh and rules of Sanskrit prosody had been or were being innovated by this time, but parts of the Brahmana layers show the language is still close to Vedic Sanskrit.
- Sutra language This is the last stratum of Vedic literature, comprising the bulk of the Śrautasūtras and Gṛhyasūtras and some Upanishads such as the Katha Upanishad and Maitrayaniya Upanishad.
- Michael Witzel (2006). Victor H. Mair, ed. Contact And Exchange in the Ancient World. University of Hawaii Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-8248-2884-4.
- Restoring historical language of the vedas from attested vedic
- Philip Baldi (1983). An Introduction to the Indo-European Languages. Southern Illinois University Press. pp. 51–52. ISBN 978-0-8093-1091-3.
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- Ahmad Hasan Dani; B. A. Litvinsky (1996). History of Civilizations of Central Asia: The crossroads of civilizations, A.D. 250 to 750. UNESCO. p. 85. ISBN 978-92-3-103211-0.; Quote: "The oldest extant manuscript of the Avesta dates back to 1258 or 1278. In the Sasanian period, Avestan was considered a dead language."
- Hamid Wahed Alikuzai (2013). A Concise History of Afghanistan in 25 Volumes. Trafford. p. 44. ISBN 978-1-4907-1441-7.;Quote "The Avestan language is called Avestan because the sacred scriptures of Zoroastrianism, Avesta, were written in this old form. Avestan died out long before the advent of Islam and except for scriptural use not much has remained of it."
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- J. P. Mallory; Douglas Q. Adams (1997). Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Taylor & Francis. p. 306. ISBN 978-1-884964-98-5.
- Parpola, Asko (1999), "The formation of the Aryan branch of Indo-European", in Blench, Roger & Spriggs, Matthew, Archaeology and Language, vol. III: Artefacts, languages and texts, London and New York: Routledge.
- Michael Witzel 1989, pp. 115-127 (see pp. 26-30 in the archived-url).
- Klaus G. Witz (1998). The Supreme Wisdom of the Upaniṣads: An Introduction. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 24 with note 73. ISBN 978-81-208-1573-5.
- Michael Witzel 1989, pp. 121-127 (see pp. 29-31 in the archived-url).
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- Arthur Anthony Macdonell, Vedic Grammar (1910)
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- Lindner, Bruno (1878). Altindische Nominalbildung: Nach den Saṃhitâs. Costenoble.
- Michael Witzel (1989), Colette Caillat, ed., Tracing the Vedic dialects, in Dialectes dans les litteratures Indo-Aryennes (PDF), Paris: de Boccard