World Sanskrit Conference (WSC) (17th : 2018)

Scope of Early Sanskrit Usage : A Wider Approach Deshpande, Madhav M.


Sheldon Pollock’s stimulating book Language of The Gods In The World Of Men has offered numerous new ideas on the nature and the place of Sanskrit in ancient India. While I agree with many of his views, I want to offer a different view on the antiquity of the non-ritual Sanskrit usage, and in doing so I will offer a critique of some of Pollock’s ideas. To state it briefly, Pollock advocates a view that Sanskrit usage in Vedic times was pretty much restricted to the domain of ritual, and that only in later or post-Vedic times, and under patronage by certain dynasties, the usage of Sanskrit extended to non-ritual domains and eventually it became a language of the cosmopolis. However, I want to claim that the availability of literature blinds us to a most likely reality of early language use that probably extended more widely beyond the domain of ritual. How does one deduce that conclusion? Towards this aim, I shall offer some methodological solutions. They include the following considerations: 1. Vedic texts present us a ritual, literary and a poetic register. Can such a high register exist in the absence of other registers of usage? 2. One needs to take a close look at Sanskrit vocabulary that is not found in the known Vedic texts, and is recorded by Pāṇini and found in later literature, that has Indo-European cognates. 3. Detecting traces of rare dialects, such as women’s usages, in the Vedic texts. 4. Reviewing Pāṇini’s description of Sanskrit for non-ritual and yet living areas of Sanskrit usage. With such approaches, I shall argue that one can detect the existence of wider domains of the usage of Sanskrit beyond ritual during and after the Vedic period.

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