Sunset Image

Sanskrit Musings

I have always loved flowers. In the springtime the lilac comes out and for one glorious week I stop and breathe in the rich heady scent as I pass my neighbour’s tree. When you take in a scent you breathe it in and something from the outside becomes part of you. I always knew it enriched me but until I learnt Sanskrit I wouldn’t have expressed this. Sanskrit words are formed from roots or seeds. There’s a seed pus whose meaning is found “in nourishing, increasing, growing”. It can be developed into the verb to nourish and also into a noun –puspam– a flower. So the Sanskrit tells me that a flower nourishes me, something I’ve instinctively known, it expresses my relationship with the world. And so I begin to value the world and to consciously connect with it in a more harmonious way.

I found a copy of the Laghukaumudi in the Amnesty International bookshop. I was happy, absurdly happy. Why should a copy of the “light” version of Panini’s book on grammar elicit such joy? Have you ever brushed shoulders with genius? Caught a glimpse into the workings of a brilliant mind? Panini lived before the 4th century BCE and codified the Sanskrit language. The legend is that Lord Siva performed a dance and in his meditation Panini heard in the rhythm a unique arrangement of the letters of the alphabet – the Mahesvarani sutrani. From this he created his 3959 sutras, arranged in 8 chapters, in which he created a metalanguage with which to talk about grammar as well as rules covering the formation of the whole of the Sanskrit language. He saw how a few sounds would be key to the whole language. The grammar of a whole language expressed in less than 4000 short phrases? A computer can go through that number of processes in a blink of an eye. No wonder NASA is interested.