Why do we study Sanskrit?

The Sanskrit language has a special place in the School. This is because it provides direct access to philosophical texts such as the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Geeta and the works of the great philosopher Shankara.

The elemental sounds of the language as expressed in its alphabet have special power, purity and order. This power is particularly evident when the sounds combine to form mantras drawn from these texts and those mantras are reflected on. Precise guidance on how to pronounce the sounds in the alphabet has come down from antiquity, making it entirely possible to sound Sanskrit in the same way as it was originally.

Many of the Sanskrit words used in the philosophy expressed in these texts are too subtle to survive direct translation into the nearest equivalent in a European language, particularly when the concept is not found in that language. Nevertheless there are close affinities between the Sanskrit language and European languages as Sanskrit stands at the root of many of them, whether classical or modern.

The structure of Sanskrit is so precisely and perfectly ordered that it is noted as the most lawful of languages. Its grammar was comprehensively codified in the 5th century BCE by the famous grammarian Panini, and this has provided great coherence and stability to the language ever since, helping with meaning and with sounding. Each word is derived from a seed form (a root), and each step in its growth from this seed is governed by these laws. This is why the word Sanskrit actually means ‘perfectly formed’.

A number of students in the School study the Sanskrit language up to a basic level, such that they are able to understand much more fully what particular words, sentences, and mantras are saying. A few continue their studies so they can translate and help with interpretation of original texts.

About Sanskrit at SES

Sanskrit has been studied as SES since the 1960s. Sanskrit language classes are made available to all students who continue on the Practical Philosophy course beyond part twelve. Those wishing to study Sanskrit with us without joining our Practical Philosophy course can join one of our Horizons classes.