The Legacy of Sanskrit
By Dr. S. Radhakrishnan
(source: Our Heritage. Orient Paperbacks 1973 pg
A Recent survey of old
archaeological relics in China and Central Asia has revealed that Sanskrit has
been dominant in those regions for centuries. Some Sanskrit scriptures are
reported to have been found on the great wall of China. Sanskrit texts are found
also on the scrolls and scarves exchanged between the emperors of China and the
dignitaries of other parts of Central Asia in the 16th, 17th and 18th
Some European and American
Universities have chairs for Sanskrit studies. There is a growing interest in
Indian thought in many parts of the world, in philosophy and religion; in
psychology and psychoanalysis.
inherited a legacy, great and precious, but it is fatal to rest in the
consciousness of having inherited something unique. The inheritance should be
invested in new undertakings; we have to start new achievements. We must be ever
engaged in the pursuit of truth. In the different spheres of the Sanskrit
language, its literature, philosophy, religion, music, metaphysics, mathematics,
astronomy, medicine and surgery, work is being done.
cannot be said that the culture enshrined in the Sanskrit language is irrelevant
to the modern conditions. The higher aspects of Vedic thought, and Buddha,
Mahavira, and Ashoka also taught us to build a classless society where men and
women, whatever be their status, are treated alike. The saints of different
regions, Valluvar (Tamil), Vemana (Telugu), Basava (Kannada), Kabir-panthis,
Sikhs, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Gandhi in recent times, take us back to the
essential dignity of man emphasized in the mahavakyas of the Vedas and
insist on social equality and respect for human dignity. An adaptive culture is
incompatible with static social structures. We have suffered in the past by our
adherence to outmoded forms and habits. Social changes are necessary if we are
to build a unified and progressive India.
problem facing the world today is that of the conflict or co-operation among the
different cultures. We had had a long tradition of peaceful co-operation among
the different cultures. From the beginning of our history new groups have become
steadily Indianised, the Sakas, The Kusanas, and the Pallavas. The arts and the
crafts they brought with them have been respectfully accepted. Varahamihira in
his Brhat-samhita says, " The yavanas (Greek) are verily mlecchas
but this science is well established among them. Therefore they too deserve our
respect even as our own sages."
mleccha hi yavanas tesu samyak sastram idam sthitam rsivat tepi pujyah syuh kim
punar daivavid dvijah"
Of the five
schools of astronomy, two are known as Romaka (after Rome ) and Paulisa (after
Paul of Alexandria, A.D. 378). We had no sense
of cultural isolationism or intellectual bigotry which disdains to accept
knowledge from different regions of the world.
the account of these characteristics, even religion has been perpetually
adapting itself to the new challenges. The Vedic samhitas, the ceremonialism of
the Brahmanas and the idealism of the Upanishads could not become popular with
the masses. Different tendencies developed. Systems of thought, called heterodox
because they did not accept the authority of the Vedas, grew up, like Jainism
and Buddhism. In the Upanishads we find traces of free thinking which appealed
to the masses. The conservative tendencies grew up on the basis of Vedic sutras
and vedangas. There were tendencies which tried to reconcile the anti-Vedism of
the heterodox systems and the revivalism of the conservative schools. The people
on general followed their tribal creed. Their gods and goddesses were different
from those of the Vedic pantheon. These popular beliefs were encouraged by the
followers of the Vedas. The Vrsnis, the Satvatas, the Abhiras and the Yadavas
worshipped Krsna who was the temporal head and spiritual preceptor of these
tribes. Sometimes a conflict between the Vedic and the non-Vedic prevailed. The
struggle between Indra and Krsna is symbolic of it.
teachings are epitomized in the Bhagavadgita. There is no stress on the
phenomenality of the world or the identification of the individual soul with the
Supreme. Bhakti to Krsna is insisted on. The Gita asks us to work for lokasamgraha,
world solidarity or progress. An active way of life, karma-yoga adopts
renunciation in action and not of action. The Gita religion is one in which all
people could participate. Despite geographical, climatic, racial, religious, and
linguistic diversities, India possesses a
fundamental cultural unity.
We talk about
modernity. The people are trying to get rid of many of our old standards and ask
for modern interpretation. I am also a modernist, but I believe that modernism
consists in preserving whatever is valuable in our ancient heritage and
discarding whatever is not of value. There are so many things which have come
down to us and which do not constitute the glory of our culture or our country.
There are others which are vital factors and which sustain our country. The
noted French writer Andre Malraux, said, " The problem of this century is
the religious problem and the discovery of Hindu thought will have a great deal
to do with the solving of that particular problem."
We think we are democratic but the basis of democracy is sanctity of the
individual, the divine possibilities which he has. The four mahavakyas,
or great sayings, of the four Vedas have been given by Sankaracharya to
the four established Mutts at Dwaraka, Puri, Badrinath and Sringeri. The basis
of democracy has come down to us from over five thousand years. The Vedas
may have been written in 5,000 B.C. but were composed earlier. Anyway, what is
called the democratic trend need not be regarded as something which we had to
acquire from Western nations. These trends have been there.
Mahabharata tells us:
guhyam brahma tad
idam vo bravimi
na manusat sresthataram hi kincit.
nothing higher than man in this world. God transcendent is beyond us. God
immanent is in man. Every human being must be regarded as sustaining the
possibility of rising to the divine state.
has its origin in the Upanishads. Kumarilabhatta says: vijnanavada
nairatmavadanam api upanisad prabhavatvam. Every vijnanavada originated from
the Upanishad. It is one resevoir from which, in different directions, things
flow, and we have to understand the basis of unity which prevails. It is this
reconciliation of all faiths that challenges the modern world. These different
faiths are not to be regarded as opposites or contradictories. They are distinct
or complementaries. They will enrich the human heritage, if we are able to get
What is secularism -
mistakenly called secularism - is really respect for all faiths; it is not
giving up of faiths. Everyone should respect whatever is held sacred by any
other individual. It is essential that we should not lose our moorings; we
should not be absorbed or fascinated by the new-fangled ideas. What is happening
today is that even the students do not have a perception of the values of our
country. If you get them back to these things and make them understand that the
fundamentals of our religion are most scientific, most democratic, most
harmonious and most significant, so far as the historic process is concerned, we
will be doing a valuable service.