112 yogas of delight and wonder

Fluent Sanskrit Speakers in India

The population of India is over a billion: 1,189,172,906 according to the CIA world factbook. About 80% of them, 750 million people, speak one of the Indo-Aryan languages. Yet the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Office of the Registrar cites the 2001 census as finding 14,135 list Sanskrit as their mother tongue, and around 49,736 say they are fluent in Sanskrit. (the numbers vary, and have gone up and down in census figures over the past hundred years.) Ethnologue gives a different number.

For thousands of years, Sanskrit has served as a donor language to “the Prakrits,” the vernaculars. Some scholars estimate that half of the vocabulary of the modern languages of India comes from Sanskrit.

Sanskrit is serving as a donor language to English also. For example, the first two lines of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra contain these words: shri devi uvacha - shrutam deva maya sarvam rudra yamala sambhavam. Four of these ten words are in English dictionaries: devi, shruti, deva, rudra.

These Sanskrit words used in the VBT, are already in English dictionaries: Agni, akasha, amrita, ananda, bhakti, Brahma, buddhi, chakra, dhyana, Durga, guru, Indra, indriya, kama, Krishna, Kali, maha, mahatma, manas, mantra, Marut, maya, moksha, Mitra, prana, pranava, puja, Rudra, sadhu, Shakti, Shanti, Shiva, Shunya (sunya), tamas, tantra, tattva, veda, yoga. More and more of the Sanskrit lexicon is becoming part of our common usage.

There are over six hundred thousand words in the Oxford English Dictionary, most of them imported from other languages and integrated into English. I say, let’s import a thousand more words from Sanskrit, adopt them as our own, and let them become part of the common usage. In this way, liturgical Sanskrit can stay the same in its own pure realm, frozen in time and “perfected.” At the same time the rich vocabulary of Sanskrit can be part of the ever- evolving subjectivity characterizing the modern world.**

In India, about 10% of the population speaks English, according to the 1991 and 2001 census figures, which translates to over a hundred million people. Compare this to the approximately fifty thousand, or .005%, who speak Sanskrit.

We are not speaking Sanskrit when we use these words from the Yoga lexicon - we are speaking English, with an extended vocabulary that pertains to our practices.

By the way, the word
Sanskrit is an English term to refer to the ancient way of speaking. The Sanskrit equivalent is saṃskṛta, (sam "together" + krta- "to make, do, perform.”) संस्कृता वाक् saṃskṛtā vāk, or संस्कृतभाषा saṃskṛtabhāṣā, "refined speech.”

in a footnote to his 1899 preface to the Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Monier-Williams writes, "Sanskrit is now too Anglicized a word to admit of its being written as it ought to be written according to the system of transliteration adopted in the present Dictionary – Saṃskṛit." p. xii, footnote 1


In other words, the very word
Sanskrit is an English word.

saṃskṛta: put together, constructed, well or completely formed,
perfected, made ready, prepared, completed, finished, dressed,
cooked, purified, consecrated, sanctified, hallowed, initiated,
refined, adorned, ornamented, polished, highly elaborated (esp.
applied to highly wrought speech, such as the sanskrit language as opp, to the vernaculars)