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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.





SANSKRIT IS THE LITURGICAL language of Hinduism -- the polished, formal, classical language in which prayers and sacred literature were composed. A large body of secular literature was also written in Sanskrit.

Sanskrit is a member of the Indo-European family of languages, the same family to which English belongs. It originated in northern India as a member of the linguistic subfamily known as Old Indo-Aryan.

The earliest surviving Sanskrit text, the Rig Veda, is at least 3,000 years old and possibly older. Sanskrit grammar was codified in the fourth or fifth century BC in an influential text by Panini. The heyday of so-called Classical Sanskrit, the language used for literary works, ran roughly from the fifth century BC to 1000 AD.

The word sanskrit means "polished" or "correct." This name distinguishes Sanskrit as a liturgical, classical language from the ordinary languages actually spoken by people. These in turn are called prakrits meaning "natural" or "common" languages. In traditional Indian scholarship, the prakrits were believed to have evolved from the Classical Sanskrit described by Panini, but this view is rejected by some modern linguists.

Like all early Indo-European languages, Sanskrit is complex and heavily inflected. It has three numbers (singular, dual, and plural), three genders (feminine, masculine, and neuter), and eight cases (nominative, accusative, instrumental, dative, ablative, genitive, locative, and vocative).

Sanskrit is written in the extraordinarily complex Devanagari alphabet, which has several hundred symbols.


Sanskrit and English are cousins. They descend from the same parent language, Indo-European. Here are some similar words in the two languages:

English     Sanskrit
that tat
mother matar
daughter duhitar
brother bhratar
no na
voice vac
name naman
light laghu
know   jna
be   bhu
eats atti
son sunus
heart hrdayam
serpent sarpah


This website includes complete translations of many classical texts composed in Sanskrit. Here's a partial list:

Aitareya Upanishad
Ashtavakra Gita
Bhagavad Gita
Crest Jewel of Wisdom
Isa Upanishad
Katha Upanishad
Kena Upanishad
Mandukya Upanishad
Prasna Upanishad
Taittiriya Upanishad
Yoga Sutras

Transliteration Into the English Alphabet

A problem arises when Sanskrit words are written in the English alphabet (for example, when we write "Vedanta" or "Brahman") because there aren't enough English letters to match all the Sanskrit ones.

In modern book publishing, the problem is solved by adding diacritic marks to some of the English letters. For example, S by itself represents one Sanskrit letter, S with an acute accent represents a second letter, and S with a dot underneath represents a third.

Unfortunately, this system is not practical for web publishing (not yet, anyway) because some of the conventional diacritic marks cannot be displayed on users' browsers unless special Unicode fonts have been installed.

To get around this problem, some websites display their articles with the ITRANS transliteration system, or a variant of it, which was designed for computer typesetting. We think this is a bad idea because the resulting text is ugly and difficult for humans to read.

When this website began, we couldn't think of a good way to handle the problem, so we followed the book publishing system but omitted the diacritic marks. Recently we've noticed that the online Encyclopedia Britannica has invented a better system. Like us, they use the book publishing system without diacritic marks, but they indicate the missing marks with underscores. We have begun to use this system and you will notice it on newer pages.



Sanskrit Language Texts
This comprehensive list of textbooks, grammars, and dictionaries was prepared by Columbia University. It includes evaluations of the textbooks.

This page was published on October 8, 2000
and last revised on June 20, 2002.


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