Sanskrit: Its Psycholinguistic and Mantric Effects

Sanskrit: Its Psycholinguistic and Mantric Effects

Learning any language is an investment that could yield a lifetime of multi-layered benefits and potentially change the way we understand ourselves, our culture and the world around us. One such language that lays an irresistible charm on anyone who invests in it, in its true spirit and fullness, is Sanskrit. The term ‘Sanskrit’ itself stemming from ‘Samyak + kṛtam’ literally means ‘Well-done’. But what does it mean to have a language that is ‘well-done’?

A closer study of Sanskrit reveals the extant of the language’s precision starting from the arrangement of the letters in its alphabet to the formation of its words. These are  woven into more complex grammatical constructions in sentences that have unique characteristics. The sentences combine together to form a vast storehouse of literary works which, on one side, deal with some of the most lofty and sophisticated philosophical ideas of human civilisation like we find in the Vedas, Upanishads and in scientific treatises like Leelavati and Aryabhatiya. On the other hand, texts like the Ramayana and Mahabharata and the works of great poets like Kalidasa still continue to inspire the everyday life of millions of people across the world. One of the founding fathers of modern America, Henry David Thoreau, a writer and a philosopher famously declared, ‘”In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial.’

But besides the inspiring literature that influences our lives, linguists have been wondering to what extant the language in itself shapes the way we think. Dr. Lera Boroditsky, a psycholinguist concludes that languages play a very important role in formatting our thinking. Sanskrit has been greatly admired for the computational nature of its grammatical formulations. To speak Sanskrit, one has to instantly ‘compute’ on multiple fronts to combine various word forms with verbs correctly. This can enhance the analytical skills of the mind and make it like a super-computer as it tries to process thought into effective expression. On another level, speaking Sanskrit is like doing yoga. Uttering Sanskrit words is a kind of pranayama where every letter one utters involves a conscious use of one’s breath. This is turn can have a calming effect on the mind and emotions of the individual who speaks or chants it and lead to a greater sense of well-being.

Finally, any sound one produces in the universe corresponds to a unique impact on the surface that it encounters which creates a particular experience. For example, when we listen to certain kind of music, we feel happy. Other tunes may make us sad. Most languages have lost the understanding of this experiential power of the sound of their words and therefore although ‘peace’ and ‘piece’ sound the same, they mean very different things. Maharshi Aurobindo, a great yogi and author who was a master of many languages said that Sanskrit is one of the few languages that retained actively this connection. Therefore, Sanskrit words specially mantras which I define as ‘systematic sound-technology’, don’t just communicate meaning but also generate specific experiences for their listeners because of the conscious combination of sounds that they are made of.

This land of Bharata has evolved many languages over time. Each language has its own beauty and power and influences the lives of those who speak it in specific manners. Sanskrit, has been part of the foundational structures of the Bharatiya chetana or consciousness. She is like the Ganga that nourishes them and carries the memories of their origins and can enrich their flows with her vast vocabulary that she possesses on knowledge systems that have extensively explored the nature of external and internal realities we live in. Looking back, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan said ‘Sanskrit has moulded the minds of our people to an extent to which they themselves are not conscious. Sanskrit literature is national in one sense, but its purpose has been universal. That is why it commanded the attention of people who were not followers of a particular culture…’ Looking ahead Maharshi Aurobindo says ‘Sanskrit ought still to have a future as a language of the learned and it will not be a good day for India when the ancient tongue ceases entirely to be written or spoken.

To close, if language is indeed an investment that we make in life, one language that would ensure sustained incremental returns is the Sanskrit  language!


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Dr. Anuradha Choudry

IIT Kharagpur

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