Ancient Indian Languages

Ancient Indian Languages

Ancient Indian languages: India is a multilingual country. Even during ancient period there were many languages but Sanskrit was the important and dominant language. We do not have much evidence as to the language spoken during the Indus valley civilisation. However it is believed that Indus script or the Harappan script was used during this period. The inscriptions were extremely short. It is not clear whether these inscriptions constituted a language or script.

The languages in India are widely divided into Dravidian and Indo Aryan languages. The earliest language which was used is Sanskrit. There were Vedic Sanskrit and the classical Sanskrit. Vedic Sanskrit was used in Vedas and the classical Sanskrit is the oldest surviving Sanskrit grammar or Painini’s Astadyayi( Painini was ancient Sanskrit grammarian). Painin’s Astadyayi was composed around 4th century BC. The vowels and consonants were classified in a very scientific way. Painini had incorporated around 4000 grammatical principles. 

Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit in ancient Indian languages

Sanskrit was the language spoken by the priestly class mostly by Brahmins, however slowly it became a spoken language even for the governing body. Sanskrit was spread to different part of the world. With the emergence of Buddhism and classical Sanskrit became more of priestly language Prakrit and Pali language evolved. Later during the middle Indo Aryan period people started to use Prakrit language which was simpler than Sanskrit. It became a local language for Kings and the villagers. Many inscriptions are even composed in Prakrit language. Asoka has many inscriptions on Buddhism in Prakrit language. Gradually each variety of Prakrit became associated with a particular dynasty and a particular religion. Dramatic prakrit was particularly used in dramas and in other literary works. Some of the prominent dramatic Prakrit was Shauraseni, Magadhi Prakrit and Maharastri Prakrit.

Pali was another important language during the ancient period. It was used during the modern Indo Aryan period. Pali language is considered as sacred language in some of the religious texts of Hinduism and Theraveda Buddhism (a branch of Buddhism which uses Pali language to the teachings of Buddhism).

Tamil is one of the oldest Dravidian languages. Apart from Tamil other Dravidian languages include Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam. Even these Dravidian languages have the influence of Sanskrit on it. Tamil became the prominent and important language and many scared songs and religious works are written in Tamil. Most of these Dravidian languages are spoken in southern part of India. Many scholars have argued that the Dravidian languages were brought to India by the migrants in the 3rd and the 4th century BC but however there is no clear evidence to this argument.

The origin of other languages occurred gradually. Even these languages have roots from Sanskrit, pali and Prakrit languages.