The History Of Sanskrit

As you explain Sanskrit’s basic vocabulary and pronunciation, you may also want to tell your students about its rich history, noting that it predates Greek and Latin and stems from proto-European languages spoken in India 7,000 years ago. Passed down orally for centuries, Sanskrit was first written down around 1,500 B.C. in the form of the oldest-known yoga scripture, the Rig Veda. Around 500 B.C., a scholar named Panini established the rules that define classical Sanskrit, the language we use in yoga today.

To make it accessible for your students, you can point out that many Sanskrit words are the roots of words in English, which borrowed from Sanskrit heavily over the course of its own evolution. Bandha (or “lock”), for example, is related to the English word bound, while Navasana (Boat Pose) is related to “navy.”

Despite these similarities, Sanskrit is different from English in one key way: The language of yoga is much easier to learn. While English is a phonemic language, with the same letters sometimes pronounced in different ways (think of the o in love versus the o in open), Sanskrit is phonetic, so every letter is always pronounced the same. While English has erratic rules, Sanskrit’s grammar is more straightforward and thus simpler for newcomers to grasp.