G. Chelvapila- Why China’s intellectuals are turning to Sanskrit

sanskrit1Sanskrit is sure to bring Asia’s giants together. Unlike Pakistan, China does not suffer from irrational hate towards any thing and every thing Hindu or Indian. There is nothing more Indian than Sanskrit. The origin of Chinese languages, Mandarin and Cantonese are traced to a Proto Sino-Tibetan language which in turn also reached various parts of S E Asia . And all of them in turn were influenced by Sanskrit. Hinduism , subsequent Buddhism reached the shores of vast places , entire Asia through Sanskrit. Like Tamil, though different still has vast numbers of Sanskrit words,is nicely termed as ‘Manipravala’, diamond necklace which has different precious gems ,  the Chinese as well as other Asian regional languages were much influenced by Sanskrit and have Sanskrit origin words. The word ‘Mandarin’ itself is said to have derived from Sanskrit , Mantri or minister. Mandarin was the language of Chinese courts and royal assemblies. 
Buddha might have chosen to use Pali for communication since that tongue was common man’s language at his time. But  Buddhist texts, teachings that survive to day are Sanskrit texts while Pali became extinct. Hence there is no question learning and mastering Sanskrit by students of India will go long way to rekindle and reestablish connections like in ancient past between India and China as well as with rest of S E Asia.
Many scholars refer to an unnamed proto-Indo-European language and here with regards to Asiatic languages too similar conjecture exists-origin from a proto- Sino-Tibetan language. Let us consider few features  which will serve as background for further research as to what was that ancient language that gave rise to communication skills for mankind.  
Vedic language is only one in the world that does not have any  ‘proto’ language preceding it.  It is not Sanskrit. Sanskrit is derived from Vedic language , since Veda came to be written in Devanagari, same script as that of Sanskrit, the mistake in understandable. Unlike any other language where only words have meaning, each letter and tone of Vedic language have significance. In the world only one language of that nature is Vedic. Most important is the sound, correct utterance of it. Hence Veda is also called Sruthi, and is transmitted accordingly through hearing and memorizing. The whole branch of phonetics originated from Veda because of its emphasis on accurate pronunciation.  Siksha or phonetics is one of required 6 corollary subjects , apart from grammar, chandas (meter as well as some say it is the name for vedic language), Jyotish(astronomy), kalpa ( applied part of Vedic mantras) and Niruktam ( Veda has its own dictionary , the one by Yaska survives , others are not available). 
Europeans trace their languages to proto Greek, and proto Greek in turn had Sanskrit for its origin. As noted above Sanskrit is direct descendant of Veda.
Please see this brief account about Sanskrit connection to Indo- European Languages.
The Sanskrit Connection: 
The discovery of Indo-European first started with a British judge named William Jones who was stationed in India in 1780. Jones, a bright fellow with classical training in Greek and Latin, had determined to master the ancient Sanskrit tongue. He wanted to brush up on native Indian law codes–many of which were written in Sanskrit script–before administering British law in the region.
Jones was shocked to discover a regular pattern of similarities between ancient Sanskrit words and ancient words in classical Western languages. Here are some examples:
divus (“divine”)
Other Sanskrit words were similar to Greek terms. For instance, the Greek word trias (“three”) is close to trayas and tres in the chart above. The Greek word pente (“five”) is close to Sanskrit panca (“five”), and so on. Jones began systematically charting the similarities, finding literally thousands of such parallels between Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin. He presented his findings on February 2nd, 1786, to the “Asiatick Society in Calcutta.” He declared boldly that Sanskrit had
. . . a stronger affinity than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which perhaps no longer exists.§
What Jones had uncovered, without realizing it initially, was the existence of a lost mother tongue, what scholars call proto-Indo-European–a single, ancient, prehistoric language that led to the development of many languages in Europe, India, Russia, and the Middle East. It required nearly ninety years of comparative linguistics to fill in all the gaps.
Before Jones, earlier scholars had long ago noted that many languages shared such similarities. It was no news, for instance, that Romance languages shared cognates with each other. Spanish caballo (horse) was a cognate for Portuguese cabalo (horse), Italian caballo(horse), Provençal caval (horse), French cheval (horse), and English cavalry (horse-riding troops). Scholars had long known that all these words ultimately came from the vulgar Latin term caballus (horse), and that French and Spanish and other Romance languages had developed from Roman provincial speech–with some voiced /v/’s changing to unvoiced /b/’s, or some hard velar stops (/k/ sounds) changing to aspirated <ch>’s. Likewise, Germanic languages like Low and High German, Frisian, Dutch, Swedish, and Norse shared many cognates with each other in much the same way, tracing their origins back to a proto-Germanic tongue in prehistoric times.
What astonished linguists was that Sanskrit had cognates to more than just Latin and Greek words. Philologists found that Dutch, German, Old Norse, Gothic, Old Slavic, and Old Irish had similar patterns of words with Sanskrit. These cognates had a related meaning and they also sounded similar to each other either in terms of vowels or consonants (or both!). For instance, consider the words for “father” and “brother” in a variety of Indo-European languages:
  • pitar (Sanskrit)
  • pater (Latin)
  • pater (Greek)
  • padre (Spanish)
  • pere (French)
  • father (English)
  • fadar (Gothic)
  • fa∂ir (Old Norse)
  • vader (German)
  • athir (Old Irish–with loss of original consonant)
  • bhratar (Sanskrit)
  • frater (Latin)
  • phrater (Greek)
  • frere (French)
  • brother (Modern English)
  • brothor (Saxon)
  • bruder (German)
  • broeder (Dutch)
  • bratu (Old Slavic)
  • brathair (Old Irish)
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that these words must have come from a common source–especially if you chart the words out on a map of where each language is spoken. In the case of the words for father, a linguist can almost visually see the unvoiced /t/ sounds changing to voiced /d/ sounds as people migrated westward across the map, and then these letters changing to <th> as they moved north through Europe along the Germanic branch. In the case of the words for brother, the same sort of linguistic change is occurring with unvoiced /t/ and voiced /d/ sounds, but another pattern is happening simultaneously with voiced /b/ and unvoiced /p/ sounds. Multiply the examples above for a few thousand other words, and the evidence looks fairly air-tight.
All that remained for scholars to do was (1) to trace what rules governed these changes linguistically–a task taken up by Jakob Grimm and later Karl Verner, and (2) to reconstruct as far as possible what this original language must have sounded like and how it functioned. This is tricky, given that proto-Indo-European is a prehistoric language existing before the written word, but not impossible given the wealth of linguistic information we can garner from surviving languages today.
Light shines in all 10 directions, east , west, north and south as well as SE,SW,NW and NE and above and below. India enlightenment like wise did not just stop with west. 
Tibet is a word derived from Tripitaka,  three  Plateaus . It was founded by a fleeing Kaurava General , Rupasi following Mahabharat War. Naturally hence affinity to India’s culture and ethos and languages remains strong . Dalai Lama himself told how his name is derived. Dalai means Cave, Tibet being mountainous caves are not uncommon. The term ‘Lama’ is Rama with some alteration. Similarly using Rama as a title besides as a name is common in SE Asia . King of Thailand is Rama. Their ancient capital city was Ayuthya , similar to Ayodhya of Rama. King’s royal priest was Vamadeva. He sent his son to learn Veda to one of  hermitages in South India. Please see the news item in this regard in 2002.
A Thai Rajaguru in quest of Vedic roots
Author: Ramesh Ramachandran  Publication: The Tribune  Date: March 11, 2002  URL: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2002/20020311/ncr1.htm

He’s a man in search of his Indian roots. After his ancestors left  Indian shores for Thailand centuries ago, he is back `home’ on a  mission. To find a suitable place where children of Thai Brahmins  (“Brahmanas,” he corrects) can learn ancient Vedic texts and  scriptures.
Attired in white with his lock of hair tied neatly behind in a bun,  Var Rajaguru Vamadeva Muni is a picture of serenity seated amidst  his aides and well-wishers. “I am here to scout for a suitable place  to send Brahmana children for pursuing Vedic studies. I want to send  Brahmana boys from Thailand so that they would learn more about  priest craft, philosophy, etc,” he says while sharing the overriding  purpose of his visit. “The root of Thai Brahmanas,” he says, “is in  south India, our ancestors come from that place, and having their  children study Vedic scriptures here would enable the younger  generation to go deep into their roots.”
The Rajaguru (Royal Court Chief Brahmin) to King Bhumibal Atulyatej  of Thailand, Vamadeva Muni is the purveyor of all things religious,  as it were, for the Royal Family. The Rajaguru coronates the King in  a strictly Brahminical ceremony. Also, presides over the ploughing  ceremony when the land is tilled in the presence of the King. In  ancient days, says Var Rajaguru Vamadeva Muni, the plougher was  supposed to be King and tradition has it that the King chooses the  person who tills the land for the ceremony.
In India on a personal visit, the Rajaguru on Sunday met with Prime  Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. On his itinerary are meetings with  Union Minister of Home Affairs LK Advani and Union Human Resource  Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi. During his stay in India,  the Rajaguru would also call on Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti  Peetham Jayendra Saraswati. His aides say visits to Tirupati,  Mahabalipuram, Trichy, Chidambaram, Rameshwaram and Thanjavur are  also planned.
Thais, says the Muni, practise Buddhism but it was not so in ancient  times when Hinduism flourished. Today the Hinduism “indigenised” by  the Thais has a Buddhist influence and that he attributes to  the “confluence of cultures.” That Hinduism still holds a special  place in the religious and cultural history of that country, he  says, can be appreciated by the fact that ceremonies like the Tiru  Vempavai and Sankranti have survived centuries and are observed to  this day. While Tiru Vempavai, or the Mundan ceremony, is observed  for a fortnight every January, Sankranti is celebrated nationwide on  April 13 not only by the Brahmanas but by other sections of society.
Recalling his prior visits to India, the Rajaguru says the last time  he was here was at the invitation of Swami Lokeshananda Giriji  Maharaj, the Peethadheesh of Juna Akhara. “That was for the Kumbh  Mela thirteen years ago,” he remembers fondly. Reminiscing about  his “umbilical cord” with mainland India, he says there is a lot to  be learnt from ancient Hindu traditions and beliefs. Prodded into  sharing his lineage, he says : “It is difficult to trace my ancestry  because there are few records,” he says. “They came from south India  and settled in southern Thailand. I come from the province of  Pattalung and am the fourth generation of Rajagurus serving the  King.
He has a word of advice though for all. “Using religion for selfish  gains creates problems,” says the Rajaguru, “On the contrary, if one  thinks religion is for the well-being of all then problems will be  solved.” 
Cultural influence of India far widespread though the land that constitutes the nation was reduced continuously since 1930s by British and then Nehru led Congress party. Each had their own reasons to put down India, and promote their regimes, themselves broadcasting India became a nation only when they ushered imperial raj followed by license permit raj . So even freedom the timeless links of India will all nations and regions all around were not restored , stayed in abeyance . Only of late attempts are being made not only with above mentioned regions but also with ancient civilizations world wide, still present in Europe and Americas  are being made. Starting Nalanda University after 800 year gap was a good step in that direction, even though progress was disproportionate to money and time spent due to usual corruption and inefficiency. We hope with the new government in place since May 2014, sooner than later Nalanda will acquire its former glory. 
Korean language has close connections with Tamil. When Tamil princess was married Korean Prince, she introduced Tamil refining Korean .  
There is a debate going on whether Sanskrit and Chinese are ‘congenial languages’ together. Certainly congeniality was in force when Buddhism, before that Hinduism reached China , many Sanskrit texts, works got translated into Chinese enriching that language, much like what happened to Tamil. A combination of Sanskrit and Tamil is called nicely as Manipravala, a necklace of different gems. Only further research will yield philological affinity between ancient languages of India and China, i.e  Vedic language and Mandarin. Mandarin is a court language, the word Mandarian is said to be related Sanskrit Mantri. Mantri is an official, minister in royal court. 
There is however some traces of Hindu influence in ancient and medieval times in China, naturally spread of Buddhism possibly absorbed what remained of Hinduism in far flung areas like China, S E Asia. In these places both Buddhist and Hindu deities, like Ganesha or Saraswathi along with Buddha are worshiped.
Here is a brief note in this regard;

Hinduism in China

Hinduism in China
Hinduism has no attested presence in modern mainland China, but archaeological evidence suggests presence of Hinduism in different provinces of medieval China. Hindu influences were also absorbed in the country through the spread of Buddhism over its history.

Hinduism Importance

Hinduism Importance
Hindu community, particularly through Tamil merchant guilds of Ayyavole and Manigramam, once thrived in medieval south China; evidence of Hindu motifs and temples, such as in the Kaiyuan temple, continue to be discovered in Quanzhou, Fujian province of southeast China. A small community of Hindu immigrant workers exists in Hong Kong.

Early Hindu influence

Some examples of influence of Hinduism on ancient Chinese religion included the belief of “six schools” or “six doctrines” as well as use of Yoga, stupas (later became pagoda in East Asia). However, in China, Hinduism has never gained much popularity, unlike the beliefs of Buddhism and Confucianism. There were exceptions, such as parts of Tibet.

Hindu Community in China

Hindu Community in China  
There was a small Hindu community in China, mostly situated in southeastern China. A late thirteenth-century bilingual Tamil and Chinese-language inscription has been found associated with the remains of a Siva temple of Quanzhou. This was one of, possibly, two south Indian-style Hindu temples that must have been built in the southeastern sector of the old port, where the foreign traders’ enclave was formerly located.
The affinity of cultures of India, China as well as Japan can be seen in names of mountains.
The Name of The Mountain
Sumeru (Sanskrit) or Sineru (Pâli) is the name of the central world-mountain in Buddhist cosmology. Etymologically, the proper name of the mountain is Meru (Pâli Meru), to which is added the approbatory prefix su-, resulting in the meaning “excellent Meru” or “wonderful Meru”.
Other Names denoting the same mountain:
  • Mount Sumeru (Shumisen)(Shumisen-gi) – Japan
  • Madala Mountain 
  • Cosmic Mountain
Conclusion: Sanskrit is a very much alive and vibrant language. All marriages and rituals , from birth to end the various traditional rites are conducted using Sanskrit. It is not fault of Sanskrit when some say they do not understand what was being said during ceremonies. The person should have made at least some effort to learn truly this language of gods. Even a rudimentary familiarity will further enrich any native or regional language of the seeker and speaker. Furthermore revival of Sanskrit will further enhance connections between various civilizations of Asia as well as those of west thus bringing together the world as well as people closer together. So it is good to learn that China’s intellectuals are turning to Sanskrit 
सर्वे मानवाः जन्मना स्वतन्त्राः वैयक्तिकगौरवेण अधिकारेण च तुल्याः एव । सर्वेषां विवेकः आत्मसाक्षी च वर्तते । सर्वे परस्परं भ्रातृभावेन व्यवहरेयुः ॥
Transliteration (by Stefán Steinsson) Sarvē mānavāḥ janmanā svatantrāḥ vaiyaktikagauravēṇa adhikārēṇa ca tulyāḥ ēva, sarvēṣāṃ vivēkaḥ ātmasākṣī ca vartatē, sarvē parasparaṃ bhrātṛbhāvēna vyavaharēyuḥ.
Translation and recording by Shriramana Sharma


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Best wishes,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                G V Chelvapilla

Why China’s intellectuals are turning to Sanskrit

Beida can play a crucial role in boosting the world’s knowledge of the ancient language by supporting the ongoing effort to translate the lost Tibet palm-leaves.

Ananth Krishnan

In China, there’s a quiet – but no less remarkable – revival under way of the unlikeliest kind. Over the past few weeks, 120 Chinese – a group of highly qualified intellectuals, scholars, graduate students and artists – have been gathering in the old town of Hangzhou – famed in China for its beauty of hills and lakes and cultural history, but known today as the centre of IT in China and the home of e-commerce giant Alibaba. For the first time in a decade, the Hangzhou Buddhism Institute has resumed classes teaching Sanskrit. This resumption, organisers say, comes amid a wider campaign by the Xi Jinping government to promote traditional culture. But what’s striking, according to teachers at the institute, is the demand for Sanskrit.
“Normally, my Sanskrit classes comprise of no more than 20 students each year. I was quite astonished to learn from Dr Li that he has such a large response from Chinese students,” Konrad Meisig, dean of the Institute of Indology of the Mainz University, told Chinese media. The classes are being taught by Chinese scholar Li Wei, who has a doctorate from Meisig’s university. Interestingly, when the institute offered classes in 2004, there was “little interest”, according to Gang Xiao, a teacher with the school. Meisig suggested in an interview that the revival was on account of “a huge amount of interest and craving for knowledge about foreign cultures in China”.
In the case of Sanskrit and China, there appears to be more than that at play. The interest in Sanskrit appears part of a wider curiosity about Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy, including Tibetan Buddhism, among white-collar, educated, urban Chinese. This struck me when I visited the thriving Sanskrit programme at China’s most elite school, Peking University in Beijing, or Beida as it is known here. Satyavrat Shastri, a renowned Sanskrit scholar who has visited Beijing to teach intermittently at Beida, told me on one visit a couple of years ago that there was also deep interest in unravelling a trove of rich – but forgotten – Sanskrit manuscripts found in Tibet. There certainly was deep passion and interest among the young Chinese enrolled at Beida. Their pronunciation as they recited shlokas was particularly impressive. Perhaps what was even more impressive was their deep desire to learn about a classical, ancient language from a neighbouring country at a time when many in India themselves feel that patronage of this old language is on the wane.
Beida’s Sanskrit connection goes back more than five decades, when the renowned Chinese Indologist Ji Xianlin started the programme, blessed by then Premier Zhou Enlai who was keen to foster cultural ties with India — that was before 1962. The programme today wants to keep alive the late Ji’s contribution, which includes what are considered brilliant translations of Indian epics that have been read widely in China. Beida is training more than 50 students who could, if they persevere mastering this most complex of linguistic traditions, play a crucial role in boosting not only India’s but the world’s knowledge of Sanskrit by supporting the ongoing effort to translate the lost palm-leaves of Tibet.
Yet one source of sadness that I heard at Beida was their limited engagement with Indian universities. More Sanskrit teachers in China appear to have been supported and taught by German schools – such as Mainz University – which also have a long tradition of Sanskrit study. Students have told me of difficulties in securing short-term opportunities to study in Indian universities, which either show little interest in China or are bound by bureaucratic fixations that enable little cooperation with overseas institutes that may follow different procedures. (Not to mention a continuing difficulty with obtaining visas to attend conferences, which are often held up, I heard, because of a policy requiring Chinese scholars to obtain home ministry clearances, which on occasion do not arrive in time.)
So Chinese students turn not to India but to the West to fulfil their passions for Sanskrit. Wei Xiuxiu, 24, a graduate of an art school in China, bemoaned in an interview with the Shanghai Daily the reliance on Western English translations to learn Indian philosophy. “I hope one day I can read the original works and even do the translation,” she said. Wei recalled how her love of Sanskrit began – an explanation that sounded familiar to me following my visit to Beida. “Although these alphabets seem so distant and are so difficult to recognise,” she said, “the moment I read it out loud, I could feel the power of the ancient words.”
Source: WHN Media Network