Among the texts composed in Sanskrit over more than 3,000 years are Ayurvedic medical treatises and astronomical studies; the Yoga Sūtras and other examinations of the nature of the human mind; many foundational texts of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism; treatises on statecraft; a rich tradition of poetry; and the two great Indian epic tales, the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa. Sanskrit is also a rare classical language in that it is ancient and yet still living in several senses. It is one of twenty-two officially recognized languages in India, it remains a central part of many religious rituals (both in India and outside of India), and recent years have seen a marked increase in the number of Sanskrit speakers across the world.
Why Study Sanskrit?
The study of Sanskrit provides a foundation in the rich cultural and literary history of South Asia, both pre-modern and modern. It opens the door to advanced studies for students of ancient India, Indian religions, and comparative linguistics. It also builds analytical, linguistic, and communication skills that are transferrable to many other areas like law, government, and tech. It has often been said that traditional systems of Sanskrit grammar are similar to coding.
Beyond this, studying Sanskrit serves the humanities mission of the University of Washington, building students’ abilities to “navigate cultural similarities and differences; to read, digest, and interpret many different kinds of information; and to respond to the challenges of an increasingly interconnected world.” As many UW students will attest, it is also the joy of reading Sanskrit, of discovering something new in an ancient language, that feeds students’ continued interest in their studies.