Sanskrit is the classical language of India that has been used for thousands of years as the language of religion and scholarship, and is still so used today. The Sanskrit language and its literature represent a continuous cultural tradition from the time of the Vedas in the second millennium B.C. down to the present.
The Sanskrit language belongs to the Indo-European language family, of which it is one of the earliest and most abundantly attested members. It has an extremely rich and complex grammatical structure and an enormous vocabulary. As an early member of the Indo-European family, Sanskrit is closely related to Greek and Latin and most distantly to English and other modern European languages. Sanskrit is also the parent of the modern Indo-Aryan languages of north and central India, including Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, and many others.
The literature of Sanskrit embraces an enormous number of books on nearly every imaginable subject. Important genres of Sanskrit literature include poetry, drama, religion and ritual, philosophy, law, grammar and linguistics, medicine, astronomy and astrology, and many more. Among the best-known masterworks of Sanskrit literature are the poems and plays of Kalidasa, the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, including the Bhagavad-gita which constitutes a section of the latter, and the Upanisads.
Between Sanskrit and its modern derivatives lie a group of languages known as the Prakrits or Middle Indo-Aryan languages, which were the vernacular dialects of ancient times. As these languages are derived from and closely related to Sanskrit, they are usually studied together with it. Several of these Middle Indo-Aryan languages became important literary vehicles, the best known being Pali, which still serves as the canonical language of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Other Prakrit languages such as Sauraseni, Maharastri, Magadhi, and Gandhari embody various facets of the literatures of both the Brahmanical/Hindu and Buddhist traditions.
The Department of Asian Languages and Literature offers a complete range of courses in Sanskrit language and literature, including a basic three year sequence and advanced courses and seminars with different contents each year. Courses in Pali and the Prakrits are also offered on a rotating basis.