Sanskrit is the classical language of the Indian subcontinent. The oldest stage of the language is that of the Veda, the fundamental scriptures of Hinduism which date back to some twelve centuries BCE. The classical stage of the language, from some five centuries BCE onward, is the vehicle of a vast and varied literature from epics and poetry to Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religious and philosophical texts, and scientific treatises on everything from astronomy and architecture to law and linguistics. Sanskrit was carried outside the Indian subcontinent to adjacent regions which came under the influence of Indian culture, Tibet and China, and Southeast Asia from Thailand to Indonesia. Hindu tradition heralds it as "the language of the gods." Today Sanskrit continues to be the primary language of Hindu rituals; traditional scholars, or pandits, still hold debates and write treatises in this medium; and poetry in Sanskrit continues to be cultivated. What ancient Greek has been for Greece and the Mediterranean world, and what Latin has been for Rome and Europe, Sanskrit has been for India and vast sections of Asia, but Sanskrit literature vastly exceeds Greek and Latin literatures combined, and with more enduring resonance today. In addition to being required to access this tremendous literature, a knowledge of Sanskrit is essential for comparative linguistics. Sanskrit represents one of the oldest branches of the family of languages known as Indo-European, which extend from India to Western Europe (and, with European expansion, to the New World). Sanskrit courses offered at Penn range from the elementary level to the most advanced and from Vedic to classical Sanskrit. Students may satisfy the Language Requirement with two years of Sanskrit with a grade of "B" or higher, or by passing a proficiency examination in classical Sanskrit.
Elementary Sanskrit SKRT 460
In this two-semester course which begins in the Fall semester, students are introduced to the structure of classical Sanskrit. The object of the course is to develop a reading ability in the classical language. By the mid of the Spring semester, we begin reading a section of the epic Mahabharata, including the Bhagavad Gita, some short pieces from works of Indian philosophy such as Yogasutra and Buddhist sutras, and stories from the Hitopadesha.
Second-year Sanskrit SKRT 470
In the second year, in addition to reading selections from diverse genres chosen by the instructor, students also choose certain texts they would like to read with the class. The object of the Fall semester is to develop a reading proficiency in a range of classical Sanskrit literature. We read sections of the Kathasaritsagara ("The Ocean of Stories"); the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, literature related to law, social life, and science, etc. The object of the Spring semester is to introduce students to philosophical Sanskrit and Vedic Sanskrit.
Readings in Sanskrit Literature SKRT 480
In this course, texts are chosen in consultation with students. Usually, the Fall semester is devoted to a major work of Indian philosophy, grammar, or some other such technical genre. Alternatively, seminars may devote significant time to working with inscriptions, paleography, or manuscript studies. In the Spring semester, one or more major works of Sanskrit are usually studied.