Sanskrit (/ˈsænskrɪt/; attributively संस्कृत-, saṃskṛta-;[15][16] nominally संस्कृतम्, saṃskṛtam, IPA: [ˈsɐ̃skr̩tɐm][17][d]) is a classical language of South Asia that belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages.[19][20][21] It arose in South Asia after its predecessor languages had diffused there from the northwest in the late Bronze Age.[22][23] Sanskrit is the sacred language of Hinduism, the language of classical Hindu philosophy, and of historical texts of Buddhism and Jainism. It was a link language in ancient and medieval South Asia, and upon transmission of Hindu and Buddhist culture to Southeast Asia, East Asia and Central Asia in the early medieval era, it became a language of religion and high culture, and of the political elites in some of these regions.[24][25] As a result, Sanskrit had a lasting impact on the languages of South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia, especially in their formal and learned vocabularies.[26]

Sanskrit generally connotes several Old Indo-Aryan language varieties.[27][28] The most archaic of these is the Vedic Sanskrit found in the Rig Veda, a collection of 1,028 hymns composed between 1500 BCE and 1200 BCE by Indo-Aryan tribes migrating east from what today is Afghanistan across northern Pakistan and into northern India.[29][30] Vedic Sanskrit interacted with the preexisting ancient languages of the subcontinent, absorbing names of newly encountered plants and animals; in addition, the ancient Dravidian languages influenced Sanskrit's phonology and syntax.[31] Sanskrit can also more narrowly refer to Classical Sanskrit, a refined and standardized grammatical form that emerged in the mid-1st millennium BCE and was codified in the most comprehensive of ancient grammars,[e] the Aṣṭādhyāyī ('Eight chapters') of Pāṇini.[32] The greatest dramatist in Sanskrit, Kālidāsa, wrote in classical Sanskrit, and the foundations of modern arithmetic were first described in classical Sanskrit.[f][33] The two major Sanskrit epics, the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa, however, were composed in a range of oral storytelling registers called Epic Sanskrit which was used in northern India between 400 BCE and 300 CE, and roughly contemporary with classical Sanskrit.[34] In the following centuries, Sanskrit became tradition-bound, stopped being learned as a first language, and ultimately stopped developing as a living language.[9]

The hymns of the Rigveda are notably similar to the most archaic poems of the Iranian and Greek language families, the Gathas of old Avestan and Iliad of Homer.[35] As the Rigveda was orally transmitted by methods of memorisation of exceptional complexity, rigour and fidelity,[36][37] as a single text without variant readings,[38] its preserved archaic syntax and morphology are of vital importance in the reconstruction of the common ancestor language Proto-Indo-European.[35] Sanskrit does not have an attested native script: from around the turn of the 1st-millennium CE, it has been written in various Brahmic scripts, and in the modern era most commonly in Devanagari.[a][12][13]

Sanskrit's status, function, and place in India's cultural heritage are recognized by its inclusion in the Constitution of India's Eighth Schedule languages.[39][40] However, despite attempts at revival,[8][41] there are no first language speakers of Sanskrit in India.[8][10][42] In each of India's recent decennial censuses, several thousand citizens have reported Sanskrit to be their mother tongue,[g] but the numbers are thought to signify a wish to be aligned with the prestige of the language.[6][7][8][43] Sanskrit has been taught in traditional gurukulas since ancient times; it is widely taught today at the secondary school level. The oldest Sanskrit college is the Benares Sanskrit College founded in 1791 during East India Company rule.[44] Sanskrit continues to be widely used as a ceremonial and ritual language in Hindu and Buddhist hymns and chants.

Historic Sanskrit manuscripts: a religious text (top), and a medical text
Left: The Kurgan hypothesis on Indo-European migrations between 4000–1000 BCE; right: The geographical spread of the Indo-European languages at 500 CE, with Sanskrit in South Asia
Rigveda (padapatha) manuscript in Devanagari, early 19th century. The red horizontal and vertical lines mark low and high pitch changes for chanting.
A 17th-century birch bark manuscript of Pāṇini's grammar treatise from Kashmir
An early use of the word for "Sanskrit" in Late Brahmi script (also called Gupta script):

Mandsaur stone inscription of Yashodharman-Vishnuvardhana, 532 CE.[114]
Sanskrit's link to the Prakrit languages and other Indo-European languages
The Spitzer Manuscript is dated to about the 2nd century CE (above: folio 383 fragment). Discovered in the Kizil Caves, near the northern branch of the Central Asian Silk Route in northwest China,[149] it is the oldest Sanskrit philosophical manuscript known so far.[150][151]
A 5th-century Sanskrit inscription discovered in Java, Indonesia—one of the earliest in southeast Asia after the Mulavarman inscription discovered in Kutai, eastern Borneo. The Ciaruteun inscription combines two writing scripts and compares the king to the Hindu god Vishnu. It provides a terminus ad quem to the presence of Hinduism in the Indonesian islands. The oldest southeast Asian Sanskrit inscription—called the Vo Canh inscription—so far discovered is near Nha Trang, Vietnam, and it is dated to the late 2nd century to early 3rd century CE.[160][161]
Sanskrit language manuscripts exist in many scripts. Above from top: Isha Upanishad (Devanagari), Samaveda (Tamil Grantha), Bhagavad Gita (Gurmukhi), Vedanta Sara (Telugu), Jatakamala (early Sharada). All are Hindu texts except the last Buddhist text.
Sanskrit language's historical presence has been attested in many countries. The evidence includes manuscript pages and inscriptions discovered in South Asia, Southeast Asia and Central Asia. These have been dated between 300 and 1800 CE.
This is one of the oldest surviving and dated palm-leaf manuscripts in Sanskrit (828 CE). Discovered in Nepal, the bottom leaf shows all the vowels and consonants of Sanskrit (the first five consonants are highlighted in blue and yellow).
One of the oldest surviving Sanskrit manuscript pages in Gupta script (c. 828 CE), discovered in Nepal
One of the oldest Hindu Sanskrit[al] inscriptions, the broken pieces of this early-1st-century BCE Hathibada Brahmi Inscription were discovered in Rajasthan. It is a dedication to deities Vāsudeva-Samkarshana (Krishna-Balarama) and mentions a stone temple.[138][281]
Sanskrit in modern Indian and other Brahmi scripts: May Śiva bless those who take delight in the language of the gods. (Kālidāsa)
One of the earliest known Sanskrit inscriptions in Tamil Grantha script at a rock-cut Hindu Trimurti temple (Mandakapattu, c. 615 CE)
Starting in about the 1st century BCE, Sanskrit has been written in many South Asian, Southeast Asian and Central Asian scripts.
Sanskrit has had a historical presence and influence in many parts of Asia. Above (top clockwise): [i] a Sanskrit manuscript from Turkestan, [ii] another from Miran-China.
[i] a bell with Sanskrit engravings in South Korea [ii] the Kūkai calligraphy of Siddham-Sanskrit in Japan.
[i] the Thai script [ii] a Sanskrit inscription in Cambodia.
The ancient Yūpa inscription (one of the earliest and oldest Sanskrit texts written in ancient Indonesia) dating back to the 4th century CE written by Brahmins under the rule of King Mulavarman of the Kutai Martadipura Kingdom located in eastern Borneo
Sanskrit festival at Pramati Hillview Academy, Mysore, India