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Specialty of Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Literature

Before the publication of Franklin Edgertons Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary (1953), the language of scriptures of the Northern Buddhists such as the Mahavastu, the Lalitvistara, the Divyavadana, etc was known as Buddhist Sanskrit. The early Buddhist scriptural works that see to have been produced in the northern half of the sub-continent of India are either in Middle Indo Aryan i.e Prakrit or in a style of Sanskrit minus the standards set by Panini. These northern Buddhist texts do not represent any identical language. They are a mix of Prakrit and Sanskrit and formed from non homogenous words. A proper study reveals that the Buddhist Sanskrit is not a hybrid language and though the overall pattern is like Sanskrit, it is free from the rigid pattern set by Sanskrit grammarians. Buddhist Sanskrit has always been a general language spoken by common people who were not aspiring for any brahmanical scholarship or veneration. It was an unstable literary language

that varied as per time and place. Hence it is incorrect to call such a language as hybrid. Buddhist Sanskrit was not an artificially made up language fashioned by fusing Sanskrit and Prakrit. Any language whether spoken or literary borrows its vocabulary. In case of Buddhist Sanskrit, it borrows heavily from both Sanskrit and Prakrit. Buddhist Sanskrit was used as an administrative language in Madhyadesha by Kanishka and his successors. We have come to know through our understanding of Buddhist history that an enormous amount of Buddhist literature was created in Sanskrit, beginning right after the

Buddhas Mahaparinirvana, continuing up to the 12th century AD in India. Out of this vast literature, comprising several thousand texts, only a portion was translated into Tibetan between the 7th and 15th centuries and into Chinese between the 2nd and 11th centuries. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, the great treasure of Buddhist literature in Sanskrit was lost or destroyed due to various developments over the course of history. An exhaustive history of the Sanskrit Buddhist literature has long been needed. The reasons behind the scarcity of research into

Sanskrit Buddhist literature are many. One of the major reasons is the disappearance of Buddhism from most of India and the unavailability of the original Sanskrit Buddhist works. In 1824, Mr. Brian Hodgson, a British diplomat, discovered a great number of Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts in Nepal and reported their existence to the modern world. The existence of these texts was unknown to the rest of the world before his time, and his discovery completely revolutionized the understanding of

Buddhism among Europeans in the early part of the nineteenth century. With regard to the situation at this time, Prof. Jaya Deva Singh observes in his Introduction to Madhyamika Philosophy: Books on Mahayana Buddhism were completely lost in India. Their translations existed in Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan. Mahayana literature was written mostly in Sanskrit and mixed Sanskrit. Scholars who have made a study of Buddhism hardly suspected that there were also books on Buddhism in Sanskrit. Similarly, Suniti Kumar Chatterji writes: One great service the people of Nepal did, particularly the highly civilized Newars of the

Nepal Valley, was to preserve the manuscripts of Mahayana Buddhist literature in Sanskrit. It was the contribution of Sri Lanka to have preserved for humankind the entire mass of the Pali literature of Theravada Buddhism. This went also to Burma, Cambodia, and Siam. It was similarly the great achievement of the people of Nepal to have preserved the equally valuable original Sanskrit texts of Mahayana Buddhism. This Himalayan Kingdom not only played an important role in the expansion of Buddhism but also in the preservation of various ancient Buddhist traditions and texts. Mahayana / Vajrayana texts preserved in Nepalmany of which are available nowhere else in the worldare of immense significance to the study and development of Buddhism. Buddhism already existed in the Himalayan region before the Ashokan period. During the course of time, Vajrayna Buddhism became a dominant form of Buddhism in Nepal. Eminent Indian monks from great Indian Universities such as Nalanda, Somapuri and Vikramsila fled to Nepal, bringing along a large number of Sanskrit texts, which were soon massively copied by Nepalese Buddhists. The tradition of copying texts was regarded as an act

of merit among Nepalese Buddhists, and this was the main reason that Nepal came to have such a huge collection of Buddhist manuscripts. Ordinary (lay) Buddhists purchased those texts and used them for religious purposes. Most are written in Sanskrit, using Newari, Ranjana, Bhujimol and Devanagari scripts. The manuscripts, written on palm leaves and collected in birch bark folios, are preserved intact and are in surprisingly good condition. The Sanskrit literature in Buddhism, however, is by no means exclusively Mahayana. The Hinayana also possessed a canon of its own and a rich literature in Sanskrit. Style: The meter of Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit verses throws a flood of light on the phonology of the language, and must therefore be carefully analyzed. Unfortunately it has always been misunderstood. (pg.197)