14. Language of the Gods
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How did Sanskrit become a language of power and knowledge, patronised by everyone from kings to monks through half of Asia for a thousand years?
By the 4th century CE and the campaigns of Samudra-Gupta, the usage of Sanskrit was flourishing across Indian courtly settings. The Guptas patronised and nurtured that trend, transforming it into an aspect of political power that had appeal far, far, beyond the subcontinent. This is the story of how the Guptas used Sanskrit's splendid syllables to turn language itself into masterful political messaging.
Voice Credits & Notes Below.
Voice Credits (in order of appearance):
Samudragupta's inscription 1, Yuga-Purana - Abbas
Narrator - Anirudh
Gautami Balasri - Zoya
Samudragupta's inscription 2 - Jaanam
Inscriptions are from BHANDARKAR, D R. Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol 3 (Revised): Inscriptions Of The Early Gupta Kings. New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1981. I have taken the liberty of tweaking the translation to better preserve the rhythmic feel of the original.
Though the Sanskrit Cosmopolis is itself an old idea, the most magisterial work on it has been done by Sheldon Pollock in his The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India. Univ of California Press, 2006. This was the primary source for his episode.
On the ethical and literary culture of courts, see Ali, Daud. “Aristocratic Body Techniques in Early Medieval India.” In Rethinking a Milennium: Perspectives on Indian History from the Eighth to the Eighteenth Century, edited by Rajat Datta. Aakar.
For general reading on courts, I highly recommend Ali, Daud. Courtly Culture and Political Life in Early Medieval India. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
I quote Hank Heifetz from his 2014 translation of Kalidasa's Kumarasambhavam: The Origin of the Young God. It's on Amazon.