Sanskrit language was developed in the Indian sub-continent many thousands years back. The area of India and Hindu Kush is the traditional homeland of Sanskrit language. The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region is thought to be the linguistic mega center where linguistic diversity and many of Asia’s most endangered languages including Sanskrit itself were developed, flourished and sustain till date.
According to the Hindu holy books, Sanskrit is the language of god and human being. God gave His instructions to the human beings by using the Sanskrit language. Veda is the first instruction given by Gods in Sanskrit language. It is claimed that the Veda was written before 5000 B.C., but there is no exact evidence to prove when Sanskrit language had come into existence in the Indian sub-continent. After the expansion of Mogul empire in India, Sanskrit language was in crisis as it was replaced by Urdu. With the migration of Hindus, Sanskrit language entered into Nepal and Nepal became the secure home for the Sanskrit language and literature. Nepal had been the center of Hinduism for centuries when the Romans, Moguls and British emperors attacked and ruled modern India for centuries.
The territory of Nepal and the Himalaya is the main hub of Hindu Vedic culture and Sanskrit language. High philosophical influences of Sanskrit language and heritages are found in Nepal. It is the root language of Nepali and other Indo-Aryan languages. So, knowledge of Sanskrit language is essential for the students of Nepali language as well as other Indo-Aryan languages. In the same way, local Nepali culture and ritual practices including Buddhism are also influenced by Sanskrit philosophy (for example, most of the Newari beliefs and practices share the value of Sanskrit Vedic philosophy). Thus, Sanskrit and Vedic heritage is the matter of pride not only for the Hindu people but also the source of human knowledge. Since long time, Sanskrit language has been fallen under crisis in the world. In some cases, it is also identified as a dead language.
In Nepal, Sanskrit language was an official language during the medieval period. The Lichhavi rulers officially followed the Sanskrit language and gave equal position to the local languages. Both Sanskrit and local languages shared the Vedic value and developed in a mutual understanding. Long practices helped establish a unique place for Sanskrit language in Nepal and it became the medium of education and literature. Nepalese education system was dependent on Sanskrit language for the last 70 years. However, with political changes, Sanskrit language began weakening amidst many other linguistic communities.
National Population Census (2011) has produced wrong statistics on Sanskrit language. It shows in few numbers as “second language speakers putting at 2,919 and mother tongue speakers at 1521”. Sanskrit language, thus, could not grasp its secured position as it was utilised as the language of teaching, religion, religious script and medium of observance rather than the language of communication and everyday use.
There are various causes for the weakening position of Sanskrit language though there is separate university for preserving Sanskrit language and philosophy. Misinformation is one of the causes which helped create a misunderstanding among people. People still think that Nepal Sanskrit University as a university of Hindu people and Sanskrit language only imparts education required to perform certain rituals of the Hindus on the occasion of religious and ritual ceremonies. Though Sanskrit is the language of eastern philosophy and heritage that provides knowledge about art, literature, medicine, ancient political system and legal practice and so on, the political parties and civil society have contentions about the value of Sanskrit philosophy on life and they take Sanskrit as unnecessary burden for the nation. Such negative understating is the cause for the gradual decline of Sanskrit language in Nepal.
Another cause is the pressure of western philosophy and English language. Nepal is fertile land of the discussions of the western philosophy though this land is the museum of eastern philosophy.
History shows that after the Mogul attack in India, most of the Sanskrit philosophical texts got shelter in Nepal and the Muslims did not get access to them. So, Nepal became important location for preserving Sanskrit language and philosophy. Western people now want to replace such historical values of Nepal by using so-called scholars and politicians. Common people are unable to understand the systematic hidden purpose and neglect eastern philosophy and Sanskrit language.
Apart from these causes, some of the rigid Hindu practitioners wrongly try to hold ownership of Sanskrit language in the name of Hindu religion that has created problem in sharing the knowledge and philosophy among all who do not follow the Hinduism. Sanskrit is not the language of a single race and religious community; many ethnic communities living in Nepal also share the value of Sanskrit philosophy and use Sanskrit language to express their emotion and feelings. Rigidity and unnecessary assimilation with religious community have created problems to the people of other communities. The condition of the ancient language has further worsened after Nepal become republic in 2008.
It is estimated that at least half of the world’s languages is expected to become extinct in the next century. The death of a language marks the loss of yet another piece of cultural uniqueness from the mosaic of our diverse planet, and is therefore a tragedy for the heritage of all humanity as the death of a language is often compared to “species extinction”. Although some measures are being taken for the promotion of Sanskrit education and preservation of Sanskrit language, due to the limitation of classrooms and religious activities Sanskrit language is going to be an endangered language of the Nepal.