Prof. Richard Salomon delivered the eighth lecture titled “Indian Inscriptions: Prakrit, Sanskrit, and Everything Between: The Grand Paradox of Indian Epigraphy” in the series on “Sanskrit Language and its Traditions: A Journey Through its History and Contemporaneity”. The lecture was divided into four sections, starting with “the grand paradox” of Indian Epigraphy and ending with the section on the reasons for development and waning of hybrid dialects.
Even though Sanskrit precedes Prakrit in terms of linguistic history it appears that Prakrit precedes Sanskrit in the case of the earliest surviving documents in Indian languages. This complexity within the linguistic history of Indian languages was highlighted through the expression of “the grand Indian paradox” which Prof. Salomon elaborated in the first section of the lecture. To explain this linguistic paradox and to summarise the linguistic history of Indian epigraphy, Prof. Salomon showed three significant inscriptions on Junagadh rock, which he considered as the most important rock in Indian linguistic history. This included Aśoka’s rock edicts with the Prakrit inscriptions from 3rd century BCE and the Sanskrit inscriptions of King Rudradāman II of 150 CE.
In the second section of the lecture, he outlined the history of Prakrit and Sanskrit in Indian epigraphy. Prof. Salomon gave some examples of the earliest inscriptions in Prakrit which included footprints of Buddha from Tirath and Aśokan pillar at Feroz Shah Kotla. He also discussed some possible reasons for the presence of many inscriptions in local dialects of Prakrit but not in Sanskrit. And then he showed Prakrit inscriptions in Brāhmī script from Bharhut of around 2nd century BCE and some Prakrit inscriptions that appeared as descriptive labels for sculptures. Prof. Salomon discussed the transitional period from Prakrit to Sanskrit that lasted for about three to four centuries. He suggested that one of the oldest manuscripts in Sanskrit was Ghosuṇḍī/ Hāthībāḍā inscriptions of 1st BCE. He explained the presence of “epigraphical hybrid Sanskrit” that marked a gradual shift in the linguistic history of India. To elaborate, he gave the example of Mathurā inscription as a specimen of “epigraphical hybrid Sanskrit”, which had both Sanskrit and Prakrit elements. He refuted the claim of some scholars who had classified this as corrupt Sanskrit written by uneducated people and suggested that the inscriptions of such kind were very common during this transition phase which marked a “linguistic reality”.
In the third section, he discussed the trajectory of Sanskrit and Prakrit. For tracing the linguistic development, he illustrated the presence of Prakrit loan words that were “(re)borrowed” into Sanskrit using loan words. He pointed out the presence of loan words in Ṛgvedic Sanskrit, which he demonstrated using the example of doublets in Ṛgveda. With this, he claimed that Sanskrit and Prakrit developed as parallel streams sharing some internal relationship with constant interaction between them. He suggested that this interaction between these two languages was clearly visible in literary works as it incorporated both the languages.
In the final section, he discussed the reasons for the development of hybrid dialects and the reasons for their disappearance. He took the example of Junagadh rock with the Sanskrit inscriptions of King Rudradāman II and explained the complex relation shared between Sanskrit and Prakrit. The illuminating lecture ended with an active question and answer session.