A Synopsis by Amrutha MK (Research Associate, NIAS) – on “Sanskrit in the South: Vernacular in Sanskrit, Sanskrit in Vernacular, and the Strange and the Beautiful Case of Maṇipravāḷam”
Lecture given by Prof. David Shulman on 24 February 2021

Series Title: Sanskrit Language & its Traditions: A Journey Through its History and Contemporaneity
Organised by: NIAS Consciousness Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India
Email: niasconsciousnessprogramme@nias.res.in 

Prof. David Shulman delivered a lecture on the topic “Sanskrit in the South: Vernacular in Sanskrit, Sanskrit in Vernacular, and the Strange and the Beautiful Case of Maṇipravāḷam” as the sixth lecture in the series on “Sanskrit Language and its Traditions: A Journey Through its History and Contemporaneity”. The lecture was mainly on the following three questions. 1) Why compose in Sanskrit?, 2) What kind of Sanskrit is it?, and 3) What do we mean by “Sanskrit”?
Prof. Shulman began the presentation with a discussion on the role of Sanskrit in the vernacular languages of southern India. He laid out an intimate and intricate relationship between Sanskrit and the vernacular languages. In the lecture, he outlined some motivating ideas and suggested certain possibilities for choosing to write in Sanskrit by certain vernacular writers. To elucidate this, he recited verses from Kuṟuntŏkai collection by the poet Miḷaippĕruṅkantaṉ, Mahābhāratamu of Nannaya, Vasucaritramu of Bhaṭṭumūrti, Naiṣadhamu of Śrīnātha and, Naiṣadhīyacarita of Śrīharṣa. To mention, some Tamil and Telugu verses contained tiny bits of Sanskrit words embedded in them, whereas some other verses were heavily taken from Sanskrit corpus yet considered as vernacular verses.
Prof. Shulman suggested that inserting a Sanskrit word in a vernacular verse was not an entirely innocent literary practice. On the contrary, people writing poetry or Śāstra in south Indian languages had the advantage of using readily available, highly precise, and elaborate vocabulary in Sanskrit. He argued that it set up a kind of nuanced complexity that was built into Sanskrit words. Certain advantages Sanskrit had over vernacular languages were that Sanskrit words had transparent clarity, specific gravity, precision, and cultural weight associated with them, he said. Sanskrit words stood out in vernacular verses because these words came with intertextual resonance. There was a wide range of potential association that came along with the mere choice and use of Sanskrit words in vernacular verses. Besides, there were also phono-aesthetic elements associated with them. According to Prof. Shulman, another reason for using Sanskrit in a verse by vernacular poets was that it allowed for playful intensification, amplification, and resonance. Another way to achieve depth in the verse was through reconfigured syntax and shift in emphasis by changing the placement of phrases to produce colloquial effects. This produced a kind of charm in the intertext. That kind of interplay had a linguistic richness and an aesthetic impact in the simplified vernacular verse.
To discuss the question, what kind of Sanskrit it was, Prof. Shulman took an example of Udārarāghava of Śākalya Malla, He suggested that the morphological aspect had re-emerged in Śākalya Malla’s texts because his spoken language had morphological aspects and it was built into the verbal system. All Indian languages were rich in morphological modality, he said. They existed in Sanskrit too, but that kind of nuanced and complex modality that was found in spoken Indian languages was not usually noticed when we read Sanskrit. Prof. Shulman suggested that Śākalya Malla loved to use archaic forms in his writing and pleased our minds. He juxtaposed slightly weird forms with a very simple colloquial kind of language. Prof. Shulman said that the author’s proximity to the native mother tongue or the spoken language immediately became transparent if we knew that vernacular language. Sanskrit of a poet like Śākalya Malla was not a mother tongue for him. He did not grow up speaking Sanskrit. Neither was it a kind of father tongue for him. Therefore, Prof. Shulman called it a stepmother tongue. It was a living language with all the attributes of living vernacular languages, he clarified.
In the final section, Prof. Shulman discussed the classical language in its local inflections with the case of Maṇipravāḷam, a kind of combination of Sanskrit and vernacular. It existed in different forms, but its most well-known form was from Kerala. Kerala had rich Maṇipravāḷam literature, including a grammar text called Līlātilakam. One of the necessary features of Maṇipravāḷam as explained by Prof. Shulman was that it should include Sanskrit with Sanskrit conjugational ending forms. Another prominent feature was that Sanskrit and Malayalam should blend in such a way that it should feel like Malayalam. There should be harmony between Sanskrit elements and Malayalam elements, he opined. To explain these points, he recited verses from a 16th-century Maṇipravāḷam text Candrolsavam. The lecture was followed by an engaging and lively question and answer session.
Lecture Synopsis Author: Amrutha MK, Team NIAS CSP

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