Difference Between Sanskrit and Pali (With Table)

Language, since the beginning of time, has been a crucial way of communication and survival. Communicating with each other began using signs and has over centuries evolved into verbal as well as written communication that includes usage of multiple languages across the globe. While languages have become redundant today, others continue to grow and evolve. Sanskrit and Pali are two such ancient languages.

Sanskrit vs Pali

The difference between Sanskrit and Pali is that while Sanskrit is known to be from the Indo-Aryan branch of languages, Pali has its roots in the Prakrit branch. The two languages may have similarities, but they differ from each other in terms of their timeline, origin, etc.

Sanskrit is an ancient language that was widely used in the Vedic period. It influenced the Indian religion as well as culture to a great extent. It is revered as a sacred language in Hinduism. Belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of languages, Sanskrit was in fashion across South Asia in ancient times.

Contrasting it, Pali is a language that belongs to the Prakrit branch. It is an ancient language as well but not as old as Sanskrit. Pali was the language that was used by Buddha in his teachings. Most of the works on Buddhism have been written in Pali.

Comparison Table Between Sanskrit and Pali

Parameters of ComparisonSanskritPali
DefinitionKnown as a classical language, Sanskrit is the sacred language of Hindus.Pali is an ancient language that is closely associated with Buddhism.
TimelineSanskrit is an ancient language having its roots in the era between 1500 BCE – 1350 CE. Pali is not as old as Sanskrit. Roughly its timeline could have begun around the 3rd century BC.
Language BranchSanskrit belongs to the branch of Indo-Aryan Languages.Pali has its root in the Prakrit language.
GrammarThe grammar used in the Sanskrit language is comparatively hard to comprehend.Pali is simpler and has an easy to understand grammar.
InfluenceIt had an immense influence on religion and literature, especially in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.Pali was the language in which Lord Buddha gave his sermons and hence its influence is stronger in Buddhism.

What is Sanskrit?

Sanskrit is deemed as the holy language of the Hindu Vedas. It originated in South Asia, and later its influence transcended borders. It is an ancient language that has its roots in the Indo-Aryan branch of languages. The language became prominent as early as 1500 BC.

It is a liturgical language for multiple religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, etc. The earliest of the four Vedas, Rig Veda, has been written in Vedic Sanskrit. Over the course of time, the language evolved as it absorbed various preexisting dialects into it. Also, the language has been used in umpteen texts of Jainism as well as Buddhism.

Epics such as Mahabharata and Ramayana have been written in Sanskrit. Apart from religious scriptures, the language has also been used in plays and dramas like Kalidasa’s Abhijnanasakuntalam. Therefore, the language heavily influenced the culture, religion, and literature of those times.

It does not have a native script, but in the present times, the script that is used is known as Devanagari. Though the usage of Sanskrit has been waning in today’s time, it continues to be a revered language in India. It is to date used in hymns and chants, especially in Hindu and Buddhist cultures.

What is Pali?

 Pali is a language that derives its origin from the Prakrit language or the middle Indo-Aryan branch. It is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. It is known widely because of its association with the sacred Buddhist text called Tripitaka or Pali Canon.

It has been difficult to conclusively establish the origin of Pali but its believed that the earliest connection of the language was with Magahi. Magahi is the language of the kingdom of Magadha. While Pali too is an ancient language, it is not as old as Sanskrit. And it is not considered to be a descendant of Sanskrit.

The earliest inscriptions that were written in Pali date back to the first millennium CE. It is believed that the very name of the language, Pali, came from Theravada commentaries during this period itself. The language has been used by Buddha in his sermons, teachings, and in several works that are marked to be holy in Buddhism.

Despite being an ancient language, very few manuscripts and inscriptions have been found that are written in Pali. Most of the inscriptions that contain Pali as a language is from Pali canon or non-canonical texts. The oldest manuscript that has survived was found in Nepal, which dates back to the 9th century.

Main Differences Between Sanskrit and Pali

  1. Both Sanskrit and Pali are considered to be ancient languages, but Sanskrit is relatively older than Pali.
  2. While Sanskrit has its root in the Indo-Aryan family of languages, Pali has been derived from the Prakrit family of languages.
  3. Sanskrit is considered a sacramental language in the Hindu culture, whereas Pali is deemed to be a liturgical language associated with Buddhism.
  4. Pali is comparatively easier to comprehend as it has a simpler grammar than Sanskrit. The vowels in Sanskrit, “ava” and “aya”, are reduced to “o” and “e” in Pali, making the latter an easy read.
  5. While there is a multitude of Sanskrit texts, epics, scriptures, including the Vedas, the inscriptions and manuscripts have been limited. Pali as a language lacks such diverse vernacular.
  6. The prominence of Sanskrit dates back to 1500 BCE when the first Veda, Rig Veda, was written in this language. On the other hand, Pali gained popularity as a language through the Buddhist teachings and text called Tripitaka.

 Conclusion

Sanskrit and Pali are both ancient languages and even have a similar vocabulary, but at the same time, the two differ in multiple arenas. Sanskrit had and still has its influence on culture, literature, and religion, especially in the Indian subcontinent. It is considered a holy liturgical language in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.

Pali, on the other hand, had its influence mostly on Buddhism. Lord Buddha used Pali to give sermons and teach his disciples. Even the name of the language has been derived from the Buddhist text, Tripitaka, also known as Pali Canon. Pali is comparatively simpler and easier to comprehend.

References

  1. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=cWDhKTj1SBYC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=%22Sanskrit%22&ots=iXtoOqAZAi&sig=e3aGHccRomaTW1DZcc19QksIcAU
  2. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=ztDaDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA117&dq=%22Pali+language%22&ots=nIW4pWEv1-&sig=i0CoLfNAV2DJib4gVt-OzgBGhkY
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