THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Incredible Indian-Lithuanian relations
Professor Lokesh Chandra (84), one of India’s leading experts on Sanskrit and Buddhism
It’s early morning in Delhi. I have been invited to the small, dark office of Professor Lokesh Chandra, one of India’s leading experts on Sanskrit and Buddhism. “The same year I was born, 1927, my father went to London to get a degree in Lithuanian language. He spoke the language fluently, but he never visited Lithuania,” tells the elderly professor, still with his Kashmir coat and cap on despite the outside temperature of close to 300 Celsius.
I soon learn that the professor’s knowledge about the connections between Old Sanskrit and Lithuanian language and ancient cultural ties between India and Lithuania is nothing but amazing. He confirms that there since ancient times have been unique ties between India and Lithuania, not only with regards to language. Also the songs, the medieval cultures and more were extraordinary closely connected to each other.
Here is what he tells me this early morning at his New Delhi office: “The very mention of Lithuanian opens up an image, a vision that gives a people their identity through language. It shows how the darkness of dreams becomes the new embodied hope. My father was stimulated and strengthened in his work on the development of Hindi by the history of Lithuanian language. It has been the eternal continuity of these people; - it rustles something deep in their being. My father felt that we in India share with our distant Lithuanian brothers the silent geography of lost frontiers. Political freedom is inseparable from language.”
And the professor continues with his amazing story: “My father would relate how grandmas in the remote villages narrated folk-tales to eager grandchildren in their Lithuanian language which was despised by the Slavised nobility and punished by the Czarist regime. My father also told me how the Lithuanian daina (songs) were abandoned by the courts, but still continued to live on in the villages, faithfully preserved by the poorest people of Lithuania, guarded by the mothers of the families even during the darkest periods of Lithuania’s history.”
“Such was my first contact with Lithuania, in 1937, at an age of ten,” smiles Professor Chandra.
Sanskrit and Lithuanian are closely related
Since the 19th century, when the similarity between Lithuanian and Sanskrit was discovered, Lithuanians have taken a particular pride in their mother tongue as the oldest living Indo-European language. To this day, to some Lithuanians their understanding of their nationality is based on their linguistic identity. It is no surprise then that they proudly quote the French linguist Antoine Meillet, who said, that anyone who wanted to hear old Indo-European should go and listen to a Lithuanian farmer. The 19th century maxim - the older the language the better - is still alive in Lithuania.
Professor Shashiprabha Kumar, and her amazing team of specialists at the Centre for Sanskrit Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, is convinced that there is a very strong connection between Old Sanskrit and Lithuanian
It is a common belief that there is a close similarity between the Lithuanian and Sanskrit languages; Lithuanian being the European language grammatically closest to Sanskrit. It is not difficult to imagine the surprise of the scholarly world when they learned that even in their time somewhere on the Nemunas River lived a people who spoke a language as archaic in many of its forms as Sanskrit itself. Although it was not exactly true that a professor of Sanskrit could talk to Lithuanian farmers in their language, coincidences between these two languages are truly amazing, for example:
SON: Sanskrit sunus - Lithuanian sunus
SHEEP: Sanskrit avis - Lithuanian avis
SOLE: Sanskrit padas - Lithuanian padas
MAN: Sanskrit viras - Lithuanian vyras
SMOKE: Sanskrit dhumas - Lithuanian dumas
These Lihuanian words have not changed their forms for the last five thousand years.
The relationship between Sanskrit and Lithuanian goes even deeper. Take, for example, the Lithuanian word 'daina' that usually is translated as 'song'. The word actually comes from an Indo-European root, meaning ‘to think, to remember, to ponder over’. This root is found in Sanskrit as dhi and dhya. The word also occurs in the Rigveda (ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns) in the sense of ‘speech reflecting the inner thoughts of man’.
Apart from its Indo-European background as word and term, the ‘daina’ incorporates the idea of the Sun-Goddess who was married to the Moon-God, reminiscent of goddess Surya in the Rigveda.
OM (also spelled AUM) is a Hindu sacred sound that is considered the greatest of all mantras.
The syllable OM is composed of the three sounds a-u-m (in Sanskrit, the vowels a and u combine
to become o) and the symbol's threefold nature is central to its meaning.
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