Sanskrit   is   unique   among   the   world's   languages  for at   least  three   reasons.   First,   it   is among   the   oldest, if   not   indeed   the   oldest.   As   the   language   of     India's   scriptures, the   Vedas,   it   goes   back   to   3000   BC   according   to   some   scholars,   and   to   more   remote   antiquity, according   to   Indian   tradition.   Secondly,   it  possessed  a scientific linguistic   structure,     extensive vocabulary   and   expressive   power   that   produced   from the earliest times,  a literature   of an   extraordinary   range,   depth and   volume   not   excelled   by   any   other   culture   of   the   world.   And   thirdly,   it   has   largely   retained   a consistencyand   continuity   of   structure   and   content   through successive millenia despite   being   maintained   almostwholly   by being   memorised   and  transmitted   orally by  successive   generations.
    Only one transition   in  structure   and   content  is recognised  in   the historical   development   of   the   language . This is   attributed   to   the   grammarian   Panini   who, around   the   5th   Century   BC,  perfected   its   grammatical   structure.   Thename   Sanskrit,  indeed  means   perfected,   in   contradistinction   toPrakrit, which  means   natural,  and refers to the natural unrefined, colloquial usage  of  all  other   local   dialects of the time. Sanskrit before and after Panini are referred to as Vedic and Classical Sanskrit respectively.
    The   earliest known  form   of   Indian   writing   (barring   the   earlier   Indus   Valley   script   which   is yet   to   be   deciphered)   was   the   Brahmi   script,  and   it's earliest  known use dates back to the time of Buddha in the 5th Century BC. This was   used   by     the   prevailing   languages including  Sanskrit which was used by the followers of the Vedic religion,  and   Pali   which was   used   in   the   Buddhist   and   Jain scriptures. One of the earliest inscriptions in this script known to us is the   Rock   inscription   of   Asoka   at   Girnar   in   Gujarat, dating back to 257 BC. Modern   India   owes   an   enormous   debt   of   gratitude   tothe   brilliant   English   scholar   James   Prinsep (1799  -  1840)   for   completely   deciphering   the   Brahmi   script   as   seen   in   this   table,   and also  establishing how   the   scripts   of   most   of   the   Indian   languages   of   today   are   derived   from  this ancient Brahmi andit's local variants.

    The following images show the complete Brahmi alphabet as it is known today :

    The  characters of the Nagari  script as we know  it today    got   standardised   for Sanskrit   from  around the   3rd   Century  AD   It   is interesting   to   see   from   the   table   below,   how  these characters were  represented about six centuries earlier  in   Brahmi,   in  the   Rock   inscription   of   Asoka   at   Girnar.

VOWELS     :
 a   ˜  i   Ÿ  u  ¨        ¾  ai  Ì   au  aР a×
 A   Aa  #   $   %   ^           @   @e  Aae    AaE   A<    A>
  --- --  ------- - --------- 
Gutturals  :-------- ka kha ga gha ða(originating from the throat)
--------------------- k   o  g   "   '
Palatals :----------- ca cha ja jhaña(originating from the palate)
--------------------- c  D   j   H  |
Cerebrals :--------- ÷a ÷ha ýa ýhaõa (originating from the roof of the mouth)
---------------------- q   Q   f   F  [
Dentals  :----------- ta tha da dhana(originating from the teeth)
---------------------- t  w   d   x   n
Labials  :------------ pa-pha-ba-bha-ma(originating from the lips)
---------------------- p   )   b   -   m
Semi-vowels  :------ ya ra  la va ha(originating from different points)
 --------------------- y    r   l  v   h
Sibilants  : ---------- þa   sa   ÿa       (originating as a hissing sound)
---------------------- z     s     ;
    What   is   immediately   striking   in   this   table   is   the   remarkable   phonetic   structure   of   the Sanskrit   language   and   how   it's   comprehensive   range   of   phonetic   values   had   largely   been   well established   on   a   scientific   basis   even   at   the   time   of   it's   first   known  use  of   written   representation through   the   Brahmi   script.   The   vowel   and   consonant   sets,   with   the   vowels   sounded  mainly by   the breath   alone,   and   the   consonants   scientifically   grouped   according   to   where   or   how   their   sounds  originated in the mouth,  together   with   their   aspirate variants   and  the  sibilants, showa   remarkable   insight   into   phonetic - based linguistic   principles   that   would   suggest   evolution   over   several  prior  millenia.

    The related text of Asoka's Rock Inscription at Girnar can be seen by following  the link given below. How close it is to the Sanskrit of those times, will be readily recognizable.  The textual content, of course, has it's own charm, evidencingthe extraordinary concern of one of India's greatest kings for the welfare of man and animal alike.

    Not   less   remarkable in the development of Sanskrit  was  it's  streamlining  effectedby   Panini  in the 5th Century BC,  by   way   of   standardising  the rulesof how   composite syllables   and  composite  words   were   to   be   formed, establishing a comprehensive vocabulary of word roots, and  establishing  a scientific grammar   of   extraordinary excellence, setting out the rules of word usagein the language. The standard compilations of  the Dhatu Patha (Verb roots), the Sabda Kosha (Noun forms) and the Amara Kosha (Thesaurus-Dictionary) along with the traditional disciplines  like Siksha (Phonetics), Chandas (Metric composition), Nirukta (Etymology), etc. provided a comprehensive rule base for
correct usage, not excelled in any other language. All these   have   enabled   the   language   to   yield   a   phenomenal   volume,range   and   depth of   literature on   every   conceivable   subject,   while ensuring   that   the   language   retained it's pristine   purity   over   themillenia.   Our   other   presentations   in   this Website   provide   impressive examples   of   this.   This   presentation   howeveris   limited   only   to providing   a   brief   overview   of   the language and it's basic  features,   which   has   enabled   it   to   stand   the   test   of   time.