Author Topic: Save Pali, ancient classical Indian language of Buddhism in India  (Read 4008 times)


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In the southern Buddhist tradition, it is believed that the language that the Buddha spoke was not sanskrit but pali. pali is considered the phonetic version of sanskrit, and now India is dropping it off but Sri Lanka uses it as their official language.

Save Pali, ancient classical Indian language of Buddhism in India
Posted on April 17th, 2013
by Prof. Dr. Siddharth Singh,The Buddhist Channel, Apr 16, 2013
New Delhi, India — The Government of India has recently removed Pali – an ancient classical language – as a subject from the main examination of the Civil Services (popularly known as Indian Administrative Services i.e. IAS) of India, 2013, which were  under the purview of the UPSC (Union Public service Commission).

The presence of Pali in this competitive examination was one of the major reasons that attracted many youngsters to opt for Pali and Buddhist Studies. The examination was touted as a major lifeline of the language, and was credited to have played an important role in stemming the decline of Buddhism in its homeland.

Most Indian Buddhist scholars are not aware that the Government of India does not consider Pali as a classical language of India.

In a 2006 press release, Minister of Tourism & Culture Ambika Soni told the Rajya Sabha (upper house of the Indian Parliament) the criteria which were laid down to determine the eligibility of languages to be considered for classification as a “Classical Language”:

“High antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1500-2000 years; A body of ancient literature/texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers; The literary tradition be original and not borrowed from another speech community; The classical language and literature being distinct from modern, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.”

Activists have argued that the Pali language and literature fulfils the above criteria. Pali, the language used to encapsulate the Buddha’s teachings as contained in the Tipitaka, is a treasure trove of Buddhist knowledge and has become an important carrier of Buddhist propagation throughout the world. The latest setback has the potential of suffocating Buddhist growth in its own homeland.

Activists contend that the standpoint of the Indian government is illogical, unjustified and reflects ignorance of the Indian bureaucratic system and political leadership towards its own heritage.

The removal of Pali by UPSC and non-recognition of Pali as an Indian classical language calls for strong protests not only by those who are related with Pali and Buddhist Studies but also by all those who study, respect or relate themselves with Indology or Buddhism in whatever ways.

A petition has been organised to mount pressure on the Government of India to take the following actions:

Include Pali as a classical language of India
Withdraw the decision of removing Pali Language & Literature from the Civil Services Examination conducted by Union Public service Commission (UPSC) of India.
Supporters of the Pali language are urged to write to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India. His address is as follows:


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Re: Save Pali, ancient classical Indian language of Buddhism in India
« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2013, 06:11:59 AM »
Just as Tibetan language is synonyms with Tibetan Buddhism, Pali language is synonyms with the Theravadan Buddhism.  These languages are unique and special as they have been used for centuries to record the teachings of the Buddha.  These languages are also considered holy as they are imbued with the blessing of the enlightened speech of the Buddhas! How fortunate indeed for the people of India who knows the Pali language as they can gain insights into the profound teachings of the Buddha!

It is unfortunate that Buddhism has degenerated in India since Lord Buddha’s turning of the Wheel of Dharma 2500 years ago.  Now we see further decline in another form! 

May the Pali language be preserved and kept alive!


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Re: Save Pali, ancient classical Indian language of Buddhism in India
« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2013, 10:24:44 AM »
Pali, a Middle Indian language, was close to Magadhi, the language of Magadha. It is believed that the Buddha used Magadhi in his teachings. By using the vernacular instead of Sanskrit which was understood only by scholars, the Buddha was able to make his teachings popular.

Pali originally meant "line", i.e. the line that separated an original text from the commentary that was written underneath. The text would be called "Pali-bhasa", a term that was later used to name the language in which it was written. Pali was carried by missionaries at some stage to Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

The Pali Canon is based on oral tradition, containing the teaching of the Buddha. Thus Pali became the canonical language for Buddhists from several countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. The irony is that the citizens of these countries could not read Pali. It was not until the Canon was translated into the vernaculars could ordinary people read the scriptures for themselves.

In the 19th Century, Western scholars like Dr and Mrs Rhys Davids, who founded the Pali Text Society in 1881, started translating the Pali Canon into English and made it available to the English-speaking world.

Pali has become the sacred language of the Theravadins since the Pali Canon itself and the commentaries on it were written in the language. In Sri Lanka, Sinhala is the mother tongue of the Singhalese, not Pali. Sanskrit is the preferred language for Buddhists of the Mahayana traditions. By adopting Sanskrit, writers of Mahayana Buddhism were able to reconnect with Hindu scholarship.

I think it is good to preserve Pali for the sake of preserving Buddhist studies. How can a language be preserved unless it is taught and spoken? Well, it is no longer spoken but it can still be protected from becoming completely extinct as long as it is valued as a language of religion, like Sanskrit, Latin, and Classical Arabic. One way is to offer it as a subject in the monasteries and universities so that monks and scholars can still learn it in order to understand the old scriptures written in Pali.


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Re: Save Pali, ancient classical Indian language of Buddhism in India
« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2013, 12:53:12 PM »
Pali is the language used to preserve the Buddhist Canon of the Theravada Buddhism tradition,which is regarded as the oldest complete collection of Buddhist text surviving in an Indian language.
It is closely related to Sanskrit,but it's grammar and structure are simpler.Traditional Theravadins regard Pali as the language spoken by the Buddha himself.Pali was probably a synthetic language created from several vernaculars to make the Buddhist text comprehensible to Buddhist monks living in different parts of Northern India,in the opinion of leading linguistic scholars.
Pali has been used almost exclusively for Buddhist teachings and it should be preserved for Buddhist studies,
although it was already forgotten in India at that time.