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Classical Sanskrit was spoken in South Asia and is a member of the Indo-Aryan language family, which is a branch of the Indo-European language family. It is thought to have originated in South Asia, after the spread of its ancestor languages there from the northwest during the late Bronze Age. The holy language of Hinduism, Sanskrit is also the language of Buddhist and Jain historical writings as well as the language of traditional Hindu philosophy. It was a link language in ancient and mediaeval South Asia, and as a result of the transmission of Hindu and Buddhist culture to Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Central Asia in the early mediaeval era, it became a language of religion and high culture, as well as the language of the political elites in some of these regions. Because of this, Sanskrit had a significant and long-lasting influence on the languages spoken in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia, particularly in the languages' acquired and formal vocabulary.

The term "Sanskrit" may refer to a number of different Old Indo-Aryan linguistic types. The Rig Veda is a collection of 1,028 hymns that were composed between 1500 BCE and 1200 BCE by Indo-Aryan tribes that were migrating east from what is now Afghanistan across northern Pakistan and into northern India. The Vedic Sanskrit found in this collection is the most archaic of these languages. In addition, the old Dravidian languages had an impact on Sanskrit's pronunciation and grammar. Vedic Sanskrit was a language that interacted with the ancient languages that were already spoken on the subcontinent. As a result, it absorbed the names of newly discovered plant and animal species. Classical Sanskrit was a refined and standardised grammatical form that emerged in the middle of the first millennium BCE and was codified in the most comprehensive of ancient grammars, the Adhyy of Pini (which literally translates to "Eight chapters"). Sanskrit can also be used as a more narrow term to refer to Classical Sanskrit. The greatest playwright in Sanskrit, Klidsa, wrote in ancient Sanskrit, and the roots of modern mathematics were originally defined in classical Sanskrit. Klidsa's writings are considered to be some of the most important in the language. However, the Mahbharata and the Ramayana, the two most important epics written in Sanskrit, were authored in a variety of oral storytelling registers termed Epic Sanskrit. These registers were utilised in northern India between 400 BCE and 300 CE and were approximately contemporaneous with classical Sanskrit. In the centuries that followed, Sanskrit turned into a language steeped in tradition; hence, it ceased to be taught as a first language, and it eventually ceased to evolve as a living language.

There are many striking parallels between the hymns of the Rigveda and the oldest ancient poetry of the Iranian and Greek language families, namely the Gathas of old Avestan and Homer's Iliad. As a single text without variant readings, the Rigveda was orally transmitted using methods of memorization that were exceptional in their complexity, rigour, and fidelity. As a result, its preserved archaic syntax and morphology are of vital importance in the reconstruction of the common ancestor language Proto-Indo-European. Since the turn of the first millennium CE, Sanskrit has been written in a variety of Brahmic characters, and in the contemporary day, Devanagari is the script that is most widely used to write the language. 

Its placement in the Eighth Schedule languages of the Constitution of India is recognition of Sanskrit's status, purpose, and position in India's cultural history. However, despite efforts to revitalise the language, Sanskrit is not used as a primary language anywhere in India at this time. In each of India's previous decennial censuses, several thousand persons have declared that Sanskrit is their mother tongue, although the numbers are assumed to imply a want to be connected with the prestige of the language. Sanskrit is considered to be one of the most ancient languages in the world. Since ancient times, the Sanskrit language has been taught in traditional gurukulas, and it is still frequently taught at the secondary school level today. Benares Sanskrit College, which was established in 1791 when the East India Company was in control of India, has the title of the world's oldest Sanskrit university. Sanskrit is still often used in Hindu and Buddhist chants and hymns, where it has a ceremonial and ritualistic function in both religions.