Tap to Read ➤

Influence of Sanskrit on English

Saurin Desai
What has been the influence of Sanskrit on English? And what are the words that are derived from this ancient Hindu language from Northern India?
English, a Germanic Language of the 'Indo-European' Family is the 2nd most spoken language with over 500 million fluent speakers. It’s truly a cosmopolitan language in the sense that it has and still borrows heavily from other languages, enriching itself in the process to an extent that it probably has more words in active usage than any other language.
Languages like French, Greek, Latin, Arabic and Spanish have heavily influenced English but the words that we will consider here have been derived from Sanskrit, an ancient Hindu language from Northern India.
Sanskrit is an Indic language belonging to the Indo-Iranian group of languages and is the precursor of languages like Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, and Marathi amongst others. Even Urdu has been influenced by it. Of all the words, two words are perhaps more famous or rather infamous than the others, Aryan and Swastika.


Aryan, derived from the root 'Arya' (also meaning noble) refers to people of Indo-European dialect or origin who migrated into Northern India and considered themselves to be noble and therefore superior to the cultures that they invaded. They were fierce and warlike nomads.
Hitler and the Nazis later used the same concept to denote the Germans as being superior and nobler and thus a purer breed. The Nazis believed that the "Nordic people" represented a "pure race" which was the perfect representation of the original race who were then known as the Proto-Aryans.
It's an equilateral cross with all the arms bent at right angles to the right (clockwise) is thought to represent fascism and is seen as a symbol of Nazism and anti-Semitism by most Westerners.
It's actually a good luck symbol, symbolizing the sun as well as noble qualities and is derived from 'svast', which means 'well-being' or 'to be well' (su - well & as - to be). Although the swastika is a Hindu symbol and was first mentioned in Vedas, it's used in other religions like Buddhism and Jainism.
One of the words that has its base in Sanskrit is Mandala and is derived from 'mandalam', meaning circle. A Hindu and Buddhist religious symbol, it is used as a meditative tool and can be any one of the many ceremonial geometric designs representing the cosmos, especially a circle enclosing a square with the image of a God on each side.
A word or more appropriately a philosophy that has taken the Western world by storm is Yoga.
Literally meaning union or joining, i.e. the union of the mind, body and soul, it is a Hindu discipline, philosophy or system of breath control, meditation and body postures that purify the trinity of mind, body & soul, and helps achieve control over them.
For those of you who are aware of the principles of Buddhism, Dharma will be a familiar concept.
Akin to the Latin firmus or firm, Dharma is a righteous way of living and fulfilling one's duty as per the Hindu laws. According to Hinduism, following your Dharma is essential for the continued existence and well-being of an individual as well as the universe.
It is comparatively easy to achieve what you want in life if you have the mentoring of an expert, i.e. a Guru.
Originally a guide in spiritual, religious and philosophical matters, Guru now stands for an expert in any field, chiefly intellectual and philosophical. It is derived from the Sanskrit 'guruh', meaning heavy or grave and means teacher in Hindi & Punjabi.
Spiritual Gurus normally stay far away from the hustle-bustle as it is difficult to achieve peace and perfect happiness (Nirvana) if you are surrounded by the materialistic world at all times. An Ashram is a hermitage, i.e. a Hindu religious retreat or a secluded dwelling where sages stay and meditate. It is derived from 'srama' meaning religious exercise.
Related to Guru is a Pundit. Originally, he was a scholar, well-versed in the Hindu philosophy including the Vedas and would conduct religious ceremonies. A Pundit now denotes any person who is an expert in a field and is looked upon as a source of opinion on that subject. It is derived from the Sanskrit 'pandita', which means learned.
Nirvana itself is a Sanskrit word and is a state of ultimate bliss reached after all our earthly desires have been overcome.
It also represents the final state of being in Buddhism where there is neither pain nor suffering but only perfect happiness. Nirvana literally means to extinguish (nis - out and vati - it blows), as in to extinguish all desires.


A Sutra is a set of rules in Sanskrit literature (philosophy) on various subjects and as per the Hindu laws. Spiritual discourses of the Buddha are also known by the same name. Sutram means thread or string and thus a continuation of thoughts.