Memorizing Sanskrit mantras may help increase the size of brain regions associated with cognitive function, including memory and thinking skills, says a report in the Scientific American.
The research carried out by a team of scientists from the University of Trento, Italy analyzed a group of verbal memory specialists (professional Vedic pandits) to determine whether there is a link between intensive oral text memory and physical structure of the brain — structural features of hippocampal and lateral-temporal regions implicated in language processing.
Dr. James Hartzell, who studied Sanskrit and Tibetan at Harvard and Columbia Universities, Cognitive Neuroscience at University of Trento and Plant Pathology at University of KwaZulu-Natal, says:
“I spent many years studying and translating Sanskrit, and became fascinated by its apparent impact on mind and memory. In India’s ancient learning methods textual memorization is standard: traditional scholars, or pandits, master many different types of Sanskrit poetry and prose texts; and the tradition holds that exactly memorizing and reciting the ancient words and phrases, known as mantras, enhances both memory and thinking.
I had also noticed that the more Sanskrit I studied and translated, the better my verbal memory seemed to become. Fellow students and teachers often remarked on my ability to exactly repeat lecturers’ own sentences when asking them questions in class. Other translators of Sanskrit told me of similar cognitive shifts. So I was curious: was there actually a language-specific “Sanskrit effect” as claimed by the tradition?
When I entered the cognitive neuroscience doctoral program at the University of Trento (Italy) in 2011, I had the opportunity to start investigating this question. India’s Vedic Sanskrit pandits train for years to orally memorize and exactly recite 3,000-year old oral texts ranging from 40,000 to over 100,000 words. We wanted to find out how such intense verbal memory training affects the physical structure of their brains.”
[Please note that he could be mentioning about Smriti, literally “that which is remembered” are a body of Hindu texts usually attributed to an author, traditionally written down but constantly revised, in contrast to Śrutis , here which date back to eternity as per Hinduism]
Continuing his love and research for Sanskrit, James Hartzell
“Through the India-Trento Partnership for Advanced Research (ITPAR), we recruited professional Vedic pandits from several government-sponsored schools in the Delhi region; then we used structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at India’s National Brain Research Center to scan the brains of pandits and controls matched for age, gender, handedness, eye-dominance and multilingualism.
What we discovered from the structural MRI scanning was remarkable. Numerous regions in the brains of the pandits were dramatically larger than those of controls, with over 10 percent more grey matter across both cerebral hemispheres, and substantial increases in cortical thickness. Although the exact cellular underpinnings of gray matter and cortical thickness measures are still under investigation, increases in these metrics consistently correlate with enhanced cognitive function.
Most interestingly for verbal memory was that the pandits’ right hippocampus—a region of the brain that plays a vital role in both short and long-term memory—had more gray matter than controls across nearly 75 percent of this subcortical structure. Our brains have two hippocampi, one on the left and one on the right, and without them we cannot record any new information. Many memory functions are shared by the two hippocampi. The right is, however, more specialized for patterns, whether sound, spatial or visual, so the large gray matter increases we found in the pandits’ right hippocampus made sense: accurate recitation requires highly precise sound pattern encoding and reproduction. The pandits also showed substantially thickening of right temporal cortex regions that are associated with speech prosody and voice identity.
Does the pandits’ substantial increase in the gray matter of critical verbal memory organs mean they are less prone to devastating memory pathologies such as Alzheimer’s? We don’t know yet, though anecdotal reports from India’s Ayurvedic doctors suggest this may be the case. If so, this raises the possibility that verbal memory “exercising ‘or training might help elderly people at risk of mild cognitive impairment retard or, even more radically, prevent its onset.”
Entire branch in Sanatana Dharma which thrives on memorizing Sanskrit verses:
Smriti, literally “that which is remembered” are a body of Hindu texts usually attributed to an author, traditionally written down but constantly revised, in contrast to Śrutis (the Vedic literature) considered authorless, that were transmitted verbally across the generations and fixed.
Smrti is a Sanskrit word, from the root Smara (स्मर), which means “remembrance, reminiscence, thinking of or upon, calling to mind”, or simply “memory”. The word is found in ancient Vedic literature, such as in section 7.13 of the Chandogya Upanishad.
Along with medical science, Sanskrit continues to amaze Computers:
Rick Briggs, from NASA Ames Research Center, says There is at least one language, Sanskrit, which for the duration of almost 1,000 years was a living spoken language with a considerable literature of its own. Besides works of literary value, there was a long philosophical and grammatical tradition that has continued to exist with undiminished vigor until the present century. Among the accomplishments of the grammarians can be reckoned a method for paraphrasing Sanskrit in a manner that is identical not only in essence but in form with current work in Artificial Intelligence.
Sanskrit, the most well-structured language:
The entire arrangement of sounds in Sanskrit is based on the following:
• The place of its production or pronunciation.
• The effort required to produce it.
• The duration for which it is produced.
• The quality of the sound
When we recite a sound, the air gets translated to sound. When air moves out through the vocal cord, it can be obstructed at different places in the mouth to produce speech sounds. However, one cannot obstruct the air at any position in the mouth where one pleases and generate a sound. There are possible positions in the mouth where the air can be obstructed.
• The first possible position where the air can be obstructed is from where one produces – क (Ka) ख (Kha) ग (Ga) घ (Gha) ङ (ṅa). These sounds are also referred to as Guttrals. At this position, the जिव्हा मूल (Jivha Mula) means the root of the tongue comes in contact with मृदु तालु (Mridu Taalu) means the soft palate and obstructs the air flow. It is not possible to obstruct the flow of air below this position by any human being. Therefore, क (Ka) is not only the first consonantal sound in Sanskrit, but also for the humanity.
• The second possible position is from where the consonants – च (ca), छ (cha), ज (ja), झ (jha), ञ (ña) are produced. At this place, the air is obstructed when the upper middle of the tongue comes in contact with the back of the hard palate. There is space between the first and second positions, however, its not possible to obstruct the air in that space.
• The third possible position is from where we say – ट (ṭa), ठ (ṭha), ड (ḍa), ढ (ḍha), ण (ṇa). The tongue is rolled back to touch its tip to the middle hard palate. They are also referred as Retroflexes.
• The fourth possible position is from where we say – त (ta), थ (tha), द (da), ध (dha), न (na). Here the tip of the tongue touches back of upper teeth when producing these consonants. They are also referred as Dentals.
• The fifth possible position is from where we say – प (pa), फ (pha), ब (ba), भ (bha), म (ma). Here both the lips are pressed together. They are also referred as Labials.
In Sanskrit, there are 13 Vowels – अ (a), आ (aa), इ (i), ई (ii), ऋ (ṛ), ॠ (ṝ), लृ (ḷ), उ (u), ऊ (uu), ए (e), ऎ (ai), ओ (o), औ (au).
Of these 13, 9 are Basic Vowel sounds, they are – अ (a), आ (aa), इ (i), ई (ii), ऋ (ṛ), ॠ (ṝ), लृ (ḷ), उ (u), ऊ (uu).
What other languages of the world will always fail to do:
All the letters of Sanskrit can be used to form a shloka v/s one letter can be used to form entire shloka and their meanings will amaze you!
All letters of Sanskrit in form of a shloka:
कः खगौघाङचिच्छौजा झाञ्ज्ञोऽटौठीडडण्ढणः।
तथोदधीन् पफर्बाभीर्मयोऽरिल्वाशिषां सहः॥
Who is He, the lover of birds, pure in intelligence, expert in stealing the strength of others, leader among the destroyers of the enemies, the steadfast, the fearless, and the one who filled the ocean? He is the king of Maya, the repository of the blessings that can destroy the foes (i.e. Shri Ram).
One letter used to form entire shloka:
कः कौ के केककेकाकः काककाकाककः ककः ।
काकः काकः ककः काकः कुकाकः काककः कुकः ॥
The Supreme God (kaḥ) (Rāma) [is resplendent] on [both] the earth (kau) and in Sāketaloka (ke); from him there is pleasure in the universe and in the sound of the peacock (kekakekākaḥ); he takes pleasure and bliss in the caw of the [Kākabhuśuṇḍi] crow (kākakākākakaḥ); from him there is pleasure for all the worlds (kakaḥ); for him the pain [of exile] is a pleasure (kākaḥ); his crow ([Kākabhuśuṇḍi]) is praiseworthy (kākaḥ); from him there is pleasure for Brahmā (kakaḥ); he calls out [to the devotees] (kākaḥ); from him there is pleasure for Kukā or Sītā (kukākaḥ); he calls out to the [Kākabhuśuṇḍi] crow (kākakaḥ); and from him there are worldly fruits and the bliss of liberation (kukaḥ). ॥ 20.92 ॥
[Padma Vibhushan Jagadguru Rambhadracharya ji writes in his Sanskrit epic poem ‘Sribhargavaraghaviyam’]
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