Etymology and nomenclature
Historic Sanskrit manuscripts: a religious text (top), and a medical text.
In Sanskrit verbal adjective sáṃskṛta- is a compound word consisting of sam (together, good, well, perfected) and krta- (made, formed, work). It connotes a work that has been "well prepared, pure and perfect, polished, sacred". According to Biderman, the perfection contextually being referred to in the etymological origins of the word is its tonal--rather than semantic--qualities. Sound and oral transmission were highly valued qualities in ancient India, and its sages refined the alphabet, the structure of words and its exacting grammar into a "collection of sounds, a kind of sublime musical mold", states Biderman, as an integral language they called Sanskrit. From the late Vedic period onwards, state Annette Wilke and Oliver Moebus, resonating sound and its musical foundations attracted an "exceptionally large amount of linguistic, philosophical and religious literature" in India. Sound was visualized as "pervading all creation", another representation of the world itself; the "mysterious magnum" of Hindu thought. The search for perfection in thought and the goal of salvation were among the dimensions of sacred sound, and the common thread that weaved all ideas and inspirations became the quest for what the ancient Indians believed to be a perfect language, the "phonocentric episteme" of Sanskrit.
Sanskrit as a language competed with numerous, less exact vernacular Indian languages called Prakritic languages (prākṛta-). The term prakrta literally means "original, natural, normal, artless", states Franklin Southworth. The relationship between Prakrit and Sanskrit is found in Indian texts dated to the 1st millennium CE. Patañjali acknowledged that Prakrit is the first language, one instinctively adopted by every child with all its imperfections and later leads to the problems of interpretation and misunderstanding. The purifying structure of the Sanskrit language removes these imperfections. The early Sanskrit grammarian Daṇḍin states, for example, that much in the Prakrit languages is etymologically rooted in Sanskrit, but involve "loss of sounds" and corruptions that result from a "disregard of the grammar". Daṇḍin acknowledged that there are words and confusing structures in Prakrit that thrive independent of Sanskrit. This view is found in the writing of Bharata Muni, the author of the ancient Nāṭyaśāstra text. The early Jain scholar
Namisādhu acknowledged the difference, but disagreed that the Prakrit language was a corruption of Sanskrit. Namisādhu stated that the Prakrit language was the pūrvam (came before, origin) and that it came naturally to women and children, while Sanskrit was a refinement of Prakrit through "purification by grammar".