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Swami Harshananda on Samskriti – Prakriti – Vikriti and Samskara

Let us first understand what we mean by the word ‘culture.’ Since it is being widely used as the equivalent of the Sanskrit term samskriti, it is better to study this word first, its connotations and implications. The verbal root kr (to do) can give rise to several nouns when associated with certain prefixes. Out of these, three words have a direct bearing on our subject:  prakriti (basic matter or condition), samskriti (refined matter or condition) and vikrti (modified or decayed matter or condition).

A block of stone is prakriti, the basic raw material. When it is sculptured into a beautiful image, it becomes samskriti.

Hence, a lump of gold is prakriti; an elegant ornament made out of it is samskriti.

Raw food articles like rice and sugar are prakriti, whereas a delicious pudding prepared out of them is samskriti.

On the other hand, if the block of stone is broken into chips, or the gold lump reduced to powder, or the food articles get putrefied, they become vikriti.

Another expression current in the Sanskrit language is samskara. It refers to the
process of cultivating, preparing or refining (though the word samskara also means an impression on the mind which any action one does). The abstract quality in the end product of refinement is called samskriti. But very often the two words are used as if they are identical.

Swami Harshananda is a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order. His monumental work A Concise Encyclopaedia of Hinduism was published in 2008.