Category Archives: Panini-Yaska

Yaska and Panini – Part Four

Continued from Part Three


As its very name indicates, the Astadhyayi comprises Eight (Asta) Chapters (Adhyaya); and each Adhyaya is divided into four quarters (Paada-s). Thus, there are in all thirty- two Paadas.  Each Paada consists of a series of grammatical statement, called Sutras, related to each other. The number of Sutras in each Paada varies according to the topics, functions and organizational constraints.

The Sutra-patha of the Astadhyayi   has come down to us through oral tradition. It is remarkable that the text, except for few variations and interpolations, has remained virtually intact. That is mainly because of the enormous amount of work that has gone into its study. And, also because of the three major texts, namely the Vyākaraa-mahābhāya of Patañjali, the Kāśikā-vtti of Vāmana-Jayāditya and the Vaiyākaraa-siddhānta-kaumudī of Bhaṭṭoji Dīkita, which have thoroughly vetted Panini’s text. And, therefore, the text of the Aṣṭādhāyī which is available today can be taken as fairly established.

 The total number of Sutras in the Astadhyayi is said to be about 4,000. But, there is a slight variation across the different editions.

 As per the text edited by the noted scholar Srisa Chandra Vasu (1891), based on the statement made by Jinendrabuddhi , the total number of Sutras in Astadhyayi is 3,996 (trini sutra sahasrani tatha nava-satani va sannavatim ca sutranam Paninh krtavan svayam).

However, as per    Kaisika of Jayaditya and Vamana (7th century), which is said to have addressed the full text of the Astadhyayi, the number of Sutras is 3,981.

It is explained that the difference of fifteen Sutras between the two Editions, is because of accepting the initial statement of the Astadhyayi (Atha Sabdanusasanam); and, the fourteen Sutras of Shiva-sutra (Maheshvara-sutra) as being the part of the text per se.

As per Bhattoji Diksita (Siddantha kaumudi- 17th century CE) the total number of Astadhyayi-Sutras is 3,976.

The difference of five from the Kaisika is said to be due to the omission of four Sutras from the fourth quarter (Paada) of the fourth Chapter; and, one Sutra from the fourth quarter of the Sixth chapter.

Therefore, the exact number of Sutras varies between 3,976   and 3,996.

The number of Sutras in each Paada of each of the eight Adhyayas of Astadhyayi, as per Kaisika is as under

Astadhyayi 30002


Auxiliary texts

As mentioned earlier, the Astadhyayi consists of about 4000 sutras arranged in eight Chapters (Adhyaya) each made of four quarters (Paada).

In addition there are three associated texts, which, at times, are treated as separate from the main text. These are: Shiva-sutra (Maheshvara-sutra); Dhatu-patha; Gana-patha;


The Shiva-sutras are a set of fourteen Sutras; brief, but highly well organized list of phonemes (Varna-s).  It precedes the Astadhyayi, proper. It enumerates fourteen sound segments (Varna-samamnaya) of the Sanskrit language, in the order that is most conducive for forming the abbreviated terms (Pratyahara) used in the Grammar.

Panini’s grammar opens with an arrangement of the alphabhets not in their natural order known to us.  The simple vowels are given first; then the combination of two vowels in a single syllable;  then the semi-vowels;  then the nasals ; then the consonants proper- where the Alpa-prana  and the Maha-prana are kept distinct. And then  the Samvara, Nada and Ghosha  are given , followed by  the Vivara,shavsha and Ghosha (these being the first two letters of each varga and Sha, Sa, Ha.

shivasutra to post

Here, in the  table given above  the Sutras 1 to 4 are vowels; and 5 to 14 are consonants. The order of elements listed in the Śhiva-sutra is as follows:

 (1) Vowels (1-4):

 (a) Simple (1-2); (b) complex (3-4)


(2) Consonants (5-14)

(a) Semivowels (5-6); (b) Nasals (7)

(c) stops (8-12)-(i) voiced aspirates (8-9); (ii) voiced non-aspirates (Śs 10); (iii) voiceless aspirates (Śs 11); (iv) voiceless non-aspirates (12)

 (d) Spirants (13-14)


The Shiva-sutra is termed by the western scholars as phonology (notational system for phonemes specified in 14 lines). This notational system introduces different clusters of phonemes that serve special roles in the structure of Sanskrit language; and, are referred to throughout the text.   It is said; each cluster, called a Pratyāhara, ends with a dummy sound called an Anubandha, which acts as a symbolic referent for the list. Within the main text, these clusters, referred through the Anubandhas, are related to various grammatical functions.

[Prof. Gerald Penn of Toronto University , in his comments , observes  :

The Shiva Sutras seemed to have been designed not so much as a phonological inventory (it appears twice, for example); but, as a tabulation of variable names that are then used to refer to sets of Aksharas within the formal rule system, so as to minimize the overall size of the table.]

Please click here for Sivasutra (with Vartika)


 Other Rules

As it has often been said, Astadhyayi is not Grammar per se; but, is a system of rules which generates all correct forms of Sanskrit. The the body of rules is accompanied by lists of linguistic basic elements. These are: the Dhätupätha and the Ganapatha.


The texts which enumerate roots of the Sanskrit language are generally referred to as Dhātupāha. It is not clearly known who its original authors were.  Scholars generally agree that Pāini used the Dhatupatha in formulating his Aṣṭādhyāyī. The Dhatupatha is the list of 1,943 verb roots (Dhātu) arranged into ten classes, according to stem-formations, which determine conjugation (Samdhi).  The roots are grouped by the form of their stem in the present tense; and, are  provided with a short meaning.

Although the Dhātupāha is, in principle, a list of the roots to which suxes can be added, it provides much more information on account of the appended  anubandhas, “indicatory letters,” accompanying meaning entries; and , the ten verbal classes into which the roots are divided. They are an integral part in the application of Pāinis rules,

[Please click here  for : Paniniya-Dhatu Patha , without pronunciation marks; and for the version with pronunciation marks click here.

Please click here for Paniniya-Shiksha ; and here for the meaning ]


The Ganapatha lists nominal stems grouped by common properties, each of which comes under a particular rule of Sutra-patha. The Ganapatha listing is said to be of two kinds: the closed-list; and the open-ended list. The authorship of the Ganapatha is again debatable. Pāini makes frequent references in his Aṣṭādhyāyi to the lists of Ganapatha.


Other auxiliary rules

In addition, three other auxiliary texts are associated with the Astadhyayi. The authorship of these texts is much debated. Panini does, however, refer to the rules of these texts in his work.


The Uādi-sūtras are affixes used to derive nominal stems. Pāini mentions the Uādi in two of his rules: uādayo bahulam (3.3.1); and, tābhyām anyatroādaya (3.4.75). The first rule introduces the Uādi affixes after verbal roots variously (bahulam).And, the second rule states that the Uādi affixes can also be introduced to denote a Kāraka (case), other than Sampradāna (dative) and Apādāna (ablative).


The Phisūtras is a small treatise that deals with accentuation of linguistic forms not developed through any process of derivation. This treatise gets its name from its first Sūtra, phia which assigns a final high pitch accent.


The Ligānuśāsana is a treatise, which deals with assignment of gender, based on structure and meaning of nominals. The text of this treatise consists of nearly 200 Sutras enumerating items under the headings of feminine (Strīliga); masculine (Puliga); neuter (Napusaka); feminine-masculine (strīpusaka); and variable (aviśiṣṭaliga). Finally, there is also a set of nominals which can be used in all three genders.

[ Please click here for the Linganusasanam on genders]


The structure of Astadhyayi, its organization and functions

The noted scholar Sumitra M. Katre observes: The Astadhyayi, for all its brevity, follows a well-defined format. Panini’s rules though enumerated in a definite order (purva-parya); are classified into segments and Chapters, according to the topics and their functions (Adhikarana).

 The following is the broad indicators of the topics discussed in the Astadhyayi :

Book One:

(i) Major rules for definitions and interpretations – Samjnas (technical terms); Paribashas (grammatical conventions);

(ii) Rules dealing with extensions

(iii) Rules dealing with Atmaneyapada-parasmaipada

(iv)  Rules dealing with Karakas

Book Two

(i) Rules dealing with compounds (Upapada) 

(ii) Rules dealing with nominal functions

(iii) Rules dealing with number and gender of compounds

(iv) Rules dealing with replacements and relative to roots (Anubandhas)

(v) Rules dealing with deletion by LUK , with reference to compostion derivation, etc

Book Three

(i) Rules dealing with the derivation of roots ending in affixes saN etc.,

(ii) Rules dealing with derivation of items ending in a Kri

(iii) Rules dealing with derivation of items ending in a tiN

Books Four and Five

(i) Rules dealing with derivation of a pada Samasanta-pratyayas ending in a sUP

(ii) Rules dealing with feminine affixes – Strlpratyayas – Krt

(iii) Rules dealing with derivation of nominal stems ending in an affix named Taddhita

(iv) Rules regarding loss, addition, alteration, and constancy of the letters (Samsmra)

Books Six and Seven

(i) Rules dealing with doubling

(ii) Rules dealing with Sam-prasanna

(Iii) Rules dealing with Samhita

(iv)  Rules dealing with augment (Agama)

(v) Rules dealing with accents; processes in the Purvapada

(vi) Rules dealing with phonological operations relative to pre-suffixes (Anga)

(vii) Rules dealing with operations relative to affixes, augments etc.

Book Eight

(i) Rules dealing with doubling (Dvitva) relative to Paada

(ii) Rules dealing with accents relative to Paada ; Samhita processes

(Iii) Rules dealing with phonological operations relative to Paada

(iv) Rules dealing with miscellaneous operations relative to Non-Paada


There is also another way of classifying the Astadhyayi into organizational units. The first is Saptadasapt-adhyayi (the first seven books and one quarter); and, the second is Tripadi (the last three quarters).  It is said; the rules in the Tripadi stand suspended (A-siddha) by the rules of the preceding (Purva) first seven books and one quarter.

And, again, Tripadi is also constrained within itself (Atra). Its subsequent rules are, in turn, treated as suspended in view of its earlier rules.


The rules of the Asādhyāyī 

The Aṣṭādhyāyī is a system (śāstra) of rules. Since its rules are structured with utmost brevity and clarity, Pāini chose to present them within the frame-work of a set of meta-rules conducive to interpretation and to application. Grammar, here, is a system (śāstra) of rules (lakaa) whose goal is to fully understand correct usage (lakya) of the words in a given context.


The general rules  of Panini are applicable to both of the two major domains of Sanskrit usage- contemporary standard language; and,the language of the Vedic texts.

Panini primarily deals with the rules of the Sanskrit which were accepted by the social and linguistic elites of his time as being Sadhu-bhasha (correct) usages.

Those rules which applied only to the language of the Vedic texts were accordingly specified by stating the specific Vedic sub-domains.

The domain of the contemporary spoken standard Sanskrit was also then sub-divided into domains of regional and scholastic dialects.

Panini attempts to describe the known facts of Sanskrit in all their forms.

He describes the colloquial  dialectal usages of Sanskrit; the Sanskrit of the Vedic texts (Chhandas); as also the preferred use of the standard  Sanskrit by the well-informed persons (Sadhu-Bhasha) . The patterns of the usages of these forms are markedly different from each other .


 The rules of the Asādhyāyī are of various types.

Starting with about 1700 basic elements like nouns, verbs, vowels, consonants, Panini puts them into classes. The construction of sentences, compound nouns etc. is explained as ordered rules, operating on a fundamental structures, in a manner similar to that of a modern theory.

 As MacDonell explained: This arrangement  of rules is not, however, stringently adhered to; Panini inserts unrelated rules which typically do follow a related train of thought, or which can be more effectively explained outside the context of the book to which they truly belong.

: – Samñjā, technical rules; rules which assign a particular term to a given entity. These form basic rules. Pāini assigns nearly one hundred technical terms (Sajñā), either to a linguistic form (śabda-rūpa), its meaning (artha), or to a sound quality (dhvani-gua).

 : – Paribhāā, interpretive rules or meta-rules; rules which regulate proper interpretation of a given rule or its application. This sort of rule doesn’t address other rules: it addresses the person reading them. Such a rule tells us how we should read and understand the other rules in the Ashtadhyayi.

 : – Adhikāra, heading rules; rules which introduce a domain of rules sharing a common topic, operation, input, physical arrangement, etc. This sort of rule specifies an idea that extends to the rules that follow it. Such a rule sometimes specifies how far it extends; but,  usually its extension is clear from context. The range of rules over which an adhikāra rule applies is called its anuvṛtti.

 : – Vidhi, operational rules; rules which directs how a given operation is to be performed on a given input. This sort of rule describes the way that Sanskrit actually behaves. It can describe such things as word formation, the application of sandhi, and so on. Most rules are like this.

: – Niyama, conditioning or restriction rules; rules which restrict the scope of a given rule. This sort of rule contradicts an earlier vidhi rule. Essentially, it contains an exception  (Apavada)to an earlier rule.

 : – Atideśa, extension rules; rules which expand the scope of a given rule, usually by allowing the transfer of certain properties which were otherwise not available. An Atideśa rule specifies that some feature has the properties of another. An Atideśa rule generally widens the scope of application of the definition or the operation of a rule. This is useful because the Ashtadhyayi contains complex rules that act on very specific terms. This rule changes the properties of ī within the system.

 : – Pratisedha, negation rules; rules which counter an otherwise positive provision of a given rule. There are two kinds of negations: prasajya-pratiedha, where the negative is construed with the verb, yielding absolute negation; and, paryudāsa where the negative is construed with the noun, yielding a negation with the meaning of similar to but different from (tadbhinna-tatsadśa).

 : – Vibhāsā, A rule which offers options is termed Vibhāā ‘option’ (Na veti vibhāā). Three kinds of options are mentioned: Prāpta ‘that which is made available; Aprāpta ‘that which is not made available;  and,  Prāptā-prāpta that which is made available, and not made available, both.

 : – NipātanaAd hoc rules; rules which provide forms to be treated as derived, even though the derivational details are missing – svarādi-nipātam avyayam. The   Nipātana rules are said to accomplish three goals: Aprāptiprāpaa – providing something not made available by any other rule; Prāpti-vāraa – blocking something which is made available; and, Adhikārtha-vivakā, indicating something additional.

 [Source: Indian Tradition Of Linguistics And Pāṇini  by Prof. Rama Nath Sharma]

Among the rules of the Astädhyäyi, one may distinguish rules prescribing a grammatical operation (vidhi-sütra); rules defining a technical term (samjnä-sütra); meta-rules guiding the interpretation and application of the other rules (paribhäsä-sütra); and, headings (adhikära-süträ).

[Panini’s rules of grammar rely on two simple concepts: that all nouns are derived from verbs and that all word derivation takes place through suffixes. However, Panini does depart from these guidelines in some instances.]

The paribhāā or meta-rules aid in the interpretation of Sūtras, while the Adhikāra rules define the boundaries of domains. The Vidhi Vūtras or operational rules –  aided by the conditioning rules and the extension rules – transform linguistic units and grammatical entities through affixation, augmentation, modification, and replacement (including deletion, because replacement by Lopa or zero-element is possible). Some rules are universal; while others are context sensitive; the sequence of rule application is clearly defined. Some specific rules can override other more general ones.

The scholar Katre observes: ” Panini has attempted to arrange his Sutras under two major headings:  the first; a general rule, which encompasses the largest number of linguistic items; and, the second, an exception (Apavada), which covers a smaller group not subject to the general rule. These organizational systems, presumably intended to ease memorization. ” The later editors of the Astadhyayi did try to reorganize Panini’s arrangements.

Prof. Rama Nath Sharma writes, “Since Pāini formulated his rules based on his efforts to capture certain generalizations reflected in usage, he framed some rules with a general (sāmānya) scope of application. These rules are termed general (utsarga).  These rules are generally operational (Vidhi) in nature.

He also formulated other rules, relative to utsarga rules (vikalpa); and, these commonly are termed specific (Viśeşa).  There are also the relevant negative (niedha), restrictive (niyama) or extensional (atideśa) provisions. These rules define their scope within the scope of a general rule and often are treated as exceptions (Apavāda) to that rule.

Other types of specific rules in relation to sāmānya are negations (pratisedha) and options (Vibhāşā), etc. This clearly establishes a hierarchical relationship among rules.

From the point of view of the various strategies employed in the application of rules, one may also find rule types such as  Nitya  ‘obligatory’ , Para ‘ subsequent’ ,  Antaranga ‘ internally  conditioned’ and Bahirahga  ‘externally  conditioned’.

These sets of rules (lakshana) with their application to a network of utterances lead to the derivation of correct words (lakya).


Dr.Émilie Aussant , in her scholarly paper -‘Sanskrit Grammarians and the ’Speaking Subjectivity’, writes :

The earliest extensive discussion of Panini’s rules which has come down to us is contained in the Vārttikas of Kātyāyana (3rd cent. B.C.); which themselves are known only as quoted and commented on in Patanjali’s Mahābhāya (2nd cent. B.C.).

Kātyāyana and Patanjali discuss the validity of various rules, their formulation and their relation to other rules. Discussing the inian-sūtras is the occasion, for both grammarians, to develop some thoughts about different language facts. Human manifestations in language are one of them. Here, two points may be highlighted.

First, human subjectivity is sometimes referred to indicate language arbitrariness, either individual (such as word order), or collective (such as the word-meaning/object relation).

The second point concerns the importance of the authoritativeness of the speaker: in a context where linguistic, religious and social otherness is becoming stronger and stronger (as it probably was by Patanjali’s time), the identification of the norm and of its sharers is crucial.

 After the Mahābhāya of Patanjali, the glossary of the subjectivity in language can be considered as definitely established. Very few new terms will appear with the later grammarians.

The various examples quoted above show that the linguistic levels where this subjectivity — either embodied in the individual speaker or in the speakers’ community — intervenes are syntax, morphology, gender and semantics.



Majority of the Sūtras deal with a well ordered procedure, in order to derive word forms from the postulated root and a suffix; and, new roots from the old ones.  These procedures are all modular, creating one or more sub-procedures to perform specific tasks.

Panini formulates his rules in three classes: General (Samanya); Particular (Visesha); and, the residual (Sesha). The basic purpose of Grammar, as Patanjali says, is to govern the words in a language; not by listing them out, but by formulating a set of General (Samanya) and Particular (Viseha) rules with their related exceptions (Apavada).


A Sutra is brief in form and precise in its function. Here, for the proper understanding of the Sutra, its context is a key-factor.

Almost every Sūtra in the Aṣṭādhyāyī is an elliptical sentence, which borrows meaning from the Sūtra or Sūtras before it. And, Pānini does not repeat a word common to several successive Sūtras; after using it once (this first mention is called Adhikāra, the beginning), he will omit the word thereafter. The implicit presence of the word is known as Anuvtti, recurrence.

 A Sutra has to be comprehensive, objective, brief and precise. Panini chose the technique of context-sharing (eka-vakyata). Panini’s rules are interdependent. It is because of two reasons – physical nearness or the placement in a particular place; and, the other is functional through the criteria of Anuvrtti, which is now termed as ‘recurrence’.

The Anuvrtti controls the reading of a Sutra in conjunction with its preceding and subsequent Sutra. While a Sutra is governed by the General rule; it is also controlled by the exceptions (Apavada). The exceptions are more powerful that the General-rules. 

And, within a domain, a prior rule is less powerful than its subsequent one (Vipratisedhe param karyam). Further, an exception (Apavada) is more powerful than its subsequent rule. And, the Residual rule (Sesha) covers whatever that was not covered by the General rule (Samanya) and the exceptions (Apavada) .

Prof. Rama Nath observes: The higher-level rules within the domain are brought close or within the context of the lower-level rule. This helps to reconstruct the shared-context of a given rule, within a domain; and, better interpretation of the lower-level rule.

The purpose of every rule is its application.

Thus, a Sutra, when fully equipped with all the information required for its application, becomes a statement; and, serves as a means (Upaya) towards the proper understanding of a sentence.


We must understand , the Ashtadhyayi is  basically a list of rules. But these rules, too, are lists: of verbs, of suffixes, and so on. These lists have different headings, and these headings describe the behaviour of the items they contain. But the Ashtadhyayi is more complicated than this: ideas in one rule can carry over to the next, or to the next twenty; basic words have specialized meanings; and rules in one chapter may control rules in another. In this way, Panini created a brief and immensely dense work. Thus, we have a large arrangement of different rules that we must try to understand.

Panini ‘s work , obviously,  is  difficult. His work is not something you can read through from beginning to end. Rather, it essentially assumes that you’ve read it critically and  cyclically,  checking the Sutras back and forth with caution. By doing so, we’ll  stand to gain the true understanding  of Panini’s system;  and , the abstract framework that supports it.


To the extent that the Astadhyayi addresses word meanings, Panini also chooses to accept the dictates of common usage over those of strict derivation. It is said; that  in Grammar ” the authority of the popular usage of words … must supersede the authority of the meaning dependent on derivation. The meanings of words (the relations between word and meaning) are also to be established by popular usage.”

One of the aims of Grammar is to formulate rules having a well defined scope of application, so that they can capture usage in its reality.

Accordingly, Panini gives  preference to the language as it was actually spoken by the educated ; instead of adhering completely to the intellectually defined rules. This  exemplifies the innovative feature of his work.


Unlike the Nirukta and Mimämsä, Panini is not overtly interested in the language of the Vedic texts; but, he  also gives importance to the language in use among the well-educated (Sista) of his time. He  gives preference to common usage over those of strict derivation (etymology)

The Astadhyayi is the first major work on grammar in any language; and , has been the guiding principle for generations of  Indian grammarians;  and,  it is still studied by both Eastern and Western linguists today. Incidentally, it also enhanced Sanskrit’s potential for its scientific use.

As Katre observed, “In a work of such magnitude which covers every aspect of the author’s speech community … there is indeed much scope to find some overstatements as well as understatements. But none of this takes away from the credit which is due to Panini who, in this astounding work, has set up a model which is fully adequate to cover every aspect of the language described.”

The preeminence of the Astadhyayi in the development of not only Sanskrit, but of the grammar of all languages, cannot be denied. Predating even the early Greek’s examination of language, Panini’s work continues to exert influence in the realm of linguistics even 2,000 years after its composition.


Hartmut Scharfe in his Grammatical Literature (Otto Harrassowitz, 1977), writing about Panini, concludes, saying :

The last decades have seen a revival of Paninian studies, both in India and the West (notably in the USA) . This stretches from antiquarian interest to studies on his Grammatical theory and method of description.

The problem in studying Panini’s method has often been a premature identification with one’s own theories. We have to first find out what Panini’s conceptions are before we can use them to support our own.

The attempt of the Indian scholars to improve our understanding of the Rigveda has not yielded the hoped results; while the comparison of Panini’s language with the Middle- Indo-Aryan language has not been pursued vigorously.


Sources and References

  1. The Ashtadhyayi of Panini. Translated into English by Srisa Chandra Vasu
    Published by Sindhu Charan Bose at The Panini Office, Benares – 1897
  2. Panini
  3. Panini –His place in Sanskrit Literature  by   Theodor Goldstucker, A.Trubner & Co., London – 1861
  4. Simulating the Paninian System of Sanskrit Grammar by  Anand Mishra
  5. India as Known to Pānini by V. S. Agrawala, Lucknow University of Lucknow, 1953
  6. Computing Science in Ancient India by Professor T.R.N. Rao and Professor Subhash Kak
  7. Panini’s Grammar and Computer Science by Saroja Bhate and Subhash Kak
  8. How Sanskrit Led To The Creation Of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table
  9. Indian Tradition of Linguistics and Pānini by Prof. Rama Nath Sharma
  10. Pāṇini: Catching the Ocean in a Cow’s Hoofprint by Vikram Chandra
  11. Panini: His Work and Its Traditions by George Cardona
  12. A Brief History of Sanskrit Grammar  by James Rang
  13. Introductionto Prakrit by  Alfr ed C . Woolner
  14. Chandah Sutra of Pingala Acharya, Edited by Pandita Visvanatha Sastri , Printed at the Ganesha Press, Calcutta – 1874

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Yaska and Panini – Part Three

Continued from Part Two


Before we go into the details of the Ashtadhyayi; such as: its structure, Its definitions, its classification of rules etc., let’s talk about Panini the person; his period; and, his associates and so on.

Panini S Rajam

Maha Mahopadyaya Pundit Sri  Harprasad Sastri  (1853-1931) the famous orientalist and Sanskrit scholar of great repute, in his Magadhan Literature (a series of six lectures he delivered at the Patna University during December 1920 and April 1921) talks about Takshashila, a prominent city of the Gandhara region, a part of the ancient Indian polity included under the Greater Uttara-patha in the North-West.

[In his First lecture, the Pundit talks about Takshashila and its association with the Vedic literature. And, in the second lecture, he talks about the five great scholars who hailed from the region of Takshashila: Upavarsha, Varaha, Panini, Pingala, and Vyadi; in addition to Katyayana (Vararuchi) and Patanjali.]

Pundit Sri Harprasad Sastri says:  It was at Takshashila, the city named after Taksha the son of Bharatha of Ramayana, many of the highly-admired works in classical Sanskrit had their origin. The earliest grammarian-scholars known to us also belonged to that city.

The city gained fame in the later periods, stretching up to the time of the Buddha, as the centre of trade, art, literature and politics. Takshashila  was  also a distinguished centre for learning,  to where scholars and students  from various parts of India , even as far as from Varanasi at a distance of  more than 1,500 KMs, came  to pursue  higher studies in  medicine, art , literature, grammar, philosophy etc .

But, the glory of Takshashila came to an abrupt end when Darius (518 BCE), the Persian monarch who destroyed the dynasty founded by Cyrus, overpowered the North-West region of India; and, annexed it into the Achaemenid Empire.

The long periods of lawlessness, anarchy and chaos totally destroyed the cultural, academic and commercial life of Taxila. And, by about the time of the Buddha, Taxila was losing its high position as a centre of learning.   And, that compelled its eminent scholars like Panini the Great Grammarian, and scholars like Varsha, Upavarsha, Pingala and Vyadi to leave Taxila to seek their fortune and patronage, elsewhere. They were, perhaps, among the early wave of migrant intellectuals to move out of the Northwest towards East.


By then, Pataliputra, situated amidst the fertile plains on the banks of the river Sona, at its confluence with the Ganga, was fast rising into fame as the capital of the most powerful kingdom in the East. It was the First Imperial Capital of ancient India. By the time of the Greek ambassador Megasthenes (322 to 301 BCE.), the city had grown in to a vast sprawling metropolis, spread over an area of 80 stadia (little more than 9 miles long) and 15 stadia (about 1,3 miles), adorned with magnificent mansions and palaces, studded with beautiful sculptures. “The greatest city “,  he declared,  ” had 570 towers and 64 gates and was surrounded by a ditch , six hundred feet in breadth and thirty cubits in depth”.

The scholars drifting from Taxila, all reached the intellectual capital of India, the Great city of Pataliputra (Maha-nagareshu); and, there they were honored by the King in his assemblies ‘in a manner befitting their learning and their position’. And, thus began the literature of Magadha.

That also marked the birth of a new tradition.

Pataliputra 1

Source: British Museum

On to Pataliputra

Rajasekhara (10th century) a distinguished poet, dramatist, and scholar who wrote extensively on poetics – Alamkara shastra (the literary or philosophical study of the basic principles, forms, and techniques of Sanskrit poetry; treatise on the nature or principles of poetry); and who adorned the court of King Mahipala (913-944 AD) of the Gurjara-Prathihara dynasty, refers to a tradition (sruyate) that was followed by the Kings of Pataliputra (Kavya Mimamsa – chapter 10).

In the last passage of the Chapter Ten Kavi charya, Raja charya ca ‘:Maha-nagareshu ca Kavya-shashtra pariksharthai brahma-sabah kareyet / tatra parikshe uttirnanam brahma-ratha-yanam pattabandascha  // –  Rajasekhara speaks about the tradition that prevailed in the Royal Court of Magadha, just as in the manner of the Royal courts  of other great City-states (Janapada) like Varanasi.

According to that tradition, the King ,  at the Great City of Pataliputra, occasionally , used to call for assemblies where men of  learning; poets ; scholars ; founders and exponents of various systems; and ,  Sutrakaras hailing from different parts of the country, participated enthusiastically ; and,  willingly let themselves be examined.

[According to Rajasekhara, in the assemblies at Pataliputra the Shastra-karas (Grammarians) were the main participants. It was in Ujjain, the poets and politicians debated (Sruyate co Ujjaininam kavya-kara pariksha).]

The eminent Sutrakaras during their examinations (Sastrakara-Pariksha) exhibited the range of their knowledge as also of their creative genius. Thereafter, the King honored the participants with gifts, rewards and suitable titles.

In that context, Rajasekhara mentions: in Pataliputra such famous Shastrakāras as Upavarsha;  Varsha; Panini;  Pingala ; Vyadī;  Vararuci; and  Patañjali;  were examined ; and were properly honored  :—

Here in Pataliputra, Upavarsha and Varsha; here Panini and Pingala; here Vyadi and Vararuci; and Patanjali, having been examined rose to fame.

Sruyate cha Pataliputre shastra-kara-parikshasa I atro Upavarsha, Varshao iha Panini Pingalav iha Vyadih I Vararuchi, Patanjali iha parikshita kyathim upajagmuh II Ityam Sabhapathirbhutva yah kavyani parikshate I yashasthaya jagadyapi sa sukhi tatra tatra ca II- (Kavya Mimamsa – chapter 10)


It is highly unlikely that all the seven eminent scholars cited by Rajasekhara arrived at the King’s Court at Pataliputra at the same. According to Pundit Harprasad Sastri, among these, the earliest to reach the Royal Court of Magadha and to be honoured there were Varsha, Upavarsha and Panini; together with Pingala and Vyadi.

And, Panini distinguished himself in a scholarly assembly at Pataliputra.

Then, there was Vararuchi also called as Katyayana, one of the earliest commentators of Panini. He was some generations away from Panini. 

And, the seventh and the last in this group was Patanjali who came about two centuries after Panini; and, he wrote an elaborate commentary on Panini’s work with reference to its earlier commentary by Katyayana.

 The last two particularly (Vararuchi and Patanjali) were separated from the first five scholars by a couple of centuries or more. 

 And, perhaps only the first five among the seven originated from the Takshashila region; while Katyayana and Patanjali came from the East.

Katyayana, according to Katha Sarit Sagara, was born at Kaushambi which was about 30 miles to the west of the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna (According to another version, he was from South India). His time is estimated to be around third century BCE.

As regards Patanjali, it is said, that he was the son of Gonika; and, he belonged to the country of Gonarda in the region of Chedi (said to be a country that lay near the Yamuna; identified with the present-day Bundelkhand).His time is estimated to be about 150 BCE.  It is said; Patanjali participated in a great Yajna performed at Pataliputra by the King Pushyamitra Sunga (185 BCE – 149 BCE).

[This Patanjali may not be the same as the one who put together in a Sutra- text based on the then available knowledge on the system of Yoga.]


By any standards, the seven sages (saptha-munih) formed a most eminent galaxy of extraordinarily brilliant scholars.   Each was an absolute Master in his chosen field of study.

The Maha Mahopadyaya asserts that the seven Shastra-kara- names cited by Rajasekhara are mentioned in their chronological order, with Upavarsha being the senior most and the foremost of them all.


Further, all the seven learned men were related to each other, in one way or the other.

Of these, the first five were contemporaries coming from Takshashila or near about; and, were closely related.

: – Upavarsha, the eldest, regarded as the most venerable (Abhijarhita); revered as Bhagavan; and, as ‘shastra-sampradaya-pravarttaka’, is described both as Shastrakara and Vrittikara.  However, in the later centuries, his name gathered fame as that of a Vrittikara, the commentator par excellence , on the Mimamsa ( a system of investigation, inquiry into or discussion on the proper interpretation of the Vedic texts).

: – Varsha the brother of Upavarsha’s brother, was also renowned as a teacher of great repute.

 : –  Panini the Grammarian, who gained fame as the author of  Astadhyayi , was an inhabitant  of Salatura – a suburb of Takshashila , was the student of Varsha.

: – Pingala, the younger brother of Panini, was also a student of Varsha; he was a brilliant mathematician and a master of prosody,

: – Vyadi also called Dakshayana, the fifth in the list, was the maternal uncle (mother’s brother) of Panini. It is said; Vyadi, the Dakshayana, was also a student of Varsha. He was called Dakshayana because:  Panini’s mother was Dakshi, the daughter of Daksha. And, Daksha’s son was Dakshaputra or Dakshayana, the descendent of Daksha.

[According to another version, Dakshayana might have been the great-grandson of Panini’s maternal uncle].


And, the last two of the seven (Katyayana and Patanjali), coming centuries after Panini were the celebrated commentators on Panini’s Astadhyayi.

The trio (Trimurti) – Panini, Katyayana and Patanjali – are revered as the three sages (Muni-traya) of Sanskrit Vyakarana Shastra. Here, in their reverse order, the later ones enjoy greater authority (yato uttaram muninaam pramaanyam); making Patanjali the best authority on Panini.

Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadia (VP: 2.482), therefore, says: the seeds of all the basic principles are to be found in the Mahabhashya Sarvesam nyaya-bijanam Mahabhashye nibandane. Bhattoji Diksita also generally gives more importance to the views of Patanjali.



As per the traditional accounts, Panini was born in Shalātura in North-West India. Panini also mentions: tūdī-śalātura-varmatī-kūcavārā hak-chahañ-yaka / PS_4, 3.94/.

A copper plate inscription dated the 7th century CE refers to Pāini as Śālāturiya, ‘the man from Śālātura’. This place is identified with a site near modern-day Lahur, a village now in North-west Pakistan, situated on the banks of the River Indus, a few miles away from the ancient university at Takaśhilā (called Taxila by the Greeks).

The Chinese Buddhist monk Xuánzàng (Hsüan-tsang), who travelled and studied in India during the 7th century CE, writes that when he reached a place called So-lo-tu-lu , at a distance of twenty Li to the North-west of  Udabhanda, in the Gandhara region  of the country, he was told that it was the birthplace of the famous sage Pāini, who had been ‘from his birth extensively well informed about  all things’ .

[Udabhanda is said to be the Prakrit version of the Sanskrit name Udhabhandapura  (Udha-banda= water-pot) mentioned in Kalhana’s Raja-tarangini ]

Xuánzàng , another Buddhist traveller who had arrived in this town long-ago , about  five hundred years after the death of the Buddha, was then told by a local Brahmin that “The children of this town, who are his [Pāini’s] disciples, revere his eminent qualities, and a statue erected to his memory still exists.”.

Sir Alexander Cunningham, the founder of the Archaeological Survey of India, and a renowned expert on Buddhist stupas, identified Salatura as Panini’s birthplace.


Panini **, it is said, was the son of Shalanka and Dakshi (meaning the daughter of Daksha). And, Panini was often referred to by his mother’s name as Dākshīputra Pānini (Panini the son of Dakshi) . He had a younger brother Pingala, who later flowered into a brilliant mathematician.

[The Dakshas were said to be a northern clan organized into republican political entities called Janapadas]

[ **However, MM Pundit Shivadutta Sharma held the view that the person whom we call Panini was the son of Salanku; and, the proper name given to the boy  by his parents was Ahika. Panini was his Gotra name. In his support, he quotes Kaiyaa (11th century) a learned commentator on the Mahābhāya of Patanjali.  The etymology of the term Panini, according to Kaiyata, is: Panino pathyam, Paninaha, tasyapathyam yuvam Panini (Panini means a descendent of Pani)]


All the three: Vyadi, Panini and Pingala studied under Varsha, who perhaps resided in or near Takshashila.

Panani must have been  very diligent in his studies ; and, learnt quickly the fundamentals   and all the rules of the ever developing language of Sanskrit.

Patañjali, who lived maybe three centuries after Pāini, describes him as analpamateh , as one  gifted with great intelligence; and quick in grasping :  dhruvaceṣṭitayuktiu ca api ague tat analpamate vacanam smarata (P_1,4.51.2)

Patanjali presents a very impressive picture of Pāini as teacher, while also paying homage to the Master; commending and acclaiming the authenticity of every single Sutra in the Aṣṭādhyāyī:

There is none equal to my Master (Acharya) Panini (apāinīyam tu bhavati. Yathānyāsam eva astu); let alone in the field of Vyakarana; but, in the whole world as well (Na yathā Loke tathā Vyākarae)

The respected preceptor Panini, the Supreme authority in Vyakarana, having taken his seat on a clean place; facing the East (prānmukhah upaviśya); and, holding the purifying bunch of Darbha grass in his hands (pramāna-bhūtah Acāryah darbha pavitra pānih śucau avakāśe), used to formulate Sūtras with great effort (mahata yatnena Sūtrani praayati). This being so; it is impossible (asakyam) to find even a single sound or letter (Varna) in any rule (Sutra) that serves no purpose.  (Tatra aśakyam varena api anarthakena bhavitum kim puna iyatā sūtrea)

 A-Pāninīyam tu bhavati. yathānyāsam eva astu . Nanu ca uktam sañjñā-dhikārah sañjñā sampratyaya   arthan itarathā hi asampratyayah yathā loke iti. Na yathā loke tathā vyākarane. pramāna-bhūtah ācāryah darbha pavitra pānih śucau avakāśe  prānmukhah upaviśya  mahatā yatnena sūtram praayati tatra aśakyam varena api anarthakena bhavitum kim puna iyatā sūtrea – (P_1,1.1.3)


It is said; while at the Royal Court of Pataliputra, Panini was a much-admired Sutrakara who won many awards at the debating-assemblies. And, he was a favourite of the Shishnaga Kings.

After moving from Takshashila, Panini seemed to have settled down at Pataliputra. He refers often to the Eastern parts of India, the janapada, villages(Grama), cities (Nagara), its dialects (Praktau), its people, social and economic life , images (Pratiktau) etc.( jana-dhana-daridrā-jāgarā pratyayāt pūrva ).

Panini mentions that the Empire was composed of independent communities Janapadins either ruled by a Kshatriya King or his kinsmen and groups of citizens (Sangha)

Janapadinām janapadavat sarva janapadena samānaśabdānā bahuvacane || PS_4,3.100 |

In that manner, Panini’s work provides rare glimpses of the life and society of Sixth century BCE India.


There are numerous legends associated with Panini.

And, according to one of such legends, Panini’s life ends in a rather bizarre way.  It is said, while the great sage was teaching, sitting with his pupils, a lion roared nearby. Instead of running away, Pāini started contemplating the tonal qualities of the lion’s roar. Then, as the Pacatantra tale   puts it- Sihō vyākaraasya karturaharat prāan munē: painē  – The lion carried away the life of Sage Pāini, the author of grammar”.

He was deeply engrossed in the subject of his study unmindful of the surroundings and the dangers it posed. Such was the devotion and dedication of Panini to Vyakarana.


There is a belief that the Great Master Maha-Acharya Panini passed away on the Trayodaśī-Tithī (त्रयोदशी तिथी), the thirteenth day.  I understand that the traditional scholars , in Eastern India , observe the Trayodaśī-Tithī that occurs in each half (Paksha) of a month  as a day of Anadhyayana (अनध्ययन),  when studies in Vyakarana are suspended for  that dayin honour of the departed Guru.

lotus offering

Panini – his period

Protracted debates were carried out, over a long period of time, to assign a date to Panini.

Western scholars, mainly Max Muller, put Panini in the fourth century BCE; making him almost the contemporary of Katyayana, the author of the Vartikas.  And, the Indian scholars, on the other hand, hold the view that Panini cannot be placed later than 2, 800 years before the Vikram era, which  starts from 57 BCE. That virtually puts Panini in or around Eighth- Ninth century BCE.

Dr. Goldstiicker, Dr. R. G. Bhandarkar and Prof. K. V. Abhyankar proved that Panini cannot be placed later than 500 B.C. This view is generally accepted by almost all scholars of to-day; and, even late 6th century BCE is also not ruled out with certainty.


Yavana (यवनानी)

An important hint for the dating of Pāini is the occurrence of the words Yava-Yavana (यवनानी) (in PS: 4.1.49), which term might mean either a Greek woman or a foreigner or Greek script.

Indra-varua-bhava-śarva-rudra-mṛḍa-hima-araya-yava-yavana-mātula-ācāryāāmānuk || PS_4, 1.49 ||

 It needs to be mentioned here…

King Cyrus, the founder of Persian Empire and of the Achaemenid dynasty (559-530 B.C.), added to his territories the region of Gandhara, located mainly in the valley of Peshawar. By about 516 BCE, Darius, the son of Hystaspes, annexed the Indus valley; and, formed the twentieth Satrapy of the Persian Empire. The annexed areas included parts of the present-day Punjab.

The Naqsh-eRustam inscription, on the tombofDariusI, mentions all the three Indian territories – Sattagydia (Thataguš), Gandara (Gadāra) and India (Hidūš) – as parts of the Achaemenid Empire

Behistun inscription King Darius I (circa 510 BCE) also mentions Gandhara (Gadāra) and the adjacent territory of Sattagydia (Thataguš) as part of the Achaemenid Empire.


Many Greek Ionians (Yavanas), Scythians (Sakas) and Bactrians (Bahlikas) served as soldiers of the Achaemenid army; also as officials or mercenaries in the various Achaemenid provinces. And, Indian troops too formed a contingent of the Persian army that invaded Greece in 480 B.C. The Greek historian, Herodotus (c484-425 BCE), describes them : The Indians wore garments made of tree-wool [cotton], and they had bows of reed and arrows of reed with iron points. (Histories 7.65).

Thus the Greeks and Indians were together thrown into the vast Persian machinery for a very long period of time. Thus, Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor.

The first Greeks to set foot in India were probably servants of the Persian Achaemenid Empire (550-330 B.C.E); and, that vast polity which touched upon Greek city-states at its Western extremity and India on the East. The first Greek who is supposed to have actually visited India; and, to have written an account of it was Skylax of Karyanda in Karia.

Some Greeks, such as the Persian admiral Skylax of Karyanda, were present in Gandhara as co-citizens of the Persian Empire, well before the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 330s BC.

Skylax of Karyanda (late 6th and early 5th century BCE),  a sea-captain from Ionia , lived before Herodotus, who tells that Darius Hystargus (512–486) led a naval expedition to prove the feasibility of a sea passage from the mouth of Indus to Persia. Under the command of Skylax, a fleet sailed from Punjab in the Gandhara country to the Ocean.

 Scylax is presumed to have started by sailing east along the KabulRiver and turned south after its confluence with the IndusRiver near Attock. Herodotus mentions that once the voyage was completed and proved feasible, Darius conquered the Indians; and, made use of the sea in those parts. Darius seems to have thereafter added to his Empire the lands explored by Scylax as a new province called Hinduš; which the Greek writers termed as India.


The historian Sir Aurel Stein writes in his ‘ On Alexander’s track to the Indus‘ writes:

alexander in india


Thus, even long before the invasion of Alexander the Great in the 330 BCE, there were cultural contacts between the Indians and the Greeks, through the median of Persia. And, parts of North-West India had already come under the occupation of Achaemenian Empire.

The term Yavana, is, essentially, an Achaemenian (Old-Persian) term. And, it occurs in the Achaemenian Naqsh-e Rustam inscriptions (545 BCE) as Yauna and Ia-ma-nu, referring to the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor.

[The Hebrew word Yawān (Javan) originally referred to the Ionians, but later was applied to the Greeks as an ethnic or political entity.]

At that date (say 519 BCE, i.e. the time of Darius the Great’s  Behistun inscription), the name Yavana probably referred to communities of Greeks settled in the Eastern Achaemenian provinces, which included the Gandhara region in North-West India. All this goes to show that Panini cannot be placed later than 500 BCE.


ini was born in Śālātura to the North-West of Taxila, which was then a Satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire following the Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley. Thus, Panini   lived in an Achaemenid environment of 6th or 5th Century BCE. And, that technically made Panini a Persian subject.

Achaemenid Empire Eastern territories

And, therefore, it is very likely that Panini was familiar with the  the languages spoken in the area by the officials, traders  etc. While Pāini’s work is purely grammatical and lexicographic; certain cultural and geographical inferences can be drawn from the vocabulary he uses in his examples, and from his references to fellow grammarians, and new deities such as Vasudeva.


The word Yauna was probably adopted by the Indians of the North-Western provinces from the Old Persian; and the administrative languages of the Persian Empire – Elamite or Aramaic. And, its earliest attested use in India, as known to us, was said to be by the Grammarian Pāini in the form Yavanānī (यवनानी), which is taken by the commentators to mean Greek script.

During those times and up to the period of Mauryas, Greek was one of the official-languages of the North and North-west India.

Phraotes, the Indo-Parthian King of Taxila received a Greek education at the court of his father ; and spoke Greek fluently. According to the Life of Apollonius Tyana written by Philostratus, the Greek philosopher Apollonius Tyana around 46 CE recounts a talk on this:

“Tell me, O King, how you acquired such a command of the Greek tongue, and whence you derived all your philosophical attainments in this place?”

 The king replies, “My father, after a Greek education, brought me to the sages at an age somewhat too early perhaps, for I was only twelve at the time, but they brought me up like their own son; for any that they admit knowing the Greek tongue they are especially fond of, because they consider that in virtue of the similarity of his disposition he already belongs to themselves.”


The Buddhist text Milinda Panha (The Questions of King Milinda) dated between second and first century BCE (150 to 110 BCE) is said to be a record of the conversations that took place between the Indo-Greek king Menander I Soter  (who is said to have ruled over the regions of Kabul and Punjab);  and , the Buddhist monk Bhante Nagasena.

It is believed that debate that took place between the King and the Bhikku was conducted in the Bactrian Greek language; but , it was later rendered into Pali and Sanskrit.

There are several references to the term Yonaka, the Bactrian Greeks in the Milinda Panha. Apart from that, there are other instances. For instance; an inscription in caves at Nasik, near Bombay refers to nine Yonaka who were donors.  And the Mahàvamsa also mentions about the Bactrian Greek bhikkhu from Yona; one such monk was named Yona-dhamma-rakkhita.

kushan coins 512c coins from the Mauryan empire

And, Greek was still in official use during  the time of Kanishka (120 CE) . As per Prof. Nicholas Sims-Williams (University of London), Kanishka issued an edict  in Greek; and then he put it into the Bactrian.  The numismatic evidence shows that the  coins in Kanishka’s reign carried Greek script.


And , of course, the Gandhara Art was very much a reflection  or a recreation  in the mode of Greek Sculptures. Many of the Greek-art features and deities were incorporated in the representations of the Buddha. The figure of the Buddha was set within Greek architectural designs, such as Corinthian pillars and friezes.

In Gandharan Art, scenes of the life of the Buddha are typically depicted in a Greek environment, with the Buddha wearing heavier toga-like  robes. The Buddha images here , are were clearly Greco-Roman in inspiration ; sculpted as in the mode of deities from Greek mythological panthon, displaying wavy locks tucked up into a chignon atop his head .

And, often the Buddha is shown under the protection of the Greek god Herakles, standing with his club resting over his arm. This unusual representation of Herakles is the same as the one on the back of Demetrius’ coins.

Buddha with hercules Procter

Till about the seventh century , Greek was very much a part of the cultural, academic and administrative life of  North and North-West regions of India

The Greek script was used not only in manuscripts; but also on coins and stone inscriptions, as late as the period of Islamic invasions in the 7th-8th century CE.

Both the languages-Greek and Sanskrit- seemed to have shared common terms to indicate certain things. For instance :

  • Ink  (Sanskrit: melā, Greek: μέλαν melan“)
  • pen (Sanskrit: kalamo, Greek:κάλαμος “kalamos“)
  • book  (Sanskrit: pustaka, Greek: πύξινον “puksinon“)
  • bridle, a horse’s bit (Sanskrit: khalina, Greek: χαλινός “khalinos“)
  • center (Sanskrit: kendram, Greek: κενδρον “kendron“)
  • tunnel  or underground passage (Sanskrit: surungā, Greek: σύριγγα “suringa”)
  • Barbarian, blockhead, stupid” (Sanskrit: barbara, Greek:βάρβαρος “barbaros“)

(Source:–the-greco-roman-worl/ )


 Assalayana Sutta of Majjima Nikaya

The fact that Greeks (Yonas or Yavanas) were familiar figures in the North-West-India even as early as in Ca.6th century BCE is supported by a reference in the Assalayana Sutta of Majjima Nikaya.

The Majjhima Nikaya is a Buddhist scripture, the second of the five Nikayas or collections, in the Sutta Pitaka, which is one of the Tipitakas (three baskets) of the Pali Sthavira-vada (Theravada) Buddhism. Composed between 3rd century BCE and 2nd century, this collection is among the oldest records of the historical Buddha’s original teachings.

The Pali Cannon is considered to be the earliest collection of the original teachings of the Buddha; and, it is said to have been composed following the resolution taken at the First Council , which took place at Rajagrha, soon after the Parinirvana of the Buddha. It was transmitted orally for many centuries, before it was reduced to writing in Asoka-vihara, Ceylon during the reign of Vattagamani (first century BCE).

In the Assalayana Sutta (93.5-7 at page 766/1420) , the discussion that took place between an young Brahmana named Assvalayana (Skt. Ashvalayana) and the Buddha , refers to countries of Yona and Kambhoja , beyond the borders (Yona,Kambujesu aññesu ca paccantimesu Janapadesu) which did not follow the four-fold caste division; but, recognized only two classes – viz., slaves and free men. And, in these countries, a master could become a slave; and, likewise, a slave could become a master.

The Buddha says: “What do you think about this, Assalayana? Have you heard in the countries of Yona (Yonarattam; Skt. Yavana-rastram) and Kambhoja (Kambhojarattam; Skt. Kambhoja-rastram) and other districts beyond, there are only two castes: the master (Ayya) and the slave (Dasa)? And, having been a master, one becomes a slave; having been a slave, one becomes the master?” (A-S. 6.2)

Assalayana agrees; and replies: “Yes Master, so have I heard this, in Yona and Kambhoja … having been a slave, one becomes a master.”

Here, Yona is probably the Pali equivalent of Ionia; the reference being to the Bactrian (Skt. Bahlika) Greeks. And, Kambhoja refers to one of the Mahā-janapadas or a district in the Gandhara region of Uttara-patha, to the North of the Madhya-desha (Middle Country).


All these go to support the view that Panini’s date cannot possibly be later than 519 BCE.

elepphant carriage

In the Next Part ,  let’s take a look at

the Chapter-wise structure of Ashtadhyayi,

 and some of its  definitions and rules

Sources and References

  1. The Magadhan Literature by MM Pundit Harprasad Sastri
  2. The Ashtadhyayi of Panini. Translated into English by Srisa Chandra Vasu
    Published by Sindhu Charan Bose at The Panini Office, Benares – 1897
  3. Panini
  4. Panini –His place in Sanskrit Literature  by   Theodor Goldstucker, A.Trubner & Co., London – 1861
  5. Simulating the Paninian System of Sanskrit Grammar by  Anand Mishra
  6. India as Known to Pānini by V. S. Agrawala, Lucknow University of Lucknow, 1953
  7. Computing Science in Ancient India by Professor T.R.N. Rao and Professor Subhash Kak
  8. Panini’s Grammar and Computer Science by Saroja Bhate and Subhash Kak
  9. How Sanskrit Led To The Creation Of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table
  10. Indian Tradition of Linguistics and Pānini by Prof. Rama Nath Sharma
  11. Pāṇini: Catching the Ocean in a Cow’s Hoofprint by Vikram Chandra
  12. Panini: His Work and Its Traditions by George Cardona
  13. A Brief History of Sanskrit Grammar  by James Rang
  14. Introductionto Prakrit by  Alfr ed C . Woolner
  15. Chandah Sutra of Pingala Acharya, Edited by Pandita Visvanatha Sastri , Printed at the Ganesha Press, Calcutta – 1874

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Yaska and Panini – Part Two

Continued from Part One

 The Astadhyayi of Panini

panini sanskrit 2


Grammar (Vyakarana) was recognized  in India,  even from the earliest times,  as a distinct science; a field of study  with its own parameters, which distinguished it from other branches of learning / persuasions. That was  because, it was beleived,  Grammar helps to safeguard the correct  transmission of the scriptural knowledge; and , to assist the aspirant in comprehending  the true message  of the revealed texts (Sruti). And, therefore Vyakarana was regarded as the means to secure release from the bondage of ignorance, cluttered or muddled thinking.

The term Vyakarana is defined as vyakriyate anena iti vyakarana: Grammar is that which enables us to form and examine words and sentences.

Prof. Rama Nath Sharma summarizes the traditional view of Grammar

: – Grammar is a set of rules formulated based upon generalizations abstracted from usage.

: – The Astadhyayi accepts the language of the Sista as the norm for usage.

: – The function of Grammar is to account for the utterances of a language in such a way that fewer rules are employed to characterize the infinite number of utterances.

: – The Astadhyayi accounts for the utterances of the language by first abstracting sentences and then by conceptualizing the components of these sentences as consisting of bases and affixes.


In the linguistic traditions of ancient India, Vyakarana, also known as Vag-yoga; Sabda-yoga; or Sabdapurva-yoga; Pada-Shastra (the science of words) which treats the word as the basic unit (Shabda-anushasanam) occupied a preeminent position. It was/is regarded as one of the most important Vedanga (disciplines or branches of knowledge, which are designed to preserve the Vedas in their purity) – pradanam cha satsva agreshu Vyakaranam.

[But, at the same time, there existed a parallel system of linguistic analysis- Nighatu, Nirvachana shastra or Nirukta and Pratishakyas (considered to be the earliest formulations of Sanskrit grammar) – which served a different purpose.]

The primary object of Vyakarana, in that context, was to study the structure of the Vedic language in order to preserve its purity; its correct usage (sadhutva); and, to ensure its longevity (nitya). Panini asserted that the Grammar should be studied in order to preserve the Vedas in their pristine form (rakshatam Vedanam adhyeyam vyakaranam). 

Later, Bhartrhari (Ca. 450-510 C.E) also asserted that the role of Vyakarana (Grammaris very important; in safeguarding the correct transmission of the scriptural knowledge, and in assisting the aspirant in grasping the truth of the revealed knowledge (Sruti).

Bhartrhari compared Grammar to the medical science; and, said that just as the medicines remove the impurities of the body, so does Grammar removes the impurities of speech (chikitsitam van-malaanam) and of the mind.  Bhartrhari who inherited the traditional attitude towards Grammar, regarded it as the holiest branch of learning; and, elevated Grammar to the status of Agama and Sruti, leading the way to liberation (dvāram apavargasya). He believed the use of correct forms of language enables one to think clearly; and, makes it possible to gain philosophic wisdom or to pursue other branches of valid knowledge.

Tad dvāram apavargasya vāmalānā cikitsitam / pavitra sarva-vidyānām adhividya prakāśate – BVaky. 1.14

Prajñā- viveka labhate-bhinnair-āgama-darśanai / kiyad vā śakyam unnetusvatarkam anudhāvatā- BVaky. 2.489

Sādhutva jñāna viayā seya vyākaraa-smti / avicchedena śiṣṭānām ida smti –nibandhanam – BVaky. 1.158


Thus, the study of Grammar, which facilitates our understanding of the nature of words, meanings and the relationship between them and their variances, enables   us to construct correct sentences by use of appropriate words in order to precisely convey the intended meaning.

Therefore, the philosophy of language, in varied traditions, have always taken an important position in Indian thought. It was said:  “the foremost among the learned are the Grammarians, because Grammar lies at the root of all learning” (prathame hi vidvamso vaiyyakarabah, vyakarana mulatvat sarva vidyanam – Anandavardhana) 

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Schools of Grammar prior to Panini

The origin of Grammar cannot, of course, be pinpointed. Yaska and Panini are the two known great writers of the earliest times whose works have come down to us. They were perhaps before fifth century BCE; and, Yaska is generally considered to be earlier to Panini. Yaska’s work Nirukta is classified as etymology; and Panini’s work  Astadhyayi as Grammar (Vyakarana).

Though Panini is recognized as the earliest known Grammarian, it is evident that he was preceded by a long line of distinguished Grammarians. There, surely, were many treatises on Grammar and Etymology; but now, all of those are lost forever. And, Panini refers to a number of Grammarians previous to his time.  But, very little is known about those ancient Masters.

It is reasonable to acknowledge that Panini inherited a rich and vibrant tradition of Sanskrit Grammar. And, it was on the basis of the works of his predecessors that Panini could develop a grand system that is now universally accepted; and, hailed as the perfect and profound exposition of linguistic science. But, one cannot say, with certainty, to what extent Panini was indebted to each of his predecessors.

Regardless of how much or how little Panini derived his work from earlier sources, his Astadhyayi is indeed a remarkable work.


Hartmut Scharfe, in his Grammatical Literature (Otto Harrassowitz, 1977), writing about Panini, says (at page 108):

Panini, and with him, the later Grammarians, who contributed to the science of Grammar before him, owe their greatness to a combination of fundamental discoveries:

  • The insight that the proper object of Grammar is the spoken language; not its written presentation
  • The theory of substitution
  • The analysis in root and suffix
  • The recognition of ablaut correspondence
  • The formal description of language as against a ‘logical’ characterization; and
  • The concise formulation through the use of a metalanguage


It is often said: the transparent nature of Sanskrit made the analysis possible. But, we can argue as well that it was first Panini’s (and his predecessors’) analysis , which made the structure so transparent : was the relationship of Dohmi and Adhuksat , or Majjati and Madgu really obvious ?

The history of Sanskrit grammar is generally classified into three broad segments: the Grammars that were in use prior to the time of Panini (Pre-Panian) – Pracheena-vyakarana; the Grammars that follow the system devised by Panini (Panian); and, those Grammars whose systems and methods vary from that of Panini (Non- Panian) or Navya-vyakarana – post Panini.

Later age Grammarians recognize the eight Grammarians of merit, Vyakarana-shastra-pravartakas:

Indra (इन्द्रः), Chandra (चन्द्रः), Kasha (काशः), Krtsnapishali (कृत्स्नापिशली), Shakatayana (शाकटायनः), Panini (पाणिनिः), Amarajainendra (अमरजैनेन्द्रः), Jayanti (जयन्तिः) are the eight Masters of Shabda (word) or Grammar

 इन्द्रश्चन्द्रः काशकृत्स्नापिशली शाकटायनः । पाणिन्यमरजैनेन्द्राः जयन्त्यष्टौ च शाब्दिकाः


Among all the traditional systems of Grammar (compiled by Indra, Chandra, Kasakritsna, Kumara, Sakatayana, Sarasvati Anubhuti Svarupa acharya, Apisali and Panini),  it is only the system of Panini that is acknowledged as being complete, comprehensive and thoroughly logical; and, that which has survived to this day, in its entirety.

And, therefore, whatever be the type or the School  of Sanskrit Grammar that is discussed, it, invariably,  is  carried out with reference to the  classic tradition promulgated by Panini;  and, enriched by three  celebrated works : Astadhyayi (of Panini);  Vrttikas (of Katyayana) ; and, Mahabhashya  (of Patanjali).  The three authors, the Trinity (Muni traya), are revered as the Sages of Sanskrit Grammar.

The system devised by Panini is, therefore, looked upon as a Great Science (Paniniyam-Mahashastram) concerning words : Paniniyam-mahashastram-pada-sadhu-yukta – lakshanam) ; and, is always at the centre of vast and varied traditions of Sanskrit Grammar.

The term Vyakarana, literally means analysis; and, it broadly stands for linguistic analysis, in general.  But, in practice, when one refers to Sanskrit Grammar, it very often signifies Panini’s Grammar.

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The Astadhyayi

The Aṣṭādhyāyī of Panini is indeed a seminal work in the whole of linguistic sciences across all the regions of the world. And, it holds an unrivalled position in the history of Sanskrit Grammar.  Because of its overwhelming importance, all the earlier works of different Grammatical Schools gradually disappeared. Panini’s Astadhyayi, in its turn, became the most influential school of Sanskrit grammar; and, has been the focal point of much critical and descriptive work over the last two millennia.

The arrival of the Aṣṭādhyāyī was nodoubt  a significant  event within the already-rich tradition of Indian linguistics. But , it had to wait  a couple of centuries or more  to gain any sort of recognition.

Pundit Harprasad Sastri mentions that the author of Arthashastra (350-275 BCE) was not aware of Panini’s Grammar, although it was written much before the time of Chanakya. There are many expressions in Arthashastra that are not in conformity with the rules of the Astadhyayi. It obviously means that even by the time of Chanakya, Panini’s work had not acquired recognition; and, was not in common use, even among the well-read.  

And, it was only after Patanjali (about 150 BCE); Panini’s work gained universal recognition.

The Aṣṭādhyāyī consists of almost about 4,000 Sutras (Sūtrāi) or rules, distributed among eight (Asta) chapters (Adhyäyäh). Hence, the text, the  Sūtrapāha of Pāini, is titled as AstädhyäyiEach of its eight Chapters is subdivided into four sections or Padas (pādāḥ) – a total of 32 subsections.

Starting with about 1700 basic elements like nouns, verbs, vowels, consonants Panini  puts  them into classes. The construction of sentences, compound nouns etc. is explained as ordered rules operating on stated principles.

Panini , the student of Varsha, gained fame as a Great Grammarian based on his work Astadhyayi (the eight chapters) , which comprises about four thousand concise rules or Sutras, preceded by a list of sounds divided into fourteen groups. The Sutra Patha, the basic text of Astadhyayi has come down to us in the oral traditions; and has remained remarkably intact except for a few variant readings and plausible interpolations.


The Astadhyayi of Panini- also called Pāṇinīya-sūtra-patha; Astaka; Sabda-anushasana; and, Vritti-sutra – is not a Grammar in its strict sense. Astadhyayi was not composed for teaching Sanskrit, though it is a foundational text that   can be used for understanding the language, speaking it correctly and using it precisely It is a system of rules (Sūtrāi),   which generates and regulates all the right forms of Sanskrit. Hence, Patanjali calls it Siṣṭa-jñānārthā Aṣṭādhyāyī. (M. Bh.  VI. 3.109).

Panini aimed (lakshya)  to ensure the correct usage of the words in order to discipline and to regulate the behaviour of the language of his time (Bhasha)- the literary and spoken (vaidika- laukika) – by purifying (Samskruta)  both the forms, so that the inner meaning of the expressed words could shine forth unhindered.


For Panini, Grammar is a way of synthesis. His Grammar does not divide the words into stems and suffixes (as in the Nirukta of Yaska). On the contrary, it combines the constituent elements with a view to form words. Therefore, the Grammar here, is understood as ‘the word formation ‘or as an ‘instrument by which forms are created in various ways’ (vividhena prakarena akrtayah kriyante yena).

Panini’s Grammar, as per its working-scheme, attempts to build up Sanskrit words (pada) from their root forms (dhatu-prakara), suffixes (pratyaya), verbal roots; pre-verbs (upasarga); primary and secondary suffixes; nominal and verbal terminations; and , define their function (karya) in a sentence. These constituent elements are invested with meaning. Derived from these elements, in their various combinations, words and sentences are formed to cogently express collection of meanings as held by these elements.

Towards this end , Panini formulated  different sets of rules , such as : the rules regulating  a grammatical operation {vidhi-sütra); the rules  defining  a technical term  {samjnä-sütra); and, the set of Meta-rules,  guiding the interpretation and  application  of  the  other rules (paribhäsä-sütra), and headings (adhikära-süträ). The underlying principle of Panini’s work is that nouns are derived from verbs.

Thus, Astadhyayi could said to be a precise and logical system to form declinations, conjugations, composed words and derivatives, which enable one to understand the precise meaning of the words.


Thus, Panini defined the terms (samjna) employed in the grammar, set the rules for interpretation (paribhasha), and outlined, as guideline, the convention he followed.

Patanjali explains that Panini did not attempt to list out all the terms and words in the Sanskrit language (pratipada-pāṭha); because, such a method would surely have been futile and endless. Instead, he created a set of general (sāmānya) and particular (viśea) rules that encapsulate all the salient features of the language, in a concise form, in a manner that one can understand and memorize with little effort (tat yathā ekena gopadaprea). Thus, Panini could capture a vast and mighty ocean (Varidhi) within the mark of a cow’s foot (गोष्पद) Goshpadi kruta vaareesham.

 In other words, Panini created a system having finite number of rules that can be used to regulate a potentially infinite number of arrangements of utterances (sentences, vakya). He transformed the infinite into finite. His was indeed a pioneering task in any language.  With his system it became possible to say whether or not a sequence of sounds represented a correct utterance in the Bhasha (Sanskrit).

Panini  was also interested in the synthetic problems involved in formation of compound words; and the relationship of the nouns in a sentence with the action (kriya)  indicated by the verb. With this, he sought to systematically analyze the correct sentences (vakya).

Panini’s grammar is distinguished above all similar works of other countries, partly by its thoroughly exhaustive investigation of the roots of the language and the formation of words; partly by its sharp precision of expression, which indicates with brevity whether forms come under the same or different rules.

According to Abhik Ghosh and Paul Kiparsk; the Astadhyayi provided comprehensive rules governing other aspects of the Sanskrit language, such as the phonological patterning of Sanskrit sounds.  One could use these rules to generate new words as well as novel expressions and sentences.

Panini’s Astadhyayi has thus served, over the centuries, as the basic means (upaya) to analyze and understand Sanskrit sentences.


Dr. Victor Bartholomew D’avella writes  in his  well researched  very scholarly Doctoral Thesis : Creating the perfect language : Sanskrit grammarians, poetry, and the exegetical tradition

The aim of Panini’s grammar, as Patañjali points out, is to give a series of general rules in the very condensed sūtra-style, with exceptions as appropriate.  That is to say, Pāini tells the reader what to do in order to generate a correct word in a specific syntactic environment; he does not give, for the most part, the correct words themselves.

What one is instructed to do is to assign technical terms, add suxes and augments to nominal and verbal bases (prātipadika  and  dhātus, respectively); and, make further modifications and substitutions as required. The entire process is termed prakriyā ,“derivation.”

His text , the  Aṣṭādhyā, in substance, defines and uses a  meta-language that must be mastered before the rules themselves can be understood or appliedin any meaningful way. 

The meta-language includes, inter alia , unique functions for the cases,metarules (rules for interpreting and ordering other rules), and it s or anubandha s, “indicatory letters,” that indicate the application or prohibition of other rules, etc.

And, brevity is one of the famed aspirations of Sanskrit grammarians—including anuvtti , “rolling along,” i.e., the continuation of a word from one sūtra into what follows when no other word in the same syntactic position blocks it; and, pratyāhāras, “abbreviated list,” i.e., the equation of a longer series of letters with a shorter (usually mono-syllabic) combination of letters

The  Aṣṭādhyā is , thus, a set of rules,  with which the user can generate correct Sanskrit words out of nominal or verbal bases and suxes. The interpretation of these highly condensed sūtras gave way to an extensive commentarial tradition, the study of which formed into a highly regarded and complex discipline unto itself.

Ashtadhyayi (Adhya7)

Vyāghramukhī gau, a tiger-faced cow

One of the diculties in studying and writing about Sanskrit grammar is that the primary texts are extremely technical and foreign to most people who have not already familiarized themselves with Pāinis methods and the type of argumentation that is employed throughout the tradition

Having said that; Astadhyayi is by no means an easy text. It presents many difficulties. It takes much effort, patience and time to wade through its tight-knit structure and its unique terminology. Every student finds it difficult to surmount Panini’s varied types of rules and exceptions. Apart from its  overriding concern for economy , its every Sutra is affected by its neighbours. And, therefore, each time, one has to keep going back and forth; and, keep checking.

Despite its elegant structure, the Astadhyayi is hard to understand. Some called it Vyāghramukhī gau, a tiger-faced cow.


Panini’s Ashtadhyayi is composed in Sutra form – terse and tightly knit; rather highly abbreviated. The text, therefore, does need a companion volume to explain it. And, over a period of time several commentaries were produced explaining and interpreting the Ashtadhyayi.

The earliest known explanatory note on the text was provided by Katyayana who wrote a Vartika, a brief explanation of Ashtadhyayi. Katyayana is assigned to third century BCE. Because of the considerable time-gap between Panini and Katyayana, their language and mode of expressions vary considerably.

About a hundred years later, Katyayana’s Vartika was followed by Vyakarana- Mahabhashya of Patanjali (Ca. Second century BCE), a detailed commentary on Panini’s work; together with his observations of the Vartika of Katyayana.

[Peter M Scharf says : The Astadhyayi consisting of nearly 4,000 rules is known to have undergone modifications at different stages.

To start with , Katyayana (4th-3rd BCE) suggested modifications to 1,245 of Panini’s rules ; generally, in the form of additions (Upa-sankhyana). Next, Patanjali (mid 2nd century BCE) , in his Mahabhashya, rejects many additions suggested by by Katyayana. Patanjali , in turn, brings in other modifications (Isti) ; and, articulates principles as pre-supposed in the Grammar.

Later, many modifications – as suggested by Katyayana and Patanjali – were adopted in the text  of Jayaditya and Vamana’s Kaisika (7th century BCE)

That was followed by the tradition of Prakriya .]


For a very considerable length of time, the Grammar, as composed by Pāini, of the language of the Vedas and the spoken high-standard language pushed other grammatical works into oblivion.

In the course of the centuries,  several additions and adaptations were proposed and variously accepted in the rules and in the lists of roots and other lexical norms. This gave rise to Prakriya-texts, in different forms and interpretations of Pāini’s grammar; and also to grammars that appeared under a new title; even if they are largely derived from and inspired by Pāini’s grammar.

Thereafter, the tradition of Prakriya texts took over. Such Prakriya or applied texts focused more on derivations and rule-applications; and, claimed to be relatively easier to comprehend. That was brought about by rearranging the rules of the Aṣṭādhyāyī; limiting their corpus to varying lengths with placement of blocks of rules following a certain functional hierarchy, conducive to practical-grammar.

The Prakriya texts were more interested in facilitating rule-application; than in providing theoretical concepts for guidance in interpretation. Many a times, these texts ended up compromising the precise interpretation of Panini’s rules

Dharmakīrti began the tradition of prakriyā or derivation texts, which do not follow the Aṣṭādhyāyī’s sequence of Sūtras;  but rearranges them thematically around various grammatical topics, with suitable well considered comments (sāṃśodhya pariṣkr̥tya ca prakāśitaḥ).

The other more notable of such Prakriya texts are , the Prakriyā-kaumudi of Rāmacandra and the Vyakarana-Siddhānta-kaumudi of Bhațţoji Dīkşhita.  And, Bhattoji Dikshita’s work, in turn, was followed by   Sāra-siddhānta-kaumudī; a middle-length Madhya-siddhānta-kaumudī; and, shorter version Laghu-kaumudī all by Varadarāja a student of Bhattoji Dikshita.


Dharmakīrti (Eleventh Century), was the first to produce a Prakriya text titled the Rūpāvatāra (rūpāņām avatāra rūpāvatāra -Upacārād rūpā-avatāram-adhikstya krto granthopi),  which rearranged Pāini’s Sūtras in functional blocks as per the theoretical concepts and  accepted practices of Grammar.

Rūpāvatāra discusses only 2,664 rules (out of about 4,000 of Panini), where its focus shifts from details of interpretation to rule-application and types of derivation. The notion of Prakaraa (context) which Pāini developed, and which guided him in placement of his rules their application and interpretation, especially as it related to context sharing (ekavākyatā), in the Aṣṭādhyāyī, was modified.

As Prof. Rama Nath Sharma explains in his Indian Tradition of Linguistics and Pāṇini, the Rūpāvatāra consists of two parts. The First part divided into ten Avatāras (manifestations): Sajñā (technical terms); Sahitā (close proximity between sounds); Vibhakti (inflectional endings); Avyaya (indeclinable); Strīpratyaya (feminine affixes) Kāraka, Samāsa (compounds); and , Taddhita (secondary suffixes).

The second part of Rūpāvatāra has three major divisions (Paricchedas): Sārvadhātuka; Ardhadhātuka; and, Kt. Each division is further classified into sections (Prakaraas). The entire second part is presented under the general title of Dhātu-pratyaya-pañcikā.


Ramachandra (Ca. 14th Century) in his Prakriyā-kaumudī, just as Dharmakīrti, focused primarily on Sūtras dealing with the classical language. And, he also re-arranged the Sutras. But, he was more influenced by Kāśikā-vtti, the other School of Grammar. He did not discuss Panini’s Sutras in detail; but only gave a summary treatment; making it easier for the learners (ānantyāt sarvaśabdā hi na śakyante’ nuśāsitum / bālavyutpattaye’ smābhi sakipyoktā yathāmati)


Bhaṭṭoji Dīkita, Kauṇḍa Bhaṭṭa and Nāgeśa Bhatta are three important authors in the development of the Siddhānta literature. The Siddhānta texts focused more on topics of theoretical interest and presented them in such an in-depth analytical manner that set standards of grammar in the tradition of Pāini.

Prof. Rama Nath Sharma describes the Vaiyākaraṇa Siddhānta Kaumudi  written by Bhaṭṭoji Dīkita during the 17th century CE.  as ‘a theoretical marvel’ that rooted out all competition and brought the Pāinian tradition to a full circle. His text re-arranges the Sūtras of Pāini under appropriate heads; and, renders it easier to follow. His treatment of the Sūtras is very brief, but very insightful, precise and thorough and comprehensive.

Bhaṭṭoji Dīkkita cites the opinion of the three sages (Muni-traya) of grammar (ini, Kātyāyana, and Patañjali) ; but, treats the  Mahābhāya  of Patanjali as an ultimate authority. Anything that contradicts the opinion of Patañjali is rejected. 

Bhattoji Diksita’s work was later edited into  three (Madhya, Laghu and Sara) abridged versions (Laghu-kaumudi) by his student Varadarāja, reducing the number of rules to 723 (from 3,959 of Pāini). This is said to be very useful to students of Sanskrit grammar who are not capable of studying the Ashtadhyayi or Siddhanta Kaumudi with its Sanskrit commentaries.


Prakriyā-sarvasva by the brilliant and versatile author Nārāyaa Bhaṭṭa of Melputtūr (17th century) is at least as comprehensive as the well-known Pāinian grammar of Bhaṭṭoji Dīkita, the Siddhānta-kaumudī.  

But it significantly differs from it in both method and substance; even if both remain within the framework of Pāini’s system.

The Prakriyā-Sarvasva provides many novel perspectives on theoretical issues in Pāinian grammar and represents a much-neglected pragmatic approach (in contrast to the exegetic approach of Bhaṭṭoji Dīkita). Since its object is Sanskrit as used and accepted not only by the three sages – Pāini, Kātyāyana and Patañjali –  but also by later authors of the Sanskrit tradition, it can be justly regarded as a Pāinian grammar of living Sanskrit. Three different dimensions of the Prakriyā-Sarvasva confirm this.  The features of the grammar, which, like the Siddhānta-Kaumudī, is a re-ordered version of Pāini’s grammar; the principles of the grammar as explained and illustrated in a special section of the grammar; the defense, in a brief treatise, of the basic principles against other grammarians.

[For more this; please read ‘ Pāṇinian grammar of living Sanskrit: features and principles of the Prakriyā-Sarvasva of Nārāyaṇa-Bhaṭṭa of Melputtūr’ by  Jan E.M. Houben]


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Panini and Yaska

Both the scholars – Yaska and Panini – composed their works at the time, when certain Vedic words had become obsolete ; and, a number of new forms were coming into usage.

While Yaska’s focus was mainly on the  etymology and the interpretation of certain obsolete Vedic terms and words; Panini had in view both Vedic and the spoken language at the time.

The main object of Panini’s  Sutras  is to deal with  the Bhasha, living speech of the day. He had the advantage of consulting many earlier treatises on Grammar composed by his predecessors.  He developed a system of Grammar, which bears the stamp of accuracy and thoroughness.

Though Panini distinguishes between the language of sacred texts and the usual language of communication , he covers both the forms of language.

Panini’s general rules , which generates all correct forms of Sanskrit, are applicable to both of the domains of Sanskritthe language of his time (Bhasha); and, the archaic language of the Vedic hymns (Chhandas).

But, those  rules which applied only  to the  language of the Vedic texts  are treated separately   by stating the specific Vedic sub-domains.

And, the domain of the contemporary spoken standard Sanskrit was also then sub-divided into as those of scholastic usage and regional dialects. 

Thus, unlike the Nirukta of Yaska and the Pratisakhya texts, Panini gave importance to the language in use among the well-educated (Sista) of his time; as also to the language of the Vedas (Chhandas).

The Aṣṭādhyāyi marks the beginning of what is sometimes called ‘Classical Sanskrit’ – in contrast with  Chhandas,  the language of the Vedic texts – and the Sanskrit of the Kavyas of the medeival periods.

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Panini’s contribution to Sanskrit language

Regarding Panini’s contribution to Sanskrit language, Prof. A L Basham writes (The Wonder That Was India):

After the composition of the Rig Veda, Sanskrit developed considerably. New words, mostly borrowed from non Aryan sources, were introduced, while old words were forgotten, or lost their original meanings. In these circumstances doubts arose as to the true pronunciation and meaning of the older Vedic texts, though it was generally thought that unless they were recited with complete accuracy they would have no magical effectiveness, but bring ruin on the reciter.  Out of the need to preserve the purity of the Vedas India developed the sciences of phonetics and grammar. The oldest Indian linguistic text, Yaska’s Nirukta, explaining obsolete Vedic words, dates from the 5th century B.C., and followed much earlier works in the linguistic field.

Panini’s great grammar, the Astadhyayi (Eight Chapters) was probably composed towards the end of the 5-th century BCE (?). With Panini, the language had virtually reached its classical form, and it developed little thenceforward, except in its vocabulary.

By this time, the sounds of Sanskrit had been analysed with an accuracy never again reached in linguistic study until the 19th Century. One of ancient India’s greatest achievements is her remarkable alphabet, commencing with the vowels and followed by the consonants, all classified very scientifically according to their mode of production, in sharp contrast to the haphazard and inadequate Roman alphabet, which has developed organically for three millennia. It was only on the discovery of Sanskrit by the West that a science of phonetics arose in Europe.

The great grammar of Panini, which effectively stabilized the Sanskrit language, presupposes the work of many earlier grammarians. These had succeeded in recognizing the root as the basic element of a word, and had classified some 2,000 monosyllabic roots which, with the addition of prefixes, suffixes and inflexions, were thought to provide all the words of the language. Though the early etymologists were correct in principle, they made many errors and false derivations, and started a precedent which produced interesting results in many branches of Indian thought

There is no doubt that Panini’s grammar is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of any ancient civilization, and the most detailed and scientific grammar composed before the 19th century in any part of the world. The work consists of over 4000 grammatical rules, couched in a sort of shorthand, which employs single letters or syllables for the names of the cases, moods, persons, tenses, etc. In which linguistic phenomena arc classified.

Some later grammarians disagreed with Panini on minor points, but his grammar was so widely accepted that no writer or speaker of Sanskrit in courtly circles dared seriously infringe it. With Panini the language was fixed, and could only develop within the framework of his rules. It was from the time of Panini onwards that the language began to be called Samskruta, “perfected” or “refined”, as opposed to the Prakrta  (unrefined), the popular dialects which had developed naturally.

Paninian Sanskrit, though simpler than Vedic, is still a very complicated language. Every beginner finds great difficulty in surmounting Panini’s rules of euphonic combination (Sandhi), the elaboration of tendencies present in the language even in Vedic times. Every word of a sentence is affected by its neighbours. Thus na- avadat (he did not say) becomes navadat.  But, na-uvaca (with the same meaning) becomes novaca. There are many rules of this kind, which were even artificially imposed on the Rig Veda, so that the reader must often disentangle the original words to find the correct meter.

Panini, in standardizing Sanskrit, probably based his work on the language as it was spoken in the North-West. Already the lingua franca of the priestly class, it gradually became that of the governing class also. The Mauryas, and most Indian dynasties until the Guptas, used Prakrit for their official pronouncements.

As long as it is spoken and written a language tends to develop, and its development is generally in the direction of simplicity. Owing to the authority of Panini, Sanskrit could not develop freely in this way. Some of his minor rules, such as those relating to the use of tenses indicating past time, were quietly ignored, and writers took to using imperfect, perfect and aorist indiscriminately; but Panini’s rules of inflexion had to be maintained. The only way in which Sanskrit could develop away from inflexion was by building up compound nouns to take the place of the clauses of the sentence.

With the growth of long compounds Sanskrit also developed a taste for long sentences. The prose works of Bana and Subandhu, written in the 7th century, and the writings of many of their successors, contain single sentences covering two or three pages of type. To add to these difficulties writers adopted every conceivable verbal trick, until Sanskrit literature became one of the most ornate and artificial in the world.

Indian interest in language spread to philosophy, and there was considerable speculation about the relations of a word and the thing it represented. The Mimamsa School, reviving the verbal mysticism of the later Vedic period, maintained that every word was the reflexion of an eternal prototype, and that its meaning was eternal and inherent in it. Its opponents, especially the logical school of Nyaya , supported the view that the relation of word and meaning was purely conventional. Thus the controversy was similar to that between the Realists and Nominalists in medieval Europe.

Classical Sanskrit was probably never spoken by the masses, but it was never wholly a dead language. It served as a lingua franca for the whole of India, and even today learned Brahmans from the opposite ends of the land, meeting at a place of pilgrimage, will converse in Sanskrit and understands each other perfectly.

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The Astadhyayi in modern times

As mentioned earlier; the Astadhyayi of Panini is one of the most remarkable works that the world has ever seen. It is primarily a much trusted reference-source concerning Sanskrit Grammar. As for Pāini, he came to be regarded as the ideal or the icon for scholarship in classical India.

But, what is amazing is the type and extent of attention that Astadhyayi attracted in the Nineteenth  and twentieth centuries, from the scholars of linguistic sciences in the West; the community of scientists; and, the developers of the computer virtual languages.



Panini’s Astadhyayi is composed in Sutra form – terse and tightly knit; rather highly abbreviated. Brevity was one of his main concerns. Panini used a concise logical system of notations that allowed him to describe Sanskrit in as little space or in as fewer words as possible.

It is generally agreed that the Panini’s system is based on a principle of economy. This makes its structure of special interest to cognitive scientists.

In that, the modern linguistic analysts recognized what they called as the minimum description length principle. That principle states that the best model is that which efficiently achieves the best compression of grammatical rules. It is designed to express the set of rules in briefest possible manner.

As the Indologist Johan Frederik (Frits) Staal pointed out; “Panini’s linguistic rules can live on in daughter languages even after historical changes have disrupted their phonetic basis”.

According to the legendary linguist Noam Chomsky, of   Massachusetts Institute of Technology : the Aṣṭādhyāyī provided the first ‘generative grammar’ in the modern sense of the word;  meaning a complete set of rules for combining morphemes,  (the smallest meaningful units of language, such as word roots and stems, prefixes and suffixes),  into grammatical sentences. 


A Sutra has to be comprehensive, objective, brief and precise. Panini chose the technique of context-sharing (eka-vakyata). Panini’s rules are interdependent. It is because of two reasons – physical nearness; and, the other is because of Anuvrtti, which is now termed as ‘recurrence’. The Anuvrtti controls the reading of a Sutra in conjunction with its preceding and subsequent Sutra .The higher-level rules within the domain are brought close or within the context of the lower-level rule. This helps to reconstruct the shared-context of a given rule, within a domain; and, better interpretation of the lower-level rule.

Thus, a Sutra, when fully equipped with all the information required for its application , becomes a statement.


Converting letters based on its position in alphabet to numbers

Some scholars believe that Panini was the first to come up with the idea of using letters of the alphabet to represent numbers. And, that the Brahmi numerals were developed by using letters or syllables as numerals.

Hashing 1


Astadhyayi and western linguistics

ini’s work became known in 19th century Europe, where it influenced the linguistics of that period.

The Historian Prof. A. L. Basham opined that It was only on the discovery of Sanskrit by the West that a science of phonetics arose in Europe

It is said; Pāini’s work was of much help in the development of modern linguistics through the efforts of scholars such as Franz Bopp, Ferdinand de Saussure, Leonard Bloomfield, and Roman Jakobson. Bopp was a pioneering scholar of the comparative grammars of Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages.

During 1839-40, Otto Böhtlingk published Pânini’s acht Bücher grammatischer Regein, a two-volume translation of the Aṣṭadhyāyī. And again, towards the end of the Nineteenth Century, he brought out Pânini’s Grammatik, a commentary on Panini’s work.

Ferdinand de Saussure, in his most influential work, Course in General Linguistics (Cours de linguistique générale)  that was published posthumously (1916), took the idea of the use of formal rules of Sanskrit grammar and applied them to general linguistic phenomena.

Modern linguists like Ferdinand de Saussure and Noam Chomsky said Panini’s style of notation is similar to Backus-Naur form, which is used to define both human languages and programming languages.

Ferdinand de Saussure cited Indian Grammar as an influence on some of his ideas. In his De l’emploi du genitif absolu en sanscrit (On the Use of the Genitive Absolute in Sanskrit) published in 1881, a monograph on the genitive absolute, he specifically mentions Panini as an influence on the work.

In Noam Chomsky’s Optimality Theory, the hypothesis about the relation between specific and general constraints is known as “Panini’s Theorem on Constraint Ranking”.

Earlier, the founding father of American structuralism, Leonard Bloomfield, had also written a paper ‘ On some rules of Panini’.

Prem Singh, in his foreword to the reprint edition of the German translation of Pāini’s Grammar in 1998, concluded that the “effect Panini’s work had on Indo-European linguistics shows itself in various studies” and that a “number of seminal works come to mind,” including Saussure’s works and the analysis that “gave rise to the laryngeal theory,” further stating: “This type of structural analysis suggests influence from Panini’s analytical teaching.

Panini’s grammar has been evaluated from various points of view. After all these different evaluations, I think , his grammar merits assertion  as being one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence.

J J O’Connor and E F Robertson


Astadhyayi and Mendeleev’s periodic tables

According to Professor Paul Kiparsky of Stanford University, there are striking similarities between the Periodic Tables of Mendeleev; and, the introductory Śhiva-Sūtras (Maheshvara-Sutra) in Panini’s Grammar.

It is said; Mendeleev gained familiarity with the Grammar of Panini through his friend, the Sanskrit scholar , Böhtlingk, who was preparing the second edition of his book on Panini (Acht Bücher grammatischer Regein ), at about this time

And, Mendeleev was much impressed by Panini’s logic; and, wished to honour Pānini with his nomenclature.

Mendeleev, presumably, saw Panini’s approach as analogous to his own quest for a Grammar of nature. One of the most iconic symbols of modern science, as it arose in the latter part of the 19th century in Europe, may thus owe a significant debt to an ancient Eastern language and culture.

The noted scholar Subhash Kak in his paper How Sanskrit Led To The Creation Of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table ; observes:

Convinced that the analogy was fundamental, Mendeleev theorized that the gaps that lay in his table must correspond to undiscovered elements. For his predicted eight elements, he used the prefixes of eka, dvi, and tri (Sanskrit one, two, three) in their naming.

panini periodic tables

Mendeleev’s use of the Sanskrit numerals eka, dvi-, and tri – in naming the as yet undiscovered elements are indeed homage to Pāini.

Professor Paul Kiparsky of Stanford University writes:

The analogies between the two systems are striking. Just as Panini found that the phonological patterning of sounds in the language is a function of their articulatory properties, so Mendeleev found that the chemical properties of elements are a function of their atomic weights.

Like Panini, Mendeleev arrived at his discovery through a search for the “grammar” of the elements (using what he called the principle of isomorphism, and looking for general formulas to generate the possible chemical compounds).

Just as Panini arranged the sounds in order of increasing phonetic complexity (e.g. with the simple stops k,p… preceding the other stops, and representing all of them in expressions like kU, pU) so Mendeleev arranged the elements in order of increasing atomic weights, and called the first row (oxygen, nitrogen, carbon etc.) “Typical (or representative) elements”.

Just as Panini broke the phonetic parallelism of sounds when the simplicity of the system required it, e.g. putting the velar to the right of the labial in the nasal row, so Mendeleev gave priority to isomorphism over atomic weights when they conflicted, e.g. putting beryllium in the magnesium family because it patterns with it even though by atomic weight it seemed to belong with nitrogen and phosphorus. In both cases, the periodicities they discovered would later be explained by a theory of the internal structure of the elements.


According to Abhik Ghosh and Paul Kiparsk; the Astadhyayi also provided comprehensive rules governing other aspects of the Sanskrit language, such as the phonological patterning of Sanskrit sounds.  One could use these rules to generate new words as well as novel expressions and sentences. In our view, what Pāini did for Sanskrit, Mendeleev tried to do for chemistry.

Panini computer

The Astadhyayi and Computer language

Much has been written and discussed about the plausible relation between the Computer Science and the concepts, rules of Panini’s Astadhyayi. Needleless to say, it is very fascinating.

The Western scholars describe Ashtadhyayi as a generative as well as descriptive text. With its complex use of Meta-rules, transformations, and recursions, the grammar in Ashtadhyayi is compared to the Turing machine, an idealized mathematical model that reduces the logical structure of any computing device to its essentials.

In fact, Panini’s work is context-sensitive; it addresses only Sanskrit; and, is not a ‘universal Grammar’. But, a most amazing thing happened in the twentieth century with the development of computer languages. The writers of these virtual languages discovered that Panini’s rules can be used for describing perhaps all human languages; and, it can be used for programming the first high level programming language, such as ALGOL60. It is said; by applying Panini’s rules it is possible to check whether or not a given sequence of statement forms a correct expression in a particular programming language.

The Backus-Normal-Form-(BNF), a meta-linguistic-formula, was discovered independently  by John Backus in 1959; but , Panini’s notation is beleived to be equivalent in its power to that of Backus;  and, has many similar properties. Interestingly, at one time,  the name ini Backus Form was also suggested,  in view of the fact that Pāini had  also independently developed a similar notation earlier.

The structure of Pāini‘s work contains a meta-language, meta-rules, and other technical devices that make this system effectively equivalent to the computing machine. Although it didn’t directly contribute to the development of computer languages, it influenced linguistics and mathematical logic, which, in turn, had earlier given birth to computer science.


The specific feature of the Astadhyayi that is of interest to the computer science is the system that is based on the principle of economy. The striking feature of the Sutra format which is employed in Astadhyayi is the use of abbreviated expressions by way of several algebraic devices.

The other is the arrangement of the rules and the logic that governs it. The Sutras are arranged, topic wise, in such a manner that a given rule borrows an item from the preceding context. That ensures continuity and economy of expression to a large extent

Panini employs a device called Anubandha, a coded-letter, which indicates a grammatical function, comparable to elision and reduplication. Panini made use of almost all vowels and consonants as symbols for various functions. And, Anubandhas are added to various grammatical units such as suffix, an augment and a root.

Another aspect of Panini’s descriptive technique is the law of Utsarga (general rules) and Apavada (exceptions) that relates exceptions and individual rules. Here, the exception (Apavada) is more powerful that the general-rule (Utsarga). Therefore, before applying the Utsarga one has to check for its Apavada(s). Further, once an Utsarga is barred from entering in to the area of its exception, it can never enter the area again.

Panini did not use all Padas in each Sutra to complete the meaning of the each Sutra; instead, he took some Padas from previous Sutras to achieve completeness. And, this process is analogous to Recursion.

It is said; the shades of some of the modern-day theories of programming languages can be found in Panini’s work; for instance: Recursion; Inheritance; and, Polymorphism. For more on that, please check here ; and here.

There are also dissenting views which say: while Sanskrit may be a good language for knowledge representation, It certainly is not the best language for programming


The research paper by Gerald Penn and Paul Kipraski Panini and the Generative Capacity of Contextualized Replacement Systems’ concludes :

The underlying formalism to Painian grammar, while our knowledge of it is incomplete, presents enough evidence to conclusively demonstrate that it is far greater in its expressive power than either RL or CFL.

Panini has nevertheless anticipated modern generative syntactic practice in defining for himself a very versatile tool which he then applies very thriftily to advance his own objectives of grammatical brevity and elegance.

As a result, his Astadhyayı may even be amenable to an RL-style analysis, as Hyman (2007) has claimed. But in light of this investigation, the result of this analysis certainly could not be a grammar in Panini’s own style, but rather Panini’s grammar recast into someone else’s style.

No proof is presented here, however, that the Paninian framework is complete in the sense that it can generate any context-sensitive language. This remains an open question.


Please also read a very scholarly research paper: Panini’s Grammar and Computer Science by Saroja Bhate and Subhash Kak

This paper concludes with the statement:

One great virtue of the Paninian  system is that it operates at the level of roots and suffixes defining a deeper level of analysis than afforded by recent approaches like generalized phrase structure grammars that have been inspired by development of computer parsing techniques. This allows for one to include parts of the lexicon in the definition of the grammatical structure. Closeness between languages that share a great deal of a lexicon will thus be represented better using a Paninian structure.

These fundamental investigations that have bearing on linguistics, knowledge representation, and natural language processing by computer require collaboration between computer scientists and Sanskrit scholars. Computer oriented studies on Astadhyayi  would also help to introduce AI (artificial intelligence), logic, and cognitive science as additional areas of study in the Sanskrit departments of universities. This would allow the Sanskrit departments to complement the programme of the computer science departments. With the incorporation of these additional areas, a graduate of Sanskrit could hope to make useful contributions to the computer software industry as well, particularly in the fields of natural language processing and artificial intelligence.


Prof. John Kadvany in his paper ‘Panini’s Grammar and Modern Computationwrites :

In conclusion, we note the modern idea that computation can be expressed in any media you like, with software an abstraction independent of any hardware implementation. Panini is almost an historical example of just that media freedom, as his grammar is formulated for orally expressed, spoken Sanskrit.

But according to the phonemic hypothesis that oral formulation must have relied on lost inscriptional aids. A similar dependence of segmentation skills on the duality principles grounding alphabetic writing then must also be true of modern symbolic calculi, whether formal logics or computing languages. Modern computing languages, like structured grammars, require the tiered, hierarchical structures of symbolic forms found first in Panini.

That power requires a systematic approach to duality of patterning, like that of alphabets, which then can be applied to written language and formal systems too. The modern notion of a formal metalanguage requires the inherently metalinguistic tools of an alphabet or its equivalent to get started at all.

This basis is taken for granted in Frege’s 1879 Begriffsschrift, or ‘concept-script’32; in the classic computing Q4 paradigms of Post and Turing with their explicit inscriptional metaphors; and in computing languages and modern formal systems generally. Such a basis was almost surely used by Panini, his grammar’s formalism being the earliest historical example of the kind ubiquitous today in computer science and mathematical logic.

Nonetheless, Panini showed, by constructing a whole formal language through the affixing resources of the Sanskrit object language itself, that the differences between natural and artificial computing languages are smaller than often thought. Not because natural languages are, or are close to being, computing languages, but because the development of computing languages, whether ancient or modern, is a continuation of natural language constructions by their own means.


Mr. Anand Mishra, Ruprecht Karls University, Heidelberg, Germany, has attempted a model for computer representation of the Panini’s system of Sanskrit grammar. Based on this model, he has rendered the grammatical data and simulated the rules of Astadhyayi on computer.  Thereafter, he employed these rules for generation of morpho-syntactical components of the language. He says, these generated components are used develop a lexicon based on the principles of Panini.

Please check: Simulating the Paninian System of Sanskrit Grammar


Prof. Tiziana Pontillo, University of Cagliari, Philology, Literature and Linguistics, in her paper : ini’s zero morphs as allomorphs in the complexity of linguistic context, writes about Zero (lopa, luk, slu and lup) of morphs) :

ini generally singles out a prototypic morph (the placeholder – sthānin), possibly by selecting it on the basis of the productivity parameter, and uses it as a sort of morpheme, proceeding with cataloguing all its allomorphs, zero morph included, as its substitutes. Therefore, though, on the one hand, he avoids the purely abstract level of language and concentrates – as much as possible – on actual linguistic material, on the other hand, he postulates 7 different vi morphemes, which have an only overt phonological realization, i.e., a zero form

Panini’s zero-postulation is almost entailed in his general model of replacive grammar, which even though founded on a biplanar definition of morpheme, does not include a veritable replacive morphology. In fact, some otherwise typically synchronic morphological relationships, such as the vowel gradation in the derivation- or inflection-patterns, are unrelated to the aim of conveying sets of distinct grammatical functions or meanings. As we have seen, vr̥ddhi- or gua-replacements are merely conditioned by the phono-morphological right context

Just as the whole substitution-schema adopted by Pāini, the zero replacement is not based on supposed paradigmatic-relations between the analysed forms, such as cz. žena ‘woman’ (nom. sing.) / ženy ‘women’ (nom. pl.) / žen ‘of women’ (gen. pl.) focused on by Saussure. Pāini rather – as highlighted by Al-George (1967: 121) – postulates a zero by analogical assimilation in the very place where European linguists could postulate a zero by significant opposition.

Furthermore, the allomorphs in use in the Aṣṭādhyāyī is not restricted to the mere description of the phenomenon of some morphs alternating with each other but is involved in a broader schema which aims at jointly accounting for the different linguistic levels. Each zero (allo)morph is postulated within a sort of morphologic syntagma, of which a component does not have an overt form but is understood to be present, thanks to an association with other syntagmas where this same unit has its phonic counterpart. The zero morph has thus to be analysed as a placeholder which plays the crucial role of mustering all the relevant morphological, semantic and syntactic features conveyed in absentia of the word form which commonly convey them, practically working as the recipient target of the allowed extension of the relevant rules.


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Please also check here for 

A set of papers presented at the the 4th Inter-national Sanskrit Computational Linguistics Symposium (4i-SCLS), New Delhi, India, December 10-12, 2010 ; as  edited by Sri Girish Nath Jha

The papers variously cover such topics as : 1. Phonology and speech technology; 2. Morphology and shallow parsing; 3. Syntax, semantics and parsing; 4. Lexical resources, annotation and search; 5. Machine translation and ambiguity resolution; and, 6. Computer simulation of Astadhyayi.

The papers relating to the computer simulation of Astadhyayi cover topics relating to : (1) the Asiddhatva  principle  corresponding to the concept of ‘filter’ – mainly to prevent the application of  a Sutra  on the substitute (pages 231 to 238) ; and, (2) the proximity of the  structure and operational methodological enquiry of the Vedanga (four of which deal with language), to the working principles of the Astadhyayi;  putting together a generalized model to cover various aspects (pages 239 to 258) .

[ email_work_card=view-paper]

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In the next part

Let us get to know of Panini as a person

Sources and References

  1. The Ashtadhyayi of Panini. Translated into English by Srisa Chandra Vasu
    Published by Sindhu Charan Bose at The Panini Office, Benares – 1897
  2. Panini
  3. Panini –His place in Sanskrit Literature  by   Theodor Goldstucker, A.Trubner & Co., London – 1861
  4. Simulating the Paninian System of Sanskrit Grammar by  Anand Mishra
  5. India as Known to Pānini by V. S. Agrawala, Lucknow University of Lucknow, 1953
  6. Computing Science in Ancient India by Professor T.R.N. Rao and Professor Subhash Kak
  7. Panini’s Grammar and Computer Science by Saroja Bhate and Subhash Kak
  8. How Sanskrit Led To The Creation Of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table
  9. Indian Tradition of Linguistics and Pānini by Prof. Rama Nath Sharma
  10. Pāṇini: Catching the Ocean in a Cow’s Hoofprint by Vikram Chandra
  11. Panini: His Work and Its Traditions by George Cardona
  12. A Brief History of Sanskrit Grammar  by James Rang
  13. Introductionto Prakrit by  Alfr ed C . Woolner
  14. Chandah Sutra of Pingala Acharya, Edited by Pandita Visvanatha Sastri , Printed at the Ganesha Press, Calcutta – 1874


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Yaska and Panini – Part One


Yaska and Panini – Part One


Yaska and Panini are two of the most celebrated scholars of the Sanskrit linguistic sciences.  Yaskacharya is renowned as a Great Etymologist (Niruktakara), whose work, the Nirukta, is looked upon as the oldest available authoritative treatise concerning derivation of certain selected Vedic words. And, Panini, the Grammarian par excellence (Maha-Vaiyakaranah), is reverently addressed as Bhagavata  Pāine Acārya. And, his Grammar Aṣṭādhyāyī (inīktaSūtrapāham), the most distinguished treatise that set the linguistic standards for Classical Sanskrit, is referred to as Paniniyam Maha-shastram.

There is often a tendency to compare the approach and the methods adopted by the two Greats to their respective fields of study.


It is said; Yaska preceded Panini (Ca.5th century B C E) by about a century or, perhaps, more. This is based, rather tentatively, upon the Sutra: Yaska-adibhyo gotre (PS_2.4.63) in Panini’s Astadhyayi. Further, Patanjali, the author of Mahabhashya on Panini’s Astadhyayi, suggests that Yaska hailed from the Paraskara Country – (pāraskara deśa P_6, 1.157) – (?*), on the basis of Panini’s Sutra – Pāraskara-prabhtīni ca sajñāyām (PS. 6.1.157). And often, salutations are submitted to Yaska with the mantra: Namo Paraskaraya, Namo Yaskaya.

 [*According to some,Paraskara corresponds to Tharaparkar in the Sindh region]

It appears during the time of Yaska, the then contemporary Sanskrit, though not the same, was yet somewhat near to the Sanskrit of the ancient Vedas (Chhandas). In fact, Yaska, in his Nirukta (1.1; 1.15), remarks: the Vedic stanzas are still meaningful; because, their words are almost close to the currently spoken Sanskrit. However, understanding certain obscure terms of Vedic Mantras had become rather difficult.

samāmnāyaḥ samāmnātaḥ sa vyākhyātavyaḥ /1.1/.. Atha api idam antareṇa mantreṣv artha pratyayona vidyate / Nir.1.15 /

The Sanskrit, when it was a living language, was evolving and changing from period to period. For instance; the language of the Upanishads is not, in every respect, the same as the language of the Rig-Veda. And again, the language of Classical period differed, substantially, from that of the Upanishads.

Accordingly, by the time of Yaska, the Sanskrit language had changed a great deal since the period of the Vedas; and, was more or less bereft of the characteristic Vedic phonetic and semantic forms.  But, at the same time, the link between the Vedic idioms and the contemporary language had not entirely worn-out.

Nevertheless, in the process, over a period, say by the First millennium BCE, interpretation of certain Vedic terms had indeed become rather vague and imprecise. The tradition had apparently broken down; and, by the time of Yaska, the meaning of some archaic words in the   Vedic Riks could no longer be grasped clearly.

Yaska points out the differences between the Vedic Sanskrit (which Panini calls as Chhandas) and the contemporary language (Bhasha) – Na iti pratiedha arthīyo bhāāyām ubhayam anvadhyāyam (Nir.1, 4)

Yaska described the position then obtaining (Nir.1.20); and, remarked: the Rishis, who envisioned, had direct perception (dṛṣṭayo bhavanti) of the meaning of the Vedic hymns (evam ucca avacair abhiprāyair sīnām mantra dṛṣṭayo bhavantiNir.7.3). But, the later generations had lost that faculty; and, did not fully understand the meaning of certain mantras. Therefore, with a view to helping the future learners in comprehending the meaning of certain difficult passages of the Vedas, the texts like Nighantu and Nirukta were composed.

Upadeśāya glāyanto avare bilma grahanāya imam grantham samāmnāsiur vedaś ca veda agāni ca- // Nir.1.20 //


Yaskacharya believed that every Vedic word has an expressive power to denote a certain sense. And, as a signifier (vacaka), every word is eternal (vyaptimattvat tu sabdasya – Nir.I.2); and, it performs a critical function in helping to arrive at an unerring, definitive meaning of a statement.

Yaska, therefore, remarks that it is essential that one should realize this truth.  And,  in the absence of such realization, a person, who merely recites the Vedas, without comprehending its meaning, would be like a pillar (sthaanu) or a mere load-bearer (bhara-haara). And, it is only he, who fully grasps and appreciates the meaning of what he is reciting (arthajña), that will attain the good – both here and hereafter (sakalam bhadram-aśnute-nākam); having been purged of all impurities by the power of knowledge (jñāna vidhūta pāpmā).

sthāur ayam bhāra-hāra kila abhūd adhītya vedam na vijānāti yo artham / yo arthajña it sakalam bhadram aśnute nākam eti jñāna vidhūta pāpmā (Nir.1. 18)

Yaska goes further; and tenders a sage-like counsel (Nir.1.18): what is taken from teacher’s mouth, but not understood and, is merely repeated, never flares up. It is like dry firewood flung on something that is not fire.

Don’t memorize, seek the meaning / What has been taken [from the teacher’s mouth] but not understood/ Is uttered by mere memory recitation /  It never flares up, like dry firewood without fire  / Many a one, although seeing, do not see her  / Many a one, although hearing, do not hear her/ And for many a one, she spreads out [Her] body, like a wife desiring her husband. / The meaning of Speech (Vac) is its fruit and flower. (Translation by Eivind Kahrs)

Yad ghītam avijñāta nigadena eva śabdyate/  anagnāv iva śuka edho na taj jvalatikarhicit/  sthāus tiṣṭhater artho arter araastho vā / Nir. 1.18 /



As mentioned earlier, in order to instruct , to guide and to help such of those who were ill at ease with the Vedic language; and, those who did not fully comprehend the meaning of the mantras, the texts such as Nighantu  (joined together or  strung together  words) and others were compiled; its plural being Nighantava.  Yaska calls these texts as Samāmnāyam Nighaṇṭava  (enumerations)Nir. 1, 1

 [Albrecht Weber (The History of Indian Literature (1892) on page 25) points out that correct name of such texts should be Nigranthu (strung together); and, not Nighantu, as it is generally called]

The Nighantu could briefly be described as a glossary of certain Vedic words – in the exact form in which they appear in the Vedic texts; and, as the earliest known systematic work, clearly dividing the words of the Sanskrit language into the groups of nouns, verbs , prepositions and particles.

[However, Nighantu is not an exhaustive list of all Vedic words. It includes only such words as were considered ambiguous, obscure, or synonymous.]

Durga , the commentator, therefore, calls Nighantu  an example (Udaharana); and, he explains its  purpose  by saying : In order that we get the knowledge of  the meaning of the Vedic verses (mantra-artha-parijnana), the Rishis have composed (sam-amnaya) this text, which in its five parts (pancha-adhyayayi), could serve as an example for  forming  a more exhaustive compendium of the Shastras.

Sa Ca Rsibhir mantra-artha-parijnanayo udaharana bhutah, pancha-adhyayayi shastra samgraha bhaven ekasmin amnaye granthikrta ity arthah (1.30;3-4)


The Nighantus, as a class of texts, consist five chapters, which are again divided into three sections.

The first section, comprising the first three chapters, deals mainly with synonyms (Nighantuka-kanda), which, perhaps, is the earliest.

The second section covering the fourth chapter (Naigama or Aikapadika-kanda) dealing with homonyms, contains a list of ambiguous and particularly difficult words of the Veda.

The third section, covering the fifth chapter (Daivata-kanda), gives the names of deities; and, their classification under the three regions, earth, sky and the intermediate space.

The Nighantus, upon which Yaska offers his comments, are the most ancient in a long and hoary tradition of lexicography. Besides the Nighantus and the Nirukta there are the Koshas (vocabularies) and Anukramanika (indexes).

The Nighantu, which mostly lists the archaic words occurring in the Rig-Veda, is also meant to functions as a compliment to the Vyakarana (Grammar).

In addition, it also serves a practical purpose; which is to help and guide the Yajnaka (the one who performs the Yajnas), in unerringly identifying the Devata of a mantra, so that the Yajna is performed well, without a blemish; and, its objective is achieved successfully.

[ Émilie Aussant  , Univ. Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Paris, France, writes in her Linguistics in Premodern India

Classical Sanskrit lexicography (Kosa)  played an important role in Indian scholarship, especially poetry: the aim of classical lexica, which were learnt by heart, was to help poets in composition, where synonyms of varying syllable structure are required to satisfy metrical constraints.

Two main kinds of lexicon (Kosa) were composed: synonymic (Ekartha, Samanartha) ; and  where words are classified according to subject (e.g. words relative to heaven, sky, time, thought, sound, etc.); and homonymic (Anekartha, Nana-artha) , which list words having more than one meaning .

Sanskrit poetics (Alamkara) is an erudite discipline that accompanied Sanskrit literary production (mainly, Kavya) , the refined poetry) for nearly two millennia. It addressed, among other questions, the following issues: analysis of the formal, logical, semantic and pragmatic aspects of simile and other tropes; word classes; word meanings (denotation, metaphor, suggestion); sentences, passages ; and, whole literary works’ meanings, language registers.]



Further, with a view to comprehend and to restore the correct meaning of certain antiquated words appearing in the Vedas, the method of Nirvachana (Nir+Vac = clear explanation of words) was applied to the glossary of Nighantu.

The term Nirvachana, which embodies the principles of etymology, is understood as the study which enables the analysis of a word; its formation; the different senses it  conveys (yathartham), in accordance with its derivation (vyutpattih) (Nirvachanam nama sabdasya yathartham vyutpattih); and, by taking into account the contextual factors (samsarga) , as well.

Such a field of analytical study had  perhaps become necessary; because, almost a quarter of words in the Vedic texts, composed in the Second millennium BCE, appeared just once; and, their meaning and intent had become imprecise.


Nighantu -Nirukta

The related field of learning, which deals with the derivation and semantic explanation of words, came to be known as Nirvachana Shastra or Nirukti, (‘interpretation’ or derivation and semantic explanation of words) a branch of etymology.

It attempted to systematically put forward theories on how words are formed; and, how their meanings are to be determined in the context of the Vedas.  Its related subsidiary texts were known as Nirukta (Nir + Ukta or Nir-Vac = to explain clearly).

And, Nirukta developed into a branch of etymology; offering explanations about the derivation of certain chosen words of the Vedas , in order to comprehend; to determine; and,  to restore their proper meaning. In the process, the Nirukta systematically discussed how to understand the significance of archaic, uncommon words used, mainly, in the Rig-Veda.

Nirukta is very closely connected with the Vedas. The body of Yäska’s work is a commentary on most of the words of the Nighantu; which again is a glossary of certain Vedic words. The main task of the Nirukta of Yaska is to explain most of the rare and obscure Vedic words by resorting to various possible etymologies.

[Sri Sayanacharya , in the preface to his Rig-bhashya, extols the approach of Yaska for explaining the uncommon aspects (Tattvas) of the Vedas; while other Vedangas are engaged in secular subjects – arthāvabodhe nirapekatayā padajāta yatrokta tan Niruktam  

Sri Sayana concluded his exposition of the Nirvachana-shastra with the remark: the Nirukta is useful for grasping the meaning (Artha) of the Vedas – tasmat Veda-rtha ava bodha- upayuktam Niruktam ]


The Brahmana texts

It is said; the Brahmana texts were indeed the earliest attempts made in the study of etymology (Nirukta) of Vedic words.

The etymologies in the Bråhmanas were believed to bring to light the connections that underlie between the explicit and the implicit ideas that are normally concealed. Such revelations also helped to emphasize the fact that words could, often, have multiple etymologies. 

And, with that, it was realized that  certain  words  may possibly  have the potential to function as the  network of ideas; not being confined to merely suggesting the possibility of having a set of synonyms’. 

It is said; the Brahmana texts explain the mantra-passages in ten different ways –Nirvachana; and Vyava-dharana-kalpa.

The advantages of analysing a word or a technical term; and studying it from the point of view of more than one etymology, are said to be, that one gains access to the realities that were till then latent or hidden.  Which is to say; one becomes aware of   the unknown through the known. The knowledge, so acquired through such revelation – the texts emphasize repeatedly – are of great importance: as, it helps to widen the awareness of one who is fired with zeal to learn.

And, Yaska’s work, as also the works of those other Nairuktas, who   preceded him, such as Sakapuni, Aupamanyava, et al, were all said to be based upon the derivations and explanations as provided in the Brahmana literature. That is evidenced by the fact that all the characteristic features of the etymologies in the Nirukta are said to be based in the Bråhmanas. And, the Brähmanas many times provide the narrative background for an etymology given in the Nirukta. Further, Yaska also frequently quotes passages from Brahmana-texts, in support of his etymologies.

Some scholars regard Yaska’s Nirukta as a methodical extension of the   explanations of words, as in the Brähmanas.


Yaska’s Nirukta

Yaska’s Nirukta brings together and presents, with comments, in a cohesive form those matters that were already discussed in other earlier texts. And, the selected Verses of the Rig-Veda, of course, are the main substance that is commented upon and made explicit, by using illustrative passages and the explanations as given in the Nighantu and in the Brahmanas. And, this forms the important part of Yaska’s Nirukta.

Nirukta as a distinct branch of etymology is primarily concerned with the meaning of a word or of a term – Artha pradhana; and, determines the meaning it conveys or is intending to convey, by tracing the roots of its formation.

Sri Sayana gives an analysis of the name of Yaska’s Nirukta: that which fully (nihsesha) provides (ucyante) the various possible (sambhavitah) meanings of the constituent elements (avayava-artha) of each individual word (ekaikasya padasya) by tracing its root (vyutpatti), is called Nirukta.

Tad api Niruktam ity ucyate / ekaikasya padasya sambhavita avayav-arthas tarta nihseseno ucyante iti vyutpatteh /

Here, the context in which the word appears, as well as the function it serves therein, assumes much importance, in order to understand the real significance of a word. Because, the Nirvachana principle, which is adopted in the Nirukta   is , essentially, concerned with  the formation of a word , and meaning in a given context; and , in a different context, the word could give forth a different meaning;  then, the  Nirvacana would also differ.

evam.anyesām.api.sattvānām.sadehā.vidyante/tāni.cet.samāna.karmāi.samāna. NirvacanāniNir. 2, 7

It is therefore, said; a Niruktakara would never handle a word, torn out of its context (Na ekapadani Nirbhuyat- Nir.2.3); because, it would otherwise lead to a mere speculation about  its probable intended meaning.

[Similarly, Bhartrhari clarifies (VP.1.59): all the elements extracted from the word in the course of linguistic analysis are valid in their own context. The elements that are relevant in the context of one activity may not be valid in the context of another. That is to say; each kind of activity, i.e. each kind of communicative situation, has its own reality , which in some ways might differ from the realities of other situations.

bhedenāvagṛhītau dvau śabdadharmāv apoddhṛtau/ bhedakāryeṣu hetutvam avirodhena gacchataḥ  (VP.1.59)  ]


Yaska’s Nirukta is not a ‘basic text’ of a Nirvacana-shastra from which a certain tradition of interpretation distinct from Vyakarana develops. It is, initially, a commentary on the Nighantu texts, which, again is a glossary of Vedic words; and, subsequently, it is an explanation of certain selected passages from the Rig-Veda. Thus, the two traditions – Vedic and Nighantu- are intertwined in Yaska’s work.

According to Yaska, every Vedic word has a meaning; and, denotes an appropriate sense. A mantra, for the Nirukta, suggests the activity of the mind (mantro-mananath).  Here, speech is regarded as the vehicle of thought; and, whatever that comes within the purview of thought also comes within the purview of speech.  In other words; Nirukta belongs to class of texts that are designed to intellectually explore and present the precise meaning of the Vedic mantras.

The aim of Yaska’s etymology is to understand the real significance of a word. It is not a subject of antiquarian interest; but, is of great importance to the study of meaning of Vedic mantras by countless generations that succeeded Yaska.

Besides that, the etymology featured in the Nirukta is of great importance for the study of Sanskrit language, in general. Patanjali, in his Mahabhashya, very frequently  refers to Yaska’s Nirukta; and,  so does  Sri Sayanacharya , in the later times.

Nirukta is important for several other reasons, as well. Firstly, it presents the type of the earliest classical style that was used in the Rig-Veda; and, secondly, it is the oldest known attempt in the field of Vedic etymology.

As regards the importance of the etymology, the Nirukta, Yaska asserts , right at the commencement of his work : without this science, one cannot gain the precise meaning of certain Vedic terms; and , therefore, one cannot clearly understand and grasp of the import of Vedic mantras, as well.

Samāmnāyah samāmnāta sa vyākhyātavya/ idam antarea mantre vra artha pratyayo na vidyate iti Nir. 1,1

[ Please do not fail to read the remarkable study on the Language of the Nirukta by Dr. Mantrini Prasad (DK Publishing House – 1975). It is very thorough, detailed and authoritative; and, is imperative for anyone earnestly undertaking the study of Yaska’s Nirukta.]


Word (Sabda) and Meaning (Artha)

Yaska uses the term Sabda to denote ’the word’ as also ‘the sound’. The sound could either be (a) inarticulate (various natural sounds) – dhvanya-tmaka; or (b) articulate – varnat-maka

The articulate sounds (varnat-maka sabda) can be comprehended by the listeners without much effort – (Vyāptimattvāt tu śabdasya aīyastvāc ca śabdena sañjñā karaa vyavahāra artham loke – Nir.I.2) .

And, it again, has two forms (i) Sarthaka (meaningful); and (ii) Anarthaka (meaningless). Here, Yaska mentions about the meaningless particles (Nipata) used as expletives; such as:  kam, im, id and u (Nir.I.9) – nipātā ucca avaceṣv artheṣu nipatanti (Nir.1.4). Yaska’s list contains 23 Nipatas; and, an additional two Nipatas (total being 25)

Atha ye pravrtte arthe amita aksaresu granthesu vākya pūranā āgacchanti pada pūranās te mita akarev anarthakāh kam īm id v iti (Nir.I.9).

He has discussed, at length, about the words which are formed from the articulate (varnat-maka), natural, meaningful sounds, (Sarthaka).

It is said; the word (Pada) is the signifier (Vacaka); and, the meaning (Padartha) that is signified is (Vachya). That relation – Vacya-vacaka bhava – is determined by the primary function or Abhidha of a word. And, the essence of a word lies in its denotative or expressive power (Shakti).


Nirukta –Vedanga-Vyakarana

In the linguistic traditions of ancient India, Vyakarana, of course, occupied a preeminent position. But, at the same time, the value of a parallel system of linguistic analysis – Nirvachana shastra or Nirukta – which served a different purpose – was also well recognized.

Both these traditions are classed among the six Vedangas, the disciplines or branches of knowledge, which are auxiliary to the study of Vedas; and, which are designed to preserve and to carry forward the Vedas to the succeeding generations, in their pristine purity.

As said earlier; the Nirukta is reckoned as one among the six Vedangas, the ancillary Vedic sciences or disciplines related to the study of Vedas; the other five being: Vyakarana, Shiksha, Chhandas, Kalpa and Jyotisha.

Of these, the study of Nirukta is closely related to Vyakarana (Grammar). The Nirukta and Vyakarana are unique to each Veda; whereas, the other VedangasShiksha, Chhandas, Kalpa and Jyotisha – are common for all Vedas.

Though, the study of Nirukta is associated with one of the Vedangas viz., Vyakarana (Grammar), each of the two has its own focus. And, though they are divergent, they also overlap in certain areas.


As mentioned, the main task of the Nirukta of Yaska is to explain most of the rare and obscure Vedic words, by way of pointing out various possible etymologies.

Here, his Nirukta focuses on linguistic analysis to help establish the proper meaning of the words, given the context they are used in the Vedic texts. In such etymological explanations, Yaska has stressed on the meaning of the word (Artha nitya parīketa kenacid vtti sāmānyena- Nir.2.1), than its grammatical modifications.

Further, Yaska’s work is, culturally and intellectually, closer to the Samhitäs and Brähmanas, as compared to the Astadhyayi of Pänini.

The scope of Vyakarana, the Grammar, is much wider than that of the Nirukta; and, it covers all formats of the language. For instance; Panini discusses both the Vedic language (Chhandas) as also the bhäsä, the contemporary language, in general, spoken by the well-educated.

The term Vyakarana is defined as: Vyakriyate anena iti Vyakarana – Grammar is that which enables us to form and to examine words and sentences; and, it is both that which is to be described (lakshya) and the means of description (lakshana).

Patanjali explains; that which is to be described is the word (sabda); and the means of description is the rule (Sutra),consisting of general and specific statements .

A Grammarian determines the meaning of a word by tracing the process of its formation.

An etymologist determines the formation of a word by tracing the meaning it conveys or desires to convey.

Durga, the commentator, remarks: the Grammar (Vyakaranam) is an independent (svatantram) precise and logical system of knowledge (vidyasthanam). It deals with linguistic analysis – Lakshana pradhana – to establish the exact form of words to properly express ideas. For that purpose, it lays down the general and specific rules, which enable us to understand the exact meaning of the words (artha-nirvacanam).

Svatantram e vedam vidyasthanam artha-nirvacanam Vyakaranam tu laksana-pradhanam

And, Nirukta is the explanation of the meanings; it focuses on linguistic analysis in order to help establishing the proper meaning of the words, given the context they are used in the Vedic texts.


And yet, the Nirukta complements the study of Vyakarana; since, it explains the words that are not analyzed by the Vykarana.  And at the same time, it accomplishes its own purpose, which is to provide a clear understanding of the portions of the Rig-Veda text it commented upon.

Yaska asserts that the prerequisite to the study of Nirukta is the proper learning of Vyakarana. (Grammar) * .

 [*But, at the same time, Yaska remarks: while deriving the meaning of a word, in its own context, one should try to stick to the rules of the Grammar (Vyakarana) as far as possible; but, if this is of no avail in bringing out the hidden meaning of the term in question, then one should abandon such rules – na saskāram ādriyeta  / viśaya-hi vttayo bhavanti (Nir.2.1)]


Thus, the Nirukta, as a class of texts, is intimately related to several branches of studies, such as:  the Vedas; the Brahmanas; the Nighantu; as also to the Grammar (Vyakarana) in general.


Niruktas of the pre-Yaska period

Yaska recounts the several  Schools of Grammar or the  Grammarians who flourished before his time : Agrayana; Aindra; Apisali; Aupamanyava; Aurnabhava ; Chakravarmaa;  Galava ; Gargya;  Kashyapa ;Kaaktsna ; Katthakya ; Kautsa Kraustuki; Kuaravaava ; Sakalya; Sakaayana; Senaka ;Shakapuni; Sphoayana and others.

And, it appears; by about seventh or sixth century BCE, many of these Grammarians had compiled Nirukta texts. But, sadly, all those earlier versions of Niruktas disappeared gradually in the course of time.  It is only the Nirukta that was composed by Yaska that has survived; and, has come down to us.

Yaska, in his own Nirukta, refers to the views (either in his support or to show their divergence)  that were offered by as many as sixteen compilers (Nirukta-karas) of the Nirukta class of texts that were in existence and in circulation prior to his time (Ca. 6th century BCE) .

[Hartmut Scharfe in his  Grammatical Literature remarks : one of the interesting parts of the Nirukta is that it gives us more information on early Grammarians than any other source. And, it is all the more valuable, since almost all other information on Pre-Paninian Grammarians in the later literature is rather suspect.

In course of his work, Yaska mentions twenty four great teachers and seven different schools by name; in addition to referring to some others in a general way]

      • (1)Agrayana (1.9; 6.13;10.8);
      • (2) Audumbarayana (1.1);
      • (3) Aupamanyava (1.1; 2.2; 2.5; 2.11; 3.8; 3.11; 2.19; 5.7; 6.30; and, 10.8);
      • (4) Aurnavabha (2.26; 6.13; 7.1; 12.1; and, 12.19) ;
      • (5) Katthayaka (8.5; 8.6; 8.17; 8.10; 9.41; and, 9.42);
      • (6) Kusta (1.15);
      • (7) Kraustuki (8.2);
      • (8) Gargya (1.3; 1.12; and,1.25);
      • (9) Galava (4.3);
      • (10) Karmasiras (3.15);
      • (11) Taitiki ( 4.3 ; 5.27 );
      • (12) Varshyayani (1.2);
      • (13) Satabalaksa Maudgalya (9.6);
      • (14) Sakatayana (1.12; 1.13);
      • (15) Sakapuni (Nir.3.11 ;3.13 ;3.19; 8;  4.15;  5.3 ; 5.28; 7.14; 7.28; 8.5; 8.6; 8.10; 8.12; 8.14; 8.17; and, 12.40); and,
      • (16) Sthaulashtivi (7.14; 10.1).

Source: (pages 62 to 90) , of Sri Bishnupada Bhattacharya  ‘s scholarly work Yaska’s Nirukta  and the science of etymology  (1958)]

Of the many such Nirukta-karas; Yaska, in his Nirukta, frequently cites the explanations provided by Aupamanyava; Aurnavabha; and, Katthayaka. But, Sakapuni Rathitara is the most frequently quoted Nirukta- teacher. His views are cited by Yaska as many as about twenty times. 

It is believed; each of the Nirukta-karas, who preceded Yaska, had his own Nighantu text. And, perhaps, Yaska too had his own Nighantu.

But, such works – Nighantus as also Niruktas – of all those savants, who preceded Yaska, are lost. And, it is only the Nirukta of Yascacharya that has stood the test of time for over two thousand seven hundred years; and, is acclaimed, for its excellence, as the most authoritative text in its class.


Manifold approaches to the study of Vedas

There are several approaches or methods that are generally applied for the systematic study, analysis and interpretations of the Samhita texts (the Vedas). Yaska also recognized that the Vedic texts presented multiple aspects; and could be studied and interpreted in various different ways.

Accordingly, the Samhitas were analyzed and interpreted, in varied ways, by earlier authors adhering to different sets of  disciplines , such as: Yajnika (ritualists); Nairuktas (etymologists); Aithihasika (those who traced the historical traditions); Naidana (mix of history and etymology); Parivrajaka (ascetics); the Dharma-shastrika (those who interpreted books of moral code and conduct); and, the Vaiyakaranas (Grammarians)

Aitihasikah, Nairuktah, Naidanah, Parivrajakah, Yajnikah, Dharma-shastrika and Vaiyakaranah.

 :- The Yajnika-s, whose primary interest was the performance of the Yajna, were more concerned wiith the sequence of the rituals to be conducted during the course of the Yajna; and, the proper utterance of the related Vedic mantras; than with the meaning of the mantras that were recited by them.

tatra etad yājñikā vedayante triśad uktha pātrāni mādhyandine savana eka devatāni tāny etasmin kāla ekena pratidhānena pibanti tāny atra sara  ucyante/ 5.1/

 :- The Aithihasikas, on the other hand, try to relate a hymn or a Vedic passage to an event or an account concerning a deity, as narrated in a mythical story. (This, of course, is totally different from the historical analysis of the present-day.) – tvāstro.asura.ity.aitihāsikā / 2,16 /

 :- The Naidanas’ (said to be specialists on the theory of causation) approach was similar to that of Aithihasikas – ṛcā samaṃ menaḥ iti naidānāḥ । 

 :- The Parivrajaka, the wandering philosophers, Adhyatma-pravada, try to interpret almost every aspect of a Samhita text in terms of spiritual or mystical context-  bahu.prajā.kcchram.āpadyata.iti.parivrājakā  2,8

 :- The Dharma-shastrikas search for points of Law or precedence in the accounts narrated in the Vedas – sākṣāt.kṛta.dharmāṇa.ṛṣayo.babhūvuḥ / te. avarebhyo. asākṣāt. kṛta. dharmabhya. upadeśena.mantrānt.samprāduḥ /1,20 /

 :- The Vaiyakaranah, the Grammarians are mostly interested in the linguistic analysis of the Vedic texts – mandayater.iti.vaiyākaraāh / 9,5 /

But, Gargya remarks : Not all , only some Grammarians — Na sarvani iti Gargyah vaiyyakarananam ca eke syath


In contrast, Yaska chose to adopt the method of Nirukta, which analyzes the words used in the Vedic mantras; and determines their precise meaning (Nirvachana) in their proper context.

Some scholars regard  Yaska’s Nirukta as not only a work on etymology; but, also as a work on the most fascinating branches of philology, the study of language in oral and written historical sources.

But, the type of etymologies that Yaska adopted, does not typically establish a link with the mythological or historical realm; nor does it, as a rule,  reveal hidden layers of language.

It is explained; such a semantic etymology is to be distinguished from a historical etymology.

A historical etymology presents the origin or the early history of a word in question. It tells us; for example, how a word in a modern language is derived from another word belonging to an earlier language, or to an earlier stage of the same language.

A Semantic etymology does something quite different. It attempts to connect one word with one or more others which are believed to elucidate its meaning. The semantic etymologies tell us nothing about the history of a word, but something about its meaning in a particular context.

[Dr.Saroja Bhate remarks: though some scholars interpret the term Nirvachana to mean Etymology, it is, in fact, different from the modern concept of Etymology. Yaska’s etymologies do not attempt historical analysis of words.]

In his remarkable work Nirukta,  which also serves as a commentary on the Nighantu, Yaska attempts to establish the proper meaning of certain selected Vedic words, in the context of ‘how, where, when and why’ it is stated in the text .

Thus, the essential feature of Yaska’s commentary is the semantic interpretation of words based on their derivation (Nirvachana).

[As Peter M. Scharf explains in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Linguistics (11,2) : at times; Yaska provides a familiar synonym for an obscure word, in addition to its etymological derivation. For instance; in vayāḥ śākhā veteḥ (Nirukta 1.4) – the obscure word Vayāis explained through a familiar word śākhā  (the branches) ; and, Yaska says that vayā  is derived from the root vī  (to move).

But, some etymologies in the Nirukta are less explicit; they utilize semantic statements from which a phonetic analysis is easily inferred. For instance; Nirukta 2.14 explains the six words contained in Nighaṇṭu 1.4.

svar ādityo bhavati. su araṇaḥ. su īraṇaḥ. svṛtaḥ rasān. svṛtaḥ bhāsam jyotiṣām. svṛtaḥ bhāseti vā.

The first, svar, is explained as follows by Sarup (1920–27: part II, p. 30):

Svar means the sun; it is very distant, it  disperses (the darkness); it penetrates the fluids;  it is luminary; its light penetrates or pierces through the objects. It is said; the  term Svar can be derived from the pre-verb su plus the word araṇa ‘distant,’ īr ‘set in motion,’ or the root ṛ ‘go.’ The word araṇa is itself a derivation from the verb ‘go.’ ]


As Johannes Bronkhorst observes in his Etymology and magic: Yāska’s Nirukta, Plato’s Cratylus, and the riddle of semantic etymologies 

One way to account for the validity of such semantic etymologies based on the similarity between words (for those who accept this validity) would be to claim that there are ultimate meaning bearers, such as individual sounds or small groups of them, each with its own specific meaning

[For instance; as per its etymology, the term Indra denotes the one who, by his power (Indriya), energises or kindles the vital airs (prana). The Satapatha Bråhmana  says, since he kindled (indh), he is the kindler (indha ). But, cryptically, he is called Indra

sa yo yam madhye prāa | ea evendrastānea prāānmaindra ityācakate paro
am paro ‘kakāmā hi devāsta iddhā sapta nānā puruānasjanta –

Besides the etymology of Indra, as above (from Indh), the Taittiriya Bråhmana ( offers an altogether different explanation: “No one can withstand this power (idam indriyam) in him; and, that is why he is called ‘Indra’.”

Different etymologies of one and the same word (often a name) are frequently met with, sometimes even in one and the same text. For instance;

The two different etymologies of the word Indra occur in one and the same passage at Satapatha Bråhmana

So’rcañcrāmyaścacāra prajākāma sa ātmanyeva prajātimadhatta sa āsyenaiva
jata te devā divamabhipadyā sjyanta taddevānā devatvayad divamabhipadyā sjyanta tasmai sasjānāya divevāsa tadveva devānā devatvayadasmai sasjānāya divevāsa
1.1.6.[7] ]


[According to Prof. Jan E.M. Houben, this is what Yaska said about the methodology that he adopted in the Second Chapter of his Nirukta, commencing with – Atha Nirvachanam, which states the characteristic features of Nirvachana.


With reference to this, the words, the accent and the  grammatical  form of which are regular and accompanied by a radical modification which gives a hint, should be derived in the ordinary manner.

But, If the meaning is not perspicuous; and, if there is no radical modification which gives a hint, one should investigate [the word to be explained], taking one’s stand on the meaning, according to a similarity (of a verbal root with a suitable meaning) – (Sama-artha-svara-samskara)- to the derived from (i.e., to the word to be explained). 

Even If no similar [verbal root] is found, one should explain [the word] according to a similarity in syllable or phoneme – (Arthanityah parkseta kenchid vrtti samanyena)

But, never should one abstain from explaining [by deriving it from some root], one should not be attached to the grammatical form [too much], for the derived forms (i.e., the words to be explained) are full of uncertainties

Nir.2,1:atha.nirvacanam : tad.yeu.padeu.svara.saskārau.samarthau.prādeśikena.vikārea(guena.Bh).anvitau.syātām.tathā.tāni.nirbrūyād;atha.ananvite.arthe.aprādeśike.vikāre.artha.nityaparīketa.kenacid.vtti.sāmānyena;avidyamāne.sāmānye.apy.akara.vara.sāmānyān.nirbrūyāūyāt;na.saskāram.ādriyeta.viśayavatyo.(hi.Bh).vttayo.bhavanti ]


Yaska’s Nirukta -structure

As mentioned earlier, Nirukta is the systematic creation of a glossary; written in archaic Sanskrit prose, which discusses how to understand antiquated, uncommon words used mainly in the Rig-Veda.

For the purpose of his study, Yaska chose about 600 stanzas from the Rig-Veda; and, created a well organized vocabulary to understand the meaning; and, to interpret, particularly, the archaic, uncommon words used in the Vedic texts (artha nitya parīketa kenacid vtti sāmānyenaNir.2.1).

But, all the Mantras that he quotes are not fully explained by him. Often, Yaska passes past some mantras by saying: this mantra is self-explanatory – iti.sā.nigada.vyākhyātā (Nir.6.5). It is said; there are about 13-14 such mantras.

[Although, Yaska’s Nirukta hardly needs a commentary, in the later times, many commentaries came to be written. Of these, the commentaries that are very well known are: (a) Skandaswamin’s Nirukta-bhashyatika (14th century), supplemented by Maheshwara’s Vivarana (15thcentury); and, (b) Durga-simha’s Rjvarta (14th century). Durga’s comments are more frequently cited by the later scholars.]

[Hartmut Scharfe in his Grammatical Literature (Otto Harrassowitz, 1977) mentions:  The text of Yaska’s Nirukta has come down to us in shorter and longer versions. The word-for-word commentary of Durgasimha (Ca. 13th Century) represents a third or the shortest version.

A study of the versions shows that the text grew in size through many small insertions; and, a new Chapter of Addenda (Parisista – later split into two Chapters 13th and 14th). Even the text commented upon by Durgasimha contains insertions; and , he frequently mentions variant readings.]


Yaska’s Nirukta comprises twelve Chapters (Parishishta) divided into two broad sections: Purva-shatka (the first six Chapters); and, Uttara-shtka (the latter six Chapters).

These again are grouped into three Kandas (Cantos):  Naighantuka Kanda; Naigama Kanda; and, Daivata Kanda.

A. Under the Purva-shatka, which has six Chapters:-

(1) The Naighantuka Kanda, comprises three Chapters (1 t0 3) – Kanda-trayatmaka; and, it comments on the Fourth Chapter of the Nighantu (Naigama Kanda), treating of the words used in the Rig-Veda – commencing with the Gau and ending with Apara.

In this section, Yäska discusses the aims and methods of the Nirukta, as a branch of learning; and, refers to different teachers and contemporary disputes concerning the language and the  meaning/s.

Chapter 1 (and part of chapter 2) of Yaska’s Nirukta deals with some important theoretical aspects which gives an insight into Yaska’s overall philosophical and linguistic approach;  such as :

: – importance of knowing the meaning   of the Vedic mantras;

:- Parts of speech (Padas) classified into four groups  (Jatis) (Bheda-chatushtaya)- (1)Nama (noun); (2) Akhyata (verb); (3) Upasarga  (preposition);  and, (4) Nipata  (particles) – (Catvari padajatani Nama-Akhyate cha  Upsarga Nipata-shcha)

: – Verb-root principle – asserting that the nouns are derived from verbs (dhatuja / akhyataja).

: – Language variation, its causes, forms, and effects

: – Principles of Nirvachana (etymology)

(2) The second Kanda, Naigama Kanda : while the first three Chapters dealt with synonyms (Ekartham-aneka-sabdam); the three Chapters (4 to 6), here, explain the homonyms (Aneka-arthani-ekasabdani); and the Vedic words whose derivation is obscure (Anavagata-samskaran -nigaman). This is called Aikapadikam. This Kanda covers the selected words of the Rig-veda beginning with Jahā and ending with Ulbam  bīsam.

agni purana cropped

(B) Under the Uttara-shatka or the Second Section of Nirukta:-

The Daivata Kanda, in its six Chapters, comments on the Fifth Chapter of Nighantu (Daivata Kanda). It is a systematic exposition of the nature; the symbolism; the forms’ interpretation etc., of the prominent Deities (Devata) of the three regions, of the Earth (Prithvi-sthana), of the Sky (Dyu-sthana); and, of the intermediate space (Madhyama-sthana). It commences with Agni and ends with Deva-patnyah (consorts of gods).

Of those three regions; the Prithvi-sthana covers the deities from Agni to Urjahuti; the Madhyama-sthana covers from Vayu to Bhaga; and, the Dyu-sthana, from Surya to Deva-patnyah.

[Yaska_charya defines a Deva as one who gives gifts (devo daanad), who is effulgent (devo dipanaat), who illumines (devo dyotanad), and who resides in heaven or the celestial world (dyusthane bhavati  iti).


After discussing the three different views (namely, they have form, they do not have form, and a combination of these two views), the Nirukta concludes that, in reality, there is only one Devata who can be addressed in various ways depending upon the temperament of the aspirant. Yaska_charya confirms by saying Eka atma Bahudha Stuyate (Nir.7,4meaning there is only One God and many praise by different names.

ekam.sad.viprā.bahudhā.vadanty.agnim.yamam.mātariśvānam.āhuh/”(RV.1,164,46) imam.eva.agnim.mahāntam.ātmānam.ekam.ātmānam.bahudhā.medhāvino.vadanti/ Nir.7.18 /

He further says ; the many forms of gods are manifestation of the atman, One Reality – Ekasya atmanah anye devah pratyangani bhavanti . He emphasizes that the Sat Vastu  includes in itself different deities. 

māhābhāgyād.devatāyā.eka.ātmā.bahudhā.stūyate,.ekasya.ātmano.anye.devāḥ.pratyaṅgāni.bhavanti- Nir.7.4

Sri Sayanacharya in his Rig_bashya_bhumika  says praise of any god  leads to the same tat (entity) – Tasmat sarvairapi parameshvara eve huyate .]

Nighantu-Nirukta chart

[ Devaraja (15th-16thcentury) , a commentator, in the introduction to his work says : Yaska, in his Nirukta, explained, individually , and in their entirety, only the words of which a list is given in the Fourth and Fifth Section of the Nighantu (Naigama and the Daivata Kandas)]

Yaska deals with the etymology proper (Nirukta), with commentary on the related portions of the Nighantu; starting from Chapter 2, Section 2 of Naighantuka Kanda.

Yaska’s commentary (bhasya) commences with a discussion on synonyms (Ekartham-aneka-shabdam). But, later, he devotes more space to elucidating the Nighantu words of obscure nature (Anavagata-samskaran -nigaman), which suggest more than one meaning.

The most interesting portion of the Nirukta is the discussion which covers the whole of the First book and a part of the Second, as well as the Seventh book of the Nighantu, which was as an admirable introduction to the study of the Veda

Yaska’s study included a system of rules for forming words starting from roots and affixes. According to Yaska, every word is derived from a root (Dhatu); and, by analyzing the root, its tendency and the suffix, it is possible to establish the relation between word and meaning.

For Yaska, every term is embedded with meaning (Artha); and, Nirvachana provides the device for doing so. In other words; the meaning is secured by the term itself by Nirvachana analysis, which indeed is the objective way of determining what meaning is ascribed to each word.


As Johannes Bronkhorst   writes in Etymology and magic: Yāska’s Nirukta, Plato’s Cratylus, and the riddle of semantic etymologies

A number of rules are formulated in the Second chapter of the Nirukta that should help the student to find etymologies on his own. The most important among these rules is, no doubt, the one that etymologizing should, first of all, be guided by the meaning of the word concerned; phonetic considerations play a less important role:

One should examine a word, being intent upon its meaning, with the help of some similarity in function with other words. When not even such a similarity is present one should explain on the basis of similarity (lakshana) in a syllable or in a single sound.” (Nirukta 2.1).

Tad yeu padeu svara saskārau samarthau prādeśikena vikārea  guena  anvitau syātām tathā tāni nirbrūyād / atha ananvite arthe aprādeśike vikāre artha nitya parīketa kenacid vtti sāmānyena / Nir.2,1/

 In the case of unknown words, therefore, one looks at the context in which they occur (usually a Vedic hymn), so as to get a first impression as to their meaning. Subsequently one looks for other words (they have to be verbal forms, according to the Nirukta) which are more or less similar to the word under study

Semantic considerations, however, come first. Therefore, a verbal form which is less similar but closer to the expected meaning is to be preferred to a more similar verbal form which does not support the desired meaning. And words which are known to have several meanings have also several etymologies

An example is the word gau “The word go is a synonym for ‘earth’; because, it goes (gata) far; and, because living beings go (gacchanti) on it. Or else, it could be a name of something which moves (gåti). The syllable ‘au’, in the word gau , is a nominal suffix. Moreover, the word gau is the name of an animal (the cow) for this same reason. 

Also a bowstring is called gauh; because it sets arrows in motion (gamayati) Gavyā cet tādhitam,  atha cet na gavyā gamayati isūn iti (Nirukta 2.5).


As a part of his exposition, Yaska makes a clear distinction between the Vedic and the spoken language. But, he also observes that sometimes a word used in one is derived from a root belonging to the other. He makes a similar observation with regard to the dialects of regional language (Prakrita)

Atha-apy.bhāikebhyo dhātubhyo naigamā kto bhāyante damūnā ketrasādhā iti –Nir.2.2…Atha-api praktaya eva ekeu bhāyante viktaya ekeu –Nir.2.2


The Nirukta, as a discipline , which attempts to determine the essential significance of a Vedic passage (mantrartha), recognizes five kinds of changes that a word in common usage [with Noun (Nama), Verb (Akhyata), Preposition (Upasarga) and Particle (Nipata) ] could undergo to become a Vedic word ; and, to be included in the Nighantu:  (1) A letter may be freshly added on to the word (Varna-agama); (2) A letter may be altered (Varna-viparitya); the form of the letter may be distorted (Varna-vikara); (4) A letter may be omitted (Akshara-lopa); and, (5) the root of may get over stressed (Yoga).


Catvari padajatani

In his Nirukta, Yaska tried to explain (Nirvacanam) such Vedic words from the perspective of various linguistic aspects like Noun, Verb, preposition, particle, general definition, special definition, synonyms, homonyms (words that share the same pronunciation but convey different meanings), common and obscure grammatical forms, words and their meanings, and the etymology of these words.

Yaska terms such analytical method as samaskara (treatment) or sastrakrto-yogah (grammatical combination)

In that context, Yaska mentions about the classification of the four groups of parts of speech (Catvari padajatani) such as:  Noun (Naman), Verb (Akhyata), Preposition (Upasarga), and Particle (Nipata). Of these, the first two are established by definition; and, the remaining two by enumeration.

Catvāri pada jātāni nāma ākhyāte ca upasarga nipātāś ca tāni imāni bhavanti ...Nir .l.l iti imāni catvāri pada jātāni anukrāntāni  nāma ākhyāte ca upasarga nipātāś ca tatra nāmāny ākhyātajāni iti śākaāyano nairukta samayaś ca – Nir. 1, 12/

It appears that Audumbarayana, another ancient authority, had not agreed with such four-fold classification of parts of speech

(indriyanityam vacanam Audumbarayanah tatra chatustam Na papayate Nir.1.1-2). 

Yaska opposes the stand taken by Audumbarayana; but then, he goes on to talk about a totally different concept, Bhava – the being and becoming (Bhu) of verbs from their roots. Yaska, in that context, mentions six modes or forms of transformations (Sad bhava vikarah) of Bhava-s from the indistinct (A-vyakta) to explicit (Vyakta) and then to disappearance (vinasa). These phases are: coming into existence (jayate); existence (Asti); transformation (viparinamate); growth (vardate); decay or wane (apaksiyate); and, ceasing to exist (vinasyati).

These are the six phases of changes (parinama) that do occur in all forms of life or of any entity.

life cycle

Between the Noun and the Verb, Yaska treats the Verb as the nucleus of a sentence. 

Here, though the Noun is named first, it is the Verb that is evidently more important. The Verb expresses action (Kim karoti?), the becoming (Bhava); while Noun, fundamentally, denotes the existing thing – (Sattva – ‘being’).

Here, Sattva is the static aspect of the meaning (as it exists); and, Bhava, the dynamic aspect, is action (Kriya) as it takes place in temporal sequence – (bhavah karma kriya dhatvartha ity anarthantaram).

In other words; a Verb (AkhyataBhava pradhana) – is mainly concerned with Bhava (action). Whereas, the Nouns (Naman) have Sattva (substance or existence of an object – Asti- Satva pradhana) as the chief element in their meaning (Bhava-pradhanam akhyatam; sattva-pradhanani namani Nir. l.l).  

According to Yaska, Verb (Akhyata) is the vital unit of language through which we express our intentions and actions; and, a sentence without a verb serves no purpose (tad.yatra.ubhe.bhāva.pradhāne.bhavata– Nir. l. l

bhāvapradhānam ākhyātam/ sattvapradhānāni nāmāni/ tad yatrobhe bhāvapradhāne bhavata pūrvāparībhūta bhāvam ākhyātenācaṣṭe/ vrajati pacatīti/ upakramaprabhtyapavargaparyanta mūrta sattvabhūta sattvanāmabhi/ vrajyā paktir iti/ ada iti sattvānām upadeśa/ gaur aśva puruo hastīti/ bhavatīti bhāvasya/ āste śete vrajati tiṣṭhatīti –  Nir. l.l 


Of the four parts of speech (Catvari padajatani) , Yaska gives greater importance to Nouns and Verbs (Naman, Akyata) – which are employed independently – than to the Prefix or Prepositions  (Upasarga – Nanavidha vishesha artha pradhana) and the Particles (Nipata – Upamarthe pada puranartha – for the purpose of drawing comparisons),  which cannot present a clear meaning when detached from Nouns or Verbs – na nirbaddha upasarga arthannirahuriti Sakatayanah –Nir.I.3.

According to Yaska; Sakatayana held the view that the prepositions are indicative (dyotaka) rather than denotative (vacaka) — (nama-akahyatayostu karmopa-samyoga-dyotaka bhavanti~ Nir.I.3)

With regard to pre-verbs, Yaska refers to the views of Sakatayana and Gärgya: According to the former, the prepositions do not have a meaning of their own; and, when detached from a Noun or a Verb, they do not distinctly express a meaning. But, they do help in highlighting a secondary relation with the object of the Noun or Verb. 

But, according to Gärgya, prepositions do have various meanings (even when they are detached from a Noun or a Verb). Their meaning implies a modification in the meaning of Noun and Verb. For instance; Upasarga which is described as Nanavidha vishesha artha pradhana – can provide a special meaning to a word as in A-hara, Vi-hara and Sam-hara.

And, even in its isolated condition, a prefix is capable of modifying the sense of a Verb or a Noun. For instance; the preposition  ’A ’ can express the sense of limit , say as in,  Apara ( limitless)  as opposed to  Para (limited). The prepositions Ati and Su indicate excellence, while Nir and Dur are the reverse of the two; Ni  and Ava indicate downward-ness, while Ud is the reverse of the two ; and, similarly , Sam indicates junction or togetherness , while Vi and Apa are the reverse of Sam.

Yaska seems to have gone along with Gargya’s view . he enumerates twenty Upasargas. 

nāma.ākhyātayos.tu.karma.upasamyoga.dyotakā.bhavanty / ucca. avacā. Pada . arthā.  bhavanti iti Gārgyas /āhur.ime. tam. Nāma. Ākhyātayor artha vikaraam/ ā.ity.arvāg.arthe.pra.parā.ity.etasya.prātilomyam – Nir.1.3 .

When that logic is extended, it leads to say:  the phonemes and syllables are not independent entities conveying their own meaning.  Nevertheless, they are the essential parts of the word. But, the meaning of the word does not solely arise out of them. The Meaning is the function of the word as a whole.

[Patanjali, in his Mahabhashya puts forward a similar argument.

For the purpose of illustration; he cites the three words Kupa (well); Supa (soup); and, Yupa (sacrificial post).

Here, Patanjali points out; the first letter of each of those three words differs; but, the other letters that follow are identical. These are, in fact, three separate words that are distinguished by the substitution of one phoneme, for another phoneme

 However, the object signified by each one is distinct from the objects signified by the other two words. Each of the three words signifies a different object.

Patanjali says; each of the phonemes – K; S; and Y- does not by itself carry a meaning. Similarly, the set of other letters in the three words (- upa) also, by itself, does not make any sense. It is only when they combine, a word carrying a meaning, is put forth.

Patanjali compares this fact to a chariot made of several parts; where, each of its parts, by itself, is incapable of moving.  It is only when all the parts combine systematically and form a single entity that the chariot can move.

Thus, Patanjali argues that phonemes have a differentiating significance within the units which bear the meaning. Such a unit, he considers it as saghāta, a single entity which is ‘indivisible and one’. A phoneme, thus, plays a significant role in distinguishing one word from the other, each pointing to a different object.]

 In Yaska’s Nirukta, the Upasargas were used with the nouns and also with Verbs nāma.ākhyātayos.tu.karma.upasamyoga.dyotakā.bhavanty (Nir.1.3).

[Yaska enumerates twenty prepositions, along with their meanings: ati-;adhi-;anu-;apa-;api-;abhi-;ava-;aa-;ut-;upa-;dus-;nis-;nir-;paraa-;pari-;pra-;prati-;v; sam-;and su-. And, to that list, Sakatayana adds three more Upasargas: accha-; srad-; and antar-. Later marut-; and dur- were added; thus making it to 25.]


One of the main features of Nirukta is that Yaska agrees with Sakatayana that all nouns are derived from a verbal stem (mula); and, all nouns are regarded as related to an activity expressed in language by a verbal form – tatra nāmāny ākhyātajāni iti śākaāyano nairukta samayaś ca / na sarvāi iti Gārgyo vaiyākaraā-nāś ca eke – Nir. 1, 12/

Yaska says:  any Noun can be traced back to a root (Dhatu), similar in form and meaning – samāna karmāo dhātavo dhātur dadhāte. And with that, all words come under the purview of the Nirukta.

[As compared to that, Panini left aside the irregular formations. Further, Nirukta also comments on those Vedic passages, words and their forms , which were not analyzed in the texts of Grammar.  And, therefore,  Saroja Bhate remarks, the function of Nirukta starts when that of the Grammar ends. And, therefore, Yaska aptly describes his work as ‘the completion of Grammar’- vyākaraasya kārtsnyam- [tad idam vidyasthanam vyakaranasya kartsnyam svartha-sadhakam ca . (Nir. 1,15) ]

Yaska considers the verbal roots (Dhātu) to be the bases (prakṛti), and their  noun-forms to be the modifications of them (vikṛti); and, he calls the latter as ‘born’ from the former.

As the nouns, often, have verbal roots (Dhatu), they attempt to explain ‘Why something is called what it is called ‘, by linking it to some activity; thereby establishing its relation to a verb or verbal-root. In fact, Yaska treats every noun as an information-invoking singular term.

 For instance; the Nirukta states that the noun Cittam (mind) is derived from (the root) its activity cit (to know) – cittaṃ cetateḥ (Nirukta 1.6)

The logic behind Yaska’s assertion appears to be: man keeps creating more new words to conceptualize and to describe verities of actions; which is to say, both the meaning and the etymology of words are always context-sensitive.

Thus, His main view is that the name of an object is to be determined by its actions, as also by the contextual factors (samsarga etc.)


The proposition that the Nouns are derived from Verbs (dhatuja/akhyataja) was opposed by many grammarians, including Gargya. They argued that if all nouns were derived from verbs, every person who performs a particular action should have the same name. [Kartri (a doer) from Kri (to do); Pachaka (cook) from Pach (to cook), and so on]

Yaska rebutted such criticisms by pointing out: Not everyone gets the same name by performing the same action.  For instance; a carpenter performs many other actions (takati karoti karmā), besides cutting the wood. The term ‘Carpenter’, here, signifies a person, who possesses a distinctive skill; and, perhaps follows a particular profession for his living. It does not, however, refer to any one particular person. It could refer to a whole class of such persons, in general.

 But, anyone or everyone who cuts wood cannot be called a carpenter (takā).  

Thus, though one is involved in many different activities, one gets his name from a particular action in which he is engaged. Therefore, objects are named depending upon the specific actions they perform.

yaḥ kaś ca tat karma kuryāt sarvam tat attvam tathā ācakṣīran /  yaḥ kaś ca adhvānam aśnuvīta aśvaḥ sa vacanīyaḥ syāt / atha api cet sarvāṇy ākhyātajāni nāmāni syuḥ  / Nir.1,12


It is said; the Grammarians classify the meanings of a word under three categories:   Yaugika; Yogarudha; and, Rudha.

When a word expresses its etymological sense, it is called Yaugika (derivative);

When its etymological meaning and its conventional meaning are the same, it is called Yogarudha (derivative and conventional) ; and,

When the conventional meaning, the one that is used in day-to-day affairs, is either not directly connected with its etymological derivation or it is different, then it is called Rudha (conventional).

But, as rule, the conventional meaning is regarded as stronger as and more acceptable than the etymological meaning (yogad rudhir baliyasi sighravrttitvat).

For instance; the etymological meaning of the term Asva is that which pervades or occupies; but, Asva in common usage denotes a horse. Similarly, Pankaja etymologically means that which is born in slush; but, it is commonly used to indicate a lotus flower.

The other is the Ashva-karna a type of leaf; but literally, the ears of a horse. In all such cases, it is the meaning in common usage that is generally accepted; and, the literal meaning is treated as faded metaphor.

Following the same principle, and citing the same instances, Matanga, in his Brhaddeshi,   explains: whatever might be its other meanings, the word Raga (derived from the root ranj = to please), effectively suggests, here, as that which generates delight: Ranjana-jjayate ragau.

Ithevam raga-shabdasya utpatthir abhidiyate I Ranjana-jjayate ragau utpatthih samudahrutah II283II Ashva-karnadi vidha rude yaugikau vaapi vachakah I Yogarudosthva raage jneyam pankaja-shabdavat II 284II

[Panini also said that the meanings of the words were bound to change with the passage of time, as also in varying contexts. He recognized the fact the people who spoke the language and used it in their day-to-day lives were better judges in deriving, meaning from the words.

Strangely, that came true in the case of Panini himself. For instance; in the Astadhyayi (6.1.147), the word ‘Ascharya’ is explained as that which is not-permanent (Anitya) or rare: āścaryam-anitye. And, Katyayana, a couple of centuries later, corrected that meaning to imply ‘Adbhuta’ – something that is wondrous, miraculous or unprecedented. The meaning of the term ‘Ascharya’, as interpreted by Katyayana has, of course, prevailed; and , is in common use now.

The term Aranyaka is interpreted by Panini to mean ’a forest dweller, a man who lives in the forest’- arayān-manuye (P S 4.2.129).  And, Katyayana expanded its  meaning to include a class of Vedic texts. But, somehow, it is not applied for referring to forest elephants, jackals and other wild animals that also live in the forests.

Bhartrhari, in his Vakyapadiya, therefore, emphasizes the importance of contextual factors in the determination of the meaning of expressions. Etymology is without doubt important in its own context; but, in the day-to-day conversations (rudi) the conventional meaning (Vyvaharica-artha) takes precedence over the etymologically derived sense

It is often said; a Grammarian may have control over the Lakshana (the rules); but, not always over the Lakshya, the way the language is used in the outside world. The quality of such language is almost excellent, when it is immediately close to the grammatical rules. But, many a times, the Lakshana becomes subservient to Lakshya. ].

[The American Dialect Society, which studies the evolution of language, has voted
the neutral pronoun “they” as the word of the present decade. “They” is used in English by a growing number of non-binary individuals, people who do not identify as either male or female. They prefer the plural neutral pronoun to bypass the traditionally male “he” or female “she”. Thus, it is said “they” has become an indication of “how the personal expression of gender identity employed by an increasing part of our shared discourse.”]


After explaining the evolution of speech; and, the fourfold stages of speech, Yaska takes up the question:  — ‘whether the words are eternal or ephemeral, merely created for the time being’.

Besides the issue of the eternity of words, Yaska also talks about the infallibility of Vedic words, the impermanence of human knowledge etc., – karmasampattir mantro Vede– Nir.I.2.; Purusa vidya nityatvat Nir.I.2

Yaska asserts that the word, the meaning and their mutual relations are eternal (nityam vacanam)

Yaska brushes aside the prima facie view (Purva-paksha) or the objections raised by Audumbarayana and such others; and, argues: If we admit the impermanence of words, then the mutual relation and the grammatical relation of words are not possible. Therefore, the functions of words are possible only if we admit they are everlasting, in their nature.

Following the Mimamsakas, Yaska also supported the doctrine of the eternal nature of the words – ‘vyaptimattvat tu sabdasya’ (Nir.I.2)

In this way, Yaska believed in the idea of the eternity of words; and, then he engaged in the Sphota theory.  This Doctrine (Sphota-vada) puts forward the view:  When a word is uttered, it reaches the mind of the listener through her/his ears; and, on its acceptance, the mind absorbs and understands the sense of verbal-sounds it received. Thus, the uttered words, which travel through the air, perish. Yet, the meaning conveyed by them resides permanently in the mind of the listener.

Yaska was, perhaps, one among the earliest authorities to make a reference to Sphota-vada.  Bharthari (11th century) in his celebrated work Vakyapadiya acknowledges Yaska’s reference to the Sphota concept.  Bhartrhari explains the Sphota as: a spontaneous process where a latent idea or thought arising out of the consciousness or the mind of the speaker is manifested by the sounds (Dhvani) of the spoken words employed in the sentence; and, it is directly grasped, through intuition (Prathibha), by the mind (Buddhi) of the listener.

In this context, Yaska mentions that the words, obviously, carry a meaning; but, in the course of time, a word might acquire a meaning that is different or even quite opposite to the one it had earlier. Such a change of meaning possibly comes about due to various reasons. That might be because, in the later times, it may to have to indicate a different type of action, object or an usage. And, that often happens; because the name of an object is to be determined by its actions. Therefore, the contextual factors (Samsarga) , in their current time, become important in arriving at the new meaning of a term.

Answering the question –  how an object could be called by a certain name, when it is performing a different action than that is indicated by its  name, Durga, commenting on the Nirukta, says: šabda-niyama svabhāvata eva loke – “in spoken language, in the world , the usage of  the word (Sabda-vrtti) follows its own nature”.

According to Durga , this svabhāva is an inherent characteristic of the word, as a meaningful entity. It has its own existence; and , can  ,therefore, be applied to any object at will by a speaker, thus creating a new contextual meaning; because, the word in its semantic aspect, continues to carry its own significance .

Durga remarks: the use of words, their role and the intended effect are context sensitive. The same word could be employed in any number of ways; each performing its role its own context. Therefore even on the purely communication level, the word acts as a meaningful entity, influencing and creating the society of man, which is nothing but a product of this communication.

The Scholarly Paper Yaska’s discussion of the meaning of a word in relation to objective reality, explains:

A word persists in its own reality beyond the reality of time and space. Since we live, act, see, understand the world using our linguistic reality, the name once given to the object, whether it was relevant or seemed to be relevant for a particular speaker, could remain for a longer time, even if it had very little to do with the current  action of the object. The reason why this or that name was given to the object was not in order to satisfy an objective reality. But, rather, it was a subjective one; for, it was named by a speaker imposing his wish, opinion, knowledge or will on the object. Once the name has been used, it would persist in memory until a new name effaces or changes it; or even, it might perhaps, last longer.


Finally, as Eivind Kahrs in his Indian Semantic Analysis: The Nirvacana Tradition  sums up his review of Yaska’s work, says:

What is really important about the Nirukta is that it is the single text we possess which applies a certain method designated to give semantic analysis of nouns, in the widest sense of the term. Moreover, Nirukta contains lengthy discussions of linguistic and philosophic import.  As compared to Panini’s formal grammatical attitude, keeping out the philosophical notions; Yaska’s interest in philosophy is remarkable.

Though the  main task of the Nirukta of Yaska is to explain most of the rare and obscure Vedic words by pointing out various possible etymologies , there are also discussions of general nature, on the concept of eternity and infallibility of Vedic words, (karma-sampattir mantro Vede Nir.I.2);  the impermanence of human knowledge (purusa-vidya-anityatvatNir.I.2) and so on. Thus, Yaska’s commentary is not restricted to derivation of Vedic words, but covers a much wider field.


Before we proceed to talk about Panini, let us briefly, in a capsule form, jot down the significant differences between the Nirukta of Yaska and the Astadhyayi of Panini.

(1) Nirukta is a glossary commenting and explaining the meaning of certain chosen mantras of the Rigveda, based mainly on the Nighantu and the Brahmana texts. Its focus is on the Vedic language.

Astadhyayi is an independent and an original treatise, seeking to construct a systematic analysis of all speech forms.

(2) The main task of the Nirukta is to provide the exact meaning of antiquated terms of the Rigveda that were no longer in use. It, basically, is rooted in the past.

The Astadhyayi is, principally, concerned with the language that is alive and is evolving. It deals with the then present status of the language; refining its form and usage. It strives to ensure the correct treatment of the words by purifying (Samskrita) the language (bhasha) – literary and spoken (vaidika and laukika) – that was in use during its days.

It also serves as authoritative guidelines, for the future generations, for understanding the language, speaking it correctly and using it, as it should be.

The content and the scope of Astadhyayi is much wider, as compared to that of the Nirukta.

(3) Yaska’s Nirukta is written in easy flowing prose. It hardly needs a commentary, to explain or to interpret its content.

Panini’s Ashtadhyayi is composed in Sutra form-terse and tightly knit; rather highly abbreviated. The text does need a companion volume to explain it. Therefore, generations of Grammarians and scholars were engaged (and continue to be engaged) in commenting upon and in elucidating Panini’s text.


Johannes Bronkhorst in his scholarly paper, Nirukta and Aṣṭādhyāyī: their shared presuppositions, after making a comparative study of the two texts concludes :

The Nirukta and the Astådhyåyi can be looked upon as rational elaborations of the same set (or closely similar sets) of presuppositions. Both assume that the meaning of words and larger utterances is the sum of the meanings of their separate parts.

The author of the Astådhyåyi set out to show in detail how these small units of meaning, these semantic elements, find expression in the phenomenal language.

The author of the Nirukta, on the other hand, used his supposed knowledge in a different way. He developed a method with the help of which every word, however obscure it might seem, could be forced to yield its meaning to the investigator. He also tried to give strict rules that should be observed while using his method. The nature of his endeavor, however, brought about that these rules could not be as strict as the ones that govern grammatical derivations.

Yaskapranitam.2 jpg

References and Sources

  1. The Nighantu and the Nirukta by Sri Lakshman Sarup
  2. Text of the Nirukta – Based on the edition by Sri Lakshman Sarup
  3. Ashtadhyayi or Sutrapatha of Panini
  4.  A critical study of some aspects of Nirukta by Tarapada Chakrabarti
  5. Etymology and magic: Yaska’s Nirukta, Plato’s Cratylus, and the riddle of semantic etymologies by Johannes Bronkhorst
  6. Grammatical Literature by Hartmut Scharfe
  7. Indian Semantic Analysis: The Nirvacana Tradition  by Eivind Kahrs
  8. Yaska’s discussion of the meaning of a word in relation to objective reality
  9. Pānini and Yāska : Principles of derivation  by Saroja Bhate
  10. Yaska’s Nirukta and his reflections on language
  11. The Nirukta and the Aitareya Brahmana by Prof. Viman Ch. Bhattacharya
  12. The History of Indian Literature (1892) by Albrecht Weber
  13. Introduction to the Nirukta and the literature related to it by Rudolph Roth
  14. Panini and his place in Sanskrit by  Theodor Goldstücker
  15. Yaska’s Nirukta by Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao
  16. Linguistic observations of Yaska
  18. All images are from Internet


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