Tag Archives: Grammar

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.

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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]

lotus with leaves

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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The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Five

Continued from Part Four



As mentioned in the previous part, Vakyapadiya, without doubt, is a seminal work on: Grammar; the philosophy of language; and philosophy related subjects. It is regarded as the most significant work appearing after the long and the hoary tradition of Tri-Muni or Muni-traya – the revered trio (Trimurti) of sages – Panini (Astadhyayi), Katyayana (Vrttika), and Patanjali (Mahabhashya). Vakyapadiya represents the culmination of several traditions; but is, basically, rooted in the Vedic tradition.  Following Patanjali, Bhartrhari regards Grammar as the most important Vedanga (branch of the Vedas).

Vakyapadiya is certainly the most widely cited text on the subject of ‘philosophy of Grammar’, not only by the various traditional Schools of Sanskrit Grammar, but also among modern scholars of linguistic studies. The distinguished scholar Harold Coward, in the preface to his work on Bhartrhari (1971) writes:

Although Bhartrhari lived in India many centuries ago, his writing has a universal appeal that spans the years and bridges the gulf between East and West. This very timelessness in conjunction with universality strongly suggests that Bhartrhari as a Grammarian, metaphysician, and poet has come close to revealing the fundamental nature of consciousness itself.



The title Vakyapadiya, in general, could be described as a treatise on sentences and words, their meanings; and, their mutual relationship.  The text discusses in great depth, the subjects related to Vakya (sentence); Pada (word) and meaning (Artha); together with their grammatical as well as philosophical implications.  It is said; the text is, therefore, celebrated by the name Vakyapadiya – (Sabda-Artha-Sambandiyam prakaranam Vakyapadiyam) and (Vakya-pade adhikrtya krtah granthah Vakyapadiyam)

Since Bhartrhari’s Vakyapadiya follows in spirit the rules governing words (sabda-anushasanam) as in the Samgraha of Vyadi, it is also known as Agama Samgraha (compendium of Agama), as received from tradition.

And again, since the text Vakyapadiya is made up of three Khanda-s (Cantos or Chapters or segments) it is also known by the name Trikandi comprising Brahma-khanda (or Agama-samucchaya- aggregation of traditions); Vakya-khanda (discussion on sentence); and, Pada-khanda (prakirna or Prakīraka –miscellaneous).

It is said; under the Trikandi structure, each Khanda was named after the most significant word in the first Karika (statement) of that Khanda: First KhandaBrahma Kanda (Anadi-nidhana Brahma); Second khanda: Vakya Kanda (ākhyāta); and, Third Khanda: Pada Kanda (dvidhā kaiś cit pada)

Though the Vakyapadiya, in the present period, is largely accepted as a text comprising three Khanda-s or Cantos or sections, there were very involved discussions during the middle and the later periods on the question whether what is known as Vakyapadiya is a single text or whether it is, in fact, two texts put together. It was argued by some that the first Khanda (Brahma-khanda) and the second Khanda (Vakya-khanda) alone constituted what is Vakyapadiya. To support that argument, it was pointed out that the explanatory Notes (Tika or Vritti) prepared by Bhartrhari himself covered only the first two Khanda-s related to the key theories of Sabda Brahman and the Sphota.

According to this line of argument, the third segment (Khanda), the Pada-khanda or Prakirnaka, dealing with words (Pada) and having a large number of verses spread over several sub-sections is to be treated as  a separate work  (Vakyapadiya-Prakirnakayoh karta Maha-bhashya-tripadaya vyakyatah).

At the same time, there have also been several learned articles written by scholars  arguing that though the Vakyapadiya could be said to have two parts – ( the first part comprising the First and the Second Khandas; with the Third Khanda forming the latter part ) – it is , in fact , a single text. It is pointed out that Bhartrhari himself mentions (VP II, 488) that in the third chapter he would be discussing  in detail the topics which were briefly mentioned in the earlier two chapters*.  The third Khanda, Prakirnaka-prakasha, in fact, ends with the statement – iti bhartharikta vākyapadīyam samāptam – that concludes the Vakyapadiya written by Bhartrhari.

(*vartmanām atra keṣām cid vastumātram udāhṛtam / kāṇḍe trtīye nyakṣena bhaviṣyati vicāraṇā / VP II, 488)

It is now generally accepted that though Vakyapadiya is composed of two distinct parts, it essentially is a single text having three Cantos (Trikandi).

One of the later commentators pays his respects to Bhartrhari the author of  Vakyapadiya and Mahabhashya by cleverly playing upon ‘Hari’ in his name.  He says: I submit my reverence to Hari the author of Tripadi (commentary on Mahabhashya) who took three steps in the form of Trikandi (Vakyapadiya) that covered the three worlds; and who is the Lord of Sri the embodiment of all knowledge

Trailokya-gamini yena Trikandi Tripadi-krita/tasmai samastha –vidya-sri kanthaya/ Haraye namah//


While the length of text differs slightly according to different published editions, it could generally be said that the first Khanda (Brahma-khanda) consists about 156 karikas (comments, in metrical verse form); the second (Vakya-khanda) consists about 485 karikas; and, the third khanda (Pada-khanda), the biggest of all, consists about 1325 karikas. The entire book, thus, could be said to have about 1966 Karikas, or comments, in metrical form.

Brahma-khanda dwells primarily on the following relations: (a) between word in the intellect and the spoken word; (b) between the sequence-less and the sequential in language; (c) between the universal and the particular; and, (d) between the word and the world .

[According to the edition of Vakyapadiya published by Wilhelm Rau in 1977, the first and the second chapters have 183 and 490 verses, respectively. The third chapter, which is divided into 14 sections, has 1325 verses.  Thus the text runs up to 1998 Karikas.  According to Pandit Sri K. A. Subramania Iyer and others, the three Khanda-s together contain 1860 Karikas.]


Astaka– Eight topics

The main features of the Vakyapadiya   could, broadly, be grouped under three heads: Prakriya (the word formation process); Parishkara (the analysis and clearly enunciating the concept); and, Darshana (philosophy).  Thus, though Vakyapadiya is basically about Vyakarana (Grammar) and its philosophy, it is accorded the status of Agama (traditional text) – pratyak caitanye sannivesita vak.

Though the first two khanda-s cover subjects such as grammar as also philosophy of grammar and linguistics, Bhartrhari seems to focus, here,  on two types each of the linguistic units (words-Sabda) and meanings (Artha); and four types of their relations (Sambandha). Thus, the book is said to discuss eight kinds of topics.

The verses 24-26* of the first Khanda  indicate that Vakyapadiya deals with eight subjects (Astaka); two kinds of meanings – one by analysis, and the other , natural as fixed by convention;  two kinds of words – one explained by grammar, and the other by its context; two kinds of relations – one by the  cause and effect relation between expressions and meanings,  and the other by its appropriateness to express the meaning ; and, two kinds of objectives – one that is spiritual, and the other whichhas the ability  to understand the meaning.

*Apoddhārapadārthā ye ye cārthāḥ sthitalakṣaṇāḥ /
anvākhyeyāś ca ye śabdā ye cāpi pratipādakāḥ // 1.24 //
kāryakāraṇabhāvena yogyabhāvena ca sthitāḥ /
dharme ye pratyaye cāṅgaṃ saṃbandhāḥ sādhvasādhuṣu // 1.25 //
te liṅgaiś ca svaśabdaiś ca śāstre ‘sminn upavarṇitāḥ /
smṛtyartham anugamyante ke cid eva yathāgamam // 1.26 //

Hence, the commentators Vrsabha and Helaraja describe Vakyapadiya as padartha-astaka-vichara-para– the text concerned with discussions on eight kinds of subjects. Each of these topics   discussed in their respective chapters are grouped under:

Sabda: Anvakhyeya (linguistic units- sentences and words- to be explained) and Pratipadaka (linguistic units which serve to convey the formerstems, suffixes etc)

Artha: Apoddhara-padartha (meanings derived or extracted); and Sthita-lakshana (meanings fixed by convention)

Sambandha: Karta-karana-bhava (relations established through cause-effect); and Yogya-bhava (relations that exist between linguistic units and meanings, and their capability to express a certain desired meaning);

Objective: Pratyayanga (comprehension of meaning); and, Pratyaya-dharmanga (acquisition of merit)


Importance of Tradition

After citing the eight topics (VP: 1.24-26), Bhartrhari talks about the importance of tradition; and the necessity of relying on the inherited knowledge in regard to acquisition of spiritual merit. And, that includes the hoary tradition of Grammar which decides upon the correctness (sadhutva) and incorrectness (a-sadhutva) in the use of language.

[While asserting the value of traditional interpretations, Bhartrhari criticizes other commentators like Vaiji, Saubhava and Haryaka for vainly pursuing ‘dry-logic’ (Shushka-tarka) without much thinking or introspection –vaiji-saubhava-haryakai śuka-tarkānusāribhiḥ – VP.2.484]-

Bhartrhari assures (VP I. 27 – 43) that he will present, through direct statements and indirect indications, only the subjects that have already been accepted in the traditional Grammar (kecid eva yathāgamam)  . Thus, he clarifies, his explanations (smrtyartham) would be in accordance with the accepted traditions of the Grammar.

His commentator Vrsabha explains that by the term yathāgamam, Bhartrhari meant that he did not invent (utprekshya) these eight topics, but was handing them down (smrtyartham) as tradition (agama or paddathi).

Bhartrhari urges all to adhere to Dharma which is an eternal principle. A righteous and wise person must always act in accordance with Dharma, even if the texts perish and even if there are no longer any authors left.

astaṃ yāteṣu vādeṣu kartṛṣv anyeṣv asatsv api / śrutismṛtyuditaṃ dharmaṃ loko na vyativartate // VP. 1.149 //


Sources of Valid knowledge

After enumerating the eight topics and the importance of following the tradition, Bhartrhari discusses about the relations between the three major sources of valid knowledge (Pramana): (i) direct perception (Pratyaksha); inference (Anumana); and, tradition or traditional texts (Agama or Sabda).

Here, he draws attention to to the fact that perception, at times, could be erroneous because of weakness or improper functioning of sensory organs. As regards inference, he points out that inference, by itself, is an inadequate of source reliable of knowledge (Pramana). He argues that inference alone, without the steadying influence of the scriptures is an improper Pramana.   Vakyapadiya (1.34), remarks : ‘whatever is inferred with great effort through clever reasoning can easily be put aside by a much more clever reasoning or argument (kuśalair anumātbhi)’. [This stanza of Bhartrhari became so well known that almost every commentator  (e.g., Jiva Goswami – Bhaktirasāmṛtasindhu and Jayanta – Nyayamanjari) effectively reused it, to put aside the rival argument]

yatnenānumito yo ’rthaḥ kuśalair anumātṛbhiḥ | abhiyuktatarair anyair anyathaivopapādyate || (Vākyapādīya 1.34)

And he then asserts, the traditional knowledge (Agama) which consists of the revealed (Sruti) or remembered (Smrti) scriptures cannot be set aside by inference, since they are more dependable than inference.

According to Bhartrhari, it is not justifiable to replace scriptures (Sabda) with inference, particularly in non- empirical matters. He also says that philosophical views (Vada) cannot be independent of the scriptures. In this context, Bhartrhari mentions, the role of Vyakarana (Grammar) is very important, as it helps to safeguard the correct transmission of the scriptural knowledge, and to assist the aspirant in realizing the truth of the revealed knowledge (Sruti).

[For more on valid knowledge in Indian thought – please click here]


Subjects discussed

The treatment of the subjects in the Vakyapadiya is indeed refreshing. It adopts an open approach; and is prepared to review and validate different perspectives on a given issue. Throughout Vakyapadiya, both the viewpoints – supporting and opposing – on a subject are discussed. Sometimes the viewpoints are just enumerated. And, sometimes Bhartrhari adds a comment to the one that is more acceptable  of the two. There are also instances where he develops his own view by reconciling or synthesizing two apparently conflicting views. He, at times, steers a middle course between two extreme positions. In certain ways, Bhartrhari surely is different from most authors of his time who had fallen into the habit of either totally condemning the opposite School or staunchly upholding one’s own system at any cost. (For more, please read Bhartrhari’s perspectivism by Jan E .M. Houben)

Bhartrhari was adopting the approach of Anekāntavāda which, essentially, is a principle that encourages acceptance of multiple or plural views on a given subject. The Buddha too, earlier, had said that merely judging the issue from individual (separate) stand points of view would lead to wrong conclusions; it would be prudent to approach each issue from more than one point of view (aneka-amsika).

With such a rather ‘aloof ‘or rational approach, Bhartrhari demonstrates his faith that things appear differently from different points of view.

That does not mean that Bhartrhari does not assert his own position. He is quite candid and assured of his own position. For instance; he opens the Vakyapadiya with a series of well defined statements which he plans to elaborate and defend later in work.


The first two Khandas are closely related. In these two Books, the topics (prakarana) concerning sentence and words are arranged under three broad sections, as: (i) the nature of these constituents, and their mutual relations; (ii) their contents; (iii) meaningful linguistic units and their mutual relations; the nature of creation; the relationship of Brahman, world, language, the individual soul (Jîva); and, the manifestation and comprehension of the meanings of words and sentences.

In first two Chapters, Bhartrhari shows his remarkable understanding of the psychology of communication, which is not restricted by mere structure of words.  Bhartrhari is among the few who have systematically investigated Thought and Language and their interrelationship. According to him, consciousness and thought are intertwined; speech or the spoken language is an outer expression of the inward thought process; and, language is the base of all human activity.

According to this view, there are two levels of language:  the inner speech and the articulated sound. The former he called Sphota, the latter Nada, ‘sound’, ‘noise’. The former is more real; and, it is the cause of the latter.

The basic idea here seems to be that the word is initially conceived as a unity in the mind of the speaker. Thus, the inward form of the word is its thought (intent), while the articulated sound is its outward form. And, both originate from the speaker’s mind as  thought process which later finds words to express itself; and, that verbalized thought is put out through series of word-sounds with the aid of various body-parts and the breath.  Bhartrhari employs a range of terms- such as Nada, Dhvani, Prakata-dhvani, Vaikrata-dhvani etc – in order to indicate the audible spoken word. He also talks, in detail, about the levels of language (we shall talk of this level in fair detail in the later parts).

Thus, a spoken word is but a transformation of a subtle form of un-vocalized thought which originated in the mind of the speaker in a much more subtle form. The inner most impulse is the knower, the person himself, who transforms Vivartate), in stages, to reveal himself.


The first Khanda (Brahma-khanda) introduces the concept of Sadba-sphota  and gives the outline of its general philosophy; and, its distinction from sound (Dhvani, Nada). By Sabda Sphota, Bhartrhari refers to that inner unity Sabda (word) which conveys the meaning (Artha) .

The text explains the real word (Sabda-Sphota) as the intent of the speaker, and that which is unerringly grasped by the listener. And, that is not the same as Nada (non-linguistic sound or that which expresses) or Dhvani (intonation) which acts as a carrier to convey the intended meaning.  Here, in Grammar (in contrast to Tantra and to the classical theories of Indian music ), Nada signifies the gross sound which results from a collection of subtle Dhvani-s.

Thus, Dhvani and Nada are‘external substances’ covering a meaningful content. In other words, they are  the outer garments or the cover of the real word (Sphota).

[Amazingly, in the later periods, the concepts of Nada and Dhwani underwent a thorough change. The terms Nada and Dhwani acquired totally different connotations. Nada in Tantra as also in the theories of Indian music was elevated to the mystical concept of a very high order as Nada Brahman.

Similarly, in the medieval Indian aesthetics (Kavya-Alamkara), the term Dhwani implied the subtle essence or the Rasa evoked by a poem or a gesture in a play or in dance. Anandavardhana regarded Dhwani as the soul of poetry- Kayyasya Atma. ]

Bhartrhari paid considerable attention to the whole sentence and the discussion of word-meaning rather than to constituents of a sentence.

The argument put forth here is that the sentence is an indivisible unit of communication; and, its meaning is grasped in a flash (sphota) through Prathibha (intuition). The complete and true meaning of a sentence is achieved only by means of such ‘intuitive perception’ (VakyaSphota). That according to Bhartrhari is the true and complete communication.

[In the later parts of this series we shall talk in a little detail about the levels of language and the concept of Sphota.]


The focus of the second Khanda (Vakya-khanda) is on the nature of relation between sentence and its meaningful constituents (words). The discussions here might be called as the study of linguistics.  But, in the course of its elaborate treatment the text covers several other topics dealing with the relationship between the Brahman, world, language, and the individual soul (Jiva).


The largest of the three Chapters is the third Khanda, which is divided into fourteen sub-sections (samuddesha-s) or collection of discussions on various grammatical topics in the context of Patanjali’s Mahabhashya. Most of the topics of this Khanda were discussed by Patanjali in his Mahabhashya in one context or another; but, not in a systematic manner. Bhartrhari, in this Khanda, organizes and presents the issues in the form of cogent discussions. He also brings in the arguments from other systems such as Mlmamsa to widen the scope of the discussions.

  • (1) Jati-samuddesa (concerning universal or genre ) ;
  • (2) Dravya-samuddesa (about substance);
  • (3) Sambandha-samuddesa (on the concept of mutual relations);
  • (4) Bhuyodravya-samuddesa [again concerning  substance);
  • (5) Gunas-amuddesa (on quality);
  • (6) Dik-samuddesa (of direction);
  • (7) Sadhana-samuddesa (about participant producing an action);
  • (8) Kriya-samuddesa (of action) ;
  • (9) Kala-samuddesa (on concepts of time and tense);
  • (10) Purusha-samuddesa (on the notion of grammatical person);
  • (11) Samkhya-samuddesa (concerning numbers);
  • (12) Upagraha-samuddesa (on distinctions between active and middle affixes);
  • (13) Linga-samuddesa (about genders);  and ,
  • (14) Vrtti-samuddesa [about complex formations , such as compounds, secondary nouns etc.)

Of these fourteen sections, some are small in size, while some like the section on complex formations and on participants producing an action etc. are fairly large.

With the aid of these Samuddesha-s , the third Khanda of Vakyapadiya goes into questions concerning the aspects of Pada (word), such as:  the nature of word; its true–spontaneous meaning; role of the verbs, nouns , particles and suffixes in a sentence;  the problems involved in deriving the meaning of individual word and sentence by artificial splitting them; and so on.  

In the last Book, Bhartrhari , among other things, makes a grammatical analysis to show that a sentence expresses a particular action or process, which is directly denoted by its main word, a verb,  He says , the function of most nouns is to show what means or accessories the action or process requires.  As regards the analysis of a sentence by breaking into parts, he insists, it is artificial; but, it might help to explain an indivisible word. Further, he says, the analysis of individual words abstracted from an indivisible sentence is unreal; as unreal as the stem and suffix similarly abstracted from an individual word.


Philosophy of language

The philosophy of language that Bhartrhari presents covers both the factual and the intuitive levels of language.

As regards the factual aspects, Vakyapadiya, presents an analytical study (parishkara) of various aspects and process ( prakriya ) of language (sound, sense, relation between sound and sense, and the purpose); its nature , modes and possibilities of communication (sentence and words); meaning of sentence and meaning of words, and their compatibility; how it is learnt; how languages relate to the world;  whether it can be a valid source of knowledge;  and, logical aspect of language based on the components (syllable) that go to form a word (stems and suffixes; meanings of the stems and suffixes; causes, and knowledge of the correct meaning of words) and other related subjects.

The discussions related to Grammar, Vakyapadiya also covers certain interesting issues that were not dealt in the earlier grammatical text. For instance; there are discussions here about: the distinction between Sabda (word) and Dhvani (sound); the question whether Sabda (word) signifies the general or the particular; and, what constitutes a meaningful-unit of language?

As  regards the philosophical aspects of language, Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadiya asserts the faith that by using correct speech (Sadhu) composed of apt linguistic units (words – Sabda) a human being can reach the limits of his conventional and spiritual capabilities. It enables, according to him, meditations centred on language: Vak-yoga or Sabda-purva yoga. For him, Grammar in its pristine form represents the efficient means to realise Brahman. Bhartrhari states that ‘the purification of the word is the means to the attainment of Supreme Self – ‘one, who knows the highest essence (paramo rasa) of speech, attains the Brahman’ (1.12). Ultimately, he says, speech is Brahman.

At the commencement of  Vakyapadiya, Bhartrhari declares that Sabda–tattva (Word-principle) is Brahman, the ultimate truth which is beyond space or time. It is: ‘the beginning-less and endless One; the imperishable (Akshara) of which the essential nature is Sabda, which transforms (vivartate) itself into speech, as words and as their meanings and into objects; and  , from which proceeds the creation of the universe’.

(Anadi-nidhanam Brahma sabda-tattvam yad-aksharam / vivartate artha-bhavena prakriya jagato yatahVP. 1.1)

[For Bhartrhari, Sabda Brahman (supreme word principle) is One (ekam eva) and is the highest Reality–Para Brahman. This marks his departure from Vedanta, where the supreme consciousness, Para Brahman, is beyond language. The theistic traditions that came later also rejected the ultimate supremacy of Sabda Brahman. They, instead, chose to idealize the qualified Brahman with most adorable attributes. ]

Bhartrhari states that the essence of Brahman is the natures of Sabda (word). And, Sabda is identical with its meaning (Artha). According to Bhartrhari, the Sabda (word) expresses itself; and at the same time it also puts forth the meaning suggested by it. That is to say; Sabda is self-expressive; it is at once the subject and the object as well.

Further, Bhartrhari explains, though the word and word-consciousness (Logos- Shabda tattva – the ‘Word principle’, which he identifies with Brahman the Absolute) is unitary in its nature, it manifests itself in the diverse form of words that make possible the speech with its infinite varieties of expressions.

Thus, Sabda according to Bhartrhari is not merely the cause of the universe but also is the sum and substance of it. This is the central theme of Vakyapadiya.

 That fundamental idea is carried forward later in the text:

An absolute beginning of language is untenable. Language is continuous and co-terminus with the human or any sentient being. There is no awareness in this world without its being intertwined with language. All cognitive awareness appears as if it is interpenetrated with language. (VP. 1.123)

If the language impregnated nature went away from it, then a cognition would not manifest (any object), for that (language impregnated nature) is the distinguishing nature of our cognitive awareness. (VP. 1.124)

(Translation of B.M Matilal-  The Word and The World. India’s contribution to the Study of Language – 1990)

Sabda brahman.jpeg

Levels of Language

Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadiya explores language at two levels. The first deals with linguistic relationships from the point of view of everyday usage; and, the second with the same relationships from the point of view of ultimate reality.

At the empirical level, Bhartrhari is concerned with the process of communicating meaning. He talks about word-meanings and their relationships as in  everyday conversation. 

At another level, his theory of language deals with the metaphysical aspects of speech; and the ultimate purpose of life – the liberation from the bonds of Prakrti (relative existence).

But, reorganization of two levels of language does not imply dualism. Bhartrhari was essentially a Vedantin who viewed the universe as the emanation of the non-dual Brahman. He recognizes unity in diversity; and remarks: “All difference presupposes a unity; where there is a duality there is an identity pervading it. Otherwise one cannot be related to the other; each would constitute a world by itself”.

According to Bhartrhari, the language we speak is the medium of expression of the ultimate reality communicated through meaning-bearing words. It leads us across the external appearances and diversities to the core of the Reality which is the source and the underlying unity beneath everything. Here, the Real is the luminous Truth which needs to be rediscovered by every speaker and in every speech. The Real breaks forth (sphut) through the medium of speech (Sabda). And, Sabda is not mere means to the Reality, but it is the very Truth and Reality (Shabda-Brahman).



Extracting the precise meaning of a sentence in a text has been one of the concerns of most of Indian Schools of thought. Brihad-devata (a secondary Vedic text of 4-5th century BCE attributed Saunala) mentions about the rules that should generally be followed for interpreting a (Vedic) text. According to Brhad-devata, there are six factors that determine the sense or the import of an expression. They are: the objective to be served by the text (Artha); the relevance of subject matter under discussion (Prakarana); a reference to it in another portion of the text (Linga); aptness or its suitability of relevance (Auchitya); the geographical location (Desha); and, the contextual time (Kala).

Generally, it is the context in which a term is used that brings out the sense that it is trying to express. The context, in each case, is circumscribed by various factors. Elaborate sets of rules or guide-lines were drawn up by each School to identify such ‘context’ in each class of texts.  Among the traditional Schools of thought, Mimamsa took special care to lay down the ground rules in that regard. The Mimamsa method is generally followed by the other Schools as well.

According to Mimamsa , there are six means of ascertaining the correct meaning of a text: Sruti direct statement; Linga implication derived from another word or term; Vakya- syntactic connection; Prakarana – context of the situation; Sthana – location; and, Samakhya – meaning derived from etymology .

Mimamsa also laid down six factors for determining the purpose (Artha) of a text are: consistency in the meaning between the introduction and the conclusion; repetition of the main topic; the novelty of the subject matter; the result intended; corroborative and explanatory remarks; and, arguments in favour of the main topic.

Bhartrhari also lists out contextual factors which are similar to those listed in Brihad-devata; but, with slight medications and substituting Vakya   for Linga. His list of determinants or indicators to help determine the specific sense in which the words are used by speakers , broadly , cover the major factors such as : the sentence (vakya), the context (prakarana), the purpose (Artha), the propriety (auchitya), the place (Desha) and the time (kala).

According to him, the relation between the word and its meaning can be characterized in several ways: as the relation of capability to express a certain sense (yogyata); as a cause-and-effect relation (karya-karana-bhava) ; and as one of identification or superimposition (adhyasa or adyaropa). Such relations are permanent (nitya) in Grammar.

He pointed out that in many cases of language behaviour, the literal meaning conveyed by the expression is not the intended meaning and the contextual factors play a vital role in determining the intended sense of the passage. It is by gaining a thorough understanding, in each case, of context, the specific and the grammatical factors that determine the intended sense that one would be able to successfully avoid confusions and misrepresentations in reading a text.

Bhartrihari’s list is more elaborate:

  • 1.Samsarga (contact) or Sam-yoga (association): the connection known to exist between two things;
  • 2. Viprayoga (dissociation): the absence of such connection;
  • 3. Sahacarya (companionship): mutual association;
  • 4. Virodhita (opposition): Antonym-opposite in meaning; 
  • 5. Artha: the objective or the intended purpose;
  • 6. Prakarana: the context or subject under discussion;
  • 7. Linga: indication from another place;
  • 8. Sabda- syanyasya samnidhih  (nearness to  another word): similar to Samsarga ;  it restricts the meaning to a particular zone; 
  • 9. Samarthya  (capacity): capacity to express; 
  • 10. Auchitya (propriety or aptness): say, whether to take direct meaning or metaphorical meaning;
  • 11. Desha  (place) the geographical region to which the text belongs;
  • 12. Kala (time) the period in history in which the text is composed;
  • 13. Vyakti (grammatical gender); and,
  • 14.  Svara (accent) the tone and tenor of the text.

Apart from these, abhinaya (gesture) and apadesa (pointing out directly) are also taken as determining the exact meaning of an ambiguous expression.

All these factors discussed above can be classified under three broad groups: (1) Grammatical construction; (2) Verbal context, and, (3) Non-verbal situational- context.

Bhartrhari   emphasizes the importance of contextual factors in determining the meaning of an expression.


According to Bhartrhari, the process of understanding the particular meaning of a word has three aspects:  first , a word has an intrinsic power to convey one or more meanings (abhidha); second, it is the intention of the speaker which determines the particular meaning to be conveyed (abhisamdhana) ; and , third, the actual application (viniyoga  ) of the word and its utterance.

Bhartrhari  also states that Meaning in language is dependent on its usage; on the speaker-listener relationship; as also on their capacities to communicate and to comprehend – Sabdabodha (verbal cognition)- what has been expressed (śabdārthaḥ pravibhajyate).

vaktrānyathaiva prakrānto bhinneṣu pratipattṛṣu / svapratyayānukāreṇa śabdārthaḥ pravibhajyate  // VP:2.135//

The particular meaning of a word which is commonly used (prasiddhi) is considered by Bhartrhari   as its primary meaning. The secondary meaning of a word normally requires a context for its understanding, although sometimes the context may clarify only the primary meaning. Usually, the secondary meaning of a word is implied when a word is used for an object other than it normally denotes, as for example, the metaphorical use of the word

But his commentator Punyaraja dismisses such distinctions of primary and secondary meaning: the content of the speech is nothing but the intention of the speaker (tatparya); and, the classification of the meaning into primary and secondary, etc, is a fictitious analysis; and is meant only for the purpose of teaching the structure of language to ignorant persons.

vakyasya-arthát padarthanám apoddhare prakalpite I sabdantarena sambandhah kasyai kasyopapadyate I! VP.II.269.

upayáh siksamananám Baldnam apalapanah 1 asatye vartmani sthitva tatah satyam saniihate II VP.II.238.


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

Indian grammarians of Sanskrit, in fact, paid very close attention to human subjectivity in language; they clearly perceived its omnipresence, the speaking subject being involved in all of his linguistic choices (phonetic, morphological, syntactical, semantic).

In the Aṣṭādhyāyī, the speaking subjectivity manifests itself through the existence of options or choices within the derivations. In the Vārttikas and the Mahābhāya, the idea of choice is still there, but human subjectivity also begins to become the sign of unpredictability in the — individual or collective — use of language.

In late commentaries, the intention to speak will be a well-known grammatical device introducing new linguistic forms. The language user is undeniably present in the grammatical discourse of the Mahābhāya, but the majority of terms denoting him as such concern his authoritativeness regarding speech.

This tendency hardens in the Vākyapadīya. But it is also Bharthari who first brings the hearer into existence, as a knowing subject.

A last point. As far as I know, speech was never considered by ancient Indian grammarians from a dialogical perspective. The ordinary domain of what we call the token-reflexivity (semantic functioning of personal pronouns, demonstratives and time indices) was a matter of no interest to them (with a few exceptions) the notions of paro’ka “invisible” and pratyaka “visible”, prakaraa “situational context”, mainly referred to in cases of ambiguity; and ūha “modification”, which denotes the linguistic adaptation of a hymn or of a prayer to a ritual different from the original one; each of these notions deserves a separate study .

This is surprising, when one thinks about the importance of orality in India, all through its history. But the orality, in traditional India, is restricted to texts recitation and to standard discourses or intercourses (scholarship, literature, education, politics). It is not, therefore, the oral language of spontaneous daily intercourses: the speaking subject is only a spokesman who conveys an eternal truth.


Commentaries on Vakyapadiya

Numerous commentaries have been produced on the Vakyapadiya.

Bhartrhari himself is credited with preparing a detailed explanatory note (Vivarana or Vrtti or Tika) on the first two Khandas (Chapters) of the Vakyapadiya. The Vrtti though, technically, is a commentary, it is often regarded as an integral part or as an appendage of the Vakyapadiya.  At times, the name of a certain Harivrshabha is associated with the Vrtti. But, the scholarly interpretation is that ‘Harivrshabha’ could be a variation or reverse order (Hari +Brhat) of Bhartrhari, both the forms meaning: ‘great or powerful Hari’. The scholars generally tend to agree that Bhartrhari is the author of both the Vakyapadia (Trikandi) and the Vrtti. Bhartrhari’s main contribution to philosophy of grammar and philosophy of language is found in the first two Khandas of Vakyapadiya and their Vrtti.

Among the extant commentaries written in the earlier times the prominent ones are said to be the ones written by: Vrshabha or Vrshabhadeva; Helaraja; Punyaraja;  and, Nageshabhatta.

The early commentators interpreted Vakyapadiya mainly from the Advaita point of view; and, to a certain extent they were also influenced by Kashmir-Shaiva School. The earliest commentary available to us is that of Vrshabhadeva. And, commentaries prior to that are lost.

The earliest surviving commentary on the Vakyapadiya is the one ascribed to Vrsabhadeva, son of Devayasas and an employee in the court of King Vishnugupta of Kashmir. His time is said to be around 650 CE.  At the commencement of his Vakyapadiya-Paddhati, which is a commentary on the first two Khanda-s and the Vrtti, Vrsabhadeva mentions that earlier to him, many scholars had produced lucid commentaries on the Vakyapadiya. But, again, all those commentaries as also Vrsabhadeva’s commentary on the second Khanda are lost. Only his commentary on the first Khanda and on Vrtti has survived.

Prof. Marco Ferrante (Austrian Academy of Sciences) in his Vṛṣabhadeva’s Sphuākarā on Bharthari’s Metaphysics: Commentarial Strategy and New Interpretations, talks about Vṛṣabhadeva’s commentary on Bhartrhari’s Vākya-padīya.

In the Abstract to his article, Prof. Ferrante summarizes:

Although somewhat neglected in the scholarly debate, Vṛṣabhadeva’s commentary (known as Sphuākarā or Paddhati, possibly 8th c. CE) on Vākya-padīya’s first chapter, offers a remarkable analysis of Bhartrhari’s views on metaphysics and philosophy of language. Vākyapadīya’s first four kārikās deals with ontological issues, defining the key elements of Bhartrhari’s non-dualistic edifice  such as the properties of the unitary principle, its powers, the role of time and the  ontological status of worldly objects.

Vrsabhadeva’s interpretation of the kārikās in question is intriguing and seems to be guided by the urgency to find a solution to the  riddle which every non-dualistic theory has to face: how is it possible to postulate a unitary principle of reality when reality is cognized as multiple?

In accomplishing  the task Vrsabhadeva proposes various solutions (some of which are based on  concepts which are hardly detectable in Vākyapadīya and appear close to the ones propounded in certain trends of Advaita Vedanta), finally suggesting an explanation  which, being based on the pragmatic aspect of language, is altogether consistent with Bhartrhari’s theoretical picture.


Helaraja (Ca.980 CE) who comes almost five hundred years after Bhartrhari is identified as the son of Bhutiraja who was a descendent of Laksmana, Minister in the Court of King Muktapida of Kashmir. (Some say that Helaraja was one of the teachers of Abhinavagupta.) Helaraja is said to have written a set of  three separate commentaries, one each on the three Khanda-s of the Vakyapadiya (Sabda-prabha; Vakya-pradipa; and, Prakirnaka-prakasha). However, his commentaries on the first and the second Khanda-s are, sadly, lost; and, only the commentary on the third Khanda (Prakirnaka-Khanda) has come down to us.


And, not much is known about Punyaraja either. His date is surmised as between the 11th and 12th Century. It is said; Punyaraja also hailed from Kashmir; and, was also known by the names Pullharaja or Rajanaka Suravarma. He was said to be disciple of Sasanka-sishya (Sahadeva) who wrote a commentary on Vamana’s KavyaAlankara-sutra-Vrtti, a text on poetics (Kavya-shastra). Punyaraja, it is said, studied Vakyapadiya under the guidance of his teacher; and later wrote a commentary (Vakya-khanda-Tika) on the second Khanda of Vakyapadiya. Some scholars, notably Dr. Ashok Aklujkar, have argued that this commentary is most probably a shortened version of Vakya-pradipa a commentary by Helaraja on the second Khanda, which is believed to have been lost.


There is also a commentary called Vakyapadiya-prameya- sangraha by an unknown author covering the second chapter of the Vakyapadiya. This actually is an abridgment of the commentary usually ascribed to Punyaraja.

Another commentator Nageshabhatta a well known scholar of the 17th century n his Vaiyakarana Siddhanta Manjusa is said to have commented on the Vakyapadiya .

And, during the later period, the commentary Ambakartri by Raghunatha Sarma, covering the entire Vakyapadiya , is said to be quite important.


During the last century there has been a remarkable upsurge in the studies on Vakyapadiya, both in the East and in the West. As Jan E.M. Houben, in the chapter on the Vakyapadiya and its interpretation remarks :

‘One of the reasons for this must be that the subject matter of the Vakyapadiya is strongly consonant with crucial themes in twentieth century Western thought, in spite of the very different background and elaboration of the issues.’

Significant numbers of scholars have produced outstanding works. Just to name a few that I can quickly recall (Not in any particular order) : K A Subramania Iyer; Gaurinath Sastry; Mulakaluri Srimannarayana Murti; T.R.V. Murty; T K Iyer; Ashok Aklujkar; Jan E .M. Houben ; Harold Coward; K. Raghavan Pillai; Bimal Krishna Matilal; Bishnupada Bhattacharya; K. V. Abhyankar; Rau Wilhelm; Johannes Bronkhorst; Saroja Bhate; Madeleine Biardeau; Hajime Nakamura; K Kunjunni Raja; H.V Dehejia ; Akhiko Akamatasu;   P C Chakravathy; Hideyo Ogawa and many others.

 We all owe a deep debt of gratitude to these savants.

kitus flowers.jpeg

 In the next parts we shall try to know the concept of Sabda Brahman according to Bhartrhari; his theories on errors; his concept of time etc before moving on to Sphota.

 Continued in the next Part

References and Sources

  1. The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 – edited by Harold G. Coward, Karl H. Potter, K. Kunjunni Raja
  2. Bharthari, the Grammarian by Mulakaluri Srimannarayana Murti
  3. The Study of Vakyapadiya – Dr. K Raghavan Piliai Volume I (Motilal Banarsidas; 1971)
  4. Being and Meaning: Reality and Language in Bharthari and Heidegger by Sebastian Alackapally
  5. Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound by Guy L. Beck
  6. Bhartrhari (ca. 450-510) by Madhav Deshpande
  7. Bhartrihari by Stephanie Theodorou
  8. The Sphota Theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysis by Harold G. Coward
  9. Speech versus Writing” In Derrida and Bhartahari by Harold G. Coward
  10. Sequence from Patanjali to Post _modernity by  V. Ashok.
  11. The Vedic Conception of Sound in Four Features
  12. Sphota theory of Bhartrhari
  1. Word and Sentence, Two Perspectives: Bhartrhari and Wittgenstein edited by Sibajiban Bhattacharyya
  2. Hermeneutical Essays on Vedāntic Topics by John Geeverghese Arapura
  3. Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regained by William S. Haney
  4. Of Many Heroes”: An Indian Essay in Literary Historiography  by N. Dev
  5. The Advaita Vedānta of Brahma-siddhi by Allen Wright Thrasher
  6. Bhartr̥hari, Philosopher and Grammarian: Proceedings of the First … Edited by Saroja Bhate, Johannes Bronkhorst
  7. Bhartṛhari – from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  8. Sri Venkateswara Univrsity Oriental Journal Volumes XXX-XXXi 1987 – 1988
  9. Studies in the Kāśikāvtti: The Section on Pratyāhāras : Critical Edition …edited by Pascale Haag, Vincenzo Vergiani
  10. Proceedings of the Lecture Series on Våkyapadiya and Indian Philosophy of Languages- (31.1.08 to 2.2.08)’
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The meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Two

Continued from Part One



A. Artha

As mentioned at the commencement of Part One – The most common Sanskrit term for ‘meaning’ is Artha.  Various expressions in English language, such as ‘sense’, ‘reference’, ‘denotation’, ‘connotation’, ‘designatum’ and ‘intention’, have been used to render that Sanskrit term. However, each of those English terms carries its own connotation; and, no single term adequately and comprehensively conveys the various shades of meanings associated with the idea of Artha.

Apart from ‘meaning’, there are at least twenty other connotations to the word Artha; such as : thing; object; purpose; target; extent; interest; property;  wealth; polity; privacy; referent; and so on.


The term Artha figures in Vedic texts too. But, there, it is used in the sense of: aim; purpose; objective; enterprise; or, work. Here, Artha does not explicitly denote ‘meaning’. But, that basic idea is carried into the later texts where the term ‘Vakya-artha’ generally stands for: ’ the purpose of the sentence or the action denoted by the sentence’.

Yaska, the etymologist of the very ancient India, derives the term Artha from two roots (chakarita): Artho’rtem and Aranastha va – (artho.arter.araṇastho.vā -1,18)  ‘ to go, to move towards, reach etc’ and Arna+shta ‘to stay apart ‘. The Artha is, thus, derived from roots conveying mutually opposite sense. It is said; Artha, according to this derivation, at once, denotes something that people are moving towards (Arteh) or something from which  they desire to move away (Aranastha).

Some other scholars point out that in Sanskrit, the term ‘Artha’ has no clear derivation from the verb. But, the term itself gives rise to another verb ‘Arthayate’, which means ‘to request, to beg; to strive or to obtain’.

In any event, Artha has been in use as an all-embracing term having a verity of hues and shades of meanings. Almost everything that is understood from a word on the basis of some kind of ‘significance’ is covered by ‘Artha’.

It brings into its fold various other terms and expressions such as: ‘Tatparya’ (the true intent or gist); Abhi-praya (to intend or to approach); ‘Abhi-daha’ (to express or to denote); or,’Uddishya’ (to point out or to signify or to refer); ‘Vivaksa’ (intention or what one wishes to express); ‘Sakthi’ (power of expression); ‘Vakyartha’ (the import of the sentence); ‘Vachya’ and ‘Abhideya’ (both meaning : what is intended to be expressed); ’Padartha’ (the object of the expression); ‘Vishaya’ (subject matter);’Abidha’ (direct or literal meaning of a term) which is in contrast to lakshana the symbolic sign or metaphoric meaning; and, ‘Vyanjana’ (suggested meaning ) and so on .

But, in the common usage, Artha, basically, refers to the notion of ‘meaning’ in its widest sense. But, Artha is also used to denote an object or an object signified by a word.

The scope of the term Artha in Sanskrit is not limited to its linguistic sense or to what is usually understood by the word employed. It can be the meaning of the words, sentences and scriptures as well as of the non-linguistic signs and gestures. Its meaning ranges from a real object in the external world referred to by a word to a mere concept of an object which may or may not correspond to anything in the external world.

It could also mean Artha (money), the source of all Anartha (troubles); and Anartha could also be nonsense. Artha is one of the pursuits of life – wealth or well being. Artha could also signify economic power and polity. It is said that a virtuous person gives up Svartha (self-interest) for Parartha (for the sake of others). And, finally, Paramartha is the ultimate objective or the innermost truth.



The communication of meaning is the main function of words (Pada); and in that sense, Artha is used in various places. In numerous contexts, Artha denotes the aim, purpose, goal or the object of the spoken word (pada). But, at the same time, it also involves other meanings such as –‘the object’ and/or to signify a certain tangible ’object’, ‘purpose or goal’ which could be attained. It is said; Padāt (lit., from word) suggests that every word has the capability to represent a certain object or multiple objects or purposes.

Thus, Padartha (pada+artha) stands for the meaning of the word; for a tangible object (Vastumatra); as also for the meaning (padartha) that is intended to be signified by the word (Abhideya). It is difficult to find an exact English equivalent to Padartha; perhaps category could be its nearest term.

It is argued that each word (Pada) has countless objects; and therefore, Padartha too is countless. It is said; the whole range of Padartha-s could be categorized into two: Bhava-padartha and Abhava-padartha. For instance; the whole of universe is categorized into Sat (existent) and A-sat (nonexistent); Purusha and Prakrti as in Samkhya

Nyaya Darshana (metaphysics) recognizes and categorizes as many as sixteen Padartha-s, elements:

  1. Pramāa (valid means of knowledge);
  2. Prameya (objects of valid knowledge);
  3. Saśaya (doubt);
  4. Prayojana (objective or the aim);
  5. Dṛṣṭānta (instances or examples);
  6. Siddhānta (conclusion);
  7. Avayava (members or elements of syllogism);
  8. Tarka (hypothetical reasoning):
  9. Niraya (derivation or settlement);
  10. Vāda (discussion)
  11. Jalpa (wrangling);
  12. Vitaṇḍā (quibbling);
  13. Hetvābhāsa (fallacy);
  14. Chala (hair-splitting); 
  15. jāti (sophisticated refutation) ;and
  16. Nigrahasthāna (getting close to defeat).

 For a detailed discussion on these elements – please click here



According to one interpretation, the word itself is also a part of the meaning it signifies. Such a concept of ‘meaning’ is not found in the western semantics. For instance; the Grammarian Patanjali says: ’when a word is pronounced, an Artha ‘object’ is understood. For example; ‘bring a bull’, ‘eat yogurt’ etc.  It is the Artha that is brought in; and it is also Artha that is eaten.

[Sabdeno-uccharitena-artha gamyate gam anya dadhya asana iti / Artha anyate Arthas cha Bhujyate]

Here, the term Artha stands for a tangible object which could be brought in or eaten; and, it is not just a notion. A similar connotation of Artha (as object) is also employed by Nyaya and Mimamsa schools. According to these Schools, the qualities, relations etc associated with the objects are as real as the objects themselves.

Bhartrhari also says that word is an indicator; even when a word expresses reality; it is not expressed in its own form. Often, what is expressed by a word is its properties rather than its form.

There are elaborate discussions on the issues closely related to the concept of understanding. It is argued; no matter whether the things are real or otherwise, people do have ideas and concepts of many things in life. In all such cases, it is essential that people understand those things and be aware of their meaning. Such meanings or the content of a person’s understanding are invariably derived from the language employed by each one.

That gives raise to arguments on questions such as: whether the meaning (Artha) of a word is derived from its function to signify (Vrtti); or through inference derived by the listener (Anumana) from the words he listned  ; or  through his presumption (Arthapatti) or imagination.

Grammarians assert that Artha (meaning) as cognized from a word is only a conceptual entity (bauddha-artha). The word might suggest a real object; but, its meaning is only what is projected by the mind (buddhi-prathibhasha) and how it is grasped.

Pundit Gadadharabhatta of the Navya (new) Nyaya School, in his Vyutpattivada, argues that a word is closely linked to the function associated with it. According to him, the term Artha stands for object or content of a verbal cognition (Sabda-bodha-vishaya) which results from understanding of a word (sabda-jnana) as derived from the significance of the function  (vrtti) pertaining to that word (pada-nists-vritti-jnana) – Vritya-pada-pratipadya evartha ity abhidayate.

[According to him:

:- If a word is understood through its primary function (shakthi or aphids-vrtti or mukhya -vrtti) then such derived primary meaning is called sakyarta or vachyartha or abhidheya.

:- If a word is understood on the basis of its secondary function (lakshana-vrtti or guna-vrtti) then such derived secondary meaning is called lakshyartha

:- If a word is understood on the basis of its suggestive function (vyanjana-vrtti) then such derived suggested meaning is called vyanjanartha or dhvani-artha.

:- And, if a word is understood on the basis of its intellectual significance (tatparya-artha) then such derived intended meaning is called tatparyartha.

However, Prof. M M  Deshpande adds a word of caution: Not all the Schools of Indian Philosophy  of Grammar accept the above classification  , although these seem to be the general explanations ]


Punyaraja, a commentator of Vakyapadiya of Bhartrhari, detailing the technical and non-technical aspects of the term Artha offers as many as eighteen explanations.

[ Artho asta-dashaad / tatra vastu-matram abhideyash  cha / abhidheyo api dvidha shastriya laukika cha /.. ]

According to Punyaraja, Artha stands for an external real object (Vastu-matra) as also for the meaning intended to be signified by a word (Abhideya). The latter – meaning in linguistic sense – could be technical (Shastriya) of special reference   or it could be the meaning as commonly grasped by people in a conversation (laukika). In either case, there are further differences. The meaning of a word might or might not be literary; and, it could also stand for an expression or a figure of speech (Abhideya). It could also be used to denote something that is not really intended (Nantariyaka) when something else is actually intended.

Bhartrhari also talks of two kinds of meanings – apoddhara-padartha and sthitha-lakshana-padartha.  The latter refers to the meaning as it is actually understood in a conversation. Its meaning is fixed; and, Grammarians cannot alter it abruptly. Bhartrhari also said: here, meaning does not leave the word. Meaning is comprehended by the word itself. The word is eternal and resides within us.

[There was much discussion in the olden days whether a word has a fixed meaning or a floating one. For instance; the Grammarian Patanjali asserted that a word is spoken; and when spoken it brings about the understanding of its meaning. The spoken word is the manifestation of the fixed (dhruva, kutastha) meaning of the word. And, the word (sabda) and its meaning (artha) and their inter-relations (sambandha) are eternal (nitya) – Siddhe sabda-artha-sambandhe–Patanjali Mbh.1.27]

The former, apoddhara-padartha mentioned by Bhartrhari, tries to bring out the abstract or hidden meaning that is extracted from the peculiar use of the word in a given context. In many cases, such abstracted meaning might not denote the actual (linguistic) meaning of the term as it is usually understood. But, such usage does not represent the real nature of the language. The apoddhara-padartha is of some relevance only in technical or theoretical (Shastriya) sense, serving a particular or special purpose. That again, depends on the context in which the term in question is employed.

[In many of these discussions, it is difficult to draw a clear distinction between the literal meaning and the concept it represents (Pratyaya).

In the Sanskrit texts, the terms such as ‘Sabda’ (word); ‘Artha’ (object); ‘Pratyaya’ (concept) are horribly mixed up and are used interchangeably.]


There is also a line of discussion on whether Artha is universal or the particular? The Grammarian Vyadi says that the words refer to Dravya (substance) , that is , the particular. Another Grammarian Vajapyayana on the other hand argues that words, including proper names, refer to Jati or class or universal.

Panini seems to leave the question open-ended.

But, Kumarilabhatta of the Mimamsa School argues when we utter a word we are at once referring to at least seven characteristics (Vastuni) associated with it. Let’s say when one utter ‘Bull’ (Gauh) , that expression  points to : Jati the whole class ; Vyakti – individual or particular; Sambandha– the relation between the two; Samudha– the collection of such elements; Linga-gender; Karaka- the relation that the term has with the verb (kriya-pada) or activity associated with it; and Samkhya– number , singular or plural.

With regard to the nature of the meaning of a word, Bhartrhari speaks in terms of its general or universal (jati) and its relative or specific (vyakti) connotations. Bhartrhari says that every word first of all means the class (jati) of that word. For instance; the word ‘cow’ initially refers to the general class of all that is in the form of cow. Later, it is implied to refer to its particular form (vyakti) . Thus, what is universal is then diversified into relative or a particular form.  Bhartrhari then extends his hypothesis to the field of philosophy- Advaita. He says; the universal (Brahman) appears as relative or specific limited. It is ultimately the Brahman (Sabdatattva) that is at the root of  all the words  and their  meaning (Artha) .


The Problem of Multiple Meanings

Generally, the notion of meaning is stratified into three or four types. The first is the primary meaning. If this is inappropriate in the given context, then one moves to a secondary meaning. Beyond this is the suggested meaning, which may or may not be the same as the meaning intended by the speaker. Specific conditions under which these different varieties are understood are discussed by the Schools of Grammar.

Bhartrhari points out   that a word can carry multiple meanings; and that the Grammarian should explain, in some way, how only one of those meanings is conveyed at a time or is apt in a given context.

According to him, the process of understanding the particular meaning of a word has three aspects: first, a word has an intrinsic power to convey one or more meanings (abhidha); second, it is the intention of the speaker which determines the particular meaning to be conveyed (abhisamdhana) in a given context; and third, the actual application (viniyoga) of the word and its utterance.

In the case of words carrying multiple meanings, the meaning which is in common usage (prasiddhi) is considered by Bhartrhari   as its primary meaning. The secondary meaning of a word normally requires a context for its understanding. Usually, the secondary meaning of a word is implied when the word is used for an object other than it normally denotes, as for example, the metaphorical use of the word.

Now, according to Indian Poetics, a word has three functions: it signifies or denotes (abhida); it indicates (lakshana); and it suggests (vyanjana).

The meaning that is comprehended immediately after the word is uttered is its primary meaning (mukhya-artha). The meaning thus conveyed and its relation to the next word and its own meaning is a mutual relation of the signifier and the signified (vachya-vachaka). The power that creates the relation among words is Abhida-vyapara, the power of denotation or sense. The suggestive power of the word is through Vyanjana-artha.

The meaning of a word or a sentence that is directly grasped in the usual manner is Vakyartha (denotation or literal sense); and, the power of the language which conveys such meaning is called Abidha-vritti (designating function). It is the principal function of the word .The primary sense Vakyartha is the natural (Svabhavokti) and is the easily comprehended sense of the word.

In certain cases where a particular word is not capable of conveying the desired sense, another power which modifies that word to produce the fitting or suitable meaning is called Lakshana-vritti (indicative function). Such secondary sense (lakshana) could even be called an unnatural meaning (Vakrokti) of the word.


There are certain other peculiar situations:

There is the complicated question of words having similar spelling; but having different pronunciations and conveying different meanings (homograph). Such words have been the concern of Grammarian from ancient times onwards.  Some argue such cases should, technically, be treated as different words with similar pronunciation and similar meaning. But, some Grammarians point out that there are, in fact, no true Homonyms. They do differ, at least slightly, either in the way they are pronounced or their usage or relevance.

 [If someone says saindhavam anaya, it might mean the ‘bringing of a horse’ or ‘bringing salt’. The exact meaning of the term saindhava is to be determined according to the intention of the speaker uttered in a given context,]

There is also the issue of Dyotya-artha  (co-signified) as when two entities are jointly referred by using the conjunctive term such as  ‘and’  or ‘or’ (cha; Va). It is said; the particles such as ‘and’, ‘or’ do not, by themselves, carry any sense if they are used independently. They acquire some context and significance only when they are able to combine (samuchchaya) two or more entities of the similar character or of dissimilar characters.


Artha in art

The concept of Artha also appears in the theories of Art-appreciation. There, the understanding of art is said to be through two distinctive processes – Sakshartha, the direct visual appreciation of the art-work; and, Paroksharta, delving into its inner or hidden meanings or realms (guhyeshu-varteshu). The one concerns the appreciation of the appealing form (rupa) of the art object (vastu); and, the other the enjoyment of the emotion or the essence (rasa) of its aesthetic principle (guna vishesha).  Artha, in the context of art, is, thus, essentially the objective and property of art-work; as also the proper, deep subjective aesthetic art-experience.

In the traditions of Indian art, the artist uses artistic forms and techniques to embody an idea, a vision; and, it is the cultured viewer with an  understanding  heart  (sah-hrudaya), the aesthete (rasika) that partakes that vision.

It is said; an artistic creation  is not a mere inert object, but it is truly  rich in meaning (Artha). And, it is capable of evoking manifold emotions , transforming the aesthete. As for a connoisseur , it is not only a source of beauty; but is also an invitation to explore and enjoy the reason (Artha) of that beauty. Thus, Artha, understood in its wider sense as experience,  is the dynamic process of art-enjoyment  that bridges the art-object and the connoisseur.


Artha in Arthashastra

arthashastra manuscript

In the Arthashastra ascribed to Kautilya, the term Artha means more than ‘wealth’ or ‘material well being’ that follows the Dharma. There are numerous interpretations of Artha in the context of Kautilya’s work.

Here, Artha is an all-embracing term having a verity of meanings. It includes many shades and hues of the term : material well-being of the people and the State (AS:15.1.1); economy and livelihood of the people ; economic efficiency of the State in all fields of activity including agriculture and commerce(AS:1.4.3) . It also includes Rajanithi; the ‘politics’; and the management of the State. Artha, here, is the art of governance in its widest sense.

But, all those varied meanings aim at a common goal; have faith in the same doctrine; and, their authority is equal or well balanced. The purpose of life was believed to be, four-fold, viz. the pursuit of prosperity, of pleasure and attainment of liberation (Artha, Kama, Moksha); all in accordance with the Dharma prescribed for each stage of life.

That is because; there is a fear that the immoderate pursuit of material advantage would lead to undesirable and ruinous excesses. And therefore, Artha must always be regulated by the superior aim of Dharma, or righteousness.


To start with, Artha is interpreted as sustenance, employment or livelihood (Vrtti) of earth-inhabitants. It also is said to refer to means of acquisition and protection of earth.

 [manuṣyāṇāṃ vṛttir arthaḥ, manuṣyavatī bhūmir ity arthaḥ //–KAZ15.1.01]

Artha is also taken to mean material well-being or wealth. It is one of the goals in human life. Here, it is with reference to the individual, his well being and his prosperity in life. That perhaps is the reason Artha, in the text, is taken as Vrtti or sustenance or occupation or means of livelihood of people (Manushyanam Vrtti).

It is said; such Vrtti was primarily related to the three-fold means of livelihood – agriculture; animal husbandry and trade – through which men generally earn a living.


Arthashatra is also concerned with the general well-being of the earth and its inhabitants. And, since the State is directly charged with the responsibility of acquiring, protecting and managing the territory and its subjects, the Arthashastra necessarily deals with statecraft, economy and defence of the land and its people.

In the older references, Arthashastra is described as the science of politics and administration. But, in the later times, it came to be referred to as DandaNitishastra or Rajaniti -shastra / Raja -dharma.

But Arthashastra is more comprehensive. It includes all those aspects and more.

Artha sastra

In the concluding section of his work, Kautilya says ‘the source of livelihood of the people is wealth’. Here, the wealth of the nation is both the territory of the Sate and its inhabitants who follow a variety of occupations (AS: 15.1.1). The State or the Government has a crucial responsibility in ensuring the stability and the material wellbeing of the nation as a whole as also of its individual citizens. Therefore, an important aspect of Arthashastra is the ‘science of economics’, which includes starting of productive ventures, taxation, revenue collection and distribution, budgets and accounts.

The ruler’s responsibilities in the internal administration of the State are threefold: raksha, protection of the Sate from external aggression; Palana, maintenance of law and order within the State; and, Yogakshema, safeguarding the welfare of the people and their future generations – tasyāḥ pṛthivyā lābha.pālana.upāyaḥ śāstram artha.śāstram iti /.

Kautilya cautions that a judicious balance has to be maintained between the welfare and comfort of the people on one hand and augmenting the resources of the State on the other through taxes, levies , cess etc. The arrangement for ensuring this objective presupposes – maintenance of law and order and adequate, capable , transparent  administrative machinery.

It is also said that the statecraft, which maintains the general social order should take adequate measures to prevent anarchy.

Apart from ensuring collection of revenue there have also laws to avoid losses to the State and to prevent abuse of power and embezzlement by the employees of the State. These measures call for enforcement of laws (Dandanithi) by means of fines, punishments etc. The Tax payers as also the employees of the state machinery are subject to Dandanithi.

The king was believed to be responsible as much for the correct conduct (achara) of his subjects, and their performing the prescribed rites of expiation (prayaschitta) as for punishing them, when they violated the right of property or committed a crime. The achara and prayaschitta sections of the smrti cannot accordingly be put outside the “secular ” law.


Arthashatra prescribes how the ruler should protect his territory. This aspect of protection (Palana) covers principally, acquisition of territory, its defence, relationship with similar other/rival rulers (foreign-policy), and management of state-economy and administration of state machinery.

Since the safety of the State and its people from aggression by rival states or enemies is of great importance, the King will also have to know how to deal with other Kings using all the four methods (Sama, Dana, Bedha and Danda) ; that is,  by friendly negotiations; by strategies ; as also by war-like deterrents. Thus, to maintain an army and be in preparedness becomes an integral part of ‘science of economics’, the Arthashastra.


[Prof. Hermann Kulke and Prof. Dietmar Rothermund in their A History of India (Rutledge, London, Third Edition 1998-Page61) write:

The central idea of Kautalya’s precept (shastra) was the prosperity (Artha) of king and country. The king who strove for victory (vijigishu) was at the centre of a circle of states (Mandala) in which the neighbor was the natural enemy (Ari) and the more distant neighbor of this neighbor (enemy of the enemy) was the natural friend (Mitra). ..

The main aim of the Arthashastra was to instruct the king on how to improve the qualities of these power factors; and, to weaken those of his enemy even before an open confrontation took place. He was told to strengthen his fortifications, extend facilities for irrigation, encourage trade, cultivate wasteland, open mines, look after the forest and build enclosures for elephants and, of course, try to prevent the enemy from doing likewise. For this purpose he was to send spies and secret agents into his enemy’s kingdom. The very detailed instructions for such spies and agents, which Kautalya gives with great psychological insight into the weakness of human nature, have earned him the doubtful reputation of having even surpassed Machiavelli’s cunning advice in Il Principe.

But actually Kautalya paid less attention to clandestine activities in the enemy’s territory than to the elimination of ‘thorns’ in the king’s own country.

Since Kautalya believed that political power was a direct function of economic prosperity, his treatise contained detailed information on the improvement of the economy by state intervention in all spheres of activity, including mining, trade, crafts and agriculture. He also outlined the structure of royal administration and set a salary scale starting with 48,000 Panas for the royal high priest, down to 60 Panas for a petty inspector.

All this gives the impression of a very efficiently administered centralized state which appropriated as much of the surplus produced in the country as possible. There were no moral limits to this exploitation but there were limits of political feasibility. It was recognized that high taxes and forced labour would drive the population into the arms of the enemy and, therefore, the king had to consider the welfare and contentment of his people as a necessary political requirement for his own success. ]


B.Tatparya or intention

Tatparya [lit. the about which; Tat (that) +Para (object of intension)] is described as the intention or the desire of the speaker (vak-turiccha); and also as the gist, the substance or the purport of the meaning intended to be conveyed by the speaker. The context plays a very important role in gathering the apt or the correct Tatparya of an utterance (sabdabodha) or a sentence in a text. The contextual factors become particularly relevant when interpreting words or sentences that are ambiguous or carry more than one meaning.

It is said; in the case of metaphors or the figures-of- speech, the intended meaning (Tatparya) is gathered not by taking the literal meaning of each of its individual words but by grasping the overall intention of the expression in the given context (sabda-bodha).

The Mimamamsa and Nyaya Schools which take the sentence to be a sequence of words, relay on Tatparya to explain how the relevant meaning is obtained from a collection of words having mutual relation. Each word in a sentence carries its own meaning; but a string of unconnected isolated words cannot produce a unified meaning. Tatparya, broadly, is the underlying idea or the intention of a homogeneously  knit sentence,  in a particular context, that is required to be understood.

The Mimamsa lays down a framework for understanding the correct meaning of a sentence: denotation (Abhida) – purport (Tatparya) – indication (Lakshana), where by the power of denotation one comprehends the general idea of the sentence; by the power of purport one understands its special or apt sense; and, by the power of indication one grasps the suggested meaning (Dhvani) of the sentence.

According to The Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 5: The Philosophy of the Grammarians edited by Harold G. Coward and  K. Kunjunni Raja ;  the meaning of a sentence can be considered from two standpoints: from that of the speaker and from that of the listener. The general approach of the West has been from the speaker’s point of view. The Indian approach has been mainly from the listener’s point of view.

In a normal speech situation there can be five different aspects of the meaning of an utterance: (1) what is in the mind of the speaker when he makes the utterance; (2) what the speaker wants the listener to understand; (3) what the utterance actually conveys ;(3) what the listener understands as the meaning of the utterance; and (5) what is in the mind of the listener on hearing the utterance.

In a perfect linguistic communication, all the five factors must correspond. But, due to various causes there are bound to be differences that might disturb a perfect communication.

Let’s say that when the speaker is uttering a lie, he clearly intends to misdirect the listener. Here, what is in the mind of the speaker is different from what is conveyed to the listener. Even otherwise, quite often what the listener understands as the meaning of the utterance might be different from what the speaker intends to convey. The problem could be caused either by the lack of expressive power of the speaker or the inability of the listener  to understand; or it could be both.

Here, what is in the mind of the speaker before he speaks and what is in the mind of the listener after he hears are both intangible. They cannot be objectively ascertained with certainty. It is only what is said explicitly that can be objectively   analyzed into components of syllables, words and sentences. It however does not mean that the other aspects or components of the entire body of communication are less important.


C. Shakthi (power of expression)

The power of word (sabda-shakthi) is that through which it expresses, indicates or suggests its intended meaning. The term Shakthi is also understood as the relation that exists between word (Sabda) and its meaning (Artha) – (sabda-artha-sambandha). This relation is considered to be permanent and stable.

The understanding of the relationship between word and its meaning is called vyutpatti. Salikanatha (Ca.8th century) ,  a Mimamsa philosopher  belonging to the Prabhakra School , in his Prakarana-pancika  lists  eight means for such comprehension of the meaning of the words. They are:

  • (i) grammar;
  • (ii) comparison;
  •  (iii) dictionary;
  •  (iv) words of a trustworthy person;
  •  (v) action;
  •  (vi) connotation of the sentence;
  • (vii) explanation;  and,
  •  (viii) proximity of a word, the meaning of which is already established.


Shakthi is the primary relationship between a word and its meaning. Unless the listener recognizes or remembers their continuing relationship he cannot understand the purport (Tatparya) of a statement. Shakthi is therefore described as a Vrtti, a function which binds the word and meaning together in order to bring out a particular intended  sense – (Vrtti-jnanadhina –pada-jnana-janya –smrti-vishaya)

It would have been ideal if every word had a single meaning; and every meaning had only one word. That would have helped to avoid plausible confusion and ambiguities. But, in all natural languages that are alive and growing, the words, often, do carry more than one meaning; and, a meaning can be put out in verity of words. Even the borders of the meanings are not always fixed. The meanings or various shades of meaning are context sensitive, depending on the context and usage.

There would be no problems if the meaning and intent of a sentence is direct and clear. But, if there are ambiguities, the direct–meaning of the sentence would become inconsistent with its true intent.  It is here that the power of Shakthi comes into play.

The term Shakthi is often used for Vrtti or the function. Grammarians recognize various types of such Vrtti-s. Among those, the main Vrtti-s employed to explain the various types of meaning conveyed by speech are: Abhidana; Lakshana ; Gauni ; Tatparya ; Vyanjana ; Bhavakatva; and Bhojakatva.

Of these Vrtti-s or Shakthi-s, Lakshana which has the power of suggestion is considered most important.  Three conditions for Lakshana are generally accepted by all schools. The first is the incompatibility or inconsistency of the primary meaning in the given context. Such inconsistency produced by the uncommon usage of the word will force a break in the flow of thought, compelling the listener to ponder over in his attempt to understand what the speaker meant; and,   why he has used the word in an irregular way. Such inconsistency can either be because of the impossibility or of the unsuitability of associating the normal meaning of the word to context at hand.

The second condition is some kind of relation that exists between the primary (normal) meaning of the term and its meaning actually intended in the context. This relation can be one of proximity with the contrary or one of similarity or of common quality. The latter type is called Gauni Lakshana which the Mimamsakas treat as an independent function called Gauni. According to Mimamsakas,  the real Lakshana is only of the first type, a relation of proximity with contrariety (oppositeness) .

The third condition is either acceptance by common usage or a special purpose intended for introducing the Lakshana. All faded metaphors (nirudha lakshana) fall into the former category; and , the metaphorical usages , especially by the poets , fall into the latter.

[Panini, however, did not accept Lakshana as a separate function in language. He did not consider the incompatibility etc on which the Lakshana was based by the Grammarians as quite relevant from the point of view of Grammar. The sentences such as: ‘he is an ass’ and ‘He is a boy ‘are both grammatically correct. His Grammar accounts for some of the popular examples of Lakshana; like ‘the village on the river’  (gangayam ghosah) by considering proximity as one of the meanings of the locative case.  Similarly, Panini does not mention or provide for the condition of yogyata or consistency, which is considered by the later Grammarians as essential for unity of sentence. The expression Agnina sinchati (He sprinkles with fire) is grammatically correct, though from the semantic point of view it may not be quite proper, because sprinkling can be done only with liquid and not with fire.]


In the next part let’s look at the discussions on the relationship  between the word (sabda) and meaning (Artha)  are carried out by the Scholars of Indian Poetics (Kavya-shastra).



Continued in Part Three



 Sources and References

  1. The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5; edited by Harold G. Coward, Karl H. Potter, K. Kunjunni Raja
  2. Tatparya and its role in verbal understanding by Raghunath Ghosh; University of North Bengal
  3. The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought by David B. Zilberman
  4. The Meaning of Nouns: Semantic Theory in Classical and Medieval India by M.M. Deshpande
  5. Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Index edited by Edward Craig
  6. Hermeneutical Essays on Vedāntic Topics by John Geeverghese Arapura
  7. the Emergence of Semantics in Four Linguistic Traditions: Hebrew, Sanskrit…edited by Wout Jac. Van Bekkum
  8. 8 A Comparative History of World Philosophy: From the Upanishads to Kant by Ben-Ami Scharfstein
  1. Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Soundby Guy L. Beck
  2. Indian Philosophy: A Very ShortIntroduction by Sue Hamilton
  3. Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regainedby William S. Haney
  4. The Sphota Theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysisby Harold G. Coward
  5. Bhartr̥hari, Philosopher and Grammarian: Proceedings of the First International conference on Bharthari held at Pune in 1992 edited by Saroja Bhate, Johannes Bronkhorst
  6. Being and Meaning: Reality and Language in Bharthari and Heideggerby Sebastian Alackapally
  7. Bharthari, the Grammarianby Mulakaluri Srimannarayana Murti
  8. Word and Sentence, Two Perspectives: Bhartrhari and Wittgensteinedited by Sibajiban Bhattacharyya
  9. Kautilya’s Arthashastra by RP Kangale

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The meaning of ‘MEANING’- Part One

The most common Sanskrit term for meaning is Artha.  Various phrases, such as ‘sense’, ‘reference’, ‘denotation’, ‘connotation’, ‘designatum’ and ‘intention’, have been used to render that Sanskrit term. Artha, basically, refers to the object signified by a word. Artha is an all-embracing term having a verity of hues and shades of meanings. In numerous contexts, it stands for the meaning of the word (pada+artha) as also for  an object (padartha)  in the sense of an element of external reality. It could also mean Artha (money), the source of all Anartha (troubles); and Anartha could also be nonsense , meaningless or  purposeless (nish-prayojanam)  . Artha is also one of the pursuits of life – wealth or well being. Artha could also signify economic power and polity. And, finally, Paramartha is the ultimate objective.


The Grammar in the ancient Indian context was a highly respected subject. The Vedic traditions such as Nyaya, Mimamsa and Vedanta ; the Buddhist and Jain traditions;  also the various traditions of Grammar and literary schools (Kavya),  each have contributed significantly to the development of numerous  theories regarding Grammar, philosophy of Grammar and semantics. These studies, regarded as specialized branches of learning dealing with language have, within their own ambit, tried to explain the manifold aspects of language behaviour.

[Jan E.M. Houben, “Part II: The Sanskrit Tradition.” In: The Emergence of Semantics in Four Linguistic Tradition (W. van Bekkum, Jan E.M. Houben, Ineke Sluiter, Kees Versteegh), pp. 49-145. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1997)” , writes :

The literature in the Sanskrit tradition dealing with semantic problems is very extensive. The Sanskrit tradition is the dynamic product of the interactions of different philosophical, religious and cultural currents. Even within the  Brahminical,  Buddhist or Jaina traditions, numerous disciplines, doctrines, and branches of learning-are continuously interacting with each other. That is why a discussion of semantics in the Sanskrit tradition should not be limited to one specialized discipline, e.g. Päninian grammar. Rather, an attempt should be made to introduce to the reader the major participants and the major issues in the dialogues which continue over centuries.]

The power of the language is one of the oldest themes in Indian thought. The later Grammarians such as Bharthari paid enormous importance to the study of language. According to him, ‘a thought cannot be without language’; ’There is no cognition without the process of words’;   all knowledge is illumined through words, and it is quite not possible to have cognition that is free from words (Vakyapadiya: 1.123). Bhartrhari says the knowledge comes out in the form of words. Speech is an embodiment of thought. That relation is natural; and, is not artificial.

śabdādibhedaḥ śabdena vyākhyāto rūpyate yataḥ / tasmād arthavidhāḥ sarvāḥ śabdamātrāsu niśritāḥ

Thus, the spoken aspect of the language gains importance in the process of thinking. Thinking, here, is seen as a sort of internal speaking. Such inaudible speech is the seed or the potent form of explicit speech that is heard by others. 

In a way, a language grows with the thought; or rather the thought grows with language. In the ultimate analysis, they might even be identical. In that sense, the philosophy of language is not a mere academic pursuit, but is the basic foundation for all philosophy.

According to Bhartrhari, language is used for communication of ideas through spoken words. Grammar deals with this communicative language which consists of (a) sentences and words, (b)  appropriate meanings  corresponding to the words and the sentences ; and, (c) compatibility between word-sound (sabda) and its meaning (Artha).

At the same time, Bhartrhari also says ‘nahi sarvesham sataam shabdo abhidayakyaha (VP: 2.2.68) – ‘a word cannot always fully express the true nature of an object’.  An object is not fully expressed by the word that denotes it. A word , according to him, is an indicator; has limited powers; and, what is intended is more powerful that the word itself.

 na ca sāmānyavat sarve kriyāśabdena lakṣitāḥ /viśeṣā na hi sarveṣāṃ satāṃ śabdo+abhidhāyakaḥ

Bhartrhari says; just as pure knowledge cannot manifest without an object, so also an object cannot exist without its related properties.

But often, the properties expressed by the word are not always real. Let’s take the term, ‘white color of the cloth’ (patasya shukla) which really is non-existent. It means that when a feature of an object is expressed in words it hardly matters whether the feature actually exists or not.

Bhartrhari explains: Let’s say, our perception of a fast revolving fire is called fire-circle (alata-chakra). It is a word that is commonly used. But, that is an illusion. There is no fire-circle as such. Similarly ‘hare’s horn’ (sasa-sringa) , ‘sky-flower’ (kha-pushpa) are just words that refer to non-reality. Thus, the word not only presents an incomplete picture, but it also projects non-reality.

Yet, the word with its limited power, tries to signify a ‘perceived’  reality; and, checks it through ‘speaker’s intention’.

He was perhaps putting forward an argument about the limitations of the language to describe Absolute Reality.

I reckon what Bhartrhari was trying to put across was: Reality transcends language. Further, whatever picture it presents is not always reality. Words often misrepresent or distort the facts of external life. Thus, the linguistic world and the external do not always perfectly synchronize.

And yet, though the language we use is rather imperfect and is limited to give us a complete picture of the reality,  it is our only window to the world.  We have to make the best use of that unique facility gifted to us as human beings.

It was also said:

Language is the most important human behaviour; and makes communication and interconnectedness possible. With practice, it makes even a child capable to deal with the world (balaanam ca yathatha pratipadane: VP: 2.117)

abhyāsāt pratibhāhetuḥ sarvaḥ śabdo+aparaiḥ smṛtaḥ/ bālānāṃ ca tiraścāṃ ca yathārthapratipādane

Language is the limit of the world as we know. All cognition is enlightened only when pierced by the word (sabda).


Study of Grammar

There are many words in the Vedas which convey multiple meanings. And, at times, a few words from other languages that were in proximity during its days also crept in.

There were also attempts to systematize not merely the Vedic texts, but also its precise rendering. Towards that end, the original text, Samhita-patha, meant continuous recitation, was re-cast into Pada-patha, the word for word arrangement of the text. This helped to produce a full analysis of the phonetic content of text.

That led to the development of the Pratisakhyas, a set of rules for regulating the combination of letters and their pronunciations as per the requirements that are specific to each Shakha or the branch a Veda. These Pratisakhyas are considered to be the earliest formulations of Sanskrit grammar.

Along with the Pratisakhyas, the Brahmanas; the Nighantu (glossaries); Nirvachana (clear explanation of words/terms listed in the Nighantu); and Nirukta (a branch of etymology offering explanations about the derivation of certain chosen words of the Vedas) all contributed to refining the Sanskrit Grammar (Vyakarana).

In due course, linguistic analyses developed from Vedic utterances (Chandas) towards the spoken language (Bhasha). Through all these writings, the Sanskrit language was growing along with its grammar.

Grammar- Vyakarana also known as  Pada-Shastra  (the science of words)  which treats  the word as the basic unit ; and , deals with the  study of  the spoken language involving words and sentences ,  came to regarded as one of the most important Vedanga (branch of the Vedic studies).

For the these reason, Sanskrit grammar was never an artificial construct; but , was a naturally developed system. Another salient feature of Sanskrit grammar is its philosophical thrust. No language other than Sanskrit has such a developed philosophy of Grammar.


Grammar (Vyakarana) was recognized from the earliest times in India as a distinct science, a field of knowledge with its own parameters that distinguished it from other branches of learning/persuasions.  

In the linguistic traditions of ancient India, Vyakarana, of course, occupied a preeminent position. But, at the same time, there existed a parallel system of linguistic analysis- Nirvachana shastra or Nirukta – which served a different purpose. 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 the Vedas in their purity.

The Vyakarana (Grammar) tradition is universally well known, through a number of treatises, but, mainly through Panini’s famous text Astadhyayi. However, in regard to Nirvachana-shastra, of the several works of that class which were said to be in existence before sixth century B C E, only one work, the Nirukta of Yascacharya,  has survived . His Nirukta is looked upon as the oldest authoritative treatise regarding derivation of Vedic words.

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. Panini refers to a number of Grammarians previous to his time.  But, very little is known about those ancient Masters.

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Before we proceed further, let us briefly go over the outline of the course of Sanskrit Grammar during the ancient times.

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); the Grammars that follow the system devised by Panini (Panian); and, those Grammars whose systems and methods vary from that of Panini (Non- Panian).

In any case, 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 of Panini, looked upon as a Great Science concerning words – Paniniyam Mahashastram (Paniniyam mahashastram pada sadhu yukta lakshanam) is always at the center of vast and varied traditions of Sanskrit Grammar. Of all the ancient Schools of Grammar, 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.

Panini, doubtless, inherited a rich and vibrant tradition of Sanskrit Grammar. There , surely , were many treatises on Grammar and Etymology; but now, all of those are lost for ever.  It is reasonable to presume that it was on the basis of the works of his predecessors that Panini could develop a grand system that is now universally accepted; and, is 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.

Panini , in his Astadhyayi , specifically refers to ten Grammarians (Vaiyyakaranah) and linguists , who flourished prior to his time (Ca.500 BCE)  : Sakatayana; Gargya; Galava; Sakalya; Senaka; Sphotayana; Bhardvaja; Apisapi; Kashyapa ; and, Cakra-varmana.

In addition, Panini also mentions Yaska, the Etymologist Ca. 650 BCE) – yaska-ādibhyo gotre PS_2, 4.63. And, Yaska, in his Nirukta, also mentions the four Grammarians referred to by Panini:  Sakatayayana; Gargya; Galava; and, Sakalya. However, the works cited by both the scholars are lost; but, we find reference to their ideas in the commentaries by the later authors.

All this indicates that Vyākaraa as a science of language was well established even prior to the times of Yaska and Panini. That seems quite possible; because the studies concerning Grammar and the structure of language can be   traced back to Rigveda. And, there is enough evidence to demonstrate that the science of Vyākaraa was well developed in Vedic times; and , in the Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad periods.

Of the Grammarians mentioned by Panini and Yaska , some  belonging  to Vedic  times, were, perhaps,  the prominent ones . In addition,  there are references to the Schools of Grammar associated with some other Scholars.

 Let’s, for instance, just take a quick look at some of the ancient Grammarians.


Brhaspathi, the son of Angirasa, was an exponent of the Sanskrit grammar. According to Patanjali‘s Mahabhashya, Brhaspathi is said to have taught Grammar to Indra (Bhaspati Indrāya divyam varasahasram, pratipada-uktānām śabdānām śabda-pārāyaam provāca na antam). And, Indra taught it to Bharadvaja, who, in turn, instructed the other sages (Brhaspatir Indraya; Indro Bharadvajaya; Bharadvaja rshibhya).


The Sanskrit grammar written by Indra was called Aindra. The Aindra or Aindri was referred to in the Pratisakhyas, Katantra; and was also quoted by Panini and other Grammarians. It appears, the technical terms used by the Aindra Grammar were simpler and archaic as compared to those in the work of Panini.

Aindra is traditionally considered to be one among the older Schools of Grammar. And, some scholars claim that Aindra was known to Panini; and, was quoted by others as well.

[Arthur Coke Burnell, in his work On the Aindra School of Sanskrit Grammarians, Their Place in the Sanskrit and Subordinate Literatures (Basel Mission Book & Tract Depository, 1875) states that the two Non-Panian Schools of Grammar, viz., Aindra and Katantra were  in use  in South India ; and, that the Tamil grammatical work Tolkappiyam  was described as aindiram nirainda Tolkappiyam  (comprising Aindra).

Fragments of the Kātantra-grammar with a commentary; and, a seemingly earlier version named  Kaumāralāta , have come to light in the Turfan region (modern Turkestan); and, are dated to the 4th–5th cent. CE..  Although the Kātantra was studied throughout most of India and beyond, the grammar had a close aliation with Buddhists , as its presence in the Turfan, Tibetan translations, and the commentary by Durgasiha, a Buddhist, attest  to.  As is typical of almost all the non-Pāinian grammars, the Kātantra does not formulate rules for Vedic usage or for the pitch accent.

Further, Burnell compares the Tokappiyam with two Non-Pāinian schools of Grammar, namely, the Katantra school of Sanskrit grammar and the Kaccayana, a Pali school of Southern India. Based on the comparisons, Burnell concludes that the Tolkappiyam corresponds to the Katantra School closely. He also demonstrates that many of the technical terms of the Tolkappiyam and of later Tamil Grammars were merely simple translations of Sanskrit terms, which he attributes to the Aindra School or the other pre-Pāinian texts.

Please also read Indigenous grammatical traditions Tamil and the Dravidian, – -Grammatical concepts in Traditional Tamil grammars and in other Dravidian languages by Dr. E. Annamalai, the University of Chicago ]


Bharadvaja, the son of Brhaspathi, was also a great Grammarian.   He authored Bharadvaja Shiksha; and instructed many sages. Bharadvaja was also said to be well versed in medical sciences.

There is a mention of another Bharadvaja, who wrote several Varttikas (explanatory notes). These were said to be similar to Kashyapa’s Varttikas. And, according to Patanjali, they were comparatively, more comprehensive and clear than those of Katyayana (Katyayanam:-  ghusañjñāyām prakti grahaam śidarthamMhBh. Panini, in his Astadhyayi, mentions Bharadvaja – to Bhāradvājasya – PS_7, 2.63 .


There is also a mention of Pauskarasadi a great Grammarian, who, it is believed, was a contemporary of Krishna-dvaipayana Vyasa. Patanjali in his Mahabashya quotes an opinion offered by Pauskarasadi – caya dvitīyā bhavanti śari parata paukarasāde ācāryasya matena – (P_8,4.48) KA_III,465.1-3


Galava was said to another great Grammarian. He is credited with   introducing Krama-patha  (step-by-step recitation) and Shiksha as related to Grammar. Panini mentions Galava four times; twice along with Gargya; and once with Kashyapa.

iko hrasvo ‘yo Gālavasya | PS_6,3.61 |  a Gārgya-Gālavayo | PS_7,3.99 | ttīyādiu bhāitapuska puvad Gālavasya |  PS_7,1.74| na +udātta svaritodayam  a-Gārghya-Kāśyapa-Gālavānām | PS_8,4.67 |

Patanjali  mentions Babhravya (also associated with Krama-patha) along with Mandavya:  sa yathā iha bhavati Bābhravya, Māṇḍavya iti evam suśrut , sauśruta iti atra api prāpnoti na ea doa  – P_1,1.3.2


Bhaguri was a great grammarian. He is said to have prepared the explanatory notes (Varnikā; Vartika) based on the roots of the words (Dhatu-patha). He, perhaps, belonged to the Lokayata School. Patanjali mentions him as: Vartikā Bhāgurī Lokāyatasya – P_7,3.45.


Cakravarmana was a great Sanskrit grammarian. Panini mentions his name in the Astadhyayi. He must have been earlier to Apisali; because , both the authors  (Panini and Apisali ) quote his views ( Esa Cakravarmanasya6.1.130)


Kasakrtsna was a respected Grammarian, who explained the rules of the ancient Grammar. Towards the end of his Mahabhashya, Patanjali mentions Kasakrtsna along with Apisali and Panini were highly reputed Grammarians (Paninina proktam Paniniyam, Apisalim Kasakrtsnam iti Pas_14 )


Sakalya was a popular Grammarian.  He is respected as the author of the padapatha of the Rigveda , where the sentences of the Samhita Paatha (the original text, as it is) were broken down into words (pada) and arranged in sequential order (a word-by-word pronunciation scheme).  Śākalya is said to have composed four works relating to Grammar – Salakyatantra; Veda-mitra-Sakalaya; Sakalacharana; and, Pada samhita.

Yaska also mentions Sakalya:āra.śākalyah (Nir.6.28)

Panini quotes Sakalya at least four times in his Astadhyayi:

sambuddhau śākalyasya-itāv anāre || PS_1,1.16 || iko ‘savare śākalyasya hrasvaś ca || PS_6,1.127 || lopa śākalyasya || PS_8,3.19 || sarvatra śākalyasya || PS_8,4.51 ||

Patanjali also quotes the opinions of Sakalya; and, respectfully addresses him as Acharya: uña Sākalyasya Acāryasya matena praghya-sañjñā bhavati P_1,1.17-18.2


Apisali was a great Grammarian, who systematically constructed a work on Grammar in eight chapters. His rules covered not only the Vedic words (vaidlka) ; but also the words in common usage.   Panini quoted the opinion of Apisali (vā supyāpiśalePS_6, 1.92 .)

Patanjali mentions Apisali along with other great Grammarians : proktādaya ca taddhitā na upapadyante Pāininā proktam Pāinīyam, Apiśalam, Kāśaktsnam itiPas_14;   Apiśala-Pāinīya-Vyāīya-Gautam-īyāP_6,2.36


Kasyapa was another grammarian.  Panini, in his Astadhyayi, often cites Kasyapa’s views, along with those of other reputed Grammarians such as Gargya, Galava and others.

tṛṣi-mṛṣi-kśe Kāśyapasya |PS_1, 2.25| na+udāttasvaritodayam a-Gārghya-Kāśyapa-Gālavānām |PS_8,4.67| vikara-kuītakāt kāyape|PS_4,1.124Kāśyapa-kauśikā bhyām ṛṣibhyā ini |PS_4,3.103|

And, Patanjali quotes Kashyapa as many as twelve times kāśyapa grahaam kimartham. kāśyapa grahaam pūjārtham – P_1,2.25


The name of Gargya is mentioned along with that of Sakalya in the Pratisakhya.  Panini in his grammar also mentions Sakalya and Gargya (along with Galava): a Gārgya-Gālava yo |PS_7, 3.99| Oto Gargyasya |PS_8, 3.20|

Patanjali mentions Gargya almost countless times: Gārgyāyaa Vātsyāyana parama Gārgyāyaa parama Vātsyāyana – P_1, 1.72.5


It appears; there were two Sanskrit Grammarians who went by the name  Śākaāyana  . The later Sakatayana (who perhaps was a contemporary of Panini –?) is also mentioned by some , as the author of the Sphota–theory, later championed by Brthrhari.

Some scholars recognize Sakatayana as the author of Unadi Sutra (a supplement to Panini’s Grammar Astadhyayi, providing additional set of rules to derive nouns from their verbal roots; and, saying that all wordscanbeanalysed by the addition of affixes to verbal roots)

The elder Śākaāyana was said to be an early Etymologist (Nairukta).  Even though his works are lost, his views are made known indirectly through references by Yaska and Panini.

This Sakatayana was also a celebrated Grammarian – Anu Sakatayanam Vaikaranah. And, his Grammar is, of course, no longer in existence; and, therefore, it is not clear what type or School of Grammar it represented.  Panini refers to Sakatayana at least three times

Laṅaḥ śākaṭāyanasya+eva –PS_3, 4.111 | V-yor laghuprayatnataraḥ śākaṭāyanasya –PS_8, 3.18 | Riprabhṛtiṣu śākaṭāyanasya – PS_8, 4.50 |

Sakatayana is said to have held the view that all nouns are essentially derived from verbal roots.

Atha ananvite arthe aprādeśike vikāre padebhya / pada itara Ardhānt sañcaskāra śākaāyana  Nir.1.13.

Patanjali, in his Mahabashya mentioned Sakatayana at least seven times; and, also spoke of Sakatayana’s theoryLaṅaḥ śākaṭāyanasya +eva-  PS_3, 4.111 .

Yāska defends Śākaāyana’s view that the etymological derivation of all nouns are from verbal root.   However, he also mentions; Gargya (descendant of Sage Garga, as mentioned in the Nirukta (1.3.12-13); and, others opposed Sakatayana’s views; and, remarked that all nouns  cannot be traced to verbal roots :  na sarvāi iti gārgyo vaiyākaraānāś caeke- 1.12 .

They argued that some words which are derived from custom or through common usage (Rudi) are, in any case, a part of the living language. And, such word cannot be derived only from verbal roots.

Nāma Ākhyātayo tu karm upasamyoga dyotakā.bhavanty ucca avacā pada Arthā bhavanti iti.Gārgyas – Nr.1,3:

Prof. Bimal Krishna Matilal in his The word and the world refers to the debate of Nirkutavs.  Vyakarana as an interesting philosophical discussion between the Nairuktas  (Etymologists) and the inīyas(Grammarians).

The ancient Grammarian Sakatayana says  that prepositions when not attached (to nouns or verbs) do not express meanings; but, Gargya says that they illustrate (or modify) the action which is expressed by a noun or verb, and that their senses are various (even when detached). This view was challenged by Gargya. This debate goes to the heart of the compositionality debate among ancient Indian Mimamsakas and Vyakarana / Grammarians.


Panini mentions one Sphotayana, who spoke about the word and its meaning (ava sphoāyanasya – PS_6,1.123),; and, as the one who originally came up with Sphota concept (Sphota-tattva) . Yaska had also said to have cited Sphotayana. Later Patanjali also commented upon the theory of Sphota (Sphota vada) – evam tarhi sphoa śabda dhvani śabdaguaḥ – P_1,1.70.2

Later, the central theme of Brthrhari’s remarkable work Vakyapadiya was the theory of Sphota concept (Sphota vada), now commonly understood as ‘ meaningful   linguistic unit, revealed by sounds’.


In the later times, Vyakarana came to be divided into Pracheena-vyakarana (प्राचीनव्याकरणम्) – pre-Panini ; and Navya vyakarana (नव्यव्याकरणम्)- post Panini. Later age Grammarians recognize the eight Grammarians of merit,  Vyakarana-shastra-pravartakas (व्याकरणशास्त्रप्रवर्तकाः) :

इन्द्रश्चन्द्रः काशकृत्स्नापिशली शाकटायनः । पाणिन्यमरजैनेन्द्राः जयन्त्यष्टौ च शाब्दिकाः ॥

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.]

floral design2

As can be seen from the foregoing; Panini and Yaska represent a stage of Grammar that came into being after several centuries of growth. Both these scholars recall a number of ancient Grammarians who worked and preached much before their times. Some scholars speak of an ‘Aindra’ School of Grammar as being the earliest set of Grammarians. Patanjali refers to another tradition said to have originated from Brihaspathi.

Perhaps the earliest historical figure that is said to have dealt with the study of language seems to be Sakalya the author of the Padapatha  (arrangement of words of a verse in sequence) of the Rig-Veda; and, he is mentioned by Panini. Again, Panini also mentions one Sphotayana who spoke about the word and its meaning. Bhartrhari also refers to Sphotayana.  And, Yaska mentions another ancient authority – Audumbarayana   

(indriya.nityam.vacanam.audumbarāyaṇaḥ – 1,1).

Further, Bhartrhari, citing Yaska, states that Audumbarayana, as also Varttakas held views similar to his Sphota-vada.  There is also a mention of another sage Sakatayana who is said to have held the view that all words must be derived from verbal roots.But, no authenticated works of any of these authors have come down to us.

na.nirbaddhā.upasargā.arthān.nirāhur.iti.śākaṭāyanaḥ1,3: pada itara  ardhānt  sañcaskāra śākaṭāyanaḥ – 1,13

There were several theories or Schools of Grammar in use even during the time of Bhartrhari. He  refers to ‘other Grammars (Vyakaranatara), to other Grammarians (anya vaiyyakaranah) as also to ‘other traditional works’ (smatyantara)’; as also to the conflicting theories of other person’ or ‘theories of others’ ( apare) .  He does not specify who those other schools of Grammars etc were. It is surmised that the ‘other Grammars (Vyakaranatara) mentioned by Bhartrhari might refer to ancient Grammarians Apisali and Kasakrtsna. But again, nothing much is known about those ancient scholars and their theories.

  Eke varnayanti, anye varnayanti; apare varnayati; anvesham darshanam; apareshu vyakhyanam etc


[The Kannada grammatical tradition begins in the 12th century with two treatises written by Nagavarma (who mentions earlier grammatical works, which have not survived): the  Sabda-smrti, which is in Old Kannada ; and which constitutes a part of the Kavya-avalokana,  a poetical work, and the Karnataka-basha-bushana , which is an independant work in Sanskrit Sutras

Other works would follow, some composed in (Old) Kannada, such as Kesiraja’s Sabda-mani-darpana (13th century) ; and Krishnamacharya’s Hosagannada-nudi-gannadi (19th century), which studies the links between Kannada, Sanskrit , Tamil and other languages ; and, another work Karnataka-sabda-anusasana of Bhattakalanka Deva (17th century) was composed in Sanskrit ; and, was  influenced by Jainendra’s grammar .]


Thus, the study of Grammar and the philosophy of language, in varied traditions, have always taken an important position in Indian thought. In Grammar, the nature of words, meanings and the relationship between them and their variances are studied. 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 ) 

Grammar was not an artificial construct; but, was the very life blood of learning and understanding, developed directly and naturally from the spoken language. Bharthari, in his Vakyapadiya, described Grammar as the ‘purifier of all the sciences’. Bhartrhari compared the science of 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 clear thinking; 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 unnetu svatarkam anudhāvatā- BVaky. 2.489

Sādhutva jñāna viṭayā seyaṃ vyākaraṇa-smṛtiḥ / avicchedena śiṣṭānām idaṃ smṛti –nibandhanam – BVaky. 1.158


Grammar – Vyakarana also known as Pada –Shastra  (the science of words) which  treats the word as the basic unit and  deals with the  study of  the spoken language involving words and sentences ,  is regarded as one of the most important Vedanga (branch of the Vedic studies). The primary object of Vyakarana, in that context, was to study the structure of the Vedic language in order to preserve its purity and to ensure its longevity. Panini asserted that the Grammar should be studied in order to preserve the Vedas (rakshatam Vedanam adhyeyam vyakaranam). 

Thus, safeguarding the purity of its language, its correct usage (sadhutva) meant ensuring the continuity (nitya) of Vedas in their pristine form.


In the Indian traditions, the language is said to be fully alive and is truly experienced in its oral form, when it is spoken as it should be. The spoken word is regarded as its primary form while written word, as a secondary aid,  is only a coded   representation of the spoken word; but , without its nuances. The learning and preserving the Vedas therefore includes the ability to pronounce, to articulate the text with its correct ascent, meter, stress, pauses and so on. . The elaborate network of Pryatshakha-s was devised to ensure the pure and disciplined form of its presentation.

[Sri Sankara , commenting on symbols and reality,  remarks, “ We see that the knowledge of the real sounds  a, aa, e, ee  etc., is reached by means of the unreal written letters.”(B.S. 2.1.14). He perhaps was suggesting that the spoken language is the real language.]

Thus , the study of Grammar ; and, faithfully following its traditional rules played very important role in that process.

[Of the Vedic Schools, the Mimamsa is particularly interested in correct interpretation of the Vedic passages relating conduct of Yajna. Those are considered as knowledge ‘handed down by tradition – aamnaya. Hence Mimamsa is also known as Vakya-shastra.

Vyakarana which is one of the sub-branches (upanga) of Vedic texts also deals with the study of spoken language involving words (Pada –shastra ) and sentences (Vakya-shastra) .

The Sutras of Jaimini (Mimamsa–sutra) governs the Mimamsa; while the rules of Grammar laid out by Panini ( Astadhyayi) govern the Vyakarana – shastra.

Grammar is applicable to Vedic texts and also to the study of language in general (sarvaveda-parisada). It is the right royal road (ajihma raja-paddathi) which all can tread.]


But, the study of language went far beyond that; and, Grammar was extended, through linguistic analysis, into philosophical inquiry.

According to Bhartrhari, Grammar is Vak-yoga or Sabda-purva yoga– meditation centered on language.  In Bhartrhari’s vision, the language we speak is the medium of self-expression of the Ultimate Reality communicated through meaning-bearing words. For him, the question of Being is interwoven with the question of language , that of becoming . There is no philosophy of Being without the philosophy of language. He described Grammar as the Royal road to those who seek liberation; and as the efficient means to realize Brahman. Ultimately, he asserts, speech (Sabda) is Brahman.

For Bhartrhari, Sabda Brahman or Sabdatattva or Sabda eva tattvam the undifferentiated Reality   is one with the ultimate Reality – Para Brahman. Bhartrhari conceives the ultimate Reality as being in the nature of the Word; and , from it all of existence is manifested. The world is only a transformation (vivarta) of the Sabdatattva (speech – principle) which is identical with the ultimate Reality, Brahman. The Sabda-tattva of Bhartrhari is , thus, the Absolute; and, there is no distinction between Sabda Brahman and Para Brahman the supreme.

That marks his departure from Vedanta, where the Supreme Consciousness, Para – Brahman, is beyond language.

[It needs to be mentioned here that the concept of Sabda Brahman was known and discussed even before the time of Bhartrhari. For instance; Maitrayani Upanishad (4.2.2) and Brahma-bindu Upanishad (verse 17) do discuss about Sabda-Brahman. However, the connotation of Sabda-Brahman, in those texts, varied from that of Bhartrhari.

Those texts made a distinction between Sabda-Brahman and Para (Highest) Brahman.  There, the Sabda-Brahman referred to the words or sounds of the Veda, while the Para Brahman referred to the Ultimate Reality. Thus, the Vedas, in general, was distinguished from the Highest Brahman as the Absolute.

(Dve vidye veditaye tu sabdabrahma, parm ca yat I sabdabrahmani nisnatah param brahmadi gacchathi – Brahmabindu Upanishad -17)]


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 history of Sanskrit grammar extends beyond strict grammatical texts; and, that many important debates are first noted in the works of Bhāmaha and Vāmana, who, in turn, were seeking to both account for, and establish, the grammar for poetry.

The poetic diction formed a particular subset of the Sanskrit language, not only in so far as it was ornamented, but also as being devoid of a range faults (doṣhas);  some of which are other wise acceptable (excessive complexity, technical words, vulgarity, etc.). Among these ,grammatical incorrectness blemishes the body of a poem to the core.

For this reason Bhāmaha   and Vāmana must have felt compelled to compose their respective chapters on  śabdaśuddhi , “purification of language.” Such guidelines could only have been necessary in the first place if poets took occasional license that warranted either justification or repudiation, and if the rules them-selves were not always so clear-cut.

The motivatingforces behind these decisions varied, and it has been dicult to state one single guiding principle.

 In the case of Bhāmaha, he appears to have particularly disfavored excessive complexity in derivations and reading more into a sūtra than what was readily apparent or already accepted asa necessary addenda to the Astadyayi  (upasakhyānas and  iṣṭis). 

Vāmana, on the other hand, was more willing to exploit the available interpretive stratagems in the grammatical tradition.  Earlier, Daṇḍin had labelled  those readers fools (kudhī ) who are unable to derive forms that rely on a more subtle understanding of Pāinis rules in light of the commentaries, much like the grammarian in the dialog. For Vāmana ,though, it seems that only those devices with general acceptance were valid. 


The earliest of the known text of etymology (Nirukta) that has come down  to us is that from Sanskrit. And that was composed by Yaska, who in turn cites number of his predecessors in that field. Similarly, the oldest known Grammar  Astadhyayi is also in Sanskrit; and, it was composed by the Great Grammarian Panini. And, Panini also similarly mentions other renowned Grammarians that lived before his time. And, Patanjali   a Grammarian who came a couple of centuries after Panini wrote an elaborate commentary (Maha Bhashya) on Panini’s work. He was, in turn, followed by many other scholars who wrote glosses on Patanjali. There have also been re-arrangements of Panini’s Sutras and the interpretations arising out of such exercises.

The overall aim of Sanskrit Grammar was not to list out the rules and to standardize the language; but, to bring out the intended meaning of the structure of words. As Yaska puts it (Nirukta: 2.1.1), the aim was to get the real meaning of the spoken word (artha.nityaḥ.parīkṣeta.kenacid.vṛtti.sāmānyena). Thus, Sanskrit Grammar was an attempt to purify (samskruta), to discipline and to explain the behaviour of the spoken language, so that its  inner meaning could shine forth unhindered.

[Panini’s Grammar (Astadhyayi), as per its working-scheme, attempts to produce words and sentences based on their verbal roots (dhatu), nominal themes (prathipadika) and suffixes (pratyaya). These constituent elements are invested with meaning. Derived from these elements, in their various combinations, words and sentences are formed to express collection of meanings as held by these elements.

However, according to Patanjali (Mahabhashya) the meaning-bearers are not the word-constituents, but the words themselves. Here, Patanjali follows the lead given by his predecessor Katyayana in his annotated commentary (Vrittika) on Panini’s Astadhyayi.

There is obviously a difference in the two attitudes towards Grammar.

For Patanjali, the Grammar analyzes the words, thereby arriving at their constituent elements, though such parts are not the true bearers of the meaning. This perhaps is the reason that many understand Grammar as Vyakarana, in the sense of analysis.

For Panini, on the other hand, Grammar proceeds differently. It is a way of synthesis. His Grammar does not divide the words into stems and suffixes. On the contrary, it combines the constituent elements with a view to form words. So, 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).]

The rules of the classical Sanskrit had been set by the Sutras of Panini, the Vrattika of Katyayana and the Mahabhashya of Patanjali. The works of these three sages (muni traya) came to be regarded by the later scholars as the highest authority.

During the periods following the three Great Sages  the question of perceiving the intended meaning of the spoken word engaged the attention of the Grammarians and the philosophers of the language. The more significant of such Scholar-Grammarians, among others, were: Mandana Misra, Kaumarila Bhatta, Kunda Bhatta, Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari. In particular, Bhartrhari who belonged to the tradition of these classical Grammarians in  his major work, Vakyapadiya, discusses the ways in which the outer word-form could unite with its inner meaning. 

Let’s talk about these stalwarts and their theories of language later in the series

[It appears by about the eleventh century, the Grammar and the  Grammarians had lost their premier position. By then, Kavya (poetry or poetic expressions) that can be subtle and suggestive  had taken the center stage; and grammar which concerned  itself with the arrangement of words into sentence was considered rather pedestrian. The poetic schools argued: ‘What is unsaid in poetry is more evocative than the explicit’. That was to suggest that appreciation of  poetic beauty does not solely dependent on following the strict order of words or other conventions. The true enjoyment of poetic beauty , in fact, goes beyond the regulated regimens. For instance; Anandavardhana who regarded the concept of Rasa-Dhvani as the principal or the ideal element in appreciation of poetry, said that the suggested sense of poetry is not apprehended (na vidyate) by mere knowledge of Grammar (Sabda-artha-shasana-jnana) and dictionary. It is grasped (Vidyate, kevalam) only by those who know how to recognize the essence of poetic meaning (Kavya-artha-tattva-jnana) – Dhv.1.7

It was even said; poetry follows Grammar as far as possible.  But, when it finds the rules of Grammar too constrained or suffocating, it switches over to other means of expressions that are more appropriate or conducive to its natural flow. It might even invent its own means and modes. At times, when those inventive expressions of poetic suggestions are so charming and become so popular, they walk into Grammar per se and take their position as the tail piece or the appendix of Grammar – ‘vyakaranasya puccham’ .

And, before all these, way back in the sixth century B C E, Yaska , in his Nirukta had instructed : 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 saṃskāram ādriyeta / viśaya-hi vṛttayo bhavanti (Nir.2.1). 

Scholars like Nagesha Bhatta say that Grammarians cannot always afford to be wooden-headed ; but, must necessarily learn to accept (svikara avashyakah) the power of suggestion (Dhvani) – vyakarananamapi etat svikara avashyakah) in poetry .]


What is meaning?

Study of language has been one of the fundamental concerns of Indian philosophy. All Schools of thought began their discussion from the problems of speech, meaning and the language.

And, in particular, extracting the exact meaning of a sentence in a text has been one of the main concerns of all the Indian Schools of thought.

Down the ages, each of the traditions, each School of philosophy, the Grammarians, Scholars and poets have been asking the same set of questions: ‘What is meaning?’; ‘What is the relationship between word and its meaning?’ The most common term employed to denote ‘meaning’ is Artha, which term was used mostly by Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadiya.

In the English language, the term ‘meaning’ is directly connected with and derived from the verb ‘to mean’; and it is taken to stand for terms such as ‘sense’, ‘reference’, ‘denotation’, ‘connotation’, ‘designatum– that which is named’ and ‘intention’. In the modern academic discussions the term ‘meaning’ is usually understood in the sense of ‘meaning of a word’.

But, in Sanskrit language, though the term ‘Artha’ basically refers to the object signified by a word, it makes room to denote various shades or the distinctions within its specific   context. And yet, the term ‘Artha’ has no clear derivation from any verb or verb-root. And, the term Artha itself gives rise to another term ‘Arthayate’, which means ‘to request, to beg; to strive or to obtain’.

In the Sanskrit language, apart from this general term (Artha) there are host of other terms that bring out varying shades or aspects of what in English is referred to as :’ the ‘meaning’  or ‘to mean’. For instance: ‘Tatparya’ (the that about which) ; ’Abhipraya ‘(intent or what one has in his mind; ‘Abhi-daha’ (to express or to denote); ‘Uddeshya’ (to point out or to signify or to refer); ‘Vivaksa’ (intention or what one wishes to express); ‘Sakthi’ (power of expression); ‘Vakyartha’ (the import of the sentence); ‘Vachya’ and ‘Abhideya’ (both meaning : what is intended to be expressed);’Padartha’ (the object of the expression); ‘Vishaya’ (subject matter);’Abidha’ (direct or literal meaning of a term) which is in contrast to lakshana the symbolic sign or metaphoric meaning; and, ‘Vyanjana’ (suggested meaning and so on .

[Even the Vedic sages recognized the fact that the literal meaning of an utterance is  , often,  only a part of its total meaning ; and, those who try to analyze the literal meaning  run the risk of losing sight of the intended or the signifying meaning of the speech (Vāk). Rig-Veda (10.71.2-4) does, in fact, distinguish between a person who takes in only the literal meaning of a verse; and, a wise person who grasps the inner meaning and its true significance. The former: ‘sees, but does not see; hears, but does not hear. But, it is to the latter that speech reveals itself completely, as does a loving wife to her husband’ 

4 One man hath ne’er seen Vāk, and yet he seeth: one man hath hearing but hath never heard her. But to another hath she shown her beauty as a fond well-dressed woman to her by Ralph T.H. Griffith, [1896]

Further, it is said; the great poets select their words , winnowing away the chaff from the grain; and, only the persons of equal scholarship and literary taste can truly appreciate  good poetry.

atrā sakhāyaḥ sakhyāni jānate bhadraiṣāṃ lakṣmīr nihitādhi vāci || yajñena vācaḥ padavīyam āyan tām anv avindann ṛṣiṣu praviṣṭām |tām ābhṛtyā vy adadhuḥ purutrā tāṃ sapta rebhā abhi saṃ navante |uta tvaḥ paśyan na dadarśa vācam uta tvaḥ śṛṇvan na śṛṇoty enām |uto tvasmai tanvaṃ vi sasre jāyeva patyauśatī suvāsāḥ |uto tvasmai tanvaṃ vi sasre jāyeva patya uśatī suvāsāḥ ||(10.71.2-4)

Anandavardhana does not attack the usual divisions of speech into sentences and words; into stems and suffixes; as also the distinction between the primary and the transferred or metaphorical sense of the words (Abidha; Lakshana). He accepts all such divisions; but, in addition, he puts forward a third potential or capacity of language. He calls that as ‘the capacity to suggest a meaning other than the literal meaning. Such suggestive power of language is named as ‘Vyanjana’.

It is said; Anandavardhana adopted and improved upon the idea of Vyanjana; and, also adopted Bhartrhari’s concept of Sphota; and, thereupon  he developed his theory of suggestion (Dhvani)   and its value in appreciation of in poetry (Kavya).]


In many of these discussions, it is difficult to draw a clear distinction between the literal meaning (Artha) and the concept it represents (Pratyaya). In the Sanskrit texts, the terms such as ‘Sabda’ (word); ‘Artha’ (object); ‘Pratyaya’ (concept) are horribly mixed up and are used interchangeably.

But, generally speaking, the subtle relation between Sabda and Artha is one of identity. The word, sound, sense and knowledge overlap each other. Normally, Sabda denotes a meaning-bearing word-sound, while Nada signifies ‘voiced’ or vowels or non-linguistic sounds.

Bhartrhari says Sabda, that which when articulated gives out the meaning or intent of the speaker ;  and , the  Artha, its meaning, are  two different aspects of one and the same thing (ekasyva athmano bhedau, sabda-arthau aprathishatau – VP: 2.31).

Similarly, Vak is another term that has varieties of references.  Vak , grammatically , is  a feminine noun meaning – speech , voice , talk , language ( also of animals and birds), sound ( also of inanimate objects such as stones or of a drum) , a word , saying , phrase , sentence , statement and speech personified. Bhartrhari raises Vak to sublime heights. In his Vakyapadiya, Bhartrhari  states that ‘It is Vak which has created all the worlds (vageva visva- bhuvanani jajne;  Vakyapadiya: I.112)

The Rig Veda contains glorious references to the power of speech.  For the Vedic seers who herd and spoke about their experiences, speech was the most wonderful faculty. Speech was also held in great reverence. Many of the later philosophical theories on language have their roots in Vedas.

There are  hymns that specifically refer to the speech (Vak).

 (1) Asya-vamiya –sukta (Rig Veda : 1.164) which is one the most philosophical hymns of Rig Veda places Vak at the peak of the universe. Here , Vak has been divided into four parts ; the three parts are hidden ; and , only the fourth part is spoken by the mortals.  Vak is also identified with the lifegiving Sarasvathi – a source of great delight which causes all the good things of life to flourish.

(2) The hymn 10.71 of Rig Veda which speaks about the origin of language is much discussed by the later Grammarians. Here, two tyes of people are mentioned: those who see Vak and understand her ; and , those who see the form but do not understand her.  That might be because the Rishis were basically the seers that heard or vizualized the eternal impersonal truth.

But, in the ancient texts, Vak is not mere speech. It is something more sacred than ordinary speech; and , carries with it a far wider significance. In Rig Veda, there are three kinds of references to Vak:  Vak is speech in general; Vak also symbolizes  cows; and, Vak is personified as goddess revealing the word.  And, Vak is, indeed,  the principle  underlying every kind of speech and  language in  nature. It  includes even the sounds of cows, animals, frogs, birds, trees and hills.  It was said; the extant of Vak is  as wide as the earth and fire.

In the most celebrated Vagambhari Sukta (Rig Veda: 10.125) , the Vak herself describes her powers and functions. Vak , here , is deity personified. It declares Vak as the highest principle that supports all gods , controls all things and exists universally in all things.

The Brahmanas go further and state that Vak is Brahman ( Brahma vai vak : Ait. Br.4.211) . The tendency to view Vak , speech, as the principle forming all things is prominent throughout the Brahmana-texts.

But, it was Bhartrhari who expanded on the theory of Sabda-Brahman as the ultimate principle of all things . However, the concept of Sabda-brahman did exist in slightly in the earlier texts, as said before.


Meaning is context-sensitive

Meaning   could be taken as the content carried by the words exchanged by people when communicating through language. In other words, the communication of meaning is the purpose and function of language. A sentence therefore should convey an idea from one person to another. Meanings may take many forms, such as evoking a certain abstract idea, conveying an emotion or denoting a certain object.

But, generally, it is the context in which a term is used that brings out the sense that it is trying to express. The context, in each case, is circumscribed by various factors. Elaborate sets of rules or guide-lines were drawn up by each School to identify such ‘context’ in each class of texts.

Among the traditional Schools of thought, it was indeed the Mimamsa School, especially the Mimamsa of Prabhakara, that gave  much  thought  to the question of  language (communicating knowledge);  and , it  took special care to lay down the ground rules for deriving the correct or apt meaning of a text. The Mimamsa method is generally followed by the other Schools as well.

According to Mimamsa , there are six means of ascertaining the correct meaning of a text: Sruti– direct statement; Linga implication derived from another word or term; Vakya– syntactic connection; Prakarana – context of the situation; Sthana – location; and, Samakhya – meaning derived from etymology .Of these six, each is stronger than the succeeding one.

Mimamsa  asserts that even to understand the purport or to determine the purpose of a text ,  six factors are  necessary : consistency in the meaning between the introduction and the conclusion; repetition of the main topic; the novelty of the subject matter; the result intended ; corroborative and explanatory remarks; and, arguments in favour of the main topic. These six Linga-s or indicators are accepted by all Schools of thought.


Panini who gained fame as a Great Grammarian , as the author of  Astadhyayi (the eight chapters)  – also called  Astaka , Sabda-anushasana  and Vrittisutra –  sought to ensure  correct usage of words by  purifying  (Samskrita)  the  language (bhasha)  – literary and spoken ( vaidika-laukika) – that  was in use during his days.

Panini also stressed the importance of the context in deriving the meaning of a word. According to Panini, it is the social context that ultimately recognizes which is the ‘good’ (shista) language.

It is the language employed by those in authority or the sphere of influence forming the crest of a social order that gains authenticity. Such users of the correct language are known as Sista -s ‘elite or cultured’; and , the language as used by them is taken as the standard. Thus, an accepted literary form is the result of a process of translating social dominance into medium of exchange among the elite. Eventually, it is the community of the learned (shista) that decides and shapes the form of the good language. The language-ability, in turn, points to who the ‘learned’ are. Therefore, the learned decide what is learning; and, which, in turn, who is learned. It is a loop.


And, Brihad-devata , a secondary Vedic text of 4-5th century BCE attributed Saunaka, mentions that the rules for interpreting a Vedic text should generally cover: the objective to be served by the text (Artha); the relevance of subject matter under discussion (prakarana); a reference to it in another portion of the text (linga); its suitability of relevance (auchitya); the geographical location (desha); the contextual time (kala).


Bhartrhari also lists out contextual factors which are similar to those listed in Brihad-devata. He pointed out that in many cases of language behavior, the literal meaning conveyed by the expression may not be the intended meaning. Here, in such cases, the contextual factors play a vital role in determining the intended sense of the passage. It is by gaining a thorough understanding, in each case, of context – along with the specific and the grammatical factors that determine the intended sense – one would be able to successfully avoid confusions and misrepresentations in reading a text.

Bhartrhari generally follows the six criteria laid down in Brihad-devata, but substitutes Vakya (sentence) in place of Linga (reference to in another place). But, more importantly, Bhartrhari further extends the list of criteria to determine the ‘context’ to fourteen factors.  

Bhartrhari   repeatedly refers to the importance of contextual factors in determining the meaning of an expression.  His elaborate list of contextual factors includes:

  • Samsarga (contact) or Sam – yoga (association) : the connection known to exist between two things; 
  • 2. Viprayoga (dissociation): the absence of such connection;
  • 3. Sahacarya (companionship): mutual association;
  • 4.  Virodhita  (opposition): Antonym – opposite in meaning;
  • 5.Artha: the objective or the intended purpose;
  • 6. Prakarana: the context or subject under discussion;
  • 7. Linga: indication from another place;
  • 8. Sabda – syanyasya samnidhih  (nearness to  another word): similar to Samsarga ;  it restricts the meaning to a particular zone; 
  • 9. Samarthya  (capacity): capacity to express; 
  • 10. Auchitya (propriety  or aptness):  say, whether to take direct meaning or metaphorical meaning;
  • 11. Desa (place) the geographical region to which the text belongs;
  • 12. Kala (time) the period in history in which the text is composed;
  • 13.  Vyakti (grammatical gender);  and,
  • 14.  Svara (accent) the tone and tenor of the text.


Apart from these, abhinaya (gesture) and apadesa (pointing out directly) are also taken as determining the exact meaning of an ambiguous expression.

Bhartrhari also underlines the fact that a word can carry multiple meanings; and , the grammarian should explain how only one of those meanings would be apt in a given context.

Bhartrhari pointed out that in many cases of language behaviour, the literal meaning conveyed by the word is not its intended meaning. And, it is the contextual factors that play a vital role in determining the intended meaning of a passage. He also laid much importance on the situational context such as the – the speaker, the listener, the time, the place and the tone as well as the social and cultural background.

All these factors discussed above were classified under three headings: 1) Grammatical construction; 2) Verbal context, and, 3) Non-verbal situational- context.

Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadiya also states that Meaning in language is dependent on usage and on the speaker-listener relationship, as also on their capacities to communicate and to comprehend – Sabdabodha (verbal cognition).

According to Bhartrhari, the process of understanding the particular meaning of a word has three aspects:  first , a word has an intrinsic power to convey one or more meanings (abhidha); second, it is the intention of the speaker which determines the particular meaning to be conveyed (abhisamdhana) ; and , third, the actual application (viniyoga  ) of the word and its utterance.


Particular – General

That which is commonly understood and used (prasiddhi) is considered by Bhartrhari   as the primary meaning of the word. The secondary meaning of a word normally requires a context for its understanding, although sometimes the context may clarify only the primary meaning. Usually, the secondary meaning of a word is implied when a word is used for an object other than it normally denotes, as for example, when the word is used as a metaphor.

With regard to the nature of the meaning of a word, Bhartrhari speaks in terms of its general or universal (jati) and its relative or specific (vyakti) connotations. Bhartrhari says that every word first of all means the class (jati) of that word. For instance; the word ‘cow’ initially refers to the general class of all that is in the form of cow. Later, it is implied to refer to its particular form (vyakti). Thus, what is universal is then diversified into relative or a particular for. As in Advaita, the universal (Brahman) appears as relative or specific limited. It is ultimately the Brahman (Sabdatattva) that turns out to be the meaning (Artha) of all words.

The fundamental beliefs with regard to sound in the ancient Indian texts are: 

1.sound is eternal like space, since both are imperceptible to touch;  2. Sound is eternal and liable to perish immediately after its utterance; and , it could be passed from one to another; Sound is eternal , as there is no cognition of the cause that might destroy it.

[There was also another line of discussion on whether Artha is universal or the particular? Grammarian Vyadi says that the words refer to Dravya (substance) or the particular. Another Grammarian Vajapyayana, on the other hand, argues that words including proper names refer to Jati or class or universal.

Panini seems to have  left  the question rather open-ended.]


In the next part let’s briefly talk about the ‘meaning’ and interpretations of the terms such as Artha, Tatparya and shakthi; and , then concerns of the poets and scholars on the relation between Artha (meaning) and sabda (word) before we move on the discussions of Bhartrhari’s concepts and theories concerning word, sentence, meaning , Kala (Time), Sphota (intuitional grasping of the intended sense), theories of error, different stages/ levels of speech (Vak) and Sabda Tattva (the ultimate Reality) so on ..


Continued in Part two


Sources and References

  1. The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 ; edited by Harold G. Coward, Karl H. Potter, K. Kunjunni Raja
  2. 2. Hermeneutical Essays on Vedāntic Topics by John Geeverghese Arapura
  3. The Emergence of Semantics in Four Linguistic Traditions: Hebrew, Sanskrit …edited by Wout Jac. Van Bekkum
  4. A Comparative History of World Philosophy: From the Upanishads to Kant by Ben-Ami Scharfstein
  5. Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound by Guy L. Beck
  6. Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction by Sue Hamilton
  7. Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regained by William S. Haney
  8. The Sphota Theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysis by Harold G. Coward
  9. Bhartr̥hari, Philosopher and Grammarian: Proceedings of the First International conference on Bharthari held at Pune in 1992 edited by Saroja Bhate, Johannes Bronkhorst
  10. Being and Meaning: Reality and Language in Bhartṛhari and Heidegger by Sebastian Alackapally
  11. Bhartṛhari, the Grammarian by Mulakaluri Srimannarayana Murti
  12. Word and Sentence, Two Perspectives: Bhartrhari and Wittgenstein edited by Sibajiban Bhattacharyya
  13. Vedic Grammar For Students by Prof. A A Macdonell (Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1916)

Posted by on November 12, 2016 in Artha-Meaning, General Interest, Sanskrit


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