Tag Archives: Sabara

The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Seven

Continued from Part Six


The Word and the Sentence

Grammar and the philosophy of language

Grammar (Vyakarana) was recognized from the earliest times in India as a distinct science, a field of knowledge with its own parameters, which distinguished it from other branches of learning/persuasions. It was regarded as the means to secure release from the bondage of ignorance : Vag-yoga ; Sabda-yoga; or Sabdapurva-yoga.

The overall aim of Sanskrit Grammar was not to list out the rules and to standardize the language; but, to aptly bring out the intended meaning of the structure of words. As Yaska puts it in his Nirukta (the oldest available Indian treatise on etymology, philology and semantics) the aim was to get the meaning of the uttered word (arthanityah parikseta-Nir: 2.1.1). Thus, Sanskrit Grammar was an attempt to purify (samskruta), to discipline and to explain the behaviour of the spoken language, so that the inner meaning could shine forth unhindered.

During the periods following the three Great Sages (Munitraya) – Panini, Katyayana and Patanjali – 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, Bharthari’s major work, Vakyapadiya, discusses the ways in which the outer word-form could unite with its inner meaning. 

Each of those giants, in his own manner, addressed the question about ‘’the meaning of ‘meaning’ ‘’; debated vigorously on various theories of meaning as being fundamental to linguistic studies.


In the Grammar-traditions of ancient India, protracted debates were carried out on the question: ’what is the basic unit of the language that gives forth a meaning (Artha)?  Is it the alphabet (Varna) or the word (Pada) or the sentence (Vakya)?’ Though the discussions took several routes, it ultimately arrived on the fact that the letters constitute a word; and, the words come together to form a sentence. It was pointed out that just as a word has no separate entity without its constituent letters; similarly, a sentence has no separate entity without words that give it a structure. It was also said; though the words are parts of a sentence, the meaning of the sentence does not independently arise out of them. Meaning is the function of the sentence as a whole. Though the distinction between a sentence and its parts (words and letters) was recognised, it was said to be mainly, for day-to-day purposes (loka-vyavahara) and for analytical studies undertaken by the grammarians.

This position was, in a way, formalized when Yaska mentioned that ‘from the Vedic mantras we come to know that ‘language started with sentences and not with individual words’. He described the sentence as the entity that manifests meaning (vak punah prakasayaty-arthan– Nir.9.l9); and, as a fixed combination of words (niyata-vacoyukti) which is unchangeable (niyata-vacoyuktayo niyata-anupurvya bhavanti – Nir.I.l5).The meaning of a sentence remains un-altered even with a shift in the position of the words.

The Next question was whether the words have an independent existence of their own or whether they are merely segments of a sentence which, in truth, is an indivisible entity producing a definite meaning.

There was a line of argument (Pada-vadin) which asserted that a word though being a part or a segment (Khanda) of a sentence is, indeed, an independent unit of thought and meaning; it enjoys its own existence and characteristics; and, it is only the harmonious unity of such meaning-bearing words that lends a purpose to the sentence. The School which supported this line of argument, upholding the independent nature of the word, came to be known as Khanda-paksha.

The other School , which opposed the above standpoint, emphasized that the sentence is the fundamental, indivisible (A-khanda) linguistic unit; words are just the components of a sentence; and, mere words without reference to a sentence are abstractions and unreal; and do not convey a definite meaning. The thrust of this argument  (Vakya-vadin) was that a sentence is an indivisible, integrated unit; and, in the absence of a structured sentence, the individual words, by themselves, do not communicate a sense or the intent of the speaker. It asserted; the meaning of a sentence, as a whole, is an indivisible entity. The School which advocated this argument   was known as the A-khanda-paksha.

Thus, even at the very early stages in the development of Vyakarana (Grammar) we find two fundamental approaches to the study of the problem of meaning: the khanda-paksha and the A-khanda-paksha.



The Khanda-Paksha is about the primacy of the word (Pada or Sabda). Khanda-paksha treats the word as an autonomous unit of thought and meaning.  Here, the language study is primarily based on words; and the sentence is taken to be an assembly of such words. The Khanda-paksha confined its enquiry to the meaning of the words by treating words as self-contained and self-explaining units. It did not pay much attention to the sentence, its structure and its overall meaning. It simply said that a sentence is nothing more than a group of words; and its meaning is just the sum of the meanings carried by its words.

 In the context of the Vedas, the Pada or Sabda is just not the pronounced or uttered word; it is indeed the Vac the eternal speech itself, existing before creation of the worlds.

Though the riks of the Rig-Veda were expressed in the form of sentences, great importance was paid to its constituent words. It is said; Sakalya (Nir. 6. 28), the earliest known historical figure who dealt with linguistic studies, therefore, took up the task of compiling the Pada-paatha of Rig-Veda, where the sentences of the Samhita Paatha (the original text, as it is) were broken down into words (pada) and arranged in sequential order; and, the process also involved breaking up compound words into their elements.  The intention was to clearly bring forth the meaning (Artha) and the denotive power (Shakthi) of individual words in the sentence. Sakalya’s service to the study of Vedic text is acknowledged by Panini the Great Grammarian. 

Yaska-charya (earlier to 5th century BCE), the great etymologist of the ancient India, believed that every Vedic word has an expressive power to denote a certain sense. And, as a signifier (vacaka), every word is eternal (vyaptimattvat tu sabdasya – Nir.I.2); and, is critical in arriving at an unerring meaning of a statement. Thus, the word, the meaning and their mutual relations are eternal.  In his remarkable work Nirukta (etymology or Nirvacana shastra) – a commentary on Nighantuka, a sort of glossary – Yaska attempts to establish the proper meaning of certain selected Vedic words (including their prepositions and the particles), in the context of ‘how, where, when and why’ it is stated. For the purpose of his study, Yaska chose about 600 stanzas from the Rig-Veda; and created a well organized glossary to understand and to interpret, particularly, the archaic, uncommon words used in the Vedic texts.

His study also included a system of rules for forming words from roots and affixes. According to Yaska, every word is derived from a root; and by analysing the root, its tendency and the suffix, it is possible to establish the relation between word and meaning. In the Nirukta, Yaska has tried to explain those selected Vedic words from the perspective of the various linguistic aspects, parts of speech (padajatani) such as:  noun (naman), verb (akyata), preposition (upasarga), and particle (nipata) – (chatvari padajatani nama-khyate –upasargani-paatascha  …Nir .l.l) ; in additions to taking up  general definitions, special definitions, synonyms, homonyms (words that share the same pronunciation but convey different meanings), common and obscure grammatical forms, words and their meanings, and the etymology of these words. Yaska terms such analytical method as samaskara (treatment) or sastrakrto yogah (grammatical combination)

[ Of the four parts of speech (chatvari padajatani) Yaska gives greater importance to nouns and verbs (naman, akyata), which are employed independently , than to prepositions (upasarga) and particles (nipata) which cannot present a clear meaning when detached from nouns or verbs.

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

Between the noun and the verb, Yaska treats the verb as the nucleus of a sentence. According to him, Verb (Akhyata) is the vital unit of language through which we express our intentions and actions; and, a sentence without a verb serves no purpose (tad yatrobhe bhavaeradhane bhavatah – Nir. l. l).]


It is interesting to note that the ancient Grammarians did not devote as much attention to sentence and its structure as they did to the word. Among the ancient writers, neither Panini nor Gautama defined the sentence and its essential characteristics. Jayanta Bhatta (in his Nyayamanjari) remarks that the absence of such discussion might be because that Mimamsa and Nyaya Schools considered the sentence to be merely a combination or a sequence of words ; the word as  nothing more than a combination of phonemes (Varna) ; and , the syllables as independent units. The syllables (having a vowel)   by themselves may not convey meaning; but, they are capable of conveying meaning when they combine.

[Generally, the ancient Indian Grammarians and Logicians took a word as the unit of speech and considered a sentence as a combination of words for the purpose of communicating a meaning.

 According to abhihita-anvaya-vada (of Bhatta Mimasa), each word in a sentence conveys its primary and individual meaning by virtue  of primary denotation (abhidha). And then the meaning of the sentence arises from the combined construed (anvaya) meanings of its words.

Another view anvita-abhidhana-vada (of Prabhakara Mimamsa), instead, says that individual words do not convey meaning except when they are associated (anvita) with or indicate an action (kriya). And, no word can be understood as having independent meaning when it is isolated from a sentence.

 According to the monist view, the meaning of the sentence is grasped by the listener as a whole, in a flash. The individual word-meanings appear as parts of a sentence; but, the whole is simply not the sum of parts.

The question: how could a series of isolated words uttered one after another could together produce a unity that makes meaning – continued to engage various schools of Grammarians and philosophers alike.]

Among the Grammarians, Katyayana was perhaps the first to define a sentence (Akhyatam savyaya-karaka-visesham vakyam). In his Vartika, he called a sentence (Vakya) as an eka-tin-vakyam; meaning: a cluster of words having a single finite verb together with a noun and a qualifier. Panini, however, seems to have accepted the possibility of a sentence having more than one finite verb (tinn atinah – 8.1.28).  Mimamsa tried to explain the difference between the two positions as that of Akanksha, the intention (Artha) of the speaker (Arthaikyad vakyam ekam vakyam sakanksam ched vibhage syat – Jaimini Sutra: 2.1.46).

According to Dr. Kunjunni Rajah (Indian Theories of Meaning) : Mimamsa put forward their theory of understanding the clear meaning of synthetic units of a sentence mainly based on three norms: Akanksa, Yogyata and Samnidhi.

Akanksa or the mutual expectancy of the words consists in a word not being able to convey a complete sense in the absence of another word. Literally, it is the desire on the part of the listeners to know the other words or their meaning to complete the sense. A word is said to have Akanksa for another, if it cannot, without the latter produces knowledge of its inter-connection in an utterancen.

In a sentence, every word necessarily requires another word to complete the sense. To convey the meaning of noun in a sentence, a verb is always needed.

Yogyata is the logical compatibility of consistency of the words in a sentence for mutual association; and, whether it makes sense. When we utter a sentence, if the meaning of a sentence is not contradicted by experience, there is a Yogyata or consistency between the words.

If the words in a sentence should be contiguous in time, it is known as Samnidhi or asatti of a sentence. Words uttered at long intervals cannot produce the knowledge of any interrelation among them even if Akanksa and Yogyata are present there. If a man utters a word a long interval after the first word, then the connection of the meaning cannot be understood

[The Mimamasa said that a group of words serving a single purpose (artha) forms a sentence, if on analysis the separate words are found to have mutual expectancy (akanksha). It says : “ so long as a single purpose is served by a number of words , which on being separated , are found to be wanting and incapable of effecting the said purpose , they form one syntactical unit – one complete Yajus-mantra”.

Prabhakara explains that in this sentence, ‘artha’ stands both for meaning and purpose; and the two are related. Kaumarila Bhatta says that it is possible to take artha as meaning in order to allow a wider scope to the principle.

[The distinction between Katyayana’s definition and Mimamsa’s explanation was discussed by Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadia (2. 3-4).]

Source: The Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 5: The Philosophy of the Grammarians By Harold G. Coward, K. Kunjunni Raja-page 25]


The later Grammarians accepted Panini’s view. But, from Katyayana’s point of view, such a sentence may be considered as a complex sentence made up of two or more sentences; but, fundamentally, forming one single sentence.

The  main concern of Panini the Grammarian (Ca.500 BCE) – who might have been a junior contemporary of Yaska or might have lived within a century after Yaska – was not the sentences but words (Sabda), His celebrated work 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’s  goal (lakshya) was  building up of Sanskrit words (pada) from their root forms (dhatu prakara), affixes (pratyaya), verbal roots; pre-verbs (upasarga); primary and secondary suffixes; nominal and verbal terminations ; and , their function (karya) in a sentence. The underlying principle of Panini’s work is that nouns are derived from verbs.

Patanjali, who in the Grammar-tradition (Vyakarana parampara) is regarded as next only to Panini, also focussed on words.  According to him, the basic linguistic unit is a word – provided it generates a meaning. However, Mimamsa opposes this view; and asserts   that any aggregation of letters with or without meaning could be a word.

Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, a commentary on Panini’s Astadhyayi, commences with the statement ‘atho sabda-anu-shasanam’:  here begins the instruction on words (or, let us now discuss the rule governing the words). The three important subjects that Patanjali deals with are also concerned with words: formation of words; determination of meaning; and, the rela­tion between a word (speech sounds – Sabda) and its meaning. He also stresses about the need to learn Grammar and to use correct words; to understand the nature of words  whether or not the words have fixed or floating meanings and so on.


The Astadhyayi of Panini, 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.

But, according to Mahabhashya of Patanjali, the basic purpose of a grammar is to account for the words; not by enumerating them; but, by writing a set of general (samanya) rules (lakshana) that govern them and by pointing out to exceptions (visesha).These general rules, according to him, must be derived from the usage, for which the language of the ‘learned’ (shista) is taken as the norm.

[Though both Panini and Patanjali discussed about words and their relevance in Grammar, their approach differed significantly.

For Patanjali, it is the words themselves and not its constituents that produce a meaning.  According to him, the Grammar analyzes the words, thereby arriving at their constituent elements, though such parts may not be 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 A-khanda-paksha on the other hand, argued that the sentence is one fundamental linguistic unit (samvit). The sentence is indivisible (A-khanda); and, as a whole expresses a certain meaning; and, its meaning is not reducible to its parts. Thus, the meaning is not in the individual words which are mere parts; but, is in the sentence as a whole, in its entirety (A-khanda). That is to say; the sentence employs certain units in order to arrive at a definite meaning. The meaning so arrived at is because of the unity or integral nature of the sentence; but, not because those units are meaningful in themselves.  The meaning of a sentence remains un-altered even if the positions of the words within it are altered.

As mentioned earlier, the thrust of this argument was that a sentence is an indivisible, integrated unit; and, in the absence of a structured sentence, the individual words, by themselves, do not communicate a sense or the intent of the speaker. Mere words without reference to a sentence are abstractions and unreal; and do not convey a definite meaning. It asserted; the sentence and its meaning, as a whole, is an indivisible entity (A-khanda). The sentence, though it is indivisible (A-khanda), it has the power o£ manifestation through various letters and words.

Bhartrhari’s contribution

The champion of the A-khanda Paksha Vada was none other than Bhartrhari. He assigned a greater priority to sentence. Bhartrhari regarded the sentence as a single ‘integral symbol’ (Sphota); an indivisible unit of communication; an integral sentence the meaning of which is grasped by an instantaneous flash of understanding or perception through of intuition (Prathibha). 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.

“there is no phonemes (Varna)  in the word; and, nor are there any parts of the phonemes.  It is entirely not possible to separate words from the sentence”.

pade na varṇā vidyante varṇeṣv avayavā na ca /
vākyāt padānām atyantaṃ pravibhāgo na kaś cana // VP:1.74 //

That is to say; a sentence alone is the unit of utterance; a single indivisible entity with a single undivided meaning that is grasped as a whole in a flash of insight (Prathibha).

Sphota in the ordinary conversation, according to Bhartrhari refers to a spontaneous process where a latent idea or thought arising out of the consciousness or the mind of the speaker is manifested by the sounds (Dhvani) of the spoken words employed in the sentence; and, it is directly grasped, through intuition (Prathibha), by the mind (Buddhi) of the listener.

Bharthari’s position has come to be known as Sphota-vada, the doctrine of Sphota. The term Sphota derived from the root Shput conveys the meaning of:  ‘to burst forth’ or in the context of Bhartrhari’s text to suggest ‘bursting forth of light or a flash of insight’. For Bhartrhari, the Sphota is an indivisible and changeless unity.

The Sphota concept was developed over long periods; but, it was fully put forward by Bharthrhari. He gave it a substantial credible form; and, provided it a philosophical basis. He maintained that the primary function of the words was to combine into a sentence, in its complete utterance, to give forth a meaning. We understand the meaning of a sentence wholly immediately only after the speaker utters the sentence. And, therefore, the sentence is the primary meaningful unit; and, the words extracted from the sentence analytically are only its component parts. Bhartrhari does not decry the value or the validity of words; but, only points out their status of being a part and never a whole.

Thus, Bharthrhari emphasized that the fundamental linguistic unit is indeed the complete utterance of a sentence. Just as a letter or a syllable has no parts, so also the sentence is to be taken as complete integral unit (Vakya-sphota); and, not as a collection of smaller elements.

 Bharthrhari argued that for the purpose of linguistic analysis, study of language and its grammar it might be fine to split the sentence into abstracted pieces, such as: the words, then into the roots and suffixes of the words, syntaxes etc;  and discuss about their position in the sentence. Such analytical splitting is artificial (Vikalpa); does, not have much significance. He said; “it is only those who do not know the language thoroughly that analyze it into words, in order to get a connected meaning.” But, such fragmented approach is surely not suitable in the real world where men and women live, communicate and transact. In a speech-situation where the speaker communicates ones ideas and the listener grasps his/her speech, it is necessary that the utterance has to be complete.  The speaker communicates and the listener understands his/her utterance as a single unit.

Bhartrhari explained that, initially, the thought exists in the mind of the speaker as a unity – Sabda or Sphota – intending a certain meaning. When uttered, ( in an effort to convey that thought through a sequence of sounds (Dhvani) that follow one after the other) , it produces certain specific sound-patterns (Nada). It might look as though the articulated word-sounds are separated in time and space. However, though the word-sounds reach the listener in a sequence, the listener eventually grasps the completed sentence as a single unit, as its meaning bursts forth (Sphota) in a flash of understanding or insight (prathibha). The same Sphota which originated in speaker’s mind re-manifests in listener’s mind, transmitting the meaning. Understanding of the meaning must be the immediate and intuitive grasp of the sentence as a whole. Thus, while the articulated sounds (Dhvani, Nada), apparently having divisions and sequence, are the external forms; Sphota is the inner unity conveying the meaning.

Various other scholars have offered their own interpretations of the Sphota theory in the light of Bhartrhari’s elucidation. The concept of Sphota is one of the significant contributions of India to the philosophy of Grammar. As the noted scholar Bimal K. Matilal observes:

”It is rather remarkable that Bhartrihari’s recognition of the theoretical indivisibility of the sentence resonates with the contemporary linguistic view of learning sentences as wholes “;

 “In modern terms Sphoa can be understood as having constant distinctive phonetic features, whereas Dhavni is of a phonic nature. Sphoa is that which is to be manifested (vyagya), and the Dhvani is manifesting (vyañjaka). Sphoa is not uttered but it is perceived by the hearer”;

“The word does not generate the meaning; the word itself is transformed (Vivartate) into meaning. The relation between the word and its meaning is not that of ‘generator – generated’; but, that of ‘signifier-signified’. The word and its meaning, in essence, are identical;

“The Sphoa can be seen as a communication-device based on recognition of the truth of existence through a word/text in the hearer speaker, (sattā). It therefore is of a psychological nature, as any human speech is, for the recognition of the meaning of the text is perceived by a consciousness which lies beyond the analytic capacity of the external mind, and carries in itself all meanings; and as such, its proper understanding requires a psychological experience”;

“Even today this theory is widely recognized among modern linguists as the most complete investigation into the profundities of language, making a considerable contribution to the Philosophy of Language, the Psychology of Speech, and especially Semiotics”.


Development of the concept

It is acknowledged that it was Bharthrhari who fully developed the doctrine of Sphota in all the fields of Grammar, philosophy of Grammar and philosophy. But, it was not his invention – as he himself candidly clarified. The idea had been mentioned in various texts, much before the time of Bhartrhari, though not precisely or technically defined. For instance:

: – Panini mentions one Sphotayana, who spoke about the word and its meaning (Avan sphotanyanasya), as the one who originally came up with Sphota concept.

: – Another sage Sakatayana (a grammarian who perhaps was a contemporary of Panini – ?) is also mentioned by some as the author of the Sphota–theory. And, Sakatayana is also said to have held the view that all words must be derived from verbal roots (Nir. 1 3. 12). Some scholars recognize Sakatayana as the author of Unadisutra (a supplement to Panini’s Grammar, providing additional set of rules to derive nouns from their verbal roots). Though, at the same time, Gargya (descendent of Sage Garga, as mentioned in the Nirukta 1.3.12-13) and others are said to have remarked that all nouns cannot be traced to verbal roots.

[The other ancient Grammarians such as Vyadi (author of the lost text Samgraha Sutra; and a contemporary of Panini) as also  Patanjali, the author of Mahabhashya (Ca. 2nd century BCE,) had all developed certain ideas regarding the concept of Sphota.]

:- Before Panini, Yaska  , the etymologist ( earlier to 500 BCE), had  incidentally mentioned that another ancient authority – Audumbarayana, had put forward a theory which basically said that a sentence or an utterance is a primary and an indivisible unit of language; and,  reaches the faculty of the listener as a whole (Nirukta: 1-2)  . Audumbarayana, it appears, had also not agreed with the four-fold classification of words into: noun (naman), verb (akyata), prepositions (upasarga) and particles (nipata) – (indriyanityam vacanam Audumbarayanah tatra chatustam no papayate -Nir.1.1)

[But, apparently, Yaska himself had not agreed with Audumbarayana’s view of a sentence being  a primary and an indivisible unit; and, had gone on to talk about a totally different concept, Bhava – the being and becoming (Bhu) of verbs from their roots. Yaska, in that context, mentions six modes or forms of transformations (Sad bhava vikarah) of Bhava-s from the indistinct (A-vyakta) to explicit (Vyakta) and then to disappearance (vinasa). These phases are:  coming into existence (jayate); existence (Asti); transformation (viparinamate); growth (vardate); decay or wane (apaksiyate); and, ceasing to exist (vinasyati).

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

Yaska further explains that a Verb (Akhyata) is mainly concerned with Bhava (action), whereas the Nouns (Naman) have Sattva (substance or existence – Asti) as the chief element in their meaning (Bhava-pradhanam akhyatam; sattva-pradhanani namani – Nir. l.l). Here, Sattva is the static aspect of the meaning (as it exists); and, Bhava, the dynamic aspect, is action (Kriya) as it takes place in temporal sequence – (bhavah karma kriya dhatvartha ityanarthantaram).

Thus, Sattva and Bhava are two aspects of the same existence seen from the static and dynamic points of view. It is said; the six modes of Sattva (static) and Bhava (dynamic) are found in every aspect of creation.

Yaska credits the entire doctrine of Bhava and its classification to a certain Varsayani, another ancient Vedic scholar (Nirukta.1.2). But, nothing much is known to us about this Varsayani [He or She could have been a descendent of Varsa, an adept in Varsa Saman (chant)].

Sad bhava – vikara bhavantiti varsayanih- Jayate-asti-viparinamate- vardhate- apaksiyate- vinasyatiti – Nir.1.2]

: – But, Bhartrhari, in turn, cites Yaska as saying that Audumbarayana outlined the Sphota theory. And, asserts that Audumbarayana and also Varttakas held views similar to his Sphota-vada; and claims that their views support his theory.

: – The later eminent grammarians, such as Nageshabhatta (7th century), the author of Manjusha and Shpota-vada; as also Haradatta the commentator (10th century), however, attribute Sphota-vada to the sage Sphotayana, as mentioned by Panini.

: – Now, going back in time, Patanjali also talked about Sphota-like concept. He said; even though the words uttered follow one after the other and do not co exist in time or space, they do converge in the mind of the listener conveying a meaning. Sphota, he says, is a permanent element in the word; and, in fact is the essence of the word. The permanent unchanging Sphota is manifested by changing sounds (Dhvani). Here, Dhvani is the uttered sound heard by the listener; and, is but an aspect of Sphota. Thus, according to Patanjali, Sphota has an internal and an external aspect. The inner aspect is the innate expression of the word-meaning; while the external aspect is a vehicle to manifest the internal aspect; and is perceived by the sense organs of the listener.

But, for Patanjali, Sphota may be a single letter or structured pattern of letters; not necessarily sentence as a whole (in contrast to the stand taken by Bhartrhari).

:- Much before all these ;  Sage Kapila of the Samkhya School after discussing the concept of Sphota ( described as single, indivisible; as distinct from individual letters, existing in the form of words, and constituting a whole) dismisses it  totally : ‘What necessity is there for this superfluous Sphota? If, on the contrary, it does not appear, and is elusive; then , that unknown Sphota can have no power of disclosing a meaning, and consequently it is useless to suppose that any such thing as Sphota exists’(Sutra .57). All this talk of unity of meaning etc is largely an illusion; for it is the word, its articulated elements (Varna) that make the unity.

Antye tv ajniata-spkotasga nasti artha- pratydyana-saktir iti vyartha sphota-kalpana ity arthah / Pur- vam vedanam nityatvam pratisMddham / idanlffi varna-nityat- vam api pratishedati

: – Similarly, the Mimamsa School had also discussed the Sphota concept; and, had rejected it. Sabaraswamin (Ca. first century BCE) the celebrated Mimamsaka in his comments on Mimamsa sutra (1.1.5) dismisses Sphota-vada, since it is not consistent with the Mimamsa faith in reality of Vedic words. According to Sabara, a word is nothing more than a combination of phonemes (Varna) and the syllables are independent units. The syllables, by themselves, might not convey the meaning; but when they combine they do convey a meaning. He did not see a need for a Sphota.

: – The renowned philosopher Upavarsha (a senor contemporary of Panini – Ca. 500 BCE) had also rejected the Sphota-vada; and, had remarked: all this talk of unity of meaning etc. is largely an illusion, for it is the words, its articulated elements (Varna) that make the unity.

Upavarsha, in turn, had come up with his theory of   Varna-vada; according to which the smallest phonetic units that can carry the meaning (phonemes =Varna-s) alone are real constituents of a word.  He said: what is called as a ‘word’ (Sabda) is its individual letters – (for instance the word ‘gauh’ – cow is made of ‘g’, ’au’ and ‘h’). He decaled sounds are only Varna -s; and, there is no need for a Sphota.

[We shall talk more about Upavarsha and of Sri Sankara who followed Upavarsha, later in the series]


In any case, all this was just to   show that even in the ancient Vedic and in little later times the concept of Shpota was widely debated and various types of its interpretations were offered. Some orthodox Schools which recognized Vak or speech as a manifestation of the all – pervading Brahman, and Pranava (Aum) as the primordial speech sound from which all forms of Vak were deemed to have evolved, acknowledged the need to perceive the sentence as a whole and not merely as a collection of words.

At the same time there were also many others who dismissed the idea of Sphota as being far-fetched, superfluous and useless; and, remarked that such unreal, Sphota can have no power of disclosing a meaning.


In the next part let’s discuss about the Sphota doctrine as expounded by Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadiya; as also the views of its critics and supporters.


Continued in

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. Of Many Heroes: An Indian Essay in Literary Historiographyby G. N. Devy
  3. Time in Hinduismby Harold Coward
  4. Bhartṛhari, the Grammarianby Mulakaluri Srimannarayana Murti
  5. The Study of Vakyapadiya– Dr. K Raghavan Piliai Volume I (Motilal Banarsidas; 1971)
  6. Being and Meaning: Reality and Language in Bhartṛhari and Heideggerby Sebastian Alackapally
  7. Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Soundby Guy L. Beck
  8. Bhartrhari (ca. 450-510)by Madhav Deshpande
  9. Bhartrihariby Stephanie Theodorou
  10. The Sphota Theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysisby Harold G. Coward
  11. Speech versus Writing” In Derrida and Bhartahariby Harold G. Coward
  12. Sequence from Patanjali to Post _modernityby  V. Ashok.
  13. The Vedic Conception of Sound in Four Features
  14. Sphota theory of Bhartrhari
  15. Word and Sentence, Two Perspectives: Bhartrhari and Wittgensteinedited by Sibajiban Bhattacharyya
  16. Hermeneutical Essays on Vedāntic Topicsby John Geeverghese Arapura
  17. Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regainedby William S. Haney
  18. The Advaita Vedānta of Brahma-siddhiby Allen Wright Thrasher
  19. Bhartr̥hari, Philosopher and Grammarian: Proceedings of the First… Edited by Saroja Bhate, Johannes Bronkhorst
  20. Bhartṛhari – from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  21. Sri Venkateswara Univrsity Oriental Journal Volumes XXX-XXXi 1987 – 1988
  22. Studies in the Kāśikāvṛtti: The Section on Pratyāhāras: Critical Edition …edited by Pascale Haag, Vincenzo Vergiani
  23. Proceedings of the Lecture Series on Våkyapadiya and Indian Philosophy of Languages- (31.1.08 to 2.2.08)
  24. Encyclopaedia for the world psychologists 1. A – D ; Edited by H. L. Kalia
  25. Linguistic philosophy of Yaska- Sodhganga
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About Upavarsha … Part Two

Continued from Part One


Upavarsha the Vrttikara

1.1. In the earlier part, we surmised that Upavarsha – a revered scholar, commentator and teacher might have originated from the Takshashila region in the North West; and later, perhaps, might have migrated to Pataliputra in the East sometime before the Fourth century BCE. And that according to some sources , Upavarsha was the brother of Varsha a teacher of great repute; and that Panini the Grammarian and his younger brother Pingala both  studied under Varsha. Further , that Vyadi (also called Dakshayana), another student of Varsha, was either the maternal uncle (mother’s brother) of Panini or was the great-grandson of Panini’s maternal uncle.

[It seems Upavarsha might not have been his real name. It merely means that he was the ‘younger brother of Varsha’.]

Thus all those learned scholars and great teachers were related to each other in one way or the other; they all hailed from Takshashila region; and they all sought patronage in the Court of the Kings at Pataliputra. Among them, Upavarsha an authoritative commentator (Vrttikara) on   Mimamsa (a system of investigation, inquiry into or discussion on the proper interpretation of the Vedic texts) was looked upon and honored as the most venerable, Abhijarhita.

1.2. Upavarsha was regarded as an authority by all branches of the orthodox Schools;, including the Mimamsa School. Both Sabaraswamin and Bhaskara, the Mimamsaka-s, treat the ancient Vrttikara as an authority; and, quote his opinions as derived from ‘the tradition of Upavarsha ‘(Upavarsha-agama).  Bhaskara calls Upavarsha as ‘shastra-sampradaya- pravarttaka’.

In the Vedanta School, Sri Sankara, in particular, had great reverence for Upavarsha and addressed him as Bhagavan, as he does Badarayana; while he addressed Jaimini and Sabara, the other Mimasakas, as Teachers (Acharya). Sri Sankara’s disciples and followers continued to make frequent references to the works of Vrittikara on the   Brahma Sutra often referred to Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti of Sage Upavarsha.

1.3. In the later centuries, Bhagavan Upavarsha came to be celebrated as the most venerable (Abhijarhita) Shastrakara and Vrittikara, the commentator par excellence.

In this segment of the article, we shall talk of Upavarsha the Vrittikara.


Before that, a short explanation about Vritti and related terms:

At a stage in the development of Vedic texts and certain other subjects, there came into vogue a practice of collating each School’s salient arguments, the essential aspects and important references bearing on the subject into very short or briefest possible pellets of terms.  Such highly condensed text-references came to be known as Sutra-s.

 The term Sutra literally means a thread; say, such as the one over which gems are strewn (sutre mani gana eva). But, technically, in the context of ancient Indian works, Sutra meant an aphoristic style of condensing the spectrum of all the essential aspects, thoughts of a doctrine into terse, crisp, pithy pellets of compressed information  ( at times rather disjointed )  that could be committed to memory. The object of the Sutras appeared to be to aid the student to learn it by heart; and, use it as a sort of synoptic notes on a subject mentioned in a text.  And, by tapping that Sutra, the student would recall the relevant expanded form of the referred portions of the text. . A Sutra was therefore not merely an aphorism but was also a key to an entire discourse on a subject. Traditionally, each Sutra is considered as a discourse rather than as a statement.

But, the problem appeared to be that the concept of Sutra was carried too far and to ridiculous extremes. Brevity became its most essential character. For instance; sve cha is a Sutra; and, it has to be linked to a text and to the relevant statement in that text.  It is said, a Sutrakara would rather give up a child than expend a word. The Sutras often became so terse as to be inscrutable. And, one could read into it any meaning one wanted to. It was said, each according to his merit finds his rewards.

The problem was worse compounded when a Sutra was repeated number of times. For instance in the Mimamsa Sutras, lingadarsanac ca is repeated thirty times and tatha canyarthadarshanam is repeated twenty-four times. It becomes very difficult to unfathom the intentions of the Sutrakara.

Vritti (Sadvrittih sannibandhana) is the next generation text which attempts to lessen the ambiguity and bring some clarity into Sutra-patha    . The Vritti , simply put , is  a gloss, which expands on the Sutra; seeks to point out the derivation of forms that figure in the Sutra (prakriya); offers explanations on what is unsaid (anukta)  in the Sutra and also clarifies on what is misunderstood or imperfectly stated  (durukta) in the Sutra.

Vrittika is a Note or an annotation in between the level of the Sutra and the Vritti. It attempts to focus on what has not been said by a Sutra or is poorly expressed.  And, it is shorter than Vritti.

 Bhashya is a detailed , full blown ,  exposition on the subjects dealt with by  the Sutra ; and it  is primarily based on the Sutra , its Vrittis , Vrittikas ,  as also on several other authoritative texts and traditions. Bhashya  includes in itself  the elements of :   explanations based on discussion (vyakhyana); links to other texts that are missed or left unsaid in the Sutra (vyadhikarana) ;  illustrations using examples (udaharana) and counter-examples (pratyudhaharana) ; rebuttal  or condemnation  of   the opposing views of rival schools (khandana) ; putting forth  its own arguments  (vada) and counter arguments (prati-vada)  ; and , finally establishing   its own theory and  conclusions (siddantha).

For instance;  Panini’s Astadhyayi is the principal text in Sutra format; Vararuchi-Katyayana wrote a Vartika , a brief explanations on selected Sutras of Astadhyayi; and,  Patanjali wrote his Maha-bhashya, a detailed commentary on Panini’s Astadhyayi, making use of Katyayana’s Vritti as also  several other texts and references on the subject. Patanjali presented the basic theoretical issues of Panini’s grammar; expanded on the previous authors; and, supported their views and even criticized them in the light of his own explanations.  


Before we get into a discussion on the Upavarsha the Vrittikara, we need to learn a little bit about Mimamsa, one of the six Darshanas or systems of the Indian philosophy (Nyaya, Vaseshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Uttara Mimamsa and Purva Mimamsa).

The term Mimamsa derived from the root ‘man’ suggests the meaning of ‘to think’ or to analyze. And, it particularly refers to ‘probing and acquiring proper knowledge’ (pujita-vichara) or ‘critical review and rational investigation of the Vedas’ (Vedartha-vichara).

Presently, Mimamsa Sutra is said to be in two segments: the Purva (earlier or the first) Mimamsa compiled by Jaimini; and the Uttara (latter) Mimamsa ascribed to Badarayana.

There is a line of argument which asserts that Mimamsa Sutra was a single text and was having twenty chapters (vimshathy adhyayah) comprising twelve Chapters (Adhyayas) of Mimamsa dealing with the ritual aspects of the Vedas; four chapters of Devata Kanda or Sankarshana kanda addressing various deities  ; followed by four chapters of Mimamsa dealing with Upanishad doctrines.

The portion of twelve chapters dealing with rituals together with four chapters of Devata Kanda is known as Purva Mimamsa (Karma Kanda). And the remaining last four chapters dealing with Upanishads is known as Uttara Mimamsa (Jnana Kanda).

There is a counter argument which states that  the  Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa were initially two independent treaties authored by Jaimini and Badarayana respectively; and, were later put together with suitable emendations by someone described as Vyasa – ‘the arranger’. 

[Sureshvara, an early commentator and said to be a disciple of Sri Sankara, in his Nishkarmyasiddhi, a commentary on Mimamsa sutra (1.2.1), seems to suggest that Jaimini was also the author of the Brahma Sutra. This supports the view that Uttara and Purva Mimamsa were a part of a single text. But this interpretation is generally rejected.]

In any case, Purva-Mimamsa (prior investigation) collated by Jaimini dwells on the early portion of Vedas, particularly the Brahmans; and, is mainly concerned with Vedic rituals. Therefore, it is also called Karma-Mimamsa or simply Mimamsa.

Jaimini the champion of Purva Mimamsa strongly holds the view that performance of rituals as prescribed by the Vedas is the fundamental duty of a householder. Thus, raising of the offspring and faithfully performing the prescribed rituals is the duty.  Jaimini declared that  the purpose of human life (Purusharta) is to attain heaven (Svarga) through performance of rituals which is the most essential duty of a person. A person leading life on the right path (Dharma) has to perform the prescribed rituals throughout his life, even in case he has gained knowledge of Brahman. 

The Purva Mimamsa system attaches a lot of importance to the Verbal testimony which is essentially the Vedic text. Jaimini accepts the ‘Word’, the ‘Sabda’ as the only means of knowledge. ; and,  that ‘Sabda’ is necessarily the Vedic word.

According to Jaimini, knowledge has twofold meaning: Vidya and Upasana. He said, since the rituals are prescribed by the Vedas, the knowledge (vidya) of the Vedas is essential in order to perform the rituals properly. The term Vidya also means remembrance (jnapaka) which is used in the sense of worship (upasana). In the case of a person who performs rituals (karma) diligently with knowledge (vidya) and contemplates (upasana) on the deity, the fruits of his actions (Karman) will follow him even after his death.

[His Holiness Sri Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam while in conversation with Professor Hajime Nakamura, Professor of Indian philosophy, University of Tokyo (during January 1960) explained the difference between Jnana and Upasana. The Paramacharya said that the two are entirely different. While Upaasana is mental action, Jnana, which also belongs to the realms of the mind, is not action. Action is something done in obedience to an injunction. When the knowledge of Reality is comprehended, the mind continues to dwell on that Reality ; and, it  does not respond to any injunction, whether that injunction comes from any external agency or is the result of the prompting of the senses… You concentrate on God, imagining He is like this or that, until real Jnana dawns on you and you understand God as He really is. Thereafter you do not react to any direction to worship this or that form.]

Jaimini hardly involves God (Isvara) into his scheme of things. He clings to the prescriptive and liturgical aspects of Vedas, setting aside their esoteric message. He generally ignores the Upanishads. His follower Sabaraswamin described the non-human origin of the Vedas in terms of the anonymity or inability to remember the authors of the Vedas.

In the view of Purva Mimamsa, Upanishads are mere appendages; and, do not have an independent status.

In sharp contrast, the Uttara-Mimamsa (posterior investigation) of Badarayana is centred primarily on the Upanishads. It regards Upanishads as highest authority and the most meaningful, valid means of knowing the Absolute Truth.  Badarayana recognized Upanishads as Shruthis, the Revelations, the super sensory intuitional perceptions of the ancient Rishis; and as the crowning glory of Vedic thought.

The Uttara-Mimamsa centred on Upanishads is mainly concerned with Vedic metaphysics (jana Kanda), primarily an inquiry into Ultimate Reality or Truth, the Brahman. Therefore, it is also called Brahman-Mimamsa or simply Vedanta.

It has also been called by many other titles, such as : Brahma–vichara–Shastra, the treatise for investigating Brahman; Vedanta-mimamsa-Shastra or Vedanta shastra; Vedanta Sutra; Sariraka sutra or Sariraka shastra or Sarirakam shastram.  It is also the Chatur-lakshani (having four chapters) as compared to Dwadasha-lakshani (the Purva Mimamsa of twelve chapters).

Brahma Sutra is regarded the logical foundation (Nyaya prasthana) of Vedanta. Its forte is Para Vidya, the Supreme knowledge which liberates.  Badarayana does not value the rituals, much; but aims at the ultimate release or liberation, Moksha,

Brahma Sutra appears to have been compiled mainly for two reasons: to uphold the authority of Upanishads; and, to criticize the views of the rival schools (say, Samkhya, Vaisheshika and Buddhist) that did not honor Upanishads. But, its ultimate goal is guide the ardent seeker along the path culminating in realization of  the true   nature of the Absolute Reality  (Brahman) , which indeed is the final liberation , the Moksha.  

 Thus, the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa project two opposite views of life; and yet are closely allied.

Sri Sankara regards Brahma Sutra as distinct and separate shastra (prathak-shastra) from Purva Mimamsa

Sri Sankara was the most ardent supporter of the Brahma Sutra or Uttara Mimamsa. He argued vigorously to uphold the Supremacy of Upanishads as the crown of the Sruti (Sruti Siras). He emphasized that Upanishads are the means towards attaining Brahman. 

He declared Self (Atman) is Brahman. This knowledge (vidya) of this One Reality is not only the foundation of all knowledge (vidyas) but is also the absolute ‘truth of the fact’- Brahmavidya sarva vidya pratistha (Mundaka Up.1.1.1)


2.1. Upavarsha, respected as  the foremost among the Vrttikara-s,   is said to have written Vritti-s (commentaries) on both the segments of the Mimamsa Sutra. And, his Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti is believed to be   the earliest commentary on Badarayana’s Brahma Sutras.

In this context, it should be mentioned that there is a belief that it was Upavarsha who first divided the Vedic texts into Karma-kanda (ritualistic section) and Jnana-kanda (knowledge section) leading to better understanding of the themes and problems in Vedanta.

2.2. Sri Sankara often refers to Vritti-s. He speaks more specifically of Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti, a commentary on Brahma Sutra, the author of which is identified as Upavarsha.

Sri Sankara refers to a discussion held by Upavarsha on the nature of Self in Brahma Sutra (3.3.53) – eka atmanah sarire bhavat – , which according to Sri Sankara establishes the existence of Self.  He says the existence of a self that is different from the body and capable of enjoying the fruits of shastra is (already) stated at the beginning of the shastra (Shastra-aramba), in the first Paada – Shastrah-pramukha eva prathame pade. The scholars wonder whether this expression refers to the first Tantra (Prathama Tantra) which is commonly understood as Purva Mimamsa.

And, the same discussion appears in the commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra (1.1.5).

2.3. Further, Sri Sankara mentions:  ‘ Bhagavan Upavarsha has written a Vrtti on Purva Mimamsa. And, in that, he is referring to his another Vrtti on Saririka Mimamsa.

Ata Eva Bhagavata Upavarshena Prathame Tantre I Atma-stitv-abhidhana-prasaktau Sarirake Vakshyamaha ityuddharaha Krutaha II (3.3.53)

All these statements seem to support the view that that Upavarsha may have commented on both Purva and Uttara Mimamsa. This, in a way, is confirmed by Sabaraswamin the author of a major commentary on Mimamsa Sutra, who in his work summarizes the views of Upavarsha.


3.1. It is said; during the time of Sabarasvamin (Ca.  300-200 BCE) a noted Mimasaka, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa formed one philosophical system. But, by the time of Kumarila Bhatta and Sri Sankara they were regarded as two separate, mutually exclusive philosophies.

Giving up the ideal of liberation by the Mimamsakas, and the rejection of the rituals by the Vedantins must have come about at a later stage. But, again by the time of Kumarila Bhatta the Mimamsa came closer to the idea of liberation.

3.2. In any case, both the Schools of Mimamsa hold Upavarsha in very high esteem. Sabarasvamin in his Bhashya (Sabara bhashya– 1.1.5), the oldest surviving commentary on the Purva-mimamsa-sutra, refers to Upavarsha with great reverence, addressing him as Bhagavan, the venerable. Sabarasvamin is said to have drawn on Upavarsha for his commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra.

[Sabara bhashya is remarkable for various reasons. Sabarasvamin in many places differs from the views of his contemporaries. The most noticeable is the absence of reference to re-birth and liberation. Sabara is therefore believed to belong to a conservative school that did not subscribe to these notions, but staunchly adhered to performance of Yajnas.

According to some scholars, this obliquely points to the speculation that the belief in re-birth could have originally belonged to other traditions, but found its way into Upanishads.

Incidentally, Sabarasvamin’s commentary seems to mark the point of departure for other commentators of the Mimamsa. Its varied interpretations gave rise to two main schools Mimamsa philosophy: that of Kaumarila Bhatta (AD 620-700) and Prabhakara Misra (AD 650-720).]

3.3. Another ancient writer Sundarapandya (Ca. Prior to sixth century) who is said to have written Vrttika-s on  Mimamsa Sutra and on Brahma Sutra  had  also commented in his Varttika on Upavarsha’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti. The followers of the Advaita School and the Mimamsaka Kumarila Bhatta quote Sundarapandya.  Vachaspathi Misra in his Bhamathi says: atraiva brahmavidam gatham udaharanti.

3.4. Another Mimamsaka, Bhaskara (who was later than Sri Sankara but before Vachaspathi Misra) also addresses Upavarsha as Bhagavan. Both Sabaraswamin and Bhaskara treat the ancient Vrttikara as an authority; and, quote his opinions as derived from ‘the tradition of Upavarsha ‘(Upavarsha-agama).  Bhaskara describes Upavarsha as ‘shastra-sampradaya- pravarttaka’

3.5.  In a similar manner, Sri Sankara whenever he refers to Upavarsha treats him with great respect and quotes his views in his Brahma-sutra-bhashya (3.3.53) as being authoritative.

4.1. Sri Sankara indicates that Upavarsha’s commentary on Brahma Sutra was called Sariraka –mimamsa – vritti (but that work is now lost). Sri Sankara perhaps adopted the term Sariraka from Upavarsha; and, titled his own Bhasya on Brahma Sutra as Sariraka –mimamsa – Bhashya.

Sri Sankara regards Upavarsha as an elder teacher of his own tradition (sampradaya). He displays enormous reverence towards Upavarsha and addresses him as Bhagavan and Sampradaya vit, the upholder of the right tradition; just in the manner he addresses the Great Badarayana. Sri Sankara generally followed the views of Upavarsha; and often quoted him.

Bhagavan Upavarsha matena Uttaram dattam

Tatra Upavarshasya etad darsanam napunarasyeti bhranti nirakaranartham aha Pratyaksha iti !

4.2. Following his lead, the latter commentators of Advaita School (such as Padmapada, Govindananda, Anandagiri, as also Jayanta Bhatta an exponent of the Nyaya School) respect Upavarsha as the  great Vrttikara ; and,  have cited certain views which they attribute to Upavarsha.

4.3. Thus, Upavarsha was held in great esteem by Mimamsakas as well as by Vedantins.


5.1. Sabarasvamin, the great Mimamsaka, is said to have drawn on Upavarsha for his commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra. Some of Sabarasvamin’s arguments resemble those put forward in Sri Sankara’s Sariraka Bhashya. Thus, indirectly, both their arguments were derived from Upavarsha.

For instance; there is a discussion in Sabara–bhashya (MS: 1.1.1) on the question as to whether Dharma is well known or unknown.  And , it is  very similar to  Sri Sankara’s  discussion ,  in his Sariraka –bhashya,   in regard to the nature of Brahman ,  as to whether Brahman is known or unknown.  The commentators remark that the objections raised therein and their solutions can be traced back to Upavarsha. Thus, both Sabaraswamin and Sri Sankara base some of their arguments on the explanations provided by. Upavarsha

5.2. In a similar manner, Sundarapandya in his Varttika on Mimamsa Sastra drew upon Upavarsha. And, Sri Sankara in turn sourced both from Upavarsha and Sundarapandya.

Many ideas of Upavarsha put forward by Sundarapandya echo in the works of Sri Sankara. For instance:

(a) :- Sri Sankara in his commentary on the fourth Sutra of the first Pada of the first Adhyaya of Brahma Sutra cites three karikas which were later identified as those belonging to Sundarapandya. The Prabodha-parisuddhi, a commentary on Padmapada’s Pancapadika refers directly to the three verses of Sundarapandya, saying: slokatrayam sundarapandya-pranitam pramanayati iti aha.

Sundarapandya in his Varttika on Upavarsha’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti, had mentioned the six means of knowledge (cognition) advocated by Upavarsha. These are, briefly: Pratyaksha (direct or immediate); Anumana (inference); Sabda  (verbal or textual testimony); Upamana (analogy);  Artha-patti  (presumption);   and, Abhava  (non- apprehension).

Sundarapandya remarks that the Vrttika-kara   (Upavarsha) believes that these six modes of acquiring knowledge are valid only until the Self is ascertained.  But, once the subject-object differentiation is erased they no longer matter. He therefore makes a distinction between relative knowledge (sesha-jnana) and absolute knowledge (a-sesha-jnana). Upavarsha, he says, believes that absolute knowledge is attainable through Adyaropa or Apavada (adyaropa-apavada-ubhayam nishprapancham prapanchate).

In a similar manner, Sri Sankara recognizes Vedanta Shastra as the most potent means to pierce through the veil of Avidya, ignorance. Anything that shows false as false, the distortion as distortion is helpful; as it guides us to   move towards the ‘fact itself’, Atmaikatva. The texts contribute to causing the discovery of truth; enabling the truth to assert itself (svapramanya).

However, Sri Sankara pointed out that the texts; the scriptural authorities including Vedas are wound around the instructor and the instructed – sisrita and shishya – relations.  As long as distinctions such as the knower -the known – and the means of knowing (Pramata, Prameya and Prama) are maintained there can be no experience of non-distinction or oneness of Reality. Because, the Absolute is beyond the subject-object relations. And, its experience does not dependent on external factors or on proof   to reveal it (paradhina-prakasha).

(b) : – Sundarapandya explains:  the attribute-less Brahman can at best be described by the method of superimposition followed by its withdrawal. The Absolute knowledge, however, is neither the process of superimposition nor is it the negation.  Incidentally, Sundarapandya is also believed to have contemplated on the concept of Maya and on the pristine nature of Brahman without Maya.

[The Adhyaropa-Apavada method of logic is said to have been  pioneered by Upavarsha; and, it consists in initially assuming a position and later withdrawing that assumption, after a discussion.

This method can effectively illustrate the distinction between appearance and reality. An excellent application of this method can be found in the treatment of the three states of life, viz. waking, dreaming and sleeping. Gaudapaada’s karika on the Mandukya-Upanishad takes this up as the main theme; and, shows how the method could be employed to arrive at the fourth state, the Turiya, by sublimating the other three. By the residual reasoning, Gaudapaada states that Turiya alone is proved real while the others are mere assumptions or constructions (Vikalpa) ]

In order to educate the mind to interpret the reality as it is, Sri Sankara and others in the Vedanta School employed Adhyaropa-Apavada of deliberate provisional ascription and its later withdrawal. For the convenience of teaching, you accept a thing or an attribute that is actually not there ; and,  later negate that once the student is mature enough to realize the actual position. For example, we teach the child about sun.-rise, sun-set and about East-West and other directions. But , as the child advances in age and in  learning, the earlier teaching is negated and the child realizes that the sun neither  rises nor sets ; and the what we call directions are , after all , notional.

Similarly, Adhyaropa-Apavada logic was employed to prove the theory of transformation (Vivarta) in the phenomenal world, by taking the specific illustration of a pot made of clay. Here clay is the cause (adhyaropa);  and  its transformation (apavada) is the pot .

(c) :- His verses quoted by Amalanda and Kumarila Bhatta indicate that Sundarapandya believed  that Karma and Jnana  Kanda-s are separate; and, that he  rejected  the idea of their  combination ,  jnana-karma samuccaya.

Sri Sankara  also regarded Brahma Sutra as distinct and separate shastra (prathak-shastra) from Purva Mimamsa.

Sri Sankara also said that the study of the Mimamsa was intended for a particular class of people; but not necessarily for those who would inquire into the nature of Brahman.  He pointed out that the Purva-Mimamsa and the Uttara-Mimamsa were intended for different purposes; and were written by different authors. These should not therefore be regarded as integrally related as two parts of a unified work.

5.3. Thus, while the ancient commentator Sabaraswamin drew upon Upavarsha for his commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra, another ancient writer Sundarapandya wrote a Varttika on Upavarsha’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti. Sri Sankara, in turn, followed the sub-commentary of Sundarapandya.  It is said; the doctrine   elaborated by Sri Sankara in his Adhyasa Bashya stemmed out of the germ ideas put forth by Upavarsha and Sundarapandya (among others). It is not surprising that Sri Sankara held both the teachers in such high regard.


6.1. Apart from delineating the six means of knowledge that were adopted by the later Advaita Schools, Upavarsha is believed to have initiated a discussion on self-validation (svathah pramanya) that became a part of the Vedanta terminology. Svatah pramana: true knowledge is valid by itself; not made valid or invalid by external conditions (sva-karya-karane svatah pramanyam jnanasya).

[As a general rule, knowledge (except memory) is taken to be valid on its own strength, unless invalidated by contrary knowledge. (Memory is not considered valid knowledge as it is dependent on previous cognition or impressions which might get faded or distorted; and, so is the dream.)]

6.2. According to Sri Sankara, Upavarsha was the first to draw attention to the paradoxical essence of Atman, beyond the pale of its ordinary sense.

7.1.. It is said; Upavarsha developed a theory on Atman (Atma-vada).  He emphasized that the postulation of ‘Self’ as distinct from body and the mental process was rather inevitable. He argued that   the Self cannot in any manner be revealed to another person; but, it cannot be denied by oneself either. It is affirmed by introspection, but that process cannot itself be regarded as self.

As for the proof of the existence of Atman, Upavarsha holds the view that Atman is known by perception as it is the object of ‘I’.

7.2. A verse quoted in Nyayamanjari of Jayanta of the Nyaya School (dated around ninth century) cites the Atman-theory of ‘the followers of Upavarsha’ (Aupavarsha): ‘they understand the Atman to be directly perceptible (pratyaksha) ;  For Atman can be known by ‘I’ consciousness.

[Tatra pratyaksham atmanam Aupavarsha prapedire I aham-pratyaya-gamyatvat svayuthya api kechana II]

The argument seems to be that the existence of Atman need not be proved by reasoning or verbal arguments. It is in each one’s own experience. Self is the consciousness of being. This was also the faith of the later Mimamsa school of Kumarila Bhatta.

Sri Sankara too adopted the proposition of Upavarsha; and, explained: “For all men are conscious that the Atman (self) exists. No one ever thinks ‘I do not exist’.

At another place (BS: 1.1.1), he says that the inner-self (pratyagatma) is the object of “I consciousness’ (asmat-pratyaya-vishaya); and, that it is directly perceptible (aparoksha).

7.3. Sri Sankara expanded further on the Atman-theory of Upavarsha, and extended it to the Supreme Self, transcending the individual.


8.1. Then there is also the concept of Atmaikatva which in some way was derived from Upavarsha.

8.2. Atmaikatva, absolute oneness of Self, is the main theme of Sri Sankara’s Sariraka Mimamsa Bhashya.  It is about the unity of the Atman as pure consciousness ,  which is the goal of all Upanishads – as  expressed by Sri Sankara in his Brahma Sutra commentary on Sutra 4 : : Atmaikatava-vidyapratipattayesarva Vedanta arabhyante .

This one Self is Brahman. This knowledge (vidya) of this One Reality is not only the foundation of all knowledge (vidyas) but also is the absolute ‘truth of the fact’- Brahmavidya sarva vidya pratistha (Mundaka Up.1.1.1)

8.3. But, this vidya which Upanishads teach is rather shrouded (guhahitagahvaresta); and, is attainable only through Adyatma –yoga (contemplation on Self).  Vedanta texts can only prepare you for that and point the way towards its experience.

8.4. The truth is self-revealing (svaprakasha), and not dependent on an external factor to reveal it (paradhina-prakasha). The Self needs no proof, needs no Pramanas in their conventional meaning. Because they all involve the distinctions of the knower, the known and the means of knowing:  Pramata, Prameya and Prama.

But the Absolute is beyond the subject-object relations. So long as such distinctions are maintained there can be no experience of non-distinction or oneness of Reality.

The texts can only contribute to causing the discovery of truth; leaving the truth to assert itself (svapramanya).

8.5. Sri Sankara declares the supremacy of direct experience , the final proof (antya-pramanam) which he calls – anubhava, avagati or Brahmavagati

Regarded in its true essence and as it is, Atmaikatva, Brahmatvatva, or Sarvatmata is a self-conscious, self-radiant experience which cannot be taken as object (vishaya).


9.1. Upavarsha is believed to have held the view that Brahman is the source, the ground and the goal of all universes. Sri Sankara and Padmapada (Sri Sankara’s disciple) expanded on this view. Upavarsha is quoted as explaining the term ‘Brahma-jignasa’ as Brhmane jignasa,meaning the enquiry for Brahman. Sri Sankara and others remark that when Vrttikara (Upavarsha) says that the enquiry is for Brahman, he is right, for, knowledge of Brahman is indeed the fruit of this enquiry.

9.2. Padmapada says that Upavarsha explained the word ‘atha’   appearing at the opening of the Brahma Sutra as referring to that ‘after the enquiry into the antecedent condition’, the enquiry into Brahman follows ( Ref :Panchapadika )




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 Sources and References:

  1. A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy, Part 2 by Prof. Hajime Nakamura
  2. Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies: Advaita Vedānta up to Śakara…By Karl H. Potter
  3. The Philosophy of Sankar’s Advaita Vedanta by Shyama Kumar Chattopadhyaya
  4. H.H. JAGADGURU’S Madras Discourses (1957-1960) Part II- Japanese Professor’s Interview

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Posted by on September 17, 2015 in Bodhayana-Upavarsha


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