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Yaska and Panini – Part Four

Continued from Part Three

ASTADHYAYI – STRUCTURE

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

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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;

 Shiva-sutra

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)

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(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)

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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.

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 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.

 Dhātupāha

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.

[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 ]

 Ganapatha

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.

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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.

 Uādi-sūtras

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).

Phisūtras

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.

Ligānuśāsana

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]

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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

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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.

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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 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).

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Sutra

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

mandala-

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
  15. ALL IMAGES ARE FROM INTERNET
 

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Yaska and Panini – Part Three

Continued from Part Two

PANINI

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  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 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.

Pataliputra

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 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)

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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.

rangoli

 Panini

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.

*

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: https://www.ancient.eu/article/208/cultural-links-between-india–the-greco-roman-worl/ )

rangoli

 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
  16. ALL IMAGES ARE FROM INTERNET
 

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Yaska and Panini – Part Two

Continued from Part One

 The Astadhyayi of Panini

panini sanskrit 2

Grammar

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ashtadhyayi (Adhya7)

Vyāghramukhī gau, a tiger-faced cow

All said and done; 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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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

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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.

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Brevity

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. 

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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.

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Converting letters based on its position in alphabet to numbers

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

Hashing 1

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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 that the grammar merits asserting … that it is one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence.

: J J O’Connor and E F Robertson

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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

Please do 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.

****

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

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In the next part

Let us get to know of Panini as a person

Sources and References

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

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Yaska and Panini – Part One

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Yaska and Panini – Part One

YASKA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nighantu

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

Nirvachana

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

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

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

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Nighantu -Nirukta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Brahmana texts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yaska’s Nirukta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Word (Sabda) and Meaning (Artha)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nirukta –Vedanga-Vyakarana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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Niruktas of the pre-Yaska period

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: http://ignca.gov.in/Asi_data/16247.pdf (pages 62 to 90) , of Sri Bishnupada Bhattacharya  ‘s scholarly work Yaska’s Nirukta  and the science of etymology  (1958)]

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

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

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

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Manifold approaches to the study of Vedas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

[For instance; as per its etymology, the term Indra denotes the one who, by his power (Indriya), energises or kindles the vital airs (prana). The Satapatha Bråhmana  6.1.1.2  says, since he kindled (indh), he is the kindler (indha ). But, cryptically, he is called Indra

sa yo yam madhye prāa | ea evendrastānea prāānmaindra ityācakate paro
‘k
am paro ‘kakāmā hi devāsta iddhā sapta nānā puruānasjanta –
6.1.1.[2]

Besides the etymology of Indra, as above (from Indh), the Taittiriya Bråhmana (2.2.10.4) offers an altogether different explanation: “No one can withstand this power (idam indriyam) in him; and, that is why he is called ‘Indra’.”

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

The two different etymologies of the word Indra occur in one and the same passage at Satapatha Bråhmana 11.1.6.7

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

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

Artha-nirvachanam

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

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

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

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

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

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Yaska’s Nirukta -structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

: – Principles of Nirvachana (etymology)

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

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

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

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

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

devo.dānād.vā.pīpanād.vā.dyotanād.vā.dyu.sthāno.bhavati.itiNir.7,15

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

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

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

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

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

Nighantu-Nirukta chart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Catvari padajatani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

life cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Padmapurana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References and Sources

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

 
 

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The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine

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Levels of speech

The various ancient texts speak of the levels of speech, which, generally, are taken to be four. Each School – Grammarians, Mimamsa, Upanishads, Tantra, Yoga, mythology etc – offers its own understanding and explanation of the four levels of speech. These levels are variously explained  as the varieties of  speech  that are said to be  spoken either in four regions of  the universe;  or spoken by divine beings and humans ; or as speech of the  humans , animals, birds and creatures .  These four are even explained as four levels of consciousness.

For our limited purpose, let us briefly scan through other interpretations, before we discuss  the Grammarians’ views and their explanations of the four levels of speech.

***

The Asya-vamiya – sukta  (Rig Veda: 1.140- 164) which is one the most philosophical , but  rather enigmatic Suktas (hymns) of Rig Veda, ascribed to Rishi Dīrghatamas  Aucathya  (son of  Ucathya  ),  who was  also called as Mamateya (son of Mamata) ,  mentions  about the levels of speech, among many other things.

According to Rishi Dīrghatamas, there are four levels of speech. Only the wise who are well trained, endowed with intelligence and understanding know them all. As for the rest; the three levels remain concealed and motionless. Mortals know  only  the fourth.

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihita nengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti. (Rigveda Samhita – 1.164.45)

But, he does not specify what those four levels of speech are.

*

The notion that there are four quarters or  four levels of existence ; and of which, only  one quarter is within the experience of mortals also appears in the Purusha-sukta  (Rig-Veda 10.90.3) ascribed to Rishi Narayana – Paadosya Vishva Bhutaani Tri-Paada-Asya-Amrtam Divi .

There are similar notions with regard to Pranava Om where the three syllables A, Vu, and Ma are normally visible. But it is its fourth element the Anusvara (Brahma-bindu) that leads from being to non-being; and , from the word to the silence beyond it.

svarena samdhayed yogam asvaram bhävayet param asvarena hi bhävena bhävo näbhäva  isyate– Brahmabindu Upanishad

*

And, there is also the Turiya paada (Chaturtha or Fourth) the fourth line of the Gayatri mantra. It is said; while the traditional three lines of Gayatri mantra can be grasped by reason, the fourth line, which is mystical in its import, and can be comprehended only through intuition. The fourth line (Turiya paada) which reads ‘paro rajas ya tapati’ is said to be hidden (darshatasya) or un-manifest (apad); beyond intellect; resplendent, shining beyond the worlds known; and , which is the support of the Gayatri itself and of the Universe.

This Turiya paada which reads ‘paro rajas ya tapati’ (the pada-pata of which is: ‘Parah- rajase- asau – adhah – maa – praapta – iti’) is, by itself, considered a maha-mantra. Its Rishi is Vimala; its chhandas is Turiya; its Devata is Paramatma; and, its objective (viniyoga) is liberation (moksha).

Asya sree darshatasya Gayatri-turiya paada-maha- mantrasya; Vimala Rishihi; Turiya chhandaha/Paramatma Devata; Moksha viniyogaha /

The Upanishad adores the fourth line as ‘Namaste turiyaaya darshataya padaaya’.

tasyā upasthānam | gāyatry asy ekapadī dvipadī tripadī catuṣpadi | apad asi |
na hi padyase | namas te turīyāya darśatāya padāya parorajase | asāv ado mā prāpad iti ||| BrhUp_5,14.7 ||

*

That idea of four quarters  is extended to speech as well. The texts of several traditions speak of four levels of speech. For instance :

The Maitrayaniya (Maitri) Upanishad (1, 11.5), of Krishna Yajur-Veda, mentions the four quarters of speech as those belonging:  to the upper region – the heavens (Divi); to the intermediate space (Antariksha); and, to the region of earth (Prithvi) as spoken by the humans (Manusi); and, to the animals (Pashu) – vāk sṛṣṭā caturdhā vyabhavad eṣu lokeṣu trīṇi turīyāṇi paśuṣu turīyaṃ yā pṛthivyāṃ sāgnau sā rathantare yāntarikṣe.

The Atmavadins (mainly those belonging to Nyaya and Vaisesika Schools) say: the four fold speech can be found in the animals; in musical instruments (such a flute); in the beasts ; and,  in the individuals (Atmani)

–  pasusu tunavesu mrgesu atmani ca iti atmavadinah

The Satapatha Brahmana (1.3.16) categorizes the speech into four kinds: as that of the humans; of animals and birds (vayamsi); of reptiles (snakes); and, of small creeping things (kshudram sarisrpam)

– varā vā ia iti hi varā io yadida kudra sarīspa 1.5.3.11

Similarly, those who believe in myths and legends say that – the serpents; birds; evil creatures; as also the humans in their dealings with the rest of the world – all use speech of their own.

Sarpanam vagvayasam ksudrasarispasya ca caturthi vyavaharika-ityaitihasikah 

The Jaiminiya-Upanishad-Brahmana (1.40.1)  deals with the four levels of speech in a little more detail. In a verse that is almost identical to the one appearing in Rig-Veda Samhita – 1.164.45, it mentions that the discriminating wise know of four quarters of speech.  Three of these remain hidden; while the fourth is what people ordinarily speak.

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihita nengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti //

Then, the text goes on to explain that of the four quarters of speech: mind is a quarter, sight is another quarter, hearing is the third quarter; and, speech itself is the fourth quarter. 

 tasya etasyai vaco manah padas caksuh padas srotram pado vag eca caturtah padah

Further, it says: what he thinks with the mind, that he speaks with speech; what he sees with the sight, that he speaks with the speech; and, what he hears with hearing, that he speaks with speech.

 tad yad vai manasa dyayanti tad vaco vadati; yac caksus pasyati tad vaca vadati; yac srotrena srunoti tad vaco vadati/

Thus, finally, all activities of senses unite (Sam) into speech. Therefore speech is the Saman.

Nageshabhatta (Ca. between 1670 and 1750), in his commentary on Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, accepts the four forms of Vac; and, explains the expression ‘Catvari padjatani namakhyato-upasargani-patah ‘as referring to Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari :

 Bhashya padajatani Para-Pashyanti-Madhyama- Vaikhari rupani / ata evagre nipatah  ceti cakarah sangacchate

*

In the later Upanishads, speech is said to be assimilated with consciousness. The four divisions of speech are explained as four states of consciousness. For instance; Sri Gauda-Paada, the Parama-Guru of Sri Sankara (the teacher of his teacher) , in his celebrated commentary (Gaudapada-karika) on the Mandukya Upanishad while explaining his concept of Asparsha Yoga or pure knowledge,  identifies the four levels of speech with the four states of consciousness : Vishva or Vaisvanara in wakeful state (Jagrat); Taijasa in dream state (Svapna); Prajna in deep-sleep (Shushupti); and, Pranava AUM with Turiya, the fourth, the Absolute state which transcends all the three states and represents Ultimate Reality .

sthūlaṃ tarpayate viśvaṃ praviviktaṃ tu taijasam / ānandaś ca tathā prājñaṃ tridhā tṛptiṃ nibodhata // MandUpK_1.4 // svapnanidrāyutāv ādyau prājñas tv asvapnanidrayā / na nidrāṃ naiva ca svapnaṃ turye paśyanti niścitaḥ // MandUpK_1.14 // praṇavaṃ hīśvaraṃ vidyāt sarvasya hṛdi saṃsthitam / sarvavyāpinam oṃkāraṃ matvā dhīro na śocati // MandUpK_1.28 //

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Explanations offered by Sri Sayana

Sri Sayana in his Rg-Bhashya   deals with the subject of four levels of speech in a little more detail. He says, people use speech in a variety of ways to fulfil their roles and responsibilities in life. And, similarly, the animals, birds, creatures and objects in nature do use their own sort of speech to serve their needs.  He  then , while explaining these four levels or quarters of speech (ani tani catwari itya atra bahavah) , remarks that  each School  offers explanations  (bahudha  varnayanti ) according to its own  tenets  (sva- sva-mantanu-rodhena). He, next, briefly mentions what those explanations are:

: – According to Vedantins, the four levels of speech could be the Pranava (Aum) – which is the sum and substance of all the Vedic terms (sarva-vaidika-vag-jalasaya), followed by three Vyahritis (Bhu, Bhuh and Suvah). Thus the Pranava along with three Vyahritis form the four quarters of speech.

: – According to Nirukta (Etymology), the language of the three Vedas (Rik, Yajus and  Saman ) and the speech commonly used  for dealings in the world , together make the four quarters of speech – (Rg-yajuh-samani-caturdhi vyavharikiti nairuktah – 13,8 )

: – The four levels of speech could also be related to four regions representing four deities : on the Earth as Agni (yo prthivyam sa-agnau); in the mid-air as Vayu (Ya-antarikshe sa vayau); and, in the upper regions as Aditya (Ya divi saditye). And, whatever that remains and transcends the other three is in Brahman (Tasya-mad-brahmana).

: – The speech, though it is truly indivisible, is measured out or analyzed in the Grammar as of four kinds or four parts-of-speech (akhandayah krtsnaya vacah caturvidha vyakrtattvat).  Accordingly, the four divisions of speech are named by the followers of the various Schools of Grammar (vyakarana-matanus-arino) as: Naaman (Nouns), Akhyata (Verbs), Upasarga (prepositions or prefixes) and Nipata (particles)

:-  According to the wise who are capable of exercising control over their mind; the Yogis who have realized Sabdabrahman; and, others of the Mantra (Tantra) School,  these four levels of speech (Evam catvari vacah padani parimitani)  are classified as : Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari.

Manisinah manasah svaminah svadhinamanaska brahmana vacyasya sabdabrahmani dhigantaro yoginah paradicatvari padani viduh jananti 

Apare mantrkah parkarantarena pratipadanti Para, Pasyanti, Madhyama   Vaikhariti catvariti 

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The power of the spoken word

In the Indian traditions, it is believed that it is only  in its oral form that the language becomes fully alive and reveals  its true nature , provided it is spoken properly.  For Indian thinkers, language was  primarily the spoken word or speaking itself (vac); while the written word, as a secondary aid, was only a coded-representation of the spoken word; but, without its nuances. Perhaps the most salient feature of ancient Indian linguistic culture was its concern for preserving the purity of the spoken word.

It was the speech, the spoken word not the written letter that is at the base of the Sanskrit grammar. All speculations and practices are concerned with the oral. Panini’s Astadhyayi is also based on the sounds of spoken Sanskrit. The spoken language in Sanskrit was/is the real language.

Therefore, right from the earliest period, the study of speech has been one of the major concerns of various Schools of Indian traditions. The power of the spoken word or still more of the potent un-spoken sound was well recognized.

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Levels of awareness and speech

The notion of various levels of awareness and speech is accepted and discussed in almost all the Schools of Indian philosophy and Grammar. Although numerous meanings are read into the term catvari vak (four kinds or levels of speech), the one that is commonly understood and commented upon by most Grammarians and philosophers is the classification of speech into four strata: Para; Pashyanti; Madhyama; and, Vaikhari.

The entire system of such classification is rooted in the faith that at the top of this language hierarchy, there is only One-indivisible (ekameva) Reality; and, it transforms itself (Vivarta), manifests itself , resulting (Parinama) in  variety of  sounds,  word, sentence etc.

The theory underlying the evolution of speech is an extension of that faith; and it asserts, though there are several levels in the hierarchy of language, they all emanate from one indivisible reality Sabdabrahman. And again, the Sabdabrahman is identified with Para Brahman, the Absolute.

The principle that is involved here is also based in the dictum that diversity essentially pre-supposes an underlying unity (abedha-purvaka hi bhedah).  In other words, it says, where there is difference or division there must be a fundamental identity underneath it ; else, each cannot relate to the other; and , each object in the world would be independent of , or unconnected to  every other thing in existence.

This concept provides the foundation for treating all forms of speech as emanating from a single source. The various levels of language from the most subtle to the gross are, therefore, treated as hierarchy or the levels of a unitary language-system. Most of the philosophical speculations on the process of manifestation of language; and, the discussions upon its various stages – from the subtlest (Para) to the most explicit (Vaikhari) – are based in that principle.

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Grammarians’ view

Each of the major schools of Indian philosophy and Grammar tried to explain the origin and nature of the Universe by exploring the nature and manifestations of the sound. They built elaborate philosophical edifices around the concepts they evolved during that process. Those traditions considered sound as one of the most important principles of existence; as the source of matter ; and , also the key to be free from it. They described Sound as the thread-like link connecting  the material and spiritual realms.

The analysis of the speech by the Grammarians is not merely an intellectual exercise, but is also a philosophical quest in an attempt to identify all forms of speech as originating from Sabda-Brahman, the ultimate ground of all speech phenomena. The study of Grammar was itself looked upon as a means or as a right-royal-path to liberation (moksha-manamam ajihma raja-paddhatih).

*

Speech was  regarded as the verbal expression of a thought that arises in a person’s consciousness. If there is no consciousness, there would be no speech. Speech (Vac) is indeed an outward form of consciousness (chetana). Vac is the word principle that gives expression to the latent or unmanifest thoughts and feelings.

That was meant to say; thinking is, in fact, a sort of internal speaking. Such inaudible speech was regarded the seed or the potent form of explicit speech that is heard by others. It was also said; all knowledge is interpreted in terms of words; and, it is quite not possible to have any sort of cognition that is free from words (tasmād arthavidhāḥ sarvāḥ śabdam-ātrāsu niśritāḥ– Vakyapadiya: 1.123)

The process of transformation of a thought or an impulse arising in ones consciousness into a cognizable, explicit speech is said to resemble the evolution of the Universe from the un-manifest (A-vyakta) to the manifest (Vyakta) material world.

Such process of unfolding is said to take place, at least, in two stages. The first one is the thought that flashes and takes a form within. And, the other is that which comes out as audible speech riding the vehicle of words and sentences; attempting to convey the idea that arose within.  The former is intuition that springs up; and, the latter is the effort that is exerted, both internally and externally, to put it out.

Here, the latent, unspoken form of thought that instinctively springs up and is visualised, within one’s self, is called Pashyanti Vak (thought visualized). The Pashyanti, which also suggests the visual image of the word, is indivisible and without inner-sequence; in the sense, that the origin and destination of speech are one. Here, the ‘internal speech’ or ‘thought’ stands for what is intended to be conveyed. That intention is instinctive (prathibha) and immediate; and, it does not involve stages such as: analysis, speculation, drawing inferences and so on. At the level of Pashyanti Vak, there is no distinction between word and meaning. And, there is also no temporal sequence.

The Pashyanti Vak thereafter transforms into an intellectual process, the level of thought (Buddhi), during which the speaker looks for and identifies appropriate words, phrases, and their sequence, which are capable of conveying his intention candidly. That sequence of thoughts results in definite and clear array of words. As that cognition arises and takes a form within, he grasps it. This is the intermediate stage – The Madhyama vak, a sequenced but a pre-vocal thought – described as the voice of silence; perhaps best understood as internal speaking. Here, there is no perceptible sound (Nada). The Madhyama vak is in an inaudible wave or vibratory (spandana) form.

And, the Madhyama, when it is put out explicitly through uttered words and sentences; and, when it comes out of the speaker’s mouth in sequenced and verbalized speech-form, it is called Vaikhari Vak. For the purpose of putting out the Vaikhari Vac, the speaker employs a sentence comprising words uttered in a sequence. The word itself comprises letters or syllables (varnas) that follow one after the other in space and time.

Thus, the Vaikhari is the articulated speech, which, as sound waves, reaches the ears of the listener and then on to her/his intellect.  The Vaikhari is the physical or gross form of the subtle thought or is the outward expression of the intention of the speaker. And, when it emerges as the spoken-word, it is the one that is heard and apprehended by the listener, in a flash of understanding (Sphota). 

 [The process of Hearing, that is what is heard and grasped by the listener, of course, operates in the reverse direction.]

The spoken word comes out of one’s mouth, no doubt. However, it needs the assistance of breath and of several body parts in order to manifest itself (Vikhara literally means body; and, Vaikhari is that which employs bodily organs). The head, throat, tongue, palate, teeth, lips, nose, root of the tongue and bosom are said to be the eight places which assist  the sounds of the letters to become audible and explicit.

When a person wills to express a thought orally, the air (Prana) inside his body spurs and moves up. Sabda or the Vac (speech or utterance) then manifests through Dhvani (sound patterns), with the assistance of appropriate organs.

[The King Pratardana of Kasi (Kasi-rajah-Pratardanaha – prātardanam-amtaram agnihotra mityācakṣate), in the Kausitaki Brahmana Upanishad, makes an interesting observation that one cannot breathe and speak at the same time (‘when a man speaks he cannot breathe; and when he breaths he cannot speak’- kau.Up.2.5).

Yavadvai purusho bhasate na tavat-pranitum shaknoti pranam tadā vāci juhoti …. Yavadvai purushah praniti na tavat-bhashitum shaknoti vacam tadā prāṇe juhotyete  – kauṣītaki brāhmaṇao upaniṣat .2.5]

Thus, the transformation of a thought into spoken-words involves two kinds of effort: the internal process (abhyantara prayatna) and the external effort (bahya prayatna). The former is classified into two kinds (Pashyanti and Madhyama), while the latter (the external) is said to be of eleven kinds.

And, of the three levels or stages of speech, Pashyanti is regarded the subtle forms of Vac; while Madhyama and Vaikhari are its gross forms.

The chief characteristic of Vaikhari Vak is that it has a fully developed temporal sequence. At this level, the speaker’s individual peculiarities (such as accent, voice modulation etc) are present, along with relevant parts of speech. Though the Vaikhari gives expression to subtler forms of Vac, it is not considered as the’ ultimate’.

*

The ancient Grammarians went to great lengths, systematically, to trace the origination of each letter, its appropriate sound; the intricacies and efforts involved in producing them. (Please see the Note * below)

*

[* In the Sanskrit, the vowels and consonants sounds are classified and arranged dependent on their origin (pronunciation) in different parts of mouth, such as throat, palate, teeth or lips.

The vowels and consonants are so arranged that those emanating from the throat come first. These are followed by those pronounced through tongue; the palate; teeth and the lips. All sounds are arranged as those from the inside of the mouth proceeding outwards, in that order. No other ancient system of writing seems to have been so systematically thought out.

The vowels (Svara-s) , alternating long and short, come first : अ (a)  आ (aa)  इ(i)   ई(ee)  उ(u)  ऊ (oo)  ऋ (r)  ॠ (r)  लृ (lr)  ए (e)  ऐ (ai)  ओ (o)  and औ (au)

The commencing vowels अ (a) and  आ (aa)  are pronounced in the throat – Kantya  (कण्ठ्य).

They are followed by vowels इ(i) and  ई(ee) produced by the tongue touching the base of the teeth , Taalavya (तालव्य).

The vowels उ (u)  and ऊ (oo)  are produced using the lips making a rounded opening – Oshtya (ओष्ठ्य). 

The vowels ऋ(r) and ॠ(r) are produced by the tip of the tongue curling back against the roof of the mouth- Murdhanya (मूर्धन्य).

The vowel लृ(lr) is produced by the tongue touching the upper teeth – Dantya (दंत्य).

The vowels ए (e) and ऐ (ai)   are produced near the throat by the tongue touching the bottom of the teeth and sucking in the air – Kanta-taalavya (कंटतालव्य).  

The vowels  (o) and औ (au) produced near the throat by the rounding of the lips are called Kantoshtya (कंटोष्ठ्य).

The two ornamental nasal (Anusvara) letters अं  (am) and  अः  (aha ) ,which are used to decorate the vowels, are called the Visarga , meaning  sending forth . These sounds, which are neither consonants nor vowels, add a softening short burst effect at the end.  These are usually listed as a part of the vowel -group; but are shown at the end.

*

Similar is the emanation of the consonants – from throat outwards to the lips .

The set of consonants – क (ka) , ख (kha) , ग (ga) , घ (gha) , and ङ( nga) – are guttural (throaty) consonants – Kantya  (कण्ठ्य).

Then the consonants – च (cha) , छ (chha) , ज (ja) , झ (jha) , and ञ (nja)- are pronounced on the palate- Taalavya (तालव्य).

The next set of consonants –  ट (ta)  ,ठ (tha) , ड (da) , ढ (dha)  and ण( na) – is  produced by the tip of the tongue curling back against the roof of the mouthMurdhanya (मूर्धन्य).

Next are  those on the teeth (दन्त्य), like – त (ta) , थ(tha) , द (da) , ध (dha) and  न (na) .

And last come those on the lips प (pa)  फ (pha)  ब(ba)  भ (bha)  and म ( ma) – (ओष्ठ्य). Oshtya (ओष्ठ्य).

The list is rounded off with semi-consonants like – य (ya) , र (ra) , ल (la)  and व(va) ; and the aspirated and sibilant sounds like श (sha)  ष  (sha) ,  स (sh)  and ह (ha ).

Such unique organization of the alphabet underlines the attention paid to the patterns of articulated sound; points  of its location; and , to degree of resonance,  in a way that has not been attempted in any other language]

[ Abhinavagupta offers a mystic explanation of the arrangement of the Sanskrit alphabets, which are placed in between A and Ha. According to him, in the Sanskrit alphabet, the very first letter A stands for Shiva, the primal source of all existence. A is the initial emergence of all the other letters; and hence is Anuttara, the absolute. And, A not only represents the origin of the language; but, also the expansion of consciousness.

If A  the first letter represents Shiva the transcendent source, then Ha the final letter of the alphabet represents the point of completion when all the letters have emerged. If A is Shiva, Ha the last letter is Shakthi, His cosmic outpouring that flows back into Him.

Again, the vowels (Bija – the seed) are identified with Shiva; and, the consonants are Yoni identified with Shakthi. The intertwined vowels and consonants in a language are thus the union of Shiva and Shakthi.

Thus, the sequence of A to Ha contains within itself not only all the letters of the Alphabets, but also every phase of consciousness, both transcendental and universal.

The entire sequence of alphabets, according to Abhinavagupta, represents the state in which all the elements of experience, in the inner and the outer worlds, are fully displayed.]

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Philosophers’ view

In the ancient traditions of India, the Grammar, the philosophy of Grammar and the Philosophy run into one another. At times, it is hard to separate them.

While the Grammarians, generally, speak about three levels of speech, the philosophers identify four levels or stages of speech (Vac): Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari.  Of these four forms of Vac, Para and Pashyanti are the subtle forms of Vac; while Madhyama and Vaikhari are its gross forms.

The explanations of the Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari are almost the same as offered by the Grammarians; however, their interpretations and connotations differ slightly.

*

It is said; the sound has four divisions:  Para manifested in Prana (vital energy); Pashyanti manifested in the mind (Manas); Madhyama manifested in the senses (Indriyani); and, Vaikhari manifested in articulate expressions (Vac).

Para Vac is the ultimate and unmanifest principle of speech, the Sabda-tattva (Sabdasya tattvam or Sabda eva tattvam), where there is no subject-object distinction; and, is of the nature of the Absolute (vag vai Brahmeti).

Para vac is identified with Pranava (Aum), the primordial speech-sound from which all forms of speech emanated. It transforms or manifests (Vivarta or parinama) as all forms of sounds, speech etc.

*

According to Abhinavagupta, word is a symbol. The four stage of Vac: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari represent its four phases of evolution and also of absorption; the ascent or descent from the undifferentiated to the gross.

It is explained; Para Vac as Sabda-Brahman is the creative energy (Shakthi) that brings forth all existence. It is also the consciousness (chit, samvid), vital energy (prana shakthi) that vibrates (spanda) and enlivens.

While Para Vac is pure consciousness; the three other forms are its transformations. The three lower forms of speech viz. Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari which correspond to intention, formulation and expression are said to represent ts powers , such as :  iccha-shakthi (power of intent or will) , jnana-shakthi (power of knowledge) and the power of becoming (bhuti sakti) or the power of action (Kriya shakthi  ). Thus, out of the transcendent Para, the three phases of its power (Shakthi) emanate.

The urge to communicate or the spontaneous evolution of Para into Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari   epitomizes the Cosmic act of One becoming many; and, the subtle energy transforming into a less- subtle matter.

Thus, the speech, each time it emanates, is an enactment, in miniature, of the unfolding (Vimarsa) of the One into many.  And each time, when that speech is grasped by the listener and each time it merges into her/his intellect, it re-enacts the process of absorption (Samhara) of the many into One.

The process of manifestation of speech is, thus, compared to the evolution of the Universe. And, that process is said to take place in four stages. First, in the undifferentiated substratum of thought, an intention appears. This first impulse, the self-radiant consciousness is Para-vac (the voice beyond).  This latent, un-spoken, un-manifest, silent thought (Para) unfolds itself in the next three stages as Pashyanti (thought visualized), Madhyama (intermediate)   and as Vaikhari  (explicit) speech).

In its second stage, the subtle thought visualised (pashyanthi-vak) is yet to acquire a verbal form. It is the first sprout of an invisible seed (Bija); and, is the second stage in the manifestation of thought or intention. Then the potential sound, the vehicle of the thought, materializes finding   words suitable to express the idea. This transformation of thought into words, in the silence of the mind (Buddhi), is the third or the intermediate stage of Vac (Madhyama-vak). From this non-vocal or un-voiced thought, emerges the fourth stage – the audible sound patterns. It is in that fourth stage, the ideas acquire cognizable forms of speech; and, are transmitted through articulated audible syllables (vaikhari-vak).  These four stages are the four forms of the speech.

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Tantra

The three- Pashyanthi, Madhyama and Vaikhari – are construed as the three sides of the triangle at the centre of which is the dot-point (Bindu) representing the undifferentiated notion of Para-Vak. The triangle with the Bindu at its centre suggests the idea of Isvara the divinity conceived as non-dual Shiva-Shakti.

triangle with dot

In the traditions of Tantra, the process of evolution of the principle of speech (Sabda Brahman) from its most subtle and soundless state of sound – consciousness (Para), in successive stages, into the gross physical speech (Vaikhari) is explained through the principle underling the structure of Sri Chakra.

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Sri Yantra is a ‘Cosmogram’ – a graphic representation of the processes of evolution (Sristi) of the Universe emanating from its core; and, re-absorption (Samhara) of the created existence back into itself. And, at the very core or the center of the Sri Chakra is the Bindu, the dimensionless point about to expand immensely. The Bindu denotes what is hidden; the subtle and the most sensitive.

It is said; the true nature of the Supreme Goddess is beyond mind and matter. She is limitless and formless. She is Arupa. But, when She takes a form, the Bindu is her intense representation. The Bindu symbolizes Her most subtle micro form as the Universal Mother, womb, yoni, creator, retainer as also the receiver of the created universe. It is this Bindu that is, in reality, the Sri Chakra; and, everything else is an expansion and manifestation of its aspects.

The Sri Vidya texts call the Bindu also as Sarva-ananda-maya (all blissful); and, the transcendental power (Para Shakthi). It denotes the absolute harmony (saamarasya) between Shiva and Shakthi; as the immense potential of the non-dual Shiva-Shakthi, the union of Purusha and Prakriti.

The evolution (shristi) from the primary state into the mundane level is said to be the apparent separation of Shiva and Shakthi (avarohana karma). And, the reverse process of re-absorption or withdrawal from the gross to the very subtle state is termed Samhara karma.

According to Sri Vidya ideology, in the process of evolution (Vimarsa), that is in the process of shristi or the outward movement or descending arc of creative activity, the speech proceeds from the creative consciousness pulsations (spanda) of the Devi as Para-Vac, the most subtle and silent form of speech-consciousness. And, in successive stages or forms,  it moves on to more cognizable forms as : Pashyanti (Vak-shakthi, going forth as seeing, ready to create in which there is no difference between Vachya– object and Vachaka-word); Madhyama (the speech in its subtle form as existing in the anthahkarana prior to manifestation); and, Vaikhari (as articulated gross physical speech).

If the Bindu represents the Para-Vac, its immediate expanded form, the triangle formed by three points, represents the Pashyanti, the second stage of the sound (Nada). The enclosure next to this, the eight sided figure (ashta kona chakra) is the Madhyama or the third stage in the development of sound. The rest of the Chakra represents the physical or the phenomenal stage, the Vaikhari, which is the manifest and articulate form of sound. The Vaikhari form is represented by the fifty letters of the alphabet, called Matrka-s or the source of all transactions and existence.

Thus, in the process of Sristi, in the outward movement from the centre of Reality to the periphery, from the most sublime to the ordinary, the Para assumes different forms, in successive stages. All these four forms, apparently different, are indeed the manifestations of Para Vac which pervades the entire structure of speech and consciousness, in all their levels – from the highest to the lowest; and, it transforms (Vivarta) projects itself in various forms (Parinama).  

 (Abhinavagupta treats these aspects in a very elaborate manner. We shall talk about the explanations provided by Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari in the next part.)

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Mantra

 The Tantra explains the concept of Mantra and Japa in a similar manner.

Mantra is said to connect, in a very special way, the objective and subjective aspects of reality. The Mantra, in its sublime form, is rooted in pure consciousness. The Shaiva text Shiva Sutra describes Mantras as the unity of Vac and consciousness: Vac chittam (Shiva Sutra: 2.1). It is the living sound, transcending beyond the mental plane; the indistinct or undefined speech (anirukta) having immense potential.  In its next stage, it unites harmoniously with the mind. Here, it is union of mind (Manas) and word (Vac).  That is followed by the Mantra repeated in the silence of one’s heart (tushnim). The silent form of mantra is said to be superior to the whispered (upamasu) utterance.

[When one utters a deity’s Mantra, one is not naming the deity, but is evoking its power as a means to open oneself to it. It is said; mantra gives expression to the identity of the name (abhidana) with the object of contemplation (abhideya). Therefore, some describe mantra as a catalyst that’ allows the potential to become a reality’. It is both the means (upaya) and the end (upeya).]

The reverse is said to be the process of Japa (reciting or muttering the mantra). It moves from Vaikhari through Madhyama towards Pashyanti and ideally, and in very cases, to Para vak.

Ordinarily, Japa starts in Vaikhari form (vocal, muttering). The efficacy of the Japa does depend on the will, the dedication and the attentiveness of the person performing the Japa. After long years of constant practice, done with devotion and commitment, an extraordinary thing happens. Now, the Japa no longer depends on the will or the state of activity of the practitioner. It seeps into his consciousness; and, it goes on automatically, ceaselessly and inwardly without any effort of the person, whether he is awake or asleep. Such instinctive and continuous recitation is called Ajapa-japa. When this proceeds for a long-time, it is said; the consciousness moves upward (uccharana) and becomes one with the object of her or his devotion.

[The term Ajapa-japa is also explained in another manner. A person exhales with the sound ‘Sa’; and, she/he inhales with the sound ‘Ha’. This virtually becomes Ham-sa mantra ( I am He; I am Shiva). A person is said to inhale and exhale 21,600 times during a day and night. Thus, the Hamsa mantra is repeated (Japa) by everyone, each day, continuously, spontaneously without any effort, with every round of breathing in and out. And, this also is called Ajapa-japa.]

jupiterfig5

Yoga

The system of Yoga also accepts and speaks in terms of Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari. Here, those terms are meant to denote different sounds (Nada) or the stages of consciousness. It is explained:

: – Para is the most subtle form of sound, not audible; and, in its un-manifest (Avyakta) form resides as Nada at the base (Karana-bindu) in the centre of the Muladhara-chakra, solar plexus (Ekaiva nadatmika vak muladharadudita sati Para ityucyate)

vak-4

: – And, with the ascent of Prana (vital energy) it moves up to Manipuraka-chakra in the region of navel; and, it is transformed to Pashyanti when it enters the heart-region (hradayakhya) and becomes visible to the Yogis (hradayakhya udiyamanatvat)

vak-3

The Pashyanti (radiant) stage is compared to a well nourished seed (Bija) which sprouts into two leaves. it, then, acquires the qualities of subtle sound ( which is not audible to the physical ear) , and hue of colour (varna) which can be seen (Pashyan).

: – The Pashyanti, moving up and enters the mind (Buddhi) with a desire or the urge to express itself (Saiva buddhim gata vivaksam prapta madhyama ityucyate). And, on reaching the Anahata–chakra in the region of the heart, it is transformed into Madhyama Vac.  Anahata literally means un-struck. Here; the subtle sound (Nada) at the level of the mind is like ‘internal-speech’ which is heard, internally, by the Yogi.

vak-2

[It is said; the Vac which sprouts in Para gives forth leaves in Pashyanti; buds forth in Madhyama; and, it blossoms in Vaikhari.]

: – When the Madhyama moves up further from heart-region to throat, tongue and mouth it becomes articulate (Vyakta) sound, clearly audible to the external ear at the Vishudhi -chakra. This is Vaikhari, the last stage of sound or speech when it emerges out of the mouth with the help of syllables, words etc and is heard by the listener. And, Vaikhari is the intended speech that comes out clearly through the mouth with the assistance of tongue, lips, teeth and the breath

vak-1

(Atha yada saiva vaktre sthita talvosthadivyaparena bahirnirgacchati tada vaikhari ityuchyate)

Nageshabhatta in his Parama-laghu-manjusha also   describes the four forms of Vac (Para-Pashyanti-Madhyama- Vaikhari), in terms of the Yoga, as those arising from Muladhara, Nabi (navel); Hridaya (heart region) and Kanta (throat)

Paravac

jupiterfig5

Other explanations

Various other interpretations are also imposed on these four terms.

It is said;   Para represents transcendental consciousness; Pashyanti the intellectual consciousness; Madhyama the cerebral consciousness; and, Vaikhari the physical consciousness.

Further, these levels of consciousness are said to correspond with varying levels of awareness:  Turia (the fourth, the transcendental or the one-beyond); Shushupti (deep sleep); Svapna (dream state) ; and Jagrat ( wakeful state) , in that order.

And again, these states of consciousness are said to relate to different states of being (bodies). Para which is referred to as the Supreme form; the first form; the pure and resplendent Highest-light etc, is indeed beyond all forms (Turiya); and it is formless. The sphere of consciousness at Pashyanti is said to be the causal body (Karana-sarira); at Madhyama, the subtle or psychic body (Sukshma-sarira); and at Vaikhari, the physical body (Sthula-sarira).

While Para is pure consciousness, the other three are said to be its powers through which it differentiates as its power of will (iccha shakthi) at the subtle level of Pashyanti; as the power of discrimination or knowledge (Jnana shakthi) at the mental level of Madhyama; and, as its power of action (Kriya Shakthi) at the physical  level of Vaikhari.

**

In the next part, let’s talk about the theories expounded and the explanations offered by two of the great thinkers – Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari- on the subject.

Buddha Meditation Song

 

Continued

In

The next part

Sources and References

http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/57870/2/02_abstract.pdf

http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/69217/7/07_chapter%201.pdf

http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/57870/7/07_chapter%202.pdf

http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/66674/10/10_chapter%203.pdf

http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/57870/10/10_chapter%205.pdf

http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/116523/13/13_chapter%205.pdf

http://www.svabhinava.org/hinducivilization/AlfredCollins/RigVedaCulture_ch07.pdf

http://www.vedavid.org/diss/dissnew4.html#168

http://www.vedavid.org/diss/dissnew5.html#246

Ritam “The Word in the Rig-Veda and in Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri

http://incarnateword.in/sabcl/10/saraswati-and-her-consorts#p17-p18

.Vedic river and Hindu civilization; edited by Dr. S. Kalyanaraman

Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India…Edited by John Muir

Devata Rupa-Mala(Part Two) by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 edited by Harold G. Coward, K. Kunjunni Raja, Karl H

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Posted by on April 8, 2017 in Artha-Meaning, Bhartrhari, Sanskrit

 

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The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Nine

Continued from Part Eight

Vac and Sarasvathi

sarasvathi Mysore style

A. Vac

The Rig-Veda, in its several hymns, contains glorious references to the power of speech.  An entire Sukta (RV. 10. 7l) – commencing with the words  bṛhaspate prathamaṃ vāco agraṃ yat prairata nāmadheyaṃ dadhānāḥ – is devoted to the subject of speech; its various kinds ranging from the articulated to the in-articulate sounds in nature and to the gestures (ingita). For the Vedic seers who herd and spoke about their experiences, speech was the most wonderful gift from the divine. The splendor and beauty of Vac, the personification of wisdom and eloquence, is sung in several hymns. It is said; the Rishis secured the power of divine speech through Yajna; studied it; and, revealed it for the benefit of the common people.

Yajnena vaeah padavlyan ayan tam anv avladan rslsa praviatam tam abhnya vy adadhnh pnrutra tarn sapta rebha abhi sain navante (RV_10,071.03)

Vac is the inexplicable creative power of speech which gives form to the formless; gives birth to existence and lends identity to objects by naming them. It is the faculty which gives expression to ideas; calms the agitated minds; and, enables one to hear, see, grasp, and then describe in words or by other means the true nature of things. Vac is intimately associated with the Rishis and the riks (verses) that articulate or capture the truths of their visions. Vac, the navel of energy, the mysterious presence in nature, was, therefore, held in great reverence. Many of the later philosophical theories on this unique human faculty, the language, have their roots in Vedas.

 [ While the Rishis of the early Vedas were overwhelmed by the power of speech, the philosophers of the Upanishads asked such questions as: who is the speaker? Who inspires one to speak? Can the speech truly know the source of its inspiration?  They doubted; though the speech is the nearest embodiment of the in-dweller (Antaryamin) it might not truly know its source (just as the body cannot know its life-principle). Because, they observed, at the very beginning, the Word was un-uttered and hidden (avyahriam); it was silence. Ultimately, all those speculations led to the Self. But, again they said that Self is beyond mind and words (Avachyam; yato vacho nivartante, aprapya manasaa saha) ]

**

In the Rig-Veda, Vac, generally, denotes speech which gives an intelligent expression to ideas, by use of words; and it is the medium of exchange of knowledge. Vac is the vision, as also, the ability to turn that perceived vision into words.   In the later periods, the terms such as Vani, Gira and such others were treated as its synonyms.

Yaska (Ca. 5th-6th BCE), the great Etymologist of the ancient India, describes speech (Vac) as the divine gift to humans to clearly express their thoughts (devim vacam ajanayanta- Nir. 11.29); and, calls the purified articulate speech as Paviravi – sharp as the resonance (tanyatu) of the thunderbolt which originates from an invisible power.

(Tad devata vak paviravi. paviravi cha divya Vac tanyatus tanitri vaco’nyasyah – Nir. 12.30).

meteor

Vac, the speech-principle (Vac-tattva), has numerous attributes and varied connotations in the Rig-Veda.  Vac is not mere speech. It is something more sacred than ordinary speech; and , carries with it a far wider significance.  Vac is the truth (ninya vachasmi); and, is  the index of the integrity of one’s inner being. A true-speech (Satya-vac) honestly reflects the vision of the Rishi, the seer. It is through such sublime Vac that the true nature of objects, as revealed to the Rishis (kavyani kavaye nivacana), is expressed in pristine poetry. Their superb ability to grasp multiple dimensions of human life, ideals and aspirations is truly remarkable.  Vac is thus a medium of expression of the spiritual experience of the Rig Vedic intellectuals who were highly dexterous users of the words. Being free from falsehood, Vac is described in the Rig-Veda as illuminating or inspiring noble thoughts (cetanti sumatlnam).

Chandogya Upanishad (7.2.1) asserts that Vac (speech)  is  deeper than name (worldly knowledge) – Vag-vava namno bhuyasi  –  because speech is what communicates (Vac vai vijnapayati) all outer worldly knowledge as well as what is right and what is wrong (dharmam ca adharmam) ; what is true and what is false (satyam ca anrtam ca); what is good and what is bad (sadhu ca asadhu ca); and, what is pleasant and what is unpleasant ( hrdayajnam ca ahrdayajnam ca). Speech alone makes it possible to understand all this (vag-eva etat sarvam vijnapayati). Worship Vac (vacam upassveti).

dharmam ca adharmam ca satyam ca anrtam ca sadhu casadhu ca hrdayajnam ca ahrdayajnam ca; yad-vai van nabhavisyat na dharmo nadharmo vyajnapayisyat, na satyam nanrtam na sadhu na’sadhu na hrdayajno na’hrdayajna vag-eva etat sarvam vijnapayati, vacam upassveti.

[Vac when translated into English is generally rendered as Word. That, however, is not a very satisfactory translation. Vac might, among many other things, also mean speech, voice, utterance, language, sound or word; but, it is essentially the creative force that brings forth all forms expressions into existence. It is an emanation from out of silence which is the Absolute. Vac is also the river and the embodied or god-personified as word, as well. It may not, therefore, be appropriate to translate Vac as Word in all events. One, therefore, always needs to take into account the context of its usage.]

There are four kinds of references to Vac in Rig Veda : Vac is speech in general; Vac also symbolizes cows that provide nourishment; Vac is also primal waters prior to creation; and, Vac is personified as the goddess revealing the word. And, at a later stage, commencing with the Brahmanas, Vac gets identified with Sarasvathi the life-giving river, as also with the goddess of learning and wisdom.

According to Sri Sayana, Sarasvathi – Vac is depicted as a goddess of learning (gadya-padya rupena–prasaranmasyamtiti–Sarasvathi- Vagdevata).

design rangoli

Vac as Speech

As speech, the term Vāk or Vāc (वाक्), grammatically, is a feminine noun. Vac is variously referred to as – Syllable (akshara or Varna), word (Sabda), sentence (vakya), speech (Vachya), voice (Nada or Dhvani), language (bhasha) and literature (Sahitya).

While in the Rig-Veda, the Yajnas are a means for the propitiation of the gods, in the Brahmanas Yagnas become  very purpose of human existence ; they are the ends in themselves. Many of the Brahmana texts are devoted to the exposition of the mystic significance of the various elements of the ritual (Yajna-kriya). The priests who were the adepts in explaining the objectives, the significance, the symbolisms and the procedural details of the Yajnas came into prominence. The all-knowing priest who presides over  , and directs the  course and conduct of  the Soma sacrifice is designated as Brahma; while the three other sets of priests who chant the mantras are named as hotar, adhvaryu, and udgatru

Here, Brahman is the definitive voice (final-word); while the chanting of the mantras   by the other three priests is taken to be Vac. Brahma (word) and Vac (speech) are said to be partners working closely towards the good (shreya)   and for the fulfilment of the performer or the patron’s (Yajamana) aspirations (kamya).  And, Brahma the one who presides and   controls the course of the Yajna is accorded a higher position over the chanters of the mantras. It was said; Vac (chanting) extends so far as the Brahma allows (yaávad bráhma  taávatii vaákRV_10,114.08).

It was said;   if word is flower, speech is the garland. And, if Vac is the weapons, it is Brahma that sharpens them –

codáyaami ta aáyudhaa vácobhih sám te shíshaami bráhmanaa váyaamsi. (RV 10.120.5 and 9.97.34)

According to Sri Sayana (Ca.14th century of Vijayanagara period and the brother of the celebrated saint Sri Vidyaranya), the seven-metres (Chhandas) revered for their perfection and resonance (Gayatrl, Usnih, Anustubh, Brihati, Pankti, Tristubh, and the Jagati) are to be identified with Vac.

Dandin (6th century), the poet-scholar, the renowned author of prose romance and an expounder on poetics, describes Vac as the light called Sabda (s’abdahvyam jyotih); and, states that “the three worlds would have been thrown into darkness had there been no light called Sabda” – yadi śabdāhvayaṃ jyotir āsaṃsāraṃ na dīpyate // 1.4 //.

Bharthari also asserted   that, all knowledge is illumined through words, and it is quite not possible to have cognition that is free from words (tasmād arthavidhā sarvā śabdamātrāsu niśritā Vakyapadiya: 1.123); ‘no thought is possible without language’; and ’there is no cognition without the process of words’.

And, Bhartrhari declares- ‘It is Vac which has created all the worlds’- vageva viswa bhuvanani jajne (Vakyapadiya. 1.112)

The concept of Vac  was extended  to cover oral and  aural  forms such as : expression , saying , phrase  ,  utterance sentence, and also the languages of all sorts including gesture (ingita).

Yaska says that all kinds of creatures and objects created by God speak a language of their own, either articulate or in-articulate (devastam sarvarupah pasavo vadanti, vyakta vac-ascha- avyakta- vacacha – Nir. 11.29).  He says that the Vac of humans is intelligible, articulate (vyakta vaco manushyadayah) and distinct (Niruktam); while the speech of the cows (animals) is indistinct (avyakta vaco gavayah).  Thus , Vac includes   even the sounds of animals and birds; mewing of cows, crackle of the frogs, twitter of the birds, sway of the trees and the breeze of hills;   and also the sounds emanated by inanimate objects such as : the cracking noise  of the  fissures in the stones due to friction  ; as also the beats of drum , the sound of an instrument.

sun, the serpent and the mystic

Even the rumbling of the clouds, the thunder of the lightening and the rippling sounds of the streams are said to be the forms of Vac (praite vadantu pravayam vadama gravabhyo vacam vadata vadadbhyah – RV. 10.94.1)

It was said; the extant of Vac is as wide as the earth and fire. Vac is even extolled as having penetrated earth and heaven, holding together all existence. As Yaska remarks: Vac is omnipresent and eterna1 (vyaptimattvat tu Sabdasya – Nir.I.2)

Vac (word) belongs to both the worlds – the created and un-created.  It is both the subject of speech and the object of speech.

The Tantra ideology identified Vac with the vibrations of the primordial throb (adya-spanda) that set the Universe in motion; and , said  that all objects of the Universe are created by  that sound –artha-srsteh puram sabda-srstih.  

Thus, Vac broadly represents the spoken word or speech; its varied personified forms; and also the oral and aural non-literary sounds forms emanating from all animal and plant life as also the objects in nature.  Vac is, verily, the very principle underlying every kind of sound, speech and language in nature.

And, Vac goes beyond speech. Vac is indeed both speech and  consciousness (chetana), as all actions and powers are grounded in Vac. It is the primordial energy out of which all existence originates and subsists. Vac is also the expression of truth.

Yajnavalkya in the   Brhadaranyaka Upanishad explaining the relation between Vac and consciousness says that Vac (speech) is a form of expression of consciousness. And, he argues, there could be no speech without consciousness. However,  Consciousness does not directly act upon the principle of speech; but , it operates through intermediary organs and breath to deliver speech.

*

Rishi Dīrghatamas goes far beyond; and, exclaims: Vac is at the peak  of the Universe (Agre paramam) ; She is the Supreme  Reality (Ekam Sat;  Tad Ekam) ; She resides on the top of the yonder sky ; She knows all ; but, does not enter all”- Mantrayante divo amuya pṛṣṭhe viśvavida vācam aviśvaminvām RV.1.164.10)

Vac , he says, is the ruler of the creative syllable Ra (Akshara) ; it is with the Akshara the  chaotic material world is organized meaningfully ;  “what will he , who does not know Ra will accomplish anything  .. ! “. 

co akare parame vyoman yasmin devā adhi viśve niedu | yas tan na veda kim cā kariyati ya it tad vidus ta ime sam āsate |RV.1.164.39|

That is because, Dirghatamas explains, the whole of existence depends on Akshara which flowed forth from the Supreme Mother principle Vac – tataḥ kṣaraty akṣaraṃ tad viśvam upa jīvati |RV.1.164.42 |

According to Dirghatamas: “When I partake a portion of this Vac, I get the first part of truth, immediately- 

(maagan-prathamaja-bhagam-aadith-asya-Vac)”-(RV. I.164.37.)

But, he also says: “Vac has four quarters; only the wise that are well trained, endowed with intelligence and understanding know them all. For the rest; the three levels remain concealed and motionless. Mortals speak only with the fourth (RV. 1.164.45).”

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihitaa neaengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti. (Rigveda Samhita – 1.164.45)

Sarasvathi mahal painting

Vac as goddess

Vac is also Vac Devi the divinity personified. Vac is called the supreme goddess established in Brahman Iyam ya paramesthini Vac Devi Brahma-samsthita (Rig-Veda.19.9.3).

She gives intelligence to those who love her. She is elegant, golden hued and embellished in gold (Hiranya prakara). She is the mother, who gave birth to things by naming them. She is the power of the Rishis. She enters into the inspired poets and visionaries, gives expression and vitality to those she blesses; and, enables them to turn precious knowledge into words. She is also said to have entered into the sap (Rasa) of plants and trees, pervading and enlivening all vegetation (Satapatha-brahmana 4.6.9.16).

vāk-tasyā eṣa raso yadoṣadhayo yad vanaspataya-stametena sāmnāpnuvanti sa enānāpto ‘bhyāvartate tasmād asyām ūrdhvā oṣadhayo jāyanta ūrdhvā vanaspatayaḥ

It is said;  Vac is the first offspring of the  Rta, the cosmic order or principle or the Truth (Satya). And that Truth (Rta)  is not static or a mere question of morality; but, it is the dynamic order of the entire reality out of which the whole of existence comes into being  . Vac is proclaimed as the mother of the Vedas and as immortal. Again, it is said that Prajapati produced goddess Vac so that she may be omnipresent and propel all activities. She is Prakrti. In the later Vedic traditions, Vac is hailed as the very reflection of the greatness of the creator – vagva asya svo mahima (SB., 2.2.4.4.); and, in the Nighantu (3.3), Vac occurs as a synonym of the terms describing greatness, vastness etc – mahat, brhat.

And, at one place, Vac is identified with Yajna itself unto whom offerings are made – Vac vai yajanam (Gopatha Br. 2.1.12). Further, Vac is also the life-supporting Soma; and , for that reason Vac is called Amsumathi, rich with Soma.

The idea of personifying Vac as a goddess in a series of imagery associating her with creation, Yajna and waters etc., and her depiction as Shakthi  richly developed in the later texts, is said to have been inspired by  the most celebrated Vak Suktha or Devi Suktha   or Vagambhari Sukta  (Rig Veda: 10.125) . Here, the daughter of Ambhrna, declares herself as Vac the Queen of the gods (Aham rastri), the highest principle that supports all gods, controller all beings and manifest universally in all things.

Aham rastri samgamani vasunam cikitusi prathama yajniyanam / Tam ma deva vy adadhuh purutra Bhunisthatram bhury avesayantim // 3

She declares: It is I who blow like the wind, reaching all beings (creatures). Beyond heaven and beyond the earth I have come-to-be by this greatness.

Ahameva vata iva pra vamyarabhamana bhuvanani visva / paro diva para ena prthivyaitavat mahina sarri babhuva // 8

Vac, the primal energy the Great Mother Goddess, is thus described in various ways.

Vac is identified with all creation which she pervades and at the same time she spreads herself far beyond it. She is the divine energy that controls all and is manifest in all beings: ‘tam ma deva vyadadhuh purutra / bhuristhatram bhurya vesayantim’. Whatever the gods do they do so for her; and, all activities of living beings such as thinking, eating, seeing, breathing, hearing etc., are because of her grace.

[At another level, it is said; there are three variations of Vac the goddess – Gauri Vac, Gauh Vac and Vac.

Of these, the first two goddesses are said to be personifications of the sound of thunder, whereas the goddess Vac is a deity of speech or sounds uttered or produced by earthly beings.

Gauri Vac, described as having a number of abodes (adhisthana-s) in various objects and places like the clouds, the sun, the mid-region, the different directions so on , is said to be  associated with sending forth rains to the earth, so that life may  come into being, flourish   and prosper on it perpetually.

Gauh Vac on the other hand is described in a highly symbolical language portrayed as cow. In the traditional texts, Vac, which expresses the wonder and mysteries of speech, was compared to the wish-fulfilling divine cow (dhenur vagasman, upasustutaitu –RV. 8.100.11). And, in the much discussed Asya Vamiya Sukta ascribed to Rishi Dirghatamas, Vac again is compared to a cow of infinite form which reveals to us in various forms (Gauri mimaaya… sahsraaraparame vyoman- Rig Veda 1.164).

cow

Gauh Vac is symbolically depicted as a milch-cow that provides nourishment; and one which is accompanied by her calf (please see note below *). She constantly cuddles her calf with great love, and lows with affection for her infant- gauh ramī-medanu vatsa mianta mūrdhāna hi akṛṇean mātavā u (1.164.55) .

It is explained: the rains are her milk, the lowing sound made by her is the sound of thunder ;and, the calf is the earth. Gauh Vac is hailed in the Rig-Veda (8.101.15) as the mother principle, the source of nourishment (pusti)  of all existence; and bestowing immortality (amrutatva).

tasyāḥ samudrā adhi vi kṣaranti tena jīvanti pradiśaś catasraḥ | tataḥ kṣaraty akṣaraṃ tad viśvam upa jīvati |1.164.42|

And Vac is the goddess of speech; and, her origins too are in the mid-regions (atmosphere). Just as Gauh Vac, she also is compared to a milch cow that provides food, drink and nourishment to humans.

And again, the goddess Vac and goddess Sarasvathi are both described as having their origin or their abodes in the mid-region (Antariksha). Both are associated with showering the life-giving rains on the parched earth. And, Sarasvathi is also said to shower milk, ghee, butter, honey and water to nourish the student (adhyéti) reciting the Pavamani (purification) verses  which hold  the  essence of life (Rasa) , as gathered by the Rishis  (ŕ̥ibhi sámbhr̥ta) – (Rig-Veda. 9.67.32).

Pāvamānī́r yo adhyéti ŕ̥ṣibhi sámbhr̥ta rásam | tásmai sárasvatī duhe kīrá sarpír mádhūdakám // 9.67.32| ]

[* Note on cow

In the early texts, the cow is compared to Earth as an exemplary symbol of Motherhood. She is the life-giving, nourishing Mother par excellence , who cares for all beings and nature with selfless love and boundless patience. The Mother goddesses such as Aditi, Prithvi, Prsni (mother of Maruts), Vac, Ushas and Ila all are represented by the cow-symbolism.

Further, the nourishing and life-supporting rivers too are compared to cows (e.g. RV. 7.95.2; 8.21.18). For instance; the Vipasa and the Sutudri the two gentle flowing rivers are said to be  like two loving mothers who slowly lick their young-lings with care and love (RV . 3,033.01)  – gāveva śubhre mātarā rihāṇe vipāṭ chutudrī payasā javete 

The cow in her universal aspect is lauded in RV.1.164.17 and RV. 1.164.27-29. She manifests herself together with her calf; she is sacrosanct (aghanya), radiant, the guardian mother of  Vasus.  She created the whole of existence by her will.

Sri Aurobindo explains: in many of these  hymns,  milk (literally, that which nourishes) represents the pure white light of knowledge and clarified butter the resultant state of a clear mind or luminous perception, with bliss, symbolized by the honey (or Soma), as the essence of both. ]

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Vac as Water (Apah)

Vac is sometimes identified with waters, the primeval principle for the creation of the Universe.

In the Vak Suktha or Devi Suktha  of Rig Veda (RV.10. 10.125), Apah, the waters, is conceived as the birth place of Vac. And, Vac who springs forth from waters touches all the worlds with her flowering body and gives birth to all existence. She indeed is Prakrti.  Vac is the creator, sustainer and destroyer. In an intense and highly charged superb piece of inspired poetry Vac declares “I sprang from waters there from I permeate the infinite expanse with a flowering body. I move with Rudras and Vasus. I walk with the Sun and other Gods. It is I who blows like the wind creating all the worlds”.

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Vac as Brahman

Ultimately, Vac is identified with Brahman, the Absolute.

:- According to Sri Sayana, the  Vak Suktha or Devi Suktha   is a philosophical composition in which Vac the Brahmavidushi daughter of seer Ambhrna, after having realised her identity with Brahman – the ultimate cause of all, has lauded her own self. As such , she is both the seer and Vac the deity of this hymn. And Vac, he asserts, is verily the Brahman.

saccit sukhatmakah sarvagatah paramatma devata / tena hyesa tadatmyam anubhavanti sarva-  jagadrupena , sarvasyadhistanatvena sarvam bhavamti svatmanam stauti – (Sri Sayana on 10.125.1)

:-  In the fourth chapter of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, Yajnavalkya speaking about the nature of Vac, equated it with the Brahman (vāg vai brahmeti)  

: – The Jaimimya Upanishad Brahmana (2.8.6) also states that Vac indeed is the Brahman – Vagiti Brahma

 : Similarly the Aittariya Brahmana (4.211) declares: Brahma vai vak

 : – Bhartrhari commences his work of great genius, the Vakyapadia, with the verse (Shastra-arambha):

Anādinidhana Brahma śabdatattva yadakaram / vivartate arthabhāvena prakriyā jagato yata– VP.1.1.

[The ultimate reality, Brahman, is the imperishable principle of language, without beginning and end, and the evolution of the entire world occurs from this language-reality in the form of its meaning.]

It is explained; the Sabda, mentioned here is just not the pronounced or uttered word; it is indeed the Vac    existing before creation of the worlds. It is the Vac that brings the   world into existence. Bhartrhari, thus, places the word-principle – Vac – at the very core (Bija) of existence That Vac, – according to Bhartrhari is not merely the creator and sustainer of the universe but is also the sum and substance of it.

And, Vac as Sabda-Brahman is the creative force that brings forth all existence. Vac is also the consciousness (chit, samvid), vital energy (prana shakthi) that vibrates (spanda). It is an emanation from out of silence, which is the Absolute.

That Sabda-tattva (Sabdasya tattvam or Sabda eva tattvam) of Bhartrhari is of the nature of the Absolute; and, there is no distinction between Sabda Brahman and Para Brahman the Supreme Principle (Para tattva).  

 : – Vac was considered manifestation of all-pervading Brahman; and, Pranava (Aum) was regarded the primordial speech-sound from which all forms of speech emanated

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B. Sarasvathi

In the Rig-Veda, Sarasvathi is the name of the celestial river par excellence (deviyā́m), as also its personification as a goddess (Devi) Sarasvathi, filled with love and bliss (bhadram, mayas).

And Sarasvathi is not only one among the seven sister-rivers (saptásvasā), but also is the dearest among the gods (priyā́ deveu).

Again, it is said, the Sarasvathi as the divine stream has filled the earthly regions as also the wide realm of the mid-world (antárikam) –

āpaprúī pā́ rthivāni urú rájo antárikam | sárasvatī nidás pātu |  RV_6,061.11)

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Sarasvathi as the River

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Invoked in three full hymns (R V.6.6.61; 7.95; and 7.96) and numerous other passages, the Sarasvathi, no doubt, is the most celebrated among the rivers.

It is said; the word Sarasvathi is derived from the root ‘Sarah’, meaning water (as in Sarasi-ja, lotus – the one born in water). In the Nighantu (1.12), Sarah is one of the synonyms for water. That list of synonyms for water, in the Nighantu, comes immediately next to that of the synonyms for speech (Vac). Yaska also confirms that the term Sarasvathi primarily denotes the river (Sarasvathi Sarah iti- udakanama sartes tad vati –Nirukta.9.26). Thus, the word Sarasvathi derived from the word Sarah stands for Vagvathi (Sabdavathi) and also for Udakavathi.

The mighty Sarasvathi , the ever flowing river,  is also adored as Sindhu-mata, which term is explained by Sri Sayana as ‘apam matrubhuta’ the mother-principle of all waters; and also   as ‘Sindhunam Jalam va mata’ – the Mother of the rivers , a perennial source of number of other rivers .

The Sarasvathi (Sarasvathi Saptathi sindhu-mata) of the early Vedic age must have been a truly grand opulent river full of vigour and vitality (Sarasvathi sindhubhih pinvamana- RV.6.52.6) on which the lives of generations upon generations prospered (hiranyavartnih).

[The geo-physical studies and satellite imagery seems to suggest that the dried up riverbed of the Ghaggar-Hakra might be the legendary Vedic Saraswati River with Drishadvati and Apaya as its tributaries.  For more ; please check Vedic river and Hindu civilization edited by Dr. S. Kalyanaraman.

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It is said in the Rig-Veda; on the banks of Sarasvathi the sages (Rishayo) performed yajnas (Satram asata) – Rishayo vai Sarasvathyam satram asata). The Rig-Veda again mentions that on the most auspicious days; on the most auspicious spot on earth; on the banks of the Drishadvati, Apaya and Sarasvathi Yajnas (Ahanam) were conducted.

ni tva dadhe vara a prthivya ilayspade sudinatve ahnam; Drsadvaty am manuse apayayam sarasvatyamrevad agne didhi – RV_3,023.04 ]

There are abundant hymns in the Rig-Veda, singing the glory and the majesty  of the magnificent  Sarasvathi that surpasses all other waters in greatness , with her mighty (mahimnā́, mahó mahī́ ) waves (ūrmíbhir)  tearing away the heights of the mountains as she roars along her  way towards the ocean (ā́ samudrā́t).

Rihi Gtsamada adores Sarasvathi as the divine (Nadinam-asurya), the best of the mothers, the mightiest of the rivers and the supreme among the goddesses (ambitame nadltame devitame Sarasvati).   And, he prays to her:  Oh Mother Saraswati, even though we are not worthy, please grant us merit.

Ámbitame nádītame dévitame sárasvati apraśastā ivasmasi praśastim amba naskdhi – (RV_2,041.16)

Sarasvathi is the most sacred and purest among rivers (nadinam shuci). Prayers are submitted to the most dear (priyatame) seeking refuge (śárman) in her – as under a sheltering tree (śaraá vr̥kám). She is our best defence; she supports us (dharuam); and, protects us like a fort of iron (ā́yasī pū́).

The Sarasvathi , the river that  outshines all other waters in greatness  and majesty is celebrated with love and reverence; and, is repeatedly lauded with choicest epithets, in countless ways:

:- uttara sakhibhyah (most liberal to her friends);

:- vegavatinam vegavattama (swiftest among the most speedy);

:- pra ya mahimna mahinasu cekite dyumnebhiranya apasamapastama – the one whose powerful limitless  (yásyā anantó) , unbroken (áhrutas) swiftly flowing (cariṣṇúr aravá) impetuous  resounding current and  roaring (róruvat) floods,  moving with rapid force , like a chariot (rathíyeva yāti), rushes  onward towards the ocean (samudrā́t)  with tempestuous roar;

:-  bursting the ridges of the hills (paravataghni)  with mighty waves ..  and so on.

yásyā anantó áhrutas tveáś cariṣṇúr aravá | ámaś cárati róruvat | (RV_6,061.08)

The Sarasvathi, most beloved among the beloved (priyā́ priyā́ su) is the ever-flowing bountiful (subhaga; ́jebhir vājínīvatī) energetic (balavati) stream of abounding beauty and grace (citragamana citranna va) which purifies and brings fruitfulness to earth, yielding rich harvest and prosperity (Sumrdlka).

She is the source of vigor and strength.

Her waters which are sweet (madhurah payah) have the life-extending (ayur-vardhaka) healing (roga-nashaka) medicinal (bhesajam) powers – (aps-vantarapsu bhesaja-mapamuta prasastaye – RV_1,023.19).

She is indeed the life (Jivita) and also the nectar (amrtam) that grants immortality. Sarasvathi, our mother (Amba! yo yanthu) the life giving maternal divinity, is dearly loved as the benevolent (Dhiyavasuh) protector of the Yajna – Pavaka nah Sarasvathi yagnam vashtu dhiyavasuh (RV_3,003.02).

She personifies purity (Pavaka);

Sarasvathi is depicted as a purifier (pavaka nah sarasvathi) – internal and external. She purifies the body, heart and mind of men and women- viśvaṃ hi ripraṃ pravahanti devi-rudi-dābhyaḥ śucirāpūta emi(10.17.20); and inspires in them pure, noble and pious thoughts (1.10.12). Sarasvathi also cleanses poison from men, from their environment and from all nature –

  uta kṣitibhyo, avanīr avindo viṣam ebhyo asravo vājinīvati (RV_6,061.03).

Prayers are submitted to Mother Sarasvathi, beseeching her:  please cleanse me and remove whatever sin or evil that has entered into me. Pardon me for whatever evils I might have committed, the lies I have uttered, and the false oaths I might have sworn.

Idamapah pravahata yat kimca duritam mayi, yad vaaham abhi dudroha, yad va sepe utanrtam (RV.1.23.22)

The beauty of Sarasvathi is praised through several attributes, such as: Shubra (clean and pure); Suyanam, Supesha, Surupa (all terms suggesting a sense of beauty and elegance); Su-vigraha (endowed with a beauteous form) and Saumya (pleasant and easily accessible). Sri Sayana describes the beauteous form of Sarasvathi: “yamyate niyamytata iti   yamo vigrahah, suvigraha…”

Sarasvathi is described by a term that is not often used  : ’ Vais’ambhalya’ , the one who brings up, nurtures and protects the whole of human existence – visvam prajanam bharanam, poshanam – with abundant patience and infinite love. Sri Sayana, in his Bhashya (on Taittiriya-Brahmana, 2. 5.4.6) explains the term as: Vlsvam prajanam bharanam poshanam Vais’ambham tatkartum kshama vaisambhalya tidrsi.

Thus, the term Vais’ambhalya, pithily captures the nature of the nourishing, honey-like sweet (madhu madharyam) waters of the divine Sarasvathi who sustains life (vijinivathi) ; enriching the soil ; providing abundant food (anna-samrddhi-yukte; annavathi) and  nourishment (pusti) to all beings; causing overfull milk in cows (kshiram samicinam); as  Vajinivathi enhancing vigour  and strength  in horses ( vahana-samarthyam)  ; and , blessing all of existence with happiness  (sarvena me sukham ) – (Sri Sayana’s  Bhashya on  Taittiriya-Brahmana).

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Sarasvathi as goddess

Saraswati on Dark Green Ground

Yaska mentions that Sarasvathi is worshipped both as the river (Nadi) and as the goddess (Devata) –

vāc.kasmād, vaceh / tatra. sarasvatī. ity. etasya. nadīvad. devatāvat . ca . nigamā. bhavanti. tad. yad. devatāvad. uparistāt. tad .vyākhyāsyāmah / atha . etat. nadīvat/ /– Nirukta.2.23 

Yaska  (at Nir. 2,24) , in his support, cites Verses from Rig-Veda (6.61.2-4) – (it’s Pada Patha is given under)

iyam | śumebhi | bisakhā-iva | arujat | sānu | girīām | taviebhi | ūrmi-bhi | pārāvata-ghnīm | avase | suvkti-bhi | sarasvatīm | ā | vivāsema | dhīti-bhi // RV_6,61.2 / // sarasvati | deva-nida | ni | barhaya | pra-jām | viśvasya | bsayasya | māyina | uta | kiti-bhya | avanī | avinda | viam | ebhya | asrava | vājinī-vati // RV_6,61.3 // pra | na | devī | sarasvatī | vājebhi | vājinī-vatī | dhīnām | avitrī | avatu // RV_6,61.4 //

Yaska categorizes Sarasvathi as the goddess of mid-region – Madhya-sthana striyah.

Sri Sayana commenting on RV. 1.3.12, also mentions that Sarasvathi was celebrated both as river and as a deity – Dvi-vidha hi Sarasvathi vigrahavad-devata nadi rupa-cha.

Following Yaska, Sri Sayana also regarded Sarasvathi as a divinity of the mid-region- ‘madhyama-sthana hi vak Sarasvathi’; and as a personification of the sound of thunder.

Thus, Sarasvathi, a deity of the atmosphere is associated with clouds, thunder, lightening, rains and water.  As Sri Aurobindo said; the radiant one has expressed herself in the forming of the flowing Waters.  

[Sri Aurobindo explaining the symbolism of thunder and lightning, says: the thunder is sound of the out-crashing of the word (Sabda) of Truth (Satya-vac); and, the lightning as the out-flashing of its sense (Artha) ]

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John Muir (Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India) remarks: It seems that Vedic seers were not satisfied with the river-form of Sarasvati; and, in order to make the river a living and active entity that alone could hear them, they regarded it as a river-goddess.

Thus, Sarasvati is a river at first; and, later conceived as a goddess

Sarasvathi, the best of the goddesses (Devi-tame) and the dearest among the gods (priyā́ deveu) is associated with Prtri-s (departed forefathers – svadhā́ bhir Devi pitŕ̥bhir; sárasvatī́m pitáro hávante) as also with many other deities and with the Yajna. She is frequently invited to take seat in the Yajnas along with other goddesses such as: Ila, Bharathi, Mahi, Hotra, Varutri, Dishana Sinivali, Indrani etc.

She is also part of the trinity (Tridevi) of Sarasvathi, Lakshmi and Parvati. 

Sarasavathi as Devata, the Goddess is also said to be one of the three aspects of Gayatri (Tri-rupa – Gayatri): Gayatri, Savitri and Sarasvathi. Here, while Gayatri is the protector of life principles; Savitri of Satya (Truth and integrity of all Life); Sarasvathi is the guardian of the wisdom and virtues of life. And, again, Gayatri , herself, is said to manifest in three forms: as Gayatri the morning (pratah-savana) as Brahma svarupini; Savitri in the midday (madyanh savana) as Rudra svarupini; and, as Sarasvathi in the evening (saayam savana) as Vishnu svarupini.

[ Sri Aurobindo interprets the divine Sarasvathi, the goddess of the Word, the stream of inspiration as: an ever flowing great flood (mahó ára)  of consciousness; the awakener (cétantī, prá cetayati)  to right-thinking (sumatīnām); as inspirer (codayitrī) who illumines (vi rājati) all (víśvā) our thoughts (dhíyo); and, as truth-audition, śruti, which gives the inspired perception (ketúnā) – mahó ára sárasvatī prá cetayati ketúnā | dhíyo víśvā ví rājati –  RV_1,003.12]

Prayers are also submitted to Sarasvathi to grant great wealth (abhí no nei vásyo), highly nourishing food (aṁ, páyasā) and more progeny (prajā́ṁ devi didiḍḍhi na); to treat us as her friends (juásva na sakhiyā́ veśíyā); and, not let us stray into inhospitable fields (́ tvát kétrāi áraāni gamma) – RV. 6-61-14. Sarasvathi, thus, is also Sri.

The goddess Sarasvathi is also the destroyer of Vrta and other demons that stand for darkness (Utasya nah Sarasvati ghora Hiranyavartanih / Vrtraghni vasti sustuition).

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In the Rig-Veda, the goddess Sarasvathi is associated, in particular with two other goddesses: Ila and Bharathi.

The Apri Sukta hymns (the invocation hymns recited just prior to offering the oblations into Agni) mention a group of three great goddesses (Tisro Devih) – Ila, Bharathi and Sarasvathi – who are invoked to take their places and grace the . They bring delight and well-being to their devotees.

ā no yajña bhāratī tyam etu, iā manuvad iha cetayantī; tisro devīr barhir eda syona, sarasvatī svapasa sadantu- RV_10,110.08

The three -Ida, Bharathi and Sarasvathi – who are said to be manifestations of the Agni (Yajnuagni), are also called tri-Sarasvathi.

[In some renderings, Mahi (ta bhat , the vast or great) is mentioned in place of Bharathi: Ila, Sarasvathi, Mahi tisro devir mayobhuvah; barhih sIdantvasridah. And Mahi, the rich, delightful and radiant (bhat jyotiḥ) goddess of blissful truth (ta jyoti; codayitrī sntānām), covering vast regions (vartrī dhiaā) is requested to bring happiness to the performer of the Yajna, for whom she is like a branch richly laden with ripe fruits (evā hyasya sntā, virapśī gomatī mahī; pakvā śākhā na dāśue – RV_1,008.08).

  And, Ila is sometimes mentioned as Ida. ]

Among these Tisro Devih, Sarasvathi, the mighty, illumines with her brilliance and brightness, inspires all pious thoughts – cetantī sumatīnām (RV.1.3.12 ;). Her aspects of wisdom and eloquence , which enlighten all this world (dhiyo viśvā vi rājati) , are praised, sung in several hymns. She evokes pleasant songs, brings to mind gracious thoughts; and she is requested to accept our offerings (RV.1.3.11)

codayitrī sūnṛtānāṃ cetantī sumatīnām | yajñaṃ dadhe sarasvatī ||maho arṇaḥ sarasvatī pra cetayati ketunā  | dhiyo viśvā vi rājati ||RV.1.3.11-12 

Bharathi is hailed as speech comprising all   subjects (sarva-visaya-gata vak) and as that which energizes all beings (Visvaturith)

Ila is a gracious goddess (sudanuh, mrlayanti devi). She is personified as the divine cow, mother of all realms (yuthasya matha), granting (sudanu) bounteous gifts of nourishments. She has epithets, such as: Prajavathi and Dhenumati (RV. 8.31. 4). She is also the personification of flowing libation (Grita). She is the presiding deity of Yajna, in general (RV.3.7.25)

 iḷām agne purudaṃsaṃ saniṃ goḥ śaśvattamaṃ havamānāya sādha |  syān naḥ sūnus tanayo vijāvāgne sā te sumatir bhūtv asme ||RV_3,007.11

According to Sri Sayana, Ila – as nourishment, (RV.7.16.8) is the personification of the oblation (Havya) offered in the Yajna (annarupa havir-laksana devi). Such offerings of milk and butter are derivatives of the cow. And Ila, in the Brahmana texts, is related to the cow. And, in the Nighantu (2.11), Ila is one of the synonyms of the cow. Because of the nature of the offering, Ila is called butter-handed – ghṛta-hastā (RV. 7.16.15) and butter-footed  – devī ghṛta padī juṣanta (RV. 10,070.08).

The three goddesses (Tisro Devih) are interpreted as: three goddesses representing three regions: Ida the earth; Sarasvathi the mid-region; and Bharathl, the heaven. And again, these three goddesses are also said to be three types of speech.

Sri Sayana commenting on the verse tisro vāca īrayati pra vahnirtasya dhītiṃ brahmaṇo manīṣām |… (RV.9.97.67), mentions Ida (Ila), Sarasvathi and Bharathi as the levels of speech or languages spoken in three regions (Tripada, Tridasatha – earth, firmaments and heaven).

Among these goddesses, he names Bharathi as Dyusthana Vac (upper regions); Sarasvathi as Madhyamika Vac (mid-region); and Ida as the speech spoken by humans (Manushi) on the earth (prthivi praisadirupa).  Another interpretation assigns Bharathi, Sarasvathi and Ila the names of three levels of speech: Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari..

According to Sri Aurobindo, Ida, Sarasvathi and Bharathi represent Drsti (vision), Sruti (hearing) and Satya the integrity of the truth-consciousness.

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C.  Vac identified with Sarasvathi

Rig-Veda does not, of course, equates Vac with Sarasvathi. But, it is in the Brahmana texts, the Nighantu, the Nirukta and the commentaries of the traditional scholars that Vac is identified with Sarasvathi, the Madhyamika Vac. The later Atharva-veda also speaks of Vac and Sarasvathi as one

It is particularly in the Brahmana that the identity of Vac with Sarasvathi begins – ‘vag vai Sarasvathi’ (Aitareya Brahmana 3.37). The notions such as – the one who worships Sarasvathi pleases Vac, because Vac is Sarasvathi – take root in the Brahmanas (yat sarasvatlm yajati vag vai sarasvatl; vacam eva tat prlnati atha – SB. 5.2).

And, Gopatha Brahmana (2.20) in an almost an identical statement says that worship of Sarasvathi pleases Vac, because Vac is Sarasvathi (atha yat sarasvatim yajati, vag vai Sarasvathi, vacham eva tena prinati).

Also, in the ancient Dictionary, the Nighantu (1.11), the term Sarasvathi is listed among the synonym s of Vac.

Such identification of Vac with Sarasvathi carries several connotations, extending over to the Speech; to the sacred river; and, to the delightful goddess inspiring true speech and sharp intellect, showering wisdom and wealth upon one who worships her devotedly.

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As speech

As speech, Sarasvathi as Vac is adored as the power of truth, free from blemishes; inspiring and illuminating noble thoughts (chetanti sumatim). In the Taittariya Brahmana, the auspicious (subhage), the rich and plentiful (vajinivati) Vac is identified with Sarasvathi adored as the truth speech ‘Satya-vac’.

 Sarasvathi subhage vajinlvati satyavachase bhare matim. idam te havyam ghrtavat sarasvati. Satyavachase prabharema havimsi- TB. II. 5.4.

The Vac-Sarasvathi, the power of speech, is hailed as the mother of Vedas – Veda Mata. She is the abode of all knowledge; the vast flood of truth (Maho arnah); the power of truth (Satya vacs); the guardian of sublime thoughts (dhinam avitri); the inspirer of good acts and thoughts; the mother of sweet but truthful words; the awakener of consciousness (chodayitri sunrtanam, chetanti sumatinam); the purifier (Pavaka); the bountiful blessing with vast riches (vajebhir vajinivati); and the protector of the Yajna (yajnam dadhe)

Pavaka nah Sarasvathi, vajebhir vajinivati; yajnam vastu dhiyavasuh. Chodayitri sunrtanam, cetanti sumatinam; yajnam dadhe Sarasvathi.  Maho arnah Sarasvathi, pra cetayati ketuna; dhiyo visva vi rajati. (Rig-Veda. 4.58.1)

[Sri Aurobindo’s translation: “May purifying Sarasvathi with all the plenitude of her forms of plenty, rich in substance by the thought, desire our sacrifice.”She, the impeller to happy truths, the awakener in consciousness to right metalizing, Sarasvathi, upholds the sacrifice.” “Sarasvathi by the perception awakens in consciousness the great flood (the vast movement of the ritam) and illumines entirely all the thought.]

Vac- Sarasvathi is regarded the very personification of pure (pavaka) thoughts, rich in knowledge or intelligence (Prajna or Dhi) – (vag vai dhiyavasuh)

Pavaka nah sarasvatl yajnam vastu dhiyavasur iti vag vai dhiyavasuh – AB. 1.14.

In the Shata-patha-Brahmana (5. 2.2.13-14) , Vac as Sarasvathi is first taken to be her  controlling power, the mind (manas), the abode of all thoughts and knowledge,  before they are expressed through speech.

sarasvatyai vāco yanturyantriye dadhāmīti vāgvai  sarasvatī tadenaṃ vāca eva yanturyantriye dadhāti – 5. 2.2.13

Again, the Shata-patha-Brahmana (I.4.4.1; 3.2.4.11) mentions the inter-relations among mind (manas), breath (prana) and Speech (Vac). The speech is evolved from mind; and put out through the help of breath. The speech (Vac) is called jlhva Sarasvati i.e., tongue, spoken word. Vac-Sarasvathi is also addressed as Gira, one who is capable to assume a human voice.

Taittirlya Brahmana refers to Sarasvathi as speech manifested through the help of the vital breath Prana; and, indeed even superior to Prana (vag vai sarasvatl tasmat prananam vag uttamam – Talttirlya Brahmana, 1.3.4.5).

The Tandya Brahmana identifies Sarasvathi with Vac, the speech in the form of sound (sabda or dhvani).  Here, Sarasvathi is taken to be sabdatmika Vac, displaying the various form of speech (rupam) as also the object denoted by speech (vairupam): vag vai sarasvati, vag vairupam eva’smai taya yunakti – TB. 16. 5.16.

As said earlier; Sarasvathi along with Ila and Bharathi is identified with levels of speech (Vac). In these varied forms of identifications, Sarasvathi is the speech of the mid-position.

For instance; Sarasvathi is Madhyamika Vac (while Bharathi is Dyusthana Vac and Ila is Manushi Vac. Similarly, Sarasvathi is Madhyama Vac (while Bharathi is Pashyanti and Ila is Vaikhari). And again, Sarasvathi is said to represent the mid-region (while Ida the earth and Bharathi, the heaven).

By the time of the later Vedic texts, the identity of Vac with Sarasvathi becomes very well established. The terms such as ‘Sarasvathi –Vacham’, ‘Vac- Sarasvathi’ etc come into use in the Aharva-Veda. Even the ordinary speech was elevated to the status of Vac.

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As the River

In the Aitareya Brahmana (3.37) Vac is directly identified with the life giving Sarasvathi (vag vai Sarasvathi). Even its location is mentioned.  Vac is said to reside in the midst of Kuru-Panchalas – tasmad atro ‘ttari hi vag vadati kuru-panchalatra vvag dhy esa – SB. 3. 2.3.15.

The Vac-Sarasvathi in the form of river (Sarasvathi nadi rupe) is the generous (samrudhika) loving and life-giving auspicious (subhage) splendid Mother (Mataram sriyah), the purifying (pavaka) source of great delight   (aahladakari) and happiness (sukhasya bhavayitri) which causes all the good things of life to flourish.

sharada

D.  Sarasvathi as goddess in the later texts and traditions

Sarasvathi, in the post-Vedic period, was personified as the goddess of speech, learning and eloquence.

As the might of the river Sarasvathi tended to decline, its importance also lessened during the latter parts of the Vedas. Its virtues of glory, purity and importance gradually shifted to the next most important thing in their life – speech, excellence in use of words and its purity.

Then, the emphasis moved from the river to the Goddess. With the passage of time, Sarasvathi’s association with the river gradually diminished. The virtues of Vac and the Sarasvathi (the river) merged into the divinity – Sarasvathi; and, she was recognized and worshipped as goddess of purity, speech, learning, wisdom, culture, art, music and intellect.

Vac which was prominent in the Rig Veda, as also Sarasvathi the mighty river of the early Vedic times had almost completely disappeared from common references in the later periods.

Vac merged into Sarasvathi and became one of her synonyms   as a goddess of speech or intellect or learning – as Vac, Vagdevi, and Vageshwari. And the other epithets of Vac, such as: Vachi (flow of speech), Veda-mata (mother of the Vedas), Vidya (the mother of all learning), Bhava (emotions) and Gandharva (guardian deity of musicians) – were all transferred to goddess Sarasvathi.

Similarly , the other Vedic goddesses – Ila, Bharathi, Gira, Vani , Girvani, Pusti,   Brahmi – all merged into Sarasvathi, the personified goddess of speech ( vāca sāma and vāco vratam) who enters into the inspired poets , musicians, artists and visionaries; and ,  gives expression and energy to those she loves (Kavi-jihva-gravasini)

Such epithets as Vagdevl (goddess of speech), Jihva-agravasini (dwelling in the front of the tongue), Kavi-jihvagra-vasini (she who dwells on the tongues of poets), Sabda-vasini (she who dwells in sound), Vagisa (presiding deity of speech), and Mahavani (possessing great speech)” often  came to be used for Saraswati.

Amarakosha describes Sarasvathi the goddess of speech as

(1.6.352) brāhmī tu bhāratī bhāṣā gīrvāgvāṇī sarasvatī 
(1.6.353) vyāhāra uktirlapitaṃ bhāṣitaṃ vacanaṃ vacaḥ

The Bhagavadgita (10.34) declares : Among the women , I am  Fame, Fortune, Speech, Memory , Intelligence with Forbearance and  Forgiveness : kīrtiḥ śrīr vāk ca nārīṇāḿ smṛtir medhā dhṛtiḥ kṣhamā

Sarsavathi also acquired other epithets based on the iconography related to her form: Sharada (the fair one); Veena-pani (holding the veena); Pusthaka-pani (holding a book); japa   or akshamala-dharini (wearing rosary) etc.

sarasvat

E. Iconography

The iconography of goddess Sarasvathi that we are familiar with, of course, came into being during the later times; and, it was developed over a long period. There are varying   iconographic accounts of the goddess Sarasvathi. The Puranas (e.g.  Vishnudharmottara-purana, Agni-purana, Vayu-purana and Matsya-purana) ; the various  texts of the Shilpa- shastra (e.g. AmshumadbedhaShilpa-ratna, Rupamandana,  Purva-karana,  and Vastu-vidya-diparnava)  and Tantric texts ( Sri Vidyavarana Tantra  and Jayamata)  each came up with their own variation of Sarasvathi , while retaining her most uniformly accepted features.

The variations were mainly with regard to the disposition, attributes and the Ayudhas (objects held) of the deity. The objects she holds, which are meant to delineate her nature and disposition, are truly numerous. These include : Veena; Tambura; book (pustaka); rosary (akshamala); water pot (kamandalu) ;  pot fille with nectar (amrutha-maya-ghata); lotus flowers (padma); mirror (darpana); parrot (Shuka); bow ( dhanus); arrow ( bana ); spear (shula), mace (gadha), noose( pasha); discus (chakra); conch (shankha); goad (ankusha);  bell (ghanta) and so on. Each of these Ayudhas carries its own symbolism; and, tries to bring forth an aspect of the deity. In a way of speaking, they are the symbols of a symbolism

Sarasvathi with Kamandalu 4

In the case of Sarasvathi the book she holds in her hands symbolize the Vedas and learning; the Kamandalu (a water jug) symbolizes smruthi, vedanga and shastras; rosary symbolizes the cyclical nature of time; the musical instrument veena symbolizes music and her benevolent nature; the mirror signifies a clear mind and awareness; the Ankusha (goad) signifies exercising control over senses and baser instincts; and, the sceptre signifies her authority. The Shilpa-shastra employs these as symbols to expand, to depict and to interpret the nature of the idol, as also the values and virtues it represents.

There were also variations in the depictions of Sarasvathi:

  • Complexion (white (sweta), red (raktha-varna) , blue  (nila) – as Tantric deity and form of  Tara);
  • Number of eyes (two, three);
  • Number of arms (four, six, eight);
  • Posture (seated –Asana, standing – sthanaka; but never in reclining posture– shayana);
  • Seated upon (white lotus, red lotus or throne)
  • Wearing (white or red or other coloured garments);
  • Ornaments (rich or modest) and so on.

Interestingly, the early texts do not mention her Vahana (mount). But the latter texts provide her with swan or peacock as her Vahana or as symbolic attributes (lanchana).

sharada sringeri

The Shilpa text Vastu-vidya-diparnava lists twelve forms of Sarasvathi ( Vac sarasvathi, Vidya sarasvathi, Kamala, Jaya, Vijaya, Sarangi, Tamburi, Naradi, Sarvamangala, Vidya-dhari, Sarva-vidya and Sharada) all having four arms , but without the Vahana. They all are looking bright, radiant (su-tejasa) and happy (suprasanna).

Another Shilpa text Jayamata enumerates a different set of twelve forms of Sarasvathi (Maha-vidya, Maha-vani, Bharathi, Sarasvathi, Aarya, Brahmi, Maha-dhenu, Veda-darbha, Isvari, Maha-Lakshmi, Maha-Kali, and Maha-sarasvathi).

The tantric text, Sri Vidyarnava-tantra, mentions at least three Tantric forms of Sarasvathi: Ghata-sarasvathi, Kini-Sarasvathi and Nila–sarasvathi (blue-complexion; three eyes; four arms, holding spear, sword, chopper and a bell).

And, there is also Matangi who is also called Tantric-Sarasvati; and, she is of tamasic nature and is related to magical powers. Her complexion too varies from white, black, brown, blue or to green depending on the context, She also has many variations, such as:  Ucchista Matangini, Ucchista-Chandalini, Raja Matangini, Sumukhi Matangini, Vasya Matangini or Karna Matangini.

Bhuvanesvari, one of the ten Mahavidyas, is also linked to speech (vak); and, therefore, she is said to correspond to Sarasvathi,    Vagesvari.

Tara, in Buddhism, of blue complexion, associated with the speaking prowess, and seated on a lotus is called Nila (blue) Sarasvathi

Tantric SarasvathiTantric Sarasvathi2

The Vajrayana Buddhism too has its own set of Tantric Sarsavathi-s, like the six armed Vajra-Sarasvathi; the Vajra-sharada holding a book and a lotus in her two hands; and, Vajra-veena-sarasvathi playing on a veena. The other deities like Prajna-paramita and Manjushree have in them some aspects of the Sarasvathi.

*

TheJain tradition has Sarasvathi in the form of Shruta-devata; Prajnapti; Manasi and Maha-Manasi. The Shrutadevata is the personified knowledge embodied in of sacred Jain scriptures preached by the Jinas and the Kevalins (Vyakhya-Prajnapti-11.11.430 and Paumachariya-3.59). Sarasvati is invoked for dispelling the darkness of ignorance, for removing the infatuation caused by the jnanavarniya karma (i.e. the karma matter enveloping  right knowledge) ; and,  also for destroying miseries.

The early Jain works conceive Sarasvati only with two hands and as holding either a book and a lotus or a water-vessel and a rosary, and riding a swan. The Sarasvati-yantra-puja of Shubhachandra, however describes the two armed mayura-vahini with three eyes,holding a rosary and a book.

Sarasvathi JainaSarasvathi Jaina 2Sarasvathi Jaina 3

The four armed Sarasvati appears to have enjoyed the highest veneration among both the Svetambara and the Digambara sects. The four-armed goddess in both the sects bears almost identical attributes, except for the vahana. The vahana of Sarasvati in the Svetambara tradition is swan, while in Digambara tradition she rides a peacock.

Saraswati_Devisarasvathi on peacock

[ Dr. Maruti Nandan Pd. Tiwari, Emeritus Professor History of Art, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, writes :

The popularity of worship of Sarasvati in Jainism is established on the testimony of literary references in the Vyakhya-prajnapti (c. 2nd-3rd century A.D.), the Paksika-sutra of Shivasharma (c. 5th century A.D.), the Dvadasharanya-chakravritti of Simha suri Kshamashramana (c. CE 675), the Panchashaka of Haribhardra suri (c. CE 775), the Samsaradavanala-stotra (also of Haribhadra suri), the Mahanishitha-sutra ( c. 9th century A.D.) and the Sharada-stotra of Bhappabhatti suri (c. 3rd quarter of the 8th century A.D.) and also by the archaeological evidence of the famous image of Sarasvati from Mathura belonging to the Kushana period (CE 132)

The popularity of her worship can also be understood from the large number of Sarasvati figures placed at different parts of Jain temples particularly in western India. A special festival held in the honor  of Sarasvati is called Jnana-panchami in the Svetambara tradition and Shruta-panchami in the Digambara tradition.5 Besides this festival, special penance like the Shrutadevata-tapas and Shruta-skandha and Shrutajnana-vratas are also observed by the Jains.]

design rangoli

Sarasvathi, as Vagdevi, is depicted as gesturing scriptural knowledge with her right hand in Vyakahana-mudra; and, gesturing protection and assurance with her left hand in Abhaya-mudra. At times, she is shown with three eyes. She is decorated by a crown (makuta) with a crescent moon; and with a sacred thread across her chest (yajnopavitha).

sarasvathi Gkcp1

 

The Vishnudharmottara (Ch. 64, vv. 1-3a) states that the images of Goddess Sarasvathi should be adorned with all ornaments. She should be made four-armed holding in her right hands a rosary and Kamandalu; and, in the left hands Vina and a manuscript.

Sarasvathi with KamandaluSarasvathi with Kamandalu2

And, when he is depicted as standing, she should assume samapada position; and, her face should be pleasing and radiant, like the moon of Sharad-ritu (Sarat-chandra-vadana).

*

The Sarasvathi that is commonly depicted is an extraordinarily beautiful, graceful and benevolent deity of white complexion, wearing white garments, seated upon a white lotus (sweta-padmasina) , adorned with pearl ornaments ; and holding in her four hands a book, rosary , water-pot and lotus .

Clipboard01

Her Dhyana –sloka reads:

Yaa Kundendu tushaara haara dhavalaa, Yaa shubhra vastranvita.
Yaa veena vara dandamanditakara, Yaa shwetha padmaasana
 Yaa brahma achyutha shankara prabhutibhir Devaisadaa Vanditha
Saa Maam Paatu Saraswatee Bhagavatee Nihshesha jaadyaapahaa  

Salutations to Bhagavathi Sarasvathi, the one who is fair like garland of fresh Kunda flowers and snowflakes; who is adorned with white attire; whose hand is placed on the stem of the Veena; who sits on white lotus; one who has always been worshiped by gods like Brahma, Vishnu and Shankar; May that goddess Sarasvathi bless us, protect us, and completely remove from us all stains of lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance.

white_lotus3

Continued in the Next Part

Sources and References

  1.  http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/57870/2/02_abstract.pdf
  2. http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/69217/7/07_chapter%201.pdf
  3. http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/57870/7/07_chapter%202.pdf
  4. http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/66674/10/10_chapter%203.pdf
  1. http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/57870/10/10_chapter%205.pdf
  2. http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/116523/13/13_chapter%205.pdf
  3. http://www.svabhinava.org/hinducivilization/AlfredCollins/RigVedaCulture_ch07.pdf
  4. http://www.vedavid.org/diss/dissnew4.html#168
  5. http://www.vedavid.org/diss/dissnew5.html#246
  6. Ritam “The Word in the Rig-Veda and in Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri
  7. http://incarnateword.in/sabcl/10/saraswati-and-her-consorts#p17-p18
  8. 12. Vedic river and Hindu civilization; edited by Dr. S. Kalyanaraman
  9. Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India… Edited by John Muir
  10. Devata Rupa-Mala (Part Two) by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao
  11. http://www.ancientvedas.com/
  12. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40874433?reanow=1&refreqid=excelsior%3A728e60fe40da00b76f29f7525a60268a&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

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Posted by on March 21, 2017 in Artha-Meaning, Bhartrhari, Devi, Sanskrit

 

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The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Seven

Continued from Part Six

linguistics-3

The Word and the Sentence

Grammar and the philosophy of language

Grammar (Vyakarana) was recognized  in India , even from the earliest times , 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, cluttered or muddled thinking : 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, it was to clearly bring out the apt and 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 understand the real significance of the word; and, to bring out the meaning of the uttered word (artha nityah parikseta – Nir: 2.1).

Nirukta is the systematic creation of a glossary; and, it discusses how to understand archaic, uncommon words used mainly in the Rig-Veda . The field grew probably because almost a quarter of words in the Vedic texts composed in the 2nd-millennium BCE appear just once; and, their meaning and intent had, over a period, become unclear.

The texts of the Nirukta field of study are also called Nirvacana shastra. The Nirukta belongs to a class of texts that are designed to explore and present the precise meaning of the Vedic mantras. There were such Niruktas (Nirvachana Shastra) even prior to the time of Yaska (Ca. 6th century B C E). In his Nirukta, Yaska refers to about twelve Nirukta-karas prior to his time ; and, to their views: Aupamanyava; Aurnanabha; Agrayana; Varshyayani; Sakapuni; Gargya; Talava; Kaitiki; Kaushtuki; Sthaulashtivi; and, Katthayaka.

But, the works of all those savants are lost. It is only the Nirukta of Yascacharya that has stood the test of time for over two thousand seven hundred years; and , is acclaimed , for its excellence, as the most authoritative text in its class.

Yaska’s Nirukta, essentially, is a commentary on the Nighantu, which mostly lists the words occurring in the Rig-Veda; and, it is also meant to functions as a compliment to Vyakarana (Grammar. In addition, it also served a practical purpose; which was to help and guide the Yajnaka, the one who performs the Yajnas, in unerringly identifying the Devata of a mantra, so that the Yajna is performed well and its objective is achieved successfully.

The study of Nirukta has been closely related to a Vedanga (an ancillary Vedic science) viz., Vyakarana (Grammar); but, it has a different focus. Vyakarana deals with linguistic analysis to establish the exact form of words to properly express ideas, while Nirukta focuses on linguistic analysis to help establish the proper meaning of the words, given the context they are used in the Vedic texts. Yaska asserts that the prerequisite to the study of Nirukta is the study of Vyakarana

And, Vyakarana , the Sanskrit Grammar essentially aimed to purify (samskruta), to discipline and to explain the behavior 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.

rose-sg

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 recognized, 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-arthanNir.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.

rose-sg

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 inquiry 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.

Sabaraswamin , the great Mimamsaka , also argues  that the sentences cannot have any separate meaning apart form the meanings of the words composing it. The meaning of a sentence is comprehended only on the comprehension of the meanings of the component words. The sentence can have no independent meaning apart from the meanings of the words composing it. This theory, known as Abhihitanvaya vada , is believed to have been based upon the views of the Grammarian Vajapyayana. who had said that meaning of a sentence is the Samsarga  or  the mutual relation of the individual word-meanings expressed by the words . The Abhihitanvaya vada  was also supported  by the Mimamsakas of the Bhatta School and by some scholars of the Nyaya School. 

Kumarila Bhatta , another Mimamsaka , said that the meaning of a sentence is always conveyed by the meanings of words obtained from the word itself. Unlike the words, the sentence does not have a meaning of its own independently. 

**

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 (Nir+Ukta = to explain clearly; Nirukti or  Nirvacana shastra, meaning etymology – derivation and semantic explanation of words) ;  which is also 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 in the text . 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 analyzing the root, its tendency and the suffix, it is possible to establish the relation between word and meaning.

[According to Prof. Jan E.M. Houben; on the methodology of the Nirukta as a discipline, Yäska has the following to say:

With reference to this, the words, the accent and the grammatical form of which are regular and accompanied by a radical modification which gives a hint, should be derived in the ordinary manner. But, If the meaning Is not perspicuous; and, if there is no radical modification which gives a hint, one should investigate [the word to be explained], taking one’s stand on the meaning, according to a similarity (of a verbal root with a suitable meaning) to the derived from (i.e., to the word to be explained). Even If no similar [verbal root] is found, one should explain [the word] according to a similarity in syllable or phoneme. But , never should one abstain from explaining [by deriving it from some root], one should not be attached to the grammatical form [too much], for the derived forms (i.e., the words to be explained) are full of uncertainties

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

*

In the Nirukta, Yaska has tried to explain those selected Vedic words from the perspective of the various linguistic aspects, four parts of speech (Catvari padajatani) such as:  noun (naman), verb (akyata), preposition (upasarga), and particle (nipata)  –

(catvāri.pada.jātāni.nāma.ākhyāte.ca.upasarga.nipātāś.ca.tāni.imāni.bhavanti ...Nir .l.l) .

kriyavacakam akhyatam; upasapgo visesakrt / sattva-abhidhayakam  namah ; nipatah padapuranah //

In addition, Yaska takes up the 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 – na nirbaddha upasarga arthannirahuriti Sakatayanah – • Nir.I.3.

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

When that logic is extended, it leads to say:  the phonemes and syllables are not independent entities conveying their own meaning; nevertheless they are 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. The logic behind this appears to be that it enables one to explain ‘Why something is called what it is called’ by linking it to some activity; thereby establishing its relation to a verb or verbal-root.

In this context , Yaska also mentions that Gargya  did not agree with the views of Sakatayana ; and, that Gargya had pointed out that the prepositions do have a meaning .

ucca.avacāḥ.pada.arthā.bhavanti.iti.Gārgyas / tad.ya.eṣu.pada.arthaḥ.prāhur.ime. tam.nāma.ākhyātayor.artha.vikaraṇam/ ā.ity.arvāg.arthe.pra.parā.ity.etasya.prātilomyam – Nir.1.3 .

Yaska seems to have gone along with Gargya;  for, he enumerates twenty prepositions , along with their meanings.

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

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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. The noted Grammarians like Panini, Katyayana and Patanjali were mainly concerned with the derivation of the correct form of words. Yaska and other etymologists were occupied  with word-meanings. Even the Nyaya-sutras of Vatsayana discuss the nature of individual words.

Though the later texts of Nyaya – Vaisesika School  bring in the factors necessary for understanding a sentence; it was only the Mimamsa school that started detailed study of sentence ; and developed sets of rules for understanding word-meaning and its relationship with the sentence (one of its alternate names is Vakyashastra). But, yet the relationship between word-meaning (Pada-artha) and sentence-meaning  (vakya-artha) continued to be a major problem of concern.

Among the ancient writers, neither Panini nor Gautama defined the sentence and its essential characteristics. Jayanta Bhatta of Nyaya School (in his Nyayamanjari, Ca.10th century) 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 Mimamsa), 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. The meaning of a sentence is thus is just a synthesis of the separate 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. It is something more. The unified sentence-meaning is referred to by different terms , such as : Vakyartha; Samsarga ; or, Tatparyartha. It is also called as the power of the sentence to assimilate and to convey a connected sense – Vakyashakthi. 

The  relation between the words and the sentence (bheda or samsarga) ; and, specifically , 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.

The later Grammarians such as Mukulabhatta and others tried to bring together these varied concepts ; and, form a unified theory – Samucchaya  vada (evam caitayah samucchaya iti) . ]

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 , a karaka (= a factor of action), 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 – chapter Four) : 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. It is the immediate recollection of the words through their expressive power (lakshana). 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.

To these three , some  scholars of the Nyaya School have added the fourth criteria, the Tatparya  or Tatparya-jnana , the knowledge of the intention of the speaker ; or  the comprehension of  the general purport of the sentence. later, Abhinavagupta and others , following Jayantabhatta of Nyaya school, recognized  Tatparya-vrtti, as a specific function which  forges a relationship among various word-meanings. 

[The Mimamasa employs the term Tatparya to indicate the substance or the intent of the statement , even without reference to the speaker or his intent. It says ; it would suffice if the predicate or the active part or  Sadhya , that which is about to happen (Videya) is known. 

As regards Akanksha, 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]

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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 has also explained  Akhyata in the sense of kriya (action) . And, verb (kriya pada) plays a very important part in constituting a sentence. A sentence in fact, cannot be framed without a verb.

He explains Kriya as Vyapara.  Following the view of Patanjali, Bhartrhari  defined kriya as “made up of all actions, whether accomplished or unaccomplished, which are expressed as being accomplished because  they have a definite sequence.”]

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 Ashtadhyayi, 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.

[In contrast , Apoha the Buddhist theory does not give any credence to the words. It believes that the essence of meaning is negative in character and that words have no direct reference to objective realities. They are purely subjective construction of the mind (Vikalpa); and, therefore there can be no real connection between words and the external objects. The word ‘cow’ doesn’t actually mean the animal with dewlap, horns etc. It means only the exclusion of all objects that are not cow.]

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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.

Katyayana , in his Vartika , had also said that the way to understand the relation between the word and the meaning is through its popular usage (siddhe sabda-artha-sambandhe lokath).

Gautama , in his Nyaya sutra, held similar views ; and, said that it is by convention that the meaning of a word is understood (samayikatavak sabda-artha-sampratyayasya – NS.4.18)

[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).]

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A-khanda-paksha

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.

According to Anvitabhidhana theory of Prabhakara, the isolated words are not helpful in the communication of ideas. He said; the  implied meaning of words can be known only when they occur in a sentence. But,  Prabhakara regarded  the words as real and actual constituents of the language.  According to him, in language, each word has definite meaning/s. Thus, his theory , though it does not deny the importance of the meaning of the words and their  indicative  power (Abhidha); yet,  it asserts  that the purpose of the  of words is  only  to serve the sentence, as its part.

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’(eko anavayah sabdah); 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).

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According to Bhartrhari,  the gross sound patternDhvani or Nada, is a sequence of sounds. Those sounds are employed to convey or to give an audible form to the intent of the speaker.  Those audible sounds through their divisions and time sequence, produced one after another by the speech organs, act as means (upaya) or as vehicles to transport the intent of the speaker. Such quanta of sound-sequences (words) might create an impression as though they are independent; and, the meaning intended to be conveyed by them (Sphota) comprises several parts. But, in truth, the individual words have no separate existence; and, both the sentence and its meaning (Sphota) are part-less.

[pade na varna vidyante varnesva avayaya na cha / vakyat padanam atyantam pravibhago na kascha na // VP 1.74]

According to Bhartrhari, the letter-sounds have a limited range. Each sound helps in gaining a better understanding of its next. The first one could be vague ; and , the next one little more clear and so on, until the last one, aided by the accumulated  impression created by all the preceding perceptions, finally reveals the complete meaning (Sphota)  with precision and distinctness.

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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.

Dr.Kunjunni Raja remarks : Bhartrhari’s theory of the ‘non reality‘ of the words is accepted only by the Grammarians in India. But, the importance of  the linguistic principle underlying his Sphota theory is very great. 

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, syntax’s 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”.

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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. It is said; Bhartrhari’s theory of Sphota in the culmination of many such attempts in the past that were grappling with linguistic problems. For instance:

: – Panini mentions one Sphotayana, who spoke about the word and its meaning (avaṅ sphoṭāyanasyaPS_6,1.123), 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. Sakatayana is mentioned three times in the Astadhyayi (PS_3,4.111; PS_8,3.18 ; &  PS_8,4.50) . And, Sakatayana is also said to have held the view that all words must be derived from verbal roots (atha. ananvite. arthe. aprādeśike .vikāre. padebhyaḥ. pada.itara.ardhānt.sañcaskāra.śākaṭāyanaḥ – Nir.1.13).

Some scholars recognize Sakatayana as the author of Unadi Sutra (a supplement to Panini’s Grammar, providing additional set of rules to derive nouns from their verbal roots; and, saying that all words can be analysed by the addition of affixes to verbal roots) . Though, at the same time, Gargya (descendant 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.

nāma.ākhyātayos.tu.karma.upasamyoga.dyotakā.bhavanty ucca. avacāḥ . pada . arthā. bhavanti .iti.gārgyas – Nr.1,3:

[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.1.1-2). 

[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 ity anarthantaram).

bhāva.pradhānam.ākhyātam.sattva.pradhānāni.nāmāni / tad yatra ubhe bhāva pradhāne bhavataḥ / pūrva.aparī.bhūtam.bhāvam.ākhyātena.ācaṣṭe.vrajati.pacati.iti /
upakrama.prabhṛty.apavarga.paryantam.mūrtam.sattva.bhūtam.sattva.nāmabhir.vrajyā.paktir.iti/  ada.iti.sattvānām.upadeśo.gaur.aśvaḥ.puruṣo.hastī.iti/bhavati.iti.bhāvasya.āste.śete.vrajati.tiṣṭhati.iti –  Nir. l.l

[About five hundred years after Yaska, the Grammarian Durga rendered Yaska’s views more specific. According to Durga : In a sentence, the Verb is the essential element; because, it is very necessary for the sentence; while the noun is a secondary member  needed for the production of the Bhava

Vakye hy akhytam pradanam ; tad arthavat gunabhutam nama , tad arthasya bhavani-spattva anga-bhutavat , evam tadvad akhyatam vakye pradanam / ]

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 descendant of Varsa, an adept in Varsa Saman (chant), referred to as : parivrājakā.varṣa (2,8) ].

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 Vartakas 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 – autpattikaḥ śabdasya-ārthena saṃbandhas. He did not see a need for a Sphota – pratyakṣādibhir anavagatasya / – katham? .

Jaim_1,1.5: autpattikas tu śabdasyārthena saṃbandhas tasya jñānam upadeśo ‘vyatirekaś ca arthe ‘nupalabdhe, tat pramāṇaṃ bādarāyaṇasya, anapekṣatvāt //

: – 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]

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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.

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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
  26. Indian theories of Meaning by Dr.kunjunni Raja
  27. ALL IMAGES ARE FROM INTERNET
 
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Posted by on January 30, 2017 in Artha-Meaning, Bhartrhari, Sanskrit

 

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The meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Two

 

Continued from Part One

 

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Artha-Tatparya-Shakthi

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.

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Padartha

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) .

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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.

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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.

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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.

Arthashastra

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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
  10. PICTURES ARE FROM INTERNET
 
 

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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.

Artha

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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 ]

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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.1.1.20.1). Panini, in his Astadhyayi, mentions Bharadvaja – to Bhāradvājasya – PS_7, 2.63 .

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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

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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

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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.

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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)

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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 )

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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:  veti.ca.ya.iti.ca.cakāra.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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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’.

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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.]

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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

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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

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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.

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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.]

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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)]

 

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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 .]

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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 husband..tr. 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).]

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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.

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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.

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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.]

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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 ..

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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)
  14. PICTURES ARE FROM INTERNET
 
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Posted by on November 12, 2016 in Artha-Meaning, General Interest, Sanskrit

 

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