Ashtadhyayi, (“Eight Chapters”), Sanskrit treatise on grammar written in the 6th to 5th century bce by the Indian grammarian Panini. This work set the linguistic standards for Classical Sanskrit. It sums up in 4,000 sutras the science of phonetics and grammar that had evolved in the Vedic religion. Panini divided his work into eight chapters, each of which is further divided into quarter chapters. Beyond defining the morphology and syntax of Sanskrit language, Ashtadhyayi distinguishes between usage in the spoken language and usage that is proper to the language of the sacred texts.
Panini’s Ashtadhyayi represents the first attempt in the history of the world to describe and analyse the components of a language on scientific lines. It has not only been universally acclaimed as the first and foremost specimen of Descriptive Grammar but has also been a chief source of inspiration for the linguist engaged in describing languages of different regions. To understand Sanskrit language, and especially that part of it which embodies the highest aspirations of ancient Aryan people, viz., the Brahmanas, Samhitas, and Upanisads, it is absolutely necessary to have a complete knowledge of the grammar elaborated by Panini. Being a masterpiece of reasoning and artistic arrangement its study is bound to cultivate intellectual powers. Western scholars have described it as a wonderful manifestation of Indian intelligence. This book is an English translation of Ashtadhyayi in two volumes and has won a unique position in the world of scholarship
The Aṣṭādhyāyī was not the first description of Sanskrit grammar, but it surpassed its predecessor on such a monumental scale that all earlier works are now lost except for the extent to which they are mentioned by Panini. The Aṣṭādhyāyī became the foundation of Vyākaraṇa, the Sanskrit grammatical tradition, and the classical works of Sanskrit grammarians which flourished during ca. the 8th and 15th centuries (and a revival in the 17th and 18th) are essentially commentaries on Panini.
In the Aṣṭādhyāyī, language is observed in a manner that has no parallel among Greek or Latin grammarians. Pāṇini’s grammar marks the entry of the non-sacred into Indian thought, and according to Renou and Filliozat, it then defines the linguistic expression of that thought.
Pāṇini made use of a technical metalanguage consisting of a syntax, morphology and lexicon. This metalanguage is organised according to a series of meta-rules, some of which are explicitly stated while others can be deduced. The two fundamental principles on which the metalanguage is based are non-redundancy, or the principle of economy, and the necessity of all the rules in the Aṣṭādhyāyī.
The Aṣṭādhyāyī consists of 3,959 sutras or “rules” distributed among eight chapters, which are each subdivided into four sections or padas (pādāḥ).
From example words in the text, and from a few rules depending on the context of the discourse, additional information as to the geographical, cultural and historical context of Pāṇini can be discerned.
The Ashtadhyayi is generative as well as descriptive. With its complex use of metarules, transformations, and recursions, the grammar in Ashtadhyayi has been likened to the Turing machine, an idealized mathematical model that reduces the logical structure of any computing device to its essentials.
The Ashtadhyayi is 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 behavior 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.
While Pāṇini’s work is purely grammatical and lexicographic, cultural and geographical inferences can be drawn from the vocabulary he uses in examples, and from his references to fellow grammarians, which show he was a northwestern person. New deities referred to in his work include Vasudeva (4.3.98). The concept of dharma is attested in his example sentence (4.4.41) dharmam carati “he observes the law” (cf. Taittiriya Upanishad 1.11).
Nothing certain is known about Pāṇini’s personal life. According to the Mahābhāṣya of Patanjali, his mother’s name was Dākṣī. Patañjali calls Pāṇini Dākṣīputra (meaning son of Dākṣī) at several places in the Mahābhāṣya.According to later traditions, his maternal uncle’s name was Vyāḍi.Some scholars suggest that his brother’s name was Piṅgala. Not much is known about his father, whose name has been suggested as Paṇi, but most scholars reject this suggestion. Rambhadracharya gives the name of his father as Paṇina, from which the name Pāṇini derives.
Panini is believed to have been born in Gandhara. Based on the Mahābhāṣya, it is believed that Śalātura was the birthplace of Pāṇini. In the Ashtadhyayi also, the place Śalātura is mentioned. According to Xuanzang, a statue of him existed at Śalātura, the place of his birth. Some writers identify Śalātura with the Shalatur village near Taxila in what is now the Punjab province of Pakistan.
More than a thousand years after he lived, the Panchatantra mentioned that Pāṇini was killed by a lion.
Pāṇini was depicted on a five rupees Indian postage stamp in 2004
Nothing definite is known about when Pāṇini lived, nor even in which century he lived. It is known that he was from the city of Pushkalavati in Gandhara. Most scholarship suggests a 4th-century BCE floruit (corresponding to the Pushkalavati archaeological site), contemporary to the Nanda Empire ruling the Indo-Gangetic Plain, but a 5th or even late 6th century BCE date cannot be ruled out with certainty. Pāṇini’s grammar defines Classical Sanskrit, so Pāṇini by definition lived at the end of the Vedic period. He notes a few special rules, marked chandasi (“in the hymns”) to account for forms in the Vedas that had fallen out of use in the spoken language of his time. These indicate that Vedic Sanskrit was already archaic, but still comprehensible.
An important hint for the dating of Pāṇini is the occurrence of the word yavanānī (in 4.1.49, either “Greek woman”, or “Greek alphabet”) Some Greeks, such as the Persian admiral Scylax of Caryanda, were present in Gandhara as citizens of the Persian Empire well before the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 330s BC; the name could also have been transmitted via Old Persian yauna and the administrative languages Elamite or Aramaic, so that the occurrence of yavanānī taken in isolation allows for a terminus post quem as early as 519 BCE, i.e. the time of Darius I’s Behistun Inscription that included the province of Gandara (Sanskrit Gandhāra).
It is not certain whether Pāṇini used writing for the composition of his work, though it is generally agreed that he knew of a form of writing, based on references to words such as “script” and “scribe” in his AshtadhyayiThese must have referred to Aramaic or early Kharosthi. It is believed by some that a work of such complexity would have been difficult to compile without written notes, though others have argued that he might have composed it with the help of a group of students whose memories served him as “notepads” (as is typical in Vedic learning). Writing first reappears in India in the form of the Brahmi script from c. the 3rd century BCE in the Ashokan inscriptions.
The various rules
I’ve listed the rules here from the most concrete to the most abstract. Throughout this series of lessons, I will use the Sanskrit terms.
This rule is as basic as it gets. We take some term, like vṛddhi, and give it a specialized meaning that exists only within the scope of the Ashtadhyayi. The two rules that we studied in the last lesson were both saṃjñā rules. It’s important to realize that we take an ordinary word and give it a new meaning. For example, vṛddhi originally means something like “growth” or “gain.”
vidhi (general rule)
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.
This sort of rule contradicts an earlier vidhi rule. Essentially, it contains an exception to an earlier rule.
atideśa (rule of analogy)
An atideśa rule specifies that some feature has the properties of another. This is useful because the Ashtadhyayi contains complex rules that act on very specific terms. For example, consider the sandhi rule that turns gacchati iti into gacchatīti. According to an atideśa rule, the long ī is considered to be both the end of the word gacchati and the beginning of the word iti. This rule changes the properties of ī within the system.
adhikāra (governing rule)
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.
paribhāṣā (rule of interpretation)
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.
For illustration’s sake, I’ve created an example. This example is not perfect, but it should help you see how these rules interact and relate to each other. As you read the list below, try to classify each rule with one of the terms above.
Now we talk about food.
Unless otherwise stated, assume that everything that comes from a plant is food.
A fruit contains seeds,
and a vegetable does not.
These are fruits: peaches and tomatoes,
but not turnips.
Tomatoes are treated like vegetables.
Here is how we should classify the rules:
adhikāra. This rule tells us that all of the rules that follow are talking about food. So, a fruit is food, and a vegetable is food as well.
paribhāṣā. This rule tells us how we should classify the things that come from plants. It specifically states an intuitive concept that we should apply to other objects from plants. Although the rule doesn’t say so explicitly, we should understand that it only applies in the context of this list of rules.
saṃjñā. This rule defines the term “fruit” as a food that contains seeds.
saṃjñā. This rule defines the term “vegetable” as a food that does not contain seeds.
vidhi. An ordinary rule.
niyama. An exception to a previous rule.
atideśa. We add the property of “vegetable” to the tomato. Thus, a tomato is treated “like” a vegetable.
Pāṇini’s Ashtadhyayi has three associated texts.
The Shiva Sutras are a brief but highly organised list of phonemes.
The Dhatupatha is a lexical list of verbal roots sorted by present class.
The Ganapatha is a lexical list of nominal stems grouped by common properties.
Main article: Shiva Sutras
The Shiva Sutras describe a phonemic notational system in the fourteen initial lines preceding the Ashtadhyayi. The notational system introduces different clusters of phonemes that serve special roles in the morphology of Sanskrit, and are referred to throughout the text. Each cluster, called a pratyāhara ends with a dummy sound called an anubandha (the so-called IT index), 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.
The Dhatupatha is a lexicon of Sanskrit verbal roots subservient to the Ashtadhyayi. It is organised by the ten present classes of Sanskrit, i.e. the roots are grouped by the form of their stem in the present tense.
The ten present classes of Sanskrit are:
bhū-ādayaḥ (root-full grade thematic presents)
ad-ādayaḥ (root presents)
ju-ho-ti-ādayaḥ (reduplicated presents)
div-ādayaḥ (ya thematic presents)
su-ādayaḥ (nu presents)
tud-ādayaḥ (root-zero grade thematic presents)
rudh-ādayaḥ (n-infix presents)
tan-ādayaḥ (no presents)
krī-ādayaḥ (ni presents)
cur-ādayaḥ (aya presents, causatives)
Most of these classes are directly inherited from Proto-Indo-European. The small number of class 8 verbs are a secondary group derived from class 5 roots, and class 10 is a special case, in that any verb can form class 10 presents, then assuming causative meaning. The roots specifically listed as belonging to class 10 are those for which any other form has fallen out of use (causative deponents, so to speak).
The Ganapatha (gaṇapāṭha) is a list of groups of primitive nominal stems used by the Ashtadhyayi.
Pāṇini, and the later Indian linguist Bhartrihari, had a significant influence on many of the foundational ideas proposed by Ferdinand de Saussure, professor of Sanskrit, who is widely considered the father of modern structural linguistics.
The Aṣṭādhyāyī is the central part of Pāṇini’s grammar, and by far the most complex. Regarded as extremely compact without sacrificing completeness, it would become the model for later specialist technical texts or sutras. It takes material from lexical lists (Dhatupatha, Ganapatha) as input and describes algorithms to be applied to them for the generation of well-formed words. It is highly systematised and technical. Inherent in its approach are the concepts of the phoneme, the morpheme and the root. His rules have a reputation for perfection – that is, they are claimed to describe Sanskrit morphology fully, without any redundancy. A consequence of his grammar’s focus on brevity is its highly unintuitive structure, reminiscent of modern notations such as the “Backus–Naur Form”. His sophisticated logical rules and technique have been widely influential in ancient and modern linguistics.
Frits Staal has written that “Panini is the Indian Euclid.”
Now, let’s try and understand the different kinds of rules that Panini uses in his work.
India released a stamp in honour of Panini in 2004. There is also a Panini temple (Panini Smarak Mandir) in Kashi, built on soil brought from Panini’s birthplace in Pakistan
Pāṇini (IPA: [pɑːɳin̪i]; a patronymic meaning “descendant of Paṇi”; fl. 4th century BCE ), or Panini, was a Vyākaraṇin from the early mahajanapada era of ancient India. He was born in Pushkalavati, Gandhara (on the outskirts of modern-day Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan).
Pāṇini is known for his Sanskrit grammar, particularly for his formulation of the 3,959 rules of Sanskrit morphology, syntax and semantics in the grammar known as Aṣṭādhyāyī, meaning “eight chapters”), the foundational text of the grammatical branch of the Vedanga, the auxiliary scholarly disciplines of the historical Vedic religion.
The Ashtadhyayi is one of the earliest known grammars of Sanskrit, although Pāṇini refers to previous texts like the Unadisutra, Dhatupatha, and Ganapatha. It is the earliest known work on linguistic description, and together with the work of his immediate predecessors (the Niruktas, Nighantus, and Pratishakyas) stands at the beginning of the history of linguistics itself. His theory of morphological analysis was more advanced than any equivalent Western theory before the mid 20th century, and his analysis of noun compounds still forms the basis of modern linguistic theories of compounding, which have borrowed Sanskrit terms such as bahuvrihi and dvandva.
Pāṇini’s comprehensive and scientific theory of grammar is conventionally taken to mark the end of the period of Vedic Sanskrit, introducing the period of Classical Sanskrit.
After Pāṇini, the Mahābhāṣya (“great commentary”) of Patañjali on the Ashtadhyayi is one of the three most famous works in Sanskrit grammar. It was with Patañjali that Indian linguistic science reached its definite form. The system thus established is extremely detailed as to shiksha (phonology, including accent) and vyakarana (morphology). Syntax is scarcely touched, but nirukta (etymology) is discussed, and these etymologies naturally lead to semantic explanations. People interpret his work to be a defence of Pāṇini, whose Sūtras are elaborated meaningfully. He also attacks Katyayana rather severely. But the main contributions of Patañjali lies in the treatment of the principles of grammar enunciated by him.