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March 22, 2012 / A

Why the Ashtadhyayi is hard to read

The ouroboros, a serpent without beginning or end

The first chapter of the Ashtadhyayi is one I once knew well, so it should only take a day or two to reacquaint myself with it. But I want to discuss the first six rules of the text, which display many aspects of Panini’s system in microcosm. The gist of it all: the Ashtadhyayi assumes that you’ve read it before you’ve started to read it. In a later post, I’ll talk about some ways to start to break into the text.

वृद्धिरादैच् ॥ १ ॥
आ, ऐ, and औ are called वृद्धि.
अदेङ्गुणः ॥ २ ॥
अ, ए, and ओ are called गुण.
इको गुणवृद्धी ॥ ३ ॥
गुण and वृद्धि are substituted for इ, ई, उ, ऊ, ऋ, ॠ, लृ, and लॄ,
न धातुलोप आर्धधातुके ॥ ४ ॥
unless: the vowel is followed by an आर्धधातुक suffix that deletes part of a verb base;
क्ङिति च ॥ ५ ॥
the vowel is followed by terms marked with क् or ङ्;
दीधीवेवीटाम् ॥ ६ ॥
or the vowel is in the roots दीधी or वेवी.

Here you can notice the following:

  • Terms are used before they are defined. The first line uses the term आत् , which represents the vowel आ. Recall that in the Shiva Sutras, the vowel अ refers to both अ and आ. To specify one form or the other, the letter त् is added to the end of a vowel. Thus in rule two we see अत्, which refers to just the vowel अ. Likewise we have no definitions for धातु, लोप, आर्धधातुक, इट् , or क्ङित्. This is all part of a larger difficulty with the text: rules are in an unintuitive order.
  • Rules do not always follow Sanskrit phonetic principles. Consider the last letter of rule 1. We would expect च् to become क् through consonant reduction, just as वाच् becomes वाक् and राज् becomes राट्. Not so. In Panini’s grammar, sandhi changes can create undesirable ambiguity. For example, the pratyāhāra अच् refers to all vowels, but by consonant reduction this would become अक्, which refers only to the simple vowels. Or, consider the beginning of rule 5. क्ङ् is a combination never found in ordinary Sanskrit, but it is allowed here.
  • Rules are of different types. The first two rules here are definitions (संज्ञा) of various terms in the grammar. The third rule is a general rule (विधि). The remaining rules are restrictions on the general rule (नियम). Other rules include rules of interpretation (परिभाषा), governing rules (अधिकार), and rules of analogy (अतिदेश). These three will appear in future posts.
  • Rules do not always have a predictable pattern. The first two rules are both definitions. The first defines वृद्धि, and the second defines गुण. So why is वृद्धि at the beginning of the first rule when गुण is at the end of the second? In most cases, the term appears at the end. But वृद्धिरादैच् is an exception. Some commentators have said that by placing वृद्धि at the beginning of the rule, the text has a मङ्गल (maṅgala), an auspicious sign with which to start the work.
  • Basic grammar features have different meanings. Consider the third rule: इको गुणवृद्धी. With some effort, we can recognize इक् as a  pratyāhāra referring to the vowels इ, ई, उ, ऊ, ऋ, ॠ, लृ, and लॄ. But what case is the term in here? Ultimately, this is the genitive case (षष्ठी). So, we can translate the rule as “गुण and वृद्धि are used for the इक् vowels.” But that’s rather vague. Instead, we must rely on a rule found later on in the grammar. By that rule of interpretation (परिभाषा), we learn that in this text, the genitive case implies the word स्थाने (“in the place of”). Thus we should  read this rule as “गुण and वृद्धि are substituted for the इक् vowels.” In other rules, the genitive has nothing at all to do with substitution.

As an orally transmitted text, the Ashtadhyayi also has features that specify how rules should be broken up. Suppose we had only this to start with. I’ve undone some sandhi for clarity’s sake:

वृद्धिरादैच् अदेङ्गुणः इको गुणवृद्धी न धातुलोप आर्धधातुके क्ङिति च दीधीवेवीटाम्

How do we separate this into different rules? It is very difficult to do so, unless you have some familiarity with the text.

(here starts a rather difficult digression)

Having worked with the text before, I can recognize that the first rule is a definition because I can see that the first two terms are in the nominative. (Since this is a sūtra-style work, the accusative case (द्वितीया) is rarely, if ever, used.) Since आदैच् and अदेङ्गुणः are not combined in a single dvandva, we can infer that they are parts of two separate rules. (The Ashtadhyayi follows rules of economy; as long as it would not sacrifice too much clarity, the text tries to be as brief as possible.) So we break on वृद्धिरादैच् and have rule 1. Likewise I recognize rule 2 is a definition. I can recognize the bounds of the third rule by the word न, which usually starts a new rule. न implies an exception (नियम) to the previous rule.

Now the bounds are trickier to determine. Ultimately, I rely on the use of the word च. Whole papers have been written on the use of च in the Ashtadhyayi, and there is still more that can be said about it. In essence, च “latches on” to the previous rule while marking itself as separate. If च were not present, we would have न धातुलोप आर्धधातुके क्ङिति, which would imply that क्ङित् is some sort of adjective applied to आर्धधातुक.

According to S. D. Joshi, we can separate क्ङिति च from दीधीवेवीटाम् on the basis of sāmarthya (“fitness”), which I only partially understand. The gist of it seems to be as follows. In Pāṇini’s grammar, some suffixes cause the root to strengthen. Rule 1.1.6 defines the role of the indicatory letters क् and ङ् : they stop the root vowel from strengthening. Thus the past passive participle (भूते कृदन्त) suffix त is marked with क् to produce क्त, and likewise the gerund suffix is marked क्त्वा (hence the term क्त्वान्त). If the two rules were read together, this special function of क् and ङ् would be restricted only to दीधी and वेवी, meaning that a lot of its usage elsewhere would be meaningless. This goes against the grammar’s principles of economy. Therefore, the two rules should be read as separate. Rule 7, not shown here, consists of terms in the nominative, implying a new block of rules. This is the gist of splitting the Ashtadhyayi into rules.

(thus ends an awful, awful digression)

… If your head is spinning, you’re not alone.

Thankfully, I will not have to deal with this at all; almost every printed copy of the Ashtadhyayi has the rules neatly separated. But unfortunately, that doesn’t make the text much easier to understand.


One Comment

Leave a Comment
  1. karmavichara1000 / Oct 4 2012 1:16 pm

    //the Ashtadhyayi assumes that you’ve read it before you’ve started to read it.// – I laughed out loud when I read this statement.

    Nice posts.

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