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March 24, 2012 / A

The many authors of the Ashtadhyayi

I am making good progress with chapter 1.2. Granted, I used to know the chapter by heart, so that’s expected. But at the moment I know 100 rules of the text.

Hooray! Only 3859 rules remain!


Via Flickr

This preoccupation with how many rules I still had to study was exactly what derailed me when I tried to memorize the text a year ago. I’ve learned to just enjoy the process. And along with that process come many insights into the Sanskrit grammatical tradition.

Which leads me to the topic of this post. Until recently, I thought that there was no reason to question the idea that Panini created the Ashtadhyayi. Every commentator refers to him by name, and most all reference to him makes it clear that his text is the product of one author. This isn’t the same as thinking that, say, Vyasa is the author of the whole Mahabharata, a gargantuan text of such abrupt tonal shifts and changes in Sanskrit style that it is almost certain that the text was created by multiple authors. The Ashtadhyayi is much smaller, more self-contained, and more clearly a work bearing the mark of a single inspired author.

But as you might have guessed, that is not quite the whole story. With a keen eye it is possible to separate the text into different layers of authorship. There is evidence of a core work by Panini, but after that we find multiple and large-scale insertions.

I do not have enough expertise to do so on my own, so as usual I turn to the expert opinion of S. D. Joshi. And for my own sake, I will stick to chapter 1.2. Now, here are some of the peculiar things S. D. Joshi notes about this chapter, which are difficult to explain unless we consider that this is the work of multiple authors.

Defining unnecessary phonetic features

Phonetics and grammar are not exclusive parts of Sanskrit. Anyone who has studied sandhi will know this well. But they are still part of different traditions. To quote Patanjali,

व्याकरणं नामेयमुत्तरा विद्या । सो ऽसौ छन्दःशास्त्रेष्वभिविनीत उपलब्ध्यावगन्तुं सहते
What is called “grammar” is a later (i.e. advanced) study. He who is well-trained in prosody (and phonetics) will be able to understand its insights.

(Joshi adds “and phonetics,” and I see no grounds to reject that insertion. In whatever capacity prosody could help us understand the Ashtadhyayi, phonetics would be equally necessary.)

So it is normal and expected that the two are largely unconnected. Still, Panini does need to make use of some phonetic terms in order to describe certain morphological changes. Thus he rigorously defines terms like ह्रस्व (“short” (vowel)) while leaving more complicated notions like अनुस्वार and विसर्जनीय alone. It was assumed that the student would know them already.

Similarly Panini defines the other vowel lengths and the various accents. (Accents come into play because they indicate certain types of rules.) These are all normal and expected definitions.

But then this comes along:

1.2.33 एकश्रुति दूरात्संबुद्धौ
When calling out from a distance, एकश्रुति (“monotony”) is used.

This is the beginning of a block of rules about the use of “monotony” when speaking Sanskrit. The block is problematic because — well, I’ll defer to S. D. Joshi here:

The present rule [1.2.33], which prescribes ekaśruti, when calling from a distance, is at variance with P. 8.2.84. The latter rule prescribes (pluta and) udātta for the final vowel of an utterance, when calling from a distance. Here the final vowel is that of a vocative word at the end of the utterance. To bring out a contrast between the two rules, the example for P. 1.1.33 should begin with a vocative word. But, in fact, the examples for both rules offered by the KV [काशिकावृत्ति, one of the older Panini commentaries] are identical.

Inconsistencies in the A. [Ashtadhyayi] provide evidence for the existence of layers in the text of the A., in the sense that rules have beene added to an original body of rules at a later date. It is hardly conceivable that Pāṇini would have phrased rules which clash with other rules in his system (see Joshi-Roodbergen 1983, p. 92-93). Considering that Pāṇini carefully prescribes the accentuation of laukika speech also, of stems, suffixes and complete utterances, and considering that P. 1.2.33 goes against P. 8.2.84, it may be conjectured that ekaśruti is not a Pāṇinian concept, but was introduced into the A. to accommodate later, rather lax practice.

On these grounds S. D. Joshi recommends cutting out the एकश्रुति block altogether. I have only limited exposure to the text, but this does not strike me as a bad idea.

Using an unusual or non-optimal word order

The Ashtadhyayi was a text that was meant to be memorized. Certain features of the text, according to what I’ve read, are meant to make that process a bit easier. I will talk more about these features as I come across them. And by creating rules in a regular way, Panini makes them a bit easier to remember. But some rules are phrased in clumsy or non-optimal ways, which indicates a secondary source. One example:

1.2.47 ह्रस्वो नपुंसके प्रातिपदिकस्य
A short vowel is substituted for the last vowel of the प्रातिपदिक (nominal stem) when the stem is used in the neuter.

Given the context of the previous rule, Joshi suggests तस्य नपुंसके ह्रस्वः, which better follows the other rules even as it also takes up less space.

I can understand a few of the other issues at stake in some of these dubious rules, but since I have only read a small part of the Ashtadhyayi and can barely understand them myself, I am not in a good position to explain them to you as well. So I will stop here for now.


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