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May 25, 2012 / A

Sanskrit Aorists (लुङ्)

No part of Sanskṛt Grammar is more difficult and perplexing and therefore more calculated to tire out the patience of the young student, than the ‘Conjugation of Verbs.’
— M. R. Kale, A Higher Sanskrit Grammar p. xi

Pity the poor Sanskrit student, whose verbal universe is so vast and unforgiving. For he must master more than the root and class(es) and voice(s); he must know whether the root uses a connecting i vowel; what sort(s) of passive stem the verb can become; how it changes into causative and intensive and desiderative forms; and whatever sorts of irregularities and changes are studded in its many constellations.

But perhaps most challenging is the aorist system (लुङ्). Perhaps it’s because the verbs are so rare; but for a green Sanskrit student, this is probably one of the last things he will study.

This post is a lightweight, high-level summary of aorists in Sanskrit, both from a historical linguistic perspective and a traditional Paninian perspective.


“Aorist” is from the Greek aoristos “unbounded” and was originally used to describe the parallel verb system in Ancient Greek. Like Sanskrit, Greek has multiple verb forms to describe past events. But unlike in Sanskrit, these verbs each have distinct and disjoint meanings. For convenience, some examples from Wikipedia:

ἀνὴρ ἔθυε βοῦν.
A man used to sacrifice an ox.

ἀνὴρ ἔθυσε βοῦν.
A man sacrificed an ox.

ἀνὴρ ἐτεθύκει βοῦν.
A man had sacrificed an ox.

Here the first example is parallel to the Sanskrit “imperfect” (Sanskrit अनद्यतनभूते “past action before today”), the second is parallel to the Sanskrit “aorist” (Sanskrit अद्यतनभूते “past action that happened today”), and the third is parallel to the Sanskrit “perfect” (Sanskrit परोक्षे “(past action) beyond one’s purview”).

In Sanskrit, the senses of these three verbs are not quite as distinct, although they are disjoint in theory. And because these various past verbs were not especially distinct, many Sanskrit writers started to ignore their distinctions entirely, at least with the imperfect and the aorist. Again, M. R. Kale:

After Sanskṛt ceased to be a spoken language the exact senses of these tenses were lost sight of and writers began to use them promiscuously, so that now any of these [three tenses] may be used to denote past time with certain limitations.
— M. R. Kale, A Higher Sanskrit Grammar, paragraph 925

And given a choice between अपश्यत् and अद्राक्षीत् , what Sanskrit writer would go out of his way to use अद्राक्षीत्? Only a pedantic one who wished to show off.

To review: we have a complicated and mostly redundant verb system that only the most pedantic authors tend to use regularly. Granted, the aorist did start to develop its own meaning in later Sanskrit literature. Thus अश्रौषम् could mean “I have heard.” And it does appear rather frequently in what are called injunctive phrases. Thus मा स्म गमः, “don’t ever go!”

The seven types of the aorist

Here I will detail the seven types of the aorist and summarize (where possible) how Panini describes them. In Panini’s model, aorist verbs are created by adding tagged affixes to roots. These affixes occasionally cause other operations, like reduplication.

As usual, we have some governing rules to consider:

3.1.43 च्लि लुङि
Affix च्लि replaces लुङ् (the aorist marker)
3.1.44 च्लेः सिच्
च्लि is replaced by सिच्.
(This is an उत्सर्ग. Incidentally, I’m not sure yet why the text doesn’t just say सिच् लुङि.)

The parenthesized names below are loosely meaningful but should only be used in the context of this post; you might get some funny looks if you use them outside it.

लुक् (Root)

A small variety. Verb endings are added directly to the end of the verb. In Panini’s terms, the original aorist suffix is deleted.

गातिस्थाघुपाभूभ्यः सिचः परस्मैपदेषु
The affix सिच् is deleted (by लुक्) in परस्मैपद when used with the roots गा (गाति), स्था, घु (दा and धा), or भू.

This group is small. We have verbs like अभूः “you were,” अदात् “he gave”, and अगाम “we went.”

अङ् (अ)

अ is added between the root and the ending. Sometimes called the “thematic aorist.”

3.1.52 अस्यतिवक्तिख्यातिभ्योऽङ्
अङ् is used after the verrbs अस् (अस्यति), वच् (वक्ति), and ख्या (ख्याति).
3.1.55 पुषादिद्युताद्यॢदितः परस्मैपदेषु

अवोचत् “he spoke” and अगमत् “he went” are especially common. Note that in Panini’s list of verbs, गम् has indicatory ऌ; therefore, अगमत् is allowed by the second rule.

चङ् (Reduplicated)

Usually known as the “causative aorist,” since all causative verbs use it.

3.1.48 णिश्रिद्रुस्रुभ्यः कर्तरि चङ्

Thus अनीनशत् “he caused to lead” and अजीगमत् “he caused to go.”

क्स (weak स्)

Limited to only certain roots. Here is the general rule; there are only a few small exceptions.

3.1.45 शल इगुपधादनिटः क्सः
Roots with a penultimate इक् (weak, non-अ) vowel that end in a शल् consonant (sibilant or ह्) take क्स if they do not ever take the separating इ vowel.

Thus we get forms like अदिक्षत् “he indicated” and अलिक्षम् “I licked”.

Various (इष्, सिष्, and strong स्)

I’m not yet sure what causes these aorists to form. I’m certain at least one of them is related to the सिच् affix, which produces forms like अद्राक्षीत् “he saw” and (perhaps) अश्रौषम् “I heard.” But I need to read more about Panini’s system before I can say for sure.


One Comment

Leave a Comment
  1. Hemant / May 28 2012 9:16 am

    Just read (पठितवान् अस्मि) a little bit, will read full soon. But it’s really wonderful!

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