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February 16, 2013 / A

Memorizing long rules

When I first started learning Sanskrit, I thought it would be cute to memorize the Bhagavad Gita. As with many things in my life, I lost interest a short way in. But I recall that memorizing a verse was actually rather simple. Most of the verses are self-contained sentences and touch frequently on the same concepts: yoga, karma, dharma, and so on. They operated on a restricted universe of ideas and terms. The use of oral formula certainly helped, too. And of course, each verse was 32 syllables long (for the most part) and fit into the same metrical scheme.

But compared to the Gita, the Ashtadhyayi is an obstinate jungle. Every other rule brings a new concept or a new mishmash of sounds. Some rules are so phonologically hard and require such lingual acrobatics that even reading them is enough to summon nausea:

1.2.1 गाङ्कुटादिभ्योऽञ्णिन्ङित्
After गाङ्, कुट् etc., affixes that are not ञित् or णित् are treated as ङित्.

But what’s perhaps most difficult is the unpredictable length of the text’s rules. Sometimes it’s short and smooth sailing:

2.1.1 समर्थः पदविधिः
2.1.2 सुबामन्त्रिते पराङ्गवत् स्वरे
2.1.3 प्राक् कडारात् समासः
2.1.4 सह सुपा
2.1.5 अव्ययीभावः

And sometimes it’s not:

2.1.6 अव्ययं विभक्तिसमीपसमृद्धिव्यृद्ध्यर्थाभावात्ययासम्प्रति-शब्दप्रादुर्भावपश्चाद्यथानुपूर्व्ययौगपद्य-सादृश्यसम्पत्तिसाकल्यान्तवचनेषु

But as I go further into the text, I find that these long rules are not as troublesome as they used to be. And I think the main reason for this is that I’ve become more adept at teasing out (or perhaps imposing) a reasonable meter on the given rule.

I recently came across this beauty from 3.4:

3.4.65 zakadhRSajJAglAghaTarabhalabhakramasahArhAstyartheSu tumun
तुमुन् is used when any of the following are used as उपपद: शक्, धृष्, ज्ञा, ग्ला, घट्, रभ्, लभ्, क्रम्, सह्, अर्ह्, and roots with the same meaning as अस्ति.

which we can scan like this:

. . . _ _ _ . . . . . _ . . . _ _ _ _ . . .

Then we can group these syllables into measures:

(. . .) _ _ | _ . . | . . . _ . . . | _ _ | _ _ | . . _

Each heavy syllable is a half note, and each light syllable is a quarter note. The first three are pickup notes that introduce the piece. The long measure is a syncopated syllable.

By splitting the line into measures, I can get a better feel for how to stress the rule. And by doing so, I create a built-in mnemonic: I can subconsciously remember which syllables are stressed and fill in any gaps according to whatever patterns my brain’s picked up.


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