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February 19, 2013 / A

Vowel sandhi in the Ashtadhyayi

I’ve spent a few posts thinking about (and being frustrated by) some of the longer rules in the Ashtadhyayi. But the beauty of the Ashtadhyayi is in its smaller rules. Once it lays a basic foundation in place, it can make terse but powerful statements about Sanskrit’s behavior. I came across one such rule today:

6.1.72 संहितायाम्
In continuous contact (of sounds), …
6.1.77 इको यण् अचि
The vowels इ, ई, उ, ऊ, ऋ, ॠ, and ऌ become their corresponding semivowels (य्, र्, ल्, व्) when in front of vowels.

I bring in 6.1.72 for clarity. In order to interpret 6.1.77 correctly, we need to know the following:

  • The Ashtadhyayi arranges the Sanskrit sounds in a special order (the Shiva Sutras), in which some letters are “indicatory.”
  • The term संहिता implies continuous contact (परः संनिकर्षः संहिता)
  • 6.1.72 is an अधिकार rule that applies to the rules following (because of a svarita accent, which doesn’t survive in the modern text: स्वरितेनाधिकारः)
  • Letters can be “homogeneous” (तुल्यास्यप्रयत्नं सवर्णम्), but vowels and consonants are never homogeneous with each other (नाज्झलौ).
  • A bare vowel denotes itself and all homogeneous sounds (अणुदित् सवर्णस्य चाप्रत्ययः).
  • In terms like इक् and यण्, the क् and ण् are indicatory (हल् अन्त्यम्).
  • A letter paired with an indicatory letter indicates itself and all the letters between them (आदिर् अन्त्येन सहेता)
  • Case 6 defines the item replaced (षष्ठी स्थानेयोगा)
  • Case 7 defines the item after the substitute (तस्मिन्न् इति निर्दिष्टे पूर्वस्य)
  • When one series is enumerated with another, they form a 1:1 correspondence (यथासंख्यम् अनुदेशः समानाम्; thus इ is replaced by य्, not र् or any other letter in the series).

All of these rules are from book 1, which is essential to understanding and interpreting the Ashtadhyayi correctly.

There is also a cruder rule for compound vowels:

6.1.78 एचो ऽयवायावः
The vowels ए, ऐ, ओ, and औ become अय्, आय्, अव्,, and आव् when in front of vowels.

which requires further interpretation. When reading the Ashtadhyayi, we make the assumption that all rules are important. 6.1.77 and 6.1.78 are clearly in conflict: 77 applies to all vowels, and 78 applies only to certain vowels. We use the principle of उत्सर्ग-अपवाद, the “general” and the “specific.” In a conflict, the specific rule dominates the general rule. Some commentators apply 1.4.2 instead:

1.4.2 विप्रतिशेधे परं कार्यम्
When conflict arises, the later rule should be applied.

but S. D. Joshi has convinced me that उत्सर्ग-अपवाद is a more powerful device for explaining this change.

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