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   1. Re: sanskrit Digest, Vol 42, Issue 8 (Michel Bostr?m)


Message: 1
Date: Mon, 23 Oct 2006 11:17:08 +1000
From: Michel Bostr?m <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
Subject: Re: [Sanskrit] sanskrit Digest, Vol 42, Issue 8
To: <>
        <!&[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
Content-Type: text/plain;       charset="iso-8859-1"



Shri Mishra makes some very good points below.  May I add the following:

1) Clearly Panini composed the Ashtadhyayi with the intent that it should be
memorised, so this is a part of an oral tradition.  But note that the word
sutra (with verb form is suu-traya, to tie, cognate with the English "sew")-
means in the first instance a thread or string; secondly a book - the pages
of which are sewn together with thread or string - ; and finally a
grammatical rule.   The fact that the Vishnusutra is attributed to Panini
indicates that his works were composed in the context of a scholarly
tradition that was both written and oral - though clearly precedence was
given to the oral.  If anyone knows why a grammatical rule is a sutra, I
would love to hear from you.  I take it that it is because these sutras are
strung together, but this does not quite make sense.  Suerly only the
collection as a whole should be called a sutra? (I hope that I have not
missed anything here.)

2) I have never actually heard about meanings being attribute to phonemes -
only to syllables.  In particular, I have heard the one about guru being
derived from two roots, "gu" and "ru", at least a dozen times.  (I am sure
that someone out there will be able to remind what these roots are supposed
to mean.)  All I can cay is: if you say so, I guess that is what these
sounds mean.  But that does not make them Sanskrit.  They are not found in
any dictionary and, as far as I know, they have no conjugations or
declensions, so they cannot be used in a Sanskrit sentence.  Panini dealt
with the structure of the Sanskrit language - and to a lesser extent, the
Vedic language, where Sanskrit diverges from the Vedic.  The meanings of
syllables lies outside his field of study.

3) If a religious or philosophical text uses a myth as a heuristic device,
or a hymn or a mantra as an aid to concentration, they can play a very
useful role for adherents of that cult.  This is something that I would not
disparage.  If other people invent meanings for words that are nowhere
recorded in any natural sentence in Sanskrit, and cannot even be used in a
real sentence, and if they consider this to be part of their religious
observation then this has to be respected.  As pointed out Shri Mishra, this
is a natural outgrowth of the Vedic focus on the sounding of hymns.
Nevertheless, it has nothing to do with the Sanskrit language as such and
does not merit the attention of scholars either of language or of

Please forgive if I have sounded unduly critical on this subject.  I am a
giant fan of Panini, the greatest linguist that ever lived by a very wide
margin - whether or not he actually composed all the works that are
attributed to him.  I dislike intensely seeing his work buried in an
accretion of trivia.  Also, as you see, I am in general rather lacking in

Kind regards



Message: 7
Date: Wed, 18 Oct 2006 21:59:43 +0200 (CEST)
From: Anand Mishra <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
Subject: Re: [Sanskrit] sanskrit Digest, Vol 42, Issue 2 Panini and
To: Michel Bostrom <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>,
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1

Dear Friends,

I am a newcomer to your mailing list and am writing
for the first time. I have been following with
interest the evolving discussion initiated by someone
in search of the 'meaning' of the letters of Sanskrit

In this connection the informative letter of Mr.
Dhananjaya and further the comments of Mr. Bostrom are

I, however, want to share the following observations:
(NB: I shall follow the Harvard-Kyoto convention for
sanskrit because of portability problems with other

1. There is an ancient vedic tradition much older then
pANini which concerns itself with phonetics. This
stream of learning is called 'zikSA' and is one of the
six streams (vedAGga) developed for perfecting vedic
recitations and rituals. pANini-zikSA is a work in
this stream.

2. Another vedAGga is vyAkaraNa which analyses the
language by dividing it in constituting components and
thus giving a description of that language. The
grammarian provides these constituting components e.g.
prakRti (dhAtu, prAtipadika etc.) or pratyaya
(affixes) and then prescribes rules which generate the
language from these components. In his aSTAdhyAyI it
is this task which pANini takes up. Here it should be
noted that the language (bhASA) came first and grammar
later. Language is real ('akSara'=na kSaratIti
a-kSara, that which does not obliterate) and
grammatical formulation is a creation of the
grammarian. He perceives a structure, a system in the
language and explains it through his grammar. There
could be more than one grammars for a language.

3. In this process, it is natural to identify and
characterize the building blocks of the language. The
normal ordering of the speech-sounds in Sanskrit is
according to the place of articulation moving from
'kaNTha' (velar) towards 'oSTha' (labial). pANini (or
may be someone prior to him, a 'pUrvAcArya')
reorganized the alphabet allowing the formation of
sigla and thus enabling a more compact formulation of
rules. Here one must note an important feature of
Indian scholarly tradition. And it is that a
traditional Indian scholar, howsoever great, considers
himself to be a transmitter of the wisdom he has
acquired from his peers and is not much interested in
proclaiming what 'he' thinks or what 'he' has
discovered. (Patents and copyrights are a gift of
modern civilizations!). Even if pANini himself is
improvising this reordering of alphabet, he would
rather attribute it to lord ziva 's cymbal. This story
tells us more about this feature of Indian tradition.
The emphasis is always on the 'teaching' and 'an
unbroken continuity of teaching'. So we find
upanishadic expressions like 'iti zuzrama pUrvezAM ye

4. At this point we must also reflect upon the
different styles of presentation of a fact, which we
meet in the long indian tradition. It is perhaps very
easy to caste aside 'fairy tales' as imaginary
anecdotes. But more challenging, and in any case more
interesting, is to relate it to the intended idea of
the author. It is rightly said about indian tradition
that 'poets precede prophets here'! One needs to have
a little poetical flight to interpret many of the
seemingly 'fairy tales'. I want to give here just one
example: Often we read about 'AkAza-vANI'. On can
easily criticize that how it could be possible that
one suddenly hears a sound from sky. But a little
reflection tells that the sky or 'AkAza' here is
'hRdAkAza' or 'the space within'. One hears the voice
within and at the mythological level it would be
presented as if the God or some celestial body is
saying it. That 'AkAza' is often used for the space
within, would be clear if one reads passages like
'hRdAkAze cidAdityaH sadA bhAsati bhAsati. nAstameti
na codeti kathaM sandhyAmupAsmahe?'

5. Anyway, the point which I want to emphasize is that
there is nothing wrong in trying to speculate about
the 'meaning' of individual letters. At least one can
not consider this attempt inferior to, let us say, a
pure linguistic/scientific analysis of the
language-elements. It is true that pANini 's main area
of interest is to discover the inherent
characteristics of these sounds and describe their
behaviour and mutual relationships, and therein lies
his genius. So e.g. about 'svara' or vowels it would
be said: 'svenaiva rAjanta iti svarAH' (those who
reign by themselves) i.e. they could be spoken without
the help of vyaJjana 's or consonants (and not vice
versa). And many rules are there for 'sandhi' etc. But
an upanishadic seer would speculate further, e.g. in
taittirIya upaniSad there is a zIkSA-vallI talking
about zikSA (varNaH svaraH, mAtrA balaM, sAma
santAnaH...) and then further 'sandhi' is not only
combination of phonemes but 'combination' in general.
E.g. mAtA pUrva-rUpaM, pitottararUpaM, prajA sandhiH,
prajananaM sandhAnam... The entire corpus of upaniSad
is replete with such philosophical speculations, the
gist of which is often conveyed through the mystical
syllable 'aum'. The same syllable could appear
meaningless to some and the ultimate source of all
wisdom to some. If we ignore this spiritual side of
the truth then we have only half of the loaf, just
like if we remain only at the spiritual plain we miss
the other half of the loaf (warns us the upanishadic

6. There is a clear seperation of sound and script;
and indian tradition is an oral tradition. There is in
fact no word in Sanskrit parallel to the word
'scripture' of semitic traditions. The meta linguistic
rules of aSTAdhyAyI itself prove that it was composed
and transmitted orally. E.g. Rule 1.3.002 defining the
markers says 'upadeze ac anunAsika it' An ac (vowel)
which is anunAsika (pronunced nasalized) in upadeza
(grammatical corpus) is called 'it'. Or the
'adhikAra-sUtra' are the ones uttered with high pitch.
Moreover, the modern script devanAgarI is very
systematically organized based strictly on phonetic
principles. Being a syllabic script it has the
advantage of representing the basic units we speak
(consisting either one svara alone, one or more
consonants ending in a vowel, or a consonant followed
by pause - which is depicted by 'halanta' i.e. 'ening
with hal=consonant'). But it is not very suitable for
grammatical presentations as we do not write each
phonem seperately.

7. There is an established tradition of correlating
the sounds or a corpus of literature (e.g. veda) to
the idea of the Absolute/God etc. The primary reason
behind such an attempt is that we have a strong vedic
tradition where 'vedic word' is the ultimate reality
and therefore other concepts of the ultimate reality
e.g. God / hari must be identified with the 'word'.
Thus, in later theistic traditions veda is sometimes
emanation of God, word of God, or God itself. Further,
the body of God(ess) is as if formed from 'words'
('tava ca kA kila na stutirambike, sakala-zabda-mayI
kila te tanuH...)

I end this letter with a beautiful 'stuti' in
'zArdUlavikrIDita chanda' of the 'varNa-maya' form of
the Godess in which all the 'akSara' are seen as the
body parts of the deity. Those of you, who could
identify the 'hidden letters' here would certainly
'see' the meaning of these letters as well!!

Adyo maulirathAparo mukhami-I netre ca karNAvu-U
nAsAvaMzapuTe R RR tadanujau varNau kapoladvayam
dantAzchordhvamadhastathoSThayugalaM sandhyakSarAni
jihvAmUlamudagrabindurapi ca grIvA visargI svaraH

k-AdirdakSiNato bhujastadaparo vargazca vAmo bhujaS
Th-Adis-t-AdiranukrameNa caraNau kukSidvayaM te
vaMzaH pRSThabhavo'tha nAbhihRdaye b-AditrayaM dhAtavo
y-AdyAH sapta samIraNazca sa-paraH kSaH krodha

evaM varNa-mayaM vapustava zive lokatrayavyApakaM
yo'haMbhAvanayA bhajatyavayave'pyAropitairakSaraiH
mUrtIbhUya dinAvasAnakamalAkAraiH ziraH zAyibhis
taM vidyAH samupAsate karatalairdRSTiprasAdotsukAH

ye jAnanti yajanti saMtatamabhidhyAyanti gAyanti vA
teSAmAsyamupAsyate mRdupadanyAsairvilAsairgirAm
kiMca krIDati bhUrbhuvaHsvarabhitaH zrIcandanasyandinI
kIrtiH kArtika-rAtri-kairava-samA saubhAgya-zobhAkarI

With warm regards

Anand Mishra

--- Michel Bostrom <[EMAIL PROTECTED]> schrieb:

> Friends,
> Dhananjay Sahib has given a very good response to
> the question.   To expect
> Panini to have been involved in collecting fairy
> stories about the inherent
> meanings of letters is just the kind of nonsense
> that obscures, rather than
> illuminates, the study of history and of language. 
> Panini was a giant: the
> originator of the science of grammar and an logical
> thinker and literary
> composer of extraordinary powers.  Do you also want
> him to be a juggler and
> storyteller for the amusement of the masses?
> I would like to clarify a seemingly minor, but
> nevertheless important,
> point.  Dhananjay Sahib (correctly) writes: "As far
> as I know writing is not
> mentioned, and script is not a part of paaNini's
> grammar".  But he then goes
> on to apparently contradict himself by discussing
> what he says that Panini
> said about particular letters!!  There is a bit of a
> mis-fit here.  The fact
> is that Panini elucidates Sansrit phonetics - the
> SOUNDS used in speeches,
> not the letters used to represent those sounds
> visually.  The science of
> phonetics is quite independent of the writing
> system.  That the present
> writing system of Sanskrit corresponds to Panini's
> phonetics is due to the
> influence of his work (and that of other ancient
> writers on the subject),
> rather than the other way around. 
> The symbols used to represent sounds are quite
> arbitrary, and indeed, the
> symbols used to represent the sounds of Sanskrit
> have varied enormously over
> the centuries.  At the time of Panini, the most
> commonly used letters were
> probably the "Brahmi" script, which superficially
> looks nothing like
> Devanagari.  If you are in Delhi, visit the National
> Museum on Janpath.
> There is a reproduction of one of Ashok's famous
> stone tablets outside the
> entrance written in Brahmi script.  It is entirely
> unintelligible, but each
> letter corresponds precisely to one of the sounds
> described by Panini (and
> therefore to an equivalent modern Devanagari
> letter).
> In natural languages it is above all assemblages of
> sounds that convey
> meanings, not their visual representations.  If
> Panini had been
> superstitious enough to be interested in the
> "meanings" of individual sounds
> taken individually, you can be sure that he would
> not have confused the
> sound with the letter used to represent it, so the
> idea that he might have
> written a whole book based on such fuzzy thinking is
> a bit of a put-down to
> the great man.
> Regards
> Michel
> Michel Bostr?m
> Silver Batts Insulation Systems
> 12 Church Avenue  Mascot NSW
> PO Box 1275  Dee Why  NSW 2099  Australia
> Tel +61 2 9317 4455
> Fax +61 2 9317 3322
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> -----Original Message-----
> [mailto:[EMAIL PROTECTED] On
> Sent: Sunday, 15 October 2006 04:00
> To:
> Subject: sanskrit Digest, Vol 42, Issue 2
> Send sanskrit mailing list submissions to
> To subscribe or unsubscribe via the World Wide Web,
> visit
> or, via email, send a message with subject or body
> 'help' to
> You can reach the person managing the list at
> When replying, please edit your Subject line so it
> is more specific than
> "Re: Contents of sanskrit digest..."
> Today's Topics:
>    1. Re: sanskrit Digest, Vol 42, Issue 1 (Jay
> Vaidya)
>    2. Question on fonts ([EMAIL PROTECTED])
> Message: 1
> Date: Fri, 13 Oct 2006 13:58:28 -0700 (PDT)
> From: Jay Vaidya <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
> Subject: Re: [Sanskrit] sanskrit Digest, Vol 42,
> Issue 1
> To:
> Message-ID:
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1
> The major works of pANini are:
> ashhTaadhyaayii
> dhAtupaaTha
> gaNapaaTha
> pANini also either wrote or modified the
> shivasuutras, or he may have
> adopted them without editing.
> The pANiniiya shikshaa is either written by pAnini
> or his early disciples. 
> The phiT-suutra and li.ngaanushaasana are also
> useful appendices while
> reading the pANini texts
> Of these the shivasuutra and paaNiniiya shikshaa
> deal with the
> classification of letters. 
> Regarding devanaagarii script: As far as I know
> writing is not mentioned,
> and script is not a part of paaNini's grammar. The
> devanaagarii script is
> nearly, but not completely, adequate to reproduce
> all the sounds produced by
> pANini's study of phonetics. Oral tradition is
> adequate to maintain the
> grammar's structure and teaching. (Though writing
> makes it convenient to
> store the texts in the library.)
> In the pANini grammar tradition, individual letters
> have no meaning, and
> their inclusion or exclusion is based on pragmatic
> (or "scientific")
> criteria. These are open for scientific debate.
> However, extremely
> convincing arguments have already been presented -
> so no one these days has
> much to debate regarding inclusion or exclusion of
> letters in sa.nskita.
> Certainly, there are many amusing mythical stories
> about the sa.nskR^ita
> alphabet (but not its "meaning")
=== message truncated ===


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