Thursday, 4 August 2011

Panini –World’s Greatest Grammarian

Panini’s grammar,  popularly known as the ‘Ashtadhyayi’, is acclaimed by linguists all over the world as the most perfect model of a grammar. Well-known Western scholar, L.Bloomfield described Panini’s grammar as ‘one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence’. Panini commands the same respect even today in the history of any language and its grammar.
In the latter half of the 20th century when computer technology was well advanced to device its own computer language,  scientists and technocrats made a thorough study of all the major languages in the world to find out their suitability to be used as an ideal  computer language.
They came to the conclusion that Sanskrit, in particular,  the Sanskrit grammarian Panini’s treatise on grammar,  “Asthadhayi”, would be the most suited computer language. In fact, the popular American magazine, ‘Forbes’, reported in one of its issues in 1987 that Sanskrit was the most suitable computer language.
Panini’s grammar,  popularly known as the ‘Ashtadhyayi’, is acclaimed by linguists all over the world as the most perfect model of a grammar. Well-known Western scholar, L.Bloomfield described Panini’s grammar as ‘one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence’. Panini commands the same respect even today in the history of any language and its grammar.
Regarding the nativity of Panini, the opinion is not definite. But the most prevailing view is that he belonged to a place called, ‘Salathura’, which is identified by researchers as the same as Lahul, a village now in Pakistan.
This has been lately confirmed by senior archaeologists of Pakistan who have also stated that the name of Panini is revered and respected in that village even today.
Sometime in 1995, a group of Oriental scholars from India visited Lahul and recommended to the local authorities to erect a memorial with the name of Panini.
As regards the date of birth of Panini, no concluding evidence is available. However, from the nature of the language he described, which is closer to the Vedic language and from his references to the Vedic literature, it is safer to conclude that he belonged to a period between the 5th century and 4th century B.C.
The Kathasaritsagara of the Kashmiri poet Somadeva [1070 A.D] has recorded that Panini [400 B.C] was the disciple of a sage called Varsha who had another disciple  named Katyayana.
While Katyayana was very intelligent, Panini was a blockhead. Distressed by his ill-luck, Panini left his Gurukula and went far away into the Himalayas.
There, he practised penance for a number of years in order to propitiate Lord Shiva. Pleased with his austere penance, Shiva granted him the boon of intelligence. The God in his ecstasy performed the Cosmic dance [Tandava Nritya]. In the course of the dance, Shiva beat his Damaru [drum] 14 times out of which Panini got the first inspiration of grammatical aphorisms [Sutras as they are called in Sanskrit]. Out of these 14 sutras, called Shiva sutras, Panini composed the unique treatise on Sanskrit grammar known as the ‘Ashtadhyayi’.
 In the history of Sanskrit literature,  we find three distinct stages, namely,  Vedic, Epic and the Classic. Classical Sanskrit begins with Panini.
His Ashtadhyayi which means ‘eight chapters’ with its 4,000 sutras or aphorisms is considered the best  grammar in the world.
According to the well-known lexicographer,  Sir Monier Williams who produced the first Sanskrit-English Dictionary, “The Panini grammar reflects the wonderful capacity of the human brain which till today no other country has been able to produce except India”.
 Panini was very much interested in the economy of words. The continuous development of Sanskrit language was possible due to the high logic, precision and creative capacity of Panini to formulate new words.
This explains why Sanskrit avoided becoming obsolete, the fate of classical Greek, Latin and even Pali. It is the fluidity of Sanskrit grammar that permits the derivation of new Sanskrit words and thus helps in enriching the language.
 In this monumental work of genius, Panini established the new classical Sanskrit by standardising the sacred language that had been the exclusive domain of the learned before and during his time.
 Seeking to preserve the Sanskrit language, Panini preserved the Vedic vocabulary for all times through his enlightened intellect. He was a reformist who did not compose any new grammar but revised the earlier grammar traditionally handed down to him mainly from the point of view of bringing precision and perfection.
 It has been correctly acknowledged by tradition that the Sanskrit language that nurtured the classical Sanskrit literature owes its purity and immaculateness to Panini’s grammar.
The fact that this grammar continues to be a specialised branch of study even today is sufficient evidence to prove the great respect and high popularity enjoyed by Panini and his grammar from ancient times till today.
 There exists a close parallel between Panini’s Ashtadhyayi and Euclid’s ‘Elements of Geometry’. Just as Euclid in his Elements starts with a few definitions, axioms and postulates and then goes on building theorem after theorem, similarly Panini has squeezed and distilled his entire thoughts on grammar and put them in the form of 4,000 sutras.
Linguists find that Panini’s grammar goes to the roots of the word [etymology].  While the Greek grammar stops with the word, Panini gives step by step the various derivatives of a root word like a mathematical formula.
Western scholars, especially linguists, are astounded by the scientific derivatives of Panini’s rules.
 During his wanderings between 1891 and 1892 through Western India, Swami Vivekananda tried to improve his knowledge about Sanskrit, particularly about the grammar. Too poor to buy the books, he borrowed a few Vedanta books  from a friend of his, together with a copy of Panini’s Ashtadhyayi.
In his biography by Eastern and Western disciples, one finds the following mention: “On November 19th, he wrote to his friend Babu Pramadadasa of Varanasi who had lent the books, ‘The Vedas may well be said to have fallen quite out of vogue in Bengal. Many here in the Math are quite conversant with Sanskrit and are able to master the Samhita portion of the Vedas. They are of the opinion that  what has to be done must be completed quickly. 
They believe that a full measure of proficiency in the Vedic language is impossible without first mastering Panini’s grammar.  This Math is not wanting in men of perseverance, talent and penetrative intellect. I can hope that by the grace of our Master, they will acquire in a short time Panini’s grammar and thus succeed in restoring  the Vedas to Bengal’.
The Swamiji’s life-long love for Sanskrit led to himself teaching Sanskrit scriptures, including Panini at Belur Math. He once told an elderly monk and direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna to study, ‘Laghu Kaumudi’ [the book on Sanskrit grammar] which the senior monk took as a command and obeyed it with love.
Article by : B.M.N.Murthy
Source: Bhavan's Journal 30 November 2009
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