Glory of Bharath  »  Literary Giants of Bharath - Part Three

Panini was a Sanskrit grammarian from Pushkalavati, Gandhara, and northwestern Iron Age India (in the modern-day Charsadda of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan). Panini is known for his Sanskrit grammar, particularly for his formulation of the 3,959 rules of Sanskrit morphology, syntax and semantics in the grammar known as Ashtadhyayi (meaning "eight chapters"), the foundational text of the grammatical branch of the Vedanga, the auxiliary scholarly disciplines of Vedic religion.

The Ashtadhyayi is one of the earliest known grammars of Sanskrit, although Panini refers to previous texts like the Unadisutra, Dhatupatha, and Ganapatha. It is the earliest known work on descriptive linguistics, and together with the work of his immediate predecessors (Nirukta, Nighantu, Pratishakyas) stands at the beginning of the history of linguistics itself. His theory of morphological analysis was more advanced than any equivalent Western theory before the mid 20th century, and his analysis of noun compounds still forms the basis of modern linguistic theories of compounding, which have borrowed Sanskrit terms such as bahuvrihi and dvandva. Panini's comprehensive and scientific theory of grammar is conventionally taken to mark the end of the period of Vedic Sanskrit, introducing the period of Classical Sanskrit.

Date and context
Nothing definite is known about when Panini lived, or even in which century he lived. Panini's grammar defines Classical Sanskrit, so Panini by definition lived at the end of the Vedic period. He notes a few special rules, marked chandasi ("in the hymns") to account for forms in the Vedic scriptures that had fallen out of use in the spoken language of his time. These indicate that Vedic Sanskrit was already archaic, but still a comprehensible dialect.

Nothing certain is known about Panini's personal life. According to the Mahabhasya of Pata˝jali, his mother's name was Daksi. Pata˝jali calls Panini as Daksiputra (meaning son of Daksi) at several places int the Mahabhasya. As per later traditions, his maternal uncle's name was Vyadi. Some scholars suggest that his brother's name was Pingala. Panini is believed to have been born in Gandhara. Based on the Mahabhasya, it is believed that Salatura was the birthplace of Panini. In the Ashtadhyayi also, the place Salatura is mentioned. According to Hieun-Tsang, a statue of him existed at Salatura, the place of his birth. Some writers identify Salatura with the Shalatur village near Taxila in what is now the Punjab province of Pakistan.

The Ashtadhyayi is the central part of Panini's grammar, and by far the most complex. Regarded as extremely compact without sacrificing completeness, it would become the model for later specialist technical texts or sutras. It takes material from lexical lists (Dhatupatha, Ganapatha) as input and describes algorithms to be applied to them for the generation of well-formed words. It is highly systematized and technical. Inherent in its approach are the concepts of the phoneme, the morpheme and the root. His rules have a reputation for perfection - that is, they are claimed to describe Sanskrit morphology fully, without any redundancy. A consequence of his grammar's focus on brevity is its highly unintuitive structure, reminiscent of modern notations such as the "Backus-Naur Form". His sophisticated logical rules and technique have been widely influential in ancient and modern linguistics.

The Ashtadhyayi was not the first description of Sanskrit grammar, but it surpassed its predecessor on such a monumental scale that all earlier works are now lost except for the extent to which they are mentioned by Panini. The Ashtadhyayi became the foundation of Vyakarana (Sanskrit grammatical tradition), and the classical works of Sanskrit grammarians which flourished during ca. the 8th and 15th centuries (and a revival in the 17th and 18th) are essentially commentaries on Panini.

In the Ashtadhyayi, language is observed in a manner that has no parallel among Greek or Latin grammarians. Panini's grammar marks the entry of the non-sacred into Indian thought, and according to Renou and Filliozat, it then defines the linguistic expression of that thought. Panini made use of a technical meta-language consisting of a syntax, morphology and lexicon. This meta-language is organized according to a series of meta-rules, some of which are explicitly stated while others can be deduced. The two fundamental principles on which the meta-language is based are non-redundancy, or the principle of economy, and the necessity of all the rules in the Ashtadhyayi.

The Ashtadhyayi consists of 3,959 sutras (sutrani) or rules, distributed among eight chapters, which are each subdivided into four sections or padas (padah).

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