A Bird’s eye view of अष्टाध्यायी

अष्टाध्याय्याः विहंगमावलोकनम्

A Bird’s eye view of अष्टाध्यायी

(1) अष्टाध्यायी is a treatise of about 4000 aphorisms सूत्र-s composed by पाणिनिमुनि (about 500 BC) and covers the entire gamut of grammar of Sanskrit.

(2) As its name अष्टाध्यायी connotes, it has eight chapters अध्याय-s. Each chapter has four quarters पाद-s, so total 32 पाद-s. सूत्र-s in every पाद are numbered serially every time starting from 1. Any सूत्र in अष्टाध्यायी can thus be referred by Chapter No., पाद No. and Serial No. of the सूत्र in the पाद. So सूत्र No. 2-4-8 means 8th सूत्र in 4th पाद of 2nd अध्याय.

(3) अष्टाध्यायी also has an important annex, the गणपाठः. Among the सूत्र-s, there are many सूत्र-s, which hint to a class or sets of words, e.g. सर्वादीनि सर्वनामानि (१।१।२६) refers to pronouns सर्वनामानि starting with सर्व. All the pronouns hinted by this सूत्र are detailed in the गणपाठः.

(4) Another important annex of अष्टाध्यायी is धातुपाठः. One can say that धातुपाठः is गणपाठः only, but detailing the धातु-s in their 10 गण-s.

(5) सूत्र-s in अष्टाध्यायी are said to be covering 6 aspects of learning any subject, here, grammar of Sanskrit.

  1. संज्ञासूत्राणि – Terminologies
  2. परिभाषासूत्राणि – Meta-Rules
  3. अधिकारसूत्राणि – by which Topics are declared. 
  4. विधिसूत्राणि – Processes
  5. अतिदेशसूत्राणि – Extended logic
  6. विशेषसूत्राणि – Special or exceptional instances.

(6) There is possibly a great algorithmic logic in the sequencing of the सूत्र-s. By that token, अष्टाध्यायी is a Computer programme of 4000-odd steps, which can help in deriving grammatically every other word in Sanskrit language or for checking grammatical correctness of any Sanskrit word. Rather, if one has coined a word, which sounds like a Sanskrit word, but cannot stand the test of grammatical accuracy as per अष्टाध्यायी, one can adjudge the word to be flawed.

(7) There are a few basic concepts, which need to be understood, before proceeding to study अष्टाध्यायी.

(8) One such basic concept is प्रत्याहार-s. The very first सूत्र 1-1-1 वृद्धिरादैच् (वृद्धिः आत् ऐच्) This contains the प्रत्याहार ऐच्. Even आत् is similar to a प्रत्याहार. To understand what a प्रत्याहार is, one needs to know शिवसूत्राणि also called as माहेश्वरसूत्राणि or प्रत्याहारसूत्राणि. Since the very first सूत्र contains a प्रत्याहार, one can say that अष्टाध्यायी presumes that one knows शिवसूत्राणि and the प्रत्याहार-s derived therefrom. If one does not know these, one must first study these and only thereafter start with अष्टाध्यायी.

(9) शिवसूत्राणि are 14. Actually these 14 शिवसूत्राणि enlist the basic sounds वर्ण-s, which make the letters अक्षराणि and the words शब्दाः. In simple terms शिवसूत्राणि is the alphabet. But there is great intelligence in the arrangement of वर्ण-s in शिवसूत्राणि. Here are the शिवसूत्राणि.

(1) अ इ उ ण्  (2) ऋ लृ क्  (3) ए ओ ङ् (4) ऐ औ च्

(5) ह य व र ट् (6) ल ण्

(7) ञ म ङ ण न म्

(8) झ भ ञ्

(9) घ ढ ध ष्

(10) ज ब ग ड द श्

(11) ख फ छ ठ थ च ट त व्

(12) क प य्

(13) श ष स र्

(14) ह ल्

It should be noted that there is a consonant at the end of each शिवसूत्रम्. That is not a part of the वर्ण-s in the सूत्रम्. It is the marker denoting the end of the सूत्रम्.

Also the वर्ण-s in the सूत्र-s (5) to (14) are consonants. In all these सूत्र-s the consonants are written complete with ending vowel sound of अ. That is only for ease of recitation.

(10) Now let us understand the प्रत्याहार-s. As mentioned earlier the very first सूत्र 1-1-1 वृद्धिरादैच् (वृद्धिः आत् ऐच्) contains the प्रत्याहार ऐच्. This प्रत्याहार is from शिवसूत्रम् (4). A प्रत्याहार has two वर्ण-s – the first one is the beginning वर्ण, the second is the end-marker. A प्रत्याहार is to be understood as denoting all the वर्ण-s, starting from beginning वर्ण up to the end-marker. So प्रत्याहार ऐच् denotes ऐ and औ. As another example प्रत्याहार अच् denotes all the वर्ण-s starting from अ up to the end-marker च्. Hence अच् = अ, इ, उ, ऋ, लृ, ए, ओ, ऐ and औ.  A प्रत्याहार is like an acronym. This is very much like the acronym VIBGYOR denoting all the colors of a rainbow, Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange and Red. But the प्रत्याहार is much crispier, because it has only two वर्ण-s.

As would have been noted the प्रत्याहार अच् summarizes all vowels. Likewise प्रत्याहार हल् summarizes all consonants contained in सूत्र-s (5) to (14). प्रत्याहार ञम् from शिवसूत्रम् (7) summarizes all nasals अनुनासिक-s. प्रत्याहार झश् from शिवसूत्र-s (8), (9) and (10) summarizes all soft consonants वर्गीयमृदुव्यञ्जनानि. प्रत्याहार खय् from शिवसूत्र-s (11) and (12) summarizes all harsh consonants वर्गीयकठोरव्यञ्जनानि.

In अष्टाध्यायी, one may come across as many as 43 प्रत्याहार-s.

While a प्रत्याहार is an acronym, in mathematical terms, a प्रत्याहार is a set, its elements being वर्ण-s.

आत् is a set containing only one element. All प्रत्याहार-s containing a single element have त् as the end-marker. It may be noticed that none of the 14 शिवसूत्र-s have this end-marker त्.

(11) The word वृद्धिः in the सूत्र 1-1-1 is followed by a word गुण in the second सूत्र 1-1-2 अदेङ्गुणः (अत् एङ् गुणः). One finds both these words वृद्धिः and गुणः in the third सूत्र 1-1-3 इको गुणवृद्धी (इकः गुणवृद्धी)

  • One can surmise that these words वृद्धिः and गुणः are antonymical to each other. But these are not defined or explained anywhere in अष्टाध्यायी.
  • Since सूत्र 1-1-1 वृद्धिरादैच् (वृद्धिः आत् ऐच्) speaks of the वर्ण-s आ, ऐ and औ, one can decipher that वृद्धिः is the characteristics, which is common to आ, ऐ and औ.
  • Likewise सूत्र 1-1-2 अदेङ्गुणः (अत् एङ् गुणः) speaks of the वर्ण-s अ, ए and ओ. And one can decipher that गुणः is the characteristics, which is common to अ, ए and ओ.
  • सूत्र 1-1-3 इको गुणवृद्धी (इकः गुणवृद्धी) speaks of the वर्ण-s contained in the प्रत्याहार इक् (इ, उ, ऋ and लृ) from शिवसूत्र-s (1) and (2).
    • It may be noted that the starting वर्ण of a प्रत्याहार can be a वर्ण even somewhere in the middle of a शिवसूत्र. This प्रत्याहार इक् starts from इ in शिवसूत्र (1).
    • The end-marker of a प्रत्याहार is always one or the other end-marker of the शिवसूत्र-s.
    • From सूत्र 1-1-3 one can decipher that its वर्ण-s इ, उ, ऋ and लृ have both the characteristics वृद्धिः and गुणः
  • When discussing ll this, has it been noted that one does not find in the शिवसूत्र-s the vowels आ, ई, ऊ ॠ ॡ.
    • But अष्टाध्यायी-सूत्र 1-1-1 takes note of आ and mentions its characteristics being वृद्धिः.
    • Likewise सूत्र 1-1-3 seems to take note of ई, ऊ ॠ ॡ and one can decipher that these are of वृद्धि-characteristics, whereas इ, उ, ऋ and लृ have गुण-characteristics.
    • So, the प्रत्याहार इक् needs to be understood as containing not only इ, उ, ऋ and लृ, but also ई, ऊ ॠ ॡ. Only such interpretation validates सूत्र 1-1-3, that वर्ण-s in प्रत्याहार इक् have both the characteristics वृद्धिः and गुणः.

(12) The above discussion is illustrative of the approach to studying अष्टाध्यायी that every सूत्र has to be ‘interpreted’.

(13) Was it noted that in सूत्र 1-1-3, इकः is sixth case, singular of इक् ? In अष्टाध्यायी one finds names of प्रत्याहार-s being treated as शब्द-s and in turn used in their शब्दरूप-s in different विभक्ति-वचन-s.

(14) Another important concept in अष्टाध्यायी is that of अनुवृत्ति. By this concept, the logic in one सूत्र may apply in one or more succeeding सूत्र/सूत्र-s. Let me illustrate by an example.

  • There is सूत्रम् १-१-९ तुल्यास्यप्रयत्नं सवर्णम् followed by (१-१-१०) नाज्झलौ (न अच्-हलौ)
  • When interpreting (१-१-१०) नाज्झलौ (न अच्-हलौ) one needs to understand that, what concept of सवर्ण is defined in (1-1-9), does not apply (न) to अच्-हलौ. Or one should read (१-१-१०) नाज्झलौ as अच्-हलौ सवर्णौ न. Here one carries forward, makes  अनुवृत्ति of the concept of सवर्ण as defined in (1-1-9) into (१-१-१०) नाज्झलौ.
  • Note, in अज्झलौ two प्रत्याहार-s अच् and हल् have been put together as a compound word. Because they are two, अज्झलौ is द्विवचनम् of अज्झल्.
  • The concept of सवर्ण is of course important in सूत्रम् 6-1-97 अकः सवर्णे दीर्घः There, it is not अनुवृत्ति of the word सवर्ण. But the concept of what a सवर्ण is, is very much relevant.

(15) पाणिनिमुनि did know that more than one processes or rules may apply. Which process should take precedence, in such instances is sort of resolved by a सूत्रम्, which becomes a rule by itself to understand and interpret अष्टाध्यायी. The सूत्रम् (१।४।२) is विप्रतिषेधे परं कार्यम्, which means, in the instance of dilemma, the latter will prevail. Let me explain by example.

  • If इ is followed by इ, the resultant sound would be ई. This is as per the सूत्रम् अकः सवर्णे दीर्घः
  • But there is also the rule that, when इ is followed by another vowel, इ will first become य् and the following vowel will get added to it. So, इ + इ = यि. This is as per the सूत्रम् इको यणचि (इकः यण् अचि).
  • So we have a dilemma, whether इ + इ should be ई as per अकः सवर्णे दीर्घः or it should be यि as per इको यणचि.
  • The dilemma is resolved by विप्रतिषेधे परं कार्यम्, because in sequential order अकः सवर्णे दीर्घः (6-1-97) comes after इको यणचि (6-1-74) Hence the later numbered अकः सवर्णे दीर्घः prevails.

(16) This underscores the important point that in a study of अष्टाध्यायी, one should be conscious of the sequential order of the सूत्र-s.

(17) अष्टाध्यायी takes in its ambit Vedic Sanskrit also. Linguistics and grammar which is specifically employed in Vedic Sanskrit are detailed in अष्टाध्यायी by mention as छन्दसि (in छन्दस् i.e. Vedic Sanskrit)

(18) There are many terms in अष्टाध्यायी, which seem to have been well-known even in times before अष्टाध्यायी. Not only the terms, but grammar as a subject has been a subject of study, rather a subject of specialized study long before अष्टाध्यायी. This is evidenced by reference in अष्टाध्यायी to many grammarians of yore.

(19) Although अष्टाध्यायी has 32 quarters in 8 chapters, the last 3 quarters i.e. quarters 8-2, 8-3 and 8-4 become a section by themselves. Thus one can say that अष्टाध्यायी has two broad sections – first one of 29 quarters from 1-1 to 8-1. The dividing line is declared by the सूत्रम् 8-2-1 पूर्वत्रासिद्धम् (पूर्वत्र-असिद्धम्), meaning, what is not detailed earlier. 

(20) From its time of composition by पाणिनिमुनि (about 500 BC) study of Sanskrit grammar cannot be complete without the study of अष्टाध्यायी. Since सूत्र-s in अष्टाध्यायी need to be interpreted, there have been any number of commentaries on अष्टाध्यायी. Notable among them are

  1. मनोरमा
  2. बालमनोरमा
  3. तत्त्वबोधिनी व्याख्या
  4. न्यासः
  5. काशिकावृत्तिः
  6. महाभाष्यम् by पातञ्जलि
  7. सिद्धान्तकौमुदी by भट्टोजी दीक्षित
  8. लघुसिद्धान्तकौमुदी by वरदराज a शिष्य of भट्टोजी दीक्षित

Though all the above are a great help in studying अष्टाध्यायी, yet an independent study of अष्टाध्यायी has its own charm. All the above commentaries are basically independent studies only, though they are of course by very acknowledged stalwarts.

शुभमस्तु !