Our high-school English teacher, Raman Sir, used to ask us, ‘What came first, English language or grammar’. I remember my friend saying, it was the grammar that must have come first otherwise how could the language get the grammar? On that, our teacher would say, ‘It is the language that came first, then the grammar. Think upon it my boy.’
Same question was discussed by Jha Sir about Paninian grammar. Sanskrit language existed before Panini. So what great work did Panini do? And how could he do it?
Panini must have been a great observer. He has made a minute observation of Sanskrit language. After observing, he started categorising letters and words into different sets and groups. Then he gave various rules for construction of words. He also saw that there are many similar words which are formed by joining suffixes (What we call as suffix in Sanskrit is like a preposition in English which comes before the word in English. But in Sanskrit, suffix comes after the word, like a postposition). He saw that all these words are related to one primary root word. E.g. Marut, marutau, marutah, marutam, maruta, marudabhyaam, marudbhih, marute, marutih, marutoh, marutaam, maruti, marutyu all have come from a root word ‘marut’. So, all these words are nothing but suffixes of singular, dual and plural forms of the ‘Marut’. Thus, he made a table for all these words related to ‘marut’. For any word which is of the form similar to ‘marut’, these other words would be same for that also. Like that he started classifying words and its forms by identifying the root word.
Like this he goes on categorising and giving general rules, special rules, rules for exceptions and dives deep into the structure of Sanskrit language.
The strength of a monument depends on the structure it is built. If an engineer has to teach how to build a monument, he has to show the student its structure. Similarly for language, we need to do the same thing. But today, we are not addressing the structure of Sanskrit or any language. We are just giving some rules without focussing on the overall structure. That is the reason many of us fail to create an interest in language.
Panini’s ashtadhyayi (book of grammar with eight chapters) is not a book of teaching Sanskrit language. It is a manual of describing the structure of Sanskrit language. Ashtadhyayi is a science – a theory of grammar. He took Sanskrit as a case and applied Ashtadhyayi model. We can try take other languages (machine or human) and give it an Ashtadhyayi model to make it more efficient. Thus, Panini left for us the Ashtadhyayi model…something which has a scope for a lot of research even 2500 years later!
~ Learnings from ‘Learning Sanskrit Language and Structure: Theory and
Application’ a two-week residential camp at Chinmaya International Foundation from 16th – 30th June 2014.