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The Sanskrit grammatical tradition of vyākaraṇa (Sanskrit: व्याकरण, IPA: [ʋjɑːkərəɳə]) is one of the six Vedanga disciplines. It has its roots in late Vedic India, and includes the famous work, Aṣṭādhyāyī, of Pāṇini (c. 4th century BC).

The impetus for linguistic analysis and grammar in India originates in the need to be able to obtain a strict interpretation of the Vedic texts.[citation needed]

The work of the very early Indian grammarians has been lost; for example, the work of Sakatayana (roughly 8th century BC) is known only from cryptic references by Yaska (c. 6th or 5th century BC) and Pāṇini. One of the views of Sakatayana that was to prove controversial in coming centuries was that most nouns can be derived etymologically from verbs.

In his monumental work on etymology, Nirukta, Yaska supported this claim based on the large number of nouns that were derived from verbs through a derivation process that became known as krit-pratyaya; this relates to the nature of the root morphemes.

Yaska also provided the seeds for another debate, whether textual meaning is inherent in the word (Yaska's view) or in the sentence (see Pāṇini, and later grammarians such as Prabhakara or Bhartrihari). This debate continued into the 14th and 15th centuries AD, and has echoes in the present day in current debates about semantic compositionality.

Pre-Pāṇinian schools

Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī, which is said to have eclipsed all other contemporary schools of grammar, mentions the names of nine grammarians.[1][2] A number of predecessors are referred to by Yāska, who is thought to have flourished a couple of centuries before Panini (c. 800 BC[3]). Many of these individual names actually reflect the opinion of different schools of thought. Some of these pre-Paninian names of individuals / schools are:

  • Agrayana[1]
  • Aindra
  • Āpiśali (Pan. 6.1.92)
  • Aupamanyava[1]
  • Aurnabhava (Nir. 6.13, also[1]
  • Cakravarmaṇa (Pan. 6.1.130)
  • Gālava (Nir. 4.3
  • Gārgya
  • Kāśyapa (Pan. 8.4.67)
  • Kāṣakṛtsna
  • Katthakya[1]
  • Kautsa
  • Krauṣṭuki (Nir. 8.2)
  • Kuṇaravāḍava (Pan. 3.2.14; 7.3.1)
  • Śākalya (Pan. 8.4.51)
  • Śākaṭāyana (Pan. 8.4.50)(c. 800 BC)
  • Senaka (Pan. 5.4.112)
  • Shakapuni
  • Sphoṭāyana (Pan. 6.1.123)

The works of most these authors are lost but we find reference of their ideas in the commentaries and rebuttals by later authors. Yāska's Nirukta is one of the earlier surviving texts, and he mentions Śākaṭāyana, Krauṣṭuki, Gārgya, etc. In Yāska's time, nirukta "etymology" was in fact a school which gave information of formation of words. The etymological derivation of words. According to the nairuktas or "etymologists", all nouns are derived from s verbal root. Yāska defends this view and attributes it to Śākaṭāyana. While others believed that there are some words which are "Rudhi Words". 'Rudhi" means custom. Meaning they are a part of language due to custom, and a correspondence between the word and the thing if it be a noun or correspondence between an act and the word if it be a verbroot. Such word can not be derived from verbal roots. Yāska also reports the view of Gārgya, who opposed Śākaṭāyana who held that certain nominal stems were 'atomic' and not to be derived from verbal roots[4]

Of the remaining schools, Śākalya is held to be the author of the padapatha of the Rigveda (a word-by-word pronunciation scheme, aiding memory, for ritual texts).

Pāṇini's school

Pāṇini's extensive analysis of the processes of phonology, morphology and syntax, the Aṣṭadhyāyī, laid down the basis for centuries of commentaries and expositions by subsequent Sanskrit grammarians. Pāṇini's approach was amazingly formal; his production rules for deriving complex structures and sentences represent modern finite state machines.

Pāṇini's grammar consists of four parts:

Commentators on Pāṇini and some of their views:

  • Kātyāyana (linguist and mathematician, 3rd century BC): that the word-meaning relation is siddha, i.e. given and non-decomposable, an idea that the Sanskriticist Ferdinand de Saussure called arbitrary. Word meanings refer to universals that are inherent in the word itself (close to a nominalist position).
  • Patanjali (linguist and yoga sutras, 2nd century BC) – author of Mahabhashya. The notion of shabdapramânah – that the evidentiary value of words is inherent in them, and not derived externally. Not to be confused with the founder of the Yoga system.
  • The Nyaya school, close to the realist position (as in Plato). Considers the word-meaning relation as created through human convention. Sentence meaning is principally determined by the main noun. uddyotkara, Vachaspati (sound-universals or phonemes)
  • The Mimamsa school. E.g. sentence meaning relies mostly on the verb (corresponds to the modern notion of linguistic head). Kumarila Bhatta (7th century), prabhakara (7th century AD).
  • Bhartṛhari (c. 6th century AD) that meaning is determined by larger contextual units than the word alone (holism).
  • Kāśikāvṛttī (7th century)
  • Bhaṭṭi (c. 7th century AD) exemplified Pāṇini's rules in his courtly epic the Bhaṭṭikāvya.[5]
  • The Buddhist school, including Nagarjuna (logic/philosophy, c. 150 AD) Dignaga (semantics and logic, c. 5th century AD), Dharmakirti.

Medieval Accounts

The earliest external historical accounts of Indian grammatical tradition is from Chinese Buddhist pilgrims to India from the 7th century.[6]

The Indica of Al-Biruni (973–1048), dating to c. 1030 contains detailed descriptions of all branches of Hindu science.

Mughal period

Early Modern (Mughal period, 17th century) Indian linguists who revived Pāṇini's school include Bhattoji Dikshita and Varadaraja.

Similar to the Chinese Buddhists, Tibetan Buddhism aroused interest in India among its followers. Taranatha (born 1573) in his treatise of the history of Buddhism in India (completed around 1608) speaks about Pāṇini and provides some information about grammars, but not in the manner of a person familiar with their content.

Gaudiya Vaishnava Sanskrit grammar is outlined by Jiva Goswami in his Hari-nāmāmṛta-vyākaraṇam.[7]

Modern Sanskrit grammarians

Beginning of Western scholarship

19th century

20th century to present


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Monier Monier-Williams (1876). Indian Wisdom Or Examples of the Religious, Philosophical and Ethical Doctrines of the Hindus.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> quote: "Panini himself mentions several grammarians as having preceded him, such as Apisali, Kasyapa, Gargya, Galava, Cakravarmana, Bharadvaja, Sakatayana, Sakalya, Senaka, and Sphotayana. The Unadi-sutras are thought by some to be anterior to Panini." Also discusses the differences in opinions on interpreting Vedic texts, as given by Aurnabhava, Aupamanyava, Agrayana, Katthakya, Kautsa and Shakapuni – all mentioned as "anterior to Yaska" on p. 169
  2. Ashtyadhyayi 6.1.92, 6.1.123, 8.4.67, etc. (annotated in list)
  3. Satkari Mukhopadhyaya,. "Sanskrit Grammatical Literature". in Encyclopaedia of Indian literature v.2, ed. Amaresh Datta, Sahitya Akademi. p. 1490. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Matilal, Bimal Krishna (2001) [1990]. The word and the world: India's contribution to the study of language. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-565512-5{{inconsistent citations}}<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> 8f. (excerpts)
  5. Fallon, Oliver. 2009. Bhatti's Poem: The Death of Rávana (Bhaṭṭikāvya). New York: Clay Sanskrit Library[1]. ISBN 978-0-8147-2778-2 | ISBN 0-8147-2778-6 |
  6. Frits Staal, A Reader on the Sanskrit Grammarians, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1972), reprint by Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi (1985), ISBN 81-208-0029-X.
  7. Sri JivaHari-nāmāmṛta-vyākaraṇam
  • Coward, Harold G., and K. Kunjunni Raja, eds., The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume V of Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, ed. Karl Potter, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.

See also