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Maharshi Panini

Maharshi Panini
Maharshi Panini was a Sanskrit grammarian from Pushkalavati, Gandhara, in modern day Charsadda District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan (fl. 6th century BC).

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 (अष्टाध्यायी 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 Pāṇini 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, so by definition introducing Classical Sanskrit.

Date and context
Nothing definite is known about when Panini lived, nor even which century he lived in. The scholarly mainstream favours 600-500 BCE floruit, corresponding to Pushkalavati, Gandhara. Contemporary to the Nanda Dynasty ruling the Gangetic plain, but a 5th or even late 6th century BC date cannot be ruled out with certainty. According to a verse in the Panchatantra, he was killed by a lion. According to Xuanzang (Hieun-Tsang), a statue of him existed at Salatura, the place of his birth.

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.

An important hint for the dating of Pāṇini is the occurrence of the word yavanani (यवनानी) (in 4.1.49, either "Greek woman", or "Greek script"). Some Greeks, such as the Persian admiral Scylax of Caryanda were present in Gandhara as co-citizens of the Persian empire, well before the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 330s BC; the name could also have been transmitted via Old Persian yauna, and the administrative languages Elamite or Aramaic, so that the occurrence of yavanani taken in isolation allows for a terminus post quem as early as 519 BC, i.e. the time of Darius the Great's Behistun inscription that includes the Indian province of Gandara (Sanskrit Gandhara).

It is not certain whether Pāṇini used writing for the composition of his work, though it is generally agreed that he knew of a form of writing, based on references to words such as "script" and "scribe" in his Ashtadhyayi. These must have referred to Aramaic or early Kharosthi writing. It is believed by some that a work of such complexity would have been difficult to compile without written notes, though others have argued that he might have composed it with the help of a group of students whose memories served him as 'notepads' (as is typical in Vedic learning). Writing first reappears in India in the form of the Brahmi script from c. the 3rd century BC in the Ashokan inscriptions.

While Panini's work is purely grammatical and lexicographic, cultural and geographical inferences can be drawn from the vocabulary he uses in examples, and from his references to fellow grammarians, which show he was a northwestern person. New deities referred to in his work include Vasudeva (4.3.98). The concept of dharma is attested in his example sentence (4.4.41) dharmam carati "he observes the law" (cf. Taittiriya Upanishad 1.11).

Nothing certain is known about Panini's personal life. According to later traditions, his mother's name was Daksi and his maternal uncle's name was Vyadi. Some scholars suggest that his brother's name was Pingala. Still less is known about his father, whose name may have been Paṇi, but most scholars reject this suggestion. More than a thousand years after the fact, the Pancatantra mentions that the Grammarian Panini was killed by a lion :

    सिंहो व्याकरणस्य कर्तुरहरत् प्राणान् मुनेः पाणिनेः ।

    simho vyakaranasya karturaharat pranan muneh panineh |


The Ashtadhyayi (Devanagari: अष्टाध्यायी) is the central part of Panini's grammar, and by far the most complex. It is the earliest complete grammar of Classical Sanskrit, and in fact is of a brevity and completeness unmatched in any ancient grammar of any language. It takes material from the lexical lists (Dhatupatha, Ganapatha) as input and describes algorithms to be applied to them for the generation of well-formed words. It is highly systematised 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.

It is likely that Panini's grammar and the Rg Veda are the only texts that were passed from one generation to another without being amended. 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.

The great thinkers of ancient India were primarily linguists. It is not possible to understand fully the works of theologians/philosophers such as Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhva without a knowledge of Panini. The Ashtadhyayi is fundamental to the structure of their thinking. It is not a didactic grammar, as it presupposes a knowledge of Sanskrit. Gradually, mainly after the X century CE, manuals were produced that reorganised the Ashtadhyayi for didactic purposes. These generally had simpler structures and were less ambitious than their Ashtadhyayi source.

Panini made use of a technical metalanguage consisting of a syntax, morphology and lexicon. This metalanguage is organised 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 metalanguage 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).

From example words in the text, and from a few rules depending on the context of the discourse, additional information as to the geographical, cultural and historical context of Panini can be discerned.

The first two sutras are as follows:

    1.1.1 vrddhiradaich (वृद्धिरादैच् । १।१।१)
    1.1.2 adeingunah (अदेङ्गुणः । १।१।२)

In these sutras, the capital letters are special meta-linguistic symbols; they are called IT (इत्) markers or, in later writers such as Katyayana and Patanjali, anubandhas (see below). The C and Ṅ refer to Shiva Sutras 4 ("ai, au, C") and 3 ("e, o, Ṅ"), respectively, forming what are known as the pratyāhāras 'comprehensive designations' aiC, eṄ. They denote the list of phonemes {ai, au} and {e, o} respectively. The त् (T) appearing in both sutras is also an IT marker: Sutra 1.1.70 defines it as indicating that the preceding phoneme does not represent a list, but a single phoneme, encompassing all supra-segmental features such as accent and nasality. For further example, आत् (āT) and अत् (aT) represent आ {ā} and अ {a} respectively.

When a sutra defines a technical term, the term defined comes at the end, so the first sutra should have properly been ādaiJ vṛddhir instead of vṛddhir ādaiC. However the order is reversed in order to have a good-luck word at the very beginning of the work; vṛddhir happens to mean 'prosperity' in its non-technical use.

Thus the two sūtras consist of a list of phonemes, followed by a technical term; the final interpretation of the two sūtras above is thus:

    1.1.1: {ā, ai, au} are called vṛ́ddhi.
    1.1.2: {a, e, o} are called guṇa.

At this point, one can see they are definitions of terminology: guṇa and vṛ́ddhi are the terms for the full and the lengthened ablaut grades, respectively.
List of IT markers

its or anubandhas are defined in P. 1.3.2 through P. 1.3.8. These definitions refer only to items taught in the grammar or its ancillary texts such at the dhātupāţha; this fact is made clear in P. 1.3.2 by the word upadeśe, which is then continued in the following six rules by anuvṛtti, Ellipsis. As these anubandhas are metalinguistic markers and not pronounced in the final derived form, pada (word), they are elided by P. 1.3.9 tasya lopaḥ - 'There is elision of that (i.e. any of the preceding items which have been defined as an it).' Accordingly, Pāṇini defines the anubandhas as follows:

1) Nasalized vowels, e.g. bhañjO. Cf. P. 1.3.2.

2) A final consonant (haL). Cf. P. 1.3.3.

2a) except a dental, m and s in verbal or nominal endings. Cf. P. 1.3.4.

3) Initial ñi ṭu ḍu. Cf. P 1.3.5

4) Initial ṣ of a suffix (pratyaya). Cf. P. 1.3.6.

5) Initial palatals and cerebrals of a suffix. Cf. P. 1.3.7

6) Initial l, ś, and k but not in a taddhita 'secondary' suffix. Cf. P. 1.3.8.

A few example of elements that contain its are as follows:

    suP   nominal desinence
        Śi   strong case endings
        Ślu   elision
        ŚaP   active marker
        luP   elision
        āP   ā-stems
        LyaP   (7.1.37)
        luK   elision
    saN   Desiderative
        Ṅí   Causative
        Ṅii   ī-stems
        tiṄ   verbal desinence
        lUṄ   Aorist
        lIṄ   Precative
    GHU   class of verbal stems (1.1.20)
    GHI   (1.4.7)

Auxiliary texts

Pāṇini's Ashtadhyayi has three associated texts.

    The Shiva Sutras are a brief but highly organized list of phonemes.
    The Dhatupatha is a lexical list of verbal roots sorted by present class.
    The Ganapatha is a lexical list of nominal stems grouped by common properties.

Shiva Sutras
Main article: Shiva Sutras

The Shiva Sutras describe a phonemic notational system in the fourteen initial lines preceding the Ashtadhyayi. The notational system introduces different clusters of phonemes that serve special roles in the morphology of Sanskrit, and are referred to throughout the text. Each cluster, called a pratyāhara ends with a dummy sound called an anubandha (the so calledIT index), which acts as a symbolic referent for the list. Within the main text, these clusters, referred through the anubandhas, are related to various grammatical functions.

The Dhatupatha is a lexicon of Sanskrit verbal roots subservient to the Ashtadhyayi. It is organized by the ten present classes of Sanskrit, i.e. the roots are grouped by the form of their stem in the present tense.

The ten present classes of Sanskrit are:

    1. bhū-ādayaḥ (root-full grade thematic presents)
    2. ad-ādayaḥ (root presents)
    3. ju-ho-ti-ādayaḥ (reduplicated presents)
    4. div-ādayaḥ (ya thematic presents)
    5. su-ādayaḥ (nu presents)
    6. tud-ādayaḥ (root-zero grade thematic presents)
    7. rudh-ādayaḥ (n-infix presents)
    8. tan-ādayaḥ (no presents)
    9. krī-ādayaḥ (ni presents)
    10. cur-ādayaḥ (aya presents, causatives)

Most of these classes are directly inherited from Proto-Indo-European. The small number of class 8 verbs are a secondary group derived from class 5 roots, and class 10 is a special case, in that any verb can form class 10 presents, then assuming causative meaning. The roots specifically listed as belonging to class 10 are those for which any other form has fallen out of use (causative deponents, so to speak).

The Ganapatha (gaṇapāṭha) is a list of groups of primitive nominal stems used by the Ashtadhyayi.

After Pāṇini, the Mahābhāṣya ("great commentary") of Patañjali on the Ashtadhyayi is one of the three most famous works in Sanskrit grammar. It was with Patañjali that Indian linguistic science reached its definite form. The system thus established is extremely detailed as to shiksha (phonology, including accent) and vyakarana (morphology). Syntax is scarcely touched, but nirukta (etymology) is discussed, and these etymologies naturally lead to semantic explanations. People interpret his work to be a defense of Pāṇini, whose Sūtras are elaborated meaningfully. He also attacks Katyayana rather severely. But the main contributions of Patañjali lies in the treatment of the principles of grammar enunciated by him.

    Otto Böhtlingk, Panini's Grammatik 1887, reprint 1998 ISBN 3-87548-198-4
    Katre, Sumitra M., Astadhyayi of Panini, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987. Reprint Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989. ISBN 0-292-70394-5
    Misra, Vidya Niwas, The Descriptive Technique of Panini, Mouton and Co., 1966.
    The Ashtadhyayi.(of Pāṇini) Translated into English by Srisa Chandra Vasu (1897), from this archive.


The learning of Indian curriculum in late classical times had at its heart a system of grammatical study and linguistic analysis. The core text for this study was the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini, the sine qua non of learning. This grammar of Pāṇini had been the object of intense study for the ten centuries prior to the composition of the Bhaṭṭikāvya. It was plainly Bhaṭṭi’s purpose to provide a study aid to Pāṇini’s text by using the examples already provided in the existing grammatical commentaries in the context of the gripping and morally improving story of the Rāmāyaṇa. To the dry bones of this grammar Bhaṭṭi has given juicy flesh in his poem. The intention of the author was to teach this advanced science through a relatively easy and pleasant medium. In his own words:

    This composition is like a lamp to those who perceive the meaning of words and like a hand mirror for a blind man to those without grammar. This poem, which is to be understood by means of a commentary, is a joy to those sufficiently learned: through my fondness for the scholar I have here slighted the dullard.
    Bhaṭṭikāvya 22.33–34.

The traditional story given to account for the technical or shastric nature of the poem goes that Bhaṭṭi’s class on grammar was one day disturbed by an elephant ambling between him and his pupils. This bestial interruption necessitated an interdiction of study for a year as prescribed by the solemn law books. To ensure that no vital study time was lost our poem was composed as a means of teaching grammar without resorting to an actual grammatical text.
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