Saturday, April 30, 2011


Internal Beauty of Sanskrit (Part II)

"Abhi-nrutya of Sound and Sense"


Narayan R. Joshi Ph.D.
(All rights reserved by the author)

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There are three puzzles in the ancient history of India. The first is the Indus script and seals. The second is the time of Mahaabhaarata war. The third is the origin of Sanskrit language. There are many theories about the origin of human languages. This is also true in case of Sanskrit. Many theories are proposed about the origin of Sanskrit by eastern and western scholars. One finds interesting information about early development of Sanskrit from Vedas, Braahmanas, Nirukta and from other ancient literature. Western linguists in the past two hundred years discovered the language families among languages of the world. The discovery of Indo-European language family generated new interest in Sanskrit, the important member of the family. The discovery destroyed the myth of Tower of Babel and threw the western world to revise their linguistic theories dominated by Bible for almost two thousand years. The discovery posed many challenges to the traditional beliefs of Hindus such as divinity of Sanskrit and Vedas.

Changes in Sanskrit

Language is not static. It is dynamic. It keeps changing. There are many reasons for linguistic changes. One obvious reason is the Principle of Least Efforts. People are lazy to pronounce words as they are. They change sounds in words to make it easy to say. The most common example from the north Indian dialect is changing Indra into Indar and Chandra into Chandar. Such changes (Apabhramsha) might have occurred in Sanskrit words although great efforts were made in ancient India to preserve all features of Sanskrit intact as much as possible. Sanskrit produced many Apabhramsha languages. At the same time Sanskrit maintained her integrity due to her prescriptive grammar of Paanini. Did Sanskrit undergo changes from 3000 BC to 500 BC before she reached hands of Paanini? Taking into consideration dynamic nature of languages, it would be very difficult to deny changes. Epic Mahaabhaarata tells us that languages other than Sanskrit were in vogue during its era. The discussion stresses the point that languages are prone to systematic changes. I have no knowledge of changes that occurred in Sanskrit from 3000 BC to 500 BC. It is certain that during the period 500 BC to 1AD there was much activity in Sanskrit linguistics in India. Scholars were complaining that certain expressions from Vedas make no sense to them. It is said that there is 5 percent difference between Vedic Sanskrit and Classical Sanskrit.

Saadhu and Asaadhu Words

According to Meemaamsaa and Vaishes’ika schools Sanskrit language is the only standard (Saadhu) language and its use alone can engender merit. They also say that meaningfulness is coextensive with saadhutva. The words in Vedas have no beginning, yet they are meaningful. Other words used in folk languages have a beginning of meaning by way of convention (Sanketa), and thus their meaning is not eternal. Hence they (Asaadhu) cannot be the sources of our duty. All words, to whatever language they belong, are meaningful. But all of them are not saadhu, i.e. they cannot give merit to the user. Meaningfulness cannot be confused with saadhutva. A word may be asaadhu yet meaningful. Paanini was concerned more with the form of language of his time rather than with its meaning. Grammarian Patanjali in unambiguous terms says that the purpose of writing grammar (Shabdaanushaasana) is to give a standard language (saadhu shabda) the use of which facilitates communication and assures merit to the speaker hereafter. Different languages may have their own grammars. So it was added that a particular use of language confers merit. In this way dialogue revolves around special status of Sanskrit and Sanskrit words although grammar presents a more logical and liberal view than that proposed by Meemaamsaa school.

Meaning of Saadhu and Asaadhu words

Meanings associated with asaadhu words rise out of human convention. Language using asaadhu words is thus a conventional language. Ancient Indians were debating about the special status of Sanskrit. Is it a conventional language like any other language or is it a special one because it was the language of Vaidika revelation? Let us assume that it is the special language with stock of saadhu words. In ancient India the debate did not end here. There were various opinions about meanings of saadhu words of Sanskrit. As regards the meaning of a word, all schools of Indian philosophy have their own views revolving around Sphotavaada and Varnavaada.

Dhvani and Sphota Aspects of Words

In a room father, mother and a younger child are reading the same story book loudly turn by turn. The older brother is studying in the neighboring room. When he listens to voices in his room coming from the adjacent room, he recognizes the voice of father, mother and his younger brother. Variations in voice tambre of father, mother and the child produce three different dhvanis. In short in pronunciation of the same word by three different people, Dhvani was different but Sphota was the same. The problem of meaning of Sanskrit words is very much discussed by different Indian schools of linguistic philosophy.

One Word and One Meaning

When we subtract voice variations from the uttered word we get Sphota. When we eliminate poetic shades of a word, we then concentrate on denotative meaning (Abhidhaa) of the word. In this way Abhidhaa meaning of the word and Sphota of the pronounced word become subject of further discussion. Now the discussion revolves around the origin of Abhidhaa meaning of a Sanskrit word. According to one school of Jainas, one word expresses one meaning only. A word which appears to convey more meanings than one is to be treated, not as one word, but as many words as the number of meanings it appears to convey. In the discussion of the relation between word and meaning, Jain linguistic philosophy favors the view that every distinctive meaning needs a distinctive word. As a matter of fact, this is exactly what we do when we write glossary at the end of the scientific manual. We create Paribhaas’aa (technical terminology) in order to reduce ambiguity from the meaning of technical words used to describe the technical subject. This discussion leads us to the new concept, viz., could all words in Sanskrit be treated as words of Paribhaas’aa? We are choosing Sanskrit here because debate was revolving around Sanskrit semantics in ancient India in which all schools Vaidika, Jain and Bauddha participated with enthusiasm. They produced wealth of linguistic philosophy.

Philosophy becomes a linguistic problem

Generally speaking recent Indian philosophical discussions revolve around either Vedaanta or Upanisads. The wealth of information from Jain and Bauddha sources is rarely acknowledged. In some cases philosophical discussions show shades of sectarian biases. Even within the domain of Sanskrit linguistics, hardly any attention is given to the technical Sanskrit words used in the ancient treatises on Astronomy, Metallurgy, Mathematics and Physical sciences. Nobody discusses sources of the ancient Sanskrit terminology in the light of discussions on Sanskrit semantics continued through the long chain of ancient scholars to the modern day scholars. Religious verses are repeatedly used by people centuries after centuries. Hence they are prone to changes in pronunciation, changes due to development of new dialects and translations. Different sects interpret religious words with different meanings. That makes philosophy a linguistic problem. Ancient Sanskrit technical manuals were used by a small number of scholars interested in the subject. Any scientist playing with ancient technical terminology and changing it purposefully is of very remote possibility. So the stock of ancient Sanskrit technical words is the treasure that needs to be explored for validity of Varnavaada proposed by a certain group of scholars from ancient India.

What is Varnavaada?

Right from the time of Patanjali to this day, discussions on Sanskrit semantics are revolving around the origin of Vedic Sanskrit, the language of the most ancient scriptures, Vedas of India. Is the meaning of a Sanskrit word decided by Loka Sanketa (convention of the community) or is it decided by God or is it decided by the nature (Svabhaava)? If it is decided by Loka Sanketa, then Sanskrit is like any other conventional language and no further elaboration is needed. One can say that saving Vedas sound by sound was simply the act of religious faith. If Vedic Sanskrit is inspired by God in revelations to ancient sages, then new questions arise. Did Vedic sages know Sanskrit before revelations? However the possibility of meaning of Sanskrit words connected to the peculiar nature of Sanskrit opens new chapter of investigation. Sanskrit is highly inflected language. The letters of alphabet of Sanskrit are arranged scientifically according to their origin in human vocal tract. The table of alphabet contains 36 consonants and 16 vowels. According to Varnavaada, each letter (phoneme or Varna) of Sanskrit alphabet carries fixed basic semantic unit. The Abhidhaa meaning of the Sphota of Sanskrit word arises by adding elemental meanings of phonemes making that word. This kind of arrangement is called Phonemic Symbolism. The phonemic symbolism is denied by modern linguists for conventional languages like English, Arabic etc. Although the ancient Indian books talk about Phonemic Symbolism (Varnvaada), they do not offer consistent presentation of semantic units of Sanskrit phonemes. The author of the present paper took different approach. His attention was drawn to the physical properties of sounds of phonemes. His hypothesis was that if the wide scale phonemic symbolism existed in Sanskrit, then it cannot be a random arrangement. It has to rest on some intrinsic scheme and the scheme has to be tied with physical properties of phonemic sounds. He made efforts in that direction and it worked. In short Sanskrit words tell their own stories. This scheme leads to fixed meanings of Sanskrit prefix which could help in coining new consistent technical terminology. Let us see some examples of phonemic symbolism discovered by the present author.

Fixed meaning for the prefix “Abhi”

The dictionary meanings of the prefix ‘Abhi’ are many. They are as follow: towards, for, against, over, above, upon, across, etc. However, according to the phonemic symbolism proposed in this paper, the prefix Abhi means the ‘process of making a replica’ of something like a rubber stamp. Now the replica is a copy of the original or it is like the original or as if it is original. The fixed meaning of the prefix ‘Abhi’ is therefore taken as ‘as if’ in this work. Let us see examples. Examples are taken from the dictionary of V.S. Apte.

(1) Abhi-naya: Acting, any theatrical act.
The root in the parent word, -naya is ‘Nee‘. Its meaning is to carry, to lead, to guide, to direct. Now in the act of ‘Acting in a drama’, the actor is not carrying anything or anybody physically but he carries with him or directs emotions of audience. This is equivalent to saying, ’as if he is carrying or guiding or leading’. Here one act is replaced by the other similar act.
(2) Abhi-roopa: Corresponding with, conformable or suitable to.
The parent word is ‘roopa’. Its meaning is form, figure, and appearance. When school children mimic the court of law on the stage of their school, (as in a mock trial), it is called Abhiroopa Nyaayaalaya (the mock court). It is not a real court but it looks like a court, or ‘as if it is a court’. It is like a copy of the real court.
(3) Abhi-ruci: Desire, taste, liking, relish, delight, pleasure.
The meaning of the parent word ‘ruci’ is taste. It is the physical act of tasting something, say, a candy bar. But the word Abhiruci means liking. When one likes good literature, one is said to have uccha (high) Abhiruci or high level taste. Here again the prefix has the same meaning ‘as if he is tasting’!
(4) Abhi-jaata: Original
The parent word ‘jaata’ means born. It indicates physical birth. Original poetry or literature is also born but it is not a physical birth from the womb of a mother but from the brain of a poet. However it is like a birth or ‘as if born’. It is therefore called Abhijaata Saahitya (Original literature).
(5) Abhidhaa: The literal sense of a word, denotation.
The parent word ‘dhaa’ means to hold, to set, to contain. The word Abhidhaa means the denotative meaning of a word. It is the meaning held to the word even in circumstances where the word may suggest different meaning. This holding is not physical but it is ‘as if holding’. The Abhidhaa meaning of Sanskrit words is the topic of discussion in this research work.
(6) Abhi-jnyaana: Recognition, Remembrance.
The parent word ‘jnyaana’ means cognition. The name of one of the dramas of the celebrated Indian poet Kalidasa is Abhijnyaana Shaakuntalam. The king Dushyanta forgot his bride Shakuntalaa because she lost the wedding ring given by him to her. The fisherman, who found the ring, recognized the royal insignia on the ring and took it back to the king. At that moment the king remembered giving the ring to Shakuntalaa. The recognition came back to the king because of the copy of the cognition stored in his brain. For this reason Kavi Kaalidaasa chose the appropriate name to the drama. It is said that when GOD realization comes to a devotee, he recognizes ‘abhijaanaati’ GOD. This is so because he knew GOD originally. He forgot GOD due to delusion. When the curtain of the delusion (or illusion) is lifted, he recognizes GOD which process is called Abhijnyaanam, the replica of the original ‘jnyaanam’.
(7) Abhi-udaya: Prosperity
The parent word ‘udaya’ means physical rise like the Sunrise. However, the word Abhi-udaya or the sandhi word Abhyudaya does not mean a physical rise but ‘as if rise’. This is advancement in life or prosperity.
(8) Abhi-nava: painted, refurbished, polished, recast.
The parent word ‘nava’ means new but Abhinava means ‘as if it were new’. This could be because of polishing the item or painting it or redoing it or reworking it makes it like new.
(9) Abhi-sarana: Circulation
This word was used in connection with the circulation of blood. The parent word ‘sarana’ means to move. The blood in a body moves but it does not go away. It returns or circulates. It appears ‘as if it is moving away’ which is ‘Abhisarana’.
(10) Abhi-yukta: Engaged, or occupied or absorbed in.
The parent word ‘yukta’ means joined, united, fastened, yoked. When one is absorbed in say in his study, he is not physically attached to the study. So he is ‘as if yukta’ or Abhi-yukta. Now if somebody engaged in the criminal act. Then also he is Abhi-yukta.
These ten examples illustrate that the prefix ‘Abhi’ has the fixed meaning ‘as if’ consistent with its new single meaning discovered first time in this work.

Fixed meaning of the consonant ‘/gh/’

This sound is voiced and aspirated. This velar (guttural) sound is loaded with features more than those of the earlier three velar sounds of /k/, /kh/ and /g/. Here, the meaning of /k/ is ‘to resolve’. The meaning of /kh/ is ‘increased resolution’. The meaning of /g/ is ‘greater resolution leaning to almost independence’. After /g/ change takes place in the meaning of ‘gh’. The semantic category chosen for /gh/ is of ‘decreased resolution leaning to trapping’. Let us see examples.

(1) Ghars’ana
It means friction. In friction between two surfaces, the microscopic hills and valleys get locked into each other resisting the relative motion. Thus in friction there is slight trapping and then release.
(2) Gharma-bindu
It means sweat, perspiration drop oozing out of the skin pore. It does not flow because of partial trapping.
(3) Ghos’a
The word Ghos’a means noise, tumult, cry or noise. It also refers to thundering of clouds. Noise in voice or sound is due to fricatives and hence the word has the sound of /gh/ in it.
(4) Ghatikaa Paatra
The Ghatika Patra is the copper pot with hole at the bottom used to trap water in the ancient Indian water clock.
(5) Ghoorna Vaayu
It means whirl wind where wind is partially trapped and also free to turn around.
Let us see examples where the phoneme /gh/ occupies the position other than the first in a word.
(6) Megha
It means a cloud. It is trapped water vapor.
(7) Deergha
It means long in time or space. It is said Deerghasootri Vinashyati. It means procrastination spoils the job due to complications or trapping.
These examples are enough to prove the point that the chosen fixed meaning for the phoneme /gh/ makes sense.

It is not possible to offer fixed semantic categories discovered for all Varnas of Sanskrit. They show that there is internal mechanism in Sanskrit to preserve meanings of her shabdas. This is internal beauty of Sanskrit where sound and sense go hand in hand.(Editor's comment: It is indeed the abhi-nrutya of sound and sense.)

N. R. Joshi.

(Editor's Note: is extremely privileged to have an opportunity to publish this unique discovery by Dr. N. R. Joshi. His book on this
topic will be published soon giving elaborate details which will make it possible to
coin new words in Sanskrit that have defined connotations and meanings that would be easy to decipher even for those with preliminary knowledge of this system who are reading or hearing the word for the first time. Editor has illustrated this by coining a word "abhi-nrutya" of sound and sense.)

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