Monday, July 2, 2012



History of Phonemic Symbolism in Sanskrit    


Narayan R. Joshi, Ph. D.
For Part II click on :

The current renewed interest in India’s ancient language Sanskrit within India as well as in foreign countries is very pleasing. Sanskrit is loved and at the same time people complain about her complexities. Indians look at Sanskrit as a divine language while foreign scholars treat her as one of the languages of the Indo-European language family. Vaidika Sanskrit is the language of Indian Vedas. To the best of my knowledge no literature prior to Vedas was discovered in the world. Naturally there are many theories of the origin of Vaidika Sanskrit and even of the origin of human languages. Somebody said that Sanskrit is like a living organism. Somebody finds new facet of her existence from time to time over the period of the known history of 2500 years of India. One such effort is undertaken in this research. Many languages of the world are conventional. Scholars also think of Sanskrit as a conventional language. Some Acāryas thought differently in ancient India. Efforts are made in this paper to throw light on the possibility of controversial subject of Phonemic Symbolism in Sanskrit. Such arrangement is denied for all languages including Sanskrit by modern day linguists.

(Editor's comment: Linguists may change their mind after reading this unique article)

(Editor welcomes comments)

This is a modified version of the article originally published in the Journal Dhimahi in 2012, republished here
with author's kind permission and courtesy "Journal Dhimahi."


Vedas are the earliest compositions in history of the whole world. One can safely say that they were known in India (Indian subcontinent-simply called India from now on) as early as 1375 BC. Their presence in the world is attested by the reference to Vaidika deities (Indra, Varuṇa, etc.) in the treaty between Mitanni king and Hittite king in the ancient history of the Hittite kingdom from the land of modern day Turkey. Vedas are preserved in tact by Vaidika Brahmin priests orally sound by sound using eight uniquely novel techniques of repetition, Krama, Ghana Pāţha being few of them. The origin of Vaidika Sanskrit is lost in the mist of the ancient history of the world. Vaidika Sanskrit compositions are not easy to decipher today. The language differs from the classical Sanskrit which was formalized by the celebrated grammarian Paņini of 6th century BC from the frontier region now part of Pakistan. On the European side, Greek and Latin are close to Sanskrit. After the entry of British and establishment of their rule in the 18th century in India, European scholars discovered Indo-European language family spread from India in the east to British islands in the west. In order to explain existence of such vast linguistically connected ancient civilizations, existence of ancient people called "Aryans" was proposed, postulated, and promoted by European scholars. Unfortunately this turned out to be ill conceived chapter in the new semi-science called Anthropology. It brought disaster to Europe through racial connotations it carried without biologically, and genetically sound historical base. However, the mystery is not solved. To this day no scholar from any world university explained why the "primitive" people called Aryans looking for green pastures to graze their cattle had a need of such a highly structured and inflected language called Vaidika Sanskrit. Today we write scientific papers in English setting words next to each other without inflections (English dropped her inflections long ago retaining only few). The question is who devised such structured language and why in 1400 BC or even before? Classical Sanskrit is also highly inflected language but she carries regularity in her structure devised by Panini. Even then there are exceptions. This raises new question. Is there any value or usefulness to Sanskrit in the 21st Century when it is deemed to be "such difficult to study language" ? Is there anything beyond her complicated grammar called Vyākaraņa?

The Linguistic Principle of the Least Action

There is play between formality and flexibility in any given language. It is observed that higher the formality in a given language, less number of people are inclined to use it as it is. When they use it, without knowing they tend to follow The Linguistic Principle of the Least Action (1). It means people try to make linguistic forms difficult to pronounce easy by changing positions of sounds. Thus in English "simplely" becomes "simply." In the same way in India Sanskrit word Indra became Indar and Chandra Chandar. According to information theory information which is certain in the beginning tends to become uncertain with the passage of time. 

The logic of using highly inflected language with accents is gradually receded in the background over the long period of the known history of 2500 years and unknown history of 1000 years (from Mitanni-Hittite treaty). Then why to bother about this outdated language when English is ruling supreme in the market place of the world?

Sanskrit and Computers

In 1984 in the Artificial Intelligence Magazine, Rick Briggs wrote two articles on the utility of Sanskrit in devising semantic nets. From that time on lovers of Sanskrit got sudden revelations about connection between regularity of Sanskrit and rule following nature of the machine called computer. At present world conferences are held each year to teach computers rules of Paņini's grammar. Although much progress is made in this new field of Natural Language Processing (NLP), researchers have to go a long way from the current soft syntax projects to complicated structures of Sanskrit.

Language of Vaidika Mantras

Many lovers of Sanskrit are disillusioned with computer jargon with its unlimited acronyms intervening in description of subtle aspects of Sanskrit language supposed to produce auspicious vibrations with chanting of Vaidika mantras. They think language with her charming poetry of Mahākāvyās like Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaņa does not need validation from a digital (0 and 1) machine called computer with no life of its own.

Melodious poetry of many Sanskrit Kavis (poets) raises human feelings to the highest level of devotion and finally even to the god realization or cosmic consciousness. A machine cannot do that. A scientifically inclined modern man may not believe mantra śāstra. According to him language is a tool of human communications with forty or fifty sounds produced by human vocal chords. Meanings of words of any languages are conventional and there is nothing special in them. We can call table a chair and chair a table if we all agree to do so from tomorrow. No matter how sound this argument looks on the surface, yet it has logical pitfall. How did conventions of meanings arise in the first time in the human linguistic history? There are many partial theories of the origin of human languages. All agree that the origin is lost in the remote past of the human civilization on the earth. 

(Editor's comment: Neurolinguistics is related to the development of "vaa(k)c" or "vaacha" in all of human race. The brain wiring is structured and modified by the environment yet the basic templates of the neural circuitry are the same for all human brains)

Semantics-Science of Meanings of Words and Sentences

Science of Meaning is one of the topics discussed by modern linguistics along with syntax and context. How does meaning arise for a chosen word? Surprisingly between 1000 BC and 500 BC Sanskrit scholars in India were discussing semantics of Sanskrit words. Why? There were complaints by certain scholars that verses from Vedas make no sense although many of them speaking Sanskrit in everyday life. Such allegations against Vaidika Ŕcās were disturbing because Vedas were held in very high esteem. This and other reasons set fierce debate in ancient India about the nature of Sanskrit. Is it conventional like any other language or special? It looks to me that there were languages in the ancient India other than Sanskrit. The burden of proof was on the shoulder of those who claim Sanskrit mantrās produce desirable effects through rituals like Yajña. Out of this debate two groups stood out. First of Śakatāyana who claimed all Sanskrit nominal stems could be traced to roots (Dhātus). The second group of Gārgya claimed that every noun cannot be traced to the roots. Now the frantic search started for presenting derivations of Sanskrit words from roots. Many Brāhmaņa granthas
contained etymological explanations here and there. Thus came into existence the Nirukta śāstra (etymological derivations) of scholar Yāska around 700 BC. Yāska in summarizing the debate declared that where the meaning is not accompanying and the separation of dhātu and pratyaya is not possible in the normal way, even in those cases the query regarding the dhātu should be persisted with. Grammatical tendencies were also developing gradually through Brāhmaņa granthas. The Gopatha Brāhmaņa furnishes an example to this effect (2).

Grammarians were observing similarities in forms of Sanskrit verbs and noun declensions. They launched the project of separating affixes from stems by the method of Anvaya (match), Vyatireka (mismatch) and Apoddhāra (abstraction). The corpus of Sanskrit research was multiplying in the form of Prātiśākhyās, Phonetics, and Vyākaraņa.

This was becoming a huge burden to memorize for students. Naturally consolidation of grammar was started by many grammarians. It ultimately culminated into very concise sūtra style grammar devised by Paņini using many artificial tools like Pratyāhāras (acronyms) and Anubandhas (tagging letters) around 550 BC. Paņini listed names of 10 grammarians prior to his time. Some other authors believe that the beginning of the linguistic activities of India go back even to pre-Vedic times (3). 

After Paņini new process started which is still going on to this day and it is that of explaining grammar of Sanskrit composed by Paņini. So semantics of Sanskrit śabdas took back seat and proficiency of Sādhu (correct) forms prescribed by grammar of Paņini took the center stage. Grammarians declared semantics is out of their domain and they were only interested in grammatical forms. Thus attention was focused on the external jewelry of Vāk Devatā (Goddess of Speech) neglecting her internal semantic beauty.

In order to offer the supreme status to Vyākaraņa, it is claimed that deployment of Sādhu forms of the language can bestow even Svarga (heaven) to the practitioners in the next life.

(Editor's note: Scholars know not to take such poetic hyperbolae literally.)

Etymological Derivations and Etymological Speculations

At this stage it appears that ancient Indian linguistic scholars reached height of their scholarship in the unique grammar devised by Paņini. It is praised all over the world as the unique intellectual accomplishment of ancient India. However all was not fine and
dandy. The time of 550 BC is almost 1000 years after archeological evidence of mention of the Vaidika deities in the treaty documents of the ancient Hittites and Mitanni. Here we see the truth of axiom of Information Theory---Information which is certain in the beginning tends to become uncertain with passage of time. India was not exception. Soon it was realized that there still existed a considerable number of Sanskrit words that cannot be explained by Prakŗti (stems) and Pratyaya (affixes) method of Paņini. They were then assembled under the special category of Uņādi sūtras. Grammarians have to invent special affixes for them out of nothing. In short instead of etymological derivations, they tried etymological speculations to the best of their ability in case of Uņādi words. At this stage, opened for Sanskrit scholarship, new vista of discovery and/or invention of new Pratyayas to explain Uņādi words in improved manner. The two processes of constructing commentaries on Paņini Vyākaraņa and on Uņādi sūtras are going on in India for the past two thousand years of the known history.

Are Sanskrit Phonemes without meanings?
In parallel with scholarship of grammarians, phoneticians of ancient India were involved in teaching correct pronunciation of Sanskrit words. They composed various Śikşā sūtras (Phonetics) in order to delineate minute differences in pronunciations of Vaidika mantras. They were more that 50 phoneticians around 550 BC. Different treatises called Prātiśākhyās were composed for correct pronunciation of Vedas of different branches. One wonders why was this much stress on correct pronunciation of Sanskrit phonemes (Varņas), Akşaras (syllables) and Vākyas (sentences)? It may be because they were used in rituals which may bring Apūrva (extraordinary) effect on the life of the Yajamāna (host) performing the ritual with Vaidika priests. It was understood that even change of accent may produce undesirable effect. In this respect the story of Indra and Vŗtra is famous among the circles of Sanskrit scholars.

I started thinking if accent can change outcome of the ritual, then how much change could be precipitated by changing of a phoneme from a Sanskrit word? Is there connection between phonemes in a word and its meaning? Sanskrit grammarians repeatedly tell us that Sanskrit is famous for having multiple meanings to her roots. In that case which out of multiple meanings of a word a priest has in his mind when he recites a mantra in a ritual? These questions were never replied directly. Any connection between a phoneme and its meaning is denied by the modern western linguistics. According to the western scholarship, phonemes of a language have no purpose other than providing speaker with ability to differentiate among various sounds. On the other hand speculations on articulated sounds of Sanskrit śabdas and their meanings continued on and off fashion until now in India.

Speculations on Meanings of Sanskrit Phonemes (Varņas)

(a) View of Tantras: Speculations on individual phoneme meanings appear especially in Tantric mantra literature. The names of Tantric deities are extremely important since the ritual of different Tantric cults is mainly concerned with their evocation (Editor's marginal note: also invocation: sthapana and avaahana, ) by means of mantras. The sounds of the language exist in a subtle state. Tantras talk about Matŗkas the subtle aspects behind letters of language. Tantras describe letters as bīja (seeds) of physical entities. They connect syllable /Lam/ to the seed of the earth, the syllable /vam/ to water, the syllable /ram/ to fire, and the syllable /yam/ to air (4). These speculations on few syllables do not help us to decide whether all letter-sounds have fixed meanings or not.

(b): View of Indian Phoneticians: According to information given by the author Kapil Kapoor (5) in his book, the phoneticians in the Indian tradition were the intellectual opponents of the Nairukta, the etymologists. They were also opponents of grammarians. 

The two differ fundamentally in their concern-the phoneticians are concerned with substance of speech, with śabda-tattva, while the grammarians are concerned with the form of speech, śabda-rūpa. Indian philosophers talk about kham-brahman or śabda-brahman which seems to be akşara of Vedas called Praņava. Phonetics is the first science in India and phonetic observations and analysis are found in both linguistic and non-linguistic texts. The sound complex is called Varņa. 

For simplicity in this work we will call Varņa a phoneme or a letter-sound. We see here focus on phonetics in ancient India. And if there is no connection between phonemes of a śabda and its meaning, then why so much energy spent on phonetics?

(c) Speculations on meanings of Varņas are found in Akşamālikā Upanişad. We come across them in Ahirbudnya-Samhitā of the Pañcarātrāgama (6) as well as in Viśvāmitra Samhitā (7). However there is no consistency among different books. It looks to me they try to attach names of different deities to different phonemes randomly.

(d) Acāryas like Upavarşa, Kumārila-Bhaţţa, Prabhākara, Madhva, Rāmānuja, Śańkara, Jīvagoswāmi and schools of Nyāya, Sāńkhya, Vaiśeşika, Mīmāṁsā, Vaişṇava, Kāśmira Śaivās and Śaiva-Siddhānta theorists all support Varṇavāda. However none of these, to the best of the knowledge of this author, offer keys of decipherment of the atomic meanings of Sanskrit Varṇas or phonemes. Perhaps they meant something different by the term Varṇavāda from what is understood here. 

Here Varņavāda means individual letter-sounds have fixed meanings and the meaning of a ṡabda is the sum of the meanings of constituent varņas. 

Books on Yoga describe six cakras with petals carrying individual letters of the Sanskrit alphabet without any explanation that might help in deciphering the atomic phonemic code (8). One finds efforts on this line in the interpretation of Śiva-sūtras offered by Nandikeśvara (9). However the interpretations are broad and do not help in pinning down the atomic meanings of individual phonemes. The modern day western linguists do not support Varṇavāda.

According to the traditional Indian Scholars Akşaras from Vedas have their own inherent meanings. The meaning of a Vaidika word is the summation of the meanings of the individual Akşaras present in the word. They claim that there are enough clues in Vedas for every individual to arrive at the atomic meanings of Akşaras.

(e) My research on phonemic symbolism in Sanskrit was progressing slowly from many years simultaneously with my other professional interests. In earlier stages I published papers from 2005 to 2008 on my research in Quarterly Journal of Vedic Science. However, in 2010 I came across the book of Pandit Raghunandan Sharma (10). In this book I found efforts of the author to investigate meanings of Sanskrit letters based on their articulation from vocal tract. His efforts stand out from all other previous studies because he was developing subject by showing gradual change in meaning with gradual change in acoustic properties of articulated sounds. I was exactly doing the same independently with my knowledge of acoustics. Unfortunately Sharmaji passed away long ago. I felt sad I did not get the opportunity to communicate with somebody like him whose line of thinking mached with my thinking. In short this division of thinking among western and the Indian scholars on the old and neglected issue from the Sanskrit linguistics raises an important question. Is it really possible for letters of any or of Sanskrit alphabet for that matter, to have fixed intrinsic atomic meanings related to their sounds? This is called sound-sense concord. Let us see!

The Second Law of Thermodynamics and Varņavāda (Phonemic Symbolism)

William Ralph Bennett offers interesting discussion on entropy and anthropology in his book (11). Associating entropy with the degree of statistical disorder, the second law of thermodynamics means that thermodynamic systems tend to proceed from states of lower probability to states of higher probability (or equivalently from higher order to lower order). There are some qualitative reasons why we might also expect languages to obey the second law in some sense. The fact that large numbers of people use them introduces the statistical element. If a language is developed initially by one or a small number of persons at one point on the globe, it seems inevitable that the structure of the language will become less ordered as it diffuses throughout the world. The condensed (and therefore specialized) meanings originally given to symbols by the creator of the language will tend to be broadened and require more additional description through common usage. In other words, it seems likely that there will be a tendency for the minimum average number of bits per message required to convey meaning in normal use of the language to increase with time.

One linguistic tendency is observed where the more concise declensions of single words are replaced by sequences of words. This process generally makes language easier to learn and use but also results in requiring more bits per message on the average. The redundancy of the language tends to go up. One, of course, has to look over really long periods of time to see if the effect occurs; otherwise, variations in individual style will tend to mask the phenomenon. Obviously, it is desirable to try to make comparisons between old and recent versions of the same text. Some efforts made in that directions lead to the new phenomenon. Although there is a definite indication that the total number of bits for the same message has increased with time, the result has occurred in a rather surprising way. The total number of characters per message has gone up, but the entropy per character has remained astonishingly constant over periods of at least 2000 years (at least within the languages studied belonging to the Indo-European family). The result suggests the involvement of some fundamental physiological limitation. For example, the nearly constant values for the entropy per character may just reflect the finite number of sound sequences that can be easily produced by the human voice. Such limitations would get into the written language the minute an alphabet based on some kind of phonetic spelling arose from more elementary ideographs. Thus the condensed original meaning for the individual sounds of an alphabet of a language using the phonetic spelling for words does not appear to be a far-fetched idea. But then how to crack the linguistic phonemic code?

Sanskrit Syllables (Akşaras) have meanings.

According to Śatapatha Brāhmaņa the original language was monosyllabic (4). There are Sanskrit monosyllabic particles such as ‘Tu’ (but, on the contrary), ‘Hi’ (indeed), ’Ca’(join words), ‘Na’ (negation) and Vā (or) having meanings. There are monosyllabic roots like ‘Da” (to give), ‘Ma’ (to measure), ‘Pa’ (to drink), ’Dha” (to lay, to hold), and many more having meanings. 

There is an interesting article about analysis of meaning of Sanskrit words through single sounds in the book of Dr. Kahrs (12). It is a kind of extreme form of Nirvacana analysis, namely that which is based on the semantics of single sounds. A good example of this is provided by the lengthy analysis of the word ‘Bhairava’ presented by Śivopādhyāya in his commentary on Vijñānabhairavatantra.

Śivopādhyāya breaks the term ‘Bhairava’ down into the four syllables bhā-ai-ra-va and then tries to present meanings for each of the syllables, finally adding their meanings and leading to the meaning of the word. The degree of success of this method is a different topic. The article offers evidence that such methods were tried in the past. Moreover Sanskrit has many single syllabic words having meanings as described above. This logic could be stretched further to the fixed semantic categories associated with individual phonemes instead of syllables of Sanskrit words. The question is-: Will this extreme nirvacana analysis work in all cases?

Semantic Dilemma and The use of Meta-Language

Our aim is to find out the atomic meanings of individual phonemes of Sanskrit. But there is a dilemma. In order to describe the meaning of a single phoneme, we are forced to use many phonemes carrying their own semantic elements. Assuming that we became successful in doing that, then the atomic meaning of the original phoneme is not independent and hence not fundamental because it can be described by the summation of the atomic meanings of phonemes used to describe it. The self-reference becomes the undoing of Completeness for any system of formal logic. 

In order to come out of this predicament, we will use the minimum number of English words to describe the atomic meanings of phonemes of the Sanskrit language. Here Sanskrit will be our object language and English, the meta-language, that is, the language of the language!

There is a second dilemma. How to decide which concept is atomic, or fundamental or basic or primary and which is not? At this stage, it is decided, therefore, to give up the phrase atomic concept. A concept could be a broad one. If it could be represented by a single phoneme, then it is called condensed representation. A broad concept represented by a single Varņa can be made sharp by adding other Varņas and making a word. This linguistic process appears then opposite of mathematical process. By adding numbers one gets a bigger number. By adding Varņas in a word, one would get a sharper concept. Longer the word, the sharper will be the concept. 

(Editor's Note: This is like getting higher resolution by increasing the number of pixels)

Śabda and Sańketa

The topic of Sanskrit semantics is as old as Sanskrit phonetics. There is difference between Dhvanyātmaka śabda and Varņātmaka śabda. The second type of śabdas (words) is discussed here. Words mean and they mean something. The power of words (śakti) is a bond between them. Sanskrit distinguishes between Yougika words, Yogārūɖha words and Laukika words. It is said words used in Vedas are Yougika words. Their meanings in Vedic context may be different from their usage in Laukika context. Well, context does have role in understanding word meanings. However isolated words have meanings and we understand them. Does the meaning of a given Sanskrit word arise through Iśvara sańketa or through Loka Sańketa? It is easy to understand Loka sańketa. It means the meaning associated with a given word is by usage or convention of people using it. However how did the convention arise in the beginning is unanswered question. Many everyday languages like English are conventional. Is Sanskrit also a conventional language? Many scholars think so because they believe Sanskrit was born in India from interaction of PIE (proto-Indo- European) with native languages of India. However Indian Ācāryas thought differently.

Abhidhāna, Abhidheya and Abhidhī

It is said that Vāk (speech) is divided into four categories-Parā, Paśyantī, Madhyamā and Vaikharī. All discussions in this paper are only for Vaikharī Vāk. Sanskrit words can have many different types of meanings. The main ones are Abhidhā (the primary meaning), Lakşaņā (the secondary or extended meaning), Vyañjanā (the suggested meaning) and Tātparya (the intended meaning). According to Bhartŗhari if any possible law governs the semantic behavior of a word or speech, it can be only the ‘Direct’ one or ‘Abhidhā’. This is so because ultimately the word is Abhidhāna or ‘name’ and the meaning is Abhideya or ‘to be told’ depending directly on each other. This mode of relationship has been named as Abhidhī. Therefore only Abhidhā meanings of Sanskrit śabdas are given attention in this work. Other meanings relate to poetics and figures of speech. Within the realm of Abhidhā meaning, a given word may have many meanings by convention or one fixed meaning by some intrinsic mechanism. What could be the intrinsic mechanism other than each individual letter-sounds of the Sanskrit alphabet carrying fixed condensed meanings adding up to the final meaning of the Sanskrit word? This is called Varņavāda in this work.

Phonetic and Phonemic Transcription

If the same word is spoken with tonal variations, it may mean differently, for example, it may become sarcastic remark. In the same way one understands the same word no matter when uttered by a man, woman and a child ignoring frequency differences in their voice. In short in case of man, woman and child we hear different dhvanis of the word but its sphoţa remains the same. In other words no mystery is attached to sphoţa in this work. Those interested in sphoţa doctrine in Sanskrit semantics can refer to my paper published by BORI (13). Language is written as well as spoken. Variations in spoken sounds of words can be represented using detailed phonetic transcriptions. On the other hand sphoţa of a word is free from phonetic variations or forms. Readers interested to know more about difference between the phonetic and phonemic transcriptions, are requested to refer to the paper of the present author published in Vedic Science (14). The sphoţa of Sanskrit words can be written fairly and faithfully using Varņas of Sanskrit alphabet. 

The writing of Sanskrit words with Varņas of Sanskrit alphabet is called phonemic transcription. The sphoţa of a śabda with its phonemic transcription is the subject of discussion in this work.

Periodic Table of Articulated Letter-sounds of Sanskrit

In parallel with scholarship of grammarians, phoneticians of ancient India were involved in teaching correct pronunciation of Sanskrit words. They composed various Śikşā sūtras (Phonetics) in order to delineate minute differences in pronunciations of sounds of Vaidika mantras. We have observed that earlier efforts in deciphering phonemic symbolism were random without any solid theoretical basis. There is no consistency in them. Then I read that Russian scientist Mendeleev invented Chemical Periodic Table after studying the Periodic Table of articulated sounds of Sanskrit alphabet. My specialization in sounds and acoustics immediately focused my attention on the systematic arrangement of letters of Sanskrit alphabet in seven rows and five columns. The last two rows were rearranged by me to suit first five rows. The arrangement of articulated letter-sounds designed by the ancient phoneticians of India is matchless in the whole world even today. I started making sonograms of these sounds by using modern digital computer. I was observing them as a kind of hobby. I was also interested in finding Sanskrit anvarthaka samjñas for English terminology from modern sciences. Then suddenly idea dawned on me perhaps there might exist hidden systematic periodic semantic network behind the systematic periodic table of articulated sounds. Sanskrit is chosen for this special research because Sanskrit scholars of India made every effort to save original forms of Sanskrit words in the crowd of other Prākŗta languages taking births from masses of India. Even if 70 percent words of Sanskrit remained intact and unchanged, then it is still a lot better stock of words relative to the words of other languages like Hindi or English. Next after many years of contemplation I tied semantic properties of Sanskrit words to the physical properties of sounds. Now my research is not random. It is based on the solid foundation of physics of sounds. Now without wasting time let us see some examples. 

How did I arrive at these meanings of letter-sounds is a long story and we need to reserve it for next paper since this paper is already getting lengthier.

Meaning of Upasargas or Prefixes

We all know upasargas change meanings of roots. If we look into the Sanskrit dictionary of V. S. Apte, we find many meanings are listed under a single upasarga like –Abhi. If I would like to create a new Sanskrit word for English technical word, then upasargas having fixed meanings proves to be very useful. I found out that behind multiple meanings of a single upasarga, there has to be a fixed meaning according to my scheme. Upasargas are chosen first because they are made of few phonemes only three phonemes in case of ‘Abhi’.

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 ‘Nī‘. 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-rūpa: Corresponding with, conformable or suitable to.

The parent word is ‘rūpa’. Its meaning is form, figure, and appearance. When school children mimic the court of law (mock court) on the stage of their school, it is called Abhirūpa

Nyāyālaya (the real court is mimicked by 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 ucca (high) Abhiruci or high level taste. Here again the prefix has the same meaning ‘as if’ he is tasting’!

(4) Abhi-jāta: Original

The parent word ‘jāta’ 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 Abhijāta Sāhitya (Original literature).

(5) Abhidhā: The literal sense of a word, denotation.

The parent word ‘dhā’ means to hold, to set, to contain. The word Abhidhā 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’. Only the Abhidhā meaning of Sanskrit words is the topic of discussion in this research work.

(6) Abhi-jñāna: Recognition, Remembrance.

The parent word ‘jñāna’ means cognition. The name of one of the dramas of the celebrated Indian poet Kālidāsa is Abhijñāna
Śākuntalam. The king Dushyanta forgot his bride Śakuntalā 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 Śakuntalā. The recognition came back to the king because of the copy of the cognition stored in his brain. For this reason Kavi Kālidāsa chose the appropriate name to the drama. It is said that when the GOD 
realization comes to a devotee, he recognizes ‘abhijānāti’ the GOD. This is so because he knew the GOD originally. He forgot the GOD due to delusion. When the curtain of the delusion (or illusion) is lifted, he recognizes the GOD which is Abhijñānam, the replica of the original ‘jñānam’.

(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-saraņa: Circulation

This word was used in connection with the circulation of blood. The parent word ‘saraņa’ 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 ‘Abhisaraņa’.

(10) Abhi-yukta: Engaged, or occupied or absorbed in.

The parent word ‘yukta’ means joined, united, fastened, yoked. When one is absorbed say in his study, he is not physically attached to the study. So he is ‘as if yukta’ or Abhi- yukta.

(11) Abhi-cāra: It means hypocrisy. It is not real cāra but as if it is cāra.

(12) Abhidhāna: Your name is attached to you. But it is not physical attachment. As if it is attached to you.

(13) Abhi-jval: A oil lamp burns (jvalana) and gives off primary light. It illuminates the room. Now the room is giving off secondary reflected light. That is Abhi-jvalan.

(14) Abhişţa cintana: We do not know what you wish. But we are sending you greetings as if you wished.

These fourteen examples illustrate that the prefix ‘Abhi’ has the fixed meaning ‘as if’ discovered first time in this work. One has to think slowly to see shades of meaning.

Next let us see examples of fixed meanings of individual phonemes.

The sound of the phoneme /c/, is unaspirated and unvoiced. It is an affricate sound. An affricate is simply a stop with fricative release. It is the first letter-sound of the second row of the sanskrit alphabet. The meaning of the phoneme /c/ discovered is ‘to focus’. How did I arrive with this meaning for the phoneme /c/? Well it is through a long process. That will need another paper.

(1) Cakra: The Sanskrit word for a wheel is Cakra. At the center of the wheel, the spokes of the wheel come together on the hub. The pattern is very similar to the act of focusing.

(2) Citra: The word Citra means an image or a picture. We can safely assume the sound of /c/ indicates the focusing action in the meaning of the word Citra.

(3)Cakşu: The word for an eye is Cakşu. An eye focuses the image of an object on the retina.

(4) Cañcu: A beak of a bird is focused and it is called Cañcu.

(5) Ācamanam: In the daily prayers of Sandhyā -Vandanam, the water is sipped from the cup (focused) of a right hand. The act is repeated three times. The sipping of water from the cup of right hand is called ācamanam. In the act of sipping, lips are focused too. The action of sipping is thus appropriately described by the root Cam, where the sound of the phoneme /c/ clearly stands for the action of focusing.

(6)Cudā: Tied up hair in a single lock (as if focused) on the crown of the head is called Cudā.

(7)Cumbanam: The act of kissing involves focusing of lips. In Sanskrit, the word for kissing is Cumbana where the sound of /c/ in its spelling refers to focusing of lips.

Above examples involved the concrete physical objects or actions. Let us study few examples describing abstract actions.

(8)Cintana: The Sanskrit word Cintana means meditation. In meditation one focuses attention on the chosen deity.

(9)Caritra: The biography of a person is called Caritra where narration is focused on that person.

(10)Catura: A person clever and focused in conversation is called Catura person.

(11) Candra: The Sun light reflected from the surface of the moon reaches the earth. The small size moon located between the big size sun and earth appears like a focusing mirror.

(12) Cuş: The root Cuş shows the act of sucking with focused lips.

(13) Carvaņa: The act of chewing where repeated focusing is achieved is called


(14) Caraņa: The Sanskrit word Caraņa means feet. While walking (root-car) legs appear to be focused at the lower part of the waist. Religion asks to touch the feet of the
deity in the temple because it is understood that the spiritual energy is focused at the feet of the deity.

(15)Cañcala: The Sanskrit word Cañcala means unsteady, not focused. One may now say phonemic symbolism of /c/ breaks down here. That is not the case. The meaning of /c/ goes through steps of gradual changes through the next three phonemes reaching the final nasal /ñ/ where it gets the meaning of ‘to defocus’ opposite of the meaning of the fist phoneme /c/. The word Cañcala means now it is focused and now it is not focused. It means it is unsteady. This is the beauty of phonemic symbolism tied to the periodic table of Sanskrit letter-sounds.

(16) Codanā Yantra: It means a spray gun with a focused opening in the front. 

(17)Tvacā: It means skin having focused pores. This example shows that the phoneme
/c/ has the same fixed meaning irrespective of its position in the word.

(18) Ruci: It means taste. A person enjoys taste of food with tiny taste buds (focused) on tongue.

(19) Guccha: A bunch of, say, flowers spread on the top and focused together at the bottom.

(20) Racanā: It means design or arrangement or composition where things are brought into focus.

These examples are enough to prove that a single phoneme /c/ has fixed meaning of “to focus” in Sanskrit words listed here. Readers can try other words with /c/ in them and check the validity of the discovery.
Let us see one more example of the phoneme /gh/

This is voiced and aspirated velar sound from the first row of Sanskrit alphabet.

The fixed semantic category associated with the phoneme /gh/ is “decreased resolution” or ”to trap partially”. This meaning comes gradually starting from the first phoneme /k/ whose meaning is ‘beginning to resolve’. All steps from /k/ to /gh/ are not described here to avoid research paper becoming too long.

Let us see examples.

(1) Gharşaņa: It means friction of two surfaces together. If the surfaces are very smooth there will be very small friction. Minute protrusions and depressions on rough surfaces produce mutual partial trapping.

(2) Ghana: It means compact, dense. If the forest is thick with entangled (decreased resolution) trees, bushes, wild vines, it is called ghana forest.

(3) Ghoşa: It means noise, tumult, cry, thundering of clouds. Noise in voice is due to fricatives. There is trapping of air stream in voice.

(4) Gharma-bindu: It means sweat, perspiration drop oozing out of the skin pore. It is not like flowing water. It remains partially out, partially trapped.

(5) GhatikāPātra: It is the water clock of the ancient India. It is a copper pot with a small hole at the bottom floating on water in the bigger container. Water slowly flows in (trapped) and when the ghatikā pātra becomes full, the time interval is called one ghatikā.

(6) Ghŗtam: It means butter. It is trapped in the process of churning of the buttermilk. 

(7) Ghūrņa Vāyu: It means whirl wind. The wind is trapped moving round and round.

(8) Ghrāņam: It is the act of smelling. Smell is trapped over air particles that flow through nose.

(9) Ghoņa: The nose also performs action of friction and trapping of dust particles due to its inner moist lining.

(9)Ghaţa: It means an earthen pot for storing water. Water droplets are trapped in pores and slowly evaporated by pulling heat from the body of the water thereby cooling water. One can say also that the act of storing water in the pot is itself act of trapping water.

(10) Gharghara: It means indistinct, purring, gurgling sound with fricatives involved.

(11) Ghaņţā: It means a bell where the central piece oscillates inside the metal shell as 
if it is trapped inside producing sound of the bell.

In the meanings of all these words there is an element of partially trapping of something. Something is trying to resolve itself but gets trapped and stays with decreased resolution. All these words started with the phoneme /gh/. Let us see some examples where the phoneme /gh/ appears in the middle of the word or at the end of the word.

(12).Śīghra: It means rapid, quick, and speedy. If one is going with rapid pace, his pace is not fully resolved and may be partially overlapped.

(13) Megha: It means a cloud. This is a good example. In a cloud the water vapor is partially trapped. A cloud is foggy, unresolved. One cannot see through it always.

(14) Dīrgha: It means long, elongated, delayed, kept hanging for a long time. It means something is partially trapped and not moving as fast as expected. We have a saying, “Dīrghasūtrī Vinaśyati”. Thus the meaning ‘partially trapped’ of the phoneme /gh/ is present in the meaning of this word.

(15) Praghaţā: It means the first elements or rudiments of a science. One can use the word Praghaţā for the elements from the chemical periodic table. The periodic table is thus Praghaţā table.

(16).Sańgha: It means a group, collection, multitude, or a number of people living together like Sańgha of Bauddha Bhikshus. They are together but not tied to each other.

These examples are more than enough to prove that the semantic category (partially trapping or decreased resolution) discovered and associated with the Sanskrit phoneme /gh/ is present in words starting with /gh/ as well as in words having it in the middle.


In this paper phonemic symbolism of Sanskrit Varṇas was investigated. It was proved that the symbolism works by exploring fixed meanings one upasarga and two phonemes. It is not possible to present fixed meanings of all letter-sounds in one paper. The meanings chosen are not picked up on trial and error basis but they were tied to acoustic properties of those phonemes. As acoustic properties move gradually from the first phoneme to the fifth (the last) phoneme of a row in the periodic table of Sanskrit alphabet, so semantic categories move with them from left to right. This is called internal beauty of Sanskrit as opposed to grammar which is the external jewelry of Vāk Devatā.
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(14) N. R. Joshi, “Phonetic and Phonemic Symbolism in Sanskrit Semantics,” Quarterly Journal of Vedic Science, Jan-Mar. 2006, vol.8, no1,pp. 25-38. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Author: N. R. Joshi, 1735 Bryant Way, Beaumont, Texas, 77706 USA’
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