A Synopsis by Amrutha MK (Research Associate, NIAS) – on “Pāṇini and the Indian Linguistic tradition”
Lecture given by Prof. Madhav Deshpande given on 10 February 2021

Series Title: Sanskrit Language & its Traditions: A Journey Through its History and Contemporaneity
Organised by: NIAS Consciousness Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India
Email: niasconsciousnessprogramme@nias.res.in 

An insightful session by Prof Madhav Deshpande on the topic “Pāṇini and the Indian Linguistic tradition” as a part of the series on Sanskrit language and its traditions. The lecture focused on various aspects of Pāṇinian grammar and Indian linguistic traditions. Prof Deshpande shows how Pāṇini’s model is considered as an exceptional way of dealing with the historical accumulation of linguistic material over centuries.
Prof Deshpande gave a brief chronology of Pāṇini, Kātyayāna and Patañjali, the three prominent figures of Pāṇinian linguistic tradition. Panini makes a semantic distinction of three past tenses. Some Brahmanas and Upanishads use these three distinct past tenses as pointed out by Pāṇini. Prof Deshpande suggested that this indicates Pāṇini’s description of language comes relatively close to the language of the late Vedic period. Indian linguistic thinking developed centuries before Pāṇini. Thus, Prof Deshpande gave an overview of the early linguistic thoughts and debates about the number of sounds in Sanskrit. He briefly discussed semantic thinking and scholarly debates about the various ways of reciting Vedic chants. There was a need to know the meaning of the words recited and one way to know the meaning is through etymology. Yaska wrote a commentary for the list of difficult words from Vedas called nirukta. Further, he narrated why Pāṇini was not affiliated to any one particular field or domain and elaborated on the generic coverage of all Sanskrit in Pāṇini. Prof Deshpande also gave an account of the grammarians cited by Pāṇini and the modern scholars who have received Pāṇini. The connection of Pāṇini’s region with Greek and Armenian language and some interesting notes on the geography of ancient India through maps projected Prof Deshpande’s scholarship in history and similar disciplines.
An interesting question of whether Sanskrit was written down during the time of Pāṇini was taken up after showing a postal stamp issued by the Government of India that depicted Pāṇini sitting and writing on a palm leaf. Prof Deshpande suggested that Pāṇini uses nasalized and accented vowels as marking devices. There were no such ways to write accents in older forms of writing. Prof Deshpande also narrated some mythical stories on the iconic representation of Patañjali and Śiva sūtras. The lecture was followed by a question and answer session.
Lecture Synopsis Author: Amrutha MK, Team NIAS CSP

Click on the thumbnail below to watch the full lecture video

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