Tuesday November 21, 2017

Panini: Indian scholar who gave world the concept of grammar

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large-Indian stamp honouring Panini

By Gaurav Sharma

The world has always been a playground for geniuses. But time and again Earth gives birth to a different kind of brilliance, one that completely revolutionises the way we think and act.

It can be hard to imagine such a personality to be existing some two and a half thousand years ago. Yet, the same genius is found in Panini, an ancient Indian scholar.

Born in Brahmana caste, the highest of the social orders at that time, Panini was a model modern day nerd, a geek who redefined the laws of language (grammar).

His magnum-opus– the Ashtadhyayi– created in a mere forty pages, establishes the most complete linguistic system in the world. The epic work built a firm footing for establishing Sanskrit as the lingua-franca of the masses for more than a thousand years.

Born around the 4th century BC(subject to contention) in the city of Charsadda, Pakistan, Panini possessed a unique mind and a piercing intellect that was able to decipher the deeper meaning of things.

By demystifying Sanskrit, a language of phenomenal precision and vision, Panini captured the essence of language in such a concise way that it could be memorised and passed-on orally.

A short hand or a code was developed through which Panini expressed the ancient language’s structure and grammatical principles. Various elements of the language (types of verbs, classes of sound etc) were represented by abbreviations, usually a single alphabet.

The master grammarian, then combined these abbreviations into verse like strings or sutras, which in turn, set out the rules of the language in a highly sophisticated meta-language.

While the four-thousand sutras so created, take less than two-and-a-half hours to recite, the same translation in English amounts to a mind-boggling thirteen-hundred pages.

Even more commendable is the fact that Panini could devise an innovative system that functioned like a power algorithm, similar to how computers function in today’s day-and-age.

But the magical erudition of Panini does not end there. Such is the magnitude of his treatise, that through a combination of general rules and specific exceptions, a person can translate basic linguistic input into limitless grammatical sentences.

Paul Kaparsky, professor of linguistics at Stanford University could not believe that the science he was teaching in University had roots going back thousands of years.

“When I was studying grammar with Chomsky back in 1962, we were trying to write precise and comprehensive description of languages. But our main intention was to find what all languages have in common. In order to do that, we tried to construct an explicit and comprehensive grammar. To our surprise, we found out that such a magnificent feat had already been achieved by Panini, and that too on the basis of a single language”, says Kaparsky while talking to BBC.

So remarkable was Panini’s ability to compress and articulate rules of grammar that the Ashtadhyayi is likened to the Turing machine, an idealized mathematical model that reduces the logical structure of any computing device to its essentials.

Sadly, with the demise of Sanskrit as a language of intellectual enquiry and debate, Panini’s face has also been reduced to that of a forgotten relic.

However, in spite of receding into the background of popular discourse, not everyone has forgotten Panini’s works that continue to power-forward the global economy.

Vikram Chandra, a novelist and former software professional has written a book called Geeks Sublime as an ode to the genius of Panini.

While highlighting the epic proportion of Panini’s work that spans diverse areas, Chandra says, “Panini does not only play an important role in Sanskrit and linguistics, but in a strange way, he connects with everything that we do today.

All the programming languages that are used to change the global landscape today, are in some sense dependent on Panini’s insight and ideas.”

The honorary–capturing the world in a cow’s hoofprint–aptly sums up the visionary genius that was Panini.

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US Professor creates awareness about Sanskrit among students of Thane

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Sanskrit

Thane: It was an opportune moment for the students of Thane’s Bedekar College. The US Professor Emeritus George Cardona came down on Saturday to conduct a workshop in the college, creating awareness among pupils about the basics and nuances of the age-old mother of Indian languages, Sanskrit.

Cardona is a notable linguist and Indologist from the University of Pennsylvania. He was in Thane, Mumbai on February 6.  Professor Narayan Barse said, “He is here to conduct a Sanskrit workshop in Pune, which is being relayed through video-conferencing to 7-8 centres in the world, Bedekar College is one of these centres.”

Cardona talked about the ancient scholar Panini and his ‘Karak’ theory in grammar while addressing the students. A Sanskrit grammarian from ancient India, Panini was the renowned creator of 3,959 rules of Sanskrit morphology, syntax and semantics.

“Globally, Panini is considered an authority on Karak theory. Cardona made this complex theory so simple for the students. It was a pleasure to learn this from him,” Barse added.

Talking about the significance and rising demand for ancient language globally, Cardona insists about learning the language and other topics related to it. He said that because all sacred books in India are in Sanskrit, it is important to learn it.

Also giving examples about the difference in Marathi and English languages, he told about how a pot can be any utensil in English, but in Marathi, every pot holds a particular name.

According to the US Professor, Sanskrit is a treasure trove of our culture and we should preserve it.

“Cardona speaks the language like a pandit. If a person like him is teaching Sanskrit, then everybody would like to learn from him,” said Barse.

(NAVEETA SINGH, dnaindia.com)

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Bharata Muni, Panini shape Classical Theatre

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By Akash Shukla

Classical Sanskrit theatre reached its boom during the first nine centuries (BCE). It was Sanskrit grammarian Panini who brought to fore the aphorisms on acting. Kautilya’s book on statesmanship the Artha-shastra (4th century bce) depicted allusions to actors, dancers, theatrical companies and academies.

Beyond this, the form, style and classical structure of aesthetic acting were consolidated in Bharata Muni’s treatise on dramaturgy, Natya-shastra.

Bharata defined drama as…

Mimicry of the actions and conduct of people, rich in various emotions, and depicting different situations; this relates to actions of men as good, bad and indifferent and gives courage, amusement, happiness, and advice to all of them.

Bharata slotted drama in 10 types.

The two most important ones are are: nataka (heroic) and prakarana (social).

Nataka deals with eulogy and gallant themes of gods and kings and draws its roots from epical history or mythology, namely, Kalidasa’s Shakuntala and Bhavabhuti’s Uttararamacharita.

Unlike Nataka, Prakarana creates a plot that deals with ordinary mortals, such as a courtesan; one such important work is Shudraka’s Mrichchakatika.

Most of the then plays unfolded between 1 and 10 acts. There were many one-act plays. Monologous in nature, a single character carries on a dialogue with an invisible one. Prahasana is classified into two categories—superior and inferior, both dealing with courtesans and crooks.

Two prominent works under Prahasana are King Mahendravikramavarman’s 7th-century-ce Bhagavad-Ajjukiya (The Harlot and the Monk) and Mattavilasa (Drunken Revelry).

Classical theatre is in three structural types–

oblong, square, and triangular.

According to the Natya-shastra, the playhouse was shaped as a mountain cave. It had small windows to obstruct the noise and wind. All this was managed so that nothing should interfere with the acoustics and a backstage for actors was managed for costumes and offstage noise and special effects.

Hindu theatre Vs Greek counterpart

Hindu theatre varied from its Greek avatar in mood and method of production.

To begin with, less time was consumed by a Greek program of three tragedies and a farce than by a single Sanskrit drama.

The Greeks emphasised on plot and speech while the Hindus underpinned the relevance of four types of acting and visual demonstration.

People were audiences to the Greeks and spectators to the Hindus.

Aristotle’s theory of catharsis (pent-up release of emotions) has no resemblance to Bharata’s understanding of rasa.

The Greek belief of tragedy is totally missing in Sanskrit dramas. In the latter, it is the aesthetic principle that prohibits any death or defeat of the hero on stage.

Interestingly, there were two Hindu production types: Lokadharmi (realistic theatre) and Natyadharmi (stylized drama). Lokdharmi depicted natural presentation of human behaviour.

Natyadharmi or stylised drama employed gestures and symbols that were artistic.

While Indian audience still loves poetic characters and romances of ethereal nature like Shakuntala, the Western audiences find ‘The Little Clay Cart’ more in their tradition of realism. The Little Clay Cart depicts a departure from Sanskrit tradition, in which a prakarana was generally named after its hero and heroine.

‘The little Clay Cart’ seemingly is better theatre while Shakuntala is a better piece of poetry…

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Bhagavad Gita: From despondency to Yoga

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Bhagavad-Gita

By Gaurav Sharma

In the midst of the serpentine armies, the warriors blow their conch-shells. At the grand setting, Arjuna, the finest archer, asks Krishna, his friend and guide to chariot him between the two armies.

Arjuna has an eagle-eye view of the battlefield. Overwhelmed by the stack of relatives and teachers rallying against him, Arjuna is stricken with grief and despondency at the thought of fighting his kith and kin.

Despondency

He lays down his famed Gandiva bow and begins arguing against the futility of war before Krishna. The stage is set for an epic dialogue to quell man’s eternal dilemma, the delusions of mind.

The despondency of Arjuna represents the perpetual conflicts, recurring contradictions and precarious predicaments that each one of us experiences but chooses only to contemplate and introspect when beset with psychological upheavals and mental breakdowns.

The moments of inner turmoil or the moral dilemmas erupting on the screen of the mind, in fact, act as an impetus for traversing the path and the goal of Yoga.

Multitudinal Yoga

The word Yoga is interpreted in myriad ways. The popular conception of Yoga as merely a series of bodily postures, techniques of meditation and art of breath control is rather fallacious.

Yoga means “to unite”, or “to join”. Panini, the 6th Century Sanskrit grammarian says the term Yoga is derived from either of the two roots– Yujir (to yoke) or Yuj samadhu (to concentrate).

According to Ved Vyasa, the first commentator on the Yoga-Sutras, Yoga means Samadhi (concentration). Those who are practicing the art of concentration are said to be yogis or yoginis.

Etymologically, combining or uniting implies the existence of more than one element. In this case, it indicates duality. This is the reason why yoga is most commonly used as a compound word, such as bhakti-yoga, gyana-yoga, raja-yoga, karma-yoga….., pointing towards union through devotion, knowledge, meditation and action respectively.

Some practitioners contend that aforementioned prefixes before yoga connote the substratum of Yoga, a series of progressive steps which form a ladder towards moksha or liberation. Yet, others believe that Yoga, in the compound form, is a means to achieve the ends that are the prefixes of bhakti, gyana and karma.

For moralists, Yoga incorporates ethical concepts directed towards leading a ‘sagely’ introspective life. The Tantriks see it as a way to enter other bodies and the Mahayana Buddhists view it as pure cognition, keen perception and discerning intellect.

According to Vivekananda, (the Vedantin), Yoga assumes a broader concept that includes the aforementioned prefixes (bhakti, gyana, karma..) as a means to achieving the end of Yoga itself. Yoga is both the means and the end. Yoga is the goal of Yoga.

Then there are others who view Yoga as an expansion of consciousness. Paramhamsa Yogananda, the post-Vivekananda yoga-guru used the term kriya-yoga to define the means to attain communion.

Kriya (literally meaning action) represents spontaneous bodily action arising from the flow of energy (kundalini). Kundalini is graphically represented as a coiled-up snake, denoting the tied-up bundle of energy within the human body.

Patanjali (1)
Patanjali in his Kundalini form

Symbolic meaning

The characters of Bhagavad Gita are also symbolic of our daily struggles.

For instance, Arjuna’s unwillingness to fight the battle with his own relatives refers to our own indecisiveness in discerning right from wrong. His doubts and delusions are compared to demons by Krishna. The scathing remark “do not succumb to such degrading impotence”, warns us of the pitfalls of choosing not to act.

Yet, everyday we choose to be a passive observer, a silent watcher of the evils of society that happen right beneath our eyes. Performance of our duties and abiding by our essential nature (Dharma) makes imminent and practical sense, yet we choose to lie in a sea of inactivity.

There is even a psychological underpinning to every character and name in the Gita. When the blind king Dhritarashta inquires from Sanjaya: Tell me Sanjaya, what did the sons of Pandu and my sons do when they assembled on the field of Kurukshetra?, it is an allusion to the fact that our blind mind (Dhritrashtra) should take instructions from the divine insight (Sanjaya)

The mind or manas is under a deluge of sensory activities whereas the Buddhi (intellect) is the doorway to truth. Amidst the opposing forces, the Ego or ahamkara, as represented by grandsire Bhishma is pulled into a tug of war, impeding the journey towards communion.

A vivid analogy describes this field of activity, the tug of war, in its most fulfilling form:

“The body is the chariot pulled by the five horses (sensory organs) towards different sense objects. The mind is the reign of the horses which receives impulses and sends relay from/to the charioteer. Intelligence is the charioteer that controls and guides the horses.”

Uncontrolledsenses
Uncontrolled senses as represented in Kathopanishad

Ensconced behind the web of words and concepts lies a treasure trove of wisdom. The right approach awaits its deciphering, one that defines the goal of life. Further delving into the mysteries of life through Bhagavad Gita’s lens in the next article.