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Panini’s Ashtadhyayi sets linguistic standards


By Akash Shukla

पदवाक्यप्रमाणशास्त्रेभ्यः (व्याकरणमीमांसान्यायादिभ्यः) अर्थनिर्धारणार्थानां विधिकल्पानां प्रकाराणाञ्च सङ्कलनम् अत्र

In other words, language is the storehouse of all human knowledge and it is represented by words and meanings. Across languages, even though words and their usage differ but their conceptual meanings remain unchanged. Interestingly, the dictionary meanings are rarely taken into consideration.

Hailed as the founder of literature and language, this famous Sanskrit Grammarian gave a scientific analysis of Sanskrit phonetics and morphology. No! There could absolutely be no brownie points for guessing the right name as Panini in his unparalleled language effort brought about the development of Sanskrit’s grammar.

Keeping it ‘relative’ and ‘gestural’, all language speakers understand it ‘contextually’ and ‘tonally’. Fascinating as it may seem, language is ambiguous in one sense and flexible in the other.


Amid the list of Indian grammarian Panini’s eminent feats, his most celebrated work is called Ashtadhyayi, written in the 6th to 5th century bce. Encompassing the piece in eight chapters, the treatise underpins the difference between the language of sacred texts and the language used for communicating daily.

A basic set of rules and definitions was given to describe Sanskrit grammar. With its complex use of metarules, transformations, and recursions, Ashtadhyayi is not only generative but descriptive as well.

Linguistics in Non-Western traditions

While the most interesting non-Western grammatical tradition speaks of India, the dates continue to depict an interesting tale as well; it dates back at least two and one half millennia and culminates with Panini’s grammar.

As soon as Sanskrit’s visibility and inception became visible to the Western learned clan, the procedure to decode the Indo-European grammar comparison ensued. As one thing leads to another, the next thing that happened in the chain reaction was that foundation stones were laid for 19th century structures of comparative philology and historical linguistics.

But, Sanskrit in all this was simply used for data. Indian grammatical learning had no direct part to play. To the contrary, 19th century chroniclers realized that native tradition of phonetics in ancient India was superior to Western knowledge.

In the rules or (sutras) of Panini, there is a remarkably subtle and penetrating account of Sanskrit grammar.


In Hindu grammarian Panini’s work, the sutra style attained matchless perfection. The sutra literature began before the rise of Buddhism, though the philosophical sutras all seem to have been composed afterward.

Unravelling Ashtadhyayi

As translated by Srisa Chandra Vasu, Vyakarana (Grammar) is determined as one of the six Vedangas—‘limbs of the Veda’. Its study was deemed necessary for a correct interpretation of sacred mantras and proper performance of Vedic rites.

Linguistic, phonetic and grammatical inquiries were addressed to elucidate the Vedic meaning and the effort also aimed at settling its textual form. ‘Vedanga’ represents grammatical science and has ever since remained the benchmark and authority for Sanskrit grammar in India. For a detailed understanding of linguistic facts and with an insight in the vernacular’s structure, this work stands peerless in the literature of any nation.

Panini’s system of arrangement differs entirely from the one that is usually adopted in our grammars because the work is composed in aphorisms. They needed to be learnt by heart as the economy of memory-matter was the author’s utmost consideration. Panini’s object was primarily achieved by grouping all cases exhibiting the same phonetic or formative feature; it did not matter whether they belonged to the same part of speech or not.

For this purpose, he used an ingenious system of algebraic symbols that consisted technical letters (anubandha). They were mainly used with suffixes and they indicated changes for roots or stems during the process of word-formation.

Among all the language vitalities that he brought to the fore, Sanskrit morphology, syntax and semantics in his work Ashtadhyayi continue to find integration in historical Vedic religion.



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NewsGram’s Pick: The Best 5 Words of Wisdom by Indian Philosophers

Indian Philosophers Quotations
Words of Wisdom by Indian Philosophers
– by Naina Mishra

June 16, 2017:

” Wisdom is a daughter of experience” – as rightly said nothing can surpass an experienced folk, and experience is the only source of knowledge.

Newsgram brings to you the words of wisdom uttered by the legendary Indian philosophers.

1.    Chanakya: Friendship is self-indulgent

2. Rabindranath Tagore: Let your child free

ALSO READ: Existentialism: Mirroring the Western thought in light of Indian Philosophy 

3. Adi Shankaracharya: Restrainful freedom draws away from peace

4. Swami Vivekananda: The World is tight

5. Syed Ahmed Khan: Harmony is foundation of society

NewsGram is a Chicago-based non-profit media organization. We depend upon support from our readers to maintain our objective reporting. Show your support by Donating to NewsGram. Donations to NewsGram are tax-exempt. 

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Existentialism: Mirroring the Western thought in light of Indian Philosophy


By Atul Mishra

Can it be asserted that existentialism is an ancient philosophy, or is it really a modern concept? Is the essence of existentialism a western philosophical thought?

Albert Camus’ words in The Myth of Sisyphus-“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide” nails the existential disposition. The purpose of human existence comes down to this statement. Existential philosophers say that those who realize the absurdity of life in their ennui also realize the importance of ‘individual’ and freedom. And that’s Camus’ argument in its dregs- that life’s absurdity and meaninglessness become all the more reason to accept it and live it fully, and that we must imagine Sisyphus happy.


When we think of existentialism, the names that come across our minds are Camus, Sartre, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard is considered the father of existentialism. According to Kierkegaard, angst and existential despair appears when an inherited or borrowed world-view (what modernists now call ‘a collective conscious’) proves unable to handle the unexpected and extreme life-experiences that are personal (personal conscious). Nietzsche extended this view to suggest that the so-called Death of God -the loss of collective faith in religion and traditional morality – created a more widespread existential crisis for the philosophically aware. Sartre’s “Existence precedes Essence” theory defines the human nature and its localized and changing power, and that because existence precedes the being, an individual is bound to be free.

From top -left clockwise Kierkegaard-Dostoyevsky--Sartre-Nietzsche
From top -left clockwise

The existential philosophy can be surmised as- because life is absurd we must live it happily and do our duties, and that’s what gives a man an over-reaching quality and freedom (Nietzsche’s ubermensch, the over man). Existentialism has had many proponents in 19th and 20th centuries but on tracing the itinerary of Indian philosophy it’s found that roots of existentialism can be found in many Indian classical texts and philosophers as well.

The concept of self and the epistemological position that an individual possesses, which philosophers like Kant,Husserl, Nietzsche and Camus talked of have been maintained profoundly in Indian Philosophies of Bhagvad Gita, Buddha and in the modern teachings of Radhakrishnan.

For instance, when Arjun went through a  personal crisis before the battle, Krishna’s words, etched with a fervor of existentialism came as a solution to his problems.

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

If The Myth of Sisyphus having drawn from Greek mythology can be seen as a solution to existential dilemma, then very similarly Andy Fraenkel’s Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest is a perfect example showcasing how the magnum opus Hindu mythology is an eternal solution to existential crisis borne by a majority of us these days.

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

Speaking to the Elephant Journal he said-

“The dharma is the essence of all sacred teachings. When we understand the dharma we can live a life of wellness. We have lost sight of the dharma. Understanding the dharma is pivotal to what Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest is all about.”

The teachings of Buddha and Krishna have analogies to Nietzsche’s “ubermensch” theory. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra Nietzsche asks, “What is the greatest experience you can have? It is the hour of the great contempt. The hour when your happiness, too, arouses your disgust, and even your reason and your virtue.” Shades and echoes of this philosophical ideology (while speaking of the transgressing power of an individual) is replicated in Buddha’s life where he abandons everything and achieves the greatest experience that Zarathustra here is talking about. A stark analogy between Nietzsche and Buddha is that they both begin from a common notion about the nature of the world and the human condition.

These commonalities have to do with their epistemological views and their nihilistic attitudes toward metaphysical issues. A dialogue in the Sutta-Nipata presents the Buddha responding as follows to an enquiry on metaphysical theories- ‘Apart from consciousness’, he says, ‘no divers truths exist. Mere sophistry declares this ‘true’ and that view ‘false’.’ A similar notion appears in Nietzsche’s Will to Power:

‘Judging is our oldest faith; it is our habit of believing this to be true or false, of asserting or denying, our certainty that something is thus and not otherwise, our belief that we really ‘know’ what is believed to be true in all judgments?’

Even the Advaita Vedanta of Shankaracharya defines so much about the ontology and epistemology of the existence of human beings. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan reinterpreted Advaita Vedanta and found similarities in its theories with the thinking of existential philosophers. Both Radhakrishnan and the existentialists emphasize on the immense potentialities of an individual. Radhakrishnan maintains that man must be transformed and transmuted to a higher level of existence in course of evolution. Man’s greatness is not in what, he is but in what he can be, is what Radhakrishnan says, exactly like the ideology of Jean Paul Sartre who proposes-“it-is-what-it-is-not and that it is not what-it-is.” Man exists and makes himself develop into what he wants to be.

2 responses to “Existentialism: Mirroring the Western thought in light of Indian Philosophy”

  1. It would have been wonderful if the author had elaborated on the concept of Nishkam Karma from the Bhagwat Gita. In other words, idea that one must do one’s duty in a detached way without the expectation of material rewards. This is very similar to the repeated act of Sisyphus having to roll the rock over the top of the mountain, yet being happy by the act itself as an act of rebellion against his condition.

  2. in a hurry to be accepted by the west Gandhi could be similar to Hitler too,
    Existentialism is an outhgroeth of the pessimisim inherent in Cristianity. an indoctrinate westerner has assumed that life is worthless without God so coms absurdity,
    Even Hesse;s Sidhhartha is more Christian the Buddhist, as it stresses individual nirvana without linking it to epistemology