Verbless Sentences in Sanskrit!

In the last article viz. Similarities between Sanskrit and Programming Languages, we analysed a Sanskrit sentence (again given below for convenience).

मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः । which means.. A stupid person must be avoided. He is like a two-legged animal in-front of the eyes.

SanskritComparing the Sanskrit and the English versions, the difference is conspicuous. Only 5 words in the Sanskrit version but so many in the English version. We also explained in the last article that this enormous shortening has been possible due to the notion of vibhakti. (Have a look at the last article to understand the mechanism of this shortening.) But we didn’t explain in full, the power that this innovative concept of vibhakti wields. In this article, we will look at the magic that is possible in a language whose sentence structure is based on this notion. And, not to mention, this notion of vibhakti lies at the heart of Sanskrit Grammar. We will also investigate how the vibhaktis enable one to compose verbless sentences in Sanskrit, which is not possible in English! Let’s get into translating some hardcore Sanskrit.

Let’s take up a typical word, say देव,  as an example. Given below is a table that lists this same word देव but with some modifications. Here we have 24 different forms of the  word देव | Each of these forms is called a vibhakti of देव |

Remember this table from school Sanskrit ? It is afterall not as annoying as many feel in the school. In fact, it is very powerful! Let’s discover its power.

Now let’s get back to our Q&A format.

Q) Yes! I do remember these horrible tables from school. They used to force-feed these into our brains. I remember, we were expected to memorize around 30 such tables and had to vomit out one of them in the final exams.
A)  You are right. The way these are taught in the school course of Sanskrit is hopeless. Memorizing these tables without comprehending their power is like memorizing Thermodynamic tables of Specific Heats without comprehending the Laws of Thermodynamics. In this article, we shall focus on the concepts behind these rather than memorizing them. Now smile!

Q) Hmmm :)…concepts ? So what are they ?
A) As mentioned in the last article, in general, a word in Sanskrit represents property(s).

Agni, one of the 33 devas mentioned in Vedas. Devas refer to terrestrial things of high excellence. Here is a list of all the devas. 8 Vasus (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Sky, Moon, Sun, Stars/ Planets) that form components of universe where we live, 10 Life Forces in our body (Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana, Samaana, Naga, Kurma, Kukala, Devadatta) and 1 Soul called Rudra, 12 Aditya or months of year, 1 Vidyut or Electromagnetic force that is of tremendous use to us. 1 Yajna or constant noble selfless deeds done by humans.

Here, देव represents (the property of) being of great excellence or being heavenly. But, in spoken language, we always refer to objects and not properties. (The object being referred to need not exist in the real world. It is sufficient if it exists in the speaker’s imagination.)  So we need a way to force the word देव,  to represent an object rather than a property. That way of forcing a word(which represents a property) to represent an object is called vibhakti.  Let us now settle on the agreement that (x|y) would stand for  the vibhakti-form of  देव in the xth row and yth column of the table. So,  (6|3) = देवानाम् and (1|1) = देवः |

Here are our rules.

Rule1 | A vibhakti-form of a word always denotes an object having the property that the respective word represents. So, whenever in a  sentence you come across, say, देवस्य or देवैः or देवेषु, it means that an object having the property of being of great excellence exists.

Rule2 | Each vibhakti-form in the table carries 3 pieces of info with itself viz.

  1. the number of objects (whether singular, dual or plural ?)
  2. the number of the vibhakti (whether it is the first vibhakti or third or eighth ?)
  3. the gender of the object (whether it is a male object or female or neutral ?)

So, (6|3) = देवानाम् carries the info that there are more than 2 masculine objects of sixth vibhakti, having the property of being of great excellence.

Rule3 | Every sentence has an action involved in it. (This is a general rule applicable to any language.)

Rule4 | Objects having the same vibhakti point to the same object. (We have already seen an awesome application of this rule in the last article.)

Having noticed these 4 rules, now let’s understand the meaning of each vibhakti in the form of the extended table below.

Explaining vibhaktis. The text in blue explains what it means when a word in a sentence appears in the vibhakti number of that row.


Explaining vibhaktis again, but this time with a different example !


 

Now, lets take up some sample sentences and try to translate them. Here they are.

  1. रक्तनेत्रः भेतव्यः।
  2. उपदेशः मूर्खानाम् प्रकोपाय ।
  3. रथेन यात्रा न मनोरथेन।

Let me also give you the closest English words corresponding to each of the words involved.

  • रक्तनेत्र = (the property of) having red eyes
  • भेतव्य = (the property by which one) must be feared
  • उपदेश = (the property of) directing in a particular direction/way
  • मूर्ख = (the property of) being stupid
  • प्रकोप =  aggression, hoslility
  • रथ = (the property of) advancing towards something
  • यात्रा = (the property of) going in a regulated manner
  • न = not (Note: This word does not represent a property nor do vibhakti-forms of it exist. Such words are called अव्यय)
  • मनोरथ = (the property of) going towards something but only in mind

Q) Before starting to translate, can you give me general guidelines for translating them.
A) Sure!

  1. The first thing you must do while translating any Sanskrit sentence is to identify whether any words in the sentence exist in their vibhakti-forms or not.  Those words which exist in a vibhakti-form represent objects, by Rule1! (Need not be physical objects. They may be abstract objects in the imagination of the speaker!)
  2. For the words that exist in a vibhakti-form, identify the 3 pieces of info mentioned in Rule2
  3. Rule3 assures us that there is bound to be some action involved in the sentence! Identify that action and guess the relation of each word with that action using the blue text of the extended vibhakti tables pasted above. When no action is explicitly mentioned, then it is the action of existing of the object denoted by the words of the first vibhakti.
  4. Apply Rule4, if applicable.

And lo, you have the translation.

Translating Sentence 1

रक्तनेत्रः भेतव्यः।
 (1|1)      (1|1)

  1. Applying Rule1. From above, रक्तनेत्र = (the property of) having red eyes, but since the sentence contains रक्तनेत्रः and not रक्तनेत्र, by Rule1, we conclude that रक्तनेत्रः = an object/person having red eyes. Similarly,  भेतव्यः does not represent a  property rather it denotes an object/person who must be feared.
  2. Applying Rule2.  We try to identify the grammatical info carried by these words. Both the words are of the form (1|1) of the  देव table.  So the info they carry is that each of रक्तनेत्रः and भेतव्यः denote single masculine objects of first vibhakti.
  3. Applying Rule3. We try to identify the action involved in the sentence. Since the action is not explicitly mentioned, it is the action of existing of objects denoted by the words of the first vibhakti viz. रक्तनेत्रः and भेतव्यः |. And from the vibhakti table above, both रक्तनेत्रः and भेतव्यः perform that action. (See the top-most blue line in the देव table.) Hence, the objects denoted by रक्तनेत्रः and भेतव्यः  exist. This existence itself is the action.
  4. Applying Rule4.  Both the words have the same vibhakti viz. first vibhakti, hence they denote the same object. So,  रक्तनेत्रः and भेतव्यः are the same objects and not different objects.

So, the sentence means that the person who has red eyes and the person who must be feared are one and the same. So the sentence translates to One who has red eyes must be feared. Notice the difference in length. English version has 8 words while the Sanskrit version has only 2!

Translating Sentence 2

उपदेशः मूर्खानाम् प्रकोपाय ।
 (1|1)       (6|3)       (4|1)

  1. Rule1 says, since all the words appear in a vibhakti-form, each word denotes an object.
    उपदेशः = something that directs = advice, instructions
    मूर्खानाम् = someone who is stupid
    प्रकोपाय = hostility (seen as an object)
  2. Rule2 instructs us to identify the 3 pieces of info, viz.
    उपदेशः denotes a single masculine object in first vibhakti (1|1)
    मूर्खानाम् denotes more than 2 masculine objects of sixth vibhakti (6|3)
    प्रकोपाय denotes single masculine object of fourth vibhakti (4|1)
  3. Rule3 asks us to infer the relation of each object with the action by looking at the blue text in the vibhakti table. The action is “existing”, from Rule3.
    उपदेशः = (1|1) implies that advice is performing the action of existing, that is, advice exists, which means some advice is being given by someone.
    मूर्खानाम् = (6|3) implies that प्रकोप belongs to the मूर्ख persons being referred to.      प्रकोपाय = (4|1) implies that the action (of existing/giving of advice) helps/intensifies प्रकोप |
  4. Rule4 not applicable.

Hence the sentence translates to Giving advice intensifies the hostility of stupid people.

Translating Sentence 3

रथेन यात्रा न मनोरथेन।
(3|1) (1|1) (nil) (3|1)

  1. Rule1 says, since all the words, except न, appear in a vibhakti-form, they denote an object.
    रथेन = a chariot
    यात्रा  = journey or travel
    न = not
    मनोरथेन = an imaginary chariot in mind
  2. Rule2 instructs us to identify the 3 pieces of info, viz.
    रथेन denotes a single masculine object in third vibhakti (3|1)
    यात्रा denotes a single feminine object of first vibhakti (1|1)
    न does not denotes any object
    मनोरथेन denotes a single masculine object of third vibhakti (3|1)
  3. Rule3 asks us to infer the relation of each object with the action by looking at the blue text in the vibhakti table. The action is “existing”, from Rule3.
    रथेन = (3|1) implies that the chariot is instrumental in performing the action
    यात्रा = (1|1) implies that journey exists, that is, journey is being done
    न = (nil) negates the meaning of the word that comes after it
    मनोरथेन = (3|1) implies that the chariot of mind is instrumental in performing the action
  4. Rule4 does not give any new info.

Hence, the sentence translates to Journey is done by a (real) chariot, not by a chariot of mind.

Q) I really enjoyed! But there is some feeling of uncertainty lingering in my mind. In the sentence, रथेन यात्रा न मनोरथेन। why did you say that Rule4 does not give any new info ? I mean, रथेन and मनोरथेन, both have the same vibhakti viz. third vibhakti, hence they should represent the same object, so “रथ” is “मनोरथ”, that means the real chariot and the chariot of mind are one and the same! Isn’t it ?  Or am I wrong ?
A)  Here, you are applying the Rule4  to inappropriate words. The word न is an अव्यय. That means, its vibhakti-forms do not exist. Hence, instead of considering मनोरथेन alone as a single word, one must consider न मनोरथेन as a single word (because न  itself has no vibhakti!) for applying Rule4. So by applying Rule4 again, we see that रथेन and न मनोरथेन denote the same object, which is true because “रथ” is indeed “not मनोरथ” !

Q) There is one more thing that I am not able to swallow. In the sentences taken up by you so far, there have been no verbs ! So, are there really no verbs in Sanskrit ? I feel like screaming, if this is true.
A) You need not scream. You are correct in that the sentences taken up so far have been verb-less, though this does not mean that those sentences had no actions involved. In fact, no sentence is possible without an action. Our sample sentences employed vibhaktis to describe actions, but actions can also be described by verbs and Sanskrit has verbal system and in fact, it is highly elaborated.

That’s it for this article. In the next one, we shall explain the general structure of a Sanskrit sentence, revealing how the tremendous amount of Sanskrit literature ranging from Philosophy to Physics, can be grammatically broken down into mere 2012 dhAtus and a few lone words.

PS: The definitions of vibhakti given in the article are very superficial and there are a lot many aspects to each vibhakti. In fact, complete articles can be written on each of the 8 vibhaktis and still may not be sufficient. The aim here is to get a new learner started with vibaktis. For detailed learning, I would recommend checking out other resources.

Here is a good 20-months course of basic Sanskrit but definitely more detailed than this series.

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21 Responses to Verbless Sentences in Sanskrit!

  1. sdash85 says:

    I do not think the sentences can be called verbless because verb refers to any word that performs action and here there are action words.

    • gshah says:

      In the sentences taken up in this article, vibhaktis are used to denote actions. And vibhaktis are not words, but verbs are words. Hence the sentences are indeed verbless because there is no word denoting actions. But again it is a matter of how you define verbs. When compared to the usage of verbs in English, the sentences are indeed verbless, but not action less.

  2. Gnanaboomi says:

    Hmm…! a lot to sink in. This series taught me these two:
    1. The tables are not that scary as I thought, if understood correctly.
    2. But still, one has to remember the tables and the rules of play.
    While I am still unclear about the potential misinterpretation doubt I had in the other post, I wonder, is there an even more simpler way to memorize or imbibe this table?

    PS: I earnestly request you to spare some time out of your busy schedule and come up with a very detailed book on learning Sanskrit, to be published online. It will be a great task indeed but worth undertaking. By far, I found your site to be very interesting and makes a lot of sense than many of the offline and online courses that are available. They all become bouncers at one point of time and the fellow commentators will agree with me, I guess.

  3. Manish Arora says:

    Dear Sir,

    I would like to know you, I am very thankful for these posts. I would love to write a programming language based on sanskrit. Please let me know if you can add me to chat list.

    Regards,
    Manish Arora

    • gshah says:

      I am not from Computer science background hence I do not know much about it. I only know a little bit of Java, if that can be of any help.

      • Manish Arora says:

        Well you are having a good amount of knowledge of Sanskrit and I am from computer background. I am Executive Director of CDAC’s Indore’s ATC and very much interested into research, if this combination works – there may be an invention of another computer language.

        In the nut shell, I was thinking to map dhatus with assembly language mnemonics and if the combination works may be we can have another language. But it requires lot of research work, I will do that on Computing side you help me on language side (if you can).

        • gshah says:

          I can not dedicate time specifically for this as I have other commitments. But if you ever need some guidance on Sanskrit, we may always get in touch.

  4. tilakjhak says:

    Dear gauravshah89,

    This is Tilak from iSikkim.com. We find your blog quite insightful and logical and would be willing to share your posts with out portal. Due credit and backlink would be give for the content we share. It would be wonderful to hear from you.
    Regards
    Tilak
    tilak@isikkim.vom

  5. महॊदय नमांसि ।

    भवतः ब्लाग् / वेब् सैट् पृष्ठं संस्कृतवाण्यां (The unique Sanskrit aggregator)संयॊजितं इति वक्तुं संतॊषं प्रकटयामि । तदत्र निम्नॊक्तप्रदॆशॆ द्रष्टुं शक्यतॆ

    http://sanskritcentral.com/aggregator/sources

    अन्यदपि मॆ विज्ञापनं यद्भवतां ब्लाग् / वेब् सैट् पृष्ठॆ अस्माकं संस्कृतवाण्याः ( http://sanskritcentral.com/node/2 प्रदॆशॆ लभॆत् ) चित्रं यथाशक्ति प्रकटीकुर्युः यॆन वयं धन्याः, कृतज्ञाश्च भवॆम ।

    संस्कृतवाणी कृतॆ -

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  6. rajesh says:

    I am following this series. Its been more than a month since last post. Please continue. Thank you.

  7. Srikanth says:

    //English version has 8 words while the Sanskrit version has only 2!//

    This is naive. Its possible to come up with examples where smaller sentences in English while it takes longer in Sanskrit version.

    • gshah says:

      I agree, it is possible to come up with such sentences. In fact, nothing is a rule in the world that would hold under all circumstances. Even the Newton’s laws are invalid at speeds comparable to the speed of light..

      So when I say that Sanskirt is the shortest language, it is not a rule but only an observation that holds in many/most cases.

      It is also very difficult to compare languages by comparing the length of their sentence. After-all, there is no common unit to measure the length of sentences. The intention here is to explain, how vibhakti’s shorten the language. I should probably, rename the article to make this more clear.

  8. Srikanth says:

    I don’t know, I am somewhat disappointed. Vibhakti is very big concept and one post may not be enough. Also I feel the definitions for each vibhakti is incomplete Since this is a series, I will wait for more content;

    • gshah says:

      Yes, vibhakti is a very detailed concept and its description is incomplete without a description of kaarak. I agree to that. But, I think, it is not possible to explain such complicated topics on a weblog. And if I try to explain kaarak and vibhakti, in more detail then the articles will become technical and a new learner would loose interest in reading and probably even in learning the language. This blog in mainly targeted towards new Sanskrit learners and it aims at increasing people’s interest in Sanskrit. I think, if that objective is to be met, then, the article has to be as simple and concise as possible.

      To make things clear, I have added a note at the bottom of the articloe.

    • gshah says:

      BTW, I will not go into the details of vibhakti any further (even in the coming articles) because there are many other resources on the web where people can learn that. I started this series because I felt that there is an empty void in the Sanskrit learning resources since most of the resources available are too technical, diminishing the interest of new learners. That is the reason , I dont use the terms like, upasarga, , sambodhan etc. I have tried to minimize the use of technical words.

      • Srikanth says:

        Hmm… makes sense.

        //
        I started this series because I felt that there is an empty void in the Sanskrit learning resources since most of the resources available are too technical, diminishing the interest of new learners.
        //

        Spot on. I have read books from R.G.Bhandarkar, Coulson, Devavani praveshika and a number of others. I felt the same way. These books are like airplane construction manuals, while all I want is how to book a plane ticket and fly to Mumbai :) As I am used to such materials I unconsciously expected the same in this blog :) My bad, you go ahead, I will follow.

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