The building blocks of the Sanskrit language

SanskritIn the second article of the series viz. Mechanism of generating new words in Sanskrit, we saw how new words can be generated using dhAtus. In this article, we shall see how virtually everything in Sanskrit can be broken down into dhAtus. Yes! you got it right, virtually everything. We will also see that words in Sanskrit not only represent properties and objects but they also represent ideas,  which is the base from which all the other words are derived.

The most basic units of English grammar are the 8 parts of speech viz. Nouns, Pronouns, Adjectives, Adverbs, Verbs, Prepositions, Conjunctions and Interjections. But the most basic units of Sanskrit grammar are not the parts of speech, but dhAtus. Typically, every word in a Sanskrit sentence, be it a noun, an adjective or a verb, is nothing but a different form of one of the 2012 dhAtus that pervade the complete Sanskrit literature. A typical Sanskrit sentence is merely a collection of various forms of these dhAtus. If a Sanskrit sentence is comparable to a house, then the dhAtus are comparable to the bricks.

Let’s take some sample dhAtus for further illustrations. Here we have taken 3 out of total 2012 dhAtus. Those 3 dhAtus are..
कृ = to do
भू = to be
गम् = to go

Given below are some derived words for illustration purposes. Don’t bother yourself about deriving them. The method of deriving them requires an advanced study of Sanskrit grammar.

Nouns derived from these dhAtus

कृ can be used to derive nouns like..
कार्य = work
उपकरण = instrument
कर्मन् = deed
प्रक्रिया = process
and many more..

भू can be used to derive nouns like..
भवन = a civil structure
प्रभाव = effect
वैभव = prosperity
भूत = past
उद्भव = source
भविष्य = future
and many more…

गम् can be used to derive nouns like..
गति = speed or a  way of going
आगन्तुक = one who has come
जगत् = universe = where everything moves
संगम = confluence
प्रगति = progress
अन्तर्गामित्व = inclusiveness
and many more…

Adjectives derived from these dhAtus

कृ can be used to derive adjectives like..
कर्मठ = one who does not hesitate from doing hardwork
सक्रिय = active
उपकारी = blessing
and many more..

भू can be used to derive adjectives like..
भावी = upcoming
भावुक = emotional
भावात्मक = expressive
भौगोलिक = geographic
and many more…

गम् can be used to derive adjectives like..
गमनशील = in the course of going
सर्वगत = gone everywhere
निर्गामी = about to emerge
सुगम = easy to attain
and many more…

The same dhAtus can also be used to derive verb forms.

Verbs derived from these dhAtus

कृ can be used to derive verbs like
करोति = he/she/some third person does
नमस्कुरु  = do namaskar (it’s an order)
प्रतिकरोमि = I resist
कुर्मः = we do
and many more…

भू can be used to derive verbs like
भविष्यति = it will be/happen
अभवं  = I was
अभव = become less (it’s an order)
संभवेत् = may it be possible (a desire)
and many more…

गम् can be used to derive verbs like
संगच्छ = go together (it’s an order)
निर्गच्छति  = he/she/it emerges
उपगमिष्यामि = I will go near (something)
गत्वा मा भैः  = don’t fear after going there
and many more…

From the above, we see that the seemingly unconnected nouns, adjectives and verbs in English, actually have common derivations in Sanskrit! The common thread connecting them are the dhAtus. Hence, the dhAtus are even more basic units than the parts of speech. Therefore any study of Sanskrit that builds upon the parts of speech and not dhAtus is misleading!

A confluence has the idea of 'going' involved in it. Hence, derived from the same dhAtu gam!

Speed has the idea of 'going' involved, hence derived from the dhAtu gam!

Now, let’s break down some sample Sanskrit sentences into their building blocks.

विभवक्षयं रोद्धुं मितव्ययः अस्मि ॥ which means..
I spend in a regulated manner to prevent the loss of wealth.

Here विभवक्षय is a noun and contains the dhAtus भू and क्षी |
रोद्धुं is a verb and contains the dhAtu रुध् |
मितव्यय is a noun and contains the dhAtus मि and इ |
अस्मि is a verb and contains the dhAtu अस् |
This sentence is made up of 6 dhAtus in all!

The slogan of IIT Kanpur is सिद्धिः भवति कर्मजा ॥ which means..
Accomplishment is consequence of deeds.

Here सिद्धिः is a noun and contains the dhAtu सिध् |
भवति is a verb and contains the dhAtu भू |
कर्मजा is an adjective and contains the dhAtus कृ and जन् |
This sentence is made up of 4 dhAtus in all!

Finally a sentence containing only one dhAtu!
अपिपठिषुः पठामि ॥ which means…
I have no desire to read, still I am reading.

अपिपठिषु is a noun and contains the dhAtu पठ् |
पठामि is a verb and even it contains the dhAtu पठ् |
This sentence has only one dhAtu!

Properties, Objects and Ideas

So now that we understand that the nouns, adjectives etc are themselves derivable from the dhAtus, let’s look at the hierarchy of words in Sanskrit. There are 3 levels of Sanskrit words. The words at each level represent different things. Words at the 1st level represent ideas, those at the 2nd level represent properties and those at the 3rd level represent objects!

Level Number
This level contains..
The contents of this level represent..
the idea of going
the property of going in a particular manner
a particular instance of going

At level 1, we have dhAtus. dhAtus represent ideas. For example, कृ represents the idea of doing something by someone.

At level 2, we have vyayas. vyayas are nothing but those words whose vibhaktis exist. These words represent properties. For example, the word कार्य derived from the dhAtu कृ, represents something that has a property that it can be done.

At level 3, we have avyayas. avyayas are those words that cannot be further modified in any way. Hence, their vibhaktis do not exist. These words represent objects. For example, the word कार्यः which is the first vibhakti of कार्य, represents a particular workAnd it is the words in the 3rd level that appear in sentences. The words in the 1st and the 2nd level, never appear in sentences!

General Mechanism of building a sentence

So first we have ideas (in the from of dhAtus). We apply certain transformations on these ideas to form the properties(vyayas). Then we further apply more transformations (called vibhaktis) on the properties, to form the objects(avyayas). And finally these objects are used in the sentences! (To know how to convert properties to objects, visit the 3rd article of the series viz. Similarities between Sanskrit and Programming Languages)

So to decode the meaning of  a sentence, one needs to break down the words in that sentence (which are already in level 3) to the words at lower levels!

Finally, a point of clarification. Is it necessary that all the words at a given level, have to be derived from the words at the lower levels ? The answer is No. And we shall see in detail, in the next article, as to where are these other words derivable from, if not from the lower levels ?

I have linked the list of all the 2012 dhAtus below for reference. The list was compiled for the first time by the genius maharSi pANini. This list is called the dhAtupATha and forms a cardinal input in the Paninian approach to the Sanskrit Grammar. The attached dhAtupATha not only contains the dhAtus, but also their meanings. For example, the first dhAtu in the dhAtupATha is भू सत्तायाम्  | Here, भू is the actual dhAtu and सत्तायाम् is it’s meaning.

That’s it for now. Bye!

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11 Responses to The building blocks of the Sanskrit language

  1. christofer Bartlett says:

    I am trying to find out how to write the word enlightenment in ancient sanscrit.

  2. Bhalchandra says:

    So lucidly explained!

  3. XYZZZZZZ says:

    this is a bloddy fucking site

  4. vishal says:

    dear gshah. this is great knowledge you have provided us with ,my interest in sanskrit has sprung so much after reading your articles ,to know that sanskrit is an ancient language and as ancient as the rishis is really thought provoking ,Panini has mentioned that whomsover understands my grammar must indeed end as omniscient(self realized),so this makes sanskrit more than applicable not only only on the physcial and mental but also on the spiritual levels of our existence ,the language of sanskrit penetrates the inner realms of our being ,there has hardly been a self realized master who has not been familar with this language in his past lives ,this language assists us in understanding our omnipresent existence , i have read that in the system of yoga the the petals of the chakras are actually the syllables of the sanskrit language ,no wonder sanskrit can describe anything in this universe existent or yet to come into existence ,the mantras and the shlokas raise us to new levels of awareness,you have got a great intuition and you have beautifull applied your understanding to the modern world ,perhaps you are the only one i have come across ,it will be really helpfull if you could advice me with as to how i can understand sanskrit easily through the shrimad bhagwad gita (song of god written in the language of god by the sage who knew god for the liberation of humanity) even if you dont i still appreciate your intelligence and your loving nature ….p.s. a conversation wiith you will be great if you can arrange. anyways your articles are no less than a scripture themselves as it does inspire one to persue sanskrit .which is a great thing you have done . thank you. 🙂 numuste.

  5. gowmukhi says:

    Thank you very much :-).

  6. Sudharshan says:

    Hi Everyone!
    Why has the articles stopped suddenly?

  7. mohitc says:

    HI .. it was nicely explained.. 🙂
    can you provide the all the verb forms of sanskrit.(3*3 matrix in all 10 lakars)????

    • gshah says:

      If you know, the 2012 dhatus are divided into 10 ganas and depending on the gana, the verb forms in each lakaar differ. If your aim is to learn speaking Sanskrit, then memorizing the verb forms is a frustrating activity. A better way to learn Sanskrit is to study some Sanskrit text and analyse its translation as you go. This method of learning Sanskrit works only if you have prior basic knowledge of Sanskrit, to be able to match the Sanskrit text to the translated text. (The school course of Sanskrit sufficiently provides such basic knowledge.) I have myself learnt Sanskrit by analyzing and matching Bhagawad Gita’s text with its hindi translation. However, for reference, here is a Sanskrit book I am attaching.
      This book has full chapter on verb forms.

  8. vasya10 says:

    gaurav mahodaya

    saralatayaa likhitam asti | api udaaharaNaani samIcInaani |

    Also the nipata-s are not derivable from roots.

  9. vishaw says:

    I mus thank you for providing so much clarity. Thnx!!!!

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