Temporal order of words in Sanskrit

In the article Similarities between Sanskrit and Programming Languages, we translated the sentence मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः। There we showed that this sentence conveys the existence of a single person who  has 5 properties viz. he is stupid, he must be avoided, he is located in front of the eyes, he has two legs and he is an animal. But we never discussed about which among the 5 properties comes first. In other words, how do we decide which of the following translations is the most accurate ?

  1. A stupid person must be avoided. He is like a two-legged animal in-front of the eyes.
  2. The one who is in front of eyes having two legs is animal, stupid and avoidable.
  3. One having two legs in front of eyes is a stupid animal and should be avoided.

To answer this question and decide whether option 1 or 2 or 3 is the correct translation, we shall first understand the classification of Sanskrit words according to derivability and usage. We give that classification below.

There are 3 types of words in any Sanskrit sentence viz. योग, रूढ and योगरूढ.

योग words

योग words are those that are derivable from more basic entities and can be used to represent any object. For example, समविभक्ताङ्ग = one whose parts are symmetrically distributed. This word is a योग, because it is derivable from 3 more basic entities viz. सम + विभक्त + अङ्ग and it can be applied to any object which has symmetrically distributed parts. In Ramayana, this word is used to describe श्री राम because his body was symmetrical. But this word can also be used to describe a sunflower, because a sunflower’s petals are spread out radially/symmetrically from its center.

Similarly, we have तुल्यप्रियाप्रिय = someone who behaves uniformly in favorable as well as unfavorable situations. This word occurs in Gita and is used by Krishna to describe the qualities of an ideal human being. This is a योग word because it is derivable from 3 more basic units viz. तुल्य + प्रिय + अप्रिय and can be used for any person with that quality.

recipe for mokSa

Krishna explains to arjun that one who becomes joyful in favorable situations and distressed in unfavorable situations does not attain mokSa.

Note that both  समविभक्ताङ्ग and तुल्यप्रियाप्रिय can be splitted into other words and not dhAtus. A word derived this way by compounding 2 or more words (and not dhAtus) is called a समास.

But words can also be derived directly from dhAtus. The general form of a word derived directly from dhAtus is उपसर्ग + धातु + प्रत्यय। For example, a word that is derived directly from the dhAtu भज् is विभक्त. It is derived as follows. वि (उपसर्ग) + भज् (धातु) + क्तवत् (प्रत्यय) are combined. Then some algorithms are applied to this combination of उपसर्ग + धातु + प्रत्यय to generate the word विभक्त. (These algorithms were designed by maharSi pANini and can be found in aStAdhyAyI). Similarly, another word derived directly from dhAtu is  प्रिय.  प्री (धातु) + यत् (प्रत्यय) are combined and then some algorithms are applied to the combination to generate प्रिय. To summarize, योग words fall in 2 categories. (1) Those derived from other words (समास) and (2) those derived from dhAtus (कृदन्त). योग words are infinite in number and we do not require a dictionary for them. They form the bulk of Sanskrit literature.

समासयोग words
समविभक्ताङ्ग = सम + विभक्त + अङ्ग
तुल्यप्रियाप्रिय = तुल्य + प्रिय + अप्रिय
परोत्सवनिजोत्सव = पर + उत्सव + निज + उत्सव = one who considers a happy occasion for others as a happy occasion for himself
सर्वतःपाणिपाद = सर्वतः + पाणि + पाद  = one whose hands and legs emerge from everywhere

कृदन्तयोग words (derived by applying Panini’s algorithms)
विभक्त = वि + भज् + क्तवत्
प्रिय =  प्री + यत्
अतुल्य = न + तुल् + यत्

Note that संधि is NOT a mechanism of forming new words. More on संधि in a later article.

रूढ words

रूढ words are those that are not derivable and represent a fixed object. Examples are given below.

कर्पास = cotton (कपास in hindi)
निम्ब = neem tree (नीम in hindi)
स्याल = wife’s brother (साला in hindi)

These words are not derivable and can only be used to represent fixed objects. They are finite in number and we require a dictionary for them.

 योगरूढ words

panini algorithm

maharSi pANinI has described algorithms that can be applied to dhAtus and other basic units to generate complete Sanskrit. He has written his aStadhyAyi as a sequence of instructions that can be used to form the algorithms. He was the first person to describe grammar in the form of a computer-program. Only that his program was never compiled by a machine. But the program works and has no errors!

योगरूढ words are those that are derivable but are used to represent only a few objects. For example, संसार = something that keeps changing in all possible ways. Though there are many objects to which this word applies, but in Sanskrit literature, this word has always been used to denote the world.

Similarly, वृक्ष = something that is cut down. Though this word can apply to many objects, in Sanskrit literature, this has always been used to represent either a tree or the trunk of a tree. Again, if a  योगरूढ word is derived from dhAtus, then it is called  कृदन्तयोगरूढ word and if it is derived from other words then it is called  समासयोगरूढ word. Below are some examples.

कृदन्तयोगरूढ words (derived by applying Panini’s algorithms)
सागर = स + गॄ +  अ = one which can swallow anything => used to denote a sea or an ocean or a big snake
संसार = सम् + सृ + अ = something that keeps changing in all possible ways => used to denote the world

समासयोगरूढ words
भास्कर = भाः + कर = something that creates light => used to denote the sun or gold
पङ्कज = पङ्क + ज = one which grows in wet mud => used exclusively for lotus

These words, though finite, are lakhs in number and there meaning can be guessed approximately without a dictionary, but a dictionary is necessary to find out the exact meaning.

So how does this knowledge of  योग, रूढ and योगरूढ words help in translating the sentence मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः | ? To understand this, we need to grasp the concept of विशेष्य and विशेषण.

विशेष्य – विशेषण

In a sentence, विशेष्य is any word which denotes an object whose qualities are being described in the sentence. And the words used to describe those qualities are called विशेषण.

For example, consider the sentence भारिणी शिला लुण्ठति | which means A heavy rock rolls down. (भारी शिला लुढ़कती है | in hindi). Here, शिला is the word which denotes an object viz. rock, whose quality viz. heaviness is being described by भारिणी| Hence, शिला is विशेष्य and भारिणी is विशेषण in this sentence. As a general rule of thumb, in any sentence, रूढ and योगरूढ words are विशेष्य and योग words are usually विशेषण. Hence, the knowledge of योग, रूढ and योगरूढ words helps in identifying the  विशेष्य and विशेषण in a sentence. But, why is identifying  विशेष्य and विशेषण important ?

The notion of विशेष्य and विशेषण is important because of two very basic rules of grammar. Below I give those rules.

Rule1: In any sentence, a विशेषण has the same विभक्ति, लिंग and वचन as the विशेष्य. So if विशेष्य belongs to first vibhakti,  स्त्रीलिंग  and एकवचन then the विशेषण  should also belong to first vibhakti,  स्त्रीलिंग  and एकवचन |

Hence, भारी (पुल्लिंग) शिला (स्त्रीलिंग) लुण्ठति | is incorrect, while भारिणी (स्त्रीलिंग) शिला (स्त्रीलिंग) लुण्ठति | is correct. That is because the (विशेषण) भारिणी and (विशेष्य) शिला should have the same विभक्ति, लिंग and वचन |

Rule2: If a विशेषण comes immediately before विशेष्य then it means the विशेष्य already has the quality being described by विशेषण, while if the विशेष्य comes immediately before विशेषण  then it means that the sentence is informing the reader that the quality described by the विशेषण is there in the विशेष्य.

Example of this rule is give below.
सुन्दरः बालः। means A cute boy (exists) while बालः सुन्दरः | means that The boy is cute.
भारिणी शिला | means A heavy rock (exists) while  शिला भारिणी | means that The rock is heavy.

Summary of the rules

  1. In a sentence, रूढ and योगरूढ words are विशेष्य and योग words are usually विशेषण.
  2. In a sentence, a विशेषण has the same विभक्ति, लिंग and वचन as the विशेष्य.
  3. If a विशेषण comes immediately before विशेष्य then it means the विशेष्य already has the quality being described by विशेषण, while if the विशेष्य comes immediately before विशेषण  then it means that the sentence is informing the reader that the quality described by the विशेषण is there in the विशेष्य.

Finally, let’s translate मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः | in a step-by-step manner.
1) Identify the  योग, रूढ and योगरूढ words.
2)  मूर्ख is a रूढ word because it has no derivation and has a fixed meaning.
3)  पशु is a योगरूढ word because it has a derivation, but is exclusively used to denote an animal. पशु = पश् + उ = one which is tethered.
4) परिहर्तव्य, प्रत्यक्ष and द्विपद are योग words because they have a derivation and can be used to denote unknown new objects.
परिहर्तव्य = परि + हृ + तव्यत्
प्रत्यक्ष = प्रति + अक्ष
द्विपद = द्वि + पद
5) From the rule we stated above, मूर्ख and पशु are विशेष्य because they are रूढ and योगरूढ, while  परिहर्तव्य, प्रत्यक्ष and द्विपद are विशेषण because they are योग words.
6) Because मूर्ख and पशु are विशेष्य, the sentence is describing the qualities of  मूर्ख and पशु.
7) Because परिहर्तव्य, प्रत्यक्ष and द्विपद are विशेषण, we know that they are being used to describe the qualities of मूर्ख and पशु.
8) It should be understood from the context and sequence of words in the sentence that परिहर्तव्य is denoting the quality of मूर्ख while प्रत्यक्ष and द्विपद are denoting the qualities of पशु.
9) Hence the sentence can be broken down into two parts viz.  मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः and प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः|
10) Each part contains one विशेष्य.

मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः = A stupid person must be avoided.
प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः = A two-legged animal in front of the eyes (exists).

Since मूर्ख and पशु have the same vibhakti, they denote the same object. Hence the sentence translates to A stupid person must be avoided. He is like a two-legged animal in-front of the eyes. Hence, option 1 above is the correct translation.

In fact, a sentence typically contains one or more विशेष्य. Each such  विशेष्य has one or more विशेषणs describing the qualities of the respective विशेष्य. An easy way of translating a sentence is to split it into groups of विशेष्य and विशेषण, with each group containing one विशेष्य. In the above example, the groups were मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः and प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः |

Note that to split the sentence into groups, we have relied on guessing the plausible meaning. This may not always be clear though. So to eliminate any potential confusion, the sentence मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः। can also be written as

  • मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः। सः प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः।or as
  • यः मूर्खः सः परिहर्तव्यः सः प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः।

However, in चाणक्यनीति, आचार्य चाणक्य prefers मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः over the other 2 versions.

shiva worship

Each bael leaf (बिल्व) is divided into three leaflets.

ExerciseTranslate the following sentence. Identify the विशेष्य and विशेषण in it.
त्रिदलं त्रिगुणाकारं त्रिनेत्रं त्रिधायुतं त्रिजन्मपापसङ्हारं एकबिल्वं शिवार्पणम्।

That’s it for now. Bye.

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17 Responses to Temporal order of words in Sanskrit

  1. uday says:

    I appreciate the good work done in presenting so much detail.
    However, I am a little curious about some things about Sanskrit. I would appreciate if you can give your opinion.

    1. If Sanskrit was a ‘perfect’ language, why did it not survive as a living language (also called ‘natural language’)?
    Natural languages allow cultural and environmental issues to affect the semantics of the language over stretched periods of time. That means, a specific word may mean some thing today and over period of time, it may accumulate alternate meanings. This process could be so profound that the original usage may become completely lost in time. For example, see the use of ‘mobile’ in recent times. How does Sanskrit account for such cultural evolution? Computer languages evolve in a limited way, for example, K & R C evolved in to ANSI C and in a way to C++. Did Sanskrit evolve in some ways? Or was that inability to evolve made it less acceptable as a ‘natural language?’ If it did, which version is more ‘context free?’

    2. Often, tonal qualities of speech attach varied meanings to the same uttered sentence. Does Sanskrit have ‘tonal’ features or it is to be always read monotonically? If it has tonal qualities, how that impacts Sanskrit as a computer language?

    3. In the specific example sentence you have taken, association of adjectives with nouns is transitory. Your interpretation seems to select one of the many possible associations. That could be some what misleading for a ‘context free’ grammar. (Some other readers have also commented on similar lines)

    4. Humans have the gift of vocalization, and several vocalizations must have created several languages over the globe. Many animals communicate is a more elementary form, using various mechanisms of communication. For example, chemical (ants), facial signs and calls (apes), bio luminescence, etc. Do they use a ‘grammar?’ I understand that this question is out-of-scope of your work, but I just wanted to mention it to you.

    5. It is possible that Sanskrit was one of the earliest attempts to ‘grammatize’ the language usage and hence certain rigor was expected in such scholarly work. Are we mistaking that rigor to be a ‘context free’ grammar? Again, there are many types of computer languages. For example BASIC implements ‘LR’ grammar (needs a LR parser) while C and many of the modern languages have a ‘LALR’ grammar. Which of these grammars does Sanskrit implement? Or can it be used for both? Then there are special purpose computer languages like ‘PostScript’, ‘Ruby’ with their own features. Then there are special orientations like ‘objects’, ‘aspects,’ etc. Can Sanskrit be used to implement such features? Keeping the question simple, can Sanskrit be used to implement computer language features like functions, iterations, recursions, data flows, delegates, etc?

    6. Finally, do we want to distinguish between ‘computer’ and ‘natural’ languages at all?

    Thank you very much for your time and also for sharing your opinions.

    • gshah says:

      1. I am not sure, what you mean by perfect. If perfection means rigidity, then no language is perfect, including Sanskrit. Like other languages, Sanskrit too allows for cultural and environmental modification of semantics, but in a different way. A sanskrit word represents a property. With cultural and environmental changes, the specific objects represented by that word also change (like in other languages), but all such objects still possess the property depicted by the word (unlike in other languages.) For example, आकाशवाणी in Mahabharat meant “a voice from heaven”. Today it means “All India Radio”.

      “inability to evolve made it less acceptable as a natural language?” I vehemently disagree. Sanskrit does not need to evolve, because the same word can mean different things in Sanskrit. Words would remain the same but their meanings would change over time. We see same words being used in Vedas, Upanishds, Ramayana, Mahabharat, ArthShastra, Puranas. RigVeda and Bhagavat Purana were compiled atleast 3000 years apart, if we go by European historians’ version. Many words in the two texts are common, but their meanings are different. Sanskrit semantics can evolve without the language itself evolving!! By the way, in no language do we have literature separated by such a huge time period. Saying that sanskrit got extinct because of rigidity is unfair. Which other language has survived for so long in first place ? The oldest spoken language today, I think is Tamil, which is 2500 years old. BTW, Sanskrit is still not extinct. We had 50000 thousand Sanskrit speakers in 2001 census. The main reason for the lost popularity of Sanskrit is not its rigidity, but the fall of political institutions that supported it. And I am sure Sanskrit will expand once again to become a dominant language in future. The last 200 years have just been a dry patch. Sanskrit will reemerge, I am sure.

      2. Sanskrit has tonal features and they are highly developed and intricate. Each vowel in Sanskrit can be pronounced in 3 different ways and the meaning of a word changes on the basis of the tone. For example, राजपुत्र can mean “king’s son” or “one whose son is king” depending on the tone.

      How that impacts Sanskrit as a computer language ? I do not know.

      3. You are right. Context and intuition are as important in Sanskrit as in other languages. After all, it was a spoken language. But then, any sentence can always be paraphrased in a way so as to eliminate the dependence on context. I have given examples for this in the above article.

      4. I think even animal languages have grammar. Different permutations of facial expressions by monkeys may mean different things, just as different sequence of words in a human language may change the meaning.

      5. Too technical a question for me. “Are we mistaking that rigor to be a ‘context free’ grammar?” May be. I do not have much idea about the suitability of Sanskrit to be used as a context free language. The only knowledge I have about Computer programming is a bit of Java such that I can write basic programs in it. Not more than that. I have no idea how to answer this question.

      6. No comments.

      Thank you, Sir, for reading the articles.

  2. Karthik says:

    A complete treat! Beautiful stuff!!!

  3. Amarendra Narayan says:

    Dear Shree Shah, Yourwork on Sanskrit Grammar is just wonderful. I had some idea about some of the features, but what you have given us is mind boggling! Thanks and thanks.
    Amarendra Narayan
    Department of Physics, Patna University.

  4. virendra1984 says:

    This is great work. Thank you so much.
    Are there more posts coming in this Sanskrit series?

  5. क्रिस् says:

    Thank You for more material in this fresh approach to Sanskrit !

    Some doubts:

    You set up:

    —– Rule2: If a विशेषण comes before विशेष्य then it means the विशेष्य already has the quality being described by विशेषण, while if the विशेष्य comes before विशेषण then it means that the sentence is informing the reader that the quality described by the विशेषण is there in the विशेष्य.—-

    Lets say A is the विशेष्य and B is the विशेषण: I dont see any difference in stating that A has the property B or saying that B is in A. If i say, I am angry – or if i say, the anger is there in me – it sounds all the same to me.

    Moreover, your Rule 2 seems to imply that word order does matter a lot. In your artikel Similarities between Sanskrit and Programming Languages, you told us, that

    “—But in English word order is vary rigid, but Sanskrit has almost zero-rigidity.

    You can verify this fact by searching “word order” on the wiki page of Sanskrit. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanskrit#Syntax—-

    referring to wikipedia, where it is said, that word order is free. Would Rule 2 not be a contradiction to that ?

    I dont see how you solved now the problem of translating
    मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः other then just applying Rule Nr.

    “—8) It should be understood from the context and sequence of words in the sentence that परिहर्तव्य is denoting the quality of मूर्ख while प्रत्यक्ष and द्विपद are denoting the qualities of पशु.–”

    and that boils down to just saying ” Well, i am sure one should translate it the way i did.”

    And, is there in मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः any “context” that would suggest us
    “—परिहर्तव्य is denoting the quality of मूर्ख while प्रत्यक्ष and द्विपद are denoting the qualities of पशु–” ?

    I personally think, word order in Sanskrit is not at all totally free though in many situations word order in Sanskrit is free due to the declensions and conjugations of words – but in general, you do achieve by the word order a certain sound effect which suggest you a specific meaning. Especially if only words of the same vibhakti are used and no verbs at all like in that famos

    मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः

    So, it means, in translating, you use your intuitional mind to arrive at some translation that seems to fit most the sound of the sentence and that there are no grammatical rules for every situation.

    • gshah says:

      1) The Rule 2 is only an empirical observation that I have made while analyzing Sanskrit literature. And, by it, I mean the difference when a visheshya comes before visheshan and when it comes after visheshan is like “The policeman is angry.” and “An angry policeman (exists).” You have to use “angry” in both cases. In your example, you have used anger in one case and angry in the other case.

      2) There is no language which is 100% word-order free. In reality, there exists a spectrum of languages with one extreme representing 100% rigidity in word-order and the other extreme representing 0% rigidity in word-order. Sanskrit lies close to the latter extreme but not on it. There are certain situations in which word-order matters even in Sanskrit. But that occurs much less frequently than other languages. For more details on word-order, see this article. Here I have shown how flexible can the word-order in Sanskrit be.

      3) Yes, in this particular sentence मूर्खः परिहर्तव्यः प्रत्यक्षः द्विपदः पशुः, one indeed needs to apply intuition and guess the most appropriate translation. Afterall, 1500 years ago, Sanskrit was a spoken language over a vast land area ranging from modern Afghanistan in the west to Arunachal in the east and Kashmir in the north to Sri Lanka in the south. This land area is more than that of today’s European Union. But this should not be taken to mean that the ambiguity cannot be removed. The other 2 versions I have provided are completely unambiguous.

      4) While reading Sanskrit, one should always identify which word is visheshan and which word is visheshya. This is similar to the notion of adjective and noun in english.

  6. A says:

    Interesting post. Some comments:

    – सागर means “ocean” less because the ocean swallows something up and more because the ocean was said to be dug out by the sons of सगर. सगर becomes सागर by way of अण्प्रत्ययः, I believe, in the sense of a descendant. (गॄ -> गर -> सगर -> सागर)

    – Your rule 2 is not quite comprehensive. For example, consider बाल एव सुन्दरः.

    • gshah says:

      Thanks for the feedback. I did not understand how is बाल एव सुन्दरः not in accordance with rule 2. बाल एव सुन्दरः means The boy is indeed cute. This sentence is informing the reader that the बाल is cute and this is what rule 2 says.

      BTW, saw your blog, I think I’ll find a lot to learn there. I am adding it in the resources section. Thanks.

  7. Debabrata says:

    Outstanding. This is something new for me. Greatly appreciate your articles. Keep it coming.


  8. sharada says:

    sir can you please tell me about a good book from which i can learn sanskrit from scratch.i am very much eager to learn it.i know hindi and can read and write in it.

  9. sunerjee says:

    Many thanks. You may like to add an optional ‘test’/ excercise for those more serious about learning Sanskrit through this medium.

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