The life and times of Panini

Panini Sanskrit Grammarian

Panini is one of the greatest grammarians that Sanskrit language has ever produced - in fact, some consider him to be one of the greatest grammarians in the world. He was from from Pushkalavati, Gandhara (in modern day Charsadda District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Islamic Pakistan). His book Aṣṭādhyāyī is still considered the Bible of Sanskrit Morphology.However very little is known about his life. This is what wikipedia entry has to say: "Nothing definite is known about when Pāṇini lived, nor even which century he lived in. The scholarly mainstream favours 600-500 BCE".

In this post, I would like to explore the issue of dating Panini's life based on the book "An Account of the Different Existing Systems of Sanskrit Grammar" (1909) by Dr. Shripad Krishna Belvalkar, published by Oriental Books Supplying Agency, Pune (then spelt as Poona).

Here are some extracts from section 11 and onwards :

" Weber and after him Max Muller put Panini down to about 350 B. C., thereby making Panini almost the contemporary of Katyayana the author of the vartikas to Patanjali's sutras; and this opinion obtained for a time, until it was assailed by Drs. GoldstUcker and Bhandarkar who have succeeded in proving that Pāṇini cannot have flourished later than B. C. 500. Goldstucker went much farther: he maintained that within the whole range of Sanskrit literature, so far as it is known to us, only the saMhitas of the RRik, sAma, and kRRiShNa-yajus, and among individual authors only the exegete yAska preceded Pāṇini, and that the whole bulk of the remaining known literature is posterior to him .....

.. the best thing, in the absence of any positive evidence, is a suspension of judgment. In another place (pp. 6-7) we have given reasons for agreeing with Goldstucker in accepting the priority of yAska over Pāṇini. Perhaps 700 to 600 B. C. would be as near an approximation to Panini's· time as, in our presnt state of knowledge, or rather want of knowledge, we are likely to get."

An aside: These comments were made by the author almost 100 years ago in 1909. Things haven't changed much since then as our present state of knowledge is still the same.

The author continues:
" The fact that Pāṇini in 4.1.49 (इन्द्र-वरुण-भव-शर्व-रुद्र-मृड-हिम-अरण्य-यव-यवन-मातुल-आचार्याणामानुक् ।) mentions Yavanas (and the female formation yavanAnI from the stem), has led most western scholars to put down Pāṇini to a date not earlier than 350 B.C.E. The underlying assumptions are:
i. that 'Yavanas' can designate none but the Ionian Greeks, and
ii. that India did not have her knowledge of Yavanas prior to Alexander's invasion in 327 B.C.E.

Now regarding point i. the late Dr. Rajendralal Mitra in his 'IndoAryans' gave ample evidence to prove that for no period of Indian history could we be quite certain that the word Yavana necessarily designated the Ionian Greeks. But even if we agree to wave this consideration for the present, point ii. is by no means a settled fact. The 'v' sound in the word 'Yavana' represents an original digamma (Ϝ)* in Greek; and as the digamma was lost as early as 800 B.C.E, the Sanskrit word' Yavana' must be at least as old as the ninth century before Christ. The Ionians appear in history long before 1,000 B.C.E and it is not at all improbable that the Indians knew, them, as well as their neighbouring races - such as Assyrians (asura / ashura / asurya ), Skythians (shaka / shaksthAnIya), Medes ( mada - meda - madaga), Persians ( pArsika), Parthians (pahlava), etc.-perhaps centuries before Alexander's invasion.

At any rate if Indian troops are known to have formed part of the army of Darius in the Battle of Plataea (B. C.E. 479), India's knowledge of the Greeks can go back to the middle of the fifth century before Christ. The fact is - and scholars are just beginning to recognise it - that we have been too hasty in condemning the Pauranic accounts of the frontier tribes and races (e. g. those in the VishNupurANa or in the Mahabharata, Bhishmaparvan, Chap. xi) as purely imaginative fabrications."

An aside: Unfortunately we still condemn ancient Hindu texts as imaginative fabrications. This has been the policy of the anti-Hindu / pro-Christian/ pro-Muslim governments at centres and states - that anything Hindu is  to be denigrated annd outright denied of its legitimacy, or at best accused of Brahmanical fabrication. In fact one blind chief minster of Dravid land had asked "Who is this Rama? Which engineering college did he graduate from?", the reference being to Lord Rama who is worshipped by millions in India. Anyway.

The author continues:
" We have so far altogether ignored the extensive commerce and interchange of ideas that went on between the Indian Aryans and their brethren beyond the frontiers as far as the Mediterranean - and this long before 400 B.C.E. So much so that when other independent proofs vouch for the antiquity of an author (in the case of Panini we shall discuss these proofs presently) the burden of proof rests with the person who maintains that some specific reference in that author belongs to a later and not to an earlier time, when, so far as facts go, the reference might just as well be to an earlier period.


* Digamma (or wau, uppercase Ϝ, lowercase ϝ; as a numeral symbol: stigma, ϛ) is an archaic letter of the Greek alphabet which originally stood for the sound /w/

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