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Updated: August 16, 2012 17:06 IST

Power of the Word

M. NARASIMHACHARY
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Title: Vakyapadiya, Sphota, Jati and Dravya. Author: Sharda Narayanan.
Title: Vakyapadiya, Sphota, Jati and Dravya. Author: Sharda Narayanan.

Bhartrihari is an early figure in Indian linguistics who lived around 5th century B.C. His work is known as Vakya-padiya (treatise on words and sentences). But the word ‘Vakya’ is the name of the Science of Mimamsa exegesis, and ‘Pada’ is the name of the Science of Grammar.

This work is deals with relevant issues in Mimamsa and Grammar such as Jati (class) and Dravya (substance). It has three sections -- Brahma Kanda, Vakya Kanda and Pada Kanda.

In the first section, the author enunciates the nature of Sabda-tattva and Sphota; in the second, he discusses individual sentences and in the third, he explains different aspects of Pada or word.

All words first convey their form before conveying the meaning. Thus all words primarily convey Jati. First the Sabda-jati is conveyed and then, Artha-jati. The separate individuals are called Dravyas.

Bhartrihari is in agreement with other schools such as early Nyaya-Vaiseshika, Mimamsa and Samkhya in regard to the concept of Jati. He belongs to the Sabda-Advaita (Monism of Speech) School which identifies language and cognition. But it should be kept in mind that his philosophy does not show the world as an illusion, as is well known in the later Advaita. For him, the world is a real projection of Brahman. Verbal communication is a real manifestation of the supreme principle whose essence is Sabda.

The special contribution of Bhartrihari is the Sphota theory but it was known much before his time. The word ‘Sphota’ is derived from the root ‘Sphut’ meaning ‘to burst’, ‘to open’ or ‘to spurt.’ Patanjali uses this word. Panini refers to an ancient grammarian Sphotayana who may be taken as the earliest propounder of the Sphota theory.

Bhartrihari says that the act of speech comprises three stages:

Conceptualisation by the speaker (Pasyanti – ‘idea’)

Actual act of speaking (Madhyama – ‘medium’)

Comprehension by the interpreter (Vaikhari – full utterance).

There is, of course, the highest stage called Para, which is identified with Brahman. For him, word is eternal. It is permanent, immutable and ever lasting. Word, its meaning and their relationship are eternal.

It is interesting to note that the celebrated rhetorician Anandavardhana, who propounded Dhvani (Suggestion) as the Soul of Poetry, says in his ‘Dhvanyaloka’ that he borrowed the term ‘dhvani’ from early grammarians (such as Patanjali and Bhartrihari) who refer to the letters produced through Sphota, as Dhvani.

The book under review is a brilliant exposition of the concepts of Sphota, Jati and Dravya as laid down by Bhartrihari. The concept of Jati is already well known to the followers of the Nyaya-Vaiseshika and Mimamsa schools. The book, organised in seven well-structured chapters, explores the unique way in which Bhratrihari showed the impact of linguistics on philosophy.

But it is a matter of regret that there are a number of printing mistakes in the text presented here (e.g., pp.12, 15, 16, 21, etc.). Notwithstanding this, Dr Sharada Narayanan needs to be lauded for this scholarly production which will be of great help to students of linguistic philosophy.

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