By Swami Harshananda
Astādhyāyi literally means ‘comprising eight chapters’.
Vyākaraṇa or grammar is a very important Vedāṅga (‘limb of the Vedas’), the subsidiary branches of knowledge which help a better understanding of the Vedas. Pāṇini (c. 500 B.C.) systematized grammar, drawing upon the ancient grammarians like Āpiśali, Kaśyapa and Gārgya (none of whose works is available now) and adding his own, fairly significant, contribution. His work is known as Astādhyāyi since it comprises eight chapters (aṣṭa = eight; adhyāya = chapter). It is in the form of sutras or aphorisms, 3996 in number. The contents of Astādhyāyi are:
- Technical terms and rules of interpretation
- Nouns in composition and case-relations
- The adding of suffixes to roots and to nouns
- Accents and changes of sounds in word-formation
- Accents and changes of the word in the sentences
For centuries, this work has been accepted as the most basic and standard work in Sanskrit grammar and holds unrivaled sway even now. There have been several commentaries on this work, the Mahābhāsya of Patañjali (200 B. C.) being the most celebrated of all. Some pieces of the critical commentary called ‘vārttika’ written by Kātyāyana (c. 350 B. C.) are also available. Since the whole work is oriented towards unfolding the linguistic phenomena of Sanskrit, it is not arranged as in modern grammars, according to the parts of speech. It was Bhaṭṭoji Dīkṣita (A. D. 1600-1650) who rearranged the Astādhyāyi in this way facilitating an easier study of the subject. His work is known as Siddhānta-kaumudi.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore