Bhasha – Language

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The Rg-veda says that out of compassion for man, ancient sages formed Bhāßā. Bhāßā comes from the root Bhāß which means to speak, talk, tell, announce, declare etc. As they found Bhāßā to be the most effective means of comprehending the universe, they tried to elaborate an dmake it perfect. In what is now called the Sanskrit terminology, they aimed at Saìsk®ta Bhāßā – well or completely formed and hence perfected language. Their inquiry into the nature of Bhāßā led them to make an examination of the source of each sound in its origin where it was a borderline between vibration and its absence and its gradual development into articulate syllable. They noticed four different stages between point at which each sound originates in a subtle way and the sound that is clearly heard by the listener. Those four stages in their linear order were called by them (i) Parā, (ii) Paśyatī, (iii) Madhyamā, and (iv) Vaikharī. The Rg-veda records: “Catvāri vāk parimitā padāni viduh brāhmaÐað yē manīßinað” (Speech is measured in four steps by those Brāhmanas who know the truth.) At the first stage it is a subtle, almost inaudible vibration which can be made out only by those who go into meditation, with absolute control over their minds. The first step is not manifest. The second and the third steps too are unmanifest, though they refer to the progressive development of the first step. People know and speak the manifest speech which occurs at eth fourth stage.

This initial inquiry and the answer they got to their questions prompted the sages to make a deep study of what they called śikßha (phonetics) with minute attention to śruti, svara etc. The svara was examined at three stages, namely, hrasva (short), dīrgha (long), and pluta (prolated). Still further inquiry revealed that each svara could be Anudātta (low), udātta (raised), and svarita (circumflex). The sages also found out that each svara in its manifestations as hrasva, dīrgha, and pluta and as Anudātta, udātta, and svarita could be unnasalized and also nasalized. In this way each svara is said to have eighteen different manifestations. The study of phonetics was further developed with reference to aspects of this branch of discipline.

At the next stage, each sound/syllable was studies in relation to the object with which it was closely associated or – in some cases- in relation to the characteristics of the objects to which it could be related. And it was in this way that orthography (Nirukta) became an important branch of study. At the third stage, the stages studied what is called vyākaraÐa – a critical treatise on words, first by noting Nouns and Verbs and then Adjectives and Adverbs and so on.

They thought about the appropriate form that each word could be given so that it reveals its meaning by itself. In vyākaraÐa they also studied the way in which proper relation could be established between Nouns and Verbs and also among other forms of words in order to form various constituents such as compound words, phrases, clauses and sentences, with the help of appropriate definitions and rules to achieve coherence, unity and precision.

The three basic disciplines discussed so far were meant to achieve elaboration and perfection. It was PaÐini who laid a strong foundation for what came to be called Saìsk®ta (elaborated and perfected). PaÐini only laid the foundation because his work had to be supplemented with Kātyāyana’s Vārtika and Patañjali’s Mahābhāßya before the language introduced by the sages could be called Saìsk®ta.