(Last Updated on : 23/09/2009)
Panini is described in the history as the greatest known grammarian of ancient India. His work on the Sanskrit language has up to the present day remained the standard of Sanskrit grammar. His qualities are so great, that Panini was ranked among the Rishis, or inspired seers, and at a later period of Sanskrit literature, was supposed to have received the fundamental rules of his work from the Lord Shiva himself.
There is a little knowledge of the personal history of Panini. It is only known that he was a native of the village Salatura. Salatura was situated north-west of Attock, on the Indus. Thus his surname is Salaturiya. Dakshi was Panini's mother and thus from his mother's side he must have been a descendant of the celebrated family of Daksha.
In a story book, the Kathasaritsagara which signifies the ocean for the rivers of tales gives, indeed, some circumstantial account of the life and death of Panini. The narrative of this book is very absurd, and the work itself is of a modern date. It was written in Cashmere, at the commencement of the twelfth century that no credit whatever can be attached to the facts related by it, or to the inferences which modem scholars have drawn from them.
According to the research is probable that Panini lived before Sakyamuni. Sakyamuni was the founder of the Buddhist religion, whose death took place about 543 B.C., but that a more definite date of the great grammarian has but little chance of ascertainment in the actual condition of Sanskrit philosophy.
Panini's grammar consists of eight Adhyayas, or books. Each book comprised of four Padas, or chapters, and each chapter a number of Sutras or aphoristically rules. The latter amount in the whole to 3996; but three, perhaps four, of them did not originally belong to the work of Panini. The arrangement of these rules differ completely from what a European would expect in a grammatical work, for it is based on the principle of tracing linguistic phenomena, and not concerned in the classification of the linguistic material as to the so-called parts of speech.
A chapter, for instance, treating of prolongation of vowels, will deal with such a fact whenever it occurs, be it in the formation of bases, or in conjugation, declension, composition and many more. The rules of conjugation and declension are, for the reason, not to be met with in same chapter or in the same order in which European grammars would teach them; nor would any single book or chapter, however apparently more systematically arranged.
In a universal way, Panini's work may thus be called a natural history of the Sanskrit language, in the sense that it has the strict tendency of giving an accurate description of facts, instead of making such a description subservient to the theories according to which the linguistic material is usually distributed by European grammarians. As the method of Panini requires in a student the power of combining many rules scattered all over the work, and of combining, also, many inferences to be drawn from these rules, it exercises, moreover, on the mind of the student an effect analogous to that which is supposed to be the peculiar advantage of the study of mathematics.
Katyayana disapproved the grammatical rules of Panini. Many authors commented the rules of Panini. The best existing commentary on them is that called the Kasikavritti, by Vamana Jayaditya, which follows these rules in their original order. At a later stage attempts were made to arrange the rules of Panini in a manner which approaches more to the European method; the chief work of this category is the Siddhanta Kaumuti, by Bhattojidikshita. Panini mentions, in his Sutras, several grammarians who preceded him, amongst others, Sakatayana.
At present therefore, Panini's work still remains the oldest existing grammatical work of India, and probably of the human race. Panini's use of metarules, transformations, and recursion together make his grammar as rigorous as a modern Turing machine. Panini's grammar can be considered to be the world's first formal system. To design his grammar, Panini used the method of 'auxiliary symbols', in which new affixes are designated to mark syntactic classes and the control of grammatical derivations. This technique was rediscovered by the logician Emil Post and is now a standard method in the design of computer programming languages.