Two Easy Rules

This lesson uses a noun that ends in the letter i. This noun is vṛddhi, and its case 1 singular form is vṛddhiḥ. This lesson also features a new type of compound. If word 1 is A and word 2 is B, then the compound "A-B" means "A and B."


In this lesson, we'll cover two of the rules featured in Panini's work. These rules help illustrate a few of his system's characteristics:

We list an individial rule with three numbers: its chapter number, its section number, and its rule number. For example, the first rule of the work is described by 1.1.1.


Chapter 1, section 1, rule 1. The rule is as follows.

This is incomprehensible! Let's undo the sandhi:

Almost all of Panini's rules are verbless sentences. With that in mind, let's try and figure out what's going on here. We can decipher the first word quite easily: it is vṛddhi, a technical term that refers to very strong vowels. It is in case 1. This rule, then, is likely a definition for the word vṛddhi.

As we see here, vṛddhi is connected with āt-aic, which is a compound formed by the terms āt and aic. aic is a pratyāhāra from the Shiva Sutras, and it includes both ai and au. This term is in case 1, so it's directly equated with the word vṛddhi. So, vṛddhi refers to ai and au — but we still have that āt left over.

Since the word vṛddhi must refer to all strong vowels, vṛddhi must also refer to the vowel ā. But how is that fact captured by āt? The truth is quite disappointing: t is an anubandha ("indicatory letter") that is defined near the end of 1.1. Yes, that's right: the very first rule of the Ashtadhyayi presumes that you know about Panini's system already. That's why these lessons are here: to give you enough familiarity with Panini and the Ashtadhyayi to start reading for yourself.

But let's come back to t. What is it, and what does it do? Recall from the last lesson that the Shiva Sutras refer to long and short vowels identically. That is, there is no way to distinguish between short a and long ā. This indicatory t lets us choose exactly what vowel we mean. at indicates "a" and nothing else. āt indicates "ā" and nothing else.

With that, we've decoded the rule: the word vṛddhi refers to ā, ai, and au.

But what about ār? Panini adds this vowel to the definition later on.

More technically, the indicatory t refers to the vowel with the same length as the one before it. ā is longer than a, so āt can only refer to ā. According to commentators, this t also extends to the vowels that follow it; that is, aic refers to the versions of ai and au that have exactly the same length as ā. Commentators argue for this behavior because they want all forms of ai to have the same length. For example, ā combines with ai to form ai. Without the stipulation that t extends to the vowel that follows it, this second ai could be considered longer than the first one. But this is a rather pedantic point to make.


Chapter 1, section 1, rule 2. The rule is as follows.

Here, it's a bit easier to undo the sandhi.

This rule is very similar to the one before it, and the analysis is almost the same. This is a verbless sentence that defines the word guṇa. eṅ is a pratyāhāra from the Shiva Sutras, and it includes both e and o. at is the vowel a. Remember: the indicatory t is used to distinguish between short a and long ā.

With that, we've decoded the rule: the word guṇa refers to a, e, and o.

But what about ar? Panini adds this vowel to the definition later on.

From these two rules, we can understand one of the important principles that governs the Ashtadhyayi. The first rule defines vṛddhi, which was put at the beginning of the line. Similarly, the second rule defines guṇa — but it was put at the end of the line and not at the beginning.

In almost all of Panini's rules, the term that is being defined is put at the end of the rule, even if another arrangement would be briefer (like guṇo'deṅ). Brevity is important, but it is not always the most important concern. But then we have to wonder why vṛddhi was put at the beginning of its rule. One explanation is that this arrangement makes the first two rules of the Ashtadhyayi conform to the pattern of śloka meter. Another is that the word vṛddhi, which can mean "growth" or "prosperity," was an auspicious way to start the Ashtadhyayi.

In a recent paper, Stanford linguist Paul Kiparsky argued that Panini structures his rules in a way that avoids ambiguity as much as possible. The title of Kiparsky's paper is a good guiding principle that you should keep in mind while reading Panini:

Panini is slick, but he isn't mean.

And on that note, I'll end this lesson. If you've just finished Starting Out, you can click here to return to the review page.