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Grammar and Siva
(HinduDharma: Vyakarana)

Siva temples have a mandapa (pavilion or hall) called " vyakarana-danamandapa". In Tamil it has come to be called " vakkanikkum mandapam". There are such halls in many temples in the Chola territory of Tamilnadu. One such is in Tiruvorriyur near Madras. Why should there be a mandapa for grammar in Siva temples? What is Siva's connection with language? Is not Siva in his form of Daksinamurti all silence?

Nrttavasane Nataraja-rajo nanada dhakkam navapancavaram

Uddhartukamah Sankadisiddhanetadvimarse Sivasutrajalam

I will speak briefly about this stanza. The silent Siva remains still [as Daksinamurti]. But the same Siva [in another form of his] keeps dancing all the time and it was from his dance that the science of language was born.

Nataraja is the name of the dancing Paramesvara. "Nata" is a member of a troupe which also consists of the "vita" and "gayaka". The nata dances. Nataraja is the king of all dancers-- he who cannot be excelled as a dancer-- and he is also called Mahanata [the great dancer]. The Amarakosa, the Sanskrit lexicon, has these two words: " Mahakalo mahanatah". In Tamil they say " Ambala- k-kuttaduvan". We find from royal inscriptions that in the old days Brahmins too had such Tamil names-- " Ambala-k-kuttaduvan Bhattan", for instance.

There used to be a publishing establishment in Bombay called the NirnayaSagara Press. It once brought out old poetical works in Sanskrit under the general name, " Kavyamala Series ". There were some books in this series with the name " Pracinalekhamala" . Reproduced in one of them is the text of a copper-plate inscription belonging to the Vengi kingdom. Vengi is situated between the Godavari and the Krsna.

The Cola rulers of the Telugu country and the Colas of Tanjavur were related by marriage. Rajaraja Cola (Narendra) reigned in Tanjavur; it was he who built the Brhadisvara temple. Kulottunga Cola who belonged to the family of the grandson of a king of Vengi ruled as a member of the Cola dynasty of Tanjavur. Once he visited the Cola kingdom and on his return took some 500 Brahmins with him to promote Vedic learning in Vengi. The "Dravidalu" of Andhra Pradesh are the descendants of these Brahmins.

The names of all these Brahmins and their gotras are mentioned in the copper-plate inscription together with the subjects in which they were proficient and duties they had to perform. The landed property allotted to each is referred to, so also the names of the donors and of the recipients. The Brahmins from Tamil Nadu had to teach the Vedas and sastras. That is why gifts of lands were made to them.

" Rupavatara-vaktuk eko bhagah": these words are from the inscription. It means " one share to the Brahmin who is proficient in the Rupavatara. " Rupavatara is a work on grammar.

In Ennayiram, near Tindivanam (Tamil Nadu), there was a school with 340 students. Of them 40 studied Rupavatara, says an inscription of Rajendra Cola I. In Tribhuvanam, Pondicerri(Pondicherry), also there was a Vedic school supported by Rajadhiraja (A. D. 1018-1050) where the Rupavatara was taught. We also learn from an inscription of Vira-Rajendra Devam dated A. D 1067, that this grammatical work was taught at a school in Tiru, ulldal, near Kanchi.

Siddhanta-Kaumudi is a very popular treatise on grammar. It is a commentary on Panini's sutras by Bhattoji Diksita who was a disciple of Appayya Diksita. The latter was born in Adayappalam and was the author of 104 works, many of them on Saiva themes. His Kuvalayananda, a work on poetics, is also famous.

Ardha-matra-Iaghavena putrotsavam

manyante vaiyakaranah

This speaks of the great joy experienced by grammarians: if they gain as much as half a matra it is a cause for jubilation like the birth of a son to a man who has been long childless.

The sutras are very brief and very precise. The Siddhanta- Kaumudi is also famous for its brevity and exactitude; there is no circumlocution in it, no beating about the bush. May be the sutras themselves are wordy but not Bhattoji Diksita's commentary on the same. Written some 400 years ago, it is very popular even today and is the first book of grammar prescribed for students. (Bhattoji Diksita also wrote the Tattavakaustubha and dedicated it to his guru, Appayya Diksita. In this he seeks to establish that there is no Truth other than the Brahman and that, to claim that there is, is not in keeping with the teachings of the Upanisads. Bidden by his guru, he also wrote an attack on Madhvacarya's philosophy of dualism. The work, Madhvamatavidhvamsanam, is a cause of dispute among philosophers but Bhattoji Diksita's commentary on grammar is acceptable to all systems. )

Before Siddhanta-Kaumudi, Rupavataram was the grammar work famous among students. "Rupam" here means the "complete form of sound"; "avataram" is descent, but in the present context "history". Rupavataram was published by Rangacari, of Presidency College, Madras.

That gifts of land were made to scholars who taught Rupavataram [the reference here is to the Vengi inscription], shows the importance attached to sanskrit grammar in those times.

The Vengi inscription dates back to 850 years ago. As mentioned earlier, the names of Brahmins who received gifts are given in it. Many of them had the title "Sadangavid" (learned in the six Vedic Angas). Some had Tamil names -- "Ambala-k-kuttaduvan Bhattan", "Tiruvarangamudayan Bhattan", etc. Of the foregoing two names the first is associated with the Cidambaram temple which is Saiva and the second with the Srirangam temple which is Vaisnava . Both Brahmins were Smartas, even the one with the Vaisnava name. There has been as much devotion to Siva as there has been to Visnu at all times. In the North and in Kerala, even today, Smartas perform puja in all temples. The man called "Tiruvarangamudayan Bhattan" is not to be taken as a Vaisnava from his name. The Sanskrit equivalent of the name is Rangasvamin. "Udayan" means "svamin", "svam" denoting possession.

The Tamil name of Nataraja is "Tiruvambala Kuttaduvan". I wanted to speak about Nataraja and his connection with grammar. Let us go back to the stanza with the first word, "Nrttavasane. . . " Nataraja performs an awe- inspiring dance. It seems to bring together all the dance that all of us have to perform, the rhythms of all our lives. The head of the Nataraja idol has something that seems spread over it, something falling down on both sides. What is it? It is the god's mass of matted locks. I am reminded of the snapshot photographs taken nowadays. A snapshot is a rapid photograph that captures an object in one of its fleeting moments. It is not a study that is static but one suggestive of motion. Nataraja dances fast, but momentarily seems to stop dancing. His matted locks give the impression of fanning out over the two sides of his face. The sculptor of those times seems to have taken a mental snapshot of that moment to create the image of Nataraja.

Nataraja has a drum in one hand, called the dhakka or damaruka. The tala of this drum (the time kept by it) is in keeping with the "footwork" of the dancing god, the movement of his feet. The beat of his drum is referred to in the words, "nanada dhakkam".

There are chiefly three types of musical instruments. Those made of skin like the dhakka, the tavil (drum accompaniment to nagasvaram music), the kanjira (a kind of hand drum), the mrdanga; stringed instruments like the vina, the violin; wind instruments like nagasvaram, the flute. The final beat of the drum is called cappu. Similarly at the end of Nataraja's dance (" nrttavasane ") the damaruka produced the cappu sound.

When Nataraja dances, Sanaka and his brother sages, Patanjali Vyaghrapada and so on stand round him. They are great ascetics, so they are able to see the dance. Nataraja's dance can be seen only by those who have the inner vision of jnana. The Lord himself bestowed on Arjuna the divine eye with which the pandava could see his cosmic form. Vyasa imparted the same power to Sanjaya so that he could describe this wondrous form to Dhrtarastra. Only they (Arjuna and Sanjaya) could see Krsna's universal form. Others on the battlefield of Kuruksetra could not. Because of the great efforts made by them, the celestials, the sages and yogins obtained the divine eye to see the dance of Nataraja. In the Gita such sight is called "divya-caksus" (divine eye).

Sanaka and others saw the dance with their real eyes. Visnu played the drum called the maddala, while Brahma kept time. At the close of the dance, the concluding beats(cappu) produced fourteen sounds. It is these fourteen that are referred to in the stanza ("Nrttavasane", etc) as "navapancavaram"; "nava" is nine and "panca" is five, so fourteen in all. "Nanada dhakkam navapancavaram. " If the number of sounds produced by Nataraja's dhakka is fourteen, the branches of Vedic learning are also the same number (caturdasavidya). If the foundation of Hindu dharma is made up of these fourteen vidyas, Nataraja'a cappu produced fourteen sounds which, according to the verse, were meant for the [Atmic] uplift of Sanaka and others. You must have seen in the sculptural representations of Daksinamurti in temples four aged figures by his side. They are the Sanaka sages. It is not Saiva works like the Tevaram and the Tiruvacakam alone that mention how instruction was given to the four but also the Vaisnava songs of the Azhvars.

The fourteen sounds produced by Nataraja's drum are the means by which the reality of Siva is to be known and experienced within us in all its plenitude. Nandikesvara has commented upon the fourteen sounds in his Sivabhaktisutra.

Among those present at Nataraja's dance was Panini. His story is told in the Brhatkatha which was written by Gunadhya in the Prakrt called Paisaci. Ksemendra produced a summary of it in Sanskrit and, based on it, Somadeva Bhatta wrote the Katha-sarat-sagara. It is the source of some of the stories of The Arabian Nights, Pancatantra and Aesop's Fables. Perunkathai is a Tamil version, the title being Tamil for Brhatkatha.

The story of Panini is told in the Katha-sarit-sagara. In Pataliputra (modern Patna), in Magadha, there were two men called Varsopadhyaya and Upavarsopadhyaya - the second was the younger of the two. Upakosala was Upavarsopadhyaya's daughter. Panini and Vararuci were Varsopadhyaya's students. Panini made little progress in his lessons. So his teacher asked him to go to the Himalaya and practise austerities. The student did so and through the grace of Isvara received the power to witness the tandava dance of Nataraja. With this divine gift of the Lord, Panini indeed saw the tandava and heard the fourteen sounds at its conclusion. For him these sounds meant the fourteen cardinal sutras of grammar and on them he based his Astadhyayi. As its very name suggests, this work, which is the source book of Sanskrit grammar, has eight chapters.

The fourteen sounds are recited at the upakarma ceremony. Since they emanated from the drum of Mahesvara(Nataraja), they are called "Mahesvarasutras". Human beings can produce only inarticulate sounds on the musical instruments played by them. The hand of Paramesvara is verily the Nadabrahman and Sabdabrahaman incarnate, so his cappu on the damaruka at the conclusion of his tandava sounded as a series(garland) of fourteen letters:

1. a i un; 2. rlk; 3. e on; 4. ai auc; 5. hayavarat; 6. lan; 7. nama nana nam; 8. jha bha n; 9. gha da dha s; 10. ja ba ga da da s; 11. kha pha cha tha tha catatav; 12. kapay; 13. sa sa sar; 14. hal-iti Mahesvarani sutrani.

When you listen to these sutras at the upakarma ceremony, you are amused. You repeat them after the priest without knowing what they are all about. They are the concluding strokes Siva made on his drum as he stopped dancing, stopped whirling round and round.

We say, don't we, that the anklets sound "jal-jal", that the damaru sounds "timu-timu", that the tavil sounds "dhum-dhum"? These are not of course the sounds actually produced by the respective drums. Even so the words give us some idea of the beats. We don't say "pi-pi" to describe the sound of a drum or "dhum-dhum" to describe the sound of the pipe. The sound produced by plucking the strings of the instruments like the veena is usually described as "toyn-toyng". From this it follows that, thought the musical instruments do not produce articulate sounds, they create the impression of producing the phonemes of human speech. If this be so in the case of instruments played by humans, why should not the drum beaten by Nataraja during his pancakrtya dance produce articulate sounds?

How did Panini make use of the fourteen sounds? He created an index from the sutras to vocalise the letters or syllables together. According to the arrangement made by him, the first letter or syllable of a sutra voiced with the last letter or syllable of another sutra will indicate the letters or syllables in between. For example, the first syllable of "hayavarat", "ha", and the last letter of "hal", "l", together make "hal". This embraces all the consonants in between. Similarly, the first letter of the first sutra, "a", and the last letter of the fourth sutra together form "ac"-this includes all the vowels. The first letter of the first sutra and the last letter of the fourteenth sutra together form "al" - it includes all letters.

"Halantasya" is one of the sutras of Astadhyayi. "Al" itself has come to mean writing.

"A-kara" is the first letter in all languages. In Urdu it is alif; in Greek it is alpha. Both are to be derived from "al". So too "alphabet" in English. Here is another fact to support the view that, once upon a time, the Vedic religion was prevalent all over the world.

We know thus that the prime source of grammar is constituted by the Mahesvara-sutras emanating from the drum of Nataraja. Since Paramesvara was the cause of the sabda-sastras (all sciences relating to sound, speech), "grammar-pavilions" have been built in Siva temples, but not in Visnu shrines.

By the side of Nataraja are Patanjali and Vyaghrapada. I had been to a temple near Sirkazhi(in Tamil Nadu). There, beside Nataraja, were Patanjali and Vyaghrapada. Beneath their images were inscribed their names. Patanjali's name was seen here as "Padamcolli" - the error must be attributed to the ignorance of the man who had inscribed the names. I was however happy that ironically enough, this name benefited the sage and that even ignorance was the cause of something appropriate. "Padam" has the meaning of grammar[as in] "padavakya pramana". Here "pada" means grammar. So "Padamcolli" [the second half of the name in Tamil] means one who "says" grammar.

When I saw this inscription I was reminded of another thing. We speak of "gunaksara-nyaya". "Guna" here means an insect like the white ants which eats into wood and palm-leaves. Sometimes in this process letters are formed accidentally. If something meaningful results from an act committed unconsciously or unwittingly it is said to be according to the "gunaksara-nyaya". This term is thus applicable to Patanjali being written as "Padamcolli"

Some years ago I happened to see the Sahitya-Ratnakara. The author of this poetical work is Yajnanarayana Diksita who composed it 400 hundred years ago during the reign of Raghunatha Nayaka of Tanjavur. Diksita was a great devotee of Siva and in one of his hymns there is a reference to grammar.

Adau pani-ninadato' ksara-samamnayopadesena yah

Sabdanamanusasananyakalayat sastrena sutratmana

Bhasyam tasya ca padahamsakaravaih praudhasayam tam gurum

Sabdarthapratipatti-hetumanisam Candravatamsam bhaje

--- Sahitya-Ratnakara, 11. 124

"Aksara-samamnayam" in this stanza means grammar, a grouping together of letters. Isvara's breath constitutes the Vedas. The wind produced by his hand [as he beats the drum] is "Aksara-Veda", the Mahesvara-sutras. It is called "sabdanusasanam". "Pani-ninadatah" means "produced sounds with your hands" or "the sounds came by to Panini". Thus the words have two meanings. The idea is that Panini created his grammar with the sounds produced by Isvara with his hand.

The stanza goes on to say: "With the movement of your hand the sutras of grammar were created and with the movement of your feet its commentary has been produced. " Patanjali, author of the Mahabhasya, was an incarnation of the primordial serpent Adisesa. Adisesa is now the anklet of Parameshvara. It is in keeping with this that the poet says that Siva created the bhasya with the movement of his feet. He concludes by remarking that sound and meaning originate in Siva.

In this way, Siva is the prime source of grammar. That is why there are mandapas in his temples where vyakarana is to be taught.

"Hindu Dharma" is a book which contains English translation of certain invaluable and engrossing speeches of Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi MahaSwamiji (at various times during the years 1907 to 1994).
For a general background, please see here