By Anoop Verma
Though Patanjali is revered mostly as the originator of the Yoga system, he has also played a seminal role in the field of linguistics. The entire edifice of Sanskrit grammar rests on Patanjali’s teachings and that of Panini, the author of Astadhyayi. Some ancient accounts have stated that Patanjali and Panini might have been brothers, but we don’t have any clear historical evidence to support a fraternal relationship between the two. While Panini’s Astadhyayi takes a rather analytical and mathematical approach towards Sanskrit grammar, Patanjali has focussed on the important task of giving a spiritualistic look to the way the language is written and spoken. He was the first commentator to impart a spiritualistic and philosophical colour to the speculations of Sanskrit grammar.
Patanjali was clearly influenced by what he perceived as the mysticism or the spirituality that underlies the phenomenon of speech. To him, the utterance of a sound was a vivid materialisation of consciousness. Patanjali believed that the study of grammar is of direct consequence to a man who seeks spiritual inspiration. When we speak, we are also expressing our intrinsic spirituality in one context or the other. Along with shedding important light on the grammatical nuances in Sanskrit, Patanjali’s Mahabhasya has led to the rise of a form of sadhana, or worship, in which union with supreme Brahman, or salvation, can only be obtained through knowledge of the sabda, or words.
Patanjali takes note of two kinds of words – nitya or eternal, and karya or created. By nitya, he refers to things that are associated with the Brahman, or the Absolute. His entire focus in Mahabhasya has been to draw our attention to the eternal character of the sabda or the words. Patanjali preaches that words are not lifeless mechanisms that get conjured in the mind of man; the meaning of every word goes much deeper. The sabda are the manifestation of divinity, who makes its presence felt through the act of utterance. Like divinity, the sabda are eternal, they transcend all limitations of time and space. Patanjali has quoted a verse, in which he states that one who earns the capability of using words properly is allowed to enjoy divine bliss in the next life. To him, the comprehensive knowledge of grammar was key to salvation. He has also said that the divine light signs upon the man who understands the secret relationship between the denoted object and the denoting word.
Patanjali implores the readers of Mahabhasya to get rid of the delusion that words are mere sounds. He preaches that all words are imbued with subtle and intellectual form. The internal source from which words evolve is always calm, serene, eternal and imperishable. Great deal of sadhana, which can stand for both worship and mental exertion, is required to have a glimpse of speech at its purest form. Patanjali has also emphasised upon the religious consequence that might result from any study of grammar. Dharma, or religious duty, also consists of the process of applying words in accordance to the rules of grammar. Patanjali has conceded that it is possible for corrupt or incorrectly derived words to gain prominence in society, but he emphasises that religious merit can only be acquired thorough perfection in grammar and the usage of correct and rightly derived words.
Some accounts state that Patanjali might have lived around 4th century BC, and there are also those who place him in between 4th and 6th century AD. But there are other accounts that take him much further back in time. According to some important ancient texts, Bhojadeva’s Rajamartanda in particular, Patanjali had composed three great works in his lifetime – these were on Yoga (Yoga Sutras), grammar (Mahabhasya) and on medicine. However, Patanjali’s work on medicine is yet to be discovered. Thousands of years have passed since Patanjali flourished in the world, yet the system of Yoga that he originated continues to be regarded as the supreme method of detoxifying and strengthening the body, and achieving inner peace. Patanjali’s Yoga system is built on the foundation of Samkhya philosophy, which was preached by Kapila. Many ideas in ethics and religion that are dominant today have their origin in Patanjali’s original teachings.