Shabda Bodha (शाब्दबोधः)

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Shabdabodha (Samskrit : ) refers to the awareness and information of things hitherto unknown (to the listeners) to convey which a speaker utters words generated by shabda arranged in intelligible sentences. The awareness generated by such shabda — in the form of a sentence – is called "Shabdabodha", cognition of sentence meaning or awareness of the relation (of word-meanings).[1] The process through which the cognition of the sentence-meaning arises involves many processes such as yogyata (fitness) akanksha (expectance), asatti (proximity) and tatparya (import). Almost all schools of darshanas, vyakarana and alankara shastras have dealt with this topic extensively.


Shabda bodha is extensively dealt with in establishing Pramanas in darshana shastras. All pramanas in astika darshanas discuss about shabda pramana in one form or other and primarily differ in this point from the nastika darshanas. It is considered as an distinct pramana by Naiyyayikas, whereas Vaiseshikas do not admit Shabda as an independent pramana, they classify it under Anumana pramana.

Bharthari says:[1]

"It is words that form the bases of meanings, purposes, activities and truth". (Vākyapadiya, Brahmakānda 13)

Etymology of Shabda

Shabdakalpadruma defines the word शब्दः as श्रोत्रग्राह्यगुणपदार्थ-विशेषः। The synonyms for Shabda according to Amarakosha are १ निनादः २ निनदः ३ ध्वनिः ४ ध्वानः ५ रवः ६ स्वनः ७ स्वानः ८ निर्घोषः ९ निर्हादः १० नादः ११ निःस्वानः १२ निःस्वनः १३ आरवः १४ आरावः १५ संरावः १६ विरावः इत्यमरः।

Shabda is two-fold as word and sentence. A word is defined as that which has the meaning or signifying power (sakti). It is also defined as a unity of articulate letter-sounds having a (verbal or case-) ending.

Shabda', in the technical sense of a sentence (that can be a means of knowledge) is defined by Gautama as that which is uttered by a trustworthy person.[1]

शब्दलक्षणम् ॥ Shabda Lakshana - Nyaya Darshana

Gautama in his Nyāyasūtra defines sabda or verbal testimony as

आप्तोपदेशः शब्दः।।७।। āptopadeśaḥ śabdaḥ [2]

The communication made by a reliable person is Shabda (word).

अाप्तः खलु साक्षात्कृतधर्मा ।... (Vats. Bhas. of Nyay. Sutr. 1.1.7) [3]

That person is called 'Apta', 'reliable' who possesses the direct (साक्षात्) and right knowledge of things (Page 50 of Reference [4]). The word upadeśa etymologically means that through which something is communicated. And that is the sentence that gives rise to the cognition of something unknown hitherto.[1]

पूरणप्रदाहपाटनानुपलब्धेः च सम्बन्धाभावः ।।५४।। {सिद्धान्तसूत्र} or शब्दार्थव्यवस्थानातप्रतिषेधः ।।५४।। Nyay, Sutr. 2.1.54 (Check the Sutra)

Bhashya in Page no 141 of Reference [3] to be checked and incorporated

Vātsyāyana in his commentary on the Nyāyasūtra 2.1.54 states that a sentence consists of several units in the form of two or more words. Thus shabda or verbal testimony is that which gives rise to the valid cognition of the sentence-meaning. And it is of the nature of a sentence consisting of a group of words.

न साध्य-समत्वात् ६२ (Nyay. Sutr. 3.2.62)[5]

In his commentary on the Nyāyasūtra 3.2.62 he says that the articulate alphabetic sounds are the ultimate constituents of a sentence. There arises the auditory perception of each and every articulate alphabetic sound when it is uttered. One construes two or more sounds in the form of a word. From the cognition of the word one arrives at the cognition of its meaning. One then construes two or more words in the form of a sentence and from the cognition of it, one gets at the cognition of the relation of the word-meanings - the relation which is the sentence-meaning.

The conclusive view of the Naiyāyika-s is that a word is a group of articulate alphabetic sounds and a sentence is a group of words. A group or aggregate is not distinct from the units comprising it. Even when it is said that a word consists of several articulate alphabetic sounds and a sentence consists of several words, it comes to this, that articulate alphabetical sounds manifested in a single cognition constitute a sentence. It must now be enquired as to how the articulate alphabetical sounds could be viewed as word or sentence.

Vakya Lakshana - Mimamsa Darshana

Like the Naiyāyika-s, generally, Mīmāmsaka-s accept that the group of articulate alphabetic phonemes is a word and the group of words is a sentence. But they maintain that the articulate phonemes are eternal, while the Naiyāyika-s treat them as noneternal. Accordingly there is a subtle difference in the mode of interpretation of the varna-s attaining the form of words and sentences.

Sabara in his commentary on the aphorism 2.2.26' of Jaimini says that the words which will serve a unitary purpose constitute

atulyatvāt tu vākyayor gune tasya pratīyate JS 2.2.26.

one sentence.ŚB 2.2.26 Again in his commentary on the aphorism 2.1.46, he states that the group of words conveying a single meaning is the sentence. From this it is clear that according to Sabara a sentence is a group of words.

Kumārila too subscribes to the above view. Sālikānātha in his Prakaranapañcikā declares that according to Prabhākara a sentence is the group of words. And the sentence-meaning is the collection of word-meanings.

The Mīmāmsaka-s do not admit a word as distinct from letters (varna-s or articulate letter- sounds) and also a centence as distinct from words. Hence it is necessary to discuss the manner in which the letters attain the state of a word and a sentence.

Sabara explains this in this manner — "Upavarsa is of the view that the letters g, au and visarjanīya constitute the word gauh. The word sabda is well known in public usage as signifying an entity that is auditorily perceived. And letters alone are comprehended by the sense of hearing and not anything different from it",

Now the question arises as to how the letters attain the status of a word when they cannot be grouped together. Sabara answers by saying that it is the last letter associated with the latent impressions born out of the cognitions of each preceding letter which gives rise to the cognition of the word-meaning. Extending this line of explanation, it is said that the last word associated with the latent impressions born out of the cognitions of each preceding word is the sentence. According to the Bhātta school, individual words convey their own meanings. And the word-meanings convey the sentence-meaning, not the sentence as a whole.

1 yāvanti padāni ekam prayojanam abhinirvartayanti tāvanti padāni eka m vākyam ŚB 2.2.26.

2 arthaikatvād ekam vākyam sākānkşam ced vibhāge syāt JS 2.1.46.

Vakya Lakshana - Samkhya Darshana

The Sānkhya school accepts that letters which are non-eternal are denotative of the meanings. In this connection they reject the theory of sphoța accepted by the Grammarians and the theory that letters are eternal accepted by the Mīmāmsaka-s. Like the Naiyayika-s, the Sānkhya school admits that the group of letters is a word and the group of words is a sentence.

Vakya Lakshana - Yoga Darshana

According to the Yoga system, we falsely superimpose an identity among a word, its object and the idea conveyed. Conditioned by conventional meaning, the letters are uttered in a particular order and they become the content of a single cognition and thus constitute a single unit, i.e. the word. The word appears to be indivisible; it does not have any reference to the sequence of letters. It is manifested by the operation of the recognition of the final letter. Thus the Yoga system accepts the nature of a sentence similar to that of the Grammarians.

Vakya Lakshana - Vedanta Darshana


The Advaitin-s and others reject the doctrine of sphota (speechbuds or language potentials) and admit that the letters which are the objects of recollection that results from the latent impressions born out of the cognition of each letter is the word or the sentence. Prakāśātman in his Šābdanirnaya states so. Sankara in his commentary on the Vedāntasūtra 1.3.28 states:

Although all the letters in a word are cognised, still like the ants thanks to their sequential configuration generate in us the idea of a line in a definite order, the letters generate in us the notion of a word thanks to their definite sequence.

From this it is known that it is only letters in a specific order that constitute a word. And the letters or words in a due order constitute a sentence.


The Visistādvaitin-s too accept that the letters manifested in a single cognition constitute a word and the words manifested in a single cognition constitute a sentence. Vedāntadeśika in his Tattvamuktākalāpa and in his commentary Sarvārthasiddhi thereon sets forth this view.


The Dvaitin-s too subscribe to the view that letters constitute a word and the words constitute a sentence. Vyāsatīrtha in his Tarkatāndava states that Jayatīrtha in his Pramānapaddhati has defined a word as letters having a termination of inflectional ending of a case or of the person of a tense or mood at their end, and a sentence as words having syntactic expectancy, congruity and proximity.

Vakya Lakshana - Vyakarana Shastra

The final conclusion of the Grammarians is that an utterable linguistic unit which is indivisible is the sentence. Bharthari in his Vākyapadīya has set forth eight views regarding the nature of a sentence; and, they are as follows: A word having a verbal suffix at its end is a sentence.

This does not mean that only the single word with a verbal suffix is a sentence, because that would contradict the common experience of viewing a sentence as the group of words terminating in either sup or tin, as for instance, "Steer the cow with a stick, O! Devadatta". What is meant here is that sometimes even the word having a verbal suffix at its end suffices as a sentence. There are certain cases where there arises the verbal cognition from the mere use of a verb. For example the use of the word "shut" (pidhehi). Here, even without the noun expressive of the notion of a case (kāraka), there arises the cognition of the sentence-meaning, viz, shut the door. A group of words is a sentence

According to this view the mere word "shut" is not a sentence. But there is the importation of the word 'door' and it is the group of these two words that must be viewed as a sentence. And just as a verb by itself does not constitute a sentence, even so a mere word having a case-ending such as 'door is not a sentence, as the activity of shutting is not invariably known by the utterance of the word 'door'.: The universal, present in words is a sentence

According to this view there is a universal or generic feature in a group of words; and it is a sentence significative of the sentence meaning An indivisible word is a sentences

According to this view a sentence is one unit devoid of parts. And letters or words have no real existence therein. The order of words is a sentence

The words in succession constitute a sentence (vākyasphota). According to this view, the latter is divisible and is generated by the group of words. The imaginary aggregate of words in the intellect is a sentence

Division of words is only a conceptual construction in our intellect according to this view. The real sentence is undivided and does not have words in it. The sentence as structured exists only in our minds. The first word is a sentence

According to this view a sentence is divisible and is generated by a group of words. And the first word in the group is the sentence. The other words of the group are helpful in identifying the significative relation of the first word to its meaning. For example, the expression sāksāt kriyate. Here the word sākṣāt conveys the meaning of perceptional knowledge. And the word kriyate is only indicative of the significative relation of the word sākṣāt to its meaning. Each word having syntactic expectancy with the other word constitutes a sentence

Jaimini in his aphorism 2.4.46 affirms the view that a group of words each one dependent upon the other word for its meaning is a sentence.

The author of Vārttika (Kātyāyana) defines a sentence in two ways:

1) the verbal suffix qualified by avyaya and kāraka, and, 2) the one which has a single verb. These two definitions do not differ from the definition set forth earlier, viz. a sentence is a group of words

Of the eight definitions of sentence, those described under the heads 3.1.4 3;; treat a sentence as a indivisible unit; and those described under the heads;;;;, as a divisible one.

Punyarāja in his commentary on the Vākyapadīya states that according to Bhartrhari the Grammarians view a sentence to be of the nature of sphota; it is an indivisible unit; the sentence-meaning is pratibhā and the relation between a sentence and its meaning is the superimposed identity (adhyāsa).

Pathanjali Mahabhasya

In निरालम्बनवाद (श्लो १०७-११३) of श्लोकवार्त्तिक Kumārila clearly states that अलातचक्र etc. is बौद्धार्थ –[6]

स्वप्नादिप्रत्यये बाह्यं सर्वथा न हि नेष्यते ॥ १०७ ॥

सर्वत्रालम्बनं बाह्यं देशकालान्यथात्मकम् । जन्मन्येकत्र भिन्ने वा तथा कालान्तरेऽपि वा ॥ १०८ ॥

तद्देशो वान्यदेशो वा स्वप्नज्ञानस्य गोचरः । अलातचक्रेऽलातं स्याच्छीघ्रभ्रमणसंस्कृतम् ॥ १०९ ॥

गन्धर्वनगरेऽभ्राणि पूर्वदृष्टं गृहादि च । पूर्वानुभूततोयं च रश्मितप्तोषरं तथा ॥ ११० ॥

मृगतोयस्य विज्ञाने कारणत्वेन कल्प्यते । द्रव्यान्तरे विषाणं च शशस्यत्मा च कारणम् ॥ १११ ॥

शशशृङ्गधियो मौण्ड्यं निषेधे शिरसोऽस्य च । वस्त्वन्तरैरसंसृष्टः पदार्थः शून्यताधियः ॥ ११२ ॥

कारणत्वं पदार्थानामसद्वाक्यार्थकल्पने । अत्यन्ताननुभूतोऽपि बुद्ध्या योऽर्थः प्रकल्प्यते ॥ ११३ ॥

Slokavartika in Wikisource

Patañjali says सतो बुद्धिविषयान् प्रकाशयन्ति (they express things that are there in the mind) which clearly supports ‘बौद्धार्थ’. ‘बुद्धौ कृत्वा सर्वाश्चेष्टाः कर्ता धीरस्तन्वन्नीतिः’ (the scholar, who has got an intellect that spreads, would imagine all the process, i.e. related to prior and latter, the relation etc. in the intellect) etc. is the statement of Patañjali which also establishes the सिद्धान्त of बौद्धार्थ. Words like शशशृङ्गम्, गगनकुसुमम् etc. express things that are बौद्ध (imaginary) rather than real.

Patañjali advocates a third category, i.e., other than प्रमा and भ्रम, called विकल्प. प्रमा is यथार्थज्ञान (authoritative cognition) achieved through Pramāṇas whereas भ्रम or विपर्यय is the usage (and the connected cognition) that is borne from the usage and the cognition that follows but without the existence of the thing in question – शब्दज्ञानानुपाती वस्तुशून्यो विकल्पः (यौ सू १-९) is the sūtra of Patañjali. शशशृङ्गम् etc. are examples. Such a cognition is possible when there is बौद्धार्थ. There is no बाह्यार्थ (outside / real thing) but due to the capacity of Śabda the cognition is generated. The same is expressed by Kumārila in श्लोकवार्त्तिकम् (चोदनासूत्रम् – ६)

अत्यन्तासत्यपि ज्ञानमर्थे शब्दः करोति हि। (even if the real thing is absolutely absent Śabda generates the cognition). Hence अत्यन्तासत् means अत्यन्ताभाव।


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Dr. N. S. Ramanuja Tatacharya. (2005) Shabdabodhamimamsa. An Inquiry into Indian Theories of Verbal Cognition. Volume 1: The Sentence and its Significance. New Delhi : Rastriya Sanskrit Samsthan
  2. Nyaya Sutras (Adhyaya 1 Ahnika 1)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Pt. Gangadhara Sastri Tailanga. (1896) The Nyayasutras with Vatsayana's Bhashya and Extracts from the Nyayavarttika and the Tatparyatika. (Page 48 of PDF) Benares : E. J. Lazarus & Co
  4. Mm. Ganganatha Jha. (1939) Gautama's Nyayasutras With Vatsyayana Bhashya. Poona : Oriental Book Agency. (Page no 20)
  5. Nyaya Sutras (Adhyaya 3 Ahnika 2)
  6. Paper Presentation by Prof. K. Subrahmanayam titled Pramāṇas in Indian Philosophy