Shabda Vichara (शब्दविचारः)

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Shabda (Samskrit: शब्दः) a word similar to many others like Dharma and Jnana used in Sanatana Dharma, is of significance in the development of the language system and expression of thought. It is through Speech that one goes about his Lokayatra (journey through world). Acharya Dandi, one of the earliest Alamkarikas, further describes

वाचामेव प्रसादेन लोकयात्रा प्रवर्तते ॥ १.३ ॥ vācāmeva prasādena lokayātrā pravartate ॥ 1.3 ॥

इदमन्धन्तमः कृत्स्नं जायेत भुवनत्रयम् यदि शब्दाहवयं ज्योतिरासंसारन्न दीप्यते ॥ १.४ ॥ idamandhantamaḥ kr̥tsnaṁ jāyeta bhuvanatrayam yadi śabdāhavayaṁ jyotirāsaṁsāranna dīpyate ॥ 1.4 ॥ (Kavyadarsha. 1.3-4)[1]

All the three worlds would have been enveloped in blinding darkness, had there been no language, the brilliant light that shines eternally.[2]

Shabda is defined and explained as that which is "heard by the ear" or a "sound (ध्वनिः)" or "a cry, roar (रवः)" by Vaiyakaranas, apart from being used as a technical term (संज्ञा) of a valid tool of knowledge (cognition) or Pramana (प्रमाणम्) by the Darshanikas.

Science of Dhvani (ध्वनिविज्ञानम्), involves the study of Dhvani (Sound), the synonymous terms, place of utterance and speech mechanism (उच्चारणस्थानानि वाग्यन्त्राणि), origin and classification of sounds, siddhantas involved in the production and propagation of sound, auditory organ and mechanism of reception of sound.

Shabdanushasanam (शब्दानुशासनम्) means Vyakarana (Grammar) a branch of Vedanga, which deals with the systematic study to comprehend the meaning of a sentence by understanding the connotation and the denotation of the words which make it up.[3]

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

As a means of communication the role of words is indispensable. It is known from ages that words are the main ways of conducting all activities by man; all the letters starting from Akara are Arthabodhaka-s i.e., used in words to clearly express the meaning.

Shabda literally means sound. In linguistics it denotes words, sentences and many other linguistic units such as padam and varna. A word is a particular kind of sound, thus a sentence is a group of sounds arranged in a certain order. According to Nyaya, sound is a physical phenomenon. It is the attribute of an intangible and all-pervading substance called Akasha (आकाशः).

आकाशगुणः शब्दः । ākāśaguṇaḥ śabdaḥ । Sound is the attribute of Akaasha (Nirukta. Shast. 13.17)[4]

Vayu is its medium of transmission from one place to another and not a substratum of the quality of sound.

Sound in its empirical form is a product of the conjunction of two bodies or of the disjunction of the parts of one composite body. It is thus non-eternal or subject to origin and cessation in time. The Mimamsakaras here differ from the Nyaya stance in that they hold that Sound is eternal, since it is not produced but only manifested by the contact of two bodies.[5]

व्युत्पत्तिः ॥ Etymology

According to Panini's dhatupata, the word शब्दः । śabdaḥ is derived from the dhatu श॑ब्दँ॑ used in the meaning of भाषणे शब्दक्रियायाम् उपसर्गादाविष्कारे च । bhāṣaṇe śabdakriyāyām upasargādāviṣkāre ca (speaking, in sound utterances, and revealing the meanings of upasargas)[6]

Shabdakalpadruma defines the word शब्दः as श्रोत्रग्राह्यगुणपदार्थ-विशेषः। śrotragrāhyaguṇapadārtha-viśeṣaḥ। that padartha having the quality of being captured (heard) by the ear. 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।

1 ninādaḥ 2 ninadaḥ 3 dhvaniḥ 4 dhvānaḥ 5 ravaḥ 6 svanaḥ 7 svānaḥ 8 nirghoṣaḥ 9 nirhādaḥ 10 nādaḥ 11 niḥsvānaḥ 12 niḥsvanaḥ 13 āravaḥ 14 ārāvaḥ 15 saṁrāvaḥ 16 virāvaḥ ityamaraḥ।

The term śabda is pregnant with meaning and it is employed to denote the following things[7]

  • वर्णाः । varṇaḥ (phoneme)
  • प्रकृतिः प्रत्ययः च। prakṛtiḥ and pratyayaḥ (morpheme)
  • पदम् । padam (word)
  • वाक्यम् । vākyam (sentence)
  • अवान्तरवाक्यं खण्डवाक्यं वा। avāntaravākyam or khaṇḍavākyam (sub-sentence),
  • महावाक्यम् । mahāvākyam (discourse)
  • स्फोटः। parā, paśyantī, madhyamā (sphoṭa)
  • वैखरी । vaikharī
  • ध्वविः । dhvaniḥ (sound)
  • शब्दप्रमाणम् । śabdapramāṇam (statement as a means of knowledge)

Therefore, the term śabda (Shabda) is untranslatable.

Shabda is two-fold as word (padam) and sentence (vakyam). 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.[8]

शब्दलक्षणानि ॥ Shabda Lakshanas

The Darshana texts stand testimony to the fact that ancient Bharat was the fertile breeding ground for intellectual discussions about many unique and fundamental concepts of the material world such as physics, chemistry, mathematics and astronomy to quote a few. It is with awe that one may note that the characteristics of sound as explained in the Darshana shastras is the outstanding outcome of "modern" discussions in the past using logical recognizable forms of thinking and tackling questions that is unparalleled even in this modern day. Here we see each text giving one kind of lakshana vakya to define shabda.

Vaiseshika Sutras say that the Sound is that object of which the organ of apprehension is the ear.[9]

श्रोत्रग्रहणो योर्ऽथः स शब्दः । वैशेषिक-२,२.२१ । (Vais. Sutr. 2.2.21)[10]

Nyaya Sutras and Tarksamgraha, declare

आप्तोपदेशः शब्दः ॥ ७ ॥ āptopadeśaḥ śabdaḥ {शब्दलक्षणम्} (Nyay. Sutr. 1.1.7)[11]

आप्तवाक्यं शब्दः। आप्तस्तु, यथार्थवक्ता। āptavākyaṁ śabdaḥ। āptastu, yathārthavaktā। (Tark. Samg. 4.1)[12]

Here Shabda refers to valid verbal testimony (shabda pramana), a proposition set forth by a trustworthy person (apta). One who habitually speaks only truth is a trustworthy person (apta). Shabda is a sentence or a proposition discussed as a pramana where verbal cognition happens through the knowledge of words, a stance taken by Naiyayikas. Mahabhashya of Patanjali, expounds the vaiyakarana view and addresses the definition of "what is Shabda?"

अथ गौरित्यत्र कः शब्दः ? ...... कस्तर्हि शब्दः? येनोच्चारितेन सास्नालाङ्गूलककुदखुरविषाणिनां सम्प्रत्ययो भवति स शब्दः ॥ अथ वा प्रतीतपदार्थको लोके ध्वनिः शब्द इत्युच्यते। [13]

atha gaurityatra kaḥ śabdaḥ ? ...... kastarhi śabdaḥ? yenoccāritena sāsnālāṅgūlakakudakhuraviṣāṇināṁ sampratyayo bhavati sa śabdaḥ ॥ atha vā pratītapadārthako loke dhvaniḥ śabda ityucyate।

Summary: Now, when one says गौः। gauḥ (cow), what is Shabda?... Shabda is that on whose manifestation the correct knowledge of the object (Cow) which has dew-lap (सास्ना । sāsnā), tail (लाङ्गूल । lāṅgūla), hump (ककुद । kakuda), hoof (खुरः । khuraḥ ), horns (विषाणः । viṣāṇaḥ) etc, is produced; or, the sound which has a decisive meaning is said to be shabda in the world.

When a word like गौः is pronounced, the following concepts appear in the mind of the hearer :—the species cow, her action, her qualities, genus cow, the shape of the cow—and also the word made up of ga, au and visarga strikes his ear. The hearer begins to doubt whether on pronouncing गौः the Shabda refers to the species cow, her actions etc. According to Vaiyakaranas the relation (sambandha) of शब्दः (word) and अर्थः (its meaning), गुणम् । guṇam (attribute) and गुणिन् । guṇin (object having the attribute), क्रिया । kriyā (action) and क्रियावान् । kriyāvān (performer of action) is identity (samavaya sambandha). However none of these are the connotation of shabda and true connotation, according to Vaiyakaranas, is Sphota, which, when manifested, enables the hearer to have a clear knowledge of the object cow. They admit that every letter that is pronounced makes an impression in the mind and the sum total of the impressions made by all the letters of the word suggest the sense. Hence Shabda is not what we hear, but it is that, Sphota or sound-essence, which is manifested in the mind after the whole word is pronounced.[3]

According to Shri. N. Sivasenani[14], Sabda has two definitions as given by Patanjali:

"प्रतीतपदार्थकः ध्वनिः शब्दः। pratītapadārthakaḥ dhvaniḥ śabdaḥ। is thus a working definition - applicable to vaikharee shabdas as per Nagesa - which makes meaningful words Sabdas.

The other, more philosophical definition, applicable to madhyamaa according to Nagesa, which accomodates the concept of sphota is: येनोच्चारितेन सास्नालाङ्गूलककुदखुरविषाणिनां सम्प्रत्ययो जायते स शब्दः। yenoccāritena sāsnālāṅgūlakakudakhuraviṣāṇināṁ sampratyayo jāyate sa śabdaḥ। The idea is like this. A word is meaningful only if the listener is aware of it. Let us say that I propose that our group of friends go to a tundra for a holiday. If my friends do not know what a tundra is, my statement does not make sense. If they know that tundra is a cold desert, then they can reply along the lines of: "Oh! why on Earth would you want to go to a place where nothing grows, and there is nothing to see" or "Yes, such great calmness would be very nice". So the words uttered by a speaker only trigger the sense that has already been acquired by the listener. Therefore, when one says गौः the image of an animal with a सास्ना (dew-lap in English, and గంగడోలు in Telugu, the loose skin hanging below the neck of a cow), tail, hump, hoof, horns etc. arises in the mind of the listener, hence the definition: Sabda is that on whose pronunciation (or, manifestation) the correct knowledge of the object with dewlap, tail etc. is produced."

शब्दभेदाः ॥ Classification of Shabda

One finds interesting classifications of shabda expounded by various darshanakaras such as Sankhyakaras, Vaiyakaranas, Naiyayikas, Mimamsakaras, Vedantins and each of them play a significant role in understanding the role of Shabda in verbal comprehension.

Vaidika (वैदिकाः) and Laukika (लौकिकाः)

Mahabhashyam the celebrated text of vyakarana, given to the world by Maharshi Patanjali, gives an in depth analysis about the development of language and the siddhantas to be considered from the vyakarana standpoint. It describes about which shabdas should be studied (and understood) and classifies them as Vaidika and Laukika. Maharshi Patanjali says,

केषां शब्दानाम्?

लौकिकानां वैदिकानां च। तत्र लौकिकास्तावत् - गोरश्वः पुरुषो हस्ती शकुनिः मृगो ब्राह्मण इति। वैदिकाः खल्वपि- शन्नो देवीरभिष्टये (अ.सं.1,1,1), इषे त्वोर्जे त्वा (तै.सं.1,1,1,1), अग्निमीले पुरोहितम् (ऋ.1,1,1), अग्न आयाहि वीतये (सा. सं. 1,1,1) इति ॥ (Maha. Paspashahnika)[13]

kēṣāṁ śabdānām?

laukikānāṁ vaidikānāṁ ca। tatra laukikāstāvat - gōraśvaḥ puruṣō hastī śakuniḥ mr̥gō brāhmaṇa iti। vaidikāḥ khalvapi- śannō dēvīrabhiṣṭayē (a.saṁ.1,1,1), iṣē tvōrjē tvā (tai.saṁ.1,1,1,1), agnimīlē purōhitam (r̥.1,1,1), agna āyāhi vītayē (sā. saṁ. 1,1,1) iti ॥

Summary : Of which shabdas? Of those current in the world and in the Vedas. Among them the Laukika shabdas are गौः (cow), अश्वः (horse), पुरुषः (person), हस्ती (elephant), शकुनिः (bird), मृगः (deer), ब्राह्मणः (brahmana) etc. The Vaidika shabdas are शन्नो देवीरभिष्टये । śannō dēvīrabhiṣṭayē। [Let the waters bring us happiness (so that we may perform sacrifice)]; इषे त्वोर्जे त्वा । iṣē tvōrjē tvā [(I cut) you for food and vitality]; अग्निमीले पुरोहितम् । agnimīlē purōhitam (I invoke Agni, the divine priest).[3]

The Vaidika shabdas are considered to be more prominent than the laukika shabdas, since the latter should not be mispronounced only in Yajnas and the former on no occasion.

The laukika shabdas are illustrated by गौः (cow), अश्वः (horse) etc. It is worthy of note that the list of words given by Yaska in his Nirukta commences with the same words. The Vaidika shabdas are illustrated by the sentences शन्नो देवीरभिष्टये etc. This clearly shows that, in Vedas, the order of words should not he changed, that they should be pronounced with their respective svara and that the sentence accent is more powerful than the word accent.

Study of vyakarana as per Mahabhashyakara, is clearly applicable to only speech-words and not to the Shabda produced by birds or animals. One can correct the Apashabdas (अपशब्दाः) or incorrect expressions in usage by the knowledge of the science of language.

Tarkabhasha of Keshava Mishra also supports the two-fold division of Shabda as Vaidika and Laukika

Dhvani (ध्वनिः) and Varna (वर्णम्)

According to Nayyayikas, Shabda (Sound) is of two kinds, namely, Dhvani (ध्वनिः) and Varna (वर्णम्). The same concept is mentioned in Bhashapariccheda.

शब्दो ध्वनिश्च वर्णश्च मृदङ्गादिभवो ध्वनि:॥ śabdō dhvaniśca varṇaśca mr̥daṅgādibhavō dhvani:॥ 164॥

कण्ठसंयोगादिजन्या वर्णास्ते कादयो मता: सर्व: शब्दो नभोवृत्ति: श्रोत्रोत्पन्नस्तु गृह्यते॥165॥ (Nyayasiddhanta Muktavali 164-165)[15]

kaṇṭhasaṁyōgādijanyā varṇāstē kādayō matā: sarva: śabdō nabhōvr̥tti: śrōtrōtpannastu gr̥hyatē॥165॥

Meaning: Sound is inarticulate (ध्वनिः) and articulate (वर्णम्). Inarticulate sound is that which is produced from a drum. Sounds such as ka that are produced by the conjunction of the throat and so on, are regarded as articulate. All sounds abide (inherent) in ether or space (नभोवृत्ति:), but it is perceived when it is produced in the ear (in the case of distant sounds which are imperceptible).[16]

Classification based on Shabdotpatti. Courtesy: Dr. Vishvesh, Department of Sanskrit, Mahatma Gandhi Central University, Bihar

A dhvani is an inarticulate sound, e.g. the sound of a bell or a drum. It has no fixed nature of its own, nor any fixed relation to other similar sounds. This Dhvani is thus incapable of forming parts of a language. From a linguistic standpoint, the cries of birds, and beasts and even newborn babies are considered inarticulate. They are as variable and disorderly as sounds produced by physical things and do not lend themselves to any use as alphabet of a language.[5] It is clear from the fact that he who makes noise is told: "Make shabda", "Do not make shabda" etc, thus Dhvani is Shabda.

A varna is an articulate sound produced by the action of the vocal organ of humans, e.g. the alphabet a letter. A varna is a letter or syllable which has a fixed character and a definite place in the alphabet of any language. All varnas or letters are constituents of human speech but they independently do not have a specific meaning. These varnas are either spoken or written. Spoken letters are perceived by auditory sensation and written letters by visual sensation.[5]

Samyogaja (संयोगजः) Vibhagaja (विभागजः) Shabdaja (शब्दजः)

Based on the source of sound it has been classified by Vaisheshikas as

संयोगाद्विभगाच्च शब्दाच्च शब्दनिष्पत्तिः। saṁyōgādvibhagācca śabdācca śabdaniṣpattiḥ। (Vais. Sutr. 2.2.31)[10]

Sound is produced from conjunction (संयोगात् । saṁyōgāt) disjunction (विभागात् । vibhāgāt) and from sound (शब्दात् । śabdāt) also.

From conjunction, i.e., from conjunction of the drum and the stick, from disjunction, i.e., when a bamboo stick is being split up and where Sound is produced in a distant flute and such other instruments, Sound is produced. Such sound reaches the portion of the ether present in the ear hollow and thereby gets heard.[9]

Drshtartha (दृष्टार्थः) and Adrshtartha (अदृष्टार्थः)

According to Gautama,

स द्विविधो दृष्टादृष्टार्थत्वात् ॥ ८ ॥ {शब्दभेदः} sa dvividhō dr̥ṣṭādr̥ṣṭārthatvāt ॥ 8 ॥ {śabdabhēdaḥ} (Nyay. Sutr. 1.1.8)[11]

Shabda is of two kinds- the Ḍṛiṣtāṛṭha, that of which the thing spoken of is perceived (matter that is seen), and the Aḍṛiṣtāṛṭha, that of which the thing is not perceived (matter which is not seen).[17]

The first kind involves matter which can be actually verified. Though we are incapable of verifying the matter which cannot be seen as in the second kind, one can somehow ascertain it by means of anumana or inference.

  • दृष्टार्थः ॥ Ḍṛiṣtāṛṭha: Matter which is seen e.g., a physician's assertion that physical strength is gained by taking butter.
  • अदृष्टार्थः ॥ Aḍṛiṣtāṛṭha: Matter which is not seen/perceived e.g., a seer's assertion that one reaches svargaloka by performing asvamedha yajna.

Understanding a few terms

The terms such as dhvani, vak, shabda, vakya etc, are used interchangeably in many instances in literature. As such there is not single absolute definition of Shabda but is explained contextually by different scholars. Since the subject is vast addressing many issues may be beyond the scope of the present work, however few simplifications are given for easier understanding.[18]

Shabda (शब्दः श्रोतृविषयः।) is something that is heard. Sound includes any Dhvani (ध्वनिः) that is audible and if meaningful, it is called Vak (वाक्). Inarticulate sounds such as the bird cries classified by Naiyayikas as Dhvani (as mentioned above) are also a language according to Yoganushasanam (योगानुशासनम् 3.17) which are to be explored by understanding the devices offered therein. It is not unheard of that animals express themselves in a language that is not understood by common man.

Voice is the the guna (गुणः) of sound although sometimes the term is used to denote sound itself such as low voice - loud voice etc. The degree of  intensity (गांभीर्यम्) of sound may be expressed as - deep voice / raised voice etc. Gandharvaveda (गान्धर्ववेदः) a musical treatise also describes Shruti (श्रुति) as the pitch classified as high or low.

शब्दगुणाः ॥ Nature of Shabda

There are various versions about the nature of sound. While many agree that it is the quality of Akasha, there are differences of opinion about various aspects such as the follows

  • Relationship the Shabda (शब्दः) has with its Indriya (श्रोतेन्द्रियं)
  • Eternal or Karya nature of sound
  • Substratum of Sound
  • Shabda is Brahman

One perceives sound by the sense-organ of ear, which is कर्णविवरवृत्त्याकाशं श्रोतेन्द्रियं भवति । karṇavivaravr̥ttyākāśaṁ śrōtēndriyaṁ bhavati, the space or ether enclosed in the ears (the auditory canal). There due to the proximity (सन्निकर्षः । sannikarṣaḥ), and by identifying itself with the ether of Sravana indriya (by समवायसम्बन्धः) sound is recognized by the ear. Now, how is a sound generated at a distance by conjunction of two bodies such as the hand and drum (भेरीदण्डसंयोगेन । bhērīdaṇḍasaṁyōgēna) or the letters produced by the hitting of wind in the vocal organs such as Taalu, Kantha (ताल्वादिस्थानाघातेन मुखे जातो वा शब्दः । tālvādisthānāghātēna mukhē jātō vā śabdaḥ) have any relationship with the ear? More information on this subject is given in origin and propagation of sound (शब्दोत्पत्तिः प्रसारश्च).

Nitya (Eternal) or Karya (Non-eternal) Nature

Bharatiya siddhantas about bhasha or language gives more importance to the metaphysical aspects of the fundamental speech principle. While the western thought process dwells and stops on the atomic proposition of the fundamental speech principle; Mimamsakas, Naiyayikas and Vaiyakaranas have fundamentally developed this subject and refined its various aspects. Some say that sound being a quality of Akasha is all-pervading, eternal and capable of being manifested. Another school of thought believes that like smell, sound is quality or attribute of the substance in which it abides and is capable of being manifested, hence not eternal. Again, agreeing that sound is a quality of Akasha, another school says that it is subject to production and destruction like knowledge; thus it is anitya. The question whether the word is eternal or has a point of origin has given rise to divergent views as seen below[19]

  • Mimāmsaka view is that “Sound is a quality of Ᾱkāsha, it is all pervading and eternal and it is liable to manifestation only.”
  • The Sāṅkhya view states that “Sound lies latent in the five substances, along with, and in the same manner as odour and other qualities, and is liable to manifestation only.”
  • The Vaiśeṣika view states that “Sound is the quality of Ᾱkāsha liable to production and destruction.” The Naiyayika view is also similar that sound is non-eternal.
  • Bauddha view asserts that “Sound is produced by disturbances in the basic elemental substances, it does not subsist in anything and is liable to production and destruction.”

Schools of thought subscribing to Nitya and Anitya nature of Shabda include

शब्दः नित्यः (Nityatva) Not Opposed to Nityatva शब्द अनित्यः (Anityatva)
Mimamsa (1.1.6-23) Shiksha Nyaya (2.2.3 - 59)
Vedanta (1.3.28-29) Niruktam (इन्द्रियनित्यः वचनमौदुम्बरायणः) Vaiseshika (2.2.21-37)
Vyakarana (सिद्धे शब्दार्थसम्बन्धे) Sankhya (SPS 5.58-60)

Primarily Mimamsa advocates eternal nature of sabda and Naiyayikas on the contrary maintain that word has origin and destruction.

कार्यशब्दवादः ॥ Karyashabdavada

According to Nyaya siddhantas there are several objections to reason that sound is not eternal, a few are presented here.

कार्यशब्दवादः ॥ Karyashabdavada of Naiyayikas[20] Explanation of Nyaya Sutras[21]
1 आदिमत्वातैन्द्रियकत्वात्कृतकवतुपचारात्च ॥ १३ ॥ (2.1.13)

ādimatvātaindriyakatvātkr̥takavatupacārātca ॥ 13 ॥

Sound has a cause and that which has a cause is not eternal because it did not exist before the cause (such as physical vibration) and it ceases to exist after the cause has subsided.
2 Because sound is apprehended through a sense organ, even in a distant place far away from the source of sound, it is not eternal.
3 Sound is conceived and spoken of as a product.
4 सन्तानानुमानविशेषणात् ॥ १६ ॥ (2.1.16)

santānānumānaviśēṣaṇāt ॥ 16 ॥

Sound is not eternal because it is inferred to advance in a series.
5 प्रागुच्चारणातनुपलब्धेः आवरणाद्यनुपलब्धेः च ॥ १८ ॥ (2.1.18)

prāguccāraṇātanupalabdhēḥ āvaraṇādyanupalabdhēḥ ca ॥ 18 ॥

Sound is non-eternal because neither do we perceive it before pronunciation nor do we perceive any veil which covers it.
6 न, कर्मानित्यत्वात् ॥ २३ ॥ (2.1.23)

na, karmānityatvāt ॥ 23 ॥

In answer to the statement that "Sound is eternal because it is intangible, like Akasha (ether or space), Naiyayikas say not so because action is not eternal although intangible; hence intangibility does not establish eternality.

नित्यशब्दवादः ॥ Nityashabdavada

This is an important concept for Mimamsakas explain the Apaurusheyatva of Vedas based on the Nityatva of Shabdas. Mimamsaka holds Shabda to be nitya, not because of a lack of understanding of its nature, but because for him Shabda is something beyond "sound" as normally understood, or Shabda as understood by a Naiyayika.

In order to understand the meaning of shabda one has to know the relationship between shabda and artha (meaning). According to Jaimini, word is eternal and is manifested when it is uttered in close succession. The letters are eternal and indestructible; neither produced nor destroyed. Bharthrhari is also of the view that word, meaning, and its relationship is nitya. Maharshis, so also the sutrakaras and other philosophers have also supported nityata of shabdas.

नित्याः शब्दार्थसंबन्धास्तत्राम्नाता महर्षिभिः । सूत्राणां सानुतन्त्राणां भाष्याणां च प्रणेतृभिः ॥ १.२३ ॥ (Vakya. Brahm. 1.23)

nityāḥ śabdārthasaṁbandhāstatrāmnātā maharṣibhiḥ । sūtrāṇāṁ sānutantrāṇāṁ bhāṣyāṇāṁ ca praṇētr̥bhiḥ ॥ 1.23 ॥

नित्यत्वे कृतकत्वे वा तेषां आदिर्न विद्यते । प्राणिनां इव सा चैषा व्यवस्थानित्यतोच्यते ॥ १.२८ ॥ (Vakya. Brahm. 1.28)[22]

nityatvē kr̥takatvē vā tēṣāṁ ādirna vidyatē । prāṇināṁ iva sā caiṣā vyavasthānityatōcyatē ॥ 1.28 ॥

The following table summarizes the objections of Naiyayikas to the argument sound is not nitya; along with the explanatory answers given by Mimamsakas to prove that it is nitya.

कार्यशब्दवादः ॥ Karyashabdavada of Naiyayikas नित्यशब्दवादः ॥ Nityashabdavada of Mimasakas (Mimamsa Sutras)[23] Explanation of Mimamsa Sutras[24]
1 It is an act and an effort, i.e., sound is pronounced by action. समं तु तत्र दर्शनम् । samaṁ tu tatra darśanam-१,१.१२ (1.1.12) True sound is a product of an effort, but if word was not existing before, it could not be pronounced.
2 No stability of word; as soon as it is pronounced it vanishes. सतः परमदर्शनं विषयानागमात् । sataḥ paramadarśanaṁ viṣayānāgamāt -१,१.१३ (1.1.13) Sound is the guna of akasha and it is eternal. Disappearance after coming into existence is by reason of the object not coming into contact with sense though existing.
3 It is said "make a sound", this shows that sound is made and hence not eternal. प्रयोगस्य परम् । prayōgasya param -१,१.१४ (1.1.14) Applicable to an effort to bring into manifestation. Audibility of a word is after the pronunciation. Again if it was not existing the word cannot be pronounced.
4 Sound is heard simultaneously by all beings, even by people at a distance from the source. आदित्त्यवद्यौगपद्यम् । ādittyavadyaugapadyam -१,१.१५ (1.1.15) Just like one sun is seen by all spectators and by increase in number of spectators the sun will not increase in number; similarly there is one sound heard by many people.
5 Sound has prakrti (original) and vikrti (modified) forms; i.e., change takes place such as in sandhis. वर्णान्तरम् अविकारः । varṇāntaram avikāraḥ -१,१.१६ (1.1.16) Change of letters is not a modification; only replacement of one letter by an other takes place and the original words still exist.
5 Sound increases when many persons together pronounce it. What increases is not eternal. नादवृद्धिपरा । nādavr̥ddhiparā -१,१.१७ (1.1.18) Increase of sound due to simultaneous pronunciation is not increase of the word, but is increase of the tone or the noise

Substratum of Sound

Vatsyayana in his bhashya for Nyayasutra (2.2.38) discusses about the substratum of sound.

अस्पर्शत्वातप्रतिषेधः ॥ ३८ ॥ {सिद्धान्तसूत्र} asparśatvātapratiṣēdhaḥ ॥ 38 ॥ {siddhāntasūtra} (Nyaya. Sutr. 2.2.38)[20]

Sound has not for its substratum any of the tangible substances, namely, earth, water, fire and air. It is produced even where these do not exist. Its substratum is ether which pervades all space. hence sound is produced even in a vacuum which is devoid of smell, taste, color and touch - the qualities of tangible substances. The reason why the sound produced in vacuum does not reach our ears, is that there is no air to carry it. Hence the substratum of sound is an intangible substance, viz., ether.

It is a peculiarity of sound that it cannot co-abide with color, taste or touch. A tangible substance (the earth) which is the abode of smell may also be the abode of color, taste or touch. But the substance, in which sound abides, cannot be the abode of any other qualities. '1'his distinguishes the substratum of sound from the substrata of other qualities. This peculiar substratum is called Akasha (ether or space).[25]

शब्दब्रह्मा ॥ Shabda Brahma

At a higher level, Shabda is Brahman, as set out in the first five shlokas of Vakyapadiyam.[14]

अनादिनिधनं ब्रह्म शब्दतत्त्वं यदक्षरम्  । विवर्ततेऽर्थभावेन प्रक्रिया जगतो यतः॥१.१॥

anādinidhanaṁ brahma śabdatattvaṁ yadakṣaram  । vivartatē'rthabhāvēna prakriyā jagatō yataḥ ॥1.1॥

एकं एव यदाम्नातं भिन्नशक्तिव्यपाश्रयात् । अपृथक्त्वेऽपि शक्तिभ्यः पृथक्त्वेनेव वर्तते॥१.२॥

ēkaṁ ēva yadāmnātaṁ bhinnaśaktivyapāśrayāt । apr̥thaktvē'pi śaktibhyaḥ pr̥thaktvēnēva vartatē ॥1.2 ॥

अध्याहितकलां यस्य कालशक्तिं उपाश्रिताः । जन्मादयो विकाराः षड्भावभेदस्य योनयः॥१.३॥

adhyāhitakalāṁ yasya kālaśaktiṁ upāśritāḥ । janmādayō vikārāḥ ṣaḍbhāvabhēdasya yōnayaḥ॥ 1.3 ॥

एकस्य सर्वबीजस्य यस्य चेयं अनेकधा । भोक्तृभोक्तव्यरूपेण भोगरूपेण च स्थितिः ॥१.४॥

ēkasya sarvabījasya yasya cēyaṁ anēkadhā । bhōktr̥bhōktavyarūpēṇa bhōgarūpēṇa ca sthitiḥ ॥1.4 ॥

प्राप्त्युपायोऽनुकारश्च तस्य वेदो महर्षिभिः । एकोऽप्यनेकवर्त्मेव समाम्नातः पृथक्पृथक् ॥१.५॥

prāptyupāyō'nukāraśca tasya vēdō maharṣibhiḥ । ēkō'pyanēkavartmēva samāmnātaḥ pr̥thakpr̥thak  ॥1.5॥

Translation of K. Raghavan Pillai[26] is as follows

  1. That beginningless and endless One, the imperishable Brahman of which the essential nature is the Word, which manifests itself into objects and from which is the creation of the Universe
  2. That beginningless and endless One, which though described in the Vedas as one is divided on the basis of its powers, and although it is not different from its powers appears to be different.
  3. The indestructible powers of which functioning through the powers of Time become the six transformations, namely, birth and the rest - the sources of all (these) manifold objects
  4. Single One, the cause of all, belongs this manifold existence, under the forms of the enjoyer, the enjoyed and the enjoyment.
  5. Of that (Brahman) the Veda is both the means of realisation and the reflection and it has been handed down the great Seers as if consisted of many paths, although it (really) is One.


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