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(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Little is known about the life of Pānini (PAW-nee-nee) except that he was born in a small town in the ancient province of Gandhāra (in modern Pakistan). Pānini’s fame and importance derive from his authorship of the Astādhyāyī (c. 500 b.c.e.; Astakam Paniniyam: Panini’s Eight Books of Grammatical Sutras, 1887), the earliest extant and most authoritative treatise in Sanskrit literature on grammar (vyākarana). This work, composed in Sanskrit, consists of nearly four thousand concise rules or formulae that prescribe the correct forms of the spoken language known to Pānini. Evidence suggests that the text was composed orally; the brevity of its rules was thus an aid to memorization. Pānini and his presumed forerunners in India, stimulated by a religious sanction to preserve the correct interpretation of ritual texts, pioneered the systematic study of grammar.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Pānini’s influence in India was immense. All later grammarians based their work on his system. When Sanskrit ceased to be a living language and became instead a literary and sacred language, his prescriptive rules, memorized by poets and scholars, established the standard for correct usage. Western knowledge of Pānini’s system influenced the development of nineteenth century comparative linguistics. In the twentieth century, he interested theoretical linguists as a precursor of modern ideas.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Cardona, George. Recent Research in Paninian Studies. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999.

Mahulkar, D. D., ed. Essays on Panini. Simla, India: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1998.

Scharfe, Hartmut. Grammatical Literature. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1977.