Theory of Meaning in Ancient Inidia Note: The article is composed in DV1-TTYogesh font.

Essay by samirkarmakarUniversity, Master'sD+, May 2005

download word file, 5 pages 4.0

Downloaded 38 times

Theory of Meaning in Ancient India

Samir Karmakar

Study of language in ancient India should be understood as a way to retrieve the past legacy of the Vedic world. Because, as a text, Veda was the source of power, and it constituted the vortex of the Vedic society. It was believed that Veda is omnipresent and all pervasive. It is beyond any kind of doubt. Only in the next generation of Vedic sages when the Vedic language faced a considerable amount of distortion, from its previous form, due to the ongoing contact and convergence process among the various racial groups, an effort was taken by the ancient scholars

to restore the hegemony of the Vedic authority over the newly emerging Diasporas. This type of effort was directed towards three different directions:

1. there was an effort to retrieve the phonological quality of the Vedic language

2. an effort was taken to restore the grammaticality of the Vedic language

3. and the effort to restore the semantic quality.

The philosophical thought of Bhatrihari belongs to the third type of restoration; whereas the works of Prati¿¡kÀyas and the work of P¡nini are the prominent example of the first and second kind of restoration process.

But before moving to the main discussion relating to the theory of meaning as it is perceived by the Ancient Indian Scholar, one should take a tour through the colorful

world of Ancient Indian Thoughts. According to the Indian scholars individual word doesn't have any meaning. What ever meaning we ascribe to it, basically is a projection of the underlying aspect of the semantic space, only where a word is defined as a means of vehicle to convey meaning, with the virtue of its functional relation with the other conceptual reality. This underlying semantic space have the

external world as the causal stimuli, but at the same time it is not always true that the external world should always be granted as the causal instrument of the inner principle, i.e the semantic space. If the inner principle is always considered as the shadow of the outer reality then there are so many things which will remain untouched because of having no objective correspondence. Now the importance of this inner principle should be understood only within the socio-cultural matrix of a particular speech community.

In spite of all these debates we should come back again in our discussion. When we talk about the fact that word don't have any meaning in absolute isolation, it means that it has meaning only when it comes under the propositional frame-work. We will elaborate this fact in the following example:

jale j¡tam

= jala- + -×i- + j¡ta- + -am

= jala- + -F1 - + Öjan- + -Kta- + -am

= jala- + -F- + jaF- + -F- + -Úa- + -am

= jalajam

Now let us try to understand the meaning of jalajam, which can be translated in a direct way to mean lotus. But here originates the difference between the East and the West. The meaning of the word jalajam is jale j¡tam, means "born in the water". Then this propositional meaning mediates through the inferential phenomenal world and then only the revelation of the meaning lotus comes in to the picture. Now one may ask why this type of derivative manner is adapted in the ancient thought system. Because the signification of the word jalajam "lotus" does not depend itself but it is the consequence of the other functional realities, such as jala "water" and Öjan "to born", as the causal instruments. Therefore the meaning of the word jalajam includes the three important notions of Indian philosophy, one is the concept of locus, where the word lotus resides, the object lotus itself and the action of it

genesis. More explicitly, jalajam is the relative projection of the other causal instruments of the nature. The basic emphasis of this discussion is to prove that the meaning of a particular word presupposes the necessity of the other conceptual entities, and the existence of each conceptual entity is relative to the existence of the others.

This is the simplest version of showing the emergence of meaning in the Indo-Aryan languages. But now consider the case of the sentential meaning. The concept of sentence in Indian tradition is quite different than that of the Western tradition. The concept of sentence is purely mental. It has no counterpart in the reality. Because of being mental it is permanent, whereas the physical appearance of sentence, i.e. the utterance, is temporary. It dies down with the progression of time because of the gradual decay of the wave form, transmitted by the speaker. Same is the case with the ¿abda, which is also a mental entity, and resides within the subject; the physical manifestation of which is dhvani . A sentence is a string of semantically and syntactically competent word forms. Therefore the meaning of a sentence is partly determined due to the attribute of its corresponding semantic content and partly due to its structural peculiarities. Whatever constrained imposed by the underlying semantic space can be denoted as the paradigmatic one, whereas the structural constraint comes under the dominance of the syntagmatism.

Same kind of thing can also attribute to the study of the aesthetic quality, by employing the above mentioned schema. We will now have some brief account of this fact.

1 It is used to signify the deletion-substitution. In ancient Indian tradition deletion is considered as a matter of substitution, because of being an extension of the category ABSENCE, i.e. abh¡va.

There is an abysmal gap between the subjective and objective reality. Therefore the need of the theory is arisen. Basically whatever grammatical and semantical formalizations took place in ancient India, in terms of the

development of the meta-language, is to fill up the gap between subjective and objective realities. In our above mentioned example, whatever logical steps are followed to manipulate the meaning of the word jalajam from its underlying propositional function, i.e. jale j¡tam, is basically nothing but a game, or one can say the imagination to solve the problem of disparity and to reach in a common consensus among the people.

According to Bhatrihari , meaning is a unified whole. It is not the mere sum total of its constituent parts. Meaning as a unified whole is constrained by the underlying semantic space and as a structural whole is constrained by the grammatical categories. Again both the semantic space and the grammatical categories are the two basics of the ontology. It is also believed by the scholar that the life comes into existence with the primordial form of the inner principle which ultimately flourished into the corresponding subjective world. Because of the indivisibility of this primordial inner principle, the aesthetic value of any kind of phenomenon should be conceived in its totality. Whatever discreteness one generally imposes in terms of theory, is just to bridge the gap between the world of subjective reality and the world of objective reality, to reach an consensus, common to all.

-The End-


Karmakar, Samir. K¡tantravy¡kara¸a Of Ëc¡rya¿arvavarm¡. First Edition. ISDL

Publication. India. 2004.

Katre, Sumitra. AÀ¶¡dhy¡y¢ Of P¡¸ini. First Indian Edition. Motilal Banarsidass

Publication. India. 1989.

Sarup, Lakshman. The Nigha¸¶u and The Nirukta: The oldest Treatise on

Etymology, Philology and Semantics. First Edition 1920-27. Motilal

Banarsidass Publication. India. Reprint 2002.