Wednesday Webinars @ CVV in January 2021

A Wednesday Webinar on Patañjali’s ‘Mahābhāṣya’

On 20 January 2021, the CVV family gathered on Zoom to listen to Dr. Nagendra Pavana R. N., Assistant Professor of the School of Vedic Knowledge Systems at Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth, present his doctoral research on ‘Examining Patañjali’s solutions in ‘multiple-solution’ instances’, as part of the Wednesday Webinar series.

Considering a large section of the audience’s limited familiarity with the topic, the speaker thoughtfully commenced the session with a detailed introduction to his work, providing the context for the talk. Defining ‘Sūtra’ as the condensed form of a sentence, he went on to explain the trinity of Vyakarana tradition. Following this, he elaborated upon Patañjali’s ‘Mahābhāṣya’—giving the audience a background to the text which is treated as the base for all linguistic theories, which is considered the final authority in the meaning of a word (even beyond Aṣṭādhyāyī, the work it comments on), its features, the nature of questions it addresses, and the prominent position it enjoys in the Vyakarana tradition. Dr. Pavana also expounded upon the writing style, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that Patañjali’s ‘Mahābhāṣya’ is no less than a work of poetry.

Dr. Pavana then established the relevance of his research study arising from challenges posed by the text to an earnest student of it: the length of an argument, the conclusion of which does not show a clear connection to the beginning; the changing of sides by the author; and the multiple solutions listed, some of which are contradictory to information elsewhere in the text, amongst others. Defining the scope of the current study as 81 instances of multiple solutions given to problems found in the bhāṣya of the first Adhyāya or chapter of Aṣṭādhyāyī, he explained the methodology followed of examining each of these solutions to find the most substantial solution. The criteria used for evaluating each of these solutions, i.e., the characteristics which make a solution not the most suitable were also listed. For a better understanding, he provided an example from the study—three solutions given to a problem were listed and he took the audience through his reasoning to choose one of these as the most substantial one.

The engaging discussion following the talk clarified doubts such as whether Patañjali who wrote the ‘Mahābhāṣya’ was the same as the one who is credited for the work ‘Yoga Sūtra’. The logic behind the example provided during the presentation was also elaborated upon, at the request of one of the audience members. The intriguing question on why Patañjali provided multiple solutions was raised and discussed at length with answers given from the perspective of the traditional approach to the study of the text as well. The descriptive and prescriptive nature of grammar was also touched upon. The session came to a close with the firm conviction that the scope for research in this area is immense indeed.

The event was hosted and moderated by Ms. Neethu S. Kumar, Assistant Professor of the School of Linguistics and Literary Studies, and the coordinator of the Wednesday Webinars.