Indian PhD Scholar at Cambridge Deciphers 2,500-Year-Old Sanskrit Grammatical Problem

An Indian PhD student, Rishi Atul Rajpopat, studying at the University of Cambridge, has solved a 2,500-year-old Sanskrit grammar problem that has mystified scholars for centuries.
Indian PhD Scholar at Cambridge Deciphers 2,500-Year-Old Sanskrit Grammatical Problem
Indian PhD Scholar at Cambridge Deciphers 2,500-Year-Old Sanskrit Grammatical Problem

In some inspiring news, an Indian student at the University of Cambridge has decoded a 2,500-year-old Sanskrit grammatical problem. Rishi Atul Rajpopat is a PhD scholar at St John’s College in the University of Cambridge.

After months of hard work, Rajpopat succeeded in deciphering ancient Indian Sanskrit scholar Panini’s grammar rules. Panini was a renowned linguist who crafted extensive grammatical rules for the Sanskrit language. Panini’s rules, however, have puzzled historians and linguists for thousands of years.

Even though Sanskrit is considered the best language to create computer code and algorithms, Panini’s rules caused conflict in learning Sanskrit. However, Rishi Rajpopat has proved that Panini was right all along and that his rules just needed a reinterpretation from a fresh perspective.

Read on to find out what Rajpopat discovered and how it affects Sanskrit.

Who was Panini?

Panini was a Sanskrit philologist, linguist, and scholar who lived in India between the 4th and 6th centuries BCE. Historians have no consensus on the timeline of Panini’s life and works.

Panini is considered the "Father of Linguistics" for his work in developing the Sanskrit language. Panini’s best-known work, Astadhyayi, is a comprehensive treatise on Sanskrit that contains 3996 verses or rules on linguistics, syntax, and semantics.

Astadhyayi is one of the most complex and methodical works on linguistics. Panini created a complicated system of algorithms to govern the Sanskrit language. Each word had a base and suffix, which, depending on rules, would change and form new words.

Why Scholars Couldn’t Figure Out Panini’s Sanskrit Rules?

Panini Sanskrit Rules

Image Credit: Cambridge University Library

Unlike other languages, Sanskrit is a logic- and formula-based language that lacks any exceptions or clashing rules. That’s what everyone has frequently heard.

Even NASA has concluded that Sanskrit is the most suitable language for coding and artificial intelligence. However, due to the complexity of Panini’s nearly 4000 grammatical rules, scholars faced trouble correctly interpreting his ideas.

In some cases, two or more rules of Panini are applied simultaneously. For such circumstances, Panini formulated another rule, a meta-rule to override the previous ones. Sanskrit scholars have misinterpreted the meta-rule for 2,500 years, and only now has it been correctly deciphered.

What is Panini’s Meta Rule?

Panini wrote a meta-rule in case of conflicts, which scholars interpreted as: "in the event of a conflict between two rules of equal strength, the rule that comes later in the serial order of the Aṣṭādhyāyī, wins."

Scholars concluded that in cases of conflict when two or more rules apply, the rule that comes later in the sequential order of the Astadhyayi would apply.

This often resulted in incorrect words that contradicted Panini’s earlier rules. However, these conflicts were so rare that scholars deemed them to be exceptions.

But the meta-rule continued to confuse scholars as Panini wrote a near-perfect and highly logical set of rules that rarely resulted in any contradictory or incorrect words, yet the meta-rule did.

For instance, the word "from god" is comprised of two words, "deva" & "bhis." To join the two words, two rules of Astadhyayi apply - rule 7.1.9 on "bhis" and rule 7.3.103 on "deva". As per the meta-rule, the rule that comes later should apply, i.e., 7.3.103.

However, this results in the incorrect word "devebhih," while the correct Sanskrit word is "devaiah," based on rule 7.1.9.

How Did Rishi Atul Rajpopat Crack Panini’s 2,500-Year-Old Grammatical Problem?

Rishi Atul Rajpopat

Image Credit: Cambridge University Library

Cambridge PhD scholar Rishi Atul Rajpopat worked on Panini’s 2,500-year-old Sanskrit grammar problem for nearly a year before he discovered the solution.

In a eureka moment, it occurred to Rajpopat that maybe Panini referred to the "later" side of a word. As Rajpopat further researched his theory, he discovered the correct interpretation of Panini’s meta-rule: in cases of conflict, the rule applicable on the right side of the word will be paramount.

And while the solution may appear extremely easy, Rajpopat nearly quit before he discovered it.

"I had a eureka moment in Cambridge. After 9 months trying to crack this problem, I was almost ready to quit, I was getting nowhere," Rajpopat told The Print. "So I closed the books for a month and just enjoyed the summer, swimming, cycling, cooking, praying and meditating. Then, begrudgingly, I went back to work and with,in minutes, as I turned the pages, these patterns starting emerging, and it all started to make sense. There was a lot more work to do but I’d found the biggest part of the puzzle."

How will Rishi Rajpopat’s Discovery Affect Sanskrit?

Sanskrit is an ancient language that was once widely used in conversation, writing, and philosophy. It is now on the decline, and only 25,000 Sanskrit speakers remain in India. The Indian Government is encouraging Sanskrit, and Rishi Rajpopat’s achievement will give it a much-needed boost. Even Rajpopat’s supervisor and professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge, Vincenzo Vergiani, agrees.

"My student Rishi has cracked it — he has found an extraordinarily elegant solution to a problem which has perplexed scholars for centuries. This discovery will revolutionise the study of Sanskrit at a time when interest in the language is on the rise."


Also Read: Sanskrit Week 2021: PM Modi urges Students, Educational Institutions to promote and popularise the ancient language

Also Read: Hindi Diwas 2022: Date, History, Significance and Key Facts

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