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The Mahābhāṣya (Sanskrit: महाभाष्य, IPA: [mɐɦaːbʱaːʂjɐ], great commentary), attributed to Patañjali, is a commentary on selected rules of Sanskrit grammar from Pāṇini's treatise, the Ashtadhyayi, as well as Kātyāyana's Varttika, an elaboration of Pāṇini's grammar. It is dated to the 2nd century BCE.[1][2]



Patañjali is one of the three most famous Sanskrit grammarians of ancient India, other two being Pāṇini and Kātyāyana who preceded Patañjali (dated to c. 150 BCE). Kātyāyana's work (nearly 1500 vārtikas on Pāṇini) is available only through references in Patañjali's work.[3]

It was with Patañjali that the Indian tradition of language scholarship reached its definite form. The system thus established is extremely detailed as to shiksha (phonology, including accent) and vyakarana (grammar and morphology). Syntax is scarcely touched, because syntax is not important in this highly inflexional language, but nirukta (etymology) is discussed, and these etymologies naturally lead to semantic explanations. People interpret his work to be a defense of Pāṇini, whose Sutras are elaborated meaningfully. Patañjali also examines Kātyāyana rather severely. But the main contributions of Patañjali lies in the treatment of the principles of grammar enunciated by him.[4]

Kātyāyana introduced semantic discourse into grammar, which was further elaborated by Patañjali to such an extent that Mahābhāṣya can be called a mix of grammar as such as well as a philosophy of grammar. Kāśika-vritti by Jayāditya and Vāmana (mentioned by Itsing) included viewpoints of other grammarians also which did not conform to Patañjali's views.[5]

Mentions and CommentariesEdit

  • Pradīpa is a commentary by Kaiyaṭa (c. 11th century CE) on Mahābhāṣya is one of the most celebrated commentary on Mahābhāṣya.[6]
  • Rūpāvatāra is commentary on Pāṇini by Buddhist scholar Dharmakirti (c. 7th century CE), which excluded Vedic sūtras of Pāṇini in which Dharmakīrti had no interest and dealt with only 2664 sutras.[7]
  • Satyapriya Tirtha (c. 1701 - c. 1744), a pontiff of Uttaradi Matha belonging to Dvaita school of Vedanta wrote a commentary on Mahābhāṣya named Mahābhāṣya Vivarana.[8]
  • James R. Ballantyne (c. 1813 – c. 1864) published the first part of the Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali in 1856, for the first time opening native Indian grammatical tradition to a wider European scholarly audience.[9]


  1. ^ Kahrs 1998, p. 13.
  2. ^ K. Kunjunni Raja. "Philosophical elements in Patañjali's Mahābhāṣya". In Harold G. Coward, K. Kunjunni Raja (eds.). Encyclopedia of Indian philosophies. 5 (The Philosophy of the Grammarians). Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 115. ISBN 81-208-0426-0.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  3. ^ Peter M. Scharf (1996). The Denotation of Generic Terms in Ancient Indian Philosophy: Grammar, Nyāya, and Mīmāṃsā. American Philosophical Society. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-0-87169-863-6.
  4. ^ Cardona 2019, p. 267–268.
  5. ^ Cardona 1997, p. 280.
  6. ^ Cardona 1997, p. 245.
  7. ^ Keith Allan. The Oxford Handbook of the History of Linguistics. Oxford University Press. p. 233. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
  8. ^ Sibajiban Bhattacharyya (1970). The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 359.
  9. ^ Malkovsky 2001, p. 23.


Further readingEdit

  • The Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali with annotation (Ahnikas I–IV), Translated by Surendranath Dasgupta, Published by Indian Council of Philosophical Research
  • Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali (Śrīmadbhagavat-patañjali-muni-viracitaṃ Pātañjalaṃ Mahābhāṣyam) by Patañjali (in Sanskrit), Publisher: Vārāṇasī : Vāṇīvilāsa Prakāśana, 1987-1988., OCLC: 20995237
  • Bronkhorst, Johannes, 1992. Pāṇini's View of Meaning and its Western Counterpart. In, Maxim Stamenov (ed.) Current Advances in Semantic Theory. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins. (455-64)
  • Scharfe, Hartmut, 1977. Grammatical Literature. Vol. V, Fasc. 2, History of Indian Literature, (ed.) Jan Gonda. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
  • Staal, J.F. (ed.), 1985. A Reader on Sanskrit Grammarians. Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass.

External linksEdit