Alas, Panini was not a German!

Alas, Panini was not a German!

 By Dr. V. Swaminathan

15th June 2003



[This article is a sequel to Part I and Part II of Dr. Swaminathan’s critique of Professor Witzel’s misunderstandings of Panini’s grammar. Much of Professor Witzel’’s counter-response, contained in the April 2003 archives of the Indology and the Indo-Iranian discussion lists, comprises of personal attack and abuse. In this sequel, Dr. Swaminathan addresses the counter-response of Professor Witzel. – – Editor].


Witzel’s response to my article “Panini’s Understanding of Vedic Grammar” abounds in abusive and ignorant personal attack on me. The language he employs here is more aggressive than in his response to my previous article. It is clear that Witzel is very intolerant of those whose views run counter to his own pet views. Dr. Paul Kiparsky has drawn attention to his rude and crude attitude towards other reasonable and courteous scholars. I am not a lone victim of his violent and discourteous attacks. All the scholars who have contribute articles on Indological topics to the Open Page, ‘The Hindu’ are made victims for the mere reason that they hold views quite different from his. This fact has been highlighted in an article that appeared in the Open Page, The Hindu dated March 12, 2002. If he desires to have a calm and truly scientific investigation he must use respectful and polite language. Courtesy is not confined to one-way traffic; it is reciprocal.


From my references to Macdonell’s Vedic Grammar he should have come to know that I am acquainted with the nature of Vedic verb system as understood by European scholars. His charge that I (a student of Panini’s grammar) have no idea of Vedic verb system amounts to saying that Panini is not aware of the nature of the Vedic verb system. This is nothing short of a defamatory statement. Panini had understood the facts of the Vedic language in one way. The European Orientalists had understood the same in a different way and this would not lead to a presumption of Panini’s lack of knowledge of the Vedic verb system.


If a clarification on matters indispensable for a better understanding of the topic on hand does not belong to a scholarly discussion, could we consider the torrents of abuse he emits as absolutely essential items in a scholarly discussion? Under the baseless assumption that I do not have sufficient knowledge of Sanskrit grammar and the Veda, he often resorts to delivering sermons and tendering advices. It appears that Witzel is endowed with an intellect that can predict and prejudge the content of my article even before having a look at it. His prejudice is echoed in his comments on my articles everywhere.


He is not afraid of making statements that are incorrect. For instance, he says – “There is a large university library fairly close by”. Could he tell which university has built up a large library close to Trichur, and where? Is he sure that the books he recommends are available in the ‘large library’ he has mentioned?


Imaginary Rgveda:

Witzel’s declaration, “He (Panini) and Sayana do not know of the injunctive” requires to be supported by a specific example from the RigVeda, which alone could establish Panini’s ignorance of the injunctive beyond any ray of doubt. Otherwise his declaration will turn out to be an utterly false statement. Therefore anybody would expect the passage “Indro him han” to be an actual citation from the Rigveda. In this circumstance, I pointed out that the cited passage was not to be found at all in the RigVeda. Any impartial reader would consider this a matter-of-fact statement. Further I did not make use of it to base any conclusion which Witzel might take as hurting to his sentiments. This is clear from the following statement … “Our concern here is only with han and not with the passage of which han is a member”.


But he confounds a statement-of-fact with a statement of accusation. And then, he proceeds to use insulting language, which is not becoming of the highly responsible position he is holding in an outstanding university.


A stock phrase meaning ‘Indra’s killing the dragon’ can never serve as unfailing evidence. To ascribe Panini (an author of unquestionable authority) the ignorance of the ‘real function of the injunctive’, it is his bounden duty to refer to a concrete example as evidence – a passage containing the injunctive form of han. The stock phrase ‘Indro him han’ could never mean “Indra’s killing the dragon” since there exists no syntactical relation between Indra and han (killing). [Killing is the meaning of the root han and it can never enter into syntactical relation with a noun in the nominative case, Indra].  It is not a meaningful phrase and as such can never become an archetype of any meaningful expression. It is also ridiculous to articulate that Indra’s killing the dragon was a fact well known to the people inhabiting the vast stretch of land lying between England and Japan, at the time of the composition of the Rigveda. Comparative mythologies of vast geographical areas cannot necessarily solve problems related to technicalities of Sanskrit grammar. Therefore, Witzel’s new ‘argument’ is merely a cleverly designed afterthought to absolve oneself from an imagined accusation.


To say that it is highly impossible to use diacritical marks and marks indicating svara in a news paper is totally irrelevant. Nobody ever complained about the absence of diacritical marks and marks for the svara in the first place. In fact, it was I who had located the consecutive use of at least two words ahim and han in RigVeda.V-29-2, an approximation to the passage mentioned by Witzel.


The verse yad ahim han RigVeda.V-29-2 will have to be cruelly tortured to yield the meaning ascribed to it by Witzel – ‘who is it here that killed the dragon but Indra’?  There is no evidence to transform the simple affirmative into a negative interrogative importing words neither required by nor implied in this context. The verse narrates the events of the past employing verbs in the past tense (with the prefix ‘a’) and as such there is no reason to take han as an injunctive. Therefore han is only a past tense verb, i.e. imperfect. It is significant to note, in this connection, that the next verse uses the past tense ‘ahan ahim’ while referring to the killing of the dragon. Unfortunately Witzel is not aware of the contextual setting of han in RigVeda.II-29-2.

On the remark ‘ several key sentences in his paper are wrong’:


Panini was aware of the existence of the non-augmented past tense forms (P.VI.4.75) and also their modal sense (P.III.4.6): but he has not employed any special term to refer to the injunctive for the reasons I had mentioned in my article. I have stated this fact in very clear terms, “Panini had seen and recorded in his grammar the Vedic usage of the unaugmented imperfect, aorist and pluperfect in the sense of the injunctive, subjunctive, imperative, optative or precative”. I also invited the attention of the reader to the concurrence of the European orientalists. A.A. Macdonell; “In sense the forms that drop the augment are either indicative or injunctive”, “The general meaning of the injunctive expresses a desire combining the senses of the subjunctive, the optative and the imperative”. I may add here another statement of Macdonell, “The injunctive is identical in form with an un-augmented past tense (impf. aor. plup)”.


Unless Witzel had produced sufficient evidence to the contrary, he should not have had substantiated his remarks on the key sentences he has picked up. Could he establish that the injunctive, in form, is not identical with an augmentless past tense? Could he demonstrate that the injunctive, nowhere in the Veda, conveys the sense of the subjunctive, imperative, optative and precative? He may unhesitatingly say that Panini is wrong. But could he say the same with respect to Macdonell, the author of one of the most comprehensive Vedic Grammar ever written in a modern European tongue?


In light of the above facts “mentioning (well known facts)” may be one among the functions of the injunctive, if at all such a function exists. But it cannot have any claim to be the only function. Therefore Witzel cannot debar the augmentless past tense forms from performing their other functions i.e. the functions of, subjunctive, imperative, optative and precative.


In his remark he has uttered the word ‘wrong’ thrice. Mere repetition of the word ‘wrong’ cannot invalidate established and irrefutable facts or alter the nature of things. Here I am reminded of Vacaspati Misra’s (polymath of the 9th century India) words, “Even one thousand scriptural statements cannot transform a jar into a piece of cloth”. What then, should one say of prejudiced statements?


On a Study of Karl Hoffman’s Treatise on the Injunctive


Not infrequently do Witzel and Baum recommend a reading of Karl Hoffman’s book, Der Injunktive im Veda, that is written in German. Since a good number of scholars have not learnt German they may find it convenient to use Hoffman’s name as a magic wand to eliminate others from any discussion on the injunctive. From a study of Hoffman one may indeed gather his views on the injunctive in addition to the existing views. But what is its value in assessing Panini’s work? At the most Hoffman may add something more to Panini’s description of the injunctive. His decisions cannot falsify Panini’s account of the injunctive. Hoffman’s views cannot be considered as settled once for all (siddhanta). Several theories on indological subjects propounded by the Indologists of a former era have been proved incorrect and inadequate by later Indologists. Even in modern science, Newton’s theory on light and Dalton’s atomic theory have been modified by later discoveries. Bhartrhari says, “Anything propounded by men of gifted intellect, by means of weighty arguments, stands assailed by men endowed with intellect of a higher order”.


Witzel’s intense bhakti towards his guru is indeed praiseworthy; but unfortunately it has gone to the extent of blurring his vision. Blind faith has prevented him from seeing things in the proper perspective. Which is why, he does not hesitate to say “Panini was unaware of the real function of the injunctive form”.


I see no point in Baum’s repeated statement that ‘any discussion of the injunctive without reference to Hoffman’s work is pointless’ in as much as it will afford little help for a better understanding of injunctive as defined by Panini. I repeat my earlier statement that Panini stands on his own legs and that he does not stand in need of support or corroboration from any external source. A study of Hoffman will post me with a complete picture of his approach to and treatment of the injunctive and nothing more. It is a matter of surprise in no small measure that Baum ventures a discussion of the injunctive without a study of Panini. Baum’s reaction – Finally I think that to argue with anyone who sums up his argument with “I have proved that my description of the functions of the indicative and the injunctive is strictly in accordance with Panini’s definition and therefore accurate” is also pretty pointless. Such an attitude indicates that a knowledge of Panini is not at all required in a discussion on the injunctive. Baum has confessed that he had not studied Panini, and I believe that a discussion of the injunctive without a study of Panini is pointless.


One N. Ganesan whose knowledge of Sanskrit – not to speak of the Veda and the Injunctive – is non-existent, had arrogated to make a derogatory remarks against my academic accomplishments. The behaviour of this ignoramus entering the camp of Witzel and Baum is intriguing and his playing second fiddling to them exposes his sinister motives. I am told that he shows no appreciation for non-Tamil elements of Indian culture, exaggerates the contributions of Christian missionaries in India, habitually sides with anti-Indian scholars against how fellow countrymen, maintains a positive (or at least a neutral) stance on views that promote dismemberment of India, and spews hatred against Brahmins on various Internet forums.


Hoffman’s treatise on the injunctive remains literally a sealed book to most of the scholars in the field of Indology. If Witzel and Baum consider Hoffman’s book as a most precious text from which scholars could be profit, they ought to popularize the same by bringing out an authentic English translation of it. Today, i.e., in the post World War II period, English has gained the status of world language. Even in the 19th century, German scholars like T. Goldstucker and F. Max Muller wrote in English for the benefit of the scholars at large. It is hoped that they will arrange for an early publication of the English translation of Hoffman. That would be the best way in which Witzel could indeed show his bhakti for his Guru.


All the time, Hoffman’s book has remained an impregnable fortress offering protection to Witzel, Baum and other like-minded scholars. But Dr. Paul Kiparsky has discovered several inadequacies in the work, as is evident from his postings on the Indo-Iranian list. It is also significant to note that Baum, pointing to certain lapses in Hoffman’s book, has demonstrated that he too would not ditto to everything that Hoffman had said. I do note however, that Daniel Baum expressed his reservations on Hoffman’s views only after Dr. Kiparsky had already done so. As long as I, an Indian, alone had dismissed Hoffman’s views, Baum kept his silence and continued to tolerate insulting remarks made against me on his discussion list. Apparently different standards apply depending on whether the person insulted is an Indian or whether he is a European.



The sentence “He (Panini) and Sayana did not know of the injunctive” (Open Page, The Hindu, August 6, 2002) is unambiguous and there can be no two opinions regarding its meanings i.e., it cannot have a meaning other than ‘Panini is ignorant of the injunctive’. Referring to the relevant rules of Panini, I proved that Panini was fully aware of the injunctive in both of its aspects – morphological and functional i.e., Panini is not ignorant of the injunctive as Witzel claims. Now Witzel says that what he intended by the sentence was that ‘Panini did not recognize that the injunctive indeed forms a separate verbal category’. This explanatory sentence would mean, beyond any doubt, ‘Panini knows the injunctive; but he was not aware of its forming a separate verbal category’. By offering this new auto-commentary, Witzel would like to liberate himself from the ‘charge of attribution of ignorance to Panini’. But the wary reader can see easily that by no stretch of imagination, the earlier sentence of his can never yield this meaning; this is a meaning that is forced upon the sentence by Witzel as an afterthought.


Further, I had also adduced the reason why Panini had not recognized the Injunctive as a separate verbal category. It must be borne in mind that the meaning he has offered would become acceptable only if he had questioned the dependability of the reason I had stated. He had not done that. As such the meaning he has offered cannot be taken as the real meaning.


Furthermore, the acceptance of the meaning will go only to disprove his original thesis “the Indus script has disappeared —- and many of the sub-continental languages have disappeared”. In favour of this thesis he finds a parallel in the disappearance of several grammatical forms of the Rigveda. This disappearance of a good number of grammatical forms of the Rigveda is sought to be established by Panini’s ignorance of the injunctive. When Panini’s awareness of the injunctive becomes an indisputable fact (according to the meaning given by Witzel), Panini’s ignorance of the Injunctive becomes null and void. Therefore Panini’s alleged ignorance of the Injunctive cannot be cited as an example in evidence of the disappearance of several grammatical forms.


Witzel feels that my telling him that ‘it is not fair on his part to attribute ignorance to a renowned grammarian like Panini’ is offensive and that I am not allowed to say so in 2003. But in 2003 he thinks that he is at full liberty to hurl at me such objectionable and disparaging remarks stating that I am ‘lacking the spirit of calm, true investigation’ and ‘unenlightened and not free from the shackles of oppressive tradition’. He is not satisfied with this much alone. He reprimands me with uncivilized and undignified expressions such as ‘fool’, ‘silly’, ‘deficient in grammar’, ‘unaware of’, ‘fifty years behind’ and so on. Needless to say, he seems to suffer from the presumption that India is still under British colonial rule and therefore he, as a fellow European, can afford to be disrespectful to Indian scholars equal in academic rank to him. He seems to be unaware of the fact that colonialism has evaporated from the surface of the earth long ago.


I really wonder if Witzel would have dismissed Panini in such a cavalier way, were the grammarian a fellow German!




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