BY: SUN STAFF
Sep 10, CANADA (SUN) Nirukta is one of the six Vedanga disciplines, deal with etymology, and particularly with obscure Sanskrit words occurring in the Vedas. The Vedanga discipline is traditionally attributed to Yaska Acarya, an ancient Sanskrit grammarian (6th-5th c. B.C.) who preceded P?nini. Yaska's association with the discipline is so great that he is also referred to as Niruktakara, or Niruktakrit ("Maker of Nirukta"), as well as Niruktavat ("Author of Nirukta").
In practical use, nirukta consists of a set of brief rules, set down in the form of sutras, for deriving word meanings. These are supplemented with glossaries of difficult or rare Vedic words.
Nirukta is also the name given to a celebrated commentary by Yaska on the Nighantu, an even older glossary which was already traditional in his time. Yaska's Nirukta contains a treatise on etymology, lexical category and the semantics of words. It deals with various attempts to interpret the many difficult Vedic words in the Nighantu. It is in the form of explanations of words, and is the basis for later Sanskrit lexicons and dictionaries. The Nirukta consists of three parts, viz.:(i) Naighantuka, a collection of synonyms; (ii) Naigama, a collection of words peculiar to the Vedas, and (iii) Daivata, words relating to deities and sacrifices.
The Nighantu is now traditionally combined with the Nirukta as a unified text. A critical edition of the Nighantu and the Nirukta was published by Laskhman Sarup in the 1920s.
The Use of Nirukta in Rhetoric
The related Sanskrit noun 'niruktih' means "derivation", or in rhetoric, an "artificial explanation of a word." Flourishes of rhetorical skills in the art of nirukta were considered a mark of commentorial authority. As a result, many Sanskrit commentaries include elaborate variations on possible word derivations, sometimes going far afield of obvious meanings in order to show hidden meanings. The nature of Sanskrit grammar, with its many contractions, gave rise to ample opportunities to provide alternate parsings for words, thus creating alternative derivations.
Many examples of the rhetorical use of nirukta occur in Bhaskararaya's commentaries. Here is an example from the opening verse of his commentary on the Ganesha Sahasranama. The opening verse includes Gananatha as a name for Ganesha. The simple meaning of this name, which would have seemed obvious to his readers, would be "Protector of the Ganas", parsing the name in a straightforward way as 'gana' (group) + 'natha' (protector). But Bhaskararaya demonstrates his skill in nirukta by parsing it in an unexpected way as the Bahuvrihi compound, 'ganana' + 'atha', meaning "the one the enumeration (gananm) of whose qualities brings about auspiciousness.
The word 'atha' is associated with auspiciousness (mangalam)." This rhetorical flourish at the opening of the Ganesha Sahasranama demonstrates Bhaskaraya's skills in nirukta at the very beginning of his commentary on a thousand such names, including a clever twist appropriate to the context of a sahasranama.
V. S. Apte, A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary, p. 556. Apte gives a nirukta sutra for the word 'nirukta' itself.
Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. p. 553.
Macdonell, Arthur Anthony. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. p. 142.
Ganesasahasranamastotram: mula evam sribhaskararayakrta ‘khadyota’ vartika sahita. (Pracya Prakasana: Varanas?, 1991). Includes the full source text and the commentary by Bhaskararaya in Sanskrit.
Lakshman Sarup, The Nighantu and The Nirukta (London, H. Milford 1920-29). Repr. Motilal Banarsidass 2002, ISBN 81-208-1381-2.