Written by Sri Swami Chandrashekarendra
Siva temples have a mandapa (pavilion or hall) called “vyakaranadanamandapa".
In Tamil it has come to be called “vakkanikkum
mandapam". There are such halls in many temples in the Chola territory
of Tamilnadu. One such is in Tiruvorriyur near Madras. Why should there
be a mandapa for grammar in Siva temples? What is Siva's connection
with language? Is not Siva in his form of Daksinamurti all silence?
Nrttavasane Nataraja-rajo nanada dhakkam navapancavaram
Uddhartukamah Sankadisiddhanetadvimarse Sivasutrajalam
I will speak briefly about this stanza. The silent Siva remains still
Daksinamurti]. But the same Siva [in another form of his] keeps dancing
all the time and it was from his dance that the science of language was
Nataraja is the name of the dancing Paramesvara. "Nata" is a member of
a troupe which also consists of the "vita" and "gayaka". The nata
Nataraja is the king of all dancers-- he who cannot be excelled as a
dancer-- and he is also called Mahanata [the great dancer]. The
Amarakosa, the Sanskrit lexicon, has these two words: “Mahakalo
mahanatah". In Tamil they say “Ambala- kkuttaduvan".
We find from
royal inscriptions that in the old days Brahmins too had such Tamil
names- “Ambala-k-kuttaduvan Bhattan", for instance.
There used to be a publishing establishment in Bombay called the
NirnayaSagara Press. It once brought out old poetical works in Sanskrit
under the general name, “Kavyamala Series ". There were some books in
this series with the name “Pracinalekhamala”. Reproduced in one of them
is the text of a copper-plate inscription belonging to the Vengi
Vengi is situated between the Godavari and the Krsna.
The Cola rulers of the Telugu country and the Colas of Tanjavur were
related by marriage. Rajaraja Cola (Narendra) reigned in Tanjavur; it
he who built the Brhadisvara temple. Kulottunga Cola who belonged to
the family of the grandson of a king of Vengi ruled as a member of the
Cola dynasty of Tanjavur. Once he visited the Cola kingdom and on his
return took some 500 Brahmins with him to promote Vedic learning in
Vengi. The "Dravidalu" of Andhra Pradesh are the descendants of these
The names of all these Brahmins and their gotras are mentioned in the
copper-plate inscription together with the subjects in which they were
proficient and duties they had to perform. The landed property allotted
to each is referred to, so also the names of the donors and of the
recipients. The Brahmins from Tamil Nadu had to teach the Vedas and
sastras. That is why gifts of lands were made to them.
“Rupavatara-vaktuk eko bhagah": these words are from the inscription. It
means “one share to the Brahmin who is proficient in the Rupavatara.”
Rupavatara is a work on grammar.
In Ennayiram, near Tindivanam (Tamil Nadu), there was a school with 340
students. Of them 40 studied Rupavatara, says an inscription of Rajendra
Cola I. In Tribhuvanam, Pondicerri (Pondicherry), also there was a Vedic
school supported by Rajadhiraja (A. D. 1018-1050) where the Rupavatara
was taught. We also learn from an inscription of Vira-Rajendra Devam
dated A. D 1067, that this grammatical work was taught at a school in
Tiru, ulldal, near Kanchi.
Siddhanta-Kaumudi is a very popular treatise on grammar. It is a
commentary on Panini's sutras by Bhattoji Diksita who was a disciple of
Appayya Diksita. The latter was born in Adayappalam and was the author
of 104 works, many of them on Saiva themes. His Kuvalayananda, a work
on poetics, is also famous.
Ardha-matra-Iaghavena putrotsavam manyante vaiyakaranah
This speaks of the great joy experienced by grammarians: if they gain as
much as half a matra it is a cause for jubilation like the birth of a
son to a
man who has been long childless.
The sutras are very brief and very precise. The Siddhanta- Kaumudi is
famous for its brevity and exactitude; there is no circumlocution in it,
beating about the bush. May be the sutras themselves are wordy but not
Bhattoji Diksita's commentary on the same. Written some 400 years ago,
it is very popular even today and is the first book of grammar
for students. (Bhattoji Diksita also wrote the Tattavakaustubha and
dedicated it to his guru, Appayya Diksita. In this he seeks to establish
there is no Truth other than the Brahman and that, to claim that there
is not in keeping with the teachings of the Upanisads. Bidden by his
he also wrote an attack on Madhvacarya's philosophy of dualism. The
work, Madhvamatavidhvamsanam, is a cause of dispute among
philosophers but Bhattoji Diksita's commentary on grammar is acceptable
to all systems. )
Before Siddhanta-Kaumudi, Rupavataram was the grammar work famous
among students. "Rupam" here means the "complete form of sound";
"avataram" is descent, but in the present context "history". Rupavataram
was published by Rangacari, of Presidency College, Madras.
That gifts of land were made to scholars who taught Rupavataram [the
reference here is to the Vengi inscription], shows the importance
attached to sanskrit grammar in those times.
The Vengi inscription dates back to 850 years ago. As mentioned earlier,
the names of Brahmins who received gifts are given in it. Many of them
had the title "Sadangavid" (learned in the six Vedic Angas). Some had
Tamil names -- "Ambala-k-kuttaduvan Bhattan", "Tiruvarangamudayan
Bhattan", etc. Of the foregoing two names the first is associated with
Cidambaram temple which is Saiva and the second with the Srirangam
temple which is Vaisnava. Both Brahmins were Smartas, even the one
with the Vaisnava name. There has been as much devotion to Siva as
there has been to Visnu at all times. In the North and in Kerala, even
today, Smartas perform puja in all temples. The man called
"Tiruvarangamudayan Bhattan" is not to be taken as a Vaisnava from his
name. The Sanskrit equivalent of the name is Rangasvamin. "Udayan"
means "svamin", "svam" denoting possession.
The Tamil name of Nataraja is "Tiruvambala Kuttaduvan". I wanted to
speak about Nataraja and his connection with grammar. Let us go back to
the stanza with the first word, Nrttavasane” “Nataraja performs an
dance. It seems to bring together all the dance that all of us have
to perform, the rhythms of all our lives. The head of the Nataraja idol
something that seems spread over it, something falling down on both
sides. What is it? It is the god's mass of matted locks. I am reminded
the snapshot photographs taken nowadays. A snapshot is a rapid
photograph that captures an object in one of its fleeting moments. It is
not a study that is static but one suggestive of motion. Nataraja dances
fast, but momentarily seems to stop dancing. His matted locks give the
impression of fanning out over the two sides of his face. The sculptor
those times seems to have taken a mental snapshot of that moment to
create the image of Nataraja.
Nataraja has a drum in one hand, called the dhakka or damaruka. The tala
of this drum (the time kept by it) is in keeping with the "footwork" of
dancing god, the movement of his feet. The beat of his drum is referred
to in the words, "nanada dhakkam".
There are chiefly three types of musical instruments. Those made of skin
like the dhakka, the tavil (drum accompaniment to nagasvaram music),
the kanjira (a kind of hand drum), the mrdanga; stringed instruments
the vina, the violin; wind instruments like nagasvaram, the flute. The
beat of the drum is called cappu. Similarly at the end of Nataraja's
(" nrttavasane ") the damaruka produced the cappu sound.
When Nataraja dances, Sanaka and his brother sages, Patanjali
Vyaghrapada and so on stand round him. They are great ascetics, so they
are able to see the dance. Nataraja's dance can be seen only by those
who have the inner vision of jnana. The Lord himself bestowed on Arjuna
the divine eye with which the pandava could see his cosmic form. Vyasa
imparted the same power to Sanjaya so that he could describe this
wondrous form to Dhrtarastra. Only they (Arjuna and Sanjaya) could see
Krsna's universal form. Others on the battlefield of Kuruksetra could
Because of the great efforts made by them, the celestials, the sages and
yogins obtained the divine eye to see the dance of Nataraja. In the Gita
such sight is called "divya-caksus" (divine eye).
Sanaka and others saw the dance with their real eyes. Visnu played the
drum called the maddala, while Brahma kept time. At the close of the
dance, the concluding beats (cappu) produced fourteen sounds. It is
these fourteen that are referred to in the stanza ("Nrttavasane", etc)
"navapancavaram"; "nava" is nine and "panca" is five, so fourteen in
"Nanada dhakkam navapancavaram. " If the number of sounds produced
by Nataraja's dhakka is fourteen, the branches of Vedic learning are
the same number (caturdasavidya). If the foundation of Hindu dharma is
made up of these fourteen vidyas, Nataraja'a cappu produced fourteen
sounds which, according to the verse, were meant for the [Atmic] uplift
Sanaka and others. You must have seen in the sculptural representations
of Daksinamurti in temples four aged figures by his side. They are the
Sanaka sages. It is not Saiva works like the Tevaram and the Tiruvacakam
alone that mention how instruction was given to the four but also the
Vaisnava songs of the Azhvars.
The fourteen sounds produced by Nataraja's drum are the means by
which the reality of Siva is to be known and experienced within us in
its plenitude. Nandikesvara has commented upon the fourteen sounds in
Among those present at Nataraja's dance was Panini. His story is told in
the Brhatkatha which was written by Gunadhya in the Prakrt called
Paisaci. Ksemendra produced a summary of it in Sanskrit and, based on
Somadeva Bhatta wrote the Katha-sarat-sagara. It is the source of some
of the stories of The Arabian Nights, Pancatantra and Aesop's Fables.
Perunkathai is a Tamil version, the title being Tamil for Brhatkatha.
The story of Panini is told in the Katha-sarit-sagara. In Pataliputra
(modern Patna), in Magadha, there were two men called Varsopadhyaya
and Upavarsopadhyaya - the second was the younger of the two.
Upakosala was Upavarsopadhyaya's daughter. Panini and Vararuci were
Varsopadhyaya's students. Panini made little progress in his lessons. So
his teacher asked him to go to the Himalaya and practise austerities.
student did so and through the grace of Isvara received the power to
witness the tandava dance of Nataraja. With this divine gift of the
Panini indeed saw the tandava and heard the fourteen sounds at its
conclusion. For him these sounds meant the fourteen cardinal sutras of
grammar and on them he based his Astadhyayi. As its very name
suggests, this work, which is the source book of Sanskrit grammar, has
The fourteen sounds are recited at the upakarma ceremony. Since they
emanated from the drum of Mahesvara(Nataraja), they are called
"Mahesvarasutras". Human beings can produce only inarticulate sounds
on the musical instruments played by them. The hand of Paramesvara is
verily the Nadabrahman and Sabdabrahaman incarnate, so his cappu on
the damaruka at the conclusion of his tandava sounded as a
series(garland) of fourteen letters:
1. a i un; 2. rlk; 3. e on; 4. ai auc; 5. hayavarat; 6. lan; 7. nama
8. jha bha n; 9. gha da dha s; 10. ja ba ga da da s; 11. kha pha cha tha
catatav; 12. kapay; 13. sa sa sar; 14. hal-iti Mahesvarani sutrani.
When you listen to these sutras at the upakarma ceremony, you are
amused. You repeat them after the priest without knowing what they are
all about. They are the concluding strokes Siva made on his drum as he
stopped dancing, stopped whirling round and round.
We say, don't we, that the anklets sound "jal-jal", that the damaru
"timu-timu", that the tavil sounds "dhumdhum"?
These are not of course
the sounds actually produced by the respective drums. Even so the words
give us some idea of the beats. We don't say "pi-pi" to describe the
of a drum or "dhum-dhum" to describe the sound of the pipe. The sound
produced by plucking the strings of the instruments like the veena is
usually described as "toyn-toyng". From this it follows that, thought
musical instruments do not produce articulate sounds, they create the
impression of producing the phonemes of human speech. If this be so in
the case of instruments played by humans, why should not the drum
beaten by Nataraja during his pancakrtya dance produce articulate
How did Panini make use of the fourteen sounds? He created an index
from the sutras to vocalise the letters or syllables together. According
the arrangement made by him, the first letter or syllable of a sutra
with the last letter or syllable of another sutra will indicate the
syllables in between. For example, the first syllable of "hayavarat",
and the last letter of "hal", "l", together make "hal". This embraces
consonants in between. Similarly, the first letter of the first sutra,
the last letter of the fourth sutra together form "ac"-this includes all
vowels. The first letter of the first sutra and the last letter of the
fourteenth sutra together form "al" - it includes all letters.
"Halantasya" is one of the sutras of Astadhyayi. "Al" itself has come to
"A-kara" is the first letter in all languages. In Urdu it is alif; in
Greek it is
alpha. Both are to be derived from "al". So too "alphabet" in English.
is another fact to support the view that, once upon a time, the Vedic
religion was prevalent all over the world.
We know thus that the prime source of grammar is constituted by the
Mahesvara-sutras emanating from the drum of Nataraja. Since
Paramesvara was the cause of the sabda-sastras (all sciences relating to
sound, speech), "grammar-pavilions" have been built in Siva temples, but
not in Visnu shrines.
By the side of Nataraja are Patanjali and Vyaghrapada. I had been to a
temple near Sirkazhi (in Tamil Nadu). There, beside Nataraja, were
Patanjali and Vyaghrapada. Beneath their images were inscribed their
names. Patanjali's name was seen here as "Padamcolli" - the error must
be attributed to the ignorance of the man who had inscribed the names. I
was however happy that ironically enough, this name benefited the sage
and that even ignorance was the cause of something appropriate.
"Padam" has the meaning of grammar [as in] "padavakya pramana". Here
"pada" means grammar. So "Padamcolli" [the second half of the name in
Tamil] means one who "says" grammar.
When I saw this inscription I was reminded of another thing. We speak of
"gunaksara-nyaya". "Guna" here means an insect like the white ants
which eats into wood and palm-leaves. Sometimes in this process letters
are formed accidentally. If something meaningful results from an act
committed unconsciously or unwittingly it is said to be according to the
"gunaksara-nyaya". This term is thus applicable to Patanjali being
Some years ago I happened to see the Sahitya-Ratnakara. The author of
this poetical work is Yajnanarayana Diksita who composed it 400 hundred
years ago during the reign of Raghunatha Nayaka of Tanjavur. Diksita was
a great devotee of Siva and in one of his hymns there is a reference to
Adau pani-ninadato' ksara-samamnayopadesena yah
Sabdanamanusasananyakalayat sastrena sutratmana
Bhasyam tasya ca padahamsakaravaih praudhasayam tam gurum
Sabdarthapratipatti-hetumanisam Candravatamsam bhaje
- Sahitya-Ratnakara, 11. 124
"Aksara-samamnayam" in this stanza means grammar, a grouping
together of letters. Isvara's breath constitutes the Vedas. The wind
produced by his hand [as he beats the drum] is "Aksara-Veda", the
Mahesvara-sutras. It is called "sabdanusasanam". "Pani-ninadatah"
means "produced sounds with your hands" or "the sounds came by to
Panini". Thus the words have two meanings. The idea is that Panini
created his grammar with the sounds produced by Isvara with his hand.
The stanza goes on to say: "With the movement of your hand the sutras
of grammar were created and with the movement of your feet its
commentary has been produced.” Patanjali, author of the Mahabhasya,
was an incarnation of the primordial serpent Adisesa. Adisesa is now the
anklet of Parameshvara. It is in keeping with this that the poet says
Siva created the bhasya with the movement of his feet. He concludes by
remarking that sound and meaning originate in Siva.
In this way, Siva is the prime source of grammar. That is why there are
mandapas in his temples where vyakarana is to be taught.