Prātiśākhya

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Pratisakhya, PrAtiZAkhya, Praatishaakhya


Prātiśākhya literally means ‘pertaining to every branch of the Vedas’.

The Vedas, which are the basic scriptures of the religion, are difficult to understand due to two primary reasons:

  1. The archaic language
  2. The special phonetic system

Out of the six Vedāṅgas, subsidiary sciences that help us to understand the Vedas, the first two, viz., the Śikṣā and the Vyākaraṇa[1] helps us to unravel these two aspects. The Prātiśākhyas are the earlier phase of development of these two aspects. Literally the word means a treatise pertaining to the particular śākhā or branch of the Veda. If this definition is taken into account then every śākhā of the Vedas and it's hundreds of the allied works, must have had its own Prātiśākhya.

Overview of the Topics of Prātiśākhya

However, only very few of them belonging to all the four Vedas have survived till today. They generally deal with topics like:

  1. Pronunciation
  2. Intonation
  3. Sandhis[2]
  4. Shortening or lengthening of the vowels
  5. Rules connected with the breaking up of samhitā-pāṭha[3] into padapāṭha[4] and so on.

Content of Prātiśākhya

A brief description of some of these Prātiśākhyas may now be attempted here:

  • The Rkprātiśākhya of Śaunaka[5]also known as Śiksāśāstra and Pārsada, is a very ancient and important work. It is closely associated with the Samhitopaniṣad part of the Aitareya Āraṇyaka.[6]
  • It echoes the opinions of the various ācāryas[7] like Māṇḍukeya, Mākṣarya, Agastya, Suravīra and others.
  • It is in the form of sutras or kaṇḍikas,[8] with a commentary by Uvaṭa. Another commentary by Viṣṇumitra is available only for the first two sections.
  • There are three sections of six paṭalas[9] each, making a total of 18 paṭalas with 103 kaṇdikās. The subjects dealt with are:
  1. Sarijñā - definitions
  2. Sandhis or conjunctions like praśliṣta and udgrāha
  3. Svaras or intonations
  4. Some more sandhis like natisandhi
  5. Kramapāṭha is a kind of breaking up of Vedic sentences
  6. Opinions of various other teachers
  7. Defects of pronunciation and intonation
  8. Traditional methods of chanting the Vedas
  9. About the various Vedic meters and allied subjects.
  • The Taittirīyaprātiśākhya has two praśnas,[10] each containing twelve adhyāyas or chapters. It is also in the form of sutras. There are three well-known commentaries:
  1. Padakramasadana of Māhiṣeya
  2. Tribhāsāratna of Somayārya
  3. Vaidikābharana of Gopālayajvā
  • The first of these is the most ancient one. It deals with a ‘prakṛtipāṭha’ or a basic reading of a Vedic sentence from which the padapāṭha and the kramapāṭha can be derived.
  • In addition it also deals with the sandhis related to the topics under consideration.
  • Belonging to the Śukla Yajurveda group is the Vājasaneyi Prātiśākhya of Kātyāyana. He is different from the Kātyāyana who has written a vārttika on Pāṇini’s Astādhyāyi, and lived earlier than Pāṇiṇi.[11]
  • It is also in the form of sutras and has eight adhyāyas.
  • The topics discussed include the characteristics of technical terms used, sandhis, rules concerning padapāṭhas, types of svaras and about the letters of the alphabet.
  • Opinions of the ancient teachers like Sākalya, Kāśyapa and Sākaṭāyana are mentioned.
  • Many technical terms used by Pāṇini such as udātta,[12] svarita,[13] āmredita[14] and lopa[15] are already found here.
  • Even some sutras of this work have been repeated in the Astādhyāyi.
  • With regards to the Sāmavedic Prāti-śakhyas two treatises are available:
  1. The Puṣpasutra
  2. The Rktantra
  • The Puṣpasutra is the composition of the sage Puṣpa. It has ten prapāṭhakas or chapters. Upādhyāya Ajātaśatru has written a bhāṣya on it. It deals mainly with the stobhas[16] giving all the details connected with them.
  • The Rktantra belongs to the Kauthumaśākhā of Sāmaveda. There are 287 sutras in five prapāṭhakas or sections.
  • Sākaṭāyana is its author. He precedes Yāska and Pāṇini since the latter authors have mentioned him.
  • It deals mainly with the origin of the letters of the alphabet, their varieties and also some technical terms.
  • The places of production of the letters in the mouth and sandhis have also been touched upon.
  • For the Atharvaveda, only one treatise is available now. It is the Śaunakīyacatura-dhyāyikā. It leans more towards grammar than intonation and other details.

References

  1. Śikṣā means phonetics and Vyākaraṇa means grammar.
  2. Sandhis means the rules of conjunction of letters or words.
  3. Samhitā-pāṭha means the vedic mantras in sentences.
  4. Padapāṭha means the constituent words.
  5. Śaunaka was a disciple of Aśvalāyana.
  6. Aitareya Āraṇyaka 3.1.1
  7. Ācāryas means the teachers of Vedic tradition.
  8. It means short sentences in prose.
  9. Paṭalas means subsections.
  10. Praśnas means the sections.
  11. He lived in 500 B. C.
  12. Udātta means level intonation.
  13. Svarita means the higher pitch intonation.
  14. Āmredita means repetition.
  15. Lopa means elision.
  16. Stobhas means the musical interjections like ‘hā u,’ ‘hā i,’ ‘hum,’ ‘ho’, ‘ohā’ and so on, interpolated into a sāman.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore