Notable work
Aṣṭādhyāyī (Classical Sanskrit)
Erafl. 4th century BCE;[1][2][3];
fl. 400–350 BCE[4];
6th–5th century BCE[5][6][web 1][note 1]
RegionNorthwest Indian subcontinent[note 2]
Main interests
Grammar, linguistics[8]
A 17th-century birch bark manuscript of Pāṇini's grammar treatise from Kashmir

Pāṇini (Sanskrit: पाणिनि) (pronounced [paːɳɪnɪ], variously dated between fl. 4th century BCE;[1][2][3][4] and "6th to 5th century BCE"[5][6][web 1][note 1]) was an ancient Sanskrit philologist, grammarian, and a revered scholar in ancient India.[7][9][10] Considered "the father of linguistics",[11] after the discovery and publication of Pāṇini's work by European scholars in the nineteenth century,[12][13] his influence on aspects of the development of modern linguists is widely recognized in the profession; his grammar was influential on foundational scholars such as Ferdinand de Saussure and Leonard Bloomfield.[14] Pāṇini likely lived in Shalatula in ancient Gandhara in the northwest Indian subcontinent, during the Mahajanapada era.[15][4]

Pāṇini is known for his text Aṣṭādhyāyī, a sutra-style treatise on Sanskrit grammar,[10][7][web 1] 3,959 "verses" or rules on linguistics, syntax and semantics in "eight chapters" which is the foundational text of the Vyākaraṇa branch of the Vedanga, the auxiliary scholarly disciplines of the Vedic period.[16][17][18] His aphoristic text attracted numerous bhashya (commentaries), of which Patanjali's Mahābhāṣya is the most famous in Hindu traditions.[19][20] His ideas influenced and attracted commentaries from scholars of other Indian religions such as Buddhism.[21]

Pāṇini's analysis of noun compounds still forms the basis of modern linguistic theories of compounding in Indian languages. Pāṇini's comprehensive and scientific theory of grammar is conventionally taken to mark the start of Classical Sanskrit.[22] His systematic treatise inspired and made Sanskrit the preeminent Indian language of learning and literature for two millennia.[20]

Pāṇini's theory of morphological analysis was more advanced than any equivalent Western theory before the 20th century.[23] His treatise is generative and descriptive, uses metalanguage and meta-rules, and has been compared to the Turing machine wherein the logical structure of any computing device has been reduced to its essentials using an idealized mathematical model.[web 1][24]

The name Pāṇini is a patronymic meaning descendant of Paṇina.[25] His full name was "Dakṣiputra Pāṇini" according to verses 1.75.13 and 3.251.12 of Patanjali's Mahābhāṣya, with the first part suggesting his mother's name was Dakṣi.[6]

Date and context

Father of linguistics
The history of linguistics begins not with Plato or Aristotle, but with the Indian grammarian Panini.

— Rens Bod, University of Amsterdam[26]


Nothing definite is known about when Pāṇini lived, not even in which century he lived. Pāṇini has been dated between the seventh[27] or sixth[6] and fourth century BCE.[28][1][2][3][4][note 1] Von Hinüber (1989) based on numismatic arguments and Falk (1993) based on his Indic script studies, place him in mid-fourth century BCE.[28][1][2][3] Others use internal evidence and textual evidence in ancient Indian texts to date him in the sixth or fifth century BCE,[web 1][6] while Bod mentions the seventh to fifth century BCE.[26] George Cardona (1997) in his survey and review of Pāṇini-related studies, states that the available evidence strongly supports a dating no later than between 400 to 350 BCE, while earlier dating depends on interpretations and is not probative.[29]

According to Bod, Pāṇini's grammar defines Classical Sanskrit, so Pāṇini is chronologically placed in the later part of the Vedic period.[26] According to A. B. Keith, the Sanskrit text that most matches the language described by Pāṇini is the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa (8th-6th c. BCE).[30] According to Scharfe, "his proximity to the Vedic language as found in the Upanisads and Vedic sutra's suggests the 5th or maybe 6th c. B.C."[6]

Based on numismatic findings, Von Hinüber and Falk place Pāṇini in the mid-4th century BCE. Pāṇini's rupya (A 5.2.120) mentions a specific coin which was introduced in India in the 4th-century BCE.[3] According to Houben, "the date of "ca. 350 B.C.E. for Pāṇini is thus based on concrete evidence which till now has not been refuted."[3] According to Bronkhorst, there is no reason to doubt the validity of Von Hinüber's and Falk's argument, setting the terminus post quem, the earliest time the event may have happened, for the date of Pāṇini at 350 BCE or the decennia thereafter. [28] According to Bronkhorst,

...thanks to the work carried out by Hinüber (1990:34-35) and Falk (1993: 303-304), we now know that Pāṇini lived, in all probability, far closer in time to the period of Asoka than had hitherto been thought. According to Falk's reasoning, Panini must have lived during the decennia following 350 BCE, i.e. just before (or contemporaneously with?) the invasion of Alexander of Macedonia[2]

Cardona mentions two major pieces of internal evidence for the dating of Pāṇini.[31] The occurrence of the word yavanānī in 4.1.49, referring to a writing (lipi) c.q. cuneiform writing, or to Greek writing, suggests a date for Pāṇini after Alexander the Great. Cardona rejects this possibility, arguing that yavanānī may also refer to a Yavana woman; and that Indians had contacts with the Greek world before Alexander's conquests.[32][note 3] Sutra 2.1.70 of Pāṇini mentions kumāraśramaṇa, derived from śramaṇa, which refers to a female renunciates, c.q. "Buddhist nuns," implying that Pāṇini should be placed after Gautama Buddha. K. B. Pathak (1930) argued that kumāraśramaṇa could also refer to a Jain nun, meaning that Pāṇini is not necessarily to be placed after the Buddha.[31]

It is not certain whether Pāṇini used writing for the composition of his work, though it is generally agreed that he knew of a form of writing, based on references to words such as lipi ("script") and lipikara ("scribe") in section 3.2 of the Aṣṭādhyāyī.[35][36][37] The dating of the introduction of writing in India may therefore give further information on the dating of Pāṇini.[note 4]

Pāṇini cites at least ten grammarians and linguists before him. According to Sumitra Mangesh Katre, the ten Vedic scholar names he quotes are of Apisali, Kashyapa, Gargya, Galava, Cakravarmana, Bharadvaja, Sakatayana, Sakalya, Senaka and Sphotayana.[44] According to Kamal K. Misra, Pāṇini also refers to Yaska, "whose writings date back to the middle of the 4th century B.C."[45] Both Brihatkatha and Mañjuśrī-mūla-kalpa mention Pāṇini to have been a contemporary with the Nanda king (4th c. BCE).[46]


Nothing certain is known about Pāṇini's personal life. According to the Mahābhāṣya of Patanjali, his mother's name was Dākṣī.[47] Patañjali calls Pāṇini Dākṣīputra (meaning son of Dākṣī) at several places in the Mahābhāṣya.[47] Rambhadracharya suggests that the name of his father was Paṇina, from which the name Pāṇini could be grammatically derived.[47]

In an inscription of Siladitya VII of Valabhi, he is called Śalāturiya, which means "man from Salatura". This means Panini lived in Salatura of ancient Gandhara, which likely was near Lahor, a town at the junction of Indus and Kabul rivers,[48] which falls in the Swabi District of modern Pakistan.[49] According to the memoirs of 7th-century Chinese scholar Xuanzang, there was a town called Suoluoduluo on the Indus where Pāṇini was born, and he composed the Qingming-lun (Sanskrit: Vyākaraṇa).[48][50][47]

According to Hartmut Scharfe, Pāṇini lived in Gandhara close to the borders of the Achaemenid Empire, and Gandhara was then an Achaemenian satrapy following the Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley. He must, therefore, have been technically a Persian subject but his work shows no awareness of the Persian language.[6] In his work the Ashtadhyayi, Pāṇini mentions the Yavanas, thought to be the Greeks.[51] According to Patrick Olivelle, Pāṇini's text and references to him elsewhere suggest that "he was clearly a northerner, probably from the northwestern region".[52]

Legends and later reception

Panini is mentioned in Indian fables and ancient texts. The Panchatantra, for example, mentions that Pāṇini was killed by a lion.[53][54][55]

Pāṇini was depicted on a five-rupee Indian postage stamp in August, 2004.[56][57][58][59]