The Saṃbandha-Samuddeśa (Chapter on Relation) and Bhartṛhari's Philosophy of Language

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Author: Jan Houben
In the history of the Indian grammatical tradition, Bhartṛhari (about fifth century C.E.) is the fourth great grammarian - after Pāṇini, Kātyāyana and Patañjali - and the first to make the philosophical aspects of language and grammar the main subject of an independent work. This work, the Vākyapadīya (VP), consists of about 2000 philosophical couplets or kārikās.
Since the latter half of the nineteenth century, the VP has been known to Western Sanskritists, but its language-philosophical contents have started to receive serious attention only in the last few decennia. The subject matter of the VP resonates strongly with crucial themes in twentieth-century Western thought, although the background and the way the issues are elaborated are quite different. Scholars have compared and contrasted Bhartṛhari’s ideas with those of de Saussure, Wittgenstein and Derrida. A theme which, as a leitmotiv, pervades the entire VP is the relation between language, thought and reality. In several Indian traditions, a proper insight into this relation was (and still is) held to be of importance for attaining ‘liberation’.

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