Panini writes Ashtadhyayi
A unique dance drama explores Panini’s Shiva Sutras, the way it reached him from Shiva himself and how it formed the foundation of his monumental work Ashtadhyayi. The birth of Sanskrit is visualised and presented in a format that not only endears the viewer to every category but also makes it easy to comprehend something that was deemed complicated
The systematic distancing of Sanskrit from our daily lives first by the colonial powers and later by the Marxist ecosystem supported by the Congress Party has brought us to a stage where we deem Sanskrit as something ancient with hardly any role in the modern age. Consequently, the moment one thinks of Sanskrit, we get the notion of it being challenging to comprehend, let alone master it. Sanskrit grammar and literature is considered recondite and suitable only for researchers and scholars only. However, this mould of thought is gradually breaking with great efforts from many organisations and individuals.
Panini is considered the greatest grammarian ever. Linguists the world over marvel at the Sutra style of expression employed by him. His work Ashtadhyayi deals not just with Sanskrit but the human language in its entirety. Part of Ashtadhyayi describing a phonemic notational system in the fourteen initial lines is the Shiva Sutras. Panini constructed Ashtadhyayi on the foundation of these 14 sutras. He called them the Maheshwara Sutras as they emanated from Maheshwara himself.Puranas narrate how Shiva performed the Thandava Nrutya and transformed into Nataraja, then sounded his Damaru 14 times. Thus Nataraja formulated the Shiva Sutras to alleviate Sanaka and other Rishis. The fascinating design of these 14 foundational sound patterns came to be known as Shiva Sutra Jala, as conveyed in this shloka:
नृत्तावसाने नटराजराजो ननाद ढक्कां नवपंचवारम।
उद्धतुर्काम: सनकादिसिद्धानेतद्विमर्शे शिवसूत्रजालम॥
Panini’s grammar and Sutras are considered cryptic and difficult to comprehend by many. Imagine that which is regarded as cryptic is presented in a way that is not only appealing but also easy to perceive by anyone. Wouldn’t that make Sanskrit easy to understand? Can that make common people comprehend the Sutras effortlessly? Will it make learning Sanskrit and its grammar a fun activity? Well, such a unique effort has already been made for connoisseurs of Sanskrit and Panini’s Shiva Sutras all over.
Dr SR Leela, Sanskrit scholar, researcher, writer and former MLC of Karnataka Assembly conceptualised and produced a dance Drama titled ‘Shiva Sutra Jala’ which narrates the origin of the Shiva Sutras in a format and screenplay that is unprecedented. This is because learning Sanskrit and its grammar is visualised as a laborious task where one has to study several tomes and works and sit through tedious lectures. Now what if the Sanskrit alphabets, Aksharas, come in front of you and introduce themselves and their purport as conceptualised by Panini? It is this act which makes the dance drama ‘Shiva Sutra Jala’ unique.
Dr SR Leela, who is also a member of the Syndicate of Karnataka Sanskrit University in Bangaluru, wrote the screenplay and lyrics for the dance drama. She spoke to Organiser on the inspiration behind the effort and says that grammar has never been brought on stage as part of the entertainment. “As a serious student of Sanskrit and its grammar, I was enchanted by its technique and scientific methodology used in framing it. Linguists outside India study Panini, and he occupies the centre of research studies in many universities but here in India we are lagging behind in recognising him. So I thought the greatness of Panini has to be highlighted so that it reaches the common man,” says Dr Leela ‘Shiva Sutra Jala’ was first presented by the Abhinaya Bharati troupe in July 2018. Dr Leela is the Managing Trustee of Abhinaya Bharati. Ace dancer Praveen Kumar choreographed the dance drama. The same has now been made into a film and released in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi and English too. The film version has been produced and directed by Akshara Bharadwaj.
Children part of Shiva Sutra Jala Dance Drama
The drama depicted as a stage play transports the viewer to the world of Panini and back where the Aksharas communicate their purpose in an inimitable act. What's more endearing is that the children who have enacted the roles are as adorable as the Aksharas they play.
Recreator of the Classic:
Dr SR Leela
When asked why Panini’s Ashtadhyayi and Shiva Sutras when there are numerous Sanskrit works, Dr Leela says that Panini has not only worked on grammar but has also put across the entire Bharatiya mind through his work. “It is in fact beneficial for the students to know their past and understand the genius of Panini and his work. Hence, I thought that this work has to be put forward in an entertaining and attractive format for the children. For this, there is nothing better than the elementary vyakarana shastra. This dance drama is not only mine but everybody’s tribute to Panini”, she says.
She further says what has been showcased in the film are the basics depicting how Panini received the Varnamala and his inspiration for the same. Panini’s works superseded all other previous works in Sanskrit due to its originality, comprehensiveness, brevity and is technically brilliant. Sanskrit studies are usually done and respected through books and Shastarth (discussions). Very few apply them to visual arts, which is a very original art form closely associated with Sanskrit. Hence I thought that Shiv Sutras would be ideal for the purpose and in the form of a dance drama with music can make an impact on the minds of the people, says Dr Leela.
Delivery of the Shiva Sutras is indeed perfect in the film. As we watch the film, the swaras, vyanjanas, the vargas become clear in our minds and this is a great achievement for the team
The brilliant arrangement technique and the Sutra style of expression employed by Panini is a matter of great interest for linguists all over the globe. Paul Kiparski’s research paper titled ‘Economy and the Construction of Shiva Sutras’, and Peterson’s ‘Maheshwara Sutras—A Mathematical Treatment’ showcase the greatness of Panini’s work. Dr Leela informs that Kiparski’s paper applies mathematical and engineering theories to decode the techniques employed by Panini. It is no doubt that the genius of Panini has to reach every Bharatiya.
Shiva reveals Shiva Sutras to Panini
The play starts with salutations to Panini:
—येनाक्षरसमाम्नायम अधिगम्य महेश्वरात कृत्स्नं व्याकरणं प्रोक्तं तस्मै पाणिनये नम:
(Salutations to Panini, who taught the entire grammar after receiving
the Maheshvara Sutras given by Shiva himself).
The world of Shiva Sutras
The Shiva Sutras are 14 verses that organise the phonemes of Sanskrit as mentioned by Panini in his work Aṣṭādhyāyī. These fourteen verses are a recitation of the Sanskrit alphabet consisting of 47 letters: 14 vowels and 33 consonants. It is the recitation of phonemes, called Akshara-samamnaya in Sanskrit, which is popularly known as the Shiva Sutras.
The Sanskrit alphabet is made of ‘aksharas’, which are the “imperishable atoms” of speech. It is also called the Varnamala where varna means a “syllable” and all the energies related to that syllable—colour, presiding force, the mouth part used to pronounce each syllable, the related body part etc. Each of the 14 verses consists of a group of basic Sanskrit phonemes
The characters engage in a lively and humorous dialogue where the notion that Sanskrit and its grammar is difficult is debunked. Then the viewer is transported to the world of Panini where a meditating Panini hears the Damru of Nataraja and realises the 14 sound patterns. The basic sounds are indeed difficult to comprehend but it is then dramatised in a way that makes it easy for the viewers to understand. We once again come back to the stage where the adorable characters narrate their meaning and the Sanskrit alphabet is played out in an entertaining way. Intermittently, the viewer is taken to the surreal world of the Sutras where the dancers convey the purport of the 14 foundational sound patterns.
The crisp editing, artful screenplay and adept direction make it a pleasure to watch. The way Panini formulates the Varnamala is shown in a way that it registers in the viewers’ mind for long. Moreover, it is impossible for children to forget the letters pasted on their chest and back and their acts. Whatever their bright, expressive faces narrate instantly registers in the viewers’ mind.
The animation is the norm today to convey any abstract subject matter. With many filmmakers opting to Animation to convey Puranic and folk lores, Dr Leela has opted for a dance drama. She says, “I was well-versed in theatre, both in directing and acting. Sanskrit dramas have a lot of beauty and dignity in them making it ideal for showcasing our culture and character. Hence it was natural for me to conceive it as a play rather than in other forms like animation”.
While conveying something as abstract as Sanskrit grammar is one challenge, preparing the team and artists for the purpose is a bigger challenge. When asked about how she prepared the team for the same, Dr Leela says that ace dancer Praveen Kumar of Dhatu made it easier for her. “It is true that performers are not used to abstract themes like Vyakarana to be adopted in the dance forms. This was a challenge for me to make them understand and convince them about the expected outcome. However, Praveen Kumar and the team quickly understood the theme and my vision. The effort put in by the team and the cooperative spirit ensured that this unfamiliar topic is delivered perfectly,” she says.
Delivery of the Shiva Sutras is indeed perfect in the film. As we watch the film, the swaras, vyanjanas, the vargas become clear in our minds and this is a great achievement for the team. Separate groups of children enact the role of Swaras and Vyanjanas. Another group of dancers enacts the Shlokas depicting the Pratyaharas. The sootradhara and the vidooshaka combination keeps us entertained as also deciphers several elements of the Shiva Sutras. The design and use of costumes help the viewer grasp the intricacies of the Sanskrit Varnamala.
This brings to the question if the same could have been conveyed as a play itself instead of a film as it is very well presented and impactful. Many also opine that an animated movie can reach a broader audience. To this Dr Leela says that a play has its limitations in terms of reach. Animation today is more expensive than making a film. Moreover, most people also deem animation to be meant only for children. Given these factors, I decided to make it into a movie so that it reaches everyone any time or place all across the world. The kind of response the initial screening of Shiva Sutra Jala got from the audience is a testimony to this. “The first response was overwhelming and veterans like Babu Krishnamurthy highly appreciated the uniqueness of the venture. Both young and old were enchanted as they never imagined that Vyakarana could be this entertaining” says Dr Leela.
As the Dance drama is making waves for its unique approach and rich content, it is natural to wonder if many more fascinating aspects of Sanskrit can be brought out in this format. Dr Leela says that while it is possible to make similar ventures on other aspects of Sanskrit Grammar, it needs people who are ready to take it up. “I have introduced the varnamala and how it forms the great edifice of Sanskrit grammar. The efforts, funds, target audience also matter in such a venture” she says.
The dance drama will make it easier for common people, especially students, to understand the foundation of Sanskrit grammar and Shiva Sutras. It also reveals the scientific edifice on which it is based. The unprecedented effort has to reach everyone and every student without fail as it brilliantly narrates the wonders of our ancient heritage and the scientific roots of their alphabet.
Alphabets narrate their role in Varnamala
Panini’s Ashtadhyayi was the topmost foundational work that was taught at the Nalanda University about 1600 years ago. This has been recorded by the Chinese traveller and scholar It-sing who spent 15 years in the university studying various Shastras. However, such a significant contribution of Panini remains almost unknown to most Bharatiyas today. While such efforts bridge the gap, there is a lot that needs to be done. The role of government and organisations working on this front is paramount.
“One thing the governments can do is to encourage such efforts in popularising Sanskrit. They can encourage by recommending CBSE and other schools to show such films in their schools. Governments and organisations can help by spreading the message and making it available to a wider audience. Only when such efforts reach people, the greatness of Panini can be understood by the common man. This is Bharatiya knowledge, which is an asset for all. As an individual, it is difficult to reach everyone and this is where organisations can help in channelling such efforts”, says Dr Leela.
Speaking about her future projects, Dr Leela says that she wishes to introduce our Shahstras, especially Alankara Shastra, in a similar format to reach people. “There are organisations like Samskruta Bharati doing great work in spreading the language. However, the cultural aspects have to be spread in a different way using several media. Culture does not mean just music and dance as many other things encompass our culture. This I wish to bring out through short films,” concludes Dr Leela.
The effort of the dance drama Shiva Sutra Jala certainly makes Sanskrit easier to understand and comprehend these Sutras effortlessly. It also shows that leaning Sanskrit grammar can be fun and not as monotonous as deemed earlier. However, what Dr SR Leela’s film also achieves is that it directly stares into the Marxist narrative which portrays Sanskrit as belonging to an ancient era. It lays before the viewer a science of language that is universal. If not for anything else, Shiva Sutra Jala is a must watch to break this narrative and solve the conundrum for once and for all. n