Identity as qualifier (word meaning) in Sabdabodha: Problems without solutions[i]

Dr. Veeranarayana N K Pandurangi
Dean, Faculty of Vedanta,
Karnataka Samskrit University,
Pampa Mahakavi Road, Chamarajapete,
Bengaluru – 560018

1.Cognitive mechanism and structure in sentential cognition

The structure of sentential cognition (sabdabodha) is very much distinct from the structures of perceptual and inferential cognitions, since sabdabodha follows distinct causal mechanism.

The ‘(I+F) ® R’ [(Instrumental cause + Function) ®Result] causal mechanism of sentential cognition is as follows:

Cognition of words (padajnana) is the instrumental cause.

Cognition of word meanings (padarthajnana) through their signification function (saktijnana) is the function.

Akanksa, Asatti, yogyata and Tatparyajnana are auxiliary causes of sabdabodha.

Sentential cognition is the result.

Take this example:

  • Caitrah pacati
  •  Caitra cooks

Here, technically there are four words: caitra, su, pac, ti. First, the cognition of each word, through word’s signification function, gives rise to recollection of word-meanings.  The meanings of these words here are respectively, Caitra= Caitra, the person, su= the number one-ness, pac=  the action conducive of softening (the rice), ti= volition (krti). These meanings get appropriately related to each other. This is as follows: the oneness meaning of su gets related with Caitra through the relation of locus-ness. Action conducive of softening i.e. cooking, gets related with volition through the relation of conducive-ness. Thus we get two partial sentential cognitions. These two cognitions are: “one Caitra” and “volition that produces action that is conducive of softening (i.e. cooking)”.

Here Caitra and volition are two qualificandums (visesyas) respectively. Then volition gets related to One-Caitra by the relation of substratum-ness (asrayata), thus giving rise to full sentential cognition, i.e; “One Caitra has volition that is conducive of cooking through the relation of substratum-ness”.

Here the P-S-V prakara-samsarga-visesya or qualifier, relation and qualificandum) structure is clear. The volition conducive of cooking is prakara. Asrayata is samsarga. One Caitra is the visesya. Here Caitra and volition are appropriately represented by their respective signification functions. But the relation locus-ness (asrayata) is not presented by signification function, because it is not the meaning of any of the words that constitute this sentence.  However it is presented by the power of expectancy[ii] (akanksa). Here expectancy is used in the sense of co-pronunciation of appropriate words i.e. co-pronunciation two co-referential words caitra and pacati. Broadly this co-pronunciation corresponds to syntax. Since Naiyayikas accept abhihitanvaya-vada in a certain sense, and reject anvitabhidhana-vada, they can not admit the relation “substratum-ness” to be a word-meaning. Hence this relation substratum-ness is accepted to be akanksabhasya (presented through akanksa).

However this process gets tougher and more complicated in other sentences. Let us take this example:

  • Vahniman parvatah

Mountain is fire- possesive

Here the adjective vahniman means “fire-possessive” and noun-substantive (visesya-padaparvatah means “mountain”. This sentence being a co-referential sentence (samanadhikarana-vakya), relation between these two word-meanings naturally would be identity, according to Navyanyaya.[iii] Hence the structure of sentential cognition by this sentence, would be like this: “Mountain has fire-possessive through the relation of identity”.


2.The question of two karmatvas

  • Nilam ghatam anaya

Bring the blue pot

Here in this sentence there are six words viz; nila, am, ghata, am, anin and lot. These words produce the recollections of six word-meanings respectively, i.e. blue, karmatva, pot, karmatva, activity of bringing, and, finally, volition. First, blue gets related with the pot through the relation of identity (abheda). Then pot gets related with karmatva through the relation of superstratum-ness (adheyata). Then karmatva gets related with the activity of bringing through the relation of correlator-ness (nirupakatva). The activity of bringing gets related with the volition through conducive-ness (anukulata). Thus arises the cognition “Caitra has the volition that is conducive of the activity ‘bringing’ which, in turn, is the correlator (nirupaka) of karmatva that resides in blue pot”.

Here, the really problematic question arises as to what is the role of karmatva, the meaning of second case-ending am in word nilam in this sentential cognition? and with whom it gets related?

Here in this sentence, two second case-endings (dvitiyavibhaktis) are present: one is in noun- substantive i.e. ghatam, and the other one is in adjective i.e. nilam. The meaning of noun-substantive-case-ending (visesyavibhakti) gets related with activity through the relation of correlator-ness (nirupakatva). Then, since, activity’s expectancy of correlated (nirupita) has already been fulfilled by the meaning of noun-substantive-case-ending (visesyavibhaktyartha- karmatva), the meaning of adjective-case-ending becomes anything but useful.

In other words we can explain it as follows — In a co-referential sentence, the relation between meanings of two nominals (namapada) is identity, as already explained in the case of (2) i.e. vahniman parvatah.  In the same manner, the meanings of two nominals i.e. nila and ghata have to get related through the relation of identity. Hence, here, blue is related with pot through the relation of identity. But in between these two nominals, there lies the case-ending am (in word nilam) which presents karmatva through signification function. With whom this karmatva has to get related? Because it can not get related with activity, since activity’s expectancy is already fulfilled by ghatanistha-karmatva, and here since blue and pot are the one and the same, only only one karmatva is enough to relate the karmakaraka to the activity. Hence it is a case of redundancy.

There are two ways to solve this problem. Both of them are explained by Gadadhara in his Vyutpattivada (p. 5.).

3.Adjective-case-endings are meaningless (or Samsargatavada)

First one is as follows— the second case-ending (karma-vibhakti) in word nilam and similarly all adjective case-endings do not carry any meaning at all, since they are just used to fill the blank place in the inflectional language, such as Sanskrit.

According to this theory, word am in nilam is totally meaningless and hence does not present karmatva in between blue and pot. Hence blue gets related with pot through the relation of identity and rest goes on smoothly.

In this theory, the relation i.e. identity, is akanksabhasya or syntactical meaning, since it is not the meaning of any word in the present sentence. This theory is called अभेदस्य संसर्गतामतम् (identity as syntactical relation) vis-a-vis  अभेदस्य प्रकारतामतम् (identity as  word meaning or predication content), the other one.

4.Identity is the meaning of adjective-case-endings (Prakaratavada)

Second way of solving this problem goes as follows— Identity is the meaning of “am” in the adjective “nilam”. That means, identity is admitted to be the meaning of all adjective-case-endings in similar sentences. According to this theory, in a sentence like (2) i.e. vahniman parvatah, the stem “vahnimat” means “fire-possesive”, first-case- ending “su” means identity, and the “parvatah” means mountain. Then fire-possesive gets related with identity through the relation of located-ness (adheyata). Then the identity gets related with mountain through  the relation of locus-ness (asrayata). Thus we arrive at the full sentential cognition “mountain has identity with fire-possesive through the relation of locus-ness”.

Proponents of this theory make it clear that “identity can be admitted to be a relation between qualifier and qualificandum only in compound words like nila-ghatah, sundara-purusah  etc. because there is no adjective-case-ending in compound words, and not in non-compound sentences like nilam ghatam etc. where adjective case-ending is present”.

We can say this in clear words as follows— According to this second theory, identity is presented in sentential cognitions through the akanksa, only in compound words like nilaghatah etc., because there is no case ending. In non-compound sentences, identity is presented through signification function since identity is accepted as a meaning of adjective-case-ending to avoid the redundancy of adjective-case-endings. Hence it is vrttibhasya or word- meaning in non-compound sentences and akanksabhasya syntactical meaning in compound-words/sentences.

Here, it is to be noted that Gadadhara presents both these theories without showing any preference between them, unlike in the case of “rajnah purusah” where he shows his preference for prakaratavada.


5. Importance of the problem of identity

Here I am going to show some problems in the second theory i.e. “identity as word- meaning or predication content”.

However, criticizing prakaratavada does not mean that I am going to support the first one i.e. “identity as syntactical relation” (samsargatavada). This critique is part of my project “Evaluating Gadadhara”. Still I have to make a full investigation of theory “identity as syntactical relation”. I do not know at this point of time where my investigation ends in future. I am simply presenting the results of investigation carried on so far.

It should also be checked that whether we, really, get a cognition like “A is identical with B” from a sentence like “A is B”. Normally, it seems to mean simply “A has B-ness”. Similarly, the sentence “Socrates is mortal” seems to mean “Socrates has mortal-ness” and not “Socrates is identical with a certain mortal individual”. This simple way of sentence analysis seems to be good, though it has to be checked thoroughly. To come to any conclusion, we have to check both prakarata and samsargata theories, their origin and development. We should also check the probability of a third cognition that arises after the initial sentential cognition. For that, we may, even, need to remodel the whole causal mechanism of sentential cognition as well.

To be more clear, we need to investigate the following—

Whether identity is an object of sentential cognition or not?

If yes, then, we should check, the following probabilities in depth, since this problem is not limited to Sanskrit language alone:

Whether identity is presented

(1) by adjective-case-ending alone? Or

(2) by  both the adjective-case-ending and noun-substantive case-ending?


(3) by the verb like “asti” or “is” etc.? or

(4) merely by adjective and noun-substantive, as in the case of “a good

boy”, or

(5) by the order of words, i.e. adjective is followed by noun, as in the case

of “a good boy”, or

(6) by subject-predicate-order, as in the case of “lotus is blue”?

If not, then we should decide, by which source we understand that “lotus is blue and nothing else”

Investigation of all these probabilities is not totally useless since this investigation is very important source to decide the meaning of sentences like

  • tat tvam asi

You are that

which is a matter of high debate between Advaitins and Dvaitins. Here, Advaitins think that that this sentence means identity between “tat” = Brahman, and “tvam” = jiva, while Dvaitins claim that this sentence is to be taken in the sense of secondary identity (gauna abheda) i.e. similarity between Jiva and Brahman.  The latter cite theoretic simplicity (laghava) in their stand if only case-endings are taken to mean secondary identity, against the theoretic complexity (gaurava) in accepting the secondary signification function in both stem tat and tvam as held by Advaitins. We can come to a conclusion on “how to interpret these sentences” only if we can settle the present problem.

6.Problems in the theory “identity as qualifier”

Here are some of the problems in the theory prakaratavada.

  1. Sentences like

(5)  Nilabhedasryah ghatah

Pot is the locus of the identity with blue (substance)

should produce a cognition “pot is the locus of identity with something that is locus of identity with blue”, if we accept this theory as explained in the case of (2) i.e. vahniman parvatah. However it seems to be impossible, since, apparently, only “identity with blue” is sought to be conveyed by the speaker and not “identity with a locus that is identical with blue”. We can say this in Sanskrit as  नीलेन घटस्य अभेद एव प्रत्याययिषितः, न तु नीलाभेदाश्रयेण घटस्य अभेदः.

  1. A non-repetitive sentence like

(6)  Nilabhinno nilah

               (A thing that is) identical with the blue is blue

should become a repetitive one if we subsribe to this theory. Here is the sequence of sentences in which it occurs:

A is blue.

(A thing that is) identical with the blue is blue.

B is identical with A.

B is blue.

Here in this sentence nilah is adjective and nilabhinnah is noun-substantive (visesyapada). Here according to this theory, adjective nila and case-ending “su” together present “identity with blue”. This identity with blue gets related with qualificandum i.e. blue through the relation of superstratum-ness (adheyata). Thus noun-substantive (visesyapada) nilabhinnah and adjective nilah together give rise to cognition “a thing that is identical with blue has identity with blue through the relation of superstratum-ness”. This cognition is anything but non-repetitive, hence not acceptable for Naiyayikas, because this cognition is contrary to the rule “no repetitive cognition is possible unless there is something new in predication content that does not figure in subject content”.


  1. An apparently repetitive sentence like

(7) Nilo nilah

             Blue is Blue

should be admitted to produce the a non-repetitive cognition, if this theory is accepted. Here in this sentence, in adjective “nilah” there are two words i.e. nila and “su”. Together they present “identity with blue”. However, since case-ending in noun-substantive (visesyapada) is accepted not to be denoting identity, that noun-substantive presents only “blue”. This “blue” gets related with the meaning of adjective i.e. “identity with blue” through the relation of locus-ness (asrayata). Thus there should arise a cognition “blue has identity with blue through the relation of locus-ness”. Here, since, subject content (blue) and predication content (identity with blue) are technically different, there should be no repetition.


  1. There will be theoretical heaviness in limitor of qualifierness (prakaratavacchedaka) as well as limitor of denotation (sakyatavacchedaka).


  1. Sentences like vahniman parvatah can not be taken to denote a unitary thing. Here parvatah means “mountain”. However vahniman does not mean “fire-possesive” but means “identity with fire-possesive”. Hence these two words can not be co-referential (samanadhikarana), hence even may not be able to have karmadharaya compound, because only co-referential words can be unified by this compound.


  1. Forget non-inflectional languages like English etc., even Sanskrit sentences like

(8) Manohari dadhi

                Beautiful curd

cannot mean identity between two word meanings, since there is neither case-ending nor a recollection of such case-ending.


  1. Even Naiyayikas admit many sources through which one grasps significatory power of words (sakti). They are listed as grammar, similarity, dictionaries etc. None of such sources can be cited to support theory of “identity as meaning of adjective-case-ending”.


  1. There should arise a cognition of identity even if we do not know that adjective-case-ending and noun-substantive-case-ending are the same. To be clear, we cognize identity, if and only if, we see both adjective-case-ending and noun-substantive-case-ending. Hence how can we hold that identity is the meaning of mere adjective-case-ending?


  1. Similarly one can argue that “why not you accept bheda relation i.e. abhedasryatva in compound words like nilaghatah which are the classical examples of abhedasambandha?”. Thus nowhere we can find identity as relation.


Thus the theory “indentity as qualifier” seems to be untenable. However it is left to other competent scholars to decide the merits or demerits of my critique. One result, I hope, this paper will bring, is that change in thinking of at least some young people who are free from prejudices.


Finally I want to convey, what I think as correct analysis—We understand identity between blue and pot through the order of words i.e. visesana succeeded by visesya in the case of subject content (uddesyakoti) and subject succeeded by predicate in the case of subject-predicate order. Case-endings are used only to indicate the (visesya-visesanabhava) or words, hence have no special meaning in conveying identity. This analysis is also applicable to many languages.


[i] I would like to thank  Prof. Arindam Chakraborthy who suggested this topic, Dr. Shrinivasa Varakhedi and Archana for their remarks.

[ii] शाब्दबोधे च एकपदार्थे अपरपदार्थसंसर्गः संसर्गमर्यादया भासते। V.V  p.1.

[iii] अभेदश्च प्रातिपदिकार्थे स्वमानविभक्तिकेन स्वाव्यवहितपूर्ववर्तिना च पदेनोपस्थापितस्यैव संसर्गमर्यादया भासते। V.V  p.1.