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Is Word-Meaning Denoted or Remembered? Śālikanātha’s Cornerstone in Defence of Anvitābhidhāna


The role of memory in one’s cognition of sentential meaning is a pivotal topic in Indian philosophical debates on the nature of language. The Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsakas claim in their doctrine of abhihitānvaya that words denote word-meanings which in turn lead one to sentential meaning, with memory playing only a limited role in this process. The Prābhākara Mīmāṃsakas however assign memory a central role and assert that each word in a sentence denotes the connected sentential meaning. This paper is a philosophical and philological study of the arguments presented by the influential Prābhākara thinker Śālikanātha in his Vākyārthamātṛkā-I (VM-I) in order to substantiate the role of memory as part of the doctrine of anvitābhidhāna. The VM-I commences these discussions with an objection of the Bhāṭṭa pūrvapakṣin against this Prābhākara doctrine (often quoted even in recent scholarship), and thereafter proceeds to refute this objection by demonstrating the role of memory, specifically in regard to word-meaning. Śālikanātha lays out his refutation by means of several layers of intricate argumentation, and this paper attempts to follow the text closely and present cogently his philosophical reasoning. The aim of this paper is thus to not only demonstrate the early pre-empting of this Bhāṭṭa objection by Śālikanātha himself but also his own responses to this, thereby enabling one to understand with greater clarity a cornerstone of the elaborate doctrine of anvitābhidhāna.

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  1. Kataoka (2011, p. 112).

  2. I have referred to three printed editions of the Sanskrit text of the VM-I: the Sastri (1964) edition (BHU), the Sastri (1904) edition (C) and the Kevalānandasaraswatī (1952) edition (MK). Divergences in their readings (if any) have been mentioned in the footnotes. I have also referred to one manuscript of the VM-I (M.T.B College, Surat: Manuscripts Library No. 1371, ff.26v-40v) in case of some difficult sentences and have mentioned important deviations in the relevant footnotes.

  3. See for instance Raja (1969, pp. 200–202), Matilal and Sen (1988, p. 90f) (also in Matilal (1990, pp. 112–115)) and Siderits (2012, pp. 46–49) (who refers to this argument of mutual dependence as a ‘stock objection’). A recent overview of the VM-I is Ollett (2020).

  4. The term artha can refer to “meaning” or “object”. This present discussion focusses on the doctrines of abhihitānvaya and anvitābhidhāna, hence I prefer to translate the term as “meaning” (hence, padārtha as “WM”) while nevertheless bearing in mind its dual senses. There is, however, an instance in the present discussion where Śālikanātha uses the term artha to unambiguously mean “object”, and I modify the translation accordingly then.

  5. See Saxena (2019, p. 493f) for a further explanation and introduction to the doctrine.

  6. tathā padenānvitas svārtho ’bhidhīyamānaḥ—kim abhihitena padārthāntareṇānvito ’bhidhīyate uta anabhihiteneti vikalpanīyam (Sastri, 1964, p. 381f).

  7. The topic under discussion often warrants a discussion about linguistic units as distinct from their respective meanings, and vice versa. In order to prevent confusion of these, I enclose the units in single quotes (e.g. the sentence ‘bring the white cow’) and meanings in double quotes (e.g. WM “cow”) throughout this paper.

  8. anabhihitena cet padāntaraprayogavaiyarthyam. ekasmāc ca sarvānvayapratītiprasaṅgaḥ. abhihitena cet tad api tarhi padam anvitābhidhāyitayā padāntaropāttam artham abhidhānāyāpekṣata iti, itaretarāśrayaḥ prāpnoti. (Sastri, 1964, p. 382f).

  9. samprati pūrvoktam itaretarāśrayadoṣaṃ parihartum, yathā padebhyo vākyārthapratipattiḥ, tathā darśayati. (Sastri, 1964, p. 401).

  10. See the following section for a discussion.

  11. VM-I v.15: smṛtisannihitair evam arthair anvitam ātmanaḥ; artham āha padaṃ sarvam iti nānyonyasaṃśrayaḥ (Sastri, 1964, p. 406).

  12. VM-I v.12: padajātaṃ śrutaṃ sarvaṃ smāritānanvitārthakam; nyāyasampāditavyakti paścād vākyārthabodhakam. See Saxena (2019) for an explanation and discussion of this important verse and relevant commentary. I am leaving the term vacanavyakti untranslated here as this complex concept has been elaborately discussed in the aforementioned paper and it would be tangential to include this discussion here.

  13. kathaṃ punar anvitābhidhāyinā padena svarūpamātraṃ* smārayituṃ śakyam iti (Sastri, 1964, p. 405 (*MK and C: svarupamātreṇa). The term svarūpa is repeatedly used in the VM-I to refer to the unconnected WM and not to the phonic form of the word as is the definition of the term svaṃ rūpaṃ in Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī 1.1.68.

  14. VM-I v.13: anvitasyābhidhāne ’pi svarūpaṃ vidyate sadā; tena svarūpamātre ’pi śabdo janayati smṛtim (Sastri, 1964, p. 405).

  15. See verse from the saṃgrahaśloka: padāny eva samarthāni vākyārthasyāvabodhane; viśeṣānvayavādīni bhāgaśo bhāgaśālinaḥ (Sastri, 1964, p. 414). (The words alone are capable of leading to the cognition of the SM which comprises parts (bhāgaśālin) [as] these words convey the specific connection [between the WMs] in turn (bhāgaśas).).

  16. The term pratyāsatti is repeatedly found in Śālikanātha’s account of memory in the VM-I. Śālikanātha admits that the cognition of any entity (X) can give rise to a memory of another entity (Y), without needing any ontologically real connection between X and Y. This leads to memory being quite subjective in nature, and Śālikanātha says simply that memory is dependent upon pratyāsatti (smaraṇasaya pratyāsattinibandhanatvāt (Sastri, 1964, p. 406); smārakatvaṃ nāma pratyāsattinibandhanam, (A. S. Sastri, 1964, p. 407)). I hence translate the term pratyāsatti as ‘mental contiguity’ to capture the idea of a subjectively-established proximity between any two entities involved in memory. This translation also distinguishes the term pratyāsatti from another similar term sannidhi, which is translated as ‘proximity’.

  17. na hi yat pramāṇaṃ, tad eva smaraṇakāraṇam, apramāṇam eva hi tat.* yasya tu yena saha kadācit pratyāsattiḥ pratītapūrvā, sā tatra saṃskārodbodhadvāreṇa śaknoty eva smṛtiṃ janayitum. asti ca svarūpasyāpi tadabhidheyāntargatyā śabdena pratyāsattir iti śaknoti tatrāpi śabdas smṛtiṃ janayitum. (Sastri, 1964, p. 405) *This is a somewhat awkward sentence, although its sense is clear. It may be interesting to note that the VM-I manuscript (ff.37r-37v) has the following sentence: na hi yan (yat?) pramāṇaṃ tad eva smaraṇakāraṇakāraṇaṃ. tena yat smaraṇakāraṇam apramāṇam etat. (For it is not the case that only a means of veridical knowledge is the primary cause of recollection. Thus, that which causes recollection is something which is not a means of veridical knowledge.)

  18. VM-I v.14cd: padenāpy apramāṇena tathārthas smārayiṣyate (Sastri, 1964, p. 405).

  19. Śālikanātha uses the terms svarūpa and svarūpamātra also in the chapter Pramāṇapārāyaṇa of the PrP when he discusses nirvikalpa perceptions (prathamaṃ hi svarūpamātragrahaṇaṃ dravyajātiguṇeṣūpapadyate (Sastri, 1964, p. 161); apratipadyamāno ’pi ca te, śaknoty eva svarūpaṃ tayoḥ pratipattum iti (Sastri, 1964, p. 164). It would be quite tangential to discuss this topic here, but it should suffice to note that the nirvikalpa perception according to Śālikanātha grasps only the svarūpa of an object’s similarity (anugati) and distinction (vyāvṛtti) from other objects, and not these latter two themselves which one cognizes only at the stage of the savikalpa perception. See Jha (1978, p. 37f) or Pandurangi (2004, p. 137ff) for an overview of Śālikanātha’s position.

  20. yathā nirvikalpakadaśāpratītam arthasvarūpamātram anabhidheyam* api śabdaṃ smārayati, tathā śabdo ’py artham iti kim anupapannam (Sastri, 1964, p. 405f) (*BHU: anabhidhem, MK & C: anabhidheyam); VM-I v.14ab: yathārthenāpramāṇena svapadaṃ smāryate kvacit (Sastri, 1964, p. 405). Perhaps by this example of the cognition in the nirvikalpa stage, the VM-I is referring also to Bhartṛhari’s concept of avikalpajñāna and the related concept of upalipsā (the intention to perceive) as explained in the beginning of the vṛtti to Vākyapadīya 1.131 (see Vergiani (2017) for an explanation and translation). As Vergiani explains “Bhartṛhari appears to admit the existence of a cognitive state in which the mind records the sense data but does not process them into full-blown cognitions. However, he insists that even such an inchoate mental state of which the subject is barely aware is inherently infused with language, as is shown by the fact that, when triggered by the appropriate circumstances, it can be recollected—namely, it can become the object of a distinct conceptualisation and thereby verbalised (emphasis mine).”

  21. abhihitānvayavādino ’pi sā na pramāṇam abhyadhikārthaparicchedābhāvāt. anadhigatārthagantṛ pramāṇam iti siddhāntābhyupagamāt (Sastri, 1964, p. 406).

  22. ŚV Śabdapariccheda v.107ab: padam abhyadhikābhāvāt smārakān na viśiṣyate (Sastri, 1964, p. 401).

  23. Śālikanātha has additional hermeneutic concerns regarding this argument, in that he aims to render this in consonance with the arguments found in the Śābarabhāṣya (ŚBh) on Jaimini’s Pūrvamīmāṃsāsūtra (PMS) III.3.14. However, since the main concern of this paper is the philosophical argument presented, I am not presenting this discussion of the VM-I here.

  24. The term viśeṣa here can be understood and translated in two ways: one, as the difference among the various WMs present in memory, and two, as a specific WM from among the various WMs present in memory. In the case of the Sanskrit sentence paraphrased here, both translations can be justified. However, I contend that it is the latter (specific WM) which is intended since it will be seen subsequently (footnote 47) that the term viśeṣa is used in the VM-I in a manner that unambiguously renders its sense as the latter.

  25. yadi smṛtisannihitam āśrityānvitābhidhānaṃ padaiḥ* kriyate, tadā smaraṇasya pratyāsattinibandhanatvāt, anekeṣāñ cārthānāṃ pratyāsattisambhavāt, teṣu smṛtisannihiteṣv agṛhyamāṇaviśeṣatvāt, ukhāyāṃ pacatīti nokhā pacatyarthānvitaiva kevalābhidhīyeta. sā hi kulālādyanvitāpi pratipannaiveti, smaraṇāt tadanvitāpy ukhābhidhīyeta (*BHU: paraiḥ, MK & C: padaiḥ) (Sastri, 1964, p. 406f).

  26. tathā pacatyartho ’pi piṣṭakādikaraṇako ’vagata iti tatsmaraṇān naudanānvita evābhidhīyeta.* (Sastri, 1964, p. 407) (*This final phrase is exactly the same in all three printed editions, yet the VM-I manuscript (f.38r) presents a variation: iti ta(t?)smaraṇenodanādyanvitābhidhīyeta. I prefer the manuscript’s reading here (emended however to correct the sandhi, from smaraṇenodana to smaraṇenaudana as well as anvitābhidhīyeta to anvito ’bhidhīyeta) as the phrase then translates to: Thus, [the WM “pacati”] shall be denoted as connected to [WM] “odana” (rice), etc. due to that memory [of “piṣṭaka”, etc.].)

  27. abhihitānvayavāde tu nāyaṃ doṣaḥ, ekaikasyārthasyābhidheyatvād iti. (Sastri, 1964, p. 407).

  28. padāt tāvat padārthapratītiḥ smaraṇād bhinnā vadituṃ na śakyate. tena smṛtānām evānvayabodhakatvam ityāśrayaṇīyam. tathā ca tulyo doṣaḥ. (Sastri, 1964, p. 407).

  29. It is such distinction in the hearer’s experience that also leads the Bhāṭṭa to postulate a distinction in the processes leading to the cognition of the denoted WM (process of abhidhāna) and to the cognition of the remembered WM (process of smṛti). At this stage, Śālikanātha is only refuting the distinction between the end-results of these two processes, the denoted WM and the recollected WM. Śālikanātha will subsequently dispute also the distinction in the two processes of the denotation of an unconnected WM and the recollection of an unconnected WM.

  30. atha śabdaiḥ smāritānām anvayabodhakatvaṃ vṛddhavyavahāre tathādarśanād ity adoṣaḥ (Sastri, 1964, p. 407).

  31. matāntare ’pi tulyam etat. na cāyam ekāntaḥ, vṛddhavyavahāre ’dhyāhṛtenāpy arthenānvitābhidhānadarśanād ity uktam (Sastri, 1964, p. 407). Śālikanātha assigns a critical role to vṛddhavyavahāra in the process of language learning (vyutpatti), see Saxena (2018, p. 37ff) for a further discussion from the VM-I on this topic.

  32. atha śabdair bahavo ’rthāḥ smāryante, kintu teṣāṃ katamenānvayāvabodhakatvam iti na vidmaḥ. abhihitānvayavāde tv abhihitenaivānvayabodhakatvaṃ yuktam eveti (Sastri, 1964, p. 407).

  33. tad asat. smārakatvātirekiṇī kānyābhidhāyakatā yā vyavasthānibandhanam (Sastri, 1964, p. 407).

  34. smārakatvaṃ nāma pratyāsattinibandhanam. tena tadatirekiṇy abhidheyābhidhāyakatālakṣaṇā pratyāsattir aṅgīkaraṇīyeti (Sastri, 1964, p. 407).

  35. naitad evam, smārakatvenaiva vṛddhavyavahāre darśanāt smārakatvopapatteḥ. pratyāyyapratyāyakatā hi vācyavācakatā. sā ca yady apy agnidhūmādīnāṃ sambandhāntarapūrvikā dṛṣṭā, tathāpi śabde tathā nāśrīyate kintu vācakatvāvagamād eva vācakatvam. evaṃ smārakatvāvagamād eva smārakatvam iti, kiṃ pratyāsattyantarāśrayaṇena (Sastri, 1964, p. 407).

  36. How does this argument of Śālikanātha then align with the Mīmāṃsā doctrine that the relation of words and their meanings is nitya? Śālikanātha stops here exactly at the point of stating anything about how the relation between words and WMs first comes about—his argument is that once the relation has been established, an individual learning the language needs only to comprehend the ability of the word to convey its related WM, just as is the case for any two entities related in memory. Moreover, this seems to conform to our everyday experience that words are not related to WMs based on any ontological connection (i.e. there is no ontological connection between the word ‘cow’ and the meaning “cow”, unlike the pair of smoke and fire)—nevertheless, the word adequately conveys its related meaning. Furthermore, given the distinction that Śālikanātha admits in the respective foundations of the two relations word-WM and smoke-fire, it is evident that he does not consider the nityatā of words and WMs as an ontological relation similar to the kāryakāraṇatā of smoke and fire.

  37. api ca jñātaṃ tāvad etad yad anena padenāyam artho ’nvito vācya iti, tatra yady anyenāpy anvitābhidhānaṃ syāt tadā vākyabhedo bhavet. na cāsāv ekavākyatvasambhave nyāyyaḥ. (Sastri, 1964, p. 408).

  38. sambhavaty ekavākyatve vākyabhedas tu neṣyate (Sastri, 1964, p. 408).

  39. ata eva yathā kathañcid ekavākyatvopapattau vākyabhedasyānyāyyatvam. loke ca lakṣaṇā, gauṇī ca vṛttir vākyabhedabhayād eva. anyathā vākyaṃ bhitvā kim ity adhyāhṛtya yogyam arthāntaraṃ sarvapadāny eva mukhyārthāni nāśrīyante. (Sastri, 1964, p. 408).

  40. See McCrea (2000, p. 453) for an explanation of guṇavṛtti and lakṣaṇā, as well as the example of siṃho devadattaḥ.

  41. tatra yadi samabhivyāhriyamāṇasya padasyābhidheyaṃ parityajya anyena sahānvayo lakṣyate, tadā tadekavākyatā hīyeta. (Sastri, 1964, p. 409).

  42. tadartham evedam uktaṃ nyāyasampāditavyaktīti. ekavākyatvaṃ hi nyāyaḥ. tadanusāreṇa yo ’rthaḥ, so ’tra vākyasyāśrayaṇīyaḥ.) (Sastri, 1964, p. 409).

  43. vṛddhavyavahāravyutpattiniyantritāyāṃ śabdārthāvagatau ye nyāyāḥ vṛddhavyavahāre vākyārthāvagatihetutayā viditāḥ, tān aparijahatā vākyārthā boddhavyā iti. (Sastri, 1964, p. 409).

  44. bhavatu tarhi padārthāntareṇa tāvad anvitābhidhānam ekavākyatvabalāt tatsmāritena, svayaṃsmāritena ca tadekavākyatvānuguṇenārthāntareṇāpi kim ity anvitābhidhānaṃ na bhavati. (Sastri, 1964, p. 409).

  45. padadvayenaivānvitābhidhānasiddher ākāṅkṣopaśānteḥ. (Sastri, 1964, p. 409).

  46. atha nopaśāntākāṅkṣā tarhi ko nāma tatrānvitābhidhānaṃ vārayet. (Sastri, 1964, p. 409).

  47. The Sanskrit sentence used here demonstrates unambiguously the sense of the term viśeṣa. The text states: …yasyārthasya kenacit prakāreṇa viśeṣo gṛhyate …i.e. the viśeṣa is of one of the meanings (artha) from among all those present in the mind due to their memories. Furthermore, the text continues: …tenaivānvitābhidhānam …i.e. there is DoC with that viśeṣa only, thus once again reinforcing our understanding of the term viśeṣa as ‘specific WM’ and not ‘the difference amongst the WMs present in memory’ (this ambiguity was also discussed in footnote 24).

  48. ata evaikapadoccāraṇe tadarthasambandhamukhena bahuṣv api smṛtisannihiteṣu yasyārthasya kenacit prakāreṇa viśeṣo gṛhyate tenaivānvitābhidhānam, agṛhyamāṇe tu viśeṣe ’nadhyavasāyād apratītir eva (Sastri, 1964, p. 409).

  49. One reason for this ambiguous, generic formulation may be that it paves the way for the specific method (prakāra) suggested by Śālikanātha in his subsequent (second) response immediately below, where he argues that words consistently (niyamena) remind one of their own WMs only. Another possibility however may be that this response is distinct from the second response below, and subsequent Prābhākara philosophers may have thus elaborated upon this possibility. Further such study may help us understand this better.

  50. ata eva vikṛtiṣu tatsādṛśyena yad apūrvaṃ smaryamāṇaṃ svopakārakaṃ smārayati, tadīyenaivopakāreṇa paripūraṇam. ato yatra bahutaradharmasādhāraṇyanibandhanaṃ sādṛśyam atyantodbhaṭam*, tatraiva śīghraṃ smṛtyupapattes tadīyopakāraparigraha eva. (*C & MK: sādṛśyam anyasyodgatam) (Sastri, 1964, p. 409).

  51. darvihomeṣu tu sarvāpūrvāṇām aviśeṣād viśeṣo grahītum aśakya ity anadhyavasāya eva prākṛtasyopakārasyeti, tatraivopakārakalpanā. (*C & MK: sādṛśyam anyasyodgatam) (Sastri, 1964, p. 409). See Freschi (2012, p. 373) for an explanation of the terms of analogical extension (atideśa), derived rituals (vikṛti) and archetype rituals (prakṛti).

  52. api ca yathāvṛddhavyavahārāvagamaṃ vākyārthāvabodhaḥ. tatra yad eva padena anapabhraṣṭasambandhagrahaṇasaṃskārasya puruṣasya niyamena smāryate, tenaivānvitābhidhānaṃ padāntarasya dṛśyate, nānyena. sarvaṃ padaṃ svārthaṃ hi niyamena sambandhagrahaṇāt smārayati, nārthāntaram. tataś ca tenaivānvitasvārthabodhakateti na kaścid doṣaḥ (Sastri, 1964, p. 409).


  • BHU: Sastri (1964) edition of VM-I

  • C: Sastri (1904) edition of VM-I

  • CoD: Connection of Denoted [Meanings] (abhihitānvaya)

  • DoC: Denotation of Connected [Meanings] (anvitābhidhāna)

  • MK: Kevalānandasaraswatī (1952) edition of VM-I

  • PMS: Jaimini’s Pūrvamīmāṃsāsūtra

  • Śbh: Śābarabhāṣya

  • SM: Sentential Meaning

  • ŚV: Kumārila Bhaṭṭa’s Ślokavārttika

  • VM-I: First chapter (pariccheda) of Śālikanātha’s Vākyārthamātṛkā-I

  • WM: Word-Meaning


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Much of the groundwork for this paper was done during my PhD at the University of Cambridge, under the supervision of Dr. Vincenzo Vergiani. I am immensely grateful to him for our regular reading sessions and his distinguished academic guidance. I am also thankful to several senior scholars who generously gave me their time and support, especially Dr. Elisa Freschi, Dr. Hugo David and Dr. Kei Kataoka.

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Saxena, S. Is Word-Meaning Denoted or Remembered? Śālikanātha’s Cornerstone in Defence of Anvitābhidhāna. J Indian Philos 50, 285–305 (2022).

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  • Philosophy of language
  • Sentential meaning
  • Mīmāṃsā
  • Śālikanātha
  • Denotation
  • Memory