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Bhartṛhari’s Verbal Holism: Some Hermeneutical Queries


One of the main problems regarding language which has bothered philosophers since antiquity is that it often misleads us. Linguistic understanding inevitably involves a subject who understands and the subject-matter or content of what she understands. Since the subject-matter of linguistic understanding is externally given to the subject as text or spoken word, linguistic understanding, therefore, is both subjective and objective at the same time and ineluctably involves interpretation on the part of the subject. But the moment we grant the subjective participation in understanding, the problem of universality of meaning would inevitably raise its head. This problem has been addressed in different ways by different thinkers across history and cultures. Even though some of the ancient Indian thinkers like Bhartṛhari mainly focus on understanding of the Vedic texts, they could probably have important clues for the problem of universality in understanding through language as it is posed by hermeneutic thinkers starting from St. Augustine in medieval period up to Gadamer and Habermas in more recent times. This paper attempts to explore and examine Bhartṛhari’s philosophy of verbal holism from the point of view of the problem of universality in hermeneutics.

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  1. 1.

    Kant has dwelt at length on this in his ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ and writing here further on this topic would probably deviate the drift of the present paper.

  2. 2.

    p.1. verse. 1. Vākyapadīya Kānda-I, translated by K. A. Subramania Iyer, Poona 1965.

  3. 3.


  4. 4.

    Ibid, p.55, verse 48.

  5. 5.

    p.19 verse 13.

  6. 6.

    Ibid. verse 14

  7. 7.

    Ibid. verse 15.

  8. 8.

    Ibid. verse 16.

  9. 9.

    Ibid verse 17.

  10. 10.

    Ibid. verse 27.

  11. 11.

    Ibid. p.40.

  12. 12.

    Jaimini in his Mīmāmsāsūtra 1.1.5 says that the relation between word and meaning is ‘non-derived’ or ‘uncreated’. For further discussion on this, read Matilal (1990).

  13. 13.

    Ibid. verse 28.

  14. 14.

    See, Vākyapadīya kānda- I, verse, 1.14

  15. 15.

    cf. Vākyapadīya kānda-I, verse 144.

  16. 16.

    Ibid. verse 155.

  17. 17.

    Ibid, verse 51, p.58.

  18. 18.

    Ibid. verse 112.

  19. 19.

    Ibid. verse 108.

  20. 20.

    I would use the term ‘Word’ (with capital W) wherever I use it in the sense of word-principle.

  21. 21.

    Ibid. verse 130–131.

  22. 22.


  23. 23.

    Ibid. p.15.

  24. 24.


  25. 25.

    Heidegger says, at the beginning of “Letter on Humanism,” that “Language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells” (Heidegger 1977).

  26. 26.

    Cf. Selected writings of Mahamahopadhyaya Gopinath Kaviraj, Indica book, Varanasi, 2006. p.133.


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Correspondence to Ajay Verma.

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Verma, A. Bhartṛhari’s Verbal Holism: Some Hermeneutical Queries. J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res. 32, 211–226 (2015).

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  • Bhartṛhari
  • Augustine
  • Gadamer
  • Habermas
  • sphoṭa
  • Hermeneutics
  • verbal-holism