The Hymns of ancient sages in the form of prayers and explanations (mantras and brahmanas) carefully preserved and transmitted to posterity through oral tradition (sruti) constitute the ancient accumulated wisdom called the Veda. The Veda has a fruitful purpose and to be fruitful, it has to be properly pronounced, understood and applied in rites. There are six aids to achieve this purpose called Veadngas. They are (1) Siksa (phonetic directory) (2) Chandas (metre) (3) Nirukta (etymological explanation) (4) Vyakarana (grammar) (5) Kalpa (ceremonial directory) and Jyotisa (astronomy). According to their role, these are directly related either to the sound or sense-aspect of the veda.
The Nirukta is directly concerned with the sense- aspect and holds a central position in Vedic interpretation. It is the complement of grammar as well as an independent science. Not less than 17 Niruktakaras (interpreters of the Veda) are known to have preceded Yaska who is held to be a predecessor of Panini. Just as Panini (5 C. B.C) established himself as the foremost sutra-Kara by super- seding the earlier grammarians through his Astadhyayi, so also yaska (6 C.B.C.) superseded through his Nirukta the earlier Niruktakaras.
The first part of Nirukta consists of a list of vedic words called Nighantus in five chapters. According to Yaska, they are composed by the descendants of ancient sages for the easier understanding of the transmitted texts. The Nirukta is only a commentary, though not exhaustive, to these lists of words. The Nighantus in five chapters are broadly divided into three sections called Kandas, Kanda I consisting of the first three chapters and called Naighantukakanda deals with synonyms collected under certain main ideas pertaining to Earth, Gold, Air, etc., The fourth chapter called Naigama-Kanda consists of homonyms-difficult vedic words of the same form having different meanings. The fifth chapter called Daivata Kanda gives a classification of the deities according to the region of Earth, Sky and Heaven (Prthivi- Antariksa and Dyaubs).
Veda-exegesis probably began with the compilation of such glossaries (Nighantus). The composition of commentaries to these glossaries after the style of Nirukta with the explanation of difficult veda-verses interwoven was a further step in the development. At a later period, detailed and continuous commentaries called bhasyas to the Vedic texts were written.
Yaska’s Nirukta consists of 12 chapters. The first three chapters deal with some interesting discussions on Philological questions and principles of etymology and explain some synonyms of Naighantuka-Kanda. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 explain the homonyms occurring in the fourth chapter of Nighantu called Naigama-Kanda. The last six (chapters 7 to 12) explain the ideas of Daivata-Kanda (fifth chapter of Nighantu) relating to the Devatas and words associated with them.
Thus the Nitghantus consisting of five chapters in their three Kandas and the Nirukta in 12 chapters together occupy 17 chapters. The value of the Nirukta lies in its being the oldest extant eommentary on the Veda. Parts of the Veda are difficult to understand owing to their extreme antiquity, brevity and obscurity of style. Yaska, while explaining difficult words, quotes vedic passages in illustration and gives interesting alternative and acceptable etymological explanations. The present edition of the Nirukta with Nighantu is quite timely and welcome. Part I consists of the entire Nighantu, and six chapters of Nirukta. The Nighantu giving the list of Vedic words in Sanskrit is followed by their transliteration in Tamil. Their etymological explanation is not given here since most of the important words of the list find an explanation with relevant illustrative vedic passages in the Nirukta. The text of the Nirukta is followed by its transliteration as well as a scholarly and useful translation in Tamil. The Editor is an outstanding traditional vedic scholar endowed with a rare mastery over the modern critical approach to vedic studies. In his learned introduction the editor has elucidated many points relating to the Nirukta viz, the autorship of the Nighantu and Nirukta, the genesis and contents of the Nirukta-Yaska's date, his important observations and service to the Science of Linguistics.
Part II of Nirukta consisting of the last six chapters 7 to 12) along with the necessary indexes and Appendix will be published shortly.
We are deeply beholden to the learned Editor, for his scholarly edition of this useful work. We are indebted to our learned Librarian Prof. V. Gopala Iyengar for having initiated its publication. To the two Presses, the Mahabharatha Prees and the Venkateswara Press, Kumbakonam we are thankful for the neat execution of the printing. We wish to record our gratitude to the Government of Tamil Nadu for facilitating the publication of this and similar works through their annual publication grant.
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