Vyākaraṇam or grammar is one of the six Vedāṅgas, and is considered the mouth of Vedapuruṣa (the Vedas personified). It is also called Śabdānuśāsanam. Unlike the grammar of any other language, Vyākaraṇam of Sanskrit language is associated with philosophy. Literally, the term Vyākaraṇam means an instrument that separates Śabdas (perfect) from Apaśabdas (imperfect Śabdas). Dharma can be achieved by employing perfect Śabdas and the imperfect Śabdas cause Adharma. Just like any other Vedāṅga, Vyākaraṇam also helps one attain Mokṣa (liberation from the cycle of birth and death). The term Śabda is untranslatable as it denotes the following: varṇa (phoneme), prakṛti (nominal and verbal root), pratyaya (suffix), padam (word), vākyam (sentence), avāntaravākyam (sub-sentence), mahāvākyam (discourse), and dhvani (sound). Vyākaraṇam is not grammar (parts of speech) — but more than that. It is a rough translation. Vyākaraṇam is considered to be the most important among the Vedāṅgas as it is the base of all disciplines. For that matter, grammar is the backbone of any language and literature.
Origin of Vyākaraṇam
The origin of Vyākaraṇam is there in the Vedas — in Gopathabrāhmaṇa (p. 12) as we come across the terminology that is employed in Vyākaraṇam:
ओंकारं पृच्छामः – को धातुः? किं प्रातिपदिकम् ? किं नामाख्यातम् ? किं लिङ्गम् ? किं वचनम् ? का विभक्तिः ? कः प्रत्ययः ? कः स्वरः ? . . .
oṃkāraṃ pṛcchāmaḥ — ko dhātuḥ? kiṃ prātipadikam? kiṃ nāmākhyātam? kiṃ liṅgam? kiṃ vacanam? kā vibhaktiḥ? kaḥ pratyayaḥ? kaḥ svaraḥ?
pṛcchāmaḥ = let us ask, oṃkāram = Omkāra, kaḥ = which one is, dhātuḥ = verbal root? kim = what is, prātipadikam = nominal root? kim nāma = what is meant by, ākhyātam = a verb? kim = what is, liṅgam = gender? kim = what is, vacanam = number? kā = which one is, vibhaktiḥ = case? kaḥ = what is meant by, pratyayaḥ = suffix? kaḥ = what is meant by, svaraḥ = accent?
Let us take up the word ‘om’ – what is the verbal root? the nominal root? What is meant by verb, gender, number, case, suffix, and accent?
Dichotomy of Śabdas — Secular and Vedic
The Śabdas in Sanskrit language can be put under two headings: Laukika (secular) and Vaidika (Vedic). So far as meaning is concerned there is no difference between Laukika and Vaidika Śabdas. Rather, the form of some Śabdas is different in the Vedas:
Moreover, svara (accent) is mandatory in Veda, and any change in svara would cause change in meaning. On the other hand, although svara is common to both kinds of Śabdas, people do not employ the same in Loka (secular). Another significant point is that there is free word order in Loka, whereas in Vedic literature the order of words is prescribed.