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Language & Communication 23 (2003) 275–285

From ritual to grammar:

sacrifice, homology, metalanguage
Adi Hastings
Department of Anthropology, University of Iowa, 114 Macbride Hall, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA

Vedic philosophers developed a doctrine of homological relations based on a principle of
‘resemblance’ in order to make meaningful the mediation of the microcosmic and macro-
cosmic realms through ritual practice. This general approach to signification is shown to
inhere in a variety of other contexts, specifically in the structure of ritual manuals and in the
use of metalinguistic devices in Sanskrit grammar, demonstrating the multiple ways that cul-
turally specific means of construing signs and signification can regiment various orders of
social life and knowledge production.
# 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Sanskrit; Ritual; Grammar; Metalanguage; Semiotics

Vedic literature in India is exemplified by a vast body of exegetical works devoted to

interpreting the meaning of the Vedic word and outlining the practices of Vedic ritual.1
The early Indian grammatical tradition, with the grammarian Pa-n: ini standing at its
forefront, is similarly characterized by a large wealth of commentary, most especially
on Pa-n: ini’s grammar of Sanskrit and its various intricacies. Where the two traditions

E-mail address: (A. Hastings).

Orthographic note: Transliteration of Sanskrit words and phonemes follows standard practice. A
macron over a vowel (e.g. a-) indicates a long vowel; an h following a consonant indicates aspiration; c is
an unvoiced palatal stop; t: and d: are retroflex stops; s: and s´ are retroflex and palatal sibilants, respec-
tively; r: and l: are vocalic; n, ñ and n: are velar, palatal, and retroflex nasals; m
: indicates generally nasali-
zation of the preceding vowel, although it is often realized as a homorganic nasal in consonant clusters; h
is a voiced aspirant (unlike English), whereas h: is an unvoiced aspirant, traditionally pronounced with a
faint echo of the preceding vowel. Otherwise, values roughly approximate those in English orthography.
One may consult any of the many introductory Sanskrit textbooks for a more complete description. For
the Sanskrit texts cited in this essay, I have used the following abbreviations and editions: R : V (R: g-Veda;
van Nooten and Holland, 1994), P (Pa-n: ini’s As: t: a-dhya-yı-; Pa-thak, 1939). For readers interested in an
English translation and transliteration of the As: t: a-dhya-yı-, see Katre (1987).

0271-5309/03/$ - see front matter # 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
276 A. Hastings / Language & Communication 23 (2003) 275–285

are linked (both in the Indian and Western philological traditions), it is usually at the
level of attempting to identify Pa-n: ini’s relationship to the language of the Vedas: are
Pa-n: ini’s rules for Vedic consistent with the corpus?; how familiar was he with the
various Vedas?; etc.2 But there remain other connections, relationships that extend
beyond the level of language and grammatical description. There are, for example,
shared presuppositions which inform the structural organization of texts (Pa-n: ini’s
grammar is composed in the su-tra style, a genre originally developed in the descrip-
tive manuals for Vedic rituals) and the organization of the subject matter (ritual and
grammar, respectively). At the most basic level, what unites the two is a shared
understanding of how signs signify, and specifically how objects—whether the verbal
and material elements of the Vedic sacrifice or the metalanguage employed in gram-
matical operations—can be related to some other object and act as its substitute.3 In
more general terms, there is what Webb Keane (this volume) has called a ‘semiotic
ideology’ which mediates cosmology, ritual practice, and an understanding of the
powers of language in Vedic and post-Vedic India.
Vedic ritual and Sanskrit grammar share a common understanding of the powers
of signification based on a theory of homological relations, or ‘resemblance.’ The
establishment of these relations in turn regiments the performance of ritual, the
structure of texts, and the combinatorics of grammar. In what follows, then, I sketch
out the Vedic theory of ritual symbolism and efficacy, in order to demonstrate how
such a theory might be important for understanding the epistemological basis of
some of the structural aspects of Pa-n: ini’s grammar, and particularly the meta-
linguistic terms employed to refer to phonological sets and inflectional affixes
involved in various grammatical processes.

1. Homological relations

The entire interpretive edifice created around the institution of Vedic ritual can be
characterized most succinctly as a ‘system of equations’ (Renou, 1946, p. 55). That
is, primarily as outlined in the later hermeneutic literature (the Bra-hman: as and
Upanis: ads),4 the Vedic philosophers espoused a theory of homological relations

See, for example, the Paul Thieme’s (1935) pioneering study, which addresses these questions.
For an attempt to explicitly correlate and compare classical Indian theories of signification (as
developed primarily in post-Vedic philosophical systems) with a Peircean semiotic, see Gerow (1984).
Also, see Daniel (1984) for an attempt to construct a semiotically informed ethnosociology of South
Indian personhood.
Generally speaking, the canon of ‘Vedic literature’ (ca. 1500 BCE–400 BCE, although this is still
hotly debated) is usually said to comprise, chronologically from earliest to latest: the Sam -
: hitas (collections
of mantras, including the R: g-Veda); the Bra hman: as (prose texts interpreting and explaining the Vedic
mantras and rituals); and the Upanis: ads (speculative philosophical texts, abstracting from the explana-
tions and rationales found in the Bra-hman: as). The ritual Su-tras (or Kalpa Su-tras), which describe the
Vedic rituals and are to be discussed below, comprise one of the six Veda-ngas (literally, ‘limbs of the
Vedas’), the ancillary Vedic literature designed to preserve the Vedic texts and ensure correct ritual per-
formance. The other five Veda-ngas are: phonetics (śiks: a), etymology (nirutka), prosody (chandas),
astrology or astronomy (jyotis: a), and grammar (vya-karan: a).
A. Hastings / Language & Communication 23 (2003) 275–285 277

whereby it is possible to correlate corresponding elements of the macrocosmos and

the microcosmos through the mediation of ritual practice.5 These often take the
form of stipulative statements like ‘The sacrifice (or sacrificer) is the year’ in the
ritualistic Bra-hman: as, or, in the mystical language of the Upanis: ads, the well-known
dictum tat tvam asi, ‘Thou art that.’ In the former, an equation is made between the
sacrifice as a practical activity (or by extension, the sacrificer as actor) and the year
as a temporal whole—the past and future which ritual practice itself mediates. The
latter statement can be read as linking the microcosm of either the human self or,
more broadly, the mundane world, with the macrocosm of the universe or divine
worlds, and in some later interpretations, forms the basis for a philosophy of
Vedic cosmology divides this world from that world, asserting a clear ontological
distinction between the mundane and the divine, the latter being phenomenally
unavailable to human experience (e.g. R : V 1.155.5: ‘From heaven to earth is a dis-
tance which no bird can fly’). Likewise, this division between what is known and
what is beyond normal human experience is reflected in the Vedic conception of
language. One passage from the R: g-Veda (R : V 1.164.45) tells us how Speech was
divided into four parts, but mortals use only one of these parts:

Speech (vac) has been divided into four parts. Those Brahmins with insight
know them. Three parts are hidden in the cave, the mortals do not activate.
They speak only the fourth part.

That is, there are certain things that are inexpressible in the language of mortals,
things that are beyond the ability of human language to characterize. The Vedic
poets, as divine beings in their own right, are able to mediate this division and are
therefore party to divine insights into the nature of ultimate reality, which they
express in the Vedic hymns. Hence the credibility of the Vedas as ‘revealed’ scrip-
ture. Despite the ontological divide, however, the divine world is the ultimate pur-
pose and goal of sacrifice in Vedic ritualism. Thus, Vedic sacrifice, while assuming
the fundamental distinction between man and god, nonetheless aims to mediate this
separation. It does this through the homological correspondences established in
ritual practice. In this sense, Vedic sacrificial ritual is viewed to be fundamentally
reality-constructing, rather than ‘dramatizing’ or ‘symbolizing’ some already given
state of affairs. It is only through the continual practice of ritual performance that
these correspondences are made, connecting the inherently disconnected and giving
form to the naturally formless.
Therefore, although the Vedic poets assume the complete ontological separation
between human and divine, we find in the hymns of the R: g-Veda, and increasingly in
the commentary and interpretation in the Bra-hman: as and the Upanis: ads, a method
of representing those things which lie beyond the power of human expression or

The relationship between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ in premodern South Asia is a complicated one, and
we need not enter into it here. For an exemplary elucidation of some of the issues involved, however, see
Pollock (1985).
278 A. Hastings / Language & Communication 23 (2003) 275–285

comprehension through a system of equivalencies, or homological relations corre-

lating elements of the divine and human spheres, as well as elements within the ritual
sphere, which mediates the two. Connections made and found between these realms
are relations of resembling elements in different ontological spaces, rather than
relations of identity. That is, they are ‘not intended to collapse distinctions but rather
to strengthen connections among interrelated elements on a vertically oriented, and
hierarchically calibrated, scale’ (Smith, 1989, p. 220). This system of equivalencies
most often related visible, manifest counterparts to their invisible, transcendent
prototype (a vertical connection), but it also established horizontal linkages between
components on the same ontological level. To take one general example, the Vedic
sacrifice is repeatedly likened to the ur-sacrifice of Praja-pati, the Creator. Thus every
ritual enactment is a re-enactment—an icon—of some mythic prototype. Further-
more, Praja-pati’s originary sacrifice was a self-sacrifice. Thus, many of the physical
constituents of the sacrifice are said to be various the body-parts of Praja-pati,
indexically tying the components together into an icon of Praja-pati himself.
Along with the explicitly theorized connections of material objects, acts, and
utterances, there are connections which depend less on commentarial stipulation
than on qualities arising out of the interactional structure of the ritual performance
itself, such as the transpositions and shifts in ‘addressivity’ (Bakhtin, 1986, p. 95) or
‘footing’ (Goffman, 1981) effected in the text-structure of the Vedic hymns and
mantras, whereby human speech can give ‘voice’ to the divine beings called to attend
the sacrifice. Similarly, many of the mantras employed in the various rituals are
performatives, reflexively calibrated to the actions they accompany. That is, as a
priest announces, ‘I offer this ghee (clarified butter) to the sacrificial fire,’ he is
simultaneously doing just that.6 The point is that the correspondences and equiv-
alencies invoked can be either explicitly stated or immanently inhering; they can be
either iconic—that is, qualitatively resembling—or indexical—that is, resemblance
by virtue of some causal or existential contiguity—or both. But as Peirce tells us,
and as we are reminded by Keane (this volume), icons and indexes in and of them-
selves ‘assert nothing’ (Peirce, 1955, p. 111); there must be some means of construing
these signs as significant.
These homologies—relations of resemblance—are referred to most often in the
exegetical discussions in the Bra-hman: as by the Sanskrit term bandhu.7 From the
verb root bandh- ‘to bind,’ it is a more or less generic term meaning ‘connection’ or
‘relation’ both in the sense of ‘relative’ or ‘kin’ and in the more literal sense of ‘bond’
(Gonda, 1965). Bandhus place different elements of the human, ritual, and divine
realms ‘in bondage’ to one another. In Vedic ritual, therefore, the physical, practical,
verbal constituents of the sacrifice all become ‘counterparts of various divine and
The ghee, note, is also a resembling counterpart to some prototypical sacrificial oblation (ideally, the
sacrificer himself). The literature on Vedic mantras and their use is voluminous. For mantras as speech
acts—a literature which largely fails to move beyond the limitations of Austinian formulations—see
especially the papers and bibliographical review in Alper (1989), as well as Deshpande (1990) and
Wheelock (1980, 1982).
Again, there is an extensive literature on bandhus. For the purposes of this discussion, I have relied
primarily on Gonda (1965), Oguibenine (1983), Renou (1946), and Smith (1989).
A. Hastings / Language & Communication 23 (2003) 275–285 279

cosmic potencies’ (Wheelock, 1980, p. 358) through bandhus relating some counter-
part to some transcendent prototype. Furthermore, within a set of resembling
counterparts, there is usually a hierarchical differentiation and ordering of the
counterparts into more and less complete realizations of the prototype. Thus, for
example, possible sacrificial offerings are ranked on a scale of how closely they
resemble the prototypical offering (Praja-pati himself, remember), with vegetable
matter at the lowest end, moving up through various animals, to humans, the most
nearly resembling counterpart.
As we can see, this system of equivalencies has a fundamentally regimenting effect
on the performance and structure of the ritual, such that any component, any act,
any utterance is seen to be involved in a complex web of associations which simul-
taneously calls forth (indexes) other elements of the ritual, as well as iconically
represents some divine prototype. In short, the ritual becomes a tightly woven sys-
tem of indexical icons (Silverstein, 1993), and the efficacy of ritual action—the
‘meaning’ of the ritual—is precisely in the enactment of these connections (cf. Staal,

2. Ritual textuality

Although the regimenting effects of making and finding homological relations of

resemblance are evident in the (interactional) text of ritual performance, they also
assume a role in the organizational structuring of ritual knowledge. This is amply
illustrated in a body of late-Vedic texts, the ritual Su-tras, which organize and collect
specific rules for the interpretation and enactment of Vedic ritual practice. Where
the Bra-hman: as presupposed a tacit knowledge of the ritual performances they
interpreted, the ritual Su-tras aim to describe systematically each Vedic ritual in its
natural sequence. Brian Smith (1989) has demonstrated how this epistemology of
resemblance which permeates the earlier genres of Vedic literature reveals itself in
the ritual Su-tras not only as a principle of interpretation, but as a principle of text-
structure, instantiated in the very architectonics of the Su-tras.
As opposed to the verbose and at times florid prose style of other genres of Vedic
literature, the Su-tras are by definition concise, sometimes to the point of being
nearly unintelligible to those without the requisite knowledge to interpret them. The
term su-tra, literally translated as ‘thread,’ designates both a brief proposition and
the ensemble of propositions that comprise a work, woven together into a whole
rather than tied sequentially into a linear chain. Defined more by its dependence on
context than on content, the genre necessitated a means of exposition which was
necessarily schematic and succinct, eventually becoming the paradigmatic medium
for the systematic elucidation of the primary tenets for the various schools of
orthodox and heterodox Indian philosophy.
One of the developments of the su-tra genre is the existence of a series of rules
which govern the interpretation of the other rules, referred to by the Sanskrit term
paribha-s: a- ‘metarule’ (Staal, 1975). The principle behind the metarule is that once
stated, it can thereafter be assumed to apply throughout the text, unless specifically
280 A. Hastings / Language & Communication 23 (2003) 275–285

contradicted, enabling an economy of expression characteristic of the genre. In the

ritual Su-tras, to give just one example, metarules state than unless noted otherwise,
the reward for a sacrifice is the attainment of heaven. Once the metarule has been
introduced, the persons or objects subject to the rule are often subsequently referred
to only by pronouns, and the reader must supply the antecedent from the metarule.
We can see in the principle of the metarule one way that the general principle of
homological relations is assumed and extended in the ritual Su-tras, since the under-
lying force of the rule is the assumption of the resemblance of particulars to the
governing generality.8 Similarly, the ritual Su-tras set up a contrast between para-
digms (prakr: tis) and variations of the paradigm (vikr: tis), analogous to the distinc-
tion between ‘prototypes’ and ‘counterparts’ in Vedic philosophical discourse. Thus,
particular rituals or elements of rituals become paradigmatic guides to homo-
logically related variations or variations on some established paradigm (Smith, 1989,
pp. 124ff).
Earlier, I mentioned how a set of resembling counterparts may be hierarchically
differentiated according to whether they more or less resemble the prototype, using
the example of the sacrificial offering. Frits Staal (1989, pp. 91–114) has shown how
in the organization of the ritual Su-tras, and in the organization of the rituals them-
selves, a similar hierarchy obtains. In this case, the hierarchy is also a relation of
encompassment. Staal shows how the hierarchy is a sequence of increasing com-
plexity, where ‘a person is in general only eligible to perform a later ritual in the
sequence, if he has already performed the earlier ones’ (Staal, 1989, p. 101). The
later rituals presuppose and incorporate the earlier ones, so that the earlier rituals
become embedded constituents of the later, more elaborate rituals.9
In the ritual Su-tras, then, the Vedic epistemology of homological relations is
developed into a system of interpretation governing text structure and elaborated
into an explanatory trope. In turning now to Pa-n: ini, we will see that this same
approach to signification, especially as extended in the su-tra literature, is developed
into one of the basic operational principles of his grammar (see also Renou, 1942,
for an early attempt to address stylistic similarities between ritual and grammatical
su-tra texts).

3. Paradigmatic condensation

Written in the su-tra style, Pa-n: ini’s As: t: a-dhya-yı- (literally, ‘eight chapters’) is the
oldest extant Sanskrit grammar, usually dated to around the fifth or sixth century
BCE.10 Composed as a series of slightly less than 4000 algebraic ‘generative’ rules,
Of course, as mentioned earlier, and as repeatedly reminded by Smith (1989), resemblance is not
identity. In this case, the very particularity of a specific rule may override the general application of a
metarule. Note that this principle is elaborated into what linguists have attributed to Pa-n: ini as the ‘Else-
where Condition.’
Note that this principle of hierarchical encompassment is what Dumont (1980) claims lies behind the
structure of the Hindu caste system.
For a review of and introduction to the vast literature on Pa-n: ini, see Cardona (1976).
A. Hastings / Language & Communication 23 (2003) 275–285 281

the As: t: a-hya-yı- aims to give a systematic description of the language as spoken in
Pa-n: ini’s time, dealing primarily with the phonological and morphological processes
which comprise Sanskrit lexeme construction. We find in the structure of Pa-n: ini’s
grammar the su-tra style developed to a fine art, with maximal concision and econ-
omy of expression (although not necessarily so in all cases; see Smith, 1992).11 One
of the contributing factors to this economy of expression, and indeed, one of the
most striking components of the grammar is the heavy reliance on lexicalized
abbreviations, as a metalinguistic solution for the problem of how one refers to and
predicates about classes of affixes or sounds which are not actually lexical items
themselves. In this way, Pa-n: ini is able to invoke entire paradigms with a single token
(and usually mono- or disyllabic) expression.12 While Pa-n: ini was by no means the
first to utilize such conventions (we find similar devices employed in some of the
Vedic ancillary literature), we will take him as our exemplum.13
The corpus of Pa-n: ini’s grammatical rules is preceded by the fourteen Śivasu-tras—so
called because they are said to have come from the mouth of Śiva himself—which order
the sounds of Sanskrit into coded classes (pratya-ha-ras). Each set is followed by another
sound (anubandha)14 which serves to mark the end of that set. Reference to a set of
sounds involved in a particular rule is made by combining the first sound of whatever
set Pa-n: ini wants to invoke and the anubandha marking the end of the set. The ordering
of phonemes is largely based on Sanskrit alphabetical order (which is itself based on a
highly rationalized classification and ordering of the sounds according to phonolo-
gical features), with some changes dictated by the necessities of the applicability of
certain grammatical processes (see Cardona, 1969, for a lengthy discussion).

The Śivasu-tras15

. .
aiuN : / r: l: K / e o N / ai au C / ha ya va ra T: / la N
: / ña ma na n: a na M / jha
bha Ñ / gha d: ha dha S: / ja ba ga d: a da Ś / kha pha cha t: ha tha ca t: a ta V / ka
pa Y / śa s: a sa R / ha L //

In the first su-tra (a i u N

: ), for example, the /N
: / is the anubandha for that set. Since
the anubandhas are simply a heuristic to mark the end of some set, any intervening
ones are left out. This coding and ordering of phonological sets enables Pa-n: ini to
refer to, for example, ‘all vowels’ as ac (a i u r: l: e o ai au C), ‘all consonants’ as hal
An oft-repeated aphorism in discussions of Sanskrit grammatical genres is that a grammarian rejoices
at the saving of a single mora as at the birth of a son.
The pervasive use of these metalinguistic expressions, of course, renders the As: t: adhyayı- all but
unintelligible to someone who, although competent in Sanskrit, has no knowledge of the principles behind
their interpretation.
For a range of examples of what he calls ‘scientific Sanskrit’ in Hindu grammar, logic, and mathe-
matics, see the meandering discussion in Staal (1995).
Note that anubandha is etymologically derived from the same verbal root as bandhu.
The anubandhas are indicated by the capital letters following each su-tra. Note also that traditionally,
Sanskrit consonants are referred to by adding a following /a/ for ease of pronunciation (in Indian writing
systems this is also the unmarked vowel in syllabic graphemes).
282 A. Hastings / Language & Communication 23 (2003) 275–285

(ha ya va ra . . . śa s: a sa ha L),16 ‘all obstruents’ as jhal (jha bha gha d: ha . . . śa s: a sa
ha L), ‘voiced stops’ as jhaś (jha bha gha d: ha . . . ba ga d: a da Ś), and so on. While
the total number of abbreviations that can be made through various combinations
runs into three figures, in actuality only 41 (or 42 according to some later Sanskrit
grammarians) are used in the grammar. What is important here is that each abbre-
viation, each pratya-ha-ra, codes the sounds which it represents by combining the first
member of the class with a final marker sound (that is, an anubandha), thereby
encompassing all the intervening sounds.17
In the grammatical rules of the As: t: a-dhya-yı-, these lexicalized forms are inflected as
nouns. Thus, in stating the rule that prevocalic vowels become semivowels (P 6.1.77:
iko yan: aci), we can parse it out as: (i u r: l: K=) ik + (genitive sg), (ya va ra la N : =)
yan: + (nominative sg), (a i u r: l: e o ai au C=) ac + (locative sg).18 This rule is
further governed by a metarule (P 1.1.50) which states that when a choice has to be
made among several possible replacements, the one that most resembles the object
being replaced should be chosen. Therefore, in this rule we would replace /i/ with /y/
, /u/ with /v/, /r: / with /r/, and /l: / with /l/, as, for example, in the formation of the
compound dadhi + odana ! dadhyodana ‘rice and curds.’
Pa-n: ini employs a similar method for representing inflectional affixes.19 He refers
to the 21 different nominal declensional affixes (seven cases—not including voca-
tive—in singular, dual, and plural numbers) by sup, which . is a combination of the
initial and final members of the group (sU, au, Jas . . . Ni, os, suP).20 Each of these
affixes, in turn, is itself a pratya-ha-ra, marked by some anubandha. For example, in
the nominative singular sigla su, the /U/ is the anubandha and is ultimately elided,
leaving /s/, the ‘underlying’ form of the nominative singular (masculine) affix.21 Sup
The redundancy of hal (i.e. it can be a representation for either all consonants or simply /h/) is
necessitated by the scope of applicability of several grammatical rules. In each case, it is clear from the
context which abbreviation is intended (see Cardona, 1969).
This is, in fact, exactly what the metarule governing the interpretation of pratya-ha-ras (P 1.1.71: a-dı-r
antyena saheta-) says: ‘an initial (sound) joined to a final indicatory (sound denotes the intervening sounds
as well).’
In the As: t: a-dhya-yı-, Pa-n: ini uses genitive to indicate the substituend, nominative for the substitute, and
locative to mark applicability; see Cardona (1974) for discussion.
It should be pointed out that the underlying assumption of Pa-n: ini’s approach is that fully-formed
words are compositional in nature, that is, composed of some (usually verbal or verbally-derived) stem
compounded with one or more affixes (which indicate a variety of syntactico-semantic categories). But his
grammar is not an analysis of words into their constituent elements; rather he presupposes these elements
and shows the ways in which they are to be combined. In this sense, according to Thieme (1982, p. 17),
Pa-n: ini’s grammar ‘formulates the discovery of the ‘‘built up’’ character of Sanskrit words and utterances,
on which its sacredness is founded—in brief: it ‘‘works the truth’’ of the sam : skr: tatvam’ (‘the
: skr: tasya sam
sacredness [well-formedness] of the formed/perfected language’).
That is, beginning with the endings for nominative singular, dual, and plural (traditionally the ‘first’
case in Sanskrit grammar) and ending with those for locative singular, dual, and plural (the ‘seventh’
case). Note also that sup additionally indicates locative plural. As with other redundancies, the context of
application of a particular rule makes it clear whether sup indicates all nominal inflectional affixes, or just
the locative plural.
In a situation analogous to the contrast between paradigms and variations on the paradigms for
prototypical rituals discussed above, these nominal endings are the paradigm from which any deviations
(for various stem classes and different genders) are subsequently derived by particular rules.
A. Hastings / Language & Communication 23 (2003) 275–285 283

is used as a lexicalized placeholder for the entire paradigm of nominal endings, for
example in the rule (P 1.4.14) sup-tin-antam : padam, which defines a word (pada) as
something ending in sup (nominal ending) or tin. As one may infer from this su-tra,
since sup is the placeholder for nominal endings, tin represents verbal endings. This
abbreviation for the verbal endings is slightly more complicated. While similar to
sup, in that tin is an abbreviation formed from . the first and last members of the
eighteen person/number affixes (tiP . . . mahiN),22 not explicitly represented in the
abbreviation is the fact that they also stand in as substitutes for the tense-mood
markers across nine conjugational paradigms. In inflectional processes in the
As: t: a-dhya-yı-, these additional verbal elements are supplied through a complex set of
rules of coding and substitution.
Through employing abbreviations such as these (and he employs similar methods
to refer to the various roots and stems that are subject to some particular rule),
Pa-n: ini is able to invoke entire paradigms in the inflectional and derivational pro-
cesses detailed in the As: t: a-dhya-yı-. Instead of using, for example, the term ‘nominal
case marking’ (or rather, the Sanskrit equivalent, vibhakti), or giving the full list of
the affixes involved, he codes the nominal inflectional endings with an abbreviation
that resembles the actual sound-shapes of the terminations. The abbreviations cre-
ated in this way bear both an iconic relationship—in that the sounds are qualita-
tively similar to the actual sounds represented (or at least the sounds used to make
the abbreviation)—and an indexical relationship—in that the sounds employed are
the first and last members (or markers) of the class invoked—to the set of con-
stituents represented. Thus, the resembling token representation of the paradigm
literally encompasses all the members of the paradigm. In this way, Pa-n: ini is able
both to make generalizations about classes (or lists) of morphological and phono-
logical constituents, and to do so in as brief and economical a way as possible.

4. Conclusion

The very fact of the ontological separation of the phenomenal from the noumenal
or the real from the ideal necessitates an intermediary—a method of accessing and
affecting the otherworldly in the mundane realm. In their classic study, Hubert and
Mauss (1964, p. 100) placed this substitution at the very center of the efficacy of
sacrificial rites: ‘[Sacrifice] is dependent, in fact, on the presence of the intermediary,
and we know that with no intermediary there is no sacrifice.’ The trope of homo-
logical relations as enacted in Vedic ritual acts as a scheme of interpretation, lami-
nations of which over sign phenomena give meaning to the ritual action. The theory
of bandhus serves to instantiate a semiotic relation which stands as a mediating link
between the human and the divine within the ritual sphere.

That is, the person/number terminations (as suggested by the su-tra above, they are always word-final)
for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person, in singular, dual, and plural numbers, for both active and ‘middle’ voice,
beginning with 3rd person singular active, and ending with 1st person plural middle. (In traditional for-
mulations of Sanskrit grammar, 3rd person is ordinally the ‘first’ person in verbal paradigms.)
284 A. Hastings / Language & Communication 23 (2003) 275–285

The creation and discovery of homological relations of resemblance is a particular

way of construing what signs mean, or even of what are to be regarded as signs—
what Keane (this volume) has called a semiotic ideology. Furthermore, this culturally
specific means of making sense of signs appears repeatedly as a central organizing
trope in a variety of modalities and in different contexts. In the homological corre-
spondences which give meaning to Vedic ritual—which is, after all, a highly regi-
mented text structure predicated on the reflexive organization of speech and action,
in the principles governing the structure of the ritual Su-tras—themselves texts (in the
more widely accepted usage) which describe and interpret the Vedic rituals, and in
the functioning of metalinguistic markers which condense paradigms into token
representations for application in the algebra of Pa-n: ini’s Sanskrit grammar, we see a
system of interpretation based on the epistemology of resemblance. Indeed, we
could say that these instances are themselves resembling counterparts, the relation
between the metalanguage of Pa-n: ini and the principles of Vedic ritual interpretation
itself being a bandhu, of the second order.


Paul Manning contributed useful comments on an earlier draft. John Haviland

and Kees W. Bolle were, in completely different ways, the original sources of


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Adi Hastings is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Iowa. He recently completed a
dissertation on a movement to revive spoken Sanskrit in contemporary India for a joint PhD in Anthro-
pology and Linguistics at the University of Chicago.