Gita 2.12 – Simple Sanskrit Sandhi Evaluation

When speaking, we start with words, and then blend them using sandhi to arrive at finished sentences. Listening or reading, however, goes in reverse. We start with finished sentences, and need to undo the sandhi to arrive at the words, and thus understand the meaning.

It is only in the early stages of learning and using a language that this seems tedious. Even in English we do this all the time (though not while reading, since English sandhi doesn’t change how words are spelled).

Let’s see which words we can pick out from famous fully formed sentences quoted from Bhagavad-Gītā. Let’s look specifically at text 12 of chapter 2. Since we haven’t learned consonant sandhi yet, we’ll leave these out.

It is impossible to do reverse sandhi without knowing some vocabulary words, but this verse mostly uses very simple words.

न त्वेवाहं जातु नासं न त्वं नेमे जनाधिपाः
न चैव न भविष्यामः सर्वे वयमतः परम् ।।

na tvevāhaṁ jātu nāsaṁ
na tvaṁ neme janādhipāḥ
na caiva na bhaviṣyāmaḥ
sarve vayam ataḥ param

The First Pada त्वेवाहं जातु नासं

There are tons of sandhis in the first line alone. Take the second word, त्वेवाहं (tvevāhaṁ). the first “e” with a “v” in front of it alerts us that त्व (tv) was originally तु (tu). The rule here is: “If the adjoining vowels are dissimilar and the first is not “a/ā” the combination changes the first vowel to its semi-vowel equivalent.”

“U” and “e” are dissimilar (“e” is a complex vowel, guṇa, in the “i” group), so the first vowel in the combination (“u” in this case) will morph into its semi-vowel equivalent (“v” in this case). Hence त्वेव (tveva) is really तु एव (tu eva).

In एवाहं (evāhaṁ) We find a long ā, and recognize some simple words on either side of it, so we can see that एवाहं (evāhaṁ) is a combination of two words, एव (eva) and अहं (ahaṁ), joined by the simplest sandhi rule that “a/ā + a/ā = ā.”

जातु (jātu) is a word, not a combination of smaller words. It means, “ever.” If we didn’t know that we might try to split it into (ja) and अतु (atu) or आतु (ātu). But if we search a dictionary we will find that atu / ātu are not words, and jātu is.

नासं (nāsaṁ) is a combination of two words, (na – “not”) and आसं (āsaṁ – “I was”). These are joined with the same simplest sandhi rule, “a/ā + a/ā = ā.” How do we know the original word is आसं (āsaṁ) and not असं (asaṁ)? We don’t, not by sandhi anyway. By sandhi alone either word could be intended. However, there is no word असं (asaṁ) in use in this grammatical context in Sanskrit, so we know it must be आसं (āsaṁ).

The first pada is therefore na (not) तु tu (but) एव eva (definitely) अहं ahaṁ (I) जातु jātu (ever) na (not) आसं (āsaṁ) I was. Rendered in natural English, this means “But, definitely, I was never non-existent.”

The Second Pada त्वं नेमे जनाधिपाः

The next quarter of the śloka begins, त्वं (na tvaṁ). We might want to change this “v” into a “u” but (a) tvam is a word, and (b) aṁ is not. त्वं (na tvaṁ) means, “Nor you.”

The next word, नेमे (neme) is a combination of two words, (na – not) and इमे (ime – these). The rule is “a + i = e” (or, “a + another vowel intensifies that vowel to its guṇa or vṛddhi version”).

Next, जनाधिपाः janādhipāḥ (protectors of people, “kings”) is a compound word formed by joining जन (jana – “people”) with अधिपाः (adhipāḥ – “protectors”) using again the simple and frequently used rule, “a/ā + a/ā = ā”.

So we now can render the English as: “But I was definitely never non-existent; nor you; nor these kings.”

The Third Pada  चैव भविष्यामः

The third pada begins चैव (na caiva). चैव (caiva) is a combination of two simple words, (ca) and एव (eva), joining with the simple sandhi rule of “a + e = ai” (Essentially the same rule as for नेमे neme.)

The other two words in the pada are not combined – (na, not) and भविष्यामः (bhaviṣyāmaḥ, we will be). It is tempting to think that the long ā is a result of sandhi but familiarity with the grammatical declinations will help us avoid wasting time pursuing that hunch.

We can now render this line as, “Nor, definitely, will we ever not exist.”

The Fourth Pada सर्वे वयमतः परम्

The fourth pada has no vowel sandhi.

सर्वे (sarve, “all”) वयम् (vayam, “us”) अतः (ataḥ, “hence”) परम् (param, “ultimate/supreme”). Perhaps this can be rendered, “Hence we are all supreme.” However, it is more commonly rendered with ataḥ param meaning “from hence, evermore”, giving us, “We exist, and so shall we evermore.”

So, we can understand the entire śloka to render in English as:

But definitely, I was never non-existent;
Nor were you; Nor any of these kings.

Nor definitely will we ever not exist;
All of us will exist forevermore.


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