Vyākaraṇa or grammar is a very important Vedāṅga (‘limb of the Vedas’), the subsidiary branches of knowledge which help a better understanding of the Vedas. Unlike in other languages, vyākaraṇa is considered as an independent science and it even puts forth its own philosophy. Though the works like the ‘prātiśākhyas’ (treatises on phonetics) of the Vedas and the Nirukta (Vedic etymo-logy) of Yāska (800 B. C.) have dealt with grammar, the treatment there has been insufficient. It was Pāṇini (c. 500 B.C.) who systematized grammar, drawing upon the ancient grammarians like Āpiśali, Kaśyapa and Gārgya (none of whose works is available now) and adding his own, fairly significant, contribution.
His work is known as Aṣṭādhyāyī since it comprises eight chapters (aṣṭa = eight; adhyāya = chapter). It is in the form of sūtras or aphorisms, 3996 in number.
The contents are: technical terms and rules of interpretation, nouns in composition and case-relations; the adding of suffixes to roots and to nouns; accents and changes of sounds in word-formation and the word in the sentences.
For centuries, this work has been accepted as the most basic and standard work in Sanskrit grammar and holds unrivalled sway even now. There have been several commentaries on this work, the Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali (200 B. C.) being the most celebrated of all. Some pieces of the critical commentary called ‘vārttika’ written by Kātyāyana (c. 350 B. C.) are also available.
Since the whole work is oriented towards unfolding the linguistic pheno-mena of Sanskrit, it is not arranged as in modern grammars, according to the parts of speech. It was Bhaṭṭoji Dīkṣita (A. D. 1600-1650) who rearranged the work in this way facilitating an easier study of the subject. His work is known as Siddhānta-kaumudī.