Unity of Sentential Meaning: Bhartṛhari's Approach to the Indivisibility Thesis

Rohana Seneviratne


A doyen of profound discussions on the Indian philosophy of language, Bhartṛhari (fl. 500 – 700 CE) introduced in the light of the Advaita Vedanta system of philosophy a major theory known as the indivisibility thesis (akhaṇḍapakṣavāda) of meaning. His expertise in Sanskrit grammar rooted in the time-honored tradition bolstered with applied approach to the language in use enabled him to establish firmly this theory. Some later grammarians in the mainstream Pāṇinian grammatical tradition and Vedantic philosophers modelled their theories on Bhartṛhari's approach to sentential meaning, while some others criticized him for misusing the Advaita Vedantic theology and its standard line of arguments in order to justify the indivisibility of meaning, whereas primacy of words cannot be ascertained in any context of language use. This paper examines the background of Bhartṛhari's arguments for the legitimacy of his claim that sentence meaning is the primary entity, which is divisible neither syntactically nor semantically. It also seeks to justify that his approach to the indivisibility thesis deserves a significant position among the early thoughts on the derivation of meaning and its composition.


sentential Meaning, Bhartṛhari, indivisibility thesis (akhaṇḍapakṣavāda), Sanskrit grammar, Indian philosophy of language

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