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Chapter III

History of
Sanskrit Lexicography
Chapter III
History of Sanskrit Lexicography

3.1 General Introduction to Lexicography

Lexicography is a discipline which deals with the technique of

writing dictionaries. It is called Kosha in Sanskrit. Moreover it has various
terms used in different languages.

3.1.1 Origin, Definition and Use

The word dictionary, comes from the medieval Latin word

'Dictionarium' or 'Dictionarius' or 'Dictio' meaning a word or phrase. A
book that lists the words of a language typically in alphabetical order and
gives their meaning or gives the equivalent words in a different language
also providing information about pronunciation, origin and usage.1

Oxford English dictionary defines dictionary as a book dealing with

the words of a language, so as to set forth their orthography, pronunciation,
signification, and use, their synonyms, derivation, and history or at least
some of these, the words are arranged in some stated order, usually,
alphabetical, a word-book,vocabulary, lexicon.2

A dictionary is systematically arranged list of socialised linguistic

forms compiled from the speech habits of a given speech community and
commented on by the author in such a way that the qualified reader
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understands the meaning of each separate form and is informed of the
relevant facts concerning the function of that form in its community. 3

From the above mentioned definition's, we can conclude that

dictionaries are the list or collection of words arranged alphabetically. These
dictionaries are also referred to as Lexicons, Glossary and Thesaurus etc.

The prime objective of the dictionaries is to give proper and formal words to
use and avoid words that are not acceptable in the society. The dictionaries
give the standard words to use eliminating slang or incorrect words in the
language. It is a very important tool to learn standard language. The
dictionaries therefore records a proper set of words. They are used to check
the meanings, spellings and the pronunciations of the given words.

Kenneth A. Whittaker has listed four uses of dictionaries basing on

different types.

They are as follows -

i) A quick - reference tool

From the point of view of reference services, dictionaries act

basically as quick reference tools. They are interchangeably used for the
term having identical purpose with slight difference in scope.

ii) Language recorder

As a language recorder, Oxford English Dictionary records the

developmental trends of the language by noting down theological details of
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the words, their history and derivation. By this, it provides a historical
evolution of a word so far its meaning and usages are concerned.

iii) Language standardiser

Standardisation has been accepted as one of the objectives of

lexicography even in 18th century. But the difference lies in the method of
compilation. In 18th century, the standardisation was based on the opinions
and judgments of the compilers alone whereas now, it is achieved by
gathering the evidences from carefully scrutinised recorded sources of the
language and the usage of the speakers. This helps in elimination of
variation in spelling and usage of the words.

iv) Vocabulary builder

As a vocabulary builder, it clears doubts regarding the meaning,

spelling and usages. This indirectly helps the user in building and
developing proper vocabulary. Accurate use of words in particular context is
ensured by the dictionary.4

3.1.2 Types of Dictionaries

There are four types of dictionaries, further dived into several sub

i) General Language Dictionaries

They are called general dictionaries as they deal with the common
words of a language. They are more popular and very frequently used
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dictionaries. They are classified according to the purpose, volume and size.

ii) Special Dictionaries

Dictionaries which are compiled to deal with special purpose or

aspects of a language are called special dictionaries such as dictionaries of
spelling, synonyms and antonyms, etymology, pronunciation, proverbs, etc.

iii) Translating Dictionaries

The term Translating Dictionary, is self-explanatory. They are not

confined to one language like monolingual general dictionaries discussed so

They are bilingual or multilingual in nature, mainly used by the

language learners and translators. These languages give the equivalent
words in a language or more based upon their type as monolingual, bilingual
or multilingual.

iv) Subject Dictionaries

The rapid development in all the fields of knowledge, has

necessitated compilation of subject dictionaries, devoted to the specific
subject fields, occupations and professions. Thus, dictionaries dealing with
the terms of a particular subject are known as subject dictionaries. They
include highly technical terms of a specific subject which are not usually
recorded in general dictionaries. They give accurate description, definition
and illustration to explain the term.

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3.2 Lexicography in Sanskrit

Lexicography or Koshashastra or Abhidhanshastra as we can say

dates older than the grammar of Sanskrit. We can find its roots back till the
Vedas. Vedas are the oldest surviving literature known to mankind. The
word Kosha is formed by the root 'Hw$e²' whose literal meaning is a special pot
used to store liquids6. This meaning is depicted in various hymns of Rig Veda
and Atharva Veda.

The word Kosha in the meaning of Dictionary was first used by poet
Dandi in his text Kavyadarsha7. The science of lexicography traces its roots
till the Vedic period. Various synonyms used for dictionaries in Sanskrit
were Nighantu, Kosha, Samucchaya, Kaustubha, Manjusha, Chintamani,
Manjari. This suggests the richness of the language. Sanskrit has a great
vocabulary. Words are the treasure of any language and these words are
conveniently stored in dictionaries in different forms and types. This
indicates importance attached to the dictionary in Sanskrit like other

3.2.1 Stages of Development of Lexicography in Sanskrit

Lexicography in Sanskrit began with Nighantu - a Vedic

Concordance. It was the dictionary of the difficult words found in the Vedas.
The composer of this text is unknown till date. In Mokshadharmaparva of
Mahabharata, Prajapati Kashyap is referred to as the composer of
Nighantu.8 Nirukta is the oldest commentary available on Nighantu. It was
composed by Yaskacharya in 700 B.C 9. This text gives the etymology of the
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various Vedic words. Further many commentaries on Nirukta were also
composed. It was a very important text for the etymology of Vedic Words.

In the era of classical Sanskrit literature, Amarkosha of Amarsimha

was the pioneer text in lexicography. All the other texts seek it as the source
text. It is the most popular text in the discipline of lexicography in Sanskrit.
It is also called as Namalinganushasanam. Taking Amarkosha as a source,
further other texts as Halayudha Kosha, Medini Kosha, Mankha Kosha,
Anekartha Sangraha etc. developed in the later period.

Further in the 19th century two important works came into existence.
They were Sabdakalpadruma and Vachaspatyam. This tradition is followed
by various modern day dictionaries such as the Sanskrit English Dictionary
by Monier Williams, H.H. Wilson, Waman Shivram Apte to mention a few.

These are the stages of developments in the discipline of Sanskrit

Lexicography. In a nutshell they are -

• Vedic Sanskrit Dictionaries (Nighantu – Nirukta)

• Classical Sanskrit Dictionaries (Amarkosha, Halayudha kosha etc)

• 19th Century Sanskrit Dictionaries (Sabdakalpadruma, Vachaspatyam)

• Modern Sanskrit Dictionaries (Dictionary by Monier Williams, Vaman

Shivram Apte etc.)

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3.2.2 Development of Classical Sanskrit Dictionaries

Name and time of the following dictionaries are as follows -

1. Dvirupakosha (Panini) 4thCBC

2. Vyadi 5th CAD

3. Dhanvantarinighantu (Dhanavantari) 500 AD

4. Amarkosha / Namalinganushasana 560

5. Anekarthasamuccaya or Sasvatakosa 600 AD

6. Anekarthanamamala (Dhananjaya) End of 9th C

7. Anekarthanighantu End of 9th C

8. Vaidikakosa (Bhaskararya) 9th CAD

9. Nāmamala 900

10. Paryayaratnamala 900

11. Anekarthadhvanimanjari 925

12. Abhidhanratnamala 925-75

13. Vaijayanti C 1050

14. Tikandasesa 1050-1159 AD

15. Haravali 1050-1159 AD

16. Sabdabhedaprakasa (Puruisottama) 1050-1159 AD

17. Sabdacandrika (Cakrapanidatta) 1060 AD

18. Sesanamamala 1089-1172

19. Anekarthasamgraha 1089-1172

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20. Abhidhancintamani 1089-1172

21. Sabdapradipa (Suresvara) 11th CAD

22. Namamalika 11 C

23. Ekaksarakosa 11-13 CAD

24. Agastyanighantu 1110 A D

25. Visvaprakasa 1110 A D

26. Sabdabhedaprakasa (Mahesvara) 1120

27. Dharanikosa 1130

28. Anekarthakosa (Mankha) 1140 CAD

29. Nanarthasamgraha 1140 CAD

30. Dvirupakosa (Harsa) 1150-1170

31. Nanartharnavasamkseka C 1160

32. Paryayasabdaratna 12 C

33. Anekarthakosa (Ajayapala) 12 CAD

34. Medinikosa 1200-50

35. Hrdayadipika (Vopadeva or Bopadeva) 13th CAD

36. Ekaksarnamamala (Sudhakalasa) 1350

37. Anekarthatilaka 1365

38. Madanavinodanighantu (Madanpala) 1375 AD

39. Nāmamalasiloncha 1377

40. Nanarthamanjari 1377

41. Dravyagunasatakasloki (Trimallabhatta) 1383-1499 AD

42. Avyayasaṁgranighantu (Sakalamallabhatta) 14th CAD

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43. Bhuriprayoga (Padmanabhabhatta) 14th CAD

44. Ekaksararatnamala (Madhava) 14th CAD

45. Rajanighantu (Narahari) 14th CAD

46. Nanartharatnamala 1400

47. Avyayasamgranighantu (Gadasimha) 1431 AD

48. Sabdaratnakara (Vamanbanabhatta) 1400-60

49. Pancavargasamgrahanamala (Subhasila) 1450-1500 AD

50. Uṇadinamamala (Subhasila) 1450-1500 AD

51. Ekaksarnamamala (Amar) 1500

52. Abhidhanatantra (Jatadhara) 15th CAD

53. Anekarthasamgraha (Paramananda) 1525

54. Parmanandiyansmamsls 1525

55. Srautasabdasamuccaya (Somesvara) 1550 AD

56. Saradiyakhyananamamala 1575-1625

57. Ekarthanamamala 1580

58. Dvyaksarnamamala 1580

59. Ekaksaranamamalilka (Visvambhu) C 1590

60. Rupamanjarinamamala (Rupacandra) 16th CAD

61. Uktiratnakara (Sadhusundaragani) 1614-1618 AD

62. Vallabhagani 16th CAD

63. Varnaprakasa (Karnapura) 16th CAD

64. Parasiprakasa (Viharikªisnadasa) 16th -17th CAD

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65. Visvalocanakosa 1600

66. Sabdaratnakara (Sadhusundargani) 1624

67. Pancatattvaprakasika 1634

68. Kosakalpataru 1644

69. Kalpadrukosa 1660

70. Sabdaratnavali (Mathuresvara) 1600-1650 AD

71. Sabdaratnasamanvayakosa 1684

72. Jyotisasastranighantu 17 C

73. Pathyapathyavibodhanighantu (Kaiyadeva) 17th CAD

74. Parasiprakasa (Vedangarya) 17th CAD

75. Rajyavyavaharakosa (Raghunatha) 17th CAD

76. Sabdarnava (Sahajakirti) 17th CAD

77. Sivakosa 17th CAD

78. Unadinighantu (Venktesvara) 17th-18th AD

79. Kavidarpananighantu ((Ramabhadra Diksita) 18th cAD

80. Kosavatamsa 1810-30

81. Sabdamuktamharnava (Taramani) 18th CAD10

(Source : Patkar M M (1981), Bharati, H L N 1991)

All the above dictionaries are monolingual and cover Sanskrit to

Sanskrit words. But there are many other dictionaries which are bilingual
like Sanskrit to English or any other languages. The multilingual
dictionaries are also available.

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3.3 Types of Dictionaries or Lexicons in Sanskrit

The traditional Koshas are mainly of two types, they are

• Homonymic or anekarth or nanartha or more than one meaning.

• Synonymic or ekarth or samanartha or having the same meaning.

The Nighantu's and kosha's do not follow alphabetical system of

modern lexicography. However the cluster of words, denoting a particular
meaning are grouped together.

3.3.1 Types of Sanskrit Dictionaries

Sanskrit scholars do not treat kosas as dictionaries but they call them
only "Samuchaya or group of words" of words like Nyaya Koshas,
Loukiknyayanjali. The similar concept is also expressed by Patyal (2000-
01) in his article "Sanskrit Lexicography: Retrospect and Prospect" and
opined that Sanskrit lexicography's are slightly different from modern
languages. The lexicographical material was available from Nighantus
(Nirukta) to medival and late Koshas etc. The Nighatus and koshas do not
follow alphabetical system of modern lexicography.

However the strings of words, denoting a particular meaningful

concepts are grouped together. The lexical work was primarily developed
for the scholars, poets, writers etc and later the efforts made to develop
dictionaries for lay persons for studying, learning and teaching languages.
From the literature review dictionary grouping in Sanskrit is traced as

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koshas, glossaries, anekartha, samanarth etc. But it is also possible to group
the dictionaries published as in case of other languages like English i.e.
general, special, subject, translating, abridged, unabridged etc after
evaluating the contents as per the reference material covered in them .

i) General Sanskrit Dictionaries

These are specifically developed to get the meaning from Sanskrit to

Sanskrit (monolingual, samanarth and anekarth), Sanskrit to Sanskrit and
Marathi (Bilingual) Sanskrit to English, Tamil, Pahlavi (trilingual or
multilingual dictionaries).

The General dictionaries deal with common words of a language

pertaining to all fields of knowledge to set authoritative standards for
spelling, meaning and usage.

ii) Subject Sanskrit Dictionaries

These dictionaries are related to a particular subject and connote the

meaning from Sanskrit to Sanskrit and other languages. e.g.
Ganitnamamala, Sankhyayogkosa, Jyotishshastra Nighantu etc. Thus, the
dictionaries which deals with terms of a particular subject field are known as
subject dictionaries e.g medical, ayurveda, engineering etc. Subject
dictionaries contain highly specialized technical terms of a particular

iii) Translating Sanskrit Dictionaries

These are generally multilingual dictionaries or polyglots. e.g.

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Sanskrit - Tamil - Pahalvi, Sanskrit - Hindi - Tamil - English and useful for
translators. The Translating Dictionaries are not confined to one language
like monolingual general dictionaries. They deal with words of two or more
languages. Therefore they are also known as inter-lingual dictionaries.

iv) Special Purpose Sanskrit Dictionaries

The dictionaries compiled to deal with special purpose and aspects of

Sanskrit language are called Special Dictionaries. Some of them cater to
special class of users and also deal with special aspects of the words much
more comprehensively collected than the general dictionaries. The special
dictionaries are also of different types like synonyms, acronyms and
antonyms, homonyms, usage, etymological, historical, names,
terminologies, rhyming words, roots in Sanskrit grammar, idioms and
phrases, quotations, characters / personnel, glossaries etc.11

Some type of dictionaries or lexicons which adorn the Sanskrit

language are -

i) Monosyllabic Lexicons or Ekaksharkosha

ii) Disyllabic Lexicons or Dyaksharkosha

iii) Trisyllabic Lexicons or Tryaksharkosha

These are the special types of lexicons existing in the language. This
lexicons cater to words which are monosyllabic, disyllabic and trisyllabic.
These lexicons are self explanatory. The terms itself gives its meaning.
These types of lexicons are native to Sanskrit language. Many such lexicons
are available in the language as Ekaksharkosha by Purushottamdeva,
Ekakshara, Dyakshara, Traksharakosha by Dandadhinath etc.
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References :

1. Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford University Press, 2017

2. MURRAY (JHA), Ed. The Oxford English Dictionary, pg. 331

V.3, 1933. Clarendon Press; Bombay,

3. ZGUSTA (L). Manual of Lexicography, 1971. pg. 197

Academia; Prague,

4. WHITTAKER (Kenneth A). Dictionaries. In Printed pg. 28

Reference Materials Ed. by Gavin Higgens. 1980.
Oxford IBH; Calcutta,

5. GOWDA (D J). Inaugural address. In the Proceedings of pg.197

Lexicography in India, 1972. 1980. CIIL; Mysore,

6. Sanskrit kosho ka Udhav evam Vikas pg 1

7. Kavyadarsha, Dandi 1/23

8. Mokshadharma Parva, Mahabharata 342/83

9. Lakshma Swaroop. Nirukta Bhumika

10. Patkar M M (1981), Bharati, H L N 1991

11. Technical study of dictionaries published in Sanskrit Pg. 95-96

Language since 1800 A.D. by Manjiri Karambelkar


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