‘The Linguistic Atom and the Origin of Language’—a Review by Dr. M. Sivaramkrishna.

Linguistic Atom

The Linguistic Atom and the Origin of Language: Author: Dr. Gouri Dharmapal. Publisher: Ritam, Kolkata. Number of pages: 269. Price: Rs. 300 (Hard-cover). Distributor: Overman Foundation, Kolkata.

Once in a while we come across a book that jolts one’s complacent awareness of Indian thought, culture, and tradition. The jolt becomes a surprise that crystallizes into the sheer joy of relishing an enormous richness and resilience of perceptions of speech, hermeneutics, symbols and poetry as primordial speech. And this entire exercise is made better by describing the savants, sages, and saints who stood sentinel over these traditions.

To put it another way, somewhat insensitively, what is now current in Indian pedagogic structures is STEM – science, technology, book suggests how engineering, and mathematics. This book suggests how the ancient Indian language and philosophical systems underlie STEM, albeit partially hidden, sometimes totally hidden, and at times outrageously thrown overboard. But like science, there is also a meta-science of unity and diversity; the technology of togetherness without any hegemonic privileging; the engineering creativity and consciousness as the nucleus of discovery and invention; and mathematics, in its original sense as learning that naturally bases itself on teaching, its inalienable twin.

The nucleus of all this is bhasha, language, and it is the cosmic atom that precedes even languages proper, such as Sanskrit. Dr. Gouri Dharmapal study presents us with, as it were, the Hiranyagarbha, Golden Womb, from which all creative forms emerge. Explaining the range and sweep of the atom. She says: Each linguistic atom of the individual speech is a miniature (which however is a completely relative term, because even seen from the proper proximity an atom will look as big as a solar system and the latter seen from the proper distance will look as an atom) solar system of which the individual soul is the moving sun round which EXPRESSION revolves in an infinite spiral. The sounds, words, phrases etc. that from part of this speech are the compounds of the linguistic atoms. (p. 13) ‘How to understand this atomic structure?’ questions the author, and then suggests: ‘By keenly listening to it with all your heart, by being approximate to it in love, by sraddha, faith. There is no other way to knowledge, to self, to SELF KNOWLEDGE.SELF meaning the infinitely expanding I – angle, gradually embracing but never getting to the end of ALL physically’ (p. 14). How one wishes our corporate soft-skill trainers, who teach listening skills, look at the phenomenon of listening as not mere hearing. And apparent flaw in listening and consequent shooting of Shravana with an arrow brought immense grief to Dasharatha and unfolded the entire saga of the Ramayana!

This listening requires, more than hearing. Putting the essence of it tersely the author says: ‘Upa-nishad (approximation) and Darsana (vista-vision) is the only way to know a person or an animal or a bird or a tree or an insect or a people or a country or an object or any part of this creation- not vivisection’ (ibid). the implications are explored in eight chapters, which the author calls ‘light-waves’: the explication of the linguistic atom; the light-waves focus on Vedic poetry; leadership in the Veda; Veda and yajna; the light of Panini; O-live culture in the light of the Veda and Panini; the discovery of Panini; and chandas, bhasha and bangla. Also included are the very helpful graphics and charts.

From the topics mentioned above one is likely to think that the book is a kind of Vedic exegetical hermeneutics a la Sri Aurobindo and Sri Anirvan. To some extent it is, but the dominant concerns of the study embrace Vedic truths as exemplified in the daily lives of a people whose culture and civilization stand testimony to this truth. I would suggest the chapters on ‘Culture in the light of Veda and Panini’ and the one on ‘Leadership in the Veda ‘to corporate executives especially.

In this regard the weaving of these truths into the texture of day-to-day lives of saints and sages as also poets and thinkers makes the study free from all those abstractions that pass off as Indian cultural ethos. Dr. Gouri stubs her toes on the concrete minutiae of culture religion, art, and literature at every step of her study. Her exposition of the continuity and persistence of these perennial themes is in several places an eye-opener.for instance, Sri Ramakrishna figures in several contexts as a glorious exemplar of Vedic truths.  Explaining bhasha and chandas, metres, Dr Gouri says: ‘ The inner vast resplendent illumination is the criterion by which Chandas is differentiated from Bhasha. The dimension of the language suddenly changes when a Rishi climbs to the peak of Bhasha. Pedestrian speech begins to fly with wings. Ramprasad’s songs to Kali, the Time, Ramakrishna’s Kathamrita, Bankim’s Vande Mataram, Robindranath’s gleanings of poetry, symbolic dramas and Gitavitan, Vivekananda’s poems and speeches , Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri, the Grand  Epic of Maha–Prithivi, as his other works are examples of Rishi- speech. i.e. Chandas’ (p. 97). It is this continuity of manifest forms and figures, themes and aspects, that is the substantial truth behind the significance of this study. Dr. Gouri illustrates this point citing Sri Ramakrishna’s upamana, analogy – or we can say upameya, to be compared – stating that all these discussions and speeches would be a- phala. Fruitless, mere talk, if we do not take the fruits and flower as out of it in our daily social and political life. In the words of Sri Ramakrishna: we are killing time in the statistics of mango gardens with trees, branches, and leaves without eating the delicious mangoes.

Similarly, significant is the attractive summary of Sri Ramakrishna’s   image of a hat, marketplace, especially of a village: ‘All things, all sounds, all words are separate. But, at a distance, All is harmonized in Om, a single humming sound. From thence to Silence. Not even whisper. No muttering. Not even mental speaking. Complete Silence, SAMADHI (p. 193). Anahata, the unstruck sound, and the marketplace fused together!

This is the overall ambience of this remarkable study. There are several nuggets of gold illumined with an intimacy, inwardness, and above all, holistic awareness that makes this book stand out as a cyclopedia of Indian culture’s range, resilience, and sweep. In short, a book for an in-depth study and absorption in earnest, both leading to pragmatic activism.


About the Reviewer: Dr. M. Sivaramkrishna is the former Head of the English Department of Osmania University, Hyderabad.


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