Indian student at Cambridge solves 2,500-year-old Sanskrit puzzle

Indian student at Cambridge solves 2,500-year-old Sanskrit puzzle
Indian student at Cambridge solves 2,500-year-old Sanskrit puzzle

An Indian Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge has finally solved a Sanskrit grammatical problem that has baffled scholars since the 5th century BC. 27-year-old Rishi Atul Rajpopat, reportedly decoded a text written by the Sanskrit language master Panini, a master of the ancient Sanskrit language who lived around two-and-a-half-thousand years ago, according to a report by BBC.

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Notably, Mr Rajpopat, is a PhD student at the faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies in St. John’s College, Cambridge.

According to Independent, Panini taught a “metarule” which is traditionally interpreted by scholars as meaning: “in the event of a conflict between two rules of equal strength, the rule that comes later in the grammar’s serial order wins”. However, this often led to grammatically incorrect results.

This traditional interpretation of the metarule was rejected by Rajpopat with the argument that Panini meant that between rules applicable to the left and right sides of a word respectively, Panini wanted us to choose the rule applicable to the right side. He concluded that Panini’s “language machine” produced grammatically correct words with almost no exceptions.

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“I had a eureka moment in Cambridge. After nine months of trying to crack this problem, I was almost ready to quit, I was getting nowhere. So I closed the books for a month and just enjoyed the summer, swimming, cycling, cooking, praying, and meditating. Then, begrudgingly I went back to work, and, within minutes, as I turned the pages, these patterns started emerging, and it all started to make sense,” he told the Independent. It took him another two years to solve the problem.

Elated at the news, Prof Vergiani said, “My student Rishi has cracked it – he has found an extraordinarily elegant solution to a problem which has perplexed scholars for centuries. This discovery will revolutionise the study of Sanskrit at a time when interest in the language is on the rise.”Sanskrit is only spoken in India by an estimated 25,000 people out of a population of more than one billion, Cambridge University said.

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