Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pālī Language [part lV]

It is noteworthy to presume that Theravāda traditions in accordance to extant evidences. Substantial Buddhist scriptures in various Asian traditions refer to the dialect Buddha preached in his time called ‘magadī’. He conveyed the meaning of his doctrine by using ‘magadikavohāra’ which is believed to be widely spoken in ‘magada’ district.  Prominent commentator like ‘Buddhaghosa’ states that it is a so-called ‘skānirutti’, which is believed that it was the language Buddha spoke. However, ‘skānirutti’ is a combination of ‘ska [self, own]+nirutti [language]’ literally means ‘own language’ or language that generally spoken by masses [in their own styles, forms and sounds]. Therefore, the interpretation of ‘pālī’ as ‘skānirutti’ is problematic. 

Nonetheless, speaking of which, ‘pālī’ [magadī] is believed to be spoken and preached by the Buddha. And, even after his demise, the language has been preserved in the form of his tenets by community of Buddhist monks and laymen for centuries until it was firstly properly inscribed into stone pillars of Emperor Asoka in the 3rd Century B.C. The significant historical event was conducted in the city of ‘Pātliputri’ in the kingdom of ‘Kosāla’ – generally known as ‘tatiya sanggīti’ – the third council. Then, it is described that doctrinal scriptures were carried by 9 groups of missionaries to propagate the wisdom outside of ‘chambhutīpa’ – India, for the first time. 

According to ‘mahāvangsa’ scripture – the famous scripture depicted an ancient history of Ceylon; it refers to the account of Mahindathera, a prominent Buddhist monk who is believed to introduce Buddhism in Sri Lanka. However, for the state of our knowledge at the moment, we are not certain of what form or type of language he brought to the island. Nonetheless, it is described by the scripture that the ‘tipit᷂aka’ he brought in with him was translated into Sinhalese language in the 5th Century B.C. in the reign of King Vat᷂t᷂agāminīabhaya.  Therefore, the term ‘pālī’ seems to be introduced much later when Buddhism was already established in Sri Lanka. 

Thus, it is common to acknowledge several assumptions towards the status of ‘pālī’ and its genuine origin based upon discovered and tentative evidences. Plentiful Asian Buddhists claim, based upon traditional scriptures, that the language was also called ‘mūlabhāsā’ and ‘tan᷂tibhāsā’ – literally means ‘original dialect’ and ‘conventional dialect’. Thus, since ‘magadī’ also shares common synonym of ‘mūlabhāsā’, and ‘tan᷂tibhāsā’, the assumption of ‘magadī’, and ‘pālī’ are identical, is acceptable and possible.  

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