The natural question is: "We have two people here - Valmiki and Narada. How do you identify whether Valmiki asked Narada or is it the other way around?"
Valmiki is referred to as वाल्मीकिः whereas Narada is referred to as नारदम्।
This gives the indication that Valmiki is the doer of the act of speaking and this was told to Narada. (However, this is not as simple as it sounds)
The words "तपस्वी", "तपःस्वाध्यायनिरतम्", "वाग्विदाम्", "वरम्" and "मुनिपुङ्गवम्" are adjectives - विशेषण। Which of these adjectives would you associate to Valmiki and which of these would you associate to Narada?
These are again identifiable if we understand the rules of Construction of the श्लोक.
The question of spaces - Or the Delimiter
We had alluded to the fact that Samskrita does not require spaces to distinguish between one word and the next. The reason for this is that in Samskrita a word is precisely defined. The Sutra defining a word is " सुप्तिङ्न्तम् पदम्" (१-४-१४ - 14th Sutra of the 4th Part of the 1st Chapter).
सुप् तिङ् अन्तं पदम्।
A word पद is one which ends with either a सुप् or तिङ्
Going into what सुप् and तिङ् are is way beyond the scope of this article. A brief explanation is in order, though. Every word in Samskrita is a combination of two parts - the root - प्रकृति and a suffix - प्रत्यय.
There are different kinds of प्रत्ययs। Word endings are सुप् and तिङ् प्रत्ययs। These are finite in number - 39 to be precise (with further classifications within them).
Therefore, every word in Samskrita will have either of the two प्रत्ययs. Another way of looking at it is that if the ending is not one of these 39 प्रत्ययs, then it is not a word.
How do you recognise them? Simply parse through the string of letters in a श्लोक and the moment you identify one of the 39 प्रत्यय, you identify that as the end of the word.
Why was the structure of the श्लोक used? / What are its benefits of this structure?
We now come to the last part of this article. Why was this elaborate structure created. What are the benefits.
We list three important benefits:
Aid for retention / memory
1. Quality Control:
We go back to the apocryphal story narrated at the beginning of this article. We had asked: "What is the possibility that such errors have crept into our texts? Especially since most of Samskrita texts have been handed down through the Oral tradition, and written texts (manuscripts) and printing came recently?"
It should be clear by now that the rules relating to लघु and गुरु that were elucidated earlier, will make modifications to the contents of the श्लोक very difficult.
Changing even one अक्षर of a word has implications on other words -- the need to retain the अक्षर count as well as retain the लघु and गुरु placements. Every letter is part of a web and attempting to change one of them can unravel the entire web.
Changing a word would require complete modification of the श्लोक itself. ((For a further discussion on this See Endnote 5 .
Insertion or deletion of an entire Shloka is definitely possible. Over a period of time, a number of Shlokas tend to get added. Entire stories are added. It is for this reason that the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute did a thorough review of all the Recensions of the Mahabharata and have come out with the Critical Edition. (For some elaboration please See Endnote 6
In End note 2, we have provided a glimpse of the brevity achieved in contrast to English. While this may sound puerile, it does give a glimpse. Another way to look at it is that the entire teaching of the Bhagavad Gita is packed in 700 श्लोक। And volumes are written to explain the content of these 700 श्लोकs.
3. Aid to memorisation and retention:
This is a very important point. Children were taught the texts by rote even though they don't understand the meaning. Subsequently, they were taught Grammar (again by rote). Over a period of time, both the text and the rules to understand them become part of the memory and can be recalled at any time.
Click here to see a clip from the movie "Maya Bazaar". We talked about सुप् and तिङ् प्रत्ययs when we discussed word endings. In this clip, students are taught to memorise सुप!
I hope that the above has given you a glimpse of the wonderful world of the Samskrita श्लोक Obviously, this is the tip of the tip of the iceberg.
Instead of looking at a श्लोक from a religious / spiritual point of view, if we look at it as a tool of holding and transferring knowledge, we can obtain significant benefits. If we can construct श्लोकs containing basic principles of all subjects - any thing from Astronomy to Zoology, students can memorise them in their childhood. Subsequently, they can be taught how to understand / de-code the श्लोक.
Significant Knowledge retention can be achieved.
I have been fortunate to learn this under my teacher, Dr Sridhar Subbanna. He continues to fascinate me with the depth of his learning.
You can visit his website here.
A clear disclaimer is in order. If there is anything accurate here, credit goes to my teacher. If there are errors, they are entirely mine.