The Full Wiki

Pali: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pronunciation [paːli]
Spoken in Cambodia, Bangladesh, India, Laos, Burma, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam
Language extinction No native speakers, used as a literary and liturgical language only
Language family Indo-European
Writing system Brahmi script, Brāhmī-based scripts and Latin alphabet (refer to article)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 pi
ISO 639-2 pli
ISO 639-3 pli
Indic script
This page contains Indic text. Without rendering support you may see irregular vowel positioning and a lack of conjuncts. More...

Pāli (ISO 15919/ALA-LC: Pāḷi) is a Middle Indo-Aryan language (or prakrit) of India. It is best known as the language of many of the earliest extant Buddhist scriptures, as collected in the i Canon or Tipitaka, and as the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism.


Origin and development

The word Pali itself signifies "line" or "(canonical) text", and this name for the language seems to have its origins in commentarial traditions, wherein the "Pāḷi" (in the sense of the line of original text quoted) was distinguished from the commentary or the vernacular following after it on the manuscript page. As such, the name of the language has caused some debate among scholars of all ages; the spelling of the name also varies, being found with both long "ā" [ɑː] and short "a" [a], and also with either a retroflex [ɭ] or non-retroflex [l] "l" sound. To this day, there is no single, standard spelling of the term; all four spellings can be found in textbooks. R.C. Childers translates the word as "series" and states that the language "bears the epithet in consequence of the perfection of its grammatical structure."[1]

Pali is a literary language of the Prakrit language family. When the canonical texts were written down in Sri Lanka in the first century BCE, Pali stood close to a living language; this is not the case for the commentaries.[2] Despite excellent scholarship on this problem, there is persistent confusion as to the relation of Pāḷi to the vernacular spoken in the ancient kingdom of Magadha, which was located around modern-day Bihār.

Pali as a Middle Indo-Aryan language is different from Sanskrit not so much with regard to the time of its origin as to its dialectal base, since a number of its morphological and lexical features betray the fact that it is not a direct continuation of Ṛgvedic Vedic Sanskrit; rather it descends from a dialect (or a number of dialects) which was (/were), despite many similarities, different from Ṛgvedic.[3]

Pali was considered by early Buddhists to be linguistically similar to Old Magadhi or even a direct continuation of that language. Many Theravada sources refer to the Pali language as "Magadhan" or the "language of Magadha". This identification first appears in the commentaries, and may have been an attempt by Buddhists to associate themselves more closely with the Mauryans. The Buddha taught in Magadha, but the four most important places in his life are all outside of it. It is likely that he taught in several closely related dialects of Middle Indo-Aryan, which had a very high degree of mutual intelligibility.

There is no attested dialect of Middle Indo-Aryan with all the features of Pali. Pali has some commonalities with both the Ashokan inscriptions at Girnar in the West of India, and at Hathigumpha in the East. Similarities to the Western inscription may be misleading, because the inscription suggests that the Ashokan scribe may not have translated the material he received from Magadha into the vernacular of the people there.

According to Norman, it is likely that the viharas in North India had separate collections of material, preserved in the local dialect. In the early period it is likely that no degree of translation was necessary in communicating this material to other areas. Around the time of Ashoka there had been more linguistic divergence, and an attempt was made to assemble all the material. It is possible that a language quite close to the Pali of the canon emerged as a result of this process as a compromise of the various dialects in which the earliest material had been preserved, and this language functioned as a lingua franca among Eastern Buddhists in India from then on. Following this period, the language underwent a small degree of Sanskritisation (i.e., MIA bamhana -> brahmana, tta -> tva in some cases).[4]

T.W. Rhys Davids in his book Buddhist India, and Wilhelm Geiger in his book Pali Literature and Language suggested that Pali may have originated as a form of lingua franca or common language of culture among people who used differing dialects in North India, used at the time of the Buddha and employed by him. Another scholar states that at that time it was "a refined and elegant vernacular of all Aryan-speaking people."[5] Modern scholarship has not arrived at a consensus on the issue; there are a variety of conflicting theories with supporters and detractors.[6] After the death of the Buddha, Pali may have evolved among Buddhists out of the language of the Buddha as a new artificial language.[7] Bhikkhu Bodhi, summarizing the current state of scholarship, states that the language is "closely related to the language (or, more likely, the various regional dialects) that the Buddha himself spoke." He goes on to write:

Scholars regard this language as a hybrid showing features of several Prakrit dialects used around the third century BCE, subjected to a partial process of Sanskritization. While the language is not identical with any the Buddha himself would have spoken, it belongs to the same broad linguistic family as those he might have used and originates from the same conceptual matrix. This language thus reflects the thought-world that the Buddha inherited from the wider Indian culture into which he was born, so that its words capture the subtle nuances of that thought-world.[8]

Whatever the relationship of the Buddha's speech to Pali, the Canon was eventually transcribed and preserved entirely in it, while the commentarial tradition that accompanied it (according to the information provided by Buddhaghosa) was translated into Sinhalese and preserved in local languages for several generations. R.C. Childers, who held to the theory that Pali was Old Magadhi, wrote: "Had Gautama never preached, it is unlikely that Magadhese would have been distinguished from the many other vernaculars of Hindustan, except perhaps by an inherent grace and strength which make it a sort of Tuscan among the Prakrits."[9]

However Pali was ultimately supplanted in India by Sanskrit as a literary and religious language following the formulation of Classical Sanskrit by the scholar Panini. In Sri Lanka, Pali is thought to have entered into a period of decline ending around the 4th or 5th Century (as Sanskrit rose in prominence, and simultaneously, Buddhism's adherents increasingly became a smaller portion of the subcontinent), but ultimately survived. The work of Buddhaghosa was largely responsible for its reemergence as an important scholarly language in Buddhist thought. The Visuddhimagga and the other commentaries that Buddhaghosa compiled codified and condensed the Sinhalese commentarial tradition that had been preserved and expanded in Sri Lanka since the 3rd Century BCE.

Today Pali is studied mainly to gain access to Buddhist scriptures, and is frequently chanted in a ritual context. The secular literature of Pali historical chronicles, medical texts, and inscriptions, is also of great historical importance. The great centers of Pali learning remain in the Theravada nations of South-East Asia: Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Since the 19th century, various societies for the revival of Pali studies in India have promoted awareness of the language and its literature, perhaps most notably the Maha Bodhi Society founded by Anagarika Dhammapala.

In Europe, the Pali Text Society has been a major force in promoting the study of Pali by Western scholars since its founding in 1881. Based in the United Kingdom, the society publishes romanized Pali editions, along with many English translations of these sources. In 1869, the first Pali Dictionary was published using the research of Robert Caesar Childers, one of the founding members of the Pali Text Society. It was the first Pali translated text in English and was published in 1872. Childers's Dictionary later received the Volney Prize in 1876.

The Pali Text Society was in part founded to compensate for the very low level of funds allocated to Indology in late 19th century Englandand the rest of the UK; incongruously, the citizens of the UK were not nearly so robust in Sanskrit and Prakrit language studies as Germany, Russia and even Denmark. Without the inspiration of colonial holdings such as the former British occupation of Sri Lanka and Burma, institutions such as the Danish Royal Library have built up major collections of Pali manuscripts, and major traditions of Pali studies.


Virtually every word in Pāḷi has cognates in the other Prakritic Middle Indo-Aryan languages, e.g., the Jain Prakrits. The relationship to earlier Sanskrit (e.g., Vedic language) is less direct and more complicated. Historically, influence between Pali and Sanskrit has been felt in both directions. The Pali language's resemblance to Sanskrit is often exaggerated by comparing it to later Sanskrit compositions – which were written centuries after Sanskrit ceased to be a living language, and are influenced by developments in Middle Indic, including the direct borrowing of a portion of the Middle Indic lexicon; whereas, a good deal of later Pali technical terminology has been borrowed from the vocabulary of equivalent disciplines in Sanskrit, either directly or with certain phonological adaptations.

Post-canonical Pali also possesses a few loan-words from local languages where Pali was used (e.g. Sri Lankans adding Sinhalese words to Pali). These usages differentiate the Pali found in the Suttapiṭaka from later compositions such as the Pali commentaries on the canon and folklore (e.g., the stories of the Jātaka commentaries), and comparative study (and dating) of texts on the basis of such loan-words is now a specialized field unto itself.

Pali was not exclusively used to convey the teachings of the Buddha, as can be deduced from the existence of a number of secular texts, such as books of medical science/instruction, in Pali. However, scholarly interest in the language has been focused upon religious and philosophical literature, because of the unique window it opens on one phase in the development of Buddhism.

Emic views of Pali

Although Sanskrit was said, in brahmanical tradition, to be the unchanging language spoken by the gods, in which each word had an inherent significance, this view of language was not shared in the early Buddhist tradition, in which words were only conventional and mutable signs.[10] Neither the Buddha nor his early followers shared the brahmans' reverence for the Vedic language or its sacred texts. This view of language naturally extended to Pali, and may have contributed to its usage (as an approximation or standardization of local Middle Indic dialects) in place of Sanskrit. However, by the time of the compilation of the Pali commentaries (4th or 5th century), Pali was regarded as the natural language, the root language of all beings.[11]

Comparable to Ancient Egyptian, Latin or Hebrew in the mystic traditions of the West, Pali recitations were often thought to have a supernatural power (which could be attributed to their meaning, the character of the reciter, or the qualities of the language itself), and in the early strata of Buddhist literature we can already see Pali dhāraṇīs used as charms, e.g. against the bite of snakes. Many people in Theravada cultures still believe that taking a vow in Pali has a special significance, and, as one example of the supernatural power assigned to chanting in the language, the recitation of the vows of Aṅgulimāla are believed to alleviate the pain of childbirth in Sri Lanka. In Thailand, the chanting of a portion of the Abhidhammapiṭaka is believed to be beneficial to the recently departed, and this ceremony routinely occupies as much as seven working days. Interestingly, there is nothing in the latter text that relates to this subject, and the origins of the custom are unclear.


This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

With regard to its phonology, R.C. Childers compared Pali to Italian: "Like Italian, Pali is at once flowing and sonorous: it is a characteristic of both languages that nearly every word ends in a vowel, and that all harsh conjunctions are softened down by assimilation, elision, or crasis, while on the other hand both lend themselves easily to the expression of sublime and vigorous thought."[12]



Height Backness
Front Central Back
High i [i]

ī [iː]

u [u]

ū [uː]

Mid e [e], [eː] a [ɐ] o [o], [oː]
Low ā [aː]

Long and short vowels are only contrastive in open syllables; in closed syllables, all vowels are always short. Short and long e and o are in complementary distribution: the short variants occur only in closed syllables, the long variants occur only in open syllables. Short and long e and o are therefore not distinct phonemes.

A sound called anusvāra (Skt.; Pali: nigghahita), represented by the letter (ISO 15919) or (ALA-LC) in romanization, and by a raised dot in most traditional alphabets, originally marked the fact that the preceding vowel was nasalized. That is, aṁ, iṁ and uṁ represented [ã], [ĩ] and [ũ]. In many traditional pronunciations, however, the anusvāra is pronounced more strongly, like the velar nasal [ŋ], so that these sounds are pronounced instead [ãŋ], [ĩŋ] and [ũŋ]. However pronounced, never follows a long vowel; ā, ī and ū are converted to the corresponding short vowels when is added to a stem ending in a long vowel, e.g. kathā + ṁ becomes kathaṁ, not *kathāṁ, devī + ṁ becomes deviṁ, not *devīṁ.


The table below lists the consonants of Pali. In bold is the letter in traditional romanization, and in square brackets its pronunciation in the IPA.

Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
(bilabial) (labiodental) central lateral central lateral
Stop Nasal m [m] n [n̪] [ɳ] ñ [ɲ] ( [ŋ])
voiceless unaspirated p [p] t [t̪] [ʈ] c [tʃ] k [k]
aspirated ph [pʰ] th [t̪ʰ] ṭh [ʈʰ] ch[tʃʰ] kh [kʰ]
voiced unaspirated b [b] d [d̪] [ɖ] j [dʒ] g [ɡ]
aspirated bh [bʱ] dh [d̪ʱ] ḍh [ɖʱ] jh [dʒʱ] gh [ɡʱ]
Fricative s [s] h [h]
Approximant unaspirated v [ʋ] l [l] r [ɻ] ( [ɭ]) y [j]
aspirated (ḷh [ɭʱ])

Of the sounds listed above only the three consonants in parentheses, , , and ḷh, are not distinct phonemes in Pali: only occurs before velar stops and , and ḷh are allophones of single , and ḍh between vowels.


Pali is a highly inflected language, in which almost every word contains, besides the root conveying the basic meaning, one or more affixes (usually suffixes) which modify the meaning in some way. Nouns are inflected for gender, number, and case; verbal inflections convey information about person, number, tense and mood.

Nominal inflection

Pali nouns inflect for three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neuter) and two numbers (singular, and plural). The nouns also, in principle, display eight cases: nominative or paccatta case, vocative, accusative or upayoga case, instrumental or karaṇa case, dative or sampadāna case, ablative, genitive or sāmin case, and locative or bhumma case; however, in many instances, two or more of these cases are identical in form; this is especially true of the genitive and dative cases.


a-stems, whose uninflected stem ends in short a (/ə/), are either masculine or neuter. The masculine and neuter forms differ only in the nominative, vocative, and accusative cases.

Masculine (loka- "world") Neuter (yāna- "carriage")
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative loko lokā yānaṁ yānāni
Vocative loka
Accusative lokaṁ loke
Instrumental lokena lokehi yānena yānehi
Ablative lokā (lokamhā, lokasmā; lokato) yānā (yānamhā, yānasmā; yānato)
Dative lokassa (lokāya) lokānaṁ yānassa (yānāya) yānānaṁ
Genitive lokassa yānassa
Locative loke (lokasmiṁ) lokesu yāne (yānasmiṁ) yānesu


Nouns ending in ā (/aː/) are almost always feminine.

Feminine (kathā- "story")
Singular Plural
Nominative kathā kathāyo
Vocative kathe
Accusative kathaṁ
Instrumental kathāya kathāhi
Dative kathānaṁ
Locative kathāya, kathāyaṁ kathāsu

i-stems and u-stems

i-stems and u-stems are either masculine or neuter. The masculine and neuter forms differ only in the nominative and accusative cases. The vocative has the same form as the nominative.

Masculine (isi- "seer") Neuter (akkhi- "fire")
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative isi isayo, isī akkhi, akkhiṁ akkhī, akkhīni
Accusative isiṁ
Instrumental isinā isihi, isīhi akkhinā akkhihi, akkhīhi
Ablative isinā, isito akkhinā, akkhito
Dative isino isinaṁ, isīnaṁ akkhino akkhinaṁ, akkhīnaṁ
Genitive isissa, isino akkhissa, akkhino
Locative isismiṁ isisu, isīsu akkhismiṁ akkhisu, akkhīsu
Masculine (bhikkhu- "monk") Neuter (cakkhu- "eye")
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative bhikkhu bhikkhavo, bhikkhū cakkhu, cakkhuṁ cakkhūni
Accusative bhikkhuṁ
Instrumental bhikkhunā bhikkhūhi cakkhunā cakkhūhi
Dative bhikkhuno bhikkhūnaṁ cakkhuno cakkhūnaṁ
Genitive bhikkhussa, bhikkhuno bhikkhūnaṁ, bhikkhunnaṁ cakkhussa, cakkhuno cakkhūnaṁ, cakkhunnaṁ
Locative bhikkhusmiṁ bhikkhūsu cakkhusmiṁ cakkhūsu

Example of Pali with English translation

Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā, manoseṭṭhā manomayā;
Manasā ce paduṭṭhena, bhāsati vā karoti vā,
Tato nam dukkhaṁ anveti, cakkaṁ'va vahato padaṁ.

Element for element gloss

Mano-pubbaṅ-gam=ā dhamm=ā, mano-seṭṭh=ā mano-may=ā;,
Manas=ā ce paduṭṭh=ena, bhāsa=ti vā karo=ti vā, if either or,
Ta=to naṁ dukkhaṁ anv-e=ti, cakkaṁ 'va vahat=o pad=aṁ.
That=from him suffering, wheel as carrying(beast)

The three compounds in the first line literally mean:

manopubbaṅgama "whose precursor is mind", "having mind as a fore-goer or leader"
manoseṭṭha "whose foremost member is mind", "having mind as chief"
manomaya "consisting of mind" or "made by mind"

The literal meaning is therefore: "The dharmas have mind as their leader, mind as their chief, are made of/by mind. If [someone] either speaks or acts with a corrupted mind, from that [cause] suffering goes after him, as the wheel [of a cart follows] the foot of a draught animal."

A slightly freer translation by Acharya Buddharakkhita

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.
If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him
like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

Pali and Ardha-Magadhi

The most archaic of the Middle Indo-Aryan languages are the inscriptional Aśokan Prakrit on the one hand and Pāli and Ardhamāgadhī on the other, both literary languages.

The Indo-Aryan languages are commonly assigned to three major groups - Old, Middle and New Indo-Aryan -, a linguistic and not strictly chronological classification as the MIA languages ar not younger than ('Classical') Sanskrit. And a number of their morphophonological and lexical features betray the fact that they are not direct continuations of Ṛgvedic Sanskrit, the main base of 'Classical' Sanskrit; rather they descend from dialects which, despite many similarities, were different from Ṛgvedic and in some regards even more archaic.

MIA languages, though individually distinct, share features of phonology and morphology which characterize them as parallel descendants of Old Indo-Aryan. Various sound changes are typical of the MIA phonology:

(1) The vocalic liquids 'ṛ' and 'ḷ' are replaced by 'a', 'i' or 'u'; (2) the diptongs 'ai' and 'au' are monophthongized to 'e' and 'o'; (3) long vowels before two or more consonants are shortened; (4) the three sibilants of OIA are reduced to one, either 'ś' or 's'; (5) the often complex consonant clusters of OIA are reduced to more readily pronounceable forms, either by assimilation or by splitting; (6) single intervocalic stops are progressively weakened; (7) dentals are palatalized by a following '-y-'; (8) all final consonants except '-ṃ' are dropped unless they are retained in 'sandhi' junctions.

The most conspicuous features of the morphological system of these languages are: loss of the dual; thematicization of consonantal stems; merger of the f. 'i-/u-' and 'ī-/ū-' in one 'ī-/ū-' inflexion, elimination of the dative, whose functions are taken over by the genitive, simultaneous use of different case-endings in one paradigm; employment of 'mahyaṃ' and 'tubhyaṃ' as genitives and 'me' and 'te' as instrumentals; gradual disappearance of the middle voice; coexistence of historical and new verbal forms based on the present stem; and use of active endings for the passive. In the vocabulary, the MIA languages are mostly dependent on Old Indo-Aryan, with addition of a few so-called 'deśī' words of (often) uncertain origin.

Pali and Sanskrit

Although Pali cannot be considered a direct descendant of either Classical Sanskrit or of the older Vedic dialect, the languages are obviously very closely related and the common characteristics of Pali and Sanskrit were always easily recognized by those in India who were familiar with both. Indeed, a very large proportion of Pali and Sanskrit word-stems are identical in form, differing only in details of inflection.

The connections were sufficiently well-known that technical terms from Sanskrit were easily converted into Pali by a set of conventional phonological transformations. These transformations mimicked a subset of the phonological developments that had occurred in Proto-Pali. Because of the prevalence of these transformations, it is not always possible to tell whether a given Pali word is a part of the old Prakrit lexicon, or a transformed borrowing from Sanskrit. The existence of a Sanskrit word regularly corresponding to a Pali word is not always secure evidence of the Pali etymology, since, in some cases, artificial Sanskrit words were created by back-formation from Prakrit words.

The following phonological processes are not intended as an exhaustive description of the historical changes which produced Pali from its Old Indic ancestor, but rather are a summary of the most common phonological equations between Sanskrit and Pali, with no claim to completeness.

Vowels and diphthongs

  • Sanskrit ai and au always monophthongize to Pali e and o, respectively
Examples: maitrīmettā, auṣadhaosadha
  • Sanskrit aya and ava likewise often reduce to Pali e and o
Examples: dhārayatidhāreti, avatāraotāra, bhavatihoti
  • Sanskrit avi becomes Pali e (i.e. aviaie)
Example: sthavirathera
  • Sanskrit appears in Pali as a, i or u, often agreeing with the vowel in the following syllable. also sometimes becomes u after labial consonants.
Examples: kṛtakata, tṛṣṇataṇha, smṛtisati, ṛṣiisi, dṛṣṭidiṭṭhi, ṛddhiiddhi, ṛjuuju, spṛṣṭaphuṭṭha, vṛddhavuddha
  • Sanskrit long vowels are shortened before a sequence of two following consonants.
Examples: kṣāntikhanti, rājyarajja, īśvaraissara, tīrṇatiṇṇa, pūrvapubba


Sound changes

  • The Sanskrit sibilants ś, , and s merge together as Pali s
Examples: śaraṇasaraṇa, doṣadosa
  • The Sanskrit stops and ḍh become and ḷh between vowels (as in Vedic)
Example: cakravāḍacakkavāḷa, virūḍhavirūḷha


General rules
  • Many assimilations of one consonant to a neighboring consonant occurred in the development of Pali, producing a large number of geminate (double) consonants. Since aspiration of a geminate consonant is only phonetically detectable on the last consonant of a cluster, geminate kh, gh, ch, jh, ṭh, ḍh, th, dh, ph and bh appear as kkh, ggh, cch, jjh, ṭṭh, ḍḍh, tth, ddh, pph and bbh, not as khkh, ghgh etc.
  • When assimilation would produce a geminate consonant (or a sequence of unaspirated stop+aspirated stop) at the beginning of a word, the initial geminate is simplified to a single consonant.
Examples: prāṇapāṇa (not ppāṇa), sthavirathera (not tthera), dhyānajhāna (not jjhāna), jñātiñāti (not ññāti)
  • When assimilation would produce a sequence of three consonants in the middle of a word, geminates are simplified until there are only two consonants in sequence.
Examples: uttrāsauttāsa (not utttāsa), mantramanta (not mantta), indrainda (not indda), vandhyavañjha (not vañjjha)
  • The sequence vv resulting from assimilation changes to bb
Example: sarva → savva → sabba, pravrajati → pavvajati → pabbajati, divya → divva → dibba
Total assimilation

Total assimilation, where one sound becomes identical to a neighboring sound, is of two types: progressive, where the assimilated sound becomes identical to the following sound; and regressive, where it becomes identical to the preceding sound.

Progressive assimilations
  • Internal visarga assimilates to a following voiceless stop or sibilant
Examples: duḥkṛtadukkata, duḥkhadukkha, duḥprajñaduppañña, niḥkrodha (=niṣkrodha) → nikkodha, niḥpakva (=niṣpakva) → nippakka, niḥśokanissoka, niḥsattvanissatta
  • In a sequence of two dissimilar Sanskrit stops, the first stop assimilates to the second stop
Examples: vimuktivimutti, dugdhaduddha, utpādauppāda, pudgalapuggala, udghoṣaugghosa, adbhutaabbhuta, śabdasadda
  • In a sequence of two dissimilar nasals, the first nasal assimilates to the second nasal
Example: unmattaummatta, pradyumnapajjunna
  • j assimilates to a following ñ (i.e., becomes ññ)
Examples: prajñāpaññā, jñātiñāti
  • The Sanskrit liquid consonants r and l assimilate to a following stop, nasal, sibilant, or v
Examples: mārgamagga, karmakamma, varṣavassa, kalpakappa, sarva → savva → sabba
  • r assimilates to a following l
Examples: durlabhadullabha, nirlopanillopa
  • d sometimes assimilates to a following v, producing vv → bb
Examples: udvigna → uvvigga → ubbigga, dvādaśabārasa (beside dvādasa)
  • t and d may assimilate to a following s or y when a morpheme boundary intervenes
Examples: ut+savaussava, ud+yānauyyāna
Regressive assimilations
  • Nasals sometimes assimilate to a preceding stop (in other cases epenthesis occurs; see below)
Examples: agniaggi, ātmanatta, prāpnotipappoti, śaknotisakkoti
  • m assimilates to an initial sibilant
Examples: smaratisarati, smṛtisati
  • Nasals assimilate to a preceding stop+sibilant cluster, which then develops in the same way as such clusters without following nasals (see Partial assimilations below)
Examples: tīkṣṇa → tikṣa → tikkha, lakṣmī → lakṣī →lakkhī
  • The Sanskrit liquid consonants r and l assimilate to a preceding stop, nasal, sibilant, or v
Examples: prāṇapāṇa, grāmagāma, śrāvakasāvaka, agraagga, indrainda, pravrajati → pavvajati → pabbajati, aśruassu
  • y assimilates to preceding non-dental/retroflex stops or nasals
Examples: cyavaticavati, jyotiṣjoti, rājyarajja, matsya → macchya → maccha, lapsyate → lacchyate → lacchati, abhyāgataabbhāgata, ākhyātiakkhāti, saṁkhyāsaṅkhā (but also saṅkhyā), ramyaramma
  • y assimilates to preceding non-initial v, producing vv → bb
Example: divya → divva → dibba, veditavya → veditavva → veditabba, bhāvya → bhavva → bhabba
  • y and v assimilate to any preceding sibilant, producing ss
Examples: paśyatipassati, śyenasena, aśvaassa, īśvaraissara, kariṣyatikarissati, tasyatassa, svāminsāmī
  • v sometimes assimilates to a preceding stop
Examples: pakvapakka, catvāricattāri, sattvasatta, dhvajadhaja
Partial and mutual assimilation
  • Sanskrit sibilants before a stop assimilate to that stop, and if that stop is not already aspirated, it becomes aspirated; e.g. śc, st, ṣṭ and sp become cch, tth, ṭṭh and pph
Examples: paścātpacchā, astiatthi, stavathava, śreṣṭhaseṭṭha, aṣṭaaṭṭha, sparśaphassa
  • In sibilant-stop-liquid sequences, the liquid is assimilated to the preceding consonant, and the cluster behaves like sibilant-stop sequences; e.g. str and ṣṭr become tth and ṭṭh
Examples: śāstra → śasta → sattha, rāṣṭra → raṣṭa → raṭṭha
  • t and p become c before s, and the sibilant assimilates to the preceding sound as an aspirate (i.e., the sequences ts and ps become cch)
Examples: vatsavaccha, apsarasaccharā
  • A sibilant assimilates to a preceding k as an aspirate (i.e., the sequence kṣ becomes kkh)
Examples: bhikṣubhikkhu, kṣāntikhanti
  • Any dental or retroflex stop or nasal followed by y converts to the corresponding palatal sound, and the y assimilates to this new consonant, i.e. ty, thy, dy, dhy, ny become cc, cch, jj, jjh, ññ; likewise ṇy becomes ññ. Nasals preceding a stop that becomes palatal share this change.
Examples: tyajati → cyajati → cajati, satya → sacya → sacca, mithyā → michyā → micchā, vidyā → vijyā → vijjā, madhya → majhya → majjha, anya → añya → añña, puṇya → puñya → puñña, vandhya → vañjhya → vañjjha → vañjha
  • The sequence mr becomes mb, via the epenthesis of a stop between the nasal and liquid, followed by assimilation of the liquid to the stop and subsequent simplification of the resulting geminate.
Examples: āmra → ambra → amba, tāmratamba


An epenthetic vowel is sometimes inserted between certain consonant-sequences. As with , the vowel may be a, i, or u, depending on the influence of a neighboring consonant or of the vowel in the following syllable. i is often found near i, y, or palatal consonants; u is found near u, v, or labial consonants.

  • Sequences of stop + nasal are sometimes separated by a or u
Example: ratnaratana, padmapaduma (u influenced by labial m)
  • The sequence sn may become sin initially
Examples: snānasināna, snehasineha
  • i may be inserted between a consonant and l
Examples: kleśakilesa, glānagilāna, mlāyatimilāyati, ślāghatisilāghati
  • An epenthetic vowel may be inserted between an initial sibilant and r
Example: śrīsirī
  • The sequence ry generally becomes riy (i influenced by following y), but is still treated as a two-consonant sequence for the purposes of vowel-shortening
Example: ārya → arya → ariya, sūrya → surya → suriya, vīrya → virya → viriya
  • a or i is inserted between r and h
Example: arhatiarahati, garhāgarahā, barhiṣbarihisa
  • There is sporadic epenthesis between other consonant sequences
Examples: caityacetiya (not cecca), vajravajira (not vajja)

Other changes

  • Any Sanskrit sibilant before a nasal becomes a sequence of nasal followed by h, i.e. ṣṇ, sn and sm become ṇh, nh, and mh
Examples: tṛṣṇataṇha, uṣṇīṣauṇhīsa, asmiamhi
  • The sequence śn becomes ñh, due to assimilation of the n to the preceding palatal sibilant
Example: praśna → praśña → pañha
Examples: jihvājivhā, gṛhyagayha, guhyaguyha
  • h undergoes metathesis with a following nasal
Example: gṛhṇātigaṇhāti
  • y is geminated between e and a vowel
Examples: śreyasseyya, MaitreyaMetteyya
  • Voiced aspirates such as bh and gh on rare occasions become h
Examples: bhavatihoti, -ebhiṣ-ehi, laghulahu
  • Dental and retroflex sounds sporadically change into one another
Examples: jñānañāṇa (not ñāna), dahatiḍahati (beside Pali dahati) nīḍanīla (not nīḷa), sthānaṭhāna (not thāna), duḥkṛtadukkaṭa (beside Pali dukkata)


There are several notable exceptions to the rules above; many of them are common Prakrit words rather than borrowings from Sanskrit.

  • āryaayya (beside ariya)
  • gurugaru (adj.) (beside guru (n.))
  • puruṣapurisa (not purusa)
  • vṛkṣa → rukṣa → rukkha (not vakkha)

Pali writing

Pali alphabet with diacritics

King Ashoka erected a number of pillars with his edicts in at least three regional prakrits in Brahmi script,[13] all of which are quite similar to Pali. Historically, the first written record of the Pali canon is believed to have been composed in Sri Lanka, based on a prior oral tradition. As per the Mahavamsa (the chronicle of Sri Lanka), due to a major famine in the country Buddhist monks wrote down the Pali canon during the time of King Vattagamini in 100 BC. The transmission of written Pali has retained a universal system of alphabetic values, but has expressed those values in a stunning variety of actual scripts.

In Sri Lanka, Pali texts were recorded in Sinhala script. Other local scripts, most prominently Khmer, Burmese, and in modern times Thai (since 1893), Devanāgarī and Mongolian have been used to record Pali.

Since the 19th Century, Pali has also been written in the Roman script. An alternate scheme devised by Frans Velthuis allows for typing without diacritics using plain ASCII methods, but is arguably less readable than the standard Rhys Davids system, which uses diacritical marks.

The Pali alphabetical order is as follows:

  • a ā i ī u ū e o ṁ k kh g gh ṅ c ch j jh ñ ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh ṇ t th d dh n p ph b bh m y r l ḷ v s h

ḷh, although a single sound, is written with ligature of and h.

Pali transliteration on computers

There are several fonts to use for Pali transliteration. However, older ASCII fonts such as Leedsbit PaliTranslit, Times_Norman, Times_CSX+, Skt Times, Vri RomanPali CN/CB etc., are not recommendable since they are not compatible with one another and technically out of date. On the contrary, fonts based on the Unicode standard are recommended because Unicode seems to be the future for all fonts and also because they are easily portable to one another.

However, not all Unicode fonts contain the necessary characters. To properly display all the diacritic marks used for romanized Pali (or for that matter, Sanskrit), a Unicode font must contain the following character ranges:

  • Basic Latin: U+0000 – U+007F
  • Latin-1 Supplement: U+0080 – U+00FF
  • Latin Extended-A: U+0100 – U+017F
  • Latin Extended-B: U+0180 – U+024F
  • Latin Extended Additional: U+1E00 – U+1EFF

Some Unicode fonts freely available for typesetting Romanized Pali are as follows:

  • The Pali Text Society recommends VU-Times and Gandhari Unicode for Windows and Linux Computers.
  • The Tibetan & Himalayan Digital Library recommends Times Ext Roman, and provides links to several Unicode diacritic Windows and Mac fonts usable for typing Pali together with ratings and installation instructions. It also provides macros for typing diacritics in OpenOffice and MS Office.
  • SIL: International provides Charis SIL and Charis SIL Compact, Doulos SIL, Gentium, Gentium Basic, Gentium Book Basic fonts. Of them, Charis SIL, Gentium Basic and Gentium Book Basic have all 4 styles (regular, italic, bold, bold-italic); so can provide publication quality typesetting.
  • Libertine Openfont Project provides the Linux Libertine font (4 serif styles and many Opentype features) and Linux Biolinum (4 sans-serif styles) at the Sourceforge.
  • Junicode (short for Junius-Unicode) is a Unicode font for medievalists, but it provides all diacritics for typing Pali. It has 4 styles and some Opentype features such as Old Style for numerals.
  • GUST (Polish TeX User Group) provides Latin Modern and TeX Gyre fonts. Each font has 4 styles, with the former finding most acceptance among the LaTeX users while the latter is a relatively new family. Of the latter, each typeface in the following families has nearly 1250 glyphs and is available in PostScript, TeX and OpenType formats.
    • The TeX Gyre Adventor family of sans serif fonts is based on the URW Gothic L family. The original font, ITC Avant Garde Gothic was designed by Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase in 1970.
    • The TeX Gyre Bonum family of serif fonts is based on the URW Bookman L family. The original font was designed by Alexander Phemister in 1860 and named Bookman (or Bookman Old Style).
    • The TeX Gyre Chorus is a font based on the URW Chancery L Medium Italic font. The original, ITC Zapf Chancery, was designed in 1979 by Hermann Zapf.
    • The TeX Gyre Cursor family of monospace serif fonts is based on the URW Nimbus Mono L family. The original font, Courier, was designed by Howard G. (Bud) Kettler in 1955.
    • The TeX Gyre Heros family of sans serif fonts is based on the URW Nimbus Sans L family. The original font, Helvetica, was designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger.
    • The TeX Gyre Pagella family of serif fonts is based on the URW Palladio L family. The original font, Palatino, was designed by Hermann Zapf in the 1940's.
    • The TeX Gyre Schola family of serif fonts is based on the URW Century Schoolbook L family. The original was designed by Morris Fuller Benton in 1919.
    • The TeX Gyre Termes family of serif fonts is based on the Nimbus Roman No9 L family. The original font, Times, was designed by Stanley Morison together with Starling Burgess and Victor Lardent.
  • John Smith provides IndUni Opentype fonts, based upon URW++ fonts. Of them:
    • IndUni-C is Courier-lookalike;
    • IndUni-H is Helvetica-lookalike;
    • IndUni-N is New Century Schoolbook-lookalike;
    • IndUni-P is Palatino-lookalike;
    • IndUni-T is Times-lookalike;
    • IndUni-CMono is Courier-lookalike but monospaced;
  • An English Buddhist monk titled Bhikkhu Pesala provides some Pali fonts he has designed himself. Of them:
    • Akkhara is a derivative of Gentium with low profile accents, reduced line-spacing and high accents prevented from getting clipped. Maths symbols are the same width as figures. The additional arrows, symbols, and dingbats are designed to match the Caps height.Regular & Italic styles.
    • Cankama is a Gothic, Black Letter script. Regular style only.
    • Garava was designed for body text with a generous x-height and economical copyfit. It includes Small Caps, Bold Small Caps, and Heavy styles besides the usual four styles (regular, italic, bold, bold italic).
    • Guru is another font family for body text with OpenType features. Regular, italic, bold and bold italic styles.
    • Hattha is a hand-writing font. Regular, italic, and bold styles.
    • Kabala is a distinctive Sans Serif typeface designed for display text or headings. Regular, italic, bold and bold italic styles.
    • Lekhana is a Zapf Chancery clone, a flowing script that can be used for correspondence or body text. Regular, italic, bold and bold italic styles.
    • Mandala is designed for display text or headings. Regular, italic, bold and bold italic styles.
    • Pali is a clone of Hermann Zapf’s Palatino. Regular, italic, bold and bold italic styles.
    • Odana is a calligraphic brush font suitable for headlines, titles, or short texts where a less formal appearance is wanted. Regular style only.
    • Talapanna and Talapatta are clones of Goudy Bertham, with decorative gothic capitals and extra ligatures in the Private Use Area. These two are different only in decorative gothic capitals in the Private Use Area. Regular and bold styles.
    • Veluvana is another brush calligraphic font but basic Greek glyphs are taken from Guru. Regular style only.
    • Verajja is derived from Bitstream Vera. Regular, italic, bold and bold italic styles.
    • VerajjaPDA is a cut-down version of Verajja without symbols. For use on PDA devices. Regular, italic, bold and bold italic styles.
    • He also provides some Pali keyboards for Windows XP.
  • The font section of Alanwood's Unicode Resources have links to several general purpose fonts that can be used for Pali typing if they cover the character ranges above.

Pali text in ASCII

The Velthuis scheme was originally developed in 1991 by Frans Velthuis for use with his "devnag" Devanāgarī font, designed for the TeX typesetting system. This system of representing Pali diacritical marks has been used in some websites and discussion lists. However, as the Web itself and email software slowly evolve towards the Unicode encoding standard, this system has become almost not necessary and obsolete.

The following table compares various conventional renderings and shortcut key assignments:

character ASCII rendering character name Unicode number key combination HTML code
ā aa a macron U+0101 Alt+A ā
ī ii i macron U+012B Alt+I ī
ū uu u macron U+016B Alt+U ū
.m m dot-under U+1E43 ṁ
.n n dot-under U+1E47 Alt+N ṇ
ñ ~n n tilde U+00F1 Alt+Ctrl+N ñ
.t t dot-under U+1E6D Alt+T ṭ
.d d dot-under U+1E0D Alt+D ḍ
"n n dot-over U+1E45 Ctrl+N ṅ
.l l dot-under U+1E37 Alt+L ḷ

See also


  1. ^ Hazra, Kanai Lal. Pali Language and Literature; a systematic survey and historical study. D.K. Printworld Lrd., New Delhi, 1994, page 19.
  2. ^ Students' Britannica India, [1].
  3. ^ Oberlies, Thomas Pali: A Grammar of the Language of the Theravāda Tipiṭaka, Walter de Gruyter, 2001.
  4. ^ K.R. Norman, Pali Literature. Otto Harrassowitz, 1983, pages 1-7.
  5. ^ Hazra, Kanai Lal. Pali Language and Literature; a systematic survey and historical study. D.K. Printworld Lrd., New Delhi, 1994, page 11.
  6. ^ Hazra, Kanai Lal. Pali Language and Literature; a systematic survey and historical study. D.K. Printworld Lrd., New Delhi, 1994, pages 1-44.
  7. ^ Hazra, Kanai Lal. Pali Language and Literature; a systematic survey and historical study. D.K. Printworld Lrd., New Delhi, 1994, page 29.
  8. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi, In the Buddha's Words. Wisdom Publications, 2005, page 10.
  9. ^ Hazra, Kanai Lal. Pali Language and Literature; a systematic survey and historical study. D.K. Printworld Lrd., New Delhi, 1994, page 20.
  10. ^ David Kalupahana, Nagarjuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way. SUNY Press, 1986, page 19. The author refers specifically to the thought of early Buddhism here.
  11. ^ Dispeller of Delusion, Pali Text Society, volume II, pages 127f
  12. ^ Robert Caesar Childers, A Dictionary of the Pali Language. Published by Trübner, 1875, pages xii-xiv. Republished by Asian Educational Services, 1993.
  13. ^ Inscriptions of Asoka by Alexander Cunningham, Eugen Hultzsch. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing. Calcutta: 1877
  • See entries for "Pali" (written by K. R. Norman of the Pali Text Society) and "India--Buddhism" in The Concise Encyclopedia of Language and Religion, (Sawyer ed.) ISBN 0080431674
  • Warder, A.K. (1991). Introduction to Pali (third edition ed.). Pali Text Society. ISBN 0860131971. 
  • de Silva, Lily (1994). Pali Primer (first edition ed.). Vipassana Research Institute Publications. ISBN 817414014X. 
  • Müller, Edward (1884,1995). Simplified Grammar of the Pali Language. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 8120611039. 

Further reading

  • Gupta, K. M. (2006). Linguistic approach to meaning in Pali. New Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan. ISBN 8175741708
  • Müller, E. (2003). The Pali language: a simplified grammar. Trubner's collection of simplified grammars. London: Trubner. ISBN 1844530019
  • Oberlies, T., & Pischel, R. (2001). Pāli: a grammar of the language of the Theravāda Tipiṭaka. Indian philology and South Asian studies, v. 3. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3110167638
  • Hazra, K. L. (1994). Pāli language and literature: a systematic survey and historical study. Emerging perceptions in Buddhist studies, no. 4-5. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld. ISBN 812460004X
  • American National Standards Institute. (1979). American National Standard system for the romanization of Lao, Khmer, and Pali. New York: The Institute.
  • Russell Webb (ed.) An Analysis of the Pali Canon, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy; 1975, 1991 (see
  • Soothill, W. E., & Hodous, L. (1937). A dictionary of Chinese Buddhist terms: with Sanskrit and English equivalents and a Sanskrit-Pali index. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.
  • Collins, Steven (2006). A Pali Grammar for Students. Silkworm Press.

External links

Pali edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Pali is a village in Sudhagad Taluka of Raigad District in Konkan. It is famous for Ballaleshwar Temple which is one of the 8 Ashtavinayak temples.

This article is an outline and needs more content. It has a template, but there is not enough information present. Please plunge forward and help it grow!

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PALI, the language used in daily intercourse between cultured people in the north of India from the 7th century B.C. It continued to be used throughout India and its confines as a literary language for about a thousand years, and is still, though in a continually decreasing degree, the literary language of Burma, Siam, and Ceylon. Two factors combined to give Pali its importance as one of the few great literary languages of the world: the one political, the other religious. The political factor was the rise during the 7th century B.C. of the Kosala power. Previous to this the Aryan settlements, along the three routes they followed in their penetration into India, had remained isolated, independent and small communities. Their language bore the same relation to the Vedic speech as the various Italian dialects bore to Latin. The welding together of the great Kosala kingdom, more than twice the size of England, in the very centre of the settled country, led insensibly but irresistibly to the establishment of a standard of speech, and the standard followed was the language used at the court at Savatthi in the Nepalese hills, the capital of Kosala. When Gotama the Buddha, himself a Kosalan by birth, determined on the use, for the propagation of his religious reforms, of the living tongue of the people, he and his followers naturally made full use of the advantages already gained by the form of speech current through the wide extent of his own country. A result followed somewhat similar to the effect, on the German language, of the Lutheran reformation. When, in the generations after the Buddha's death, his disciples compiled the documents of the faith, the form they adopted became dominant. But local varieties of speech continued to eixst.

The etymology of the word Pali is uncertain. It probably means "row, line, canon," and is used, in its exact technical sense, of the language of the canon, containing the documents of the Buddhist faith. But when Pali first became known to Europeans it was already used also, by those who wrote in Pali, of the language of the later writings, which bear the same relation to the standard literary Pali of the canonical texts as medieval does to classical Latin. A further extension of the meaning in which the word Pali was used followed in a very suggestive way. The first book edited by a European in Pali was the Mahazamsa, or Great Chronicle of Ceylon, published there in 18 37 by Tumour, then colonial secretary in the island. James Prinsep was then devoting his rare genius to the decipherment of the early inscriptions of northern India, especially those of Asoka in the 3rd century B.C. He derived the greatest assistance from Tumour's work not only in historical information, but also as regards the forms of words and grammatical inflexions. The resemblance was so close that Prinsep called the alphabet he was deciphering the Pali alphabet, and the language expressed in it he called the Pali language. This was so nearly correct that the usage has been followed by other European scholars, and is being increasingly adopted. It receives the support of Mahanama, the author of the Great Chronicle, who wrote in Ceylon in the 5th century A.D. He says (p. 253, ed. Tumour) that Buddhaghosa translated the commentaries, then existing only in Sinhalese, into Pali. The name here used by the chronicler for Pali is "the Magadhi tongue," by which expression is meant, not exactly the language spoken in Magadha, but the language in use at the court of Asoka, king of Kosala and Magadha. With this use of the word, philologically inexact, but historically quite defensible, may be compared the use of the word English, which is not exactly the language of the Angles, or of the word French, which is not exactly the language of the Franks. The question of Pali becomes therefore threefold: Pali before the canon, the canon, and the writings subsequent the canon. The present writer has suggested that the word Pali should be reserved for the language of the canon, and other words used for the earlier and later forms of it; 1 but the usage generally followed is so convenient that there is little likelihood of the suggestion being followed. The threefold division will therefore be here adhered to.

For the history of Pali before the canonical books were composed we have no direct evidence. None of the pre-Buddhistic sites have as yet been excavated; and, with one doubtful exception, no inscriptions older than the texts have as yet been found. We have to argue back from the state cf things revealed in the texts, of various dates from 450-250 B.C., and in the inscriptions from that date onwards. The inscriptions have now been subjected to a very full critical and philological analysis in Professor Otto Franke's Pali and Sanskrit (Strassburg, 1902). He shows that in the 3rd century B.C. the language used throughout northern India was practically one, and that it was derived directly from the speech of the Vedic Aryans, retaining many Vedic forms lost in the later classical Sanskrit. His list of such forms is much more complete than that given by Childers in the introduction to his Dictionary of the Pali Language. The particular form of this general speech which was used as the lingua franca, the Hindustani of the period, was the form in use in Kosala. Franke also shows that there were local peculiarities in small matters of spelling and inflexion, and that the particular form of the language used in and about the Avanti district, of which the capital was Ujjeni (a celebrated pre-Buddhistic city), was the basis of the language used in the sacred texts as we now have them. Long ago Westergaard, Rhys Davids and Ernst Kuhn,' had made the same suggestion, mainly on historical grounds, Mahinda, who took the texts to Ceylon, having been born at Vedisa in that district. The careful and complete collection, by Franke, of the philological evidence at present available, has raised this hypothesis into a practical certainty. The inscriptions are at present scattered through a number of learned periodicals; a complete list of all those that can be approximately dated between the 3rd century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. is given in the first chapter of Franke's book. M. E. Senart has collected in his Inscriptions de Piyadasi (Paris, 1881-1886) those inscriptions of Asoka which were known up to the date of his work, subjecting them to a careful analysis, and providing an index to the words occurring in them. What is greatly needed is a new edition of this work including the Asoka inscriptions discovered during the last twenty years, and a similar edition of the other inscriptions. The whole of the Pali inscriptions so far discovered might fill somewhat more than a hundred pages of text. An outline of the history of the Pali alphabet has been given, with illustrations and references to the authorities, in Rhys Davids's Buddhist India, pp. 107-140.

1 Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (2903), p. 398.

Westergaard, Ober den altesten Zeitraum der indischen Geschichte, p. 87; Rhys Davids, Transactions of the Philological Society (1875), p. 70; Kuhn, Beitrage zur Pali Grammatik, 7-9.

The canonical texts are divided into three collections called Pitakas, i.e. baskets. This figure of speech refers, not to a basket or box in which things can be stored, but to the baskets, used in India in excavations, as a means of handing on the earth from one worker to another. The first Pitaka contains the Vinaya - that is, Rules of the Order; the second the Suttas, giving the doctrine, and the third the Abhidhamma, analytical exercises in the psychological system on which the doctrine is based. These have now nearly all, mainly through the work of the Pali Text Society, been published in Pali.

The Vinaya was edited in 5 vols. by H. Oldenberg; and the more important parts of it have been translated into English by Rhys Davids and Oldenberg in their Vinaya Texts. The Sutta Pitaka consists of five Nikayas, four principal and one supplementary. The four principal ones have been published for the Pali Text Society, and some volumes have been translated into English or German. These four Nikayas, sixteen volumes in all, are the main authorities for the doctrines of early Buddhism. The fifth Nikaya is a miscellaneous collection of treatises, mostly very short, on a variety of subjects. It contains lyrical and ballad poetry, specimens of early exegesis and commentary, lives of the saints, collections of edifying anecdotes and of the now well-known Jatakas or Birth Stories. Of these, eleven volumes had by 1910 been edited for the Pali Text Society by various scholars, the Jatakas and two other treatises had appeared elsewhere, and two works (one a selection of lives of distinguished early Buddhists, and the other an ancient commentary), were still in MS.

Of the seven treatises contained in the Abhidhamma Pitaka five, and one-third of the sixth, had by 1910 been published by the Pali Text Society; and one, the Dhamma Sangani, had been translated by Mrs Rhys Davids. A description of the contents of all these books in the canon is given in Rhys Davids's American Lectures, PP. 44-86.

A certain amount of progress has been made in the historical criticism of these books. Out of the twenty-nine works contained in the three Pitakas only one claims to have an author. That one is theKatha Vatthu, ascribed to Tissa the son of Moggali,3 who presided over the third council held under Asoka. It is the latest book of the third Pitaka. All the rest of the canonical works grew up in the schools of the Order, and most of them appear to contain documents, or passages, of different dates. In his masterly analysis of the Vinaya, in the introduction to his edition of the text, Professor Oldenberg has shown that there are at least three strata in the existing presentation of the Rules of the Order, the oldest portions going back probably to the time of the Buddha himself. Professor Rhys Davids has put forward similar views with respect to the Jatakas and the Sutta Nipata in his Buddhist India, and with respect to the Nikayas in general in the introduction to his Dialogues of the Buddha. And Professor Windisch has discussed the legends of the temptation in his Mara and Buddha, and those relating to the Buddha's birth in his Buddha's Geburt. It seems probable that the Vinaya and the four Nikayas were put substantially into the shape in which we now have them before the council at Vesali, a hundred years after the Buddha's death; that slight alterations and additions were made in them, and the miscellaneous Nikaya and the Abhidhamma books completed, at various times down to the third council under Asoka; and that the canon was then considered closed. No evidence has yet been found of any alterations made, after that time, in Ceylon; but there were probably before that time, in India, other books, now lost, and other recensions of some of the above.

Of classical Pali in northern India subsequent to the canon there is but little evidence. Three works only have survived. These are the Milinda-panha, edited by V. Trenckner, and translated by Rhys Davids under the title Questions of King Milinda; the Netti Pakarana, edited by E. Hardy for the Pali Text Society in 1902; and the Petaka Upadesa. The former belongs to the north-west, the others to the centre of India, and all three may be dated vaguely in the first or second centuries A.D. The first, a religious romance of remarkable interest, may owe its preservation to the charm of its style, the others to the accident that they were attributed by mistake to a famous apostle. In any case they are the sole survivors of what must No doubt identical with Upagupta, the teacher of Asoka (cf. Vincent Smith, Early History of India, 2nd ed., 1908, and refs.).

have been a vast and varied literature. Professor Takakusu has shown the possibility of several complete books belonging to it being still extant in Chinese translations,' and we may yet hope to recover original fragments in central Asia, Tibet, or Nepal.

At p. 66 of the Gandha Vamsa, a modern catalogue of Pali books and authors, written in Pali, there is given a list of ten authors who wrote Pali books in India, probably southern India. We may conclude that these books are still extant in Burma, where the catalogue was drawn up. Two only of these ten authors are otherwise known. The first is Dhammapala, who wrote in Kancipura, the modern Conjevaram in south India, in the 5th century of our era. His principal work is a series of commentaries on five of the lyrical anthologies included in the miscellaneous Nikaya. Three of these have been published by the Pali Text Society; and Professor E. Hardy has discussed in the Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenlaindischen Gesellschaft (1897), pp. 105-127, all that is known about him. Dhammapala wrote also a commentary on the Netti mentioned above. The second is Buddhadatta, who wrote the Jindlankara in the 5th century A.D. It has been edited and translated by Professor J. Gray. It is a poem, of no great interest, on the life of the Buddha.

The whole of these Pali books composed in India have been lost there. They have beer_ preserved for us by the unbroken succession of Pali scholars in Ceylon and Burma. These scholars (most of them members of the Buddhist Order, but many of them laymen) not only copied and recopied the Indian Pali books, but wrote a very large number themselves. We are thus beginning to know something of the history of this literature. Two departments have been subjected to critical study: the Ceylon chronicles by Professor W. Geiger in his Mahavamsa and Dipavarrtsa, and the earlier grammatical works by Professor O. Franke in two articles in the Journal of the Pali Text Society for 1903, and in his Geschichte and Kritik der einheimischen Pali Grammatik. Dr Forchhammer in his Jardine Prize Essay, and Dr Mabel Bode in the introduction to her edition of the Sasana-vamsa, have collected many details as to the Pali literature in Burma.

The results of these investigations show that in Ceylon from the 3rd century B.C. onwards there has been a continuous succession of teachers and scholars. Many of them lived in the various vihdras or residences situate throughout the island; but the main centre of intellectual effort, down to the 8th century, was the Maha Vihara, the Great Minster, at Anwradhapura. This was, in fact, a great university. Authors refer, in the prefaces to their books, to the Great Minster as the source of their knowledge. And to it students flocked from all parts of India. The most famous of these was Buddhaghosa, from Behar in North India, who studied at the Minster in the 5th century A.D., and wrote there all his well-known works. Two volumes only of these, out of about twenty still extant in MS., have been edited for the Pali Text Society. About a century before this the Dipa-vamsa, or Island Chronicle, had been composed in Pali verse so indifferent that it is apparently the work of a beginner in Pali composition. No work written in Pali in Ceylon at a date older than this has been discovered yet. It would seem that up to the 4th century of our era the Sinhalese had written exclusively in their own tongue; that is to say that for six centuries they had studied and understood Pali as a dead language without using it as a means of literary expression. In Burma, on the other hand, where Pali was probably introduced from Ceylon, no writings in Pali can be dated before the nth century of our era. Of the history of Pali in Siam very little is known. There have been good Pali scholars there since late medieval times. A very excellent edition of the twentyseven canonical books has been recently printed there, and there exist in our European libraries a number of Pali MSS. written in Siam.

It would be too early to attempt any estimate of the value of this secondary Pali literature. Only a few volumes, out of several hundreds known to be extant in MS., have yet been published. But the department of the chronicles, the only 1 Journal of the Pali Text Society (1905), pp. 72, 86, one so far at all adequately treated, has thrown so much light on many points of the history of India that we may reasonably expect results equally valuable from the publication and study of the remainder. The works on religion and philosophy especially will be of as much service for the history of ideas in these later periods as the publication of the canonical books has already been for the earlier period to which they refer. The Pali books written in Ceylon, Burma and Siam will be our best and oldest, and in many respects our only, authorities for the sociology and politics, the literature and the religion, of their respective countries.

SELECTED Authorities. - Texts: Pali Text Society (63 vols., 1882-1908); H. Oldenberg, The Vinaya Pi(akam (5 vols., London, 1879-1883); V. Fausboll, The Jataka (7 vols., London, 1877-1897); G. Turnour, The Mahavarnsa (Colombo, 1837); H. Oldenberg, The Dipavamsa (London, 1879); V. Trenckner, Milinda (London,. 1880). Translations: Rhys Davids and H. Oldenberg, Vinaya Texts (3 vols., Oxford, 1881-1885); Rhys Davids, Milinda (2 vols., Oxford, 1890-1894), Dialogues of the Buddha (Oxford, 1899} H. C. Warren, Buddhism in Translations (Cambridge, Mass., 1896); Mrs Rhys Davids, Buddhist Psychology (London, 1900); K. E. Neumann, Reden des Gotamo Buddho (3 vols.; Leipzig, 1896-1898); Lieder der Monche and Nonnen (Berlin, 1899); Max Mtiller and V_ Fausboll, Dhammapada and Sutta Nipata (Oxford, 1881). Philology. R. C. Childers, Dictionary of the Pali Language (London, 1872-1875); Ernst Kuhn, Beitrage zur Pali Grammatik (Berlin; 18 75); E. Miller, Pali Grammar (London, 1884); R O. Franke, Geschichte and Kritik der einheimischen Pali-Grammatik and Lexicographic, and Pali and Sanskrit (Strassburg, 1902); D. Andersen, Pati Reader (London, 1904-1907) History (of the alphabet, language and texts): Rhys Davids, American Lectures (London, 3rd ed., 1908); Buddhist India (London, 1903); E. Windisch, Mara and Buddha. (Leipzig, 1895), and Buddha's Geburt (Leipzig, 1908); W. Geiger, Mahavamaa and Dipavarnsa (Leipzig, 1905); E. Forchhammer, Jardine Prize Essay (Rangoon, 1885); Dr Mabel Bode, Sasanavamsa (London, 1897) (T. W. R. D.)

<< Francis Turner Palgrave

Charles Guillaume Marie Apollinaire Antoine Cousin-Montauban, comte de Palikao >>


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also pali



Wikipedia has an article on:



Literally, pāli means "line" or "(canonical) text".


Proper noun




  1. A Middle Indo-Aryan language (Devanagari पाऴि) of north India, closely related to Sanskrit; the sacred language of the Buddhist scriptures. It has no native script, so it may be written in various alphabets, including Devanagari, Burmese, and Roman.
  2. The Prakrit language of the Buddha.


External links


Simple English

Pali is an old language. It used to be spoken in India, and is similar to Sanskrit. Pali is used in religious services by Theravada Buddhists. The Theravada holy texts, called the Pali Canon, are written in Pali. Pali is usually called a dead language. Bengali orignates from the Pali

Other websites


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address