1.1. Sanskrit poetry has an amazingly vast variety of forms and structures. There is at the top the most elaborate Maha-kavya in classic style narrating a noble story element (kathavastu) of sublime characters spread over several cantos (sargabandha), adorned with eighteen types of descriptions (asta-dasha-varnana), with well chosen forms (guna) of expression, syntax, and graces of Rasa and beauty (alankara) and endowed with eloquent imagination; and, at the same time, satisfying all the norms and principles (kavya-lakshana) prescribed for a Maha-kavya by the Alankara-sastra texts. The sophisticated thematic construction of such courtly epics is presented as a splendid unity of descriptive and narrative delight.
There is at the other end of the spectrum, the rather flippant or absurd minor poems, as also terse lyrical couplets that dispense in capsule form erotic or didactic (niti) wisecracks.
1.2. In between there are verities of slightly less elaborate Laghu-kavya or Khanda –kavya, Champu Kavya (written in a mix of prose and poetry), Giti Kavyas, Mukutas, biographical poems, anthologies and stotras etc.
Among these, is a wonderful class of poetry based in brilliant flexible or rather mischievous play of vowels, consonants, words and sounds. The elements of the verse are, at times, picturesquely patterned into designs (bandha), geometric figures or into images of familiar things in life such as a flower, wheel, flag, drum, umbrella, mace etc. Perhaps because of its figurative quality this class of poetry is known as Chitra-kavya.
2.1. The term Chitra has several interpretations such as image (or picture), uniqueness or peculiarity (as in vichitra) or wonder. The Chitrakavya aims to generate a sense of wonder by resorting to unusual (peculiar) management of certain meters; innovative poetic structures, designs or patterns (bandha) resembling objects (vastu) or their movements (gati) that one commonly sees in life. The Chitrakavya also attempts to evoke poetic or emotive images.
And in that sense it is an imitation, a reflection or an image (Chitra) of true poetry (Kavya); but, it is not the poetry itself. It is ‘image- poetry’.
The other way to look at it is to treat Chitrakavya as architecture of poetry where the sounds of syllables (matra) and letters (akshara) take a visible form.
[Incidentally, the Chitrasutra of Vishnudarmottara wonders why the concept of Rasa is extended to all arts but not to architecture.]
2.2. The other interpretation extended to the term Chitra is: the figure of speech (Chitra-alankara), where the poet plays on the sound of the letters with particular importance to similes (upama) and metaphors.
3.1. Even from its early stages, the Sanskrit poetics has recognized the close association between the word and its sound; and, between speech (vak) and meaning (artha). The word is that which when articulated gives out meaning; and meaning is what a word gives us to understand. The tradition, therefore, believes that Kavya is a unity or composition (sahitya) of word (sabdalankara) and its meaning (arthalankara).
The concept of Chitrakavya however seemed to be: whatever be the source of its inspiration, kavya is a ‘thing made of language’. The elements that go into a kavya are the words, meanings and the way in which the words have to be compounded. The Chitrakavya , therefore, treats pictures evoked by the sound of the word and its meaning as separate figures (sabda –chitra and artha-chitra); and , it also in some other ways, combines the word and the meaning into a common figure or an image (ubhaya-chitra).
3.2. Chitrakavya (marvel-poetry) embraces all ingenious forms of poetic compositions. The skillful artistry of words and dexterous enterprise of the poet is displayed in unusual and clever arrangement of letters, in different combination of words , to evoke varied meanings where the sequence of words when read from the reverse direction –right to left – produce a different meaning; in alliteration of letters (anuprasa); alliteration of words (pada prasa); in ambiguous use of a word where it conveys different meanings depending upon the context (latanu-prasa); in the play of pun (slesha or sabda slesha) ; in change of voice (kaku) or in poetic subversion or deviant expression (vakrokthi) and so on .
Chitrakavya also uses certain other features that are peculiar to Sanskrit language. For instance; yamaka is a permutation of identical set of syllabic strings described by the poet Bhamaha as ‘chimes’ where a letter or a word is repeated regularity at fixed positions in a stanza , say at the beginning, or the end of only line , or at the middle of only two lines (paada).
4.1. As said; the object of Chitrakavya is to ignite awe and wonder; to evoke amusement and pleasure; and, to offer intellectual challenge. Such poetic tricks or riddles (kuta) have been employed in Sanskrit poetry for a very long time. In Mahabharata there are verses that play on alliterations, puns and chimes.
For instance; (in Jatugriha Parva, a sub-section of the Adi Parva- CXLVII) Vidura, the uncle of the Pandavas , employs kuta an oblique form of verse, as described in Chitra-alankara, where the real intent is concealed ; and, is couched in philosophical or mystical words. Through a Kuta verse (riddle) Vidura, (who was conversant with the jargon of the Mlechchhas), successfully cautions Yudhistira that the house built for them at Varnavata by Duryodhana is actually a lac -house (Jatugriha) ; and , it is meant to burn them all into ashes.
‘He that knows the schemes his foes contrive in accordance with the dictates of political science, should, after knowing them, act in such a way as to avoid all danger. He that knows that there are sharp weapons capable of cutting the body though not made of steel, and understands also the means of warding them off, can never be injured by foes. He lives who protects himself by the knowledge that neither the consumer of straw and wood nor the drier of the dew burns the inmates of a hole in the deep woods. Those who live in a hole like rats will not be harmed by fire. The blind man sees not his way: the blind man has no knowledge of direction. So always be vigilant. He that has no firmness never acquires prosperity. Remembering this always be upon your guard. The man who takes a weapon not made of steel (i.e., an inflammable abode) given him by his foes, can escape from fire by making his abode like unto that of a jackal (having many outlets). By wandering a man may acquire the knowledge of ways, and by the stars he can ascertain the direction, and he that keeps his five (senses) under control can never be oppressed by his enemies.’
paureṣu tu nivṛtteṣu viduraḥ sarva-dharma-vit
bodhayan pāṇḍava-śreṣṭham idaṃ vacanam abravīt
” prājñaḥ prājñaṃ pralāpajñaḥ samyag dharmārtha-darśivān
vijñāyedaṃ tathā kuryād āpadaṃ nistared yathā
alohaṃ niśitaṃ śastraṃ śarīra-parikartanam
yo vetti na tam āghnanti pratighātavidaṃ dviṣaḥ
kakṣaghnaḥ śiśiraghnaś ca mahākakṣe bilaukasaḥ
na dahed iti cātmānaṃ yo rakṣati sa jīvati
nācakṣur vetti panthānaṃ nācakṣur vindate diśaḥ
nādhṛtir bhūtim āpnoti budhyasvaivaṃ prabodhitaḥ
anāptair dattam ādatte naraḥ śastram alohajam
śvāvic charaṇam āsādya pramucyeta hutāśanāt
caran mārgān vijānāti nakṣatrair vindate diśaḥ
ātmanā cātmanaḥ pañca pīḍayan nānupīḍyate “
Its inner meaning was that the rogue Purochana would set the house on fire; he is a dreadful foe; you can guard yourself only when you runaway through the underground tunnel.
Yudhistira replies “I understood what you said” (vijñātam iti tat sarvam ity ukto viduro mayā) ; and, saved himself, his brothers and their mother.
vidureṇa kṛto yatra hitārthaṃ mleccha-bhāṣayā
vidurasya ca vākyena suruṅgopa-krama-kriyā
niṣādyāḥ pañca-putrāyāḥ suptāyā jatu-veśmani
purocanasya cātraiva dahanaṃ saṃpra-kīrtitam – 01,002.08
And thereafter, the Pandavas set out on the eighth day (aṣṭame ‘hani) of the month of Phalguna when the star Rohini was in the ascendant; and , arriving at Varanavata they beheld the town and its people.
aṣṭame ‘hani rohiṇyāṃ prayātāḥ phalgunasya te / vāraṇāvatam āsādya dadṛśur nāgaraṃ janam
4.2. The other major poets such as Asvaghosha (sundaranabdana), Sri Harsha (naishabha-charitra), Bharavi (kiratarjuneeya), Magha (sishupalavadha), Kalidasa (Raghuvamsha) and many other later poets also enjoyed using Chitrakavya techniques as playful indulgence.
Further , it is surprising that Anandavardhana the rhetorician who looked down on Chitrakavya did himself used Chitra techniques in his works Dhvanyaloka as also in Devistataka. For instance; in Anandavardhana’s Devisataka (850 AD) almost every stanza contains a verbal display of some sort: Verse eight when read backwards becomes Verse nine; in verse ten, four lines can be read forwards and backwards; in verse forty six , only two letters Ma and Na are used with the vowels; in verse fifty nine , only two letters Tha and Va are used.
Anandavardhana’s stricture seems to have had little impact on its practice.If anything, the popularity of Chitrakavya only increased in the following centuries.
4.3. Among the scholar poets, Sri Anandathirta who later became Sri Madhawacharya the founder of the Dvaita philosophy in his Yamaka-bharata narrates the Mahabharata in verses employing yamaka – chimes.
Sri Vedanta Desika (12-13th century) the remarkable scholar – poet in his Paduka Sahasram celebrating the glory of Sri Ranganatha’s Padukas in 1008 verses employs Chitra-paddathi for 40 verses (911-950)- (we shall return to Sri Desika’s work later).
The noted Advaita scholar Sri Appayya Dishitar wrote a descriptive text of literary criticism Chitra Mimamsa studded with illustrations.
5.1. There are also kavyas written entirely in the Chitra paddathi. These are generally of two types: the poems of chimes (yamaka-kavya) having varieties of chimes yamaka at fixed positions in stanza to convey different meanings; and the other being the poems of pun (slesha-kavya) having the same set of words so that a line (paada) conveys more than one meaning.
5.2. An instance of Yamaka-kavya is Chaturvimsatika ascribed to a Jain monk Shobanamuni (10th century). The poem has four groups of verses. The first group of verses is in praise of twenty – four Tirthankaras; the second of all the Jains; the third adulates the Jain doctrine; and, the fourth sings the glory of all deities. The verses are so constructed that the fourth line has the same set of letters as in the second line, but conveys a different meaning.
5.3. There are too many Slesha-kavyas where each of its lines gives forth more than one meaning. For instance, the Rama-pala-charita by the court poet Sandhyakar Nandin depicts at once two stories (dwi-sandhana—kavya), one of the Sri Rama and the other of King Rama Plala of Bengal (1104-1130) .
Another is the Raghava-yadava-Pandavveya’(राघवयादवपाण्डवीय) by Chidambara-Sumati (16th century), a court poet of Vijayanagara which narrates simultaneously three stories (Tri-sandhana kavya’) those of Rama, Krishna and Arjuna. Such Slesha – kavyas, by laborious splitting compound words; by repetition of sounds (srutyanusara), of vowels (varna-anusara) and of words (pada – anusara); and by interpreting the words depending on the context, can yield five or even seven stories.
The authors of the Slesha-kavyas must have gone into enormous study and trouble in crafting multiple headed literary works , employing varieties of techniques. Such works are unique to India; and, in particular to Sanskrit. I believe no other literary tradition in the world has such bi-textual poetry, equaling the Slesha Kavya. But , sadly, the theorists of the classical Sanskrit Kavyas deplored the Slesha Kavyas ; and, pushed it down to a low level. It was even treated as an aberration. Even during the modern times, there have hardly been any serious academic studies. concerning the Slesha Kavyas. As a result, this fascinating creative literary form is now left in utter obscurity .
[ For more on Slesha , please read :Extreme Poetry , the South Asian movement of simultaneous narration by Yigal Bronner.]
5.4. There is also a Viloma-kavya where the first half of the verse is repeated backwards (viloma) in the second half; and they together form an entire line (pada). When the method is extended in a certain order the verse becomes all-moving (sarvathobhadra) or half-moving (ardha-bhrama).
A 16thcentury poet Daivajna Suryadasa Kavi from Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh wrote a Chitrakavya in the Viloma (reverse) style narrating the story of Rama and Krishna (Rama-Krishna-Viloma-Kavya) in 38 slokas.
Each sloka has four lines, of which the first two lines relate to Rama-story while the next two lines to Krishna story. The specialty of this Kavya is that the third line is composed by reversing the order of letters in the second line, while the fourth line is a reversal of the order of letters in the first line.
For instance :
तं भूसुतामुक्तिमुदारहासं वन्दे यतो भव्यभवं दयाश्रीः । श्रीयादवं भव्यभतोयदेवं संहारदामुक्तिमुतासुभूतम् ॥ १॥
(Forward) तं भूसुतामुक्तिमुदारहासं वन्दे यतो भव्यभवम् दयाश्रीः ।
Taan bhoosuta mukti mudaarahaasan vande yato bhavan dayaashree ||
“I pay my homage to Him who rescued Sita, whose laughter is captivating, whose incarnation is grand, and from whom mercy and splendor arise everywhere.”
(Backward) श्रीयादवं भव्यभतोयदेवं संहारदामुक्तिमुतासुभूतम् ॥
Shree yaadavan bhavy latoy devan sanhaaradaamukti muta subhootaan ||
“I bow before that Sri Krishna, the descendant of Yadava family; who is a
divinity of the sun as well as the moon; who destroyed Putana who only gave destruction; and who is the soul of this entire universe
[ Please check for the text of the
There is also a Viloma kavya by Venkatadvari titled Yadava-raghaveeyam. The Yadava-raghaveeyam a poem with two meanings (anuloma-viloma-kavya) comprises 30 verses and deals with the story of Rama and Krishna together by adopting the style of anuloma and prathiloma, that is, reading each stanza as such and in reverse order, the former telling the story of Rama while the latter narrating the story of Krishna. Hence this work actually consists of 60 slokas in all.
For instance :
वन्देऽहं देवं तं श्रीतं रन्तारं कालं भासा यः ।
रामो रामाधीराप्यागो लीलामारायोध्ये वासे ॥
“I pay my obeisance to Lord Shri Rama, who with his heart pining for Sita, travelled across the Sahyadri Hills and returned to Ayodhya after killing Ravana and sported with his consort, Sita, in Ayodhya for a long time.”
सेवाध्येयो रामालाली गोप्याराधी मारामोरा ।
यस्साभालंकारं तारं तं श्रीतं वन्देहं देवं ॥
“I bow to Lord Shri Krishna, whose chest is the sporting resort of Shri Lakshmi;who is fit to be contemplated through penance and sacrifice, who fondles Rukmani and his other consorts and who is worshiped by the gopis, and who is decked with jewels radiating splendor.”
It is said; Sri Venkatadhvarin or Venkatacarya was the son of Raghunatha and Sitamba of the Atreyagotra . His grand-father Sririnivasa known as Appayaguru was the nephew of the great Tatacharya of Kancheepuram , a contemporary of Appayadiksita .
Venkatadhvari who lived in the 17th century is believed to have been born at Arasanipalai a hamlet near Kancheepuram and was a follower of Sri Vedntadesika. He had mastery in poetry and rhetoric. He composed 14 works, the most important of them being Lakshmisahasram a hymn to Goddess Lakshmi which is modeled on “Padukasahasram” [पादुकासहस्रम्], the well-known work of Sri Vedantadesika.
5.5. And as late as in the 19th century a poet named Krishnamurthy (son of Gauri and Sarvajna) of Kanchipuram succeeded in producing a very difficult form of Chitrakavya. He narrates the story of Ramayana in a sloka by employing only 32 letters (syllables) and by arranging them in a circular form, as like bangle (kankana).The reading of the letters backward and forward, from a particular starting point can produce in all 64 verses. I learn a copy of his Kankana-bandha –Ramayana is placed at the Saraswathi Mahal Library of Tanjore.
: नेतादेवालीनामाशाधानाधीनानेकालोकी | मास्यानंभाख्यायोगीशं पायादेतं रामेराजा ||
6.1. Good and enjoyable Chitrakavyas are extremely difficult to compose and structure. It demands enormous skill and patience. A Chitrakavya poet should also have excellent command over the language and be thoroughly familiar with its mechanics for manipulating their multiple applications. The difficulty of the poet in constructing these types of poems is exacerbated by the requirement that each type of Kavya should be structured in its own prescribed meter.
For instance; the verses patterned into design of coiled snakes (kundali-naga-bhanda) are to be composed in a meter that has twenty-one syllables in each line. Such restrictions impose additional constraints on the poet.
The Vishnudarmottara a text of 6th century lays down that a riddle should be expressed in less than two full verses . That explains why Ubhyachitra class of verses which aim to maintain a balance between the sound and the meaning of the word, are difficult to produce. Much of the trouble is often of the poet’s own making; and that is compounded because of the tendency to use inscrutable or difficult words and expressions.
There are innumerable poems of the Chitrakavya genre, displaying immense variety .It is almost impossible to list out even their various classifications.
[Shri V. Venkateswara mentions : there is a long tradition of Chitra Kavyas in Telugu also, such as , Paada bhramaka, padya bhramaka, niroshtya kavyas, dwyarthi kavyas, bandhas etc. from 11 th century till date.]
7.1. Though the Chitrakavyas are highly enterprising and extremely difficult to compose, they are not rated high by the scholars specialized in literary criticism. The Chitrakavya ( particularly its Sabda-chitra component ) is classified as an inferior type of poetry (Adhama-kavya) because it is viewed mostly as an artificial language-acrobatics, verbal jugglery that is not easy to understand; and confronting the reader with riddles, distractions and confusions. Generally, it is accused of giving the ’word-puzzles’ a poetic garb.
7.2. The Sanskrit scholars have always held that the emotive content (rasa) is the soul of poetry, while sound (sabda) and meaning (artha) form its body. The votaries of classical poetry, therefore, point out that Chitrakavya does not merit to be recognized as true or authentic poetry because it does not satisfy the objectives of a good poetry. It has no soul (kavyasya=atma) . Chitrakavya might amuse or entertain but it lacks the poetic beauty, the sensitivity of suggestion (rasa-dhvani) and does not inspire or elevate the reader to higher ideals. It also lacks, they say, mādhurya (sweetness), rasa the emotional content, or exquisite turn of phrases (pada-lalitya), descriptions (varnana)or vision (darshana) etc.
7.3. Shri Kalanath Jha in his scholarly treatise Figurative Poetry in Sanskrit Literature (1975) – ( which is a rare book that is devoted entirely to discussion on all aspects of Chitrakavya; the others being Chitra Bandha by V Balasubraumanyam and The pattern Poetry : Guide to an Unknown Literature by Dick Higgins ) – defends its merits and remarks :
”What is called Chitrakavya, especially the one endowed with arthachitra (meaning), can be poetry of very high order provided there is a concord between the meaning of the word and its representation; and there is consistency in treatment of the subject. The figures with which this division of poetry is constituted are not irrelevant, as they succeed in evoking a fine poetic sense; or an equally superb poetic image. All this is related to creative urge of the poet. The strength of Chitrakavya is in evoking a visual image of the poetry, throwing open a new perspective and stroking imagination. These create a class of poetry which inspires and also impresses”.
7.4. Shri Jha also says, Chitrakavya is essentially not inferior; but the overuse of sterile techniques caused it great harm. The other reason for relegating Chitrakavya to a low position, according to him, is that adequate attention was not paid to the development of its Arthachitra component. And, because of that the figures of sound lost their inner appeal in the midst of verbal jugglery. Shri Jha concludes that Chitrakavya which entertains and challenges, far from being ‘inferior’, demonstrates the amazing possibility inherent in a language, along with the potential for originality and creativity. The excellence achieved in Chitrakavya is unmatched in any of the literature in the world over. Backed by a history of more than a thousand years, Chitrakāvya still continues to be composed by small pockets of scholars throughout India. Yet, sadly, it seems to be a dying art.
Classifications under Sabdachitra by Bhoja
8.1. There are too many texts and authorities on Chitrakavya. For the limited purpose of this post let me follow the explanations offered in Sarasvathi-kanta-abharana (ornament in the neck of Sarasvathi) edited by KN Sharma and V.L , Pansikar (1934). It is a text of the Alankara-sastra ascribed to King Bhoja (1018 – 1063) of the Parmara dynasty, ruling the Malwa region from its capital at Dhara (according to some, Bhoja shifted his capital from Ujjain to Dhara). Sarasvathi-kanta-abharana is an elaborate text of 643 verse enriched by as many as 1,563 examples (or illustrations) spread over five Chapters.
8.2. As said earlier, the concept of Chitrakavya seemed to be that kavya is a ‘thing made of language’. The elements that go into a kavya are the words, meanings and the way in which those words have to be compounded. In such a scheme of things, the Sabdachitra the word-picture occupies a key position.
9.1. Though the Sabdachitra , which relies more on the sound of letters and words than on their meaning , was not rated highly the scholars of his time, However, Bhoja considered it as an important aspect of Chitrakavya; and , accorded it elaborate treatment. He classified Sabdachitra into six varieties.
The first and the second are based in the use of vowels and consonants –Svarachitra and Vyanjanachitra. And they together constitute Varnachitra – the play on alphabets and syllables. In the Varnachitra he gives detailed descriptions and instances of verses composed of only one or two consonants having no dental or labial or palatal letters; or having any two or three of the short / long vowels.
9.2. The third is Sthanachitra, which is the use of sounds by classifying them dependent on their origin (pronunciation) in different parts of mouth and throat. Bhoja provides instances of verses composed by use of only one or two consonants not involving teeth or palate or throat; as also of verses using only two or three short/ long vowels.
[In the Sanskrit arrangement, all the vowels come first, alternating long and short (- a -, – â- etc.); then those consonants like –k-, -kh-, -g-, and – gh – which are pronounced in the throat, alternating aspirated and un-aspirated, voiced and unvoiced;then, in similar alternating fashion, those consonants that are pronounced on the palate, like –ch– and -j-; and after them those on the teeth, like -t- and –d-; and last but-one those on the lips, like -m- and -p- . All sounds are arranged as those from the inside of the mouth proceeding outwards, in order. The list is rounded off with semi-consonants like -ya- and -va-, and aspirated and sibilant sounds like -h- and -s-. No other ancient system of writing seems to have been so systematically thought out.]
9.3. The fourth and fifth are Aakarachitra and Bandhachitra , which closely resemble each other; and, therefore their distinction was not strictly followed in the later times. These categories detail the bandha-techniques by employing verses which can be designed and woven into various patterns of objects, animals, birds etc.
Under the former , the Aakara-chitra , which is based on the shapes and forms of things, Bhoja mentions that the padma-bhanda (lotus) and chakra-bandha (wheel) are popular. Besides, there are mangala-chitras, the patterns of poetic structures that resemble auspicious designs such as Swastika, Shanka, and Chakra etc. About twenty such patterns are mentioned.
Among the Aakarachitra, Bhoja mentions varieties of lotus designs: four petalled, the eight petalled, the sixteen petalled; and an eight petalled one bearing the name of the poet. As regards the chakrabandha (wheel), it depends on the number of spokes on the wheel that one adopts. There could be as many varieties as there are spokes on one’s wheel. Ten such types are described by Bhoja.
And, Bhoja remarks that all other designs can be treated as falling under the latter variety, the Bandhachitra. An important feature of Aakarachitra or Bandhachitra or even ofGatichitra is the repeated use of certain letters in certain specified positions in order to enhance the sense of wonder. Thus, alliteration and chimes is important to these designs. Bhoja however cautions that in the case of Bandha poetic-designs , it is essential to predetermine the positions for certain letters.
There are more than 200 known varieties of Bandhas. These include 12 types of Naga-bandha of single or multiple coiled or uncoiled snakes; 19 types of Ayudhas, weapons, such as sword, knife, mace and such others; 16 types of Abharana-chitras resembling ornaments , such as bangle, armlet, girdle etc; and , 38 types of miscellaneous formations , Anya-aakara-Chitra: those resembling umbrella (chatra-bandha), banner or flag (pataka-bhanda), mace (gadha-bandha) in addition to sun, moon , Meru, bed, swing, lamp, pestle, bell and so on.
The Yantras (charts) , which are drawn by Tantrics , employ many types of Bandhas. And, as poetic designs too the Bandhas seem to be gaining popularity, even in recent days.
9.4. The sixth is Gatichitra (movement) where a striking verbal effect is created through movement of certain letters or groups of letters in a specified order. The techniques commonly used in the Gatichitra are basically Viloma-chitra (reverse order), which when extended in certain order produce Ardha-bramana (half reverse) and Sarvatobhadra (multiple movements).
Regarding the specific types of patterns under Gatichitra, six are mentioned. Of these, the first two are of Yamaka character where similar sounding letters are repeated giving out different meanings, depending upon their position in the Chitra. One is Aavali, an unbroken series of same letters; and, the other is Srinkhala-bandha , a chain like formation where the entire verse is composed in such a manner that every succeeding word starts with the last letter of the previous word.
The next three Gatichitra patterns – rathapada, gajapada and turagapada – are based on Chess board moves of a camel (Bishop), elephant (Rook) and horse (knight) respectively. The specialty of the knight-walk pattern is that when all the letters of the verse are systematically written so as to fill all the 64 squares of the Chess board , then the letters in the squares where the knight lands on each of its move give forth another verse.
And the sixth is Kakapada (crow feet), where riddles are posed in verses arranged in the shape of crow’s feet.
In addition, verses in image of musical drum (muraja) complete with straps ; and also Gomutrika – resembling patterns made by cow’s urine while the cow is on the move – are usually included under Gatichitra, by the later scholars.
Gomutrika , in turn, has several varieties . That which consists two or more lines is pada-gomutrika; a verse of four lines giving rise to another is ardha-gomutrika; and, where it involves two verses is sloka-gomutrika. There is also a class based in verses of reversed order or written in varied meters.
All the illustrations provided under belong to the Sabdachitra class of Chitrakavya.
The following is a verse composed by aligning all the 33 consonants in Sanskrit in their natural order (It is like writing a verse by stringing together a, b, c etc in their order).
Who is he the lover of birds, pure in intelligence, adept in stealing other’s strength, leader among destroyer of enemies, the steadfast, the fearless, and the one who filled the ocean. He is the Maya, whose blessings destroy all foes.
At the other end, is a verse written by using only one consonant –da
Sri Krishna the one who confers all boons, the destroyer of evil minded, the great purifier, whose arms punishes the wicked and protects the virtuous shot his lethal arrow at the foe.
There are In between are plenty of verses made by using two or three consonants.
The following is a witty verse formed entirely by the vowel Uu
The gods took refuge in Brihaspahi, the lord of speech, the Guru of gods in heaven, as they went into the battle. They prayed him to stay happy and strong; and not to fall back into sleep again and again.
This sloka uses only one vowel (e) in the first line and one vowel (a) in the second line.
O Lord Shiva of three eyes , knower of all existence, destroyer of the worlds, Lord of the eight-fold super-powers and of immense wealth, the Lord who killed Daskha and Kamadeva do protect me.
11.3. Vowel and Consonant
Here is an amazing sloka of 32 syllables using only one consonant (Ya) and one vowel (Aa):
The Paduka (footwear) which adorn the Lord , which help in attaining all that is good and auspicious, which removes all ills, which gives knowledge, which inspires desire to be in presence of the Lord, by which all places of the world can be reached , these padukas are of the Lord
(This verse is taken from Sri Vedanta Desika’s Padukasahasram)
Sthanachitras are composed by using consonants of only one group. This verse uses only gutturals.
You the traveler who bathes in the rippling waves of the Ganga you are unaware of the sufferings of the world, you go up Mount Meru to rest, come down to save us from sins.
Aakarachitras are based on the shapes and forms of things. Among these the padmabhanda (lotus) and chakra – bandha(wheel) are popular.
The following is an Illustration of an eight petalled lotus with a central part. The letter ya is placed at its centre. In this instance on two petals carry one letter each. And the other six petals have two letters each.
Now beginning with the central ya move upward to the vertical petal where there is the letter Sri and above that is the letter ta l. With this, you got the first four letter word: ya-sri-ta = Yasrita. Then move in the clockwise to the next petal which has the letters pa and va; then move to the next petal which has letters ta and na. Then move to the center of the lotus design to pick up the letter ya. And that gives: pa-va-na-ta-ya which forms the word pavanataya. Continue in similar manner clockwise following the dotted lines. And, finally you get the verse which reads:
Yasrita pavanatya yatanacchadanichaya/ Yacaniya dhiya maya yamayasyamstutasriya//
R. Rajaraja Varma (A. R. Rājarājavarmma; 1863–1918) known as Kerala Panini, was very well-educated in many fields of study. Although he wrote in Sanskrit and Malayalam; he was also English-educated. He knew Tamil as well ; and, had a working knowledge of Telugu and Kannada.
Rajaraja Varma created in 1880, when he was only seventeen-year-old, Citra-nakshatra-mālā, having twenty-seven stanzas, in various Chitra forms, using the whole range of possibilities. Here, Rajaraja Varma composed verses in the shape of magic square (Sarvatobhadra), drum (Muraja), snake (Naga) and the lotus flower (Padma).
Of these, his Naga-bandha is a extremely well crafted type of Chitra-bandha.
And, it is addressed to the poet’s patron, Visakham Tirunal (19 May 1837 – 4 August 1885), Maharaja of the erstwhile Indian kingdom of Travancore from 1880–1885. He was held in high regard, for his contribution to the development of literature, arts and Sanskrit.
In this stanza, the poet picturesquely lauds the Maharaja’s devotion and love for the land, his commitment to the people of the Vanchi.
The text of the stanza can be read tracing the serpent from the head to the tail. Since at every fold and intersection the letter is read a second time, the pattern requires from a poet the repetition of the same syllables at particular positions. The easiest to notice are the repetitions of the second syllable at the end of the stanza (syllables in bold) and syllables placed at four folds of the serpent (underlined syllables)
- vī ro ttaṁsakṣitīśāyutamakuṭaghaṭatpādavikṣobhitāre
- suśroṇīśreṇicittāvasatha damadamūrtiprayuktāvamāda |
- pādātākṣīṇapāṇīsa danada parahr̥ttāpatīvrārtisoma
- śrīvañcikṣoṇipālo raṇa ratasuguṇaśreṇipūra praroha ||CNM 21
He, the one adorned with a king’s diadem combined with a hero’s garland, the one who makes enemies’ legs tremble, [filled with] the number of thoughts concentrated on the goddess, giving punishment and abode, having the favour of being united with the idol, embodied passion, effecting exhaustion of not drooping hands of infantry, the nectar removing burning, excruciating pain of others, the protector of glorious land of Vanchi, filled with the mass of extraordinary fondness for the fight. Arise!
- Translation by Hermina Cielas (Jagiellonian University, Kraków)
There are several varieties of wheel designs (chakrabandha) depending on the number of its spikes. In the instance given here the wheel is designed by using six spikes.
The Śiśupāla-vadha, of Māgha contains a verse written in the difficult wheel -design, or Chakra-bandha. If you rearrange the syllables in the form of a wheel, there is a message hidden among the spokes:
The following Chakrabandha was created in recent times by DEMIAN MARTINS
Here every line of the verse begins and ends on a separate spike. Except that the first and the last letters are on the rim of the wheel. The fourth line is on the rim of the wheel.
The middle letter of all the three lines is one and the same; and therefore it appears on the hub of the wheel at its centre.
Every fourth letter of the line on the rim is shared by the line that it relates to.
The verse is a prayer at the feet of Lord Chaitanya the personification of Krishna ; and ,also seeking the blessings of Srila Prabhupada.
[This chakrabandha was designed by DEMIAN MARTINS in 2010]
13.4. Murajabandha -musical drum
This also is a popular example of Akarachitra. To start with, the four lines of the verse are written in their natural order. The first two major strings to tighten the drum are (ABC in ‘V’ shape ) are drawn touching the top two sides of the drum and the middle of the bottom side.Then the next major string (DEF in inverted V shape) touching the bottom two side and the middle of the top side. The syllable laying on these two major strings form the first and the fourth lines of the verse. Then two minor strings are drawn forming two diamond shaped figures (GHIJ and KLMN) – the letters I and M are at the centre of the drum. The syllables on these two minor strings form the second and the third lines of the drum.
The army was very efficient and as it moved the warrior hero was very alert. The soldiers in that army raised a huge noise. The army was fierce with intoxicate and restless elephants. There was no thought of pain.
14.1. The entire verse is a palindrome – the line can be read in both ways (say as in Malayalam, Noon etc)
O immortals, the lover of sharp sword s does not tremble like a frightened man in his battle full of grand chariots and demons the devourers of humans.
Magha is known for the beauty of his poetry and his skill of the storytelling. That has impressed scholars throughout the ages. Besides that, Magha was a manipulator of the Sanskrit language; and, there is none equal to him. The following verse, in the 19th chapter of Śiśupāla-vadha could be taken as an illustration of his skill in creating a palindrome in four directions ; the most complex poetic device ever created.
Now, if you reverse the lines as though placing a mirror beneath them, this forms a palindrome in four directions:
“ [That army], which relished battle (rasāhavā) contained allies who brought low the bodes and gaits of their various striving enemies (sakāranānārakāsakāyasādadasāyakā), and in it the cries of the best of mounts contended with musical instruments (vāhasāranādavādadavādanā).” (Trans. George L. Hart)
Ardha-bramana is half movement. In this design:
i. Only eight letters are used in the entire verse (otherwise, it just does not work)
ii. The verse has four lines.
iii. When that is converted into a grid it will have 32 cells.
iv. The first four letters of the top (first) line is formed by the first letter of each of the four lines, picked up in descending order in the grid.
v. The next four letters of the top (first) line is formed by the last letter of each of the four lines taken in ascending order in the grid.
vi. You will notice that the first four letters of each line are mirror reflections of the last four letters of that line (that is to say, the last four are the reversed order of the first four).
Sarvathobhadra is also a viloma (reversed) type of Chitrabandha. As seen above, in the Ardha-bramana the first half of the line (paada) is reversed (repeated backwards – viloma) in the second half. When this the design is extended into the Sarvathobhadra grid of 64 cells (8 x 8) the verse gains greater mobility.
Oh man , this is the battle field which excites even the gods. It is not mere battle of words. Here the men fight and risk their lives , not for themselves but for the sake of others. The field is dangerously filled with mad and intoxicating elephants. Those eager to fight and even those eager to survive but not fight have also fight.
[This is verse taken from Bharavi’s kiratharjuneeya. It is a description of a battle. It is said that both Sarvathobhadra and Gomutrika represent battle formations (vyuha). While Sarvathobhadra is a hallow square formation or disposition of troops facing outwards, the Gomutrika is a diagonal disposition of troops.]
Sarvathobhadra resembling a Chess board is a type of magic square. The 64 letters of the verse are systematically filled into each of boxes in the square.
You will find that the verse can be read horizontally, vertically and even backwards; and you will get the same verse. That becomes possible because each quarter-stanza (16 letters) is composed of two sets of palindromes (of eight letters each) where in each set the last four letters are the reversed order of the first four. Again the first four syllables of the first quarter (de, va, ka, ni) are formed by taking the first syllable of each quarter, in sequence. Similarly, the first four syllables of the second quarter (va, hi, ka, sva) are the same as the second syllable of each quarter .
Sarvathobhadra is a complicated mix of a double palindrome and acrostics where the letters picked up from other quarters form a new word.
Gomutrika, as the name indicates, is a design similar to the zig zag patterns on the ground made by the sprinkling cow’s urine, while the cow is on the move. In this composition, every alternate letter of the first and third lines of a verse is the same as every alternate letter of the second and fourth lines. The first two lines of the verse are written in one sequence and the other two lines are written as another sequence.
May Indra, who wields the thunderbolt who disperses the clouds in the sky, who desires pleasures from his consort Sachi, the daughter of demon puloma-may that Indra remove illusions, protect you from fear of all dangers and misfortunes.
The following is another example of Gomutrika-bandha from Sri Rupa Goswami’s Citra Kavitani I – an amazing Sanskrit Poetry. Sri Rupa Goswami (1489–1564) was a great Guru, poet, and philosopher of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition.
14.5. Turaga-bandha – the knights walk
The Turagabandha which mimics the moves of the knight pawn on the Chess board is the most celebrated of all the bandhas. Before discussing Turaga-bandha let me talk of a few other things.
There was for a long time a mathematical problem known as the knight’s tour problem. It involved the moves of the knight pawn on a empty Chess board. The problem posed was to move the knight so that it visits every square (64) on the board – but only once. And, at the end of the tour it must come back to the square from which it began. The first mathematician to investigate the Knight’s tour problem was Leonhard Euler (1707 to 1783) , a Swiss mathematician. Since then it has come to be known as Euler Chess Knight Problem. (For more on that please
Sri Vedanta Desika (12-13th century) the remarkable scholar-poet in his Paduka Sahasram celebrating the glory of Sri Ranganatha’s padukas in 1008 verses employs Chitra-paddathi for 40 verses (911-950).
Among these, the verse No.929 and N0.930 are hailed as astounding solution to the ‘knight’s tour problem’.
The syllables of the first Sloka (No.929) are posted, in sequence, on the squares of the Chess board.
स्थिरागसां सदाराध्या विहताकततामता । सत्पादुके सरसा मा रङ्गराजपदं नय ॥
O the sacred Padukas of the Brahman, you are adorned by those who have committed unpardonable sins; you remove all that is sorrowful and unwanted; you create a musical sound; (be pleased) and lead me to the feet of Lord Rangaraja.
Then if the syllables on the squares that the knight visits are put together in their sequence it produces the Sloka No.930
The Padukas which protect those who shine by their right attitude; who is the origin of the blissful rays which destroy the melancholy of the distressed; whose radiance brings peace to those who take refuge in them, which move everywhere, -may those golden and radiating Padukas of the Brahman lead me to the feet of Lord Rangaraja.
The same table in English
The second verse not only provided the solution to the knight’s tour problem but went far beyond that. It is said composing such verse is far more difficult than solving the original Chess-knight problem. It is all the more amazing when you realize that Sri Vedanta Desika lived at least six hundred years before Euler.
References and Sources
1. Sarasvathi-kanta-abharana edited by KN Sharma and VL Pansikar (1934).
2 . Figurative Poetry in Sanskrit Literature by Kalanath Jha (1975)
3. Chitra Bandha by V Balasubraumanyam (2010)
4. The Wonder that is Sanskrit by Sampadananda Mishra and Vijay Poddar (2006)
I acknowledge the figures and Slokas taken from
The wonder that is Sanskrit And from The Figurative Poetry in Sanskrit Literature
The rest of the images are from internet