Tag Archives: Chhandas

Sri Shyama Shastry (1763-1827) – Part Eight

Continued from Part Seven

Sri Shyama Shastry – Music-Continued

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The Kriti is a composite Art form. A good Kriti is the sublime blend of the Mathu (Sahitya) and Dhathu, the Music and its rhythm. All the constituent elements (Angas) – the sentiment, the diction, the music and the  rhythm– that combine to form a Kriti, have to be in harmony, supporting each other; each helping the others to shine forth and to manifest in their best form. The Kriti is indeed a living, fluid, organic entity.

In the Karnataka Samgita, Mathu or Sahitya and the prosody (Kavya-lakshana) assume great importance. Raga, essentially, is a representation or an outpouring of the emotional content (Raga-bhava) of the Kriti, evoking a distinct feeling of happiness, sweetness (Madhurya) or poignancy (Karuna-rasa). But, Raga, by its very nature; is rather amorphous; and, truly having no physical or material existence. It does need a medium to articulate in a tangible form that draws the listener into the music; and to communicate with her/ him. It is only then there will be fulfillment (Dhanyata-bhava); and, music becomes a shared experience between the composer, performer and the listener.

And, even otherwise, the lyrics of a Kriti has its own importance. A composition is known and recognized by its Sahitya; particularly by it’s opening lines (Pallavi), than by the mere name of the Raga, which attires its lyrical appeal. There might be numerous Kritis in a particular Raga; but, it is its Sahitya that lends an identity to a given composition.

A well composed , expressive , lyrical beauty that blends amicably with melody and rhythm is a distinctly bright feature of the Karnataka Samgita. Perhaps no other system of music, anywhere in the world, can boast of such a wealth of exquisitely structured compositions set to music.

If an erudite composer also happens to be a gifted poet, endowed with innate poetic genius (Kavya-Prathibha), which is nurtured and developed through training Utpatti (detailed study of Grammar, the literary works and scriptures); and Abhyasa, Abhiyoga, Prayatna (constant practice) of composing poetry set to Music, then his Kriti will blossom into most delectable poetic presentation  adorned with enjoyable music and pulsating rhythm.

It creates an idyllic ambiance that is shared by the creator, the performer and the Rasika (enjoyer). It, somehow, touches the very core of our being. And, as Abhinavagupta says, it is a Chamatkara, which bestows on all an Alaukika Ananda, an out-of-the-world wondrous aesthetic joy. Thus, at the end, very little would separate the composer, the singer and the Sahrudaya, the well informed connoisseur.

In the traditional kritis, composing a Sahitya that conforms to the laws of the prosody (Kavya Agama) is very vital. All the renowned composers of the Karnataka Samgita were well learned in Vyakarana, Chhandas and other Prayogas of Padya Sahithya. Their Kritis show the remarkable mastery they had gained over the Alamkaras – literary embellishments—such as: Prasa, Yati, Yamaka, Gamaka, Svarakshara patterns and others.

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Prasa is a type of Sabda-alamkara, a literary ornamentation.  The term Prasa refers to the sound or the phonetic sequence. In a composition; similar sounds (Prasa) could be employed either at the commencement of each Paada (line) of the composition (Adi or Adyakshara-prasa); or as ‘Anu-prasa’ , where similar letters or sounds  recur repeatedly in the same Paada; or in the second syllables of each Paada (Dvitiyakshara-prasa); or in the concluding line where the rhyming occurs towards the ending (Antyakshara-prasa).  

And, Adi or Adyakshara-prasa, mainly, involves rhyming, where each Paada (line) starts with the same Akshara; or, where the first letter is repeated between the Avartas.   

Anu prasa is where similar letters recur repeatedly in the same Paada.

Dvitiya-kshara-prasa is the repetition of the second letter (Jiva-akshara) of the first Avarta in the same position in the subsequent Avartas, as well. This is concerned only with consonants, not vowels.   Such a Prasa can be for a single letter and also for a group of letters.

Antya-prasa is the repetition of a letter or group of letters at the end of the Avartas. It differs from Prasa; because, while the Prasa is confined to consonants, here the vowels are also included.   For instance, a word like Netram can have Antyaprasa only with words like Gatram, Sutram, etc., and not with words like Satrum, Atrim etc.

The Muhana is the repetition of the first letter between the Avartas. The Antya-prasa is the repetition of a letter or group of letters at the end of the Avarta.

Muhana is a type of Sabdalankara, in which the same letter as in the beginning of an Avarta or any of its substitutes should occur in the beginning of the second Avarta. For example,‘ Dinakara Kula dipa / Dhrita divya sara chapa!’

The term Antar+ukti, literally means the ‘in-between utterance’. The method of Antarukti is by way of inserting one or more syllables between two words.  It is done mostly for the sake of maintaining the flow of the Taala.


In his Kritis, many of which are technically classified as Telugu works, the essential and the prime body of the lyrics is in chaste, refined classical Sanskrit-based terms.

His Telugu words, though often are informal and colloquial expressions, are infused with emotion trying to express the natural feelings of tenderness, love and affection of a child reaching out to its Mother. Many of these songs are a sort of conversations, pleading with the Mother, questioning her why she is not paying attention to him, not responding to his desperate appeals and so on.

And, in such Kritis, though he has mostly employed the spoken form of Telugu language, either as verbs (Akhyata) – say like brovu, vinu, matladu etc. or for addressing (Sambhodana) the Mother Deity as Talli, Mayamma etc., the string of sweet-sounding names and eloquent, picturesque adjectives he uses for describing the beauty, splendour and the countless virtues of the Supreme Mother Goddess are all in delightful Sanskrit phrases.


Further, the nature of the Telugu- Sahitya of his Kritis markedly differs from the Sahitya of the Svarajatis.

The Telugu-Sahitya of his Svarajatis, in contrast, is more poetic; orderly and, is often  interspersed with philosophical expressions.


Sri Shyama Shastry has adopted the time-honored (Sampradaya-baddha) poetic traditions (Kavya-agama) followed in the ancient Prabandhas as also in the Kirtanas and   Kritis that came into being during the seventeenth and the eighteenth . Such essential poetic virtues (Kavya-guna) are found in the Kritis of the other Masters also.

Many of the Kritis of Sri Shyama Shastry are adorned with the metaphors of Kavya-Alamkara and Sabda-Alamkaras, such as Anuprasa and Antya-prasa. And, Muhana (the first letter repetition between the Avartas) and Prasa (the second letter repetition) are also used. But, more Kritis are found with the Prasa-Yati. Sri Shyama Shastri used the method of splitting up the words i.e. Antarukti for introducing Prasa- Yati

Smt. Sharadambal explains :   with regard to the occurrence of the Prasa-aksharas in the compositions of Sri Shyama Shastry, they can be divided into four categories,.

  1. Dhirgha (long) syllables preceding the Prasa-akshara in the Carana alone.
  2. Dhirgha (long) syllable proceeds in the all the three Angas.
  3. Hrasva (short) letter is found throughout the composition.
  4. 4. Dhirgha (long) syllable is found in Pallavi and Anupallavi; and, the Hrasva (short) syllable is used in the Carana.

This KritiDevi nee paada sarasamule’ (Khambhoji); and, Mayamma (Ahiri) are cited as instances, where both the long and the short syllable are used in the Kriti


Sri Shyama Shastry used the Prasas like Adi-Prasa; Anu-prasa; Dvitiya-kshara-Prasa and Antya-Prasa.

For instance; the Sambhodana-vibhakthi, as an Adyakshara-prasa is used in Sri Shyama Shastry’s KritiEmani Migula’ (Todi).

Here, every Paada (line) of the second Carana commences with similar sounds, calling out to the Divine Mother:  O Janani Karuni….  Om Anina JanmaO Moha- vratulai O Rajadhi-rajendra.


Examples of alliteration of the first letter

Saroja-dala-netri (Shankarabharanam)

Saroja dala-netri Himagiri-putri nipada-mbujamule

 Sada nammina-namma subhamimma Sri Minakshamma

Mariveregati (Anandabhairavi)

 Madhura-puri nilaya vani rama sevita pada kamala

Madhu kaitabha bhanjani katyani marala-gamana


Sri Shyama Shastry has employed Anu-prasa (repetition of a vowel or consonant or both), in some of his Kritis. For instance; in the Kriti ‘Kanaka-shaila’ (Punnagavarali), the syllable ‘da’ is repeatedly used in the second Carana as follows:

Chanda-munda-kandana-panditesu;danda-kodanda-mandita-pani; pundarika  -nayana-archita-paade

In the Kriti Parvati Ninnu (Kalkada) the Anuprasa is seen in many places such as:

Anupallavi: Sangita-lole, Suguna-jale, and Jala- mele

Carana-1:Banda-daitya-Khandana-Khandala-vinuta-Mârthand-Neeraja-kshi Nikhila-sakshi

Carana(2):Indu-vadana-Kunda-radana-Sindura-gamana-makaranda-vâni,Nila megha-veni Girvani.


In the First Carana of the Kriti O Jagadamba (Anandabhairavi), the Dvitiya-kshara Prasa for the sound ‘Inna’ occurs in all the four Avartas, till the last line:

Kanna-talli;- Kannada-salupaga ;- Ninnu-ne; –  Anni-bhuvana ; – Prasanna-murti; -Vinna-pambu; Vipanna-bhaya


And , in the Kriti Meenalochana (Dhanyasi) the Dvitiya-kshara ’Na’ has been maintained in the Anupallavi and in  the First Carana as ; Meena; Gana; Kanna; Panna etc.

In the Anupallavi of the Kriti Saroja-dala-netri (Shankarabharanam), the letter ‘ra’ occurs as the second (Dvitiya) letter (Akshara) of its lines.

Paraku seyaka varadayaki nivale daivamu-lokamulo-galada

 Purani sukapani Madhukara veni Sadasivuniki rani


Sri Shyama Shastry  used the device of Antarukti for splitting up the words, for introducing Prasa-yati, in some cases.

In the Kriti O Jagadamba (Anandabhairavi), the Antarukti is used to bring the Prasa Yati.

Pallavi:  O Jagadamba nannu (Na…..- Antarukti Vujavamuna) brovumu …..
Anupallavi: Rajamukhi ……. (Suguna –Antarukti Rajarajita) Kamakshi


Antya-prasa is found in all the three Angas of Sri Shyama Shastry’s Kriti   Shankari Shamkaru (Saveri), where the Pallavi reads: ‘Akhilandeshwari–Vandite Gauri’.

That is followed by Anupallavi: Kalyani–Jagatjanani; and, First Carana: Jagadavanollasini—Kapaladarini sulini


Another type of Antya-prasa used by him was to repeat the same word at the end of all the Caranas.

For instance; the word ‘birana’ is repeated at the end of the Pallavi and at the end of the last line of all the three Caranas of the Kriti Brovavamma (Manji).

Similar is the case with the word ‘Na-talli’ in Devi brova samayamide’ (Chintamani) ; and , the word  ‘Brochutaku’ in the Kriti Ninnu-vinaga (Purvikalyani)

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Yati is a generic term, having different connotations in Kavya, Taala (Mrdanga) and in Music. In regard to the Kritis in Karnataka samgita, Yati is a Dhatu-Mathu-Samyukta Alamkara. This Anga is meant to decorate the texture of the compositions. Yati could also control the arrangement of various tempos.  It is, thus, an ornamentation that enhances the beauty of the Sahitya and the flow of the Musical presentation of the Kriti.

If the Yati is taken to mean the arrangement of Sahitya phrases along with its Dhatu, there would be different types of Yatis in music. Here the Sahitya phrases would be ingeniously arranged to form varied patterns, such as: Sama Yati, Gopuchcha Yati, Srotovaha Yati, Damaru Yati, Mridanga Yati and Vishama Yati.

Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar, in particular was a Master in crafting such various patterns of Yatis. And, some Yati-prayogas are also seen in the Kritis of Sri Thyagaraja.  But, Sri Shyama Shastry did not seem to have attempted Yati-prasa to that extent; except perhaps the Sama Yati, which is an even flow of the Sahitya phrases; and, follows a uniform length of lines (Sama). If two letters of Yati and Prasa are of one and the same character and magnitude, it is called as Sama-yati -Prasa.

According to Prof. Sambamurthy, alliterating the initial syllables or their sequence in Avartas could be taken as Yati. The purpose of the Yati is to create a pleasant musical resonance.

In Sri Shyama Shastri Kritis, the Dhatu as well as its rhythm are arranged; for example; in the Kriti Palainchu-Kamakshi (Madhyamavathi),  the phrase ‘Paalinchu Kamakshi pavani …..Paapa-shamanee‘, the appearance of the second Pa is called Sama-yati-Prasa.

In the Kriti Mayamma (Ahiri), the Yatis that occur are of the same character and magnitude.


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This is a literary beauty, where in the same word, will be repeated but with different meaning and sense. For instance; In the Anupallavi of the Kriti Mayamma (Natakuranji), the word ‘Ananda‘ is applied in many ways so as to give different layers of meaning (True bliss -Happy one – Eternally blissful -Blissful):

Saty(A)nandA – SAnandA – Nity(A)nandA AnandA

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The term Gamaka derived from the root ’gam’ suggests movement (Gamana, Gamya). Gamakas are graces or ornamented flourishes of the Svaras which characterize the gait of a Raga (Raga-sanchara); and, establish the melodic nature of the Dhathu of a musical composition (Raga-svarupa). They are the varied musical effects (Alamkaras) that can transform a plain note into something that is attractive, charming and pleasant on the ears (Gamakau–srotra-sukhadai-lalithair-asthu).

Gamakas  are executed in varied forms, such as: graceful turn, curve or sliding touch given to a single note or a group of notes, which animates Svaras to bring out the melodic character and expression (bhava) of a Raga. Gamaka-rendering is a highly individualistic and a specialized skill. Gamakas are very vital factors of Karnataka Samgita. I am not sure if any other system of music has a worthy equivalent to Gamaka of Karnataka Samgita.

Sarangadeva (11th Century) in his Sangita-ratnakara , enumerates fifteen (pancha-dasha) varieties of Gamakas – Tiripa, Sphurita, Kampita, Leena, Andolita, Vali, Tribhinna, Kurula, Ahata, Ullasita, Humpita, Plavita, Mudrita, Namita and Misrita

And, while describing the   virtues and the desired qualities of a highly accomplished singer (Uttama Gayaka) who belongs to a good tradition (Su-sampradayo) , Sarangadeva says, such a one should have the intelligence to improvise the Gamakas in all their movements (Sarva-sthanao-ttha-Gamake-sarva-kaku-vishesha-vit,-aneka-sthai- sancharah); and, in all the three registers (Sthanas)


The Kritis of Sri Shyama Shastry are remarkable for their Gamaka Prayogas. His Kritis, set in leisurely Vilamba laya, excelling in Chowka kala, are ideal for illuminating and  elaborately bringing out the varied nuances of a Raga through the application of many improvised  Gamaka movements like Kampita, Jaru etc..

As a composer of great merit, Sri Shyama Shastry creatively transformed the traditional concept and application of the Gamakas. In his Prayogas, the Gamaka is not a mere ornamentation of a Svara; but, it is also a soulful means of expressing anguish, devotion, joy  and such other emotions. It lends a new color and a new dimension to both the Dhatu (Music) and the Mathu (Sahitya) of his Kritis. Sri Shyama Shastry was indeed a pioneer in delineating the Raga-bhava through Gamaka Prayoga.

Any number of instances could be cited in this regard. But, just to mention a few:

His different compositions in Anandabhairavi bring out diverse shades and aspects of the Raga. It could be either a simple delineation of the Raga as in his Kriti ‘Himaachala-tanaya’; or the Jaru Gamakas (glides) in the Madhyama-kala tempo in Rupaka Taala as in the Kriti ‘Pahi Sri’; or it could also be the Jaru Gamakas in Vilamba-kala set to Misra –Chapu-Taala as in the Kriti ‘Marivere’; and, finally, it could be an elaborate Raga portrayal in the Adi Taala , Madhyama gati,  in  the Kriti ‘O Jagadamba’.

The two varieties of Kampita -Gamaka are applied to the same phrase ‘Amba ni’ in the Kriti ‘Sari-evvaramma’ (Bhairavi) to express two different emotions. Similar features can be seen in his other Kritis also.

In the Kriti ‘O Jagadamba’ (Anandabhairavi), the opening exclamation ‘Oh’ is repeated thrice, with three different Gamakas. Initially, it is in a lower Svara, as an Etra-jaru (a glide from a lower Svara-sthana to a higher one). The second ‘Oh‘ is expressed through oscillations (Kampita) in higher notes, in a circling movement. And, the third ‘Oh’ is an Erakka-jaru (a slide from a higher Svara-sthana to a lower one).

In the Svarasahitya of the Kriti Kamakshi Bangaru (36-Varali, Misra Chapu), where the word ‘Mayamma’ starts with a Jaru (glide) from the Daivata; and, reaches Tara-shadja in the passage ‘Mayamma Vegame Karuna-judavamma’


Many examples of Gamakas can also be found in Sri Shyama Shastry’s Svarajatis. His Todi-Svarajati ‘Raave’ begins with a Mandra-sthayi-Dheergha-Dhaivata, which is sung with Kampita Gamaka (oscillations).

His very famous Bhairavi Svarajati ‘Kamakshi’ has eight Caranas starting in the ascending order, the Arohana, as ‘Sa RI Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa’. In the opening lines of the Pallavi, which are in Mandara Sthayi, in a contemplative mood, the Kampita (oscillation) and Jaru (glides) Gamakas follow in succession.

The Yadhukula-kambodhi Svarajati has many instances of Jaru Gamakas as well as the Pratyahata Gamaka (Sphurita in the descent, a Samabandha Gamaka produced from the higher note in a Janta svara prayoga), which is a characteristic of the Raga.


Even in his Varnas, there are many Gamaka-prayogas.

For instance; the Varna in Anandabhairavi, ‘Sami ninne’ not only begins with a characteristic Jaru Gamaka (s/s-d-p-m-g-m); but , it also appears at many other parts of the composition.

[For a detailed discussion on the Gamakas, please do read the Chapter 5 – Concept of Gamaka in the compositions of Syamasastriof Dr.Manju Gopal’s research paper.]

 [** Svarajati, as the name suggests, is a combination of Svaras (notes) and Jati (rhythmical sol-fa passages). Sri Shyama Shastry revised the form of the Svarajatis by eliminating the Jatis; and, letting the Svaras to arrange themselves into Jati-patterns. The Svarajati composition commences with a Pallavi; and, is followed by Carana/s. While rendering the Carana, the Svaras are sung first; and, then its corresponding Sahitya is presented.

The beauty of the Svarajatis composed by Sri Shyama Shastry is in its natural flow of the Taala, Laya and Svaras. ]



Taala and Laya

Taala and Laya, over which Sri Shyama Shastry had gained mastery, and their dexterous combination with the Sahitya are among the outstanding features of his compositions.

He had experimented with altering the sequence of Matras in the Misra Chapu, transforming it into its reverse, the Viloma Chapau.

He had employed various Grahas or Eduppus (starting Points) in his Misra Chapu Kritis


Sri Subbarama Dikshitar (on page 15 of the segment Vaggeyakara Caritam  included in his monumental work  Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini),  while writing a biographical note about Sri Shyama Shastry says;

Since his compositions are like ‘narikela-paka’ ”(as tough as breaking a coconut), with rich poetry, containing  Atita, Anagata Grahas , with beautiful words, some lazy musicians, who could neither comprehend nor had the mettle to sing them in the manner that pleased the audience, called them tough.


Sri Shyama Shastry’s expertise in Taala and Laya is very evident from his treatment of the Misra Chapu Taala.

[In regard to the Taala; Graha or Eduppu denotes the point within the Āvartanam of a Taala, when a composition or stanza in a composition begins.  Graha (Eduppu) can be two ways. One is Sama; and, the other is Vishama.

When a song begins at the first beat of a Taala it is Sama. And, when song begins either before or after the stroke of Taala it is Vishama.

Vishama is classified into two, as: (a) Athitha Graha: When the song begins first; and, it is then followed by Taala beat; and, (b) Anagata Graha is when a Taala begins first; and, the song follows it later.]

The Kritis of Sri Shyama Shastry (like those of Sri Dikshitar) do not start on Athitha-Graha. But, this feature occurs within the body of the Kriti, perhaps to satisfy the requirements of prosody. Usually, the Pallavi and, at times, Anu Pallavi of his Kritis commence in Anagata-Graha; while the Anu-Pallavi and Carana begin with Sama-Graha.

For instance; the Kriti ‘Devi nee padasarasa ‘(Kambhoji) commences in Anagata Graha with ‘Pa’ as the Graha-Svara; while, its Carana begins in Sama Graha.

[ It is mentioned that in Patantara – the texts of the Kritis- that came into use after 1930, the construction of the musical elements; especially of the Eduppus changed much ; and the 4+3 format was not maintained throughout.

For instance; in the Kriti ‘Ninnu vina’, the Pallavi is framed as 2+2+3; the Anupallavi ‘Pannaga-bhushannudaina’ and the Carana ‘Parama-lobu-lanu’ are of the usual 2+7 Eduppu; not consistent with the 4+3 formation of the Pallavi.

For more on this issue, please see the extracts from the work of Smt. Sharadambal, given in later in this post]


An excellent feature of his Kritis is that the Sahitya is arranged in concordance (Samanvaya) with the Taalajatis (beats of the rhythm cycles).

Sri Shyama Shastri has used the different combinations of Svara syllables as well as Sahitya syllables to weave new patterns, within the framework of the Taala.

In his compositions, we find many words constituting of five syllables corresponding to the tâd-in-gina-tom in a natural way.

In the compositions as well as in Svara-Sahithya we find words as ‘Anu-dina-mu, Tarunamidi, durusu-ganu, kamala.mukhi, samayamidi and so on.

His compositions have plenty of Sahitya syllables, which are in the same time-units as the Dirgha-svaras and Hrasva-Svarâs, forming different patterns within the Taala structure


Another versatile feature in the Kritis of Sri Shyama Shastri, with regard to Taala, is that he has composed Kritis in Taalas and Gatis (sub-divisions of a beat in a composition) that are interchangeable.

He has composed a few Kritis suggestive of two rhythms. Here, one is the inherent rhythm (Sthapita-Taala); and, the other is the suggested rhythm (Suchita-Taala).

For instance; in the Kriti Shankari-Shamkuru (Saveri), Rupaka (1+1) is the Sthapita Taala; and Adi Taala (Tisra-gati, 3) would be the Suchita-Taala. The Pallavi and Anu-Pallavi, at the outset, are in Rupaka Taala; and, the Carana follows the Adi Taala (Tisra-gati).

And, similar is the case with another Kriti, Birana-varalichi’ (Kalyani) , which can be rendered in both Rupaka Taala (Chatursra- gati, 2+4) and also in Adi Taala (Tisra gati-3).

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Laya, Taala, Sruti and Kala are intricate concepts in Karnataka Samgita. They are as nebulous as one often flows into another.

Laya is commonly translated as tempo; which is inseparable from rhythm. And, rhythm is the ordered movement in time and space

 It is also said; Laya is the pulse of the rhythm, which has three major speeds: Vilamba (slow), Madhyama (medium or normal) and Dhruta (fast).

Thus, Laya is said to include both rhythm and tempo; which are measured by the uniform flow of the time-duration (Kala). With that, Laya is the ordered movement of rhythm in time.

Suffice it to say that Laya could be taken as rhythm.

And, rhythm in our music is two-dimensional; the one that is related to the pitch is termed Shruti-Laya; and, the other related to the time-units is called Taala-Laya.

[Dr S A K Durga explains ‘The Laya stands for the interval of time between the beats and movement in time. Thus the term “Laya” means both rhythm and tempo created by the even measured flow of the uniform duration of Kala (time).

Prof .P.S. Narayanaswami: Rhythm gives stability and form to music. It can be described as the tangible gait of any musical movement. In Carnatic music, this is referred to as Laya. The common fallacy is that rhythm or laya is confined to percussion instruments and the rhythmic patterns produced therein. But laya is not limited to just that. It is present not only in melodic compositions, which usually have a rhythmic metre in an apparent manner but also in the creative aspects, sometimes conspicuously (like in Neraval or Kalpana-svara) and subtly at others (Raga Alapana and Tanam)]


Laya, for all its beauty, is abstract. You need a device, which measures and monitors this abstract time-flow. And, that function is performed by Taala.

If Laya is the rhythmical movement, Taala is that which measures the tempo of that movement. So, Laya implies movement; and, it can be perceived when there is a motion.

Taala (derived from the root tada or tadana) signifies a ‘beat’. The time-interval between the beats and its movement could also be taken as Laya, the rhythm.

Taala is the measurement of time-units in our music. And, the degree of speed with which the time-units, in each division of a Taala-cycle, follow each other is termed as Kala.

{But, Kala is also used to indicate Laya; say, as in: Madhyama Kala, Chowka Kala etc.]

The structural units of a Taala are called Angas.  Such Angas are of different kinds.

Here, Anu-Dhruta (One Aksharakala) consists only the beat with palm. Dhruta (2 Aksharakala) is a beat followed a waving of hand. Laghu-Dhruta (4+2 Aksharakala) consists beat and finger counts (Laghu+Dhruta). And, Guru-Dhruta (8+2 Aksharakala) is rendered in Dhruva-kala and Patita-(Guru+Dhruta) wave to left and right or circle with thumb-up + beat with palm + turn (wave).

Anudruta Drutha Sankeerna Laghu

Taala, in turn, is reckoned by the finger counts, beats and wave of the hand. This manner of counting and keeping time is termed as Kriya. And, Kriya is the action of fingers, palms, hands, in order to keep track of the Taala-units.

And, when it is done without making audible sounds, it is called Ni-shabda-Kriya. And, when the beats are counted and played on cymbals etc., it is Sa-shabda-Kriya.

In the execution of a Taala, between two successive Kriyas, there is a period of rest or pause; and, that has to be maintained consistently.

The action of Kriya (manifesting as Taala sequence) and the interval between two elements of Kriya are interrelated. Further, each Kriya is an extension of its previous one. Here, the duration of such time-lag between two Kriyas assumes importance; and, with its increase or decrease, the Laya becomes faster or slower.


In Dhruta-Laya (fast), the Kriyas follow each other in quick succession, as the time-lag between them is very short. In Madhya- Laya or medium tempo, the Laya gets doubled; and, a further doubling of laya results in Vilambita laya.

This suggests; an increase in Laya results in decrease of the speed, i.e., the speed or tempo of a piece is inversely proportional to its laya.


The tempo of the musical composition in Indian Music is not marked by the composers as Indian music is learnt through oral tradition; and, the composers did not write their compositions with notation, unlike the composers of Western music. In Indian music , the compositions are performed in the tempo according to the Rasa and Bhava of the Raga and Sahitya, besides the performer’s own decision according to her/his  concept of aesthetics,  in the presentation



 Smt. Sharadambal observes  : regarding the tempo or Kala-pramana of the Compositions:

Though, most of the songs of Shyama Shastry are in slow medium tempo in Adi-Taala, there are some songs in fast and medium tempo.

The songs in Misra-Chapu and Triputa-Taalas also are mostly sung in slow medium tempo. The long drawn out rhythm with many pauses is seen in Chapu-Taala compositions with less number of words; and, with pauses here and there in these Kritis.

Some of his compositions in Adi-Taala have a tight knit relation between the Taala–Aksharas and the Sahitya letters. Almost all the Svara-letters have Sahitya-letters; and ,  Hrasva letters found in profusion.

For example; songs like’ Sarojadala-netri’ in Shankarabharana Raga; and in ‘Devi Brova’ in Chintamani Raga, though are set in Adi-Taala, the tempo seems to be increased and gives the impression that the song is set in Madhyama-kala. We do not find extensive pauses in these songs. The pauses are limited; and, words are many; and, this makes it appear as though the tempo is increased.

The songs set in Adi, Rupaka and other Taalas are in fast medium tempo. ‘Parvati-ninnu’ in Kalkada, ‘BiranaVaralicci’ in Kalyani can be cited as examples. Thus we find three different tempos such as slow, slow medium and fast medium tempos among the compositions of Shyama Shastri.

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Pada-garbha / Arudi

Arudi or Pada-garbha is a pause that occurs in between the Taala- Avartas. Usually it occurs at the middle of the two Kalai Adi Taala or in the beginning of the next Avarta; or in the beginning of the third Avarta; or in Rupaka Taala or Chapu Taala.

The Kritis:  ‘Kanaka-shaila’ (Punnagavarali); ‘Mayamma’ (Ahiri), ‘Emani-migula’ (Todi), ‘Palinchu Kamakshi ‘ (Madhyamavathi); ‘Devi-ni-padasarasa’ (Kambhoji); ‘Devi-mina-netri’ (Shankarabharana );  ‘Devi brova’ (Chintamani ), in Adi Taala  two Kalai, all have the Pada-garbha exactly at the middle of the Avarta;  that is, on the first Druta.

Here, the pause occurs dividing the Avarta into two; and, after a pause for two or four or three Aksharas, the song proceeds further.

In the songs having two Avartas in the Pallavi, the Arudi occurs in both the Avartas. For instance; we find Pada-garghas in the two Avartas in the kriti ‘Mayamma’ (Natakuranji); one in the first Avarta; and, the second in the second Avarta.

Mayam | ma nannu | Brova vam || ma+ ma ha ma | ya …u | ma … ||

Similarly in the song ‘Saroja-dala-netri’ in Shankarabharana Raga, we find two Pada-garbhas for the pallavi

Saroja dala netri Himagiripu | tri … ni | padam
Sada nammina namma subhamim | ma …O Sri 

In    Adi Taala, this pause occurs at the beginning of the next Avarta as in the song ‘Karuna judu’ in Sri Raga

Karuna judu ninnu | nammina | va-duga ||
da …in ta | parake | lanamma ||

The kriti ‘Karuna-judu’ as rendered in Misra Chapu Taala, in the 4 + 3 gait, has the Pada-garbham at the beginning of the fifth Avarta in the word ‘ga’ 


The Kritis in Rupaka Taala and Chapu Taala have the Pada-garbham at the commencement of the third Avarta.

Ninne’ in Todi Raga and Chapu Taala’ has two lines of Sahitya; and; had pause for the two lines at the beginning of the third Avarta

Ninnenam || mi na ……… || nu ……… sa || da ……… ne ||
Vin na pa || mu vi ni || nan …… nu || bro ……vumu ||

The other examples are :Mina-locana’ in Dhanyasi Raga in Chapu-Taala and  ‘Nannu-brovu’ in Lalita Raga are in Chapu Taala; ‘Pahi Sri’ in Ânandabhairavi Raga  in Rupaka Taala;  ‘Karuna juda’ in Varali Raga in Chapu Taala; ‘Birana vara’ in Kalyani Raga in Rupaka Taala;  ‘Ninnuvina’ in Ritigaula Raga in Rupaka Taala


Pauses found in different places

There are some kritis, in which pauses occur in different places i.e. at the end of the pallavi; or  at the end of the first Avarta and so on.

There are kritis which do not have pauses in between the Avartas; but, pause occurs only after finishing the Pallavi at the end of the second Avarta.

For example; in the kriti ‘Durusuga’ in Saveri Raga, we find pause only at the end of the Pallavi, whereas in the kriti ‘Marivere’ in Anandabhairavi Raga, we find a pause at the end of the first Avarta itself in both the lines as

Marive ……| ……………re | ga ti ye vva | ram … ma ||
Mahilo ……| …………….I. | mahilo ….. | brocu taku ||

Similarly in the kriti ‘Janani’ in Saveri Raga  we find a pause in the beginning, but after that words follow without any pause up to the end and the pause occurs after the words as :

Janani ………… Nata | jana pari | pa lini …
pahivambhava | ni ……….| …………


In some kritis, pauses occur in the beginning; at the end of the Avartas in some; and,  in many places in some kritis ; whereas there is no pause at all in some kritis.

The kritis in Chapu Taala are found with fewer words; with more pauses occurring in different places.

In the kriti ‘Talli-ninnu’ in Kalyani Raga in Chapu Taala, a pause occurs at the end of the second Avarta;  and,  it is continued in the beginning of the third Avarta.

Talli | Ninnu nera | …………… nammi | na nu vino | ve ..

In the kriti ‘Ninnu-vinaga’ in Purvikalyani Raga in Viloma Chapu Taala, we find karvai at the end of the first and third Avarta. The karvai is found in the second line also.

Ninnu vina …… | …… ga mari | dikk-evarun ……| na ……ru ||

In the kriti ‘Brôvavamma’ in Manji Raga ,in Chapu Taala, pauses occur in many ; and, not at specified places.

Brova vam ……|……ma …… ta … | masa me ……| le … ………………| ………….
bi ……..| ra …………na …… || ……
Devita ………|…… la le ………| ne …………bi | ra …… na ……

Similar type of kriti is ‘Nilayata-kshi’ in Pharaz Raga. We can find pause here and there controlling the flow of the rhythm.

Ni …… la …… ya || ta ………kshi || ni …… ve …||
jagatsa ……kshi ||


In order to control the less number of words employed in an Avarta in the above mentioned kritis in Chapu Taala; Shyama Shastri might have used these pauses wherever necessary.


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Aspect of Laya

The advent of the Trinity with their compositions paved the way for a new era in the growth of Kriti. They gave importance not only to melody but also to the temporal aspect or laya.

Eduppu or Graha is the place where in the song starts in the Taala.  This plays an important role in the construction of a composition.

There are songs which start on Sama Eduppu; that is, the Taala as well as music start at the same time from the beginning of the Taala count.

There are some songs which start after the Taala begins. This is called Anagata Eduppu.

Some songs start before the Taala Avarta, that is in the previous Avarta itself; and, that is called Atitha Eduppu.

Usually in songs, the Eduppu will uniformly be the same in all the three Angas, either Sama or Anagata

We also find different Eduppus among the different sections within a song of Shyama Shastri.

There are some songs in which two Angas start on the same Eduppu; and, the other Anga has a different Eduppu. They are as follows:

1.Birana – Kalyani – Rupaka
2. Shankari – Saveri – Rupaka
3. Himadrisute – Kalyani – Rupaka
4. Devi-mina-netri – Shankarabharana – Adi
5. Devi-neepada – Khambhoji – Adi
6. Enneramum – Punnagavarali – Adi
7. Mayamma – Natakuranji – Adi
8. Karuna-juda – Varali – Chapu
9. Shankari – Kalyani – Ata


 The song ‘Birana Varâlicci’ in Kalyani Raga and the song `Himadrisute’ are with the same structure, but in Sanskrit, a special Eduppu is found in Rupaka Taala

The Pallavi and Anupallavi start after the first beat; that is, in the second beat or after four Akshra kaalas. The Carana of the song start after two Akshara Kaalas.

In this song, the Pada-garbham (Arudi) falls on the sixth beat; and, again the words start after a karvai of eight Aksharas.  This gives a grip to the song over the Taala.

Another song in which the Carana alone starts after two Aksharas, while the Pallavi and Anupallavi start on some Eduppu is ‘Shankari’ in Saveri Raga. These two Kritis belong to the group of Kritis prevailing since early thirties.


There are some Kritis, which figure only after 1930.

Among them, the two Kritis each in the Ragas Shankarabharana and Kambhoji alone figure in the notation of Shyama Shastri II; and, the rest figure in the books of others of the same period.

In the four Kritis in Adi Taala, mentioned above, either Sama or Anagata Eduppu is kept for one Anga; and, the other two Angas have different ones.

For example, in the song ‘Devi ni pada’ in Kambhoji, the pallavi starts after two Aksharas; while Anupallavi and Carana have Sama Eduppu.

In the kriti ‘Mayamma’ in Natakuranji Raga, this is reversed. Pallavi has Sama Eduppu; and the Anupallavi and Carana start after two Aksharas.

In the Kritis ‘Devi-mina-netri’ in Shankarabharana Raga and ‘Ennçramum’ in Punnagavarali Raga, the Pallavi and Carana start after four Aksharas; while the Anupallavi start on Sama.

In the kriti ‘Karuna juda’ in Varali Raga, Chapu Taala, the Anupallavi alone starts after one Akshara; and, the other two Angas start on Sama

 In the kriti ‘Shankari’ in Kalyani raga, Chatushra Atta Taala, the Carana alone start after one Akshara and the others on Sama.

There are some songs set in Misra Chapu Taala in the Krama order as 3+4; but, the Eduppu gives the impression as if the songs are sung in Viloma Chapu.

 The songs start in the last beat of the Taala; and so the structure is formed as 2 + 3 + 2. The Kritis ‘Nannu-brovu’ in Lalita Raga and ‘Talli-ninnu’ in Kalyani Raga and ‘Mina-locana’ in Dhanyasi Raga can be cited as examples.

The song ‘Ninnu-vinaga’ in Purvikalyani Raga  is the only song set in regular Viloma Chapu , which starts in the place Taka-dimi and then taki-ta follows as in HW of Shyama Shastri II, says S.Rajah.

In the HW of Shyama Shastri II , all the songs are written only in the form 4+3; but, the Eduppu alone is denoted either as 4+3 or 3+4 or 2+3+2 by an asterisk mark.

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The Taalas handled by Sri Shyama Shastry

Sri Shyama Shastri has composed Kritis and other compositions in various types of Taalas;  such as:  Adi, Rupaka, Misra Chapu, Mathya, Triputa, Jhampa and Ata Taala. All the Taalas come under the Sapta- Taala group.

[In the Karnataka Samgita concerts, the four Taalas that are commonly used are – Adi, Rupaka, Misra-Chapu and Khanda-Chapu.  And, most number of songs is in Adi Taala.

Popular Taalas

Adi Taala has several compositions, each in a different tempo and gait. These could be effectively used to bring out contrast within the concert. Variety can also be brought out by singing compositions with different starting points. For example, a composition can start at the very first beat of the Taala. Or it can start at the next beat or after a few counts within the beats. The starting point is known as Eduppu or Graha. – Dr. P S. Narayanaswamy]

As regards the number of compositions in each type of Taala:

each type

 (Source: Dr. Manju Gopal)

Adi Taala

Of the thirty compositions set in Adi Taala, as many as twenty-seven are the Kritis. And the rest three are: a Gita (Santatam-Pharaju); a Varna (Dayanidhe –Begada); and, a Svarajati (Rave Himagiri –Todi).

All the Kritis are of the Eka Kala and Dvi Kala type.  The Laya is Vilambita in most cases. Sometimes the Madhya Laya is also used.

Of the thirty compositions in Adi Taala, as many as twenty-three start on Sama Graha; and , seven on Anagata Graha (half Eduppu).

 For the three Kritis: Karuna-nidhi-ilalo (Todi); Shankari Shamakuru (Saveri) and Parvathi ninnu ne (Kalgada), the Tisra Gati is employed.  In Tisra -Gati, each unit of the Taala will be counted as ‘ta-ki-ta’ (a unit of three Aksharas)

The variation in the Akshara-kala of each count of a Taala (Gati-bedha) is another feature here.

It is said; the compositions in Tisra Gati –Adi- Taala (with a total Akshara kala duration of 24) could also be rendered in Rupaka Taala (12  Akshara kala duration).

Following that; the Tisra Gati Kritis in Todi and Saveri Ragas are sometimes sung to Rupaka Taala.

And in the other way; the Rupaka-Taala-Kritis – Ninnu-vina (Ritigaula) ; Birana Varalichi (Kalyani) ; and , Himadrisute (Kalyani) can also be sung to Tisra-Gati-Adi -Taala.


Chapu Taala

It is a very common saying that among the Ragas, the Anandabhairavi; and, among the Taala, the Misra Chapu Taala are the favorites of Sri Shyama Shastry. He did, indeed, pay special attention to these two; and, transformed their modes of presentation.

The Chapu Taala is believed to have originated from the folk tradition; and, it was much used in the Bhagavatamela plays, which Sri Shastry as a youngster loved to watch while his family was Thiruvarur.

The beat (ghata) is the only kind of Kriya used in the Chapu Taala; and, there are no other Angas here such as Dhruta or Laghu etc. And, its Kriyas are not of uniform duration.

The Chapu Taala (which is said to be an abbreviated form of Tisra-Jati-Triputa-Taala) has four variations:  Tisra-Chapu (1+2=3) ; Khanda-Chapu (2+3=5); Misra Chapu (3+4=7) ; and, Sankirna-Chapu (4+5=9).

Of these variations, Sri Shyama Shastry adopted the Misra Chapu of seven Akshara kala duration  for many of his compositions.

As said; Misra Chapu has two parts. The first part (3) is three-fourths the duration of the second (4). In sum, it would be reckoned as having two beats (3 and 4). But, in practice, it is played in two beats. And, sometimes, instead of the first beat, the Taala would commence with a wave-motion (Visarjita).

Sri Shyama Shastry revised the mode of rendering the Chapu Taala ( 3+4) by reversing the  sequence of its beats and transforming it into Viloma Chapu Taala (4+3). And, this became a hallmark of his preferred Taala structures.

The following are the compositions of Sri Shyama Shastry set to Misra Chapu and  to Viloma Chapu

Misra Chapu

Among the eleven compositions in Misra Chapu Taala, five compositions viz.,   the two Svarajatis; the two Kritis in Varali; and one Kriti in Anandabhairavi, all start with Sama Graha . And, the rest six, start in Anagata Graha.

Viloma Chapu

Of the seven Kritis in Viloma Chapu Taala, the two Kritis Trilokamata (Pharaju) and Ninnu-vinaga-mari (Purvikalyani) start on the Sama Graha. And, the other five Kritis start on Anagata Graha, on the second beat. [The Kriti Karuna-judu (Sri) is sung by some in Adi Taala.]


Triputa Taala

There are nine compositions set in Triputa Taala; and, these include three Gitas.

Of these nine compositions: three Gitas – Kamakshi (Pharaju); Kamakshi (Madhyamavathi); and Sarasakshi (Saveri); as also the three Kritis – Paramukha-melanamma (Kalyani); Palayasumam (Arabhi) and Nilayatakshi (Pharaju) – all start Sama Graha (Eduppu).

The other three Kritis in this group: Nannubrova (Janaranjani); Adinamu-ninchi (Ananadabhairavi) ; and, Ennerum (Punnagavarali) – start on Anagata Graha (half Eduppu).


Other Taalas

As regards the compositions in other Taalas

other Taalas

In the case of the Taalas of the twenty compositions, the Akshara value, in each case, amounts to 7 or to multiples of 7.

The Taalas that are involved here are: Tisra-Jati-Triputa (7 Aksharas); Misra Chapu (7 Aksharas); Khanda-Jati-Ata (14 Aksharas); and, Viloma Chapu (7 Aksharas).

Of such twenty compositions, 9 are in Tisra Triputa; 12 in Misra Chapu; 7 in Viloma Chapu; and 2 in Khanda Ata. (Source: Dr. Manju Gopal)


Of the 72 known compositions of Sri Shyama Shastri, 47 start with Sama Eduppu; and , 25 compositions with Anagata Eduppu.

Examples of Sama Eduppu are: Emani migula (Todi, Adi Taala); Palayasumam (Arabhi, Triputa Taala); Sari evvaramma (Bhairavi, Khanda Jhampa Taala); and Shankari-Shankari (Kalyani, Khanda Ata Taala).

Examples of Anagata Eduppu are: Palimpavamma (Mukhari , Adi Taala , half Eduppu); Birana Varalichi (Kalyani,  Rupaka Taala,  Eduppu in the second beat); Nannubrova (Janaranjani, Triputa Taala, half Eduppu); Talli-ninnu (Kalyani, Viloma Chapu- Eduppu on the second beat)


Though there are no compositions among Sri Shyama Shastry’s creations, that explicitly commence with Atitha Eduppu, shades of this feature can be noticed in some of his verses. For example, in Mayamma (Ahiri, Adi Taala), the Carana of which reads:

Sarasija-bhava Hari-Hara-nuta sulaita nee/ Pada-pankaja-mula-sthira-mani Nammiti -Nammiti -Nammiti ni

Here, the portion from ‘pada pankaja’ is said to start with the last count of the previous Avarta. This could be taken as Atitha Eduppu.


A unique feature of the compositions of Sri Shyama Shastry is the modulation of the rhythm (bigu-sugu), which emphasizes certain notes and stretches them.

Another noticeable feature is the rhythmical improvisations (Laya, Taala) do not in any manner hamper the melody (Dhathu) and the consistency of the Sahitya.

In the Kritis and Svarajatis of Sri Shyama Shastri, the Sahitya phrases and the sequence of rhythmic patterns (Taala Jati) blend harmoniously.  The long Sahitya syllables are matched by long (Dheerga) Svaras; and the short ones are in tune with the short (Hrasva) Svaras.

 For instance; the sequence of the units of Akshara kala (of three different kinds- 5, 7 and 9) combines well, in each case, with the corresponding flow of the Sahitya.

In each case, the Sahitya segment is broken up into the number of units of its Taala.



 We shall talk about the Languages of the Kritis of Sri Shyama Shastry

as also about his other types of Compositions



The Next Part

Sources and References

All images are taken from Internet

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Yaska and Panini – Part One


Yaska and Panini – Part One


Yaska and Panini are two of the most celebrated scholars of the Sanskrit linguistic sciences.  Yaskacharya is renowned as a Great Etymologist (Niruktakara), whose work, the Nirukta, is looked upon as the oldest available authoritative treatise concerning derivation of certain selected Vedic words. And, Panini, the Grammarian par excellence (Maha-Vaiyakaranah), is reverently addressed as Bhagavata  Pāine Acārya. And, his Grammar Aṣṭādhyāyī (inīktaSūtrapāham), the most distinguished treatise that set the linguistic standards for Classical Sanskrit, is referred to as Paniniyam Maha-shastram.

There is often a tendency to compare the approach and the methods adopted by the two Greats to their respective fields of study.


It is said; Yaska preceded Panini (Ca.5th century B C E) by about a century or, perhaps, more. This is based, rather tentatively, upon the Sutra: Yaska-adibhyo gotre (PS_2.4.63) in Panini’s Astadhyayi. Further, Patanjali, the author of Mahabhashya on Panini’s Astadhyayi, suggests that Yaska hailed from the Paraskara Country – (pāraskara deśa P_6, 1.157) – (?*), on the basis of Panini’s Sutra – Pāraskara-prabhtīni ca sajñāyām (PS. 6.1.157). And often, salutations are submitted to Yaska with the mantra: Namo Paraskaraya, Namo Yaskaya.

 [*According to some,Paraskara corresponds to Tharaparkar in the Sindh region]

It appears during the time of Yaska, the then contemporary Sanskrit, though not the same, was yet somewhat near to the Sanskrit of the ancient Vedas (Chhandas). In fact, Yaska, in his Nirukta (1.1; 1.15), remarks: the Vedic stanzas are still meaningful; because, their words are almost close to the currently spoken Sanskrit. However, understanding certain obscure terms of Vedic Mantras had become rather difficult.

samāmnāyaḥ samāmnātaḥ sa vyākhyātavyaḥ /1.1/.. Atha api idam antareṇa mantreṣv artha pratyayona vidyate / Nir.1.15 /

The Sanskrit, when it was a living language, was evolving and changing from period to period. For instance; the language of the Upanishads is not, in every respect, the same as the language of the Rig-Veda. And again, the language of Classical period differed, substantially, from that of the Upanishads.

Accordingly, by the time of Yaska, the Sanskrit language had changed a great deal since the period of the Vedas; and, was more or less bereft of the characteristic Vedic phonetic and semantic forms.  But, at the same time, the link between the Vedic idioms and the contemporary language had not entirely worn-out.

Nevertheless, in the process, over a period, say by the First millennium BCE, interpretation of certain Vedic terms had indeed become rather vague and imprecise. The tradition had apparently broken down; and, by the time of Yaska, the meaning of some archaic words in the   Vedic Riks could no longer be grasped clearly.

Yaska points out the differences between the Vedic Sanskrit (which Panini calls as Chhandas) and the contemporary language (Bhasha) – Na iti pratiedha arthīyo bhāāyām ubhayam anvadhyāyam (Nir.1, 4)

Yaska described the position then obtaining (Nir.1.20); and, remarked: the Rishis, who envisioned, had direct perception (dṛṣṭayo bhavanti) of the meaning of the Vedic hymns (evam ucca avacair abhiprāyair sīnām mantra dṛṣṭayo bhavantiNir.7.3). But, the later generations had lost that faculty; and, did not fully understand the meaning of certain mantras. Therefore, with a view to helping the future learners in comprehending the meaning of certain difficult passages of the Vedas, the texts like Nighantu and Nirukta were composed.

Upadeśāya glāyanto avare bilma grahanāya imam grantham samāmnāsiur vedaś ca veda agāni ca- // Nir.1.20 //


Yaskacharya believed that every Vedic word has an expressive power to denote a certain sense. And, as a signifier (vacaka), every word is eternal (vyaptimattvat tu sabdasya – Nir.I.2); and, it performs a critical function in helping to arrive at an unerring, definitive meaning of a statement.

Yaska, therefore, remarks that it is essential that one should realize this truth.  And,  in the absence of such realization, a person, who merely recites the Vedas, without comprehending its meaning, would be like a pillar (sthaanu) or a mere load-bearer (bhara-haara). And, it is only he, who fully grasps and appreciates the meaning of what he is reciting (arthajña), that will attain the good – both here and hereafter (sakalam bhadram-aśnute-nākam); having been purged of all impurities by the power of knowledge (jñāna vidhūta pāpmā).

sthāur ayam bhāra-hāra kila abhūd adhītya vedam na vijānāti yo artham / yo arthajña it sakalam bhadram aśnute nākam eti jñāna vidhūta pāpmā (Nir.1. 18)

Yaska goes further; and tenders a sage-like counsel (Nir.1.18): what is taken from teacher’s mouth, but not understood and, is merely repeated, never flares up. It is like dry firewood flung on something that is not fire.

Don’t memorize, seek the meaning / What has been taken [from the teacher’s mouth] but not understood/ Is uttered by mere memory recitation /  It never flares up, like dry firewood without fire  / Many a one, although seeing, do not see her  / Many a one, although hearing, do not hear her/ And for many a one, she spreads out [Her] body, like a wife desiring her husband. / The meaning of Speech (Vac) is its fruit and flower. (Translation by Eivind Kahrs)

Yad ghītam avijñāta nigadena eva śabdyate/  anagnāv iva śuka edho na taj jvalatikarhicit/  sthāus tiṣṭhater artho arter araastho vā / Nir. 1.18 /




As mentioned earlier, in order to instruct , to guide and to help such of those who were ill at ease with the Vedic language; and, those who did not fully comprehend the meaning of the mantras, the texts such as Nighantu  (joined together or  strung together  words) and others were compiled; its plural being Nighantava.  Yaska calls these texts as Samāmnāyam Nighaṇṭava  (enumerations)Nir. 1, 1

 [Albrecht Weber (The History of Indian Literature (1892) on page 25) points out that correct name of such texts should be Nigranthu (strung together); and, not Nighantu, as it is generally called]

The Nighantu could briefly be described as a glossary of certain Vedic words – in the exact form in which they appear in the Vedic texts; and, as the earliest known systematic work, clearly dividing the words of the Sanskrit language into the groups of nouns, verbs , prepositions and particles.

[However, Nighantu is not an exhaustive list of all Vedic words. It includes only such words as were considered ambiguous, obscure, or synonymous.]

Durga , the commentator, therefore, calls Nighantu  an example (Udaharana); and, he explains its  purpose  by saying : In order that we get the knowledge of  the meaning of the Vedic verses (mantra-artha-parijnana), the Rishis have composed (sam-amnaya) this text, which in its five parts (pancha-adhyayayi), could serve as an example for  forming  a more exhaustive compendium of the Shastras.

Sa Ca Rsibhir mantra-artha-parijnanayo udaharana bhutah, pancha-adhyayayi shastra samgraha bhaven ekasmin amnaye granthikrta ity arthah (1.30;3-4)


The Nighantus, as a class of texts, consist five chapters, which are again divided into three sections.

The first section, comprising the first three chapters, deals mainly with synonyms (Nighantuka-kanda), which, perhaps, is the earliest.

The second section covering the fourth chapter (Naigama or Aikapadika-kanda) dealing with homonyms, contains a list of ambiguous and particularly difficult words of the Veda.

The third section, covering the fifth chapter (Daivata-kanda), gives the names of deities; and, their classification under the three regions, earth, sky and the intermediate space.

The Nighantus, upon which Yaska offers his comments, are the most ancient in a long and hoary tradition of lexicography. Besides the Nighantus and the Nirukta there are the Koshas (vocabularies) and Anukramanika (indexes).

The Nighantu, which mostly lists the archaic words occurring in the Rig-Veda, is also meant to functions as a compliment to the Vyakarana (Grammar).

In addition, it also serves a practical purpose; which is to help and guide the Yajnaka (the one who performs the Yajnas), in unerringly identifying the Devata of a mantra, so that the Yajna is performed well, without a blemish; and, its objective is achieved successfully.



Further, with a view to comprehend and to restore the correct meaning of certain antiquated words appearing in the Vedas, the method of Nirvachana (Nir+Vac = clear explanation of words) was applied to the glossary of Nighantu.

The term Nirvachana, which embodies the principles of etymology, is understood as the study which enables the analysis of a word; its formation; the different senses it  conveys (yathartham), in accordance with its derivation (vyutpattih) (Nirvachanam nama sabdasya yathartham vyutpattih); and, by taking into account the contextual factors (samsarga) , as well.

Such a field of analytical study had  perhaps become necessary; because, almost a quarter of words in the Vedic texts, composed in the Second millennium BCE, appeared just once; and, their meaning and intent had become imprecise.


Nighantu -Nirukta

The related field of learning, which deals with the derivation and semantic explanation of words, came to be known as Nirvachana Shastra or Nirukti, (‘interpretation’ or derivation and semantic explanation of words) a branch of etymology.

It attempted to systematically put forward theories on how words are formed; and, how their meanings are to be determined in the context of the Vedas.  Its related subsidiary texts were known as Nirukta (Nir + Ukta or Nir-Vac = to explain clearly).

And, Nirukta developed into a branch of etymology; offering explanations about the derivation of certain chosen words of the Vedas , in order to comprehend; to determine; and,  to restore their proper meaning. In the process, the Nirukta systematically discussed how to understand the significance of archaic, uncommon words used, mainly, in the Rig-Veda.

Nirukta is very closely connected with the Vedas. The body of Yäska’s work is a commentary on most of the words of the Nighantu; which again is a glossary of certain Vedic words. The main task of the Nirukta of Yaska is to explain most of the rare and obscure Vedic words by resorting to various possible etymologies.

[Sri Sayanacharya , in the preface to his Rig-bhashya, extols the approach of Yaska for explaining the uncommon aspects (Tattvas) of the Vedas; while other Vedangas are engaged in secular subjects – arthāvabodhe nirapekatayā padajāta yatrokta tan Niruktam  

Sri Sayana concluded his exposition of the Nirvachana-shastra with the remark: the Nirukta is useful for grasping the meaning (Artha) of the Vedas – tasmat Veda-rtha ava bodha- upayuktam Niruktam ]


The Brahmana texts

It is said; the Brahmana texts were indeed the earliest attempts made in the study of etymology (Nirukta) of Vedic words.

The etymologies in the Bråhmanas were believed to bring to light the connections that underlie between the explicit and the implicit ideas that are normally concealed. Such revelations also helped to emphasize the fact that words could, often, have multiple etymologies. 

And, with that, it was realized that  certain  words  may possibly  have the potential to function as the  network of ideas; not being confined to merely suggesting the possibility of having a set of synonyms’. 

It is said; the Brahmana texts explain the mantra-passages in ten different ways –Nirvachana; and Vyava-dharana-kalpa.

The advantages of analysing a word or a technical term; and studying it from the point of view of more than one etymology, are said to be, that one gains access to the realities that were till then latent or hidden.  Which is to say; one becomes aware of   the unknown through the known. The knowledge, so acquired through such revelation – the texts emphasize repeatedly – are of great importance: as, it helps to widen the awareness of one who is fired with zeal to learn.

And, Yaska’s work, as also the works of those other Nairuktas, who   preceded him, such as Sakapuni, Aupamanyava, et al, were all said to be based upon the derivations and explanations as provided in the Brahmana literature. That is evidenced by the fact that all the characteristic features of the etymologies in the Nirukta are said to be based in the Bråhmanas. And, the Brähmanas many times provide the narrative background for an etymology given in the Nirukta. Further, Yaska also frequently quotes passages from Brahmana-texts, in support of his etymologies.

Some scholars regard Yaska’s Nirukta as a methodical extension of the   explanations of words, as in the Brähmanas.


Yaska’s Nirukta

Yaska’s Nirukta brings together and presents, with comments, in a cohesive form those matters that were already discussed in other earlier texts. And, the selected Verses of the Rig-Veda, of course, are the main substance that is commented upon and made explicit, by using illustrative passages and the explanations as given in the Nighantu and in the Brahmanas. And, this forms the important part of Yaska’s Nirukta.

Nirukta as a distinct branch of etymology is primarily concerned with the meaning of a word or of a term – Artha pradhana; and, determines the meaning it conveys or is intending to convey, by tracing the roots of its formation.

Sri Sayana gives an analysis of the name of Yaska’s Nirukta: that which fully (nihsesha) provides (ucyante) the various possible (sambhavitah) meanings of the constituent elements (avayava-artha) of each individual word (ekaikasya padasya) by tracing its root (vyutpatti), is called Nirukta.

Tad api Niruktam ity ucyate / ekaikasya padasya sambhavita avayav-arthas tarta nihseseno ucyante iti vyutpatteh /

Here, the context in which the word appears, as well as the function it serves therein, assumes much importance, in order to understand the real significance of a word. Because, the Nirvachana principle, which is adopted in the Nirukta   is , essentially, concerned with  the formation of a word , and meaning in a given context; and , in a different context, the word could give forth a different meaning;  then, the  Nirvacana would also differ.

evam.anyesām.api.sattvānām.sadehā.vidyante/tāni.cet.samāna.karmāi.samāna. NirvacanāniNir. 2, 7

It is therefore, said; a Niruktakara would never handle a word, torn out of its context (Na ekapadani Nirbhuyat- Nir.2.3); because, it would otherwise lead to a mere speculation about  its probable intended meaning.

[Similarly, Bhartrhari clarifies (VP.1.59): all the elements extracted from the word in the course of linguistic analysis are valid in their own context. The elements that are relevant in the context of one activity may not be valid in the context of another. That is to say; each kind of activity, i.e. each kind of communicative situation, has its own reality , which in some ways might differ from the realities of other situations.

bhedenāvagṛhītau dvau śabdadharmāv apoddhṛtau/ bhedakāryeṣu hetutvam avirodhena gacchataḥ  (VP.1.59)  ]


Yaska’s Nirukta is not a ‘basic text’ of a Nirvacana-shastra from which a certain tradition of interpretation distinct from Vyakarana develops. It is, initially, a commentary on the Nighantu texts, which, again is a glossary of Vedic words; and, subsequently, it is an explanation of certain selected passages from the Rig-Veda. Thus, the two traditions – Vedic and Nighantu- are intertwined in Yaska’s work.

According to Yaska, every Vedic word has a meaning; and, denotes an appropriate sense. A mantra, for the Nirukta, suggests the activity of the mind (mantro-mananath).  Here, speech is regarded as the vehicle of thought; and, whatever that comes within the purview of thought also comes within the purview of speech.  In other words; Nirukta belongs to class of texts that are designed to intellectually explore and present the precise meaning of the Vedic mantras.

The aim of Yaska’s etymology is to understand the real significance of a word. It is not a subject of antiquarian interest; but, is of great importance to the study of meaning of Vedic mantras by countless generations that succeeded Yaska.

Besides that, the etymology featured in the Nirukta is of great importance for the study of Sanskrit language, in general. Patanjali, in his Mahabhashya, very frequently  refers to Yaska’s Nirukta; and,  so does  Sri Sayanacharya , in the later times.

Nirukta is important for several other reasons, as well. Firstly, it presents the type of the earliest classical style that was used in the Rig-Veda; and, secondly, it is the oldest known attempt in the field of Vedic etymology.

As regards the importance of the etymology, the Nirukta, Yaska asserts , right at the commencement of his work : without this science, one cannot gain the precise meaning of certain Vedic terms; and , therefore, one cannot clearly understand and grasp of the import of Vedic mantras, as well.

Samāmnāyah samāmnāta sa vyākhyātavya/ idam antarea mantre vra artha pratyayo na vidyate iti Nir. 1,1

[ Please do not fail to read the remarkable study on the Language of the Nirukta by Dr. Mantrini Prasad (DK Publishing House – 1975). It is very thorough, detailed and authoritative; and, is imperative for anyone earnestly undertaking the study of Yaska’s Nirukta.]


Word (Sabda) and Meaning (Artha)

Yaska uses the term Sabda to denote ’the word’ as also ‘the sound’. The sound could either be (a) inarticulate (various natural sounds) – dhvanya-tmaka; or (b) articulate – varnat-maka

The articulate sounds (varnat-maka sabda) can be comprehended by the listeners without much effort – (Vyāptimattvāt tu śabdasya aīyastvāc ca śabdena sañjñā karaa vyavahāra artham loke – Nir.I.2) .

And, it again, has two forms (i) Sarthaka (meaningful); and (ii) Anarthaka (meaningless). Here, Yaska mentions about the meaningless particles (Nipata) used as expletives; such as:  kam, im, id and u (Nir.I.9) – nipātā ucca avaceṣv artheṣu nipatanti (Nir.1.4). Yaska’s list contains 23 Nipatas; and, an additional two Nipatas (total being 25)

Atha ye pravrtte arthe amita aksaresu granthesu vākya pūranā āgacchanti pada pūranās te mita akarev anarthakāh kam īm id v iti (Nir.I.9).

He has discussed, at length, about the words which are formed from the articulate (varnat-maka), natural, meaningful sounds, (Sarthaka).

It is said; the word (Pada) is the signifier (Vacaka); and, the meaning (Padartha) that is signified is (Vachya). That relation – Vacya-vacaka bhava – is determined by the primary function or Abhidha of a word. And, the essence of a word lies in its denotative or expressive power (Shakti).


Nirukta –Vedanga-Vyakarana

In the linguistic traditions of ancient India, Vyakarana, of course, occupied a preeminent position. But, at the same time, the value of a parallel system of linguistic analysis – Nirvachana shastra or Nirukta – which served a different purpose – was also well recognized.

Both these traditions are classed among the six Vedangas, the disciplines or branches of knowledge, which are auxiliary to the study of Vedas; and, which are designed to preserve and to carry forward the Vedas to the succeeding generations, in their pristine purity.

As said earlier; the Nirukta is reckoned as one among the six Vedangas, the ancillary Vedic sciences or disciplines related to the study of Vedas; the other five being: Vyakarana, Shiksha, Chhandas, Kalpa and Jyotisha.

Of these, the study of Nirukta is closely related to Vyakarana (Grammar). The Nirukta and Vyakarana are unique to each Veda; whereas, the other VedangasShiksha, Chhandas, Kalpa and Jyotisha – are common for all Vedas.

Though, the study of Nirukta is associated with one of the Vedangas viz., Vyakarana (Grammar), each of the two has its own focus. And, though they are divergent, they also overlap in certain areas.


As mentioned, the main task of the Nirukta of Yaska is to explain most of the rare and obscure Vedic words, by way of pointing out various possible etymologies.

Here, his Nirukta focuses on linguistic analysis to help establish the proper meaning of the words, given the context they are used in the Vedic texts. In such etymological explanations, Yaska has stressed on the meaning of the word (Artha nitya parīketa kenacid vtti sāmānyena- Nir.2.1), than its grammatical modifications.

Further, Yaska’s work is, culturally and intellectually, closer to the Samhitäs and Brähmanas, as compared to the Astadhyayi of Pänini.

The scope of Vyakarana, the Grammar, is much wider than that of the Nirukta; and, it covers all formats of the language. For instance; Panini discusses both the Vedic language (Chhandas) as also the bhäsä, the contemporary language, in general, spoken by the well-educated.

The term Vyakarana is defined as: Vyakriyate anena iti Vyakarana – Grammar is that which enables us to form and to examine words and sentences; and, it is both that which is to be described (lakshya) and the means of description (lakshana).

Patanjali explains; that which is to be described is the word (sabda); and the means of description is the rule (Sutra),consisting of general and specific statements .

A Grammarian determines the meaning of a word by tracing the process of its formation.

An etymologist determines the formation of a word by tracing the meaning it conveys or desires to convey.

Durga, the commentator, remarks: the Grammar (Vyakaranam) is an independent (svatantram) precise and logical system of knowledge (vidyasthanam). It deals with linguistic analysis – Lakshana pradhana – to establish the exact form of words to properly express ideas. For that purpose, it lays down the general and specific rules, which enable us to understand the exact meaning of the words (artha-nirvacanam).

Svatantram e vedam vidyasthanam artha-nirvacanam Vyakaranam tu laksana-pradhanam

And, Nirukta is the explanation of the meanings; it focuses on linguistic analysis in order to help establishing the proper meaning of the words, given the context they are used in the Vedic texts.


And yet, the Nirukta complements the study of Vyakarana; since, it explains the words that are not analyzed by the Vykarana.  And at the same time, it accomplishes its own purpose, which is to provide a clear understanding of the portions of the Rig-Veda text it commented upon.

Yaska asserts that the prerequisite to the study of Nirukta is the proper learning of Vyakarana. (Grammar) * .

 [*But, at the same time, Yaska remarks: while deriving the meaning of a word, in its own context, one should try to stick to the rules of the Grammar (Vyakarana) as far as possible; but, if this is of no avail in bringing out the hidden meaning of the term in question, then one should abandon such rules – na saskāram ādriyeta  / viśaya-hi vttayo bhavanti (Nir.2.1)]


Thus, the Nirukta, as a class of texts, is intimately related to several branches of studies, such as:  the Vedas; the Brahmanas; the Nighantu; as also to the Grammar (Vyakarana) in general.


Niruktas of the pre-Yaska period

Yaska recounts the several  Schools of Grammar or the  Grammarians who flourished before his time : Agrayana; Aindra; Apisali; Aupamanyava; Aurnabhava ; Chakravarmaa;  Galava ; Gargya;  Kashyapa ;Kaaktsna ; Katthakya ; Kautsa Kraustuki; Kuaravaava ; Sakalya; Sakaayana; Senaka ;Shakapuni; Sphoayana and others.

And, it appears; by about seventh or sixth century BCE, many of these Grammarians had compiled Nirukta texts. But, sadly, all those earlier versions of Niruktas disappeared gradually in the course of time.  It is only the Nirukta that was composed by Yaska that has survived; and, has come down to us.

Yaska, in his own Nirukta, refers to the views (either in his support or to show their divergence)  that were offered by as many as sixteen compilers (Nirukta-karas) of the Nirukta class of texts that were in existence and in circulation prior to his time (Ca. 6th century BCE) .

[Hartmut Scharfe in his  Grammatical Literature remarks : one of the interesting parts of the Nirukta is that it gives us more information on early Grammarians than any other source. And, it is all the more valuable, since almost all other information on Pre-Paninian Grammarians in the later literature is rather suspect.

In course of his work, Yaska mentions twenty four great teachers and seven different schools by name; in addition to referring to some others in a general way]

      • (1)Agrayana (1.9; 6.13;10.8);
      • (2) Audumbarayana (1.1);
      • (3) Aupamanyava (1.1; 2.2; 2.5; 2.11; 3.8; 3.11; 2.19; 5.7; 6.30; and, 10.8);
      • (4) Aurnavabha (2.26; 6.13; 7.1; 12.1; and, 12.19) ;
      • (5) Katthayaka (8.5; 8.6; 8.17; 8.10; 9.41; and, 9.42);
      • (6) Kusta (1.15);
      • (7) Kraustuki (8.2);
      • (8) Gargya (1.3; 1.12; and,1.25);
      • (9) Galava (4.3);
      • (10) Karmasiras (3.15);
      • (11) Taitiki ( 4.3 ; 5.27 );
      • (12) Varshyayani (1.2);
      • (13) Satabalaksa Maudgalya (9.6);
      • (14) Sakatayana (1.12; 1.13);
      • (15) Sakapuni (Nir.3.11 ;3.13 ;3.19; 8;  4.15;  5.3 ; 5.28; 7.14; 7.28; 8.5; 8.6; 8.10; 8.12; 8.14; 8.17; and, 12.40); and,
      • (16) Sthaulashtivi (7.14; 10.1).

Source: (pages 62 to 90) , of Sri Bishnupada Bhattacharya  ‘s scholarly work Yaska’s Nirukta  and the science of etymology  (1958)]

Of the many such Nirukta-karas; Yaska, in his Nirukta, frequently cites the explanations provided by Aupamanyava; Aurnavabha; and, Katthayaka. But, Sakapuni Rathitara is the most frequently quoted Nirukta- teacher. His views are cited by Yaska as many as about twenty times. 

It is believed; each of the Nirukta-karas, who preceded Yaska, had his own Nighantu text. And, perhaps, Yaska too had his own Nighantu.

But, such works – Nighantus as also Niruktas – of all those savants, who preceded Yaska, are lost. And, it is only the Nirukta of Yascacharya that has stood the test of time for over two thousand seven hundred years; and, is acclaimed, for its excellence, as the most authoritative text in its class.


Manifold approaches to the study of Vedas

There are several approaches or methods that are generally applied for the systematic study, analysis and interpretations of the Samhita texts (the Vedas). Yaska also recognized that the Vedic texts presented multiple aspects; and could be studied and interpreted in various different ways.

Accordingly, the Samhitas were analyzed and interpreted, in varied ways, by earlier authors adhering to different sets of  disciplines , such as: Yajnika (ritualists); Nairuktas (etymologists); Aithihasika (those who traced the historical traditions); Naidana (mix of history and etymology); Parivrajaka (ascetics); the Dharma-shastrika (those who interpreted books of moral code and conduct); and, the Vaiyakaranas (Grammarians)

Aitihasikah, Nairuktah, Naidanah, Parivrajakah, Yajnikah, Dharma-shastrika and Vaiyakaranah.

The Yajnika-s, whose primary interest was the performance of the Yajna, were more concerned the sequence of the rituals to be conducted during the course of the Yajna, and the proper utterance of the related Vedic mantras; than with the meaning of the mantras that were recited by them.

tatra etad yājñikā vedayante triśad uktha pātrāni mādhyandine savana eka devatāni tāny etasmin kāla ekena pratidhānena pibanti tāny atra sara  ucyante/ 5.1/

 The Aithihasikas, on the other hand, try to relate a hymn or a Vedic passage to an event or an account concerning a deity, as narrated in a mythical story. (This, of course, is totally different from the historical analysis of the present-day.) – tvāstro.asura.ity.aitihāsikā / 2,16 /

The Naidanas’ (said to be specialists on the theory of causation) approach was similar to that of Aithihasikas – ṛcā samaṃ menaḥ iti naidānāḥ । 

The Parivrajaka, the wandering philosophers, Adhyatma-pravada, try to interpret almost every aspect of a Samhita text in terms of spiritual or mystical context-  bahu.prajā.kcchram.āpadyata.iti.parivrājakā  2,8

The Dharma-shastrikas search for points of Law or precedence in the accounts narrated in the Vedas – sākṣāt.kṛta.dharmāṇa.ṛṣayo.babhūvuḥ / te. avarebhyo. asākṣāt. kṛta. dharmabhya. upadeśena.mantrānt.samprāduḥ /1,20 /

The Vaiyakaranah, the Grammarians are mostly interested in the linguistic analysis of the Vedic texts – mandayater.iti.vaiyākaraāh / 9,5 /

But, Gargya remarks : Not all , only some Grammarians — Na sarvani iti Gargyah vaiyyakarananam ca eke syath


In contrast, Yaska chose to adopt the method of Nirukta, which analyzes the words used in the Vedic mantras; and determines their precise meaning (Nirvachana) in their proper context.

Some scholars regard  Yaska’s Nirukta as not only a work on etymology; but, also as a work on the most fascinating branches of philology, the study of language in oral and written historical sources.

But, the type of etymologies that Yaska adopted, does not typically establish a link with the mythological or historical realm; nor does it, as a rule,  reveal hidden layers of language.

It is explained; such a semantic etymology is to be distinguished from a historical etymology.

A historical etymology presents the origin or the early history of a word in question. It tells us; for example, how a word in a modern language is derived from another word belonging to an earlier language, or to an earlier stage of the same language.

A Semantic etymology does something quite different. It attempts to connect one word with one or more others which are believed to elucidate its meaning. The semantic etymologies tell us nothing about the history of a word, but something about its meaning in a particular context.

[Dr.Saroja Bhate remarks: though some scholars interpret the term Nirvachana to mean Etymology, it is, in fact, different from the modern concept of Etymology. Yaska’s etymologies do not attempt historical analysis of words.]

In his remarkable work Nirukta,  which also serves as a commentary on the Nighantu, Yaska attempts to establish the proper meaning of certain selected Vedic words, in the context of ‘how, where, when and why’ it is stated in the text .

Thus, the essential feature of Yaska’s commentary is the semantic interpretation of words based on their derivation (Nirvachana).

[As Peter M. Scharf explains in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Linguistics (11,2) : at times; Yaska provides a familiar synonym for an obscure word, in addition to its etymological derivation. For instance; in vayāḥ śākhā veteḥ (Nirukta 1.4) – the obscure word Vayāis explained through a familiar word śākhā  (the branches) ; and, Yaska says that vayā  is derived from the root vī  (to move).

But, some etymologies in the Nirukta are less explicit; they utilize semantic statements from which a phonetic analysis is easily inferred. For instance; Nirukta 2.14 explains the six words contained in Nighaṇṭu 1.4.

svar ādityo bhavati. su araṇaḥ. su īraṇaḥ. svṛtaḥ rasān. svṛtaḥ bhāsam jyotiṣām. svṛtaḥ bhāseti vā.

The first, svar, is explained as follows by Sarup (1920–27: part II, p. 30):

Svar means the sun; it is very distant, it  disperses (the darkness); it penetrates the fluids;  it is luminary; its light penetrates or pierces through the objects. It is said; the  term Svar can be derived from the pre-verb su plus the word araṇa ‘distant,’ īr ‘set in motion,’ or the root ṛ ‘go.’ The word araṇa is itself a derivation from the verb ‘go.’ ]


As Johannes Bronkhorst observes in his Etymology and magic: Yāska’s Nirukta, Plato’s Cratylus, and the riddle of semantic etymologies 

One way to account for the validity of such semantic etymologies based on the similarity between words (for those who accept this validity) would be to claim that there are ultimate meaning bearers, such as individual sounds or small groups of them, each with its own specific meaning

[For instance; as per its etymology, the term Indra denotes the one who, by his power (Indriya), energises or kindles the vital airs (prana). The Satapatha Bråhmana  says, since he kindled (indh), he is the kindler (indha ). But, cryptically, he is called Indra

sa yo yam madhye prāa | ea evendrastānea prāānmaindra ityācakate paro
am paro ‘kakāmā hi devāsta iddhā sapta nānā puruānasjanta –

Besides the etymology of Indra, as above (from Indh), the Taittiriya Bråhmana ( offers an altogether different explanation: “No one can withstand this power (idam indriyam) in him; and, that is why he is called ‘Indra’.”

Different etymologies of one and the same word (often a name) are frequently met with, sometimes even in one and the same text. For instance;

The two different etymologies of the word Indra occur in one and the same passage at Satapatha Bråhmana

So’rcañcrāmyaścacāra prajākāma sa ātmanyeva prajātimadhatta sa āsyenaiva
jata te devā divamabhipadyā sjyanta taddevānā devatvayad divamabhipadyā sjyanta tasmai sasjānāya divevāsa tadveva devānā devatvayadasmai sasjānāya divevāsa
1.1.6.[7] ]


[According to Prof. Jan E.M. Houben, this is what Yaska said about the methodology that he adopted in the Second Chapter of his Nirukta, commencing with – Atha Nirvachanam, which states the characteristic features of Nirvachana.


With reference to this, the words, the accent and the  grammatical  form of which are regular and accompanied by a radical modification which gives a hint, should be derived in the ordinary manner.

But, If the meaning is not perspicuous; and, if there is no radical modification which gives a hint, one should investigate [the word to be explained], taking one’s stand on the meaning, according to a similarity (of a verbal root with a suitable meaning) – (Sama-artha-svara-samskara)- to the derived from (i.e., to the word to be explained). 

Even If no similar [verbal root] is found, one should explain [the word] according to a similarity in syllable or phoneme – (Arthanityah parkseta kenchid vrtti samanyena)

But, never should one abstain from explaining [by deriving it from some root], one should not be attached to the grammatical form [too much], for the derived forms (i.e., the words to be explained) are full of uncertainties

Nir.2,1:atha.nirvacanam : tad.yeu.padeu.svara.saskārau.samarthau.prādeśikena.vikārea(guena.Bh).anvitau.syātām.tathā.tāni.nirbrūyād;atha.ananvite.arthe.aprādeśike.vikāre.artha.nityaparīketa.kenacid.vtti.sāmānyena;avidyamāne.sāmānye.apy.akara.vara.sāmānyān.nirbrūyāūyāt;na.saskāram.ādriyeta.viśayavatyo.(hi.Bh).vttayo.bhavanti ]


Yaska’s Nirukta -structure

As mentioned earlier, Nirukta is the systematic creation of a glossary; written in archaic Sanskrit prose, which discusses how to understand antiquated, uncommon words used mainly in the Rig-Veda.

For the purpose of his study, Yaska chose about 600 stanzas from the Rig-Veda; and, created a well organized vocabulary to understand the meaning; and, to interpret, particularly, the archaic, uncommon words used in the Vedic texts (artha nitya parīketa kenacid vtti sāmānyenaNir.2.1).

But, all the Mantras that he quotes are not fully explained by him. Often, Yaska passes past some mantras by saying: this mantra is self-explanatory – iti.sā.nigada.vyākhyātā (Nir.6.5). It is said; there are about 13-14 such mantras.

[Although, Yaska’s Nirukta hardly needs a commentary, in the later times, many commentaries came to be written. Of these, the commentaries that are very well known are: (a) Skandaswamin’s Nirukta-bhashyatika (14th century), supplemented by Maheshwara’s Vivarana (15thcentury); and, (b) Durga-simha’s Rjvarta (14th century). Durga’s comments are more frequently cited by the later scholars.]


Yaska’s Nirukta comprises twelve Chapters (Parishishta) divided into two broad sections: Purva-shatka (the first six Chapters); and, Uttara-shtka (the latter six Chapters).

These again are grouped into three Kandas (Cantos):  Naighantuka Kanda; Naigama Kanda; and, Daivata Kanda.

A. Under the Purva-shatka, which has six Chapters:-

(1) The Naighantuka Kanda, comprises three Chapters (1 t0 3) – Kanda-trayatmaka; and, it comments on the Fourth Chapter of the Nighantu (Naigama Kanda), treating of the words used in the Rig-Veda – commencing with the Gau and ending with Apara.

In this section, Yäska discusses the aims and methods of the Nirukta, as a branch of learning; and, refers to different teachers and contemporary disputes concerning the language and the  meaning/s.

Chapter 1 (and part of chapter 2) of Yaska’s Nirukta deals with some important theoretical aspects which gives an insight into Yaska’s overall philosophical and linguistic approach;  such as :

: – importance of knowing the meaning   of the Vedic mantras;

:- Parts of speech (Padas) classified into four groups  (Jatis) (Bheda-chatushtaya)- (1)Nama (noun); (2) Akhyata (verb); (3) Upasarga  (preposition);  and, (4) Nipata  (particles) – (Catvari padajatani Nama-Akhyate cha  Upsarga Nipata-shcha)

: – Verb-root principle – asserting that the nouns are derived from verbs (dhatuja / akhyataja).

: – Language variation, its causes, forms, and effects

: – Principles of Nirvachana (etymology)

(2) The second Kanda, Naigama Kanda : while the first three Chapters dealt with synonyms (Ekartham-aneka-sabdam); the three Chapters (4 to 6), here, explain the homonyms (Aneka-arthani-ekasabdani); and the Vedic words whose derivation is obscure (Anavagata-samskaran -nigaman). This is called Aikapadikam. This Kanda covers the selected words of the Rig-veda beginning with Jahā and ending with Ulbam  bīsam.

agni purana cropped

(B) Under the Uttara-shatka or the Second Section of Nirukta:-

The Daivata Kanda, in its six Chapters, comments on the Fifth Chapter of Nighantu (Daivata Kanda). It is a systematic exposition of the nature; the symbolism; the forms’ interpretation etc., of the prominent Deities (Devata) of the three regions, of the Earth (Prithvi-sthana), of the Sky (Dyu-sthana); and, of the intermediate space (Madhyama-sthana). It commences with Agni and ends with Deva-patnyah (consorts of gods).

Of those three regions; the Prithvi-sthana covers the deities from Agni to Urjahuti; the Madhyama-sthana covers from Vayu to Bhaga; and, the Dyu-sthana, from Surya to Deva-patnyah.

[Yaska_charya defines a Deva as one who gives gifts (devo daanad), who is effulgent (devo dipanaat), who illumines (devo dyotanad), and who resides in heaven or the celestial world (dyusthane bhavati  iti).


After discussing the three different views (namely, they have form, they do not have form, and a combination of these two views), the Nirukta concludes that, in reality, there is only one Devata who can be addressed in various ways depending upon the temperament of the aspirant. Yaska_charya confirms by saying Eka atma Bahudha Stuyate (Nir.7,4meaning there is only One God and many praise by different names.

ekam.sad.viprā.bahudhā.vadanty.agnim.yamam.mātariśvānam.āhuh/”(RV.1,164,46) imam.eva.agnim.mahāntam.ātmānam.ekam.ātmānam.bahudhā.medhāvino.vadanti/ Nir.7.18 /

He further says ; the many forms of gods are manifestation of the atman, One Reality – Ekasya atmanah anye devah pratyangani bhavanti . He emphasizes that the Sat Vastu  includes in itself different deities. 

māhābhāgyād.devatāyā.eka.ātmā.bahudhā.stūyate,.ekasya.ātmano.anye.devāḥ.pratyaṅgāni.bhavanti- Nir.7.4

Sri Sayanacharya in his Rig_bashya_bhumika  says praise of any god  leads to the same tat (entity) – Tasmat sarvairapi parameshvara eve huyate .]

Nighantu-Nirukta chart

[ Devaraja (15th-16thcentury) , a commentator, in the introduction to his work says : Yaska, in his Nirukta, explained, individually , and in their entirety, only the words of which a list is given in the Fourth and Fifth Section of the Nighantu (Naigama and the Daivata Kandas)]

Yaska deals with the etymology proper (Nirukta), with commentary on the related portions of the Nighantu; starting from Chapter 2, Section 2 of Naighantuka Kanda.

Yaska’s commentary (bhasya) commences with a discussion on synonyms (Ekartham-aneka-shabdam). But, later, he devotes more space to elucidating the Nighantu words of obscure nature (Anavagata-samskaran -nigaman), which suggest more than one meaning.

The most interesting portion of the Nirukta is the discussion which covers the whole of the First book and a part of the Second, as well as the Seventh book of the Nighantu, which was as an admirable introduction to the study of the Veda

Yaska’s study included a system of rules for forming words starting from roots and affixes. According to Yaska, every word is derived from a root (Dhatu); and, by analyzing the root, its tendency and the suffix, it is possible to establish the relation between word and meaning.

For Yaska, every term is embedded with meaning (Artha); and, Nirvachana provides the device for doing so. In other words; the meaning is secured by the term itself by Nirvachana analysis, which indeed is the objective way of determining what meaning is ascribed to each word.


As Johannes Bronkhorst   writes in Etymology and magic: Yāska’s Nirukta, Plato’s Cratylus, and the riddle of semantic etymologies

A number of rules are formulated in the Second chapter of the Nirukta that should help the student to find etymologies on his own. The most important among these rules is, no doubt, the one that etymologizing should, first of all, be guided by the meaning of the word concerned; phonetic considerations play a less important role:

One should examine a word, being intent upon its meaning, with the help of some similarity in function with other words. When not even such a similarity is present one should explain on the basis of similarity (lakshana) in a syllable or in a single sound.” (Nirukta 2.1).

Tad yeu padeu svara saskārau samarthau prādeśikena vikārea  guena  anvitau syātām tathā tāni nirbrūyād / atha ananvite arthe aprādeśike vikāre artha nitya parīketa kenacid vtti sāmānyena / Nir.2,1/

 In the case of unknown words, therefore, one looks at the context in which they occur (usually a Vedic hymn), so as to get a first impression as to their meaning. Subsequently one looks for other words (they have to be verbal forms, according to the Nirukta) which are more or less similar to the word under study

Semantic considerations, however, come first. Therefore, a verbal form which is less similar but closer to the expected meaning is to be preferred to a more similar verbal form which does not support the desired meaning. And words which are known to have several meanings have also several etymologies

An example is the word gau “The word go is a synonym for ‘earth’; because, it goes (gata) far; and, because living beings go (gacchanti) on it. Or else, it could be a name of something which moves (gåti). The syllable ‘au’, in the word gau , is a nominal suffix. Moreover, the word gau is the name of an animal (the cow) for this same reason. 

Also a bowstring is called gauh; because it sets arrows in motion (gamayati) Gavyā cet tādhitam,  atha cet na gavyā gamayati isūn iti (Nirukta 2.5).


As a part of his exposition, Yaska makes a clear distinction between the Vedic and the spoken language. But, he also observes that sometimes a word used in one is derived from a root belonging to the other. He makes a similar observation with regard to the dialects of regional language (Prakrita)

Atha-apy.bhāikebhyo dhātubhyo naigamā kto bhāyante damūnā ketrasādhā iti –Nir.2.2…Atha-api praktaya eva ekeu bhāyante viktaya ekeu –Nir.2.2


The Nirukta, as a discipline , which attempts to determine the essential significance of a Vedic passage (mantrartha), recognizes five kinds of changes that a word in common usage [with Noun (Nama), Verb (Akhyata), Preposition (Upasarga) and Particle (Nipata) ] could undergo to become a Vedic word ; and, to be included in the Nighantu:  (1) A letter may be freshly added on to the word (Varna-agama); (2) A letter may be altered (Varna-viparitya); the form of the letter may be distorted (Varna-vikara); (4) A letter may be omitted (Akshara-lopa); and, (5) the root of may get over stressed (Yoga).


Catvari padajatani

In his Nirukta, Yaska tried to explain (Nirvacanam) such Vedic words from the perspective of various linguistic aspects like Noun, Verb, preposition, particle, general definition, special definition, synonyms, homonyms (words that share the same pronunciation but convey different meanings), common and obscure grammatical forms, words and their meanings, and the etymology of these words. Yaska terms such analytical method as samaskara (treatment) or sastrakrto yogah (grammatical combination)

In that context, Yaska mentions about the classification of the four groups of parts of speech (Catvari padajatani) such as:  Noun (Naman), Verb (Akhyata), Preposition (Upasarga), and Particle (Nipata). Of these, the first two are established by definition; and, the remaining two by enumeration.

Catvāri pada jātāni nāma ākhyāte ca upasarga nipātāś ca tāni imāni bhavanti ...Nir .l.l iti imāni catvāri pada jātāni anukrāntāni  nāma ākhyāte ca upasarga nipātāś ca tatra nāmāny ākhyātajāni iti śākaāyano nairukta samayaś ca – Nir. 1, 12/

It appears that Audumbarayana, another ancient authority, had not agreed with such four-fold classification of parts of speech

(indriyanityam vacanam Audumbarayanah tatra chatustam Na papayate Nir.1.1-2). 

Yaska opposes the stand taken by Audumbarayana; but then, he goes on to talk about a totally different concept, Bhava – the being and becoming (Bhu) of verbs from their roots. Yaska, in that context, mentions six modes or forms of transformations (Sad bhava vikarah) of Bhava-s from the indistinct (A-vyakta) to explicit (Vyakta) and then to disappearance (vinasa). These phases are: coming into existence (jayate); existence (Asti); transformation (viparinamate); growth (vardate); decay or wane (apaksiyate); and, ceasing to exist (vinasyati).

These are the six phases of changes (parinama) that do occur in all forms of life or of any entity.

life cycle

Between the Noun and the Verb, Yaska treats the Verb as the nucleus of a sentence. 

Here, though the Noun is named first, it is the Verb that is evidently more important. The Verb expresses action (Kim karoti?), the becoming (Bhava); while Noun, fundamentally, denotes the existing thing – (Sattva – ‘being’).

Here, Sattva is the static aspect of the meaning (as it exists); and, Bhava, the dynamic aspect, is action (Kriya) as it takes place in temporal sequence – (bhavah karma kriya dhatvartha ity anarthantaram).

In other words; a Verb (AkhyataBhava pradhana) – is mainly concerned with Bhava (action). Whereas, the Nouns (Naman) have Sattva (substance or existence of an object – Asti- Satva pradhana) as the chief element in their meaning (Bhava-pradhanam akhyatam; sattva-pradhanani namani Nir. l.l).  

According to Yaska, Verb (Akhyata) is the vital unit of language through which we express our intentions and actions; and, a sentence without a verb serves no purpose (tad.yatra.ubhe.bhāva.pradhāne.bhavata– Nir. l. l

bhāvapradhānam ākhyātam/ sattvapradhānāni nāmāni/ tad yatrobhe bhāvapradhāne bhavata pūrvāparībhūta bhāvam ākhyātenācaṣṭe/ vrajati pacatīti/ upakramaprabhtyapavargaparyanta mūrta sattvabhūta sattvanāmabhi/ vrajyā paktir iti/ ada iti sattvānām upadeśa/ gaur aśva puruo hastīti/ bhavatīti bhāvasya/ āste śete vrajati tiṣṭhatīti –  Nir. l.l 


Of the four parts of speech (Catvari padajatani) , Yaska gives greater importance to Nouns and Verbs (Naman, Akyata) – which are employed independently – than to the Prefix or Prepositions  (Upasarga – Nanavidha vishesha artha pradhana) and the Particles (Nipata – Upamarthe pada puranartha – for the purpose of drawing comparisons),  which cannot present a clear meaning when detached from Nouns or Verbs – na nirbaddha upasarga arthannirahuriti Sakatayanah –Nir.I.3.

According to Yaska; Sakatayana held the view that the prepositions are indicative (dyotaka) rather than denotative (vacaka) — (nama-akahyatayostu karmopa-samyoga-dyotaka bhavanti~ Nir.I.3)

With regard to pre-verbs, Yaska refers to the views of Sakatayana and Gärgya: According to the former, the prepositions do not have a meaning of their own; and, when detached from a Noun or a Verb, they do not distinctly express a meaning. But, they do help in highlighting a secondary relation with the object of the Noun or Verb. 

But, according to Gärgya, prepositions do have various meanings (even when they are detached from a Noun or a Verb). Their meaning implies a modification in the meaning of Noun and Verb. For instance; Upasarga which is described as Nanavidha vishesha artha pradhana – can provide a special meaning to a word as in A-hara, Vi-hara and Sam-hara.

And, even in its isolated condition, a prefix is capable of modifying the sense of a Verb or a Noun. For instance; the preposition  ’A ’ can express the sense of limit , say as in,  Apara ( limitless)  as opposed to  Para (limited). The prepositions Ati and Su indicate excellence, while Nir and Dur are the reverse of the two; Ni  and Ava indicate downward-ness, while Ud is the reverse of the two ; and, similarly , Sam indicates junction or togetherness , while Vi and Apa are the reverse of Sam.

Yaska seems to have gone along with Gargya’s view . he enumerates twenty Upasargas. 

nāma.ākhyātayos.tu.karma.upasamyoga.dyotakā.bhavanty / ucca. avacā. Pada . arthā.  bhavanti iti Gārgyas /āhur.ime. tam. Nāma. Ākhyātayor artha vikaraam/ ā.ity.arvāg.arthe.pra.parā.ity.etasya.prātilomyam – Nir.1.3 .

When that logic is extended, it leads to say:  the phonemes and syllables are not independent entities conveying their own meaning.  Nevertheless, they are the essential parts of the word. But, the meaning of the word does not solely arise out of them. The Meaning is the function of the word as a whole.

[Patanjali, in his Mahabhashya puts forward a similar argument.

For the purpose of illustration; he cites the three words Kupa (well); Supa (soup); and, Yupa (sacrificial post).

Here, Patanjali points out; the first letter of each of those three words differs; but, the other letters that follow are identical. These are, in fact, three separate words that are distinguished by the substitution of one phoneme, for another phoneme

 However, the object signified by each one is distinct from the objects signified by the other two words. Each of the three words signifies a different object.

Patanjali says; each of the phonemes – K; S; and Y- does not by itself carry a meaning. Similarly, the set of other letters in the three words (- upa) also, by itself, does not make any sense. It is only when they combine, a word carrying a meaning, is put forth.

Patanjali compares this fact to a chariot made of several parts; where, each of its parts, by itself, is incapable of moving.  It is only when all the parts combine systematically and form a single entity that the chariot can move.

Thus, Patanjali argues that phonemes have a differentiating significance within the units which bear the meaning. Such a unit, he considers it as saghāta, a single entity which is ‘indivisible and one’. A phoneme, thus, plays a significant role in distinguishing one word from the other, each pointing to a different object.]

 In Yaska’s Nirukta, the Upasargas were used with the nouns and also with Verbs nāma.ākhyātayos.tu.karma.upasamyoga.dyotakā.bhavanty (Nir.1.3).

[Yaska enumerates twenty prepositions, along with their meanings: ati-;adhi-;anu-;apa-;api-;abhi-;ava-;aa-;ut-;upa-;dus-;nis-;nir-;paraa-;pari-;pra-;prati-;v; sam-;and su-. And, to that list, Sakatayana adds three more Upasargas: accha-; srad-; and antar-. Later marut-; and dur- were added; thus making it to 25.]


One of the main features of Nirukta is that Yaska agrees with Sakatayana that all nouns are derived from a verbal stem (mula); and, all nouns are regarded as related to an activity expressed in language by a verbal form – tatra nāmāny ākhyātajāni iti śākaāyano nairukta samayaś ca / na sarvāi iti Gārgyo vaiyākaraā-nāś ca eke – Nir. 1, 12/

Yaska says:  any Noun can be traced back to a root (Dhatu), similar in form and meaning – samāna karmāo dhātavo dhātur dadhāte. And with that, all words come under the purview of the Nirukta.

[As compared to that, Panini left aside the irregular formations. Further, Nirukta also comments on those Vedic passages, words and their forms , which were not analyzed in the texts of Grammar.  And, therefore,  Saroja Bhate remarks, the function of Nirukta starts when that of the Grammar ends. And, therefore, Yaska aptly describes his work as ‘the completion of Grammar’- vyākaraasya kārtsnyam- [tad idam vidyasthanam vyakaranasya kartsnyam svartha-sadhakam ca . (Nir. 1,15) ]

Yaska considers the verbal roots (Dhātu) to be the bases (prakṛti), and their  noun-forms to be the modifications of them (vikṛti); and, he calls the latter as ‘born’ from the former.

As the nouns, often, have verbal roots (Dhatu), they attempt to explain ‘Why something is called what it is called ‘, by linking it to some activity; thereby establishing its relation to a verb or verbal-root. In fact, Yaska treats every noun as an information-invoking singular term.

 For instance; the Nirukta states that the noun Cittam (mind) is derived from (the root) its activity cit (to know) – cittaṃ cetateḥ (Nirukta 1.6)

The logic behind Yaska’s assertion appears to be: man keeps creating more new words to conceptualize and to describe verities of actions; which is to say, both the meaning and the etymology of words are always context-sensitive.

Thus, His main view is that the name of an object is to be determined by its actions, as also by the contextual factors (samsarga etc.)


The proposition that the Nouns are derived from Verbs (dhatuja/akhyataja) was opposed by many grammarians, including Gargya. They argued that if all nouns were derived from verbs, every person who performs a particular action should have the same name. [Kartri (a doer) from Kri (to do); Pachaka (cook) from Pach (to cook), and so on]

Yaska rebutted such criticisms by pointing out: Not everyone gets the same name by performing the same action.  For instance; a carpenter performs many other actions (takati karoti karmā), besides cutting the wood. The term ‘Carpenter’, here, signifies a person, who possesses a distinctive skill; and, perhaps follows a particular profession for his living. It does not, however, refer to any one particular person. It could refer to a whole class of such persons, in general.

 But, anyone or everyone who cuts wood cannot be called a carpenter (takā).  

Thus, though one is involved in many different activities, one gets his name from a particular action in which he is engaged. Therefore, objects are named depending upon the specific actions they perform.

yaḥ kaś ca tat karma kuryāt sarvam tat attvam tathā ācakṣīran /  yaḥ kaś ca adhvānam aśnuvīta aśvaḥ sa vacanīyaḥ syāt / atha api cet sarvāṇy ākhyātajāni nāmāni syuḥ  / Nir.1,12


It is said; the Grammarians classify the meanings of a word under three categories:   Yaugika; Yogarudha; and, Rudha.

When a word expresses its etymological sense, it is called Yaugika (derivative);

When its etymological meaning and its conventional meaning are the same, it is called Yogarudha (derivative and conventional) ; and,

When the conventional meaning, the one that is used in day-to-day affairs, is either not directly connected with its etymological derivation or it is different, then it is called Rudha (conventional).

But, as rule, the conventional meaning is regarded as stronger as and more acceptable than the etymological meaning (yogad rudhir baliyasi sighravrttitvat).

For instance; the etymological meaning of the term Asva is that which pervades or occupies; but, Asva in common usage denotes a horse. Similarly, Pankaja etymologically means that which is born in slush; but, it is commonly used to indicate a lotus flower.

The other is the Ashva-karna a type of leaf; but literally, the ears of a horse. In all such cases, it is the meaning in common usage that is generally accepted; and, the literal meaning is treated as faded metaphor.

Following the same principle, and citing the same instances, Matanga, in his Brhaddeshi,   explains: whatever might be its other meanings, the word Raga (derived from the root ranj = to please), effectively suggests, here, as that which generates delight: Ranjana-jjayate ragau.

Ithevam raga-shabdasya utpatthir abhidiyate I Ranjana-jjayate ragau utpatthih samudahrutah II283II Ashva-karnadi vidha rude yaugikau vaapi vachakah I Yogarudosthva raage jneyam pankaja-shabdavat II 284II

[Panini also said that the meanings of the words were bound to change with the passage of time, as also in varying contexts. He recognized the fact the people who spoke the language and used it in their day-to-day lives were better judges in deriving, meaning from the words.

Strangely, that came true in the case of Panini himself. For instance; in the Astadhyayi (6.1.147), the word ‘Ascharya’ is explained as that which is not-permanent (Anitya) or rare: āścaryam-anitye. And, Katyayana, a couple of centuries later, corrected that meaning to imply ‘Adbhuta’ – something that is wondrous, miraculous or unprecedented. The meaning of the term ‘Ascharya’, as interpreted by Katyayana has, of course, prevailed; and , is in common use now.

The term Aranyaka is interpreted by Panini to mean ’a forest dweller, a man who lives in the forest’- arayān-manuye (P S 4.2.129).  And, Katyayana expanded its  meaning to include a class of Vedic texts. But, somehow, it is not applied for referring to forest elephants, jackals and other wild animals that also live in the forests.

Bhartrhari, in his Vakyapadiya, therefore, emphasizes the importance of contextual factors in the determination of the meaning of expressions. Etymology is without doubt important in its own context; but, in the day-to-day conversations (rudi) the conventional meaning (Vyvaharica-artha) takes precedence over the etymologically derived sense

It is often said; a Grammarian may have control over the Lakshana (the rules); but, not always over the Lakshya, the way the language is used in the outside world. The quality of such language is almost excellent, when it is immediately close to the grammatical rules. But, many a times, the Lakshana becomes subservient to Lakshya. ].

[The American Dialect Society, which studies the evolution of language, has voted
the neutral pronoun “they” as the word of the present decade. “They” is used in English by a growing number of non-binary individuals, people who do not identify as either male or female. They prefer the plural neutral pronoun to bypass the traditionally male “he” or female “she”. Thus, it is said “they” has become an indication of “how the personal expression of gender identity employed by an increasing part of our shared discourse.”]


After explaining the evolution of speech; and, the fourfold stages of speech, Yaska takes up the question:  — ‘whether the words are eternal or ephemeral, merely created for the time being’.

Besides the issue of the eternity of words, Yaska also talks about the infallibility of Vedic words, the impermanence of human knowledge etc., – karmasampattir mantro Vede– Nir.I.2.; Purusa vidya nityatvat Nir.I.2

Yaska asserts that the word, the meaning and their mutual relations are eternal (nityam vacanam)

Yaska brushes aside the prima facie view (Purva-paksha) or the objections raised by Audumbarayana and such others; and, argues: If we admit the impermanence of words, then the mutual relation and the grammatical relation of words are not possible. Therefore, the functions of words are possible only if we admit they are everlasting, in their nature.

Following the Mimamsakas, Yaska also supported the doctrine of the eternal nature of the words – ‘vyaptimattvat tu sabdasya’ (Nir.I.2)

In this way, Yaska believed in the idea of the eternity of words; and, then he engaged in the Sphota theory.  This Doctrine (Sphota-vada) puts forward the view:  When a word is uttered, it reaches the mind of the listener through her/his ears; and, on its acceptance, the mind absorbs and understands the sense of verbal-sounds it received. Thus, the uttered words, which travel through the air, perish. Yet, the meaning conveyed by them resides permanently in the mind of the listener.

Yaska was, perhaps, one among the earliest authorities to make a reference to Sphota-vada.  Bharthari (11th century) in his celebrated work Vakyapadiya acknowledges Yaska’s reference to the Sphota concept.  Bhartrhari explains the Sphota as: a spontaneous process where a latent idea or thought arising out of the consciousness or the mind of the speaker is manifested by the sounds (Dhvani) of the spoken words employed in the sentence; and, it is directly grasped, through intuition (Prathibha), by the mind (Buddhi) of the listener.

In this context, Yaska mentions that the words, obviously, carry a meaning; but, in the course of time, a word might acquire a meaning that is different or even quite opposite to the one it had earlier. Such a change of meaning possibly comes about due to various reasons. That might be because, in the later times, it may to have to indicate a different type of action, object or an usage. And, that often happens; because the name of an object is to be determined by its actions. Therefore, the contextual factors (Samsarga) , in their current time, become important in arriving at the new meaning of a term.

Answering the question –  how an object could be called by a certain name, when it is performing a different action than that is indicated by its  name, Durga, commenting on the Nirukta, says: šabda-niyama svabhāvata eva loke – “in spoken language, in the world , the usage of  the word (Sabda-vrtti) follows its own nature”.

According to Durga , this svabhāva is an inherent characteristic of the word, as a meaningful entity. It has its own existence; and , can  ,therefore, be applied to any object at will by a speaker, thus creating a new contextual meaning; because, the word in its semantic aspect, continues to carry its own significance .

Durga remarks: the use of words, their role and the intended effect are context sensitive. The same word could be employed in any number of ways; each performing its role its own context. Therefore even on the purely communication level, the word acts as a meaningful entity, influencing and creating the society of man, which is nothing but a product of this communication.

The Scholarly Paper Yaska’s discussion of the meaning of a word in relation to objective reality, explains:

A word persists in its own reality beyond the reality of time and space. Since we live, act, see, understand the world using our linguistic reality, the name once given to the object, whether it was relevant or seemed to be relevant for a particular speaker, could remain for a longer time, even if it had very little to do with the current  action of the object. The reason why this or that name was given to the object was not in order to satisfy an objective reality. But, rather, it was a subjective one; for, it was named by a speaker imposing his wish, opinion, knowledge or will on the object. Once the name has been used, it would persist in memory until a new name effaces or changes it; or even, it might perhaps, last longer.


Finally, as Eivind Kahrs in his Indian Semantic Analysis: The Nirvacana Tradition  sums up his review of Yaska’s work, says:

What is really important about the Nirukta is that it is the single text we possess which applies a certain method designated to give semantic analysis of nouns, in the widest sense of the term. Moreover, Nirukta contains lengthy discussions of linguistic and philosophic import.  As compared to Panini’s formal grammatical attitude, keeping out the philosophical notions; Yaska’s interest in philosophy is remarkable.

Though the  main task of the Nirukta of Yaska is to explain most of the rare and obscure Vedic words by pointing out various possible etymologies , there are also discussions of general nature, on the concept of eternity and infallibility of Vedic words, (karma-sampattir mantro Vede Nir.I.2);  the impermanence of human knowledge (purusa-vidya-anityatvatNir.I.2) and so on. Thus, Yaska’s commentary is not restricted to derivation of Vedic words, but covers a much wider field.


Before go proceed to talk about Panini, let us briefly, in a capsule form, jot down the significant differences between the Nirukta of Yaska and the Astadhyayi of Panini.

(1) Nirukta is a glossary commenting and explaining the meaning of certain chosen mantras of the Rigveda, based mainly on the Nighantu and the Brahmana texts. Its focus is on the Vedic language.

Astadhyayi is an independent and an original treatise, seeking to construct a systematic analysis of all speech forms.

(2) The main task of the Nirukta is to provide the exact meaning of antiquated terms of the Rigveda that were no longer in use. It, basically, is rooted in the past.

The Astadhyayi is, principally, concerned with the language that is alive and is evolving. It deals with the then present status of the language; refining its form and usage. It strives to ensure the correct treatment of the words by purifying (Samskrita) the language (bhasha) – literary and spoken (vaidika and laukika) – that was in use during its days.

It also serves as authoritative guidelines, for the future generations, for understanding the language, speaking it correctly and using it, as it should be.

The content and the scope of Astadhyayi is much wider, as compared to that of the Nirukta.

(3) Yaska’s Nirukta is written in easy flowing prose. It hardly needs a commentary, to explain or to interpret its content.

Panini’s Ashtadhyayi is composed in Sutra form-terse and tightly knit; rather highly abbreviated. The text does need a companion volume to explain it. Therefore, generations of Grammarians and scholars were engaged (and continue to be engaged) in commenting upon and in elucidating Panini’s text.

Yaskapranitam.2 jpg

References and Sources

  1. The Nighantu and the Nirukta by Sri Lakshman Sarup
  2. Text of the Nirukta – Based on the edition by Sri Lakshman Sarup
  3. Ashtadhyayi or Sutrapatha of Panini
  4.  A critical study of some aspects of Nirukta by Tarapada Chakrabarti
  5. Etymology and magic: Yaska’s Nirukta, Plato’s Cratylus, and the riddle of semantic etymologies by Johannes Bronkhorst
  6. Grammatical Literature by Hartmut Scharfe
  7. Indian Semantic Analysis: The Nirvacana Tradition  by Eivind Kahrs
  8. Yaska’s discussion of the meaning of a word in relation to objective reality
  9. Pānini and Yāska : Principles of derivation  by Saroja Bhate
  10. Yaska’s Nirukta and his reflections on language
  11. The Nirukta and the Aitareya Brahmana by Prof. Viman Ch. Bhattacharya
  12. The History of Indian Literature (1892) by Albrecht Weber
  13. Introduction to the Nirukta and the literature related to it by Rudolph Roth
  14. Panini and his place in Sanskrit by  Theodor Goldstücker
  15. Yaska’s Nirukta by Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao
  16. All images are from Internet


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Sri Gayatri – Part one

The Rishi , The Chhandas and The  Devata

Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dheemahi
Diyo yonah prachodayat
We meditate on the adorable glory
of the radiant Savitr,
May he inspire our intellect

1 .1. Gayatri Mantra that is recited daily by millions of devout is indeed very ancient; and , is regarded the most sacred of all mantras. The tradition accords Gayatri  unrivaled importance.

1.2. Gayatri is a mantra dedicated to Savitr; and, is not a prayer in the ordinary sense of the term. A mantra – a specific structure of sound patterns coded in syllables and vowels – may be articulate or inarticulate; it may or may not convey a meaning. But, its relevance is in its inherent shakthi. Its subtle sounds or the abstract language which attempts to visualize the un-differentiated divine principle. The accent, intonation and articulation too play a role in the efficacy of a mantra.

And, Mantra is neither a magical formula, nor is it a logical sentence; it  connects in a very special way to the objective and subjective aspects of reality.  The term Mantra is explained as mananat trayate mantrah; the contemplation of which liberates. It is the harmonious and powerful union of mind (Manas) and word (Vac). It is  the living sound, transcending beyond the mental plane. The fruitfulness of a mantra depends upon the authority of the teacher who imparts it and the spiritual preparedness of the student who is initiated (Diksha) into it. It has to be grasped in humility, earnestness and faith.

A prayer, prarthana, is a submission (Atma-nivedana) ; and, it has a meaning and a philosophical significance. Prarthana has an intellectual appeal. Mantra is beyond intellect. Gayatri, it is said, is both mantra and prarthana; a profound invocationIt has the intrinsic shakthi of mantra; as also the intense devotion and reverence of prarthana. It signifies a determined aspiration for enlightenment.

1.3. Gayatri is essentially symbolic (sanketa vidya), inspiring righteous wisdom. It points to the absolute reality (Brahman) conditioned by names and forms  (nama, rupa) as settled in solar orb, the visible form of divinity. The mantra formulates the nature of oneself and also the nature of Brahman, the supreme Consciousness (para-brahma nirupanam).

The name

4.1. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (5.14.5) mentions that the mantra in Gayatri chhandas dedicated to Savitr-Devata was initially known as Savitri mantra. It says: ‘the people were calling that  mantra  , which was composed in Gayatri Chhandas,  as Savitri’ (Gayatrim-eva Savitri-manu-bhruyaath), because it was addressed, in particular, to Savitr (Savitr iyam).

Another authority, Manu (2.77 and 2.81), also names the mantra as Savitri; and avers ‘there is no mantra that is superior to Savitri’ (sāvitryās tu paraṃ na-asti maunāt satyaṃ viśiṣyate: Manu – 2.83c).

Other texts (for e.g. Maitri Upanishad: 6.2) too declare that ‘Savitri mantra with Pranava and Vyahrti is the best means (na savitrah paro mantrah) to attain Brahman’.

imayo veti  iada vā va tatpukara yo’yamākāśo’syemā catasro diśaścatasra upadiśo dalasasthā āsamarvāgvicarata etau prāādityā etā upāsitom ityetad-akarea  vyāhtibhi sāvitkryā ceti 6. 2

4.2. It is said; in course of time, the Savitri mantra came to be celebrated as Gayatri mantra because of its structure in classic Gayatri chhandas. The Savitri-mantra, it is believed, articulates, as few other mantras do, the special merits of the Gayatri-chhandas.

5.1. The name ‘Gayatri’ – as the title of the mantra – acquired several meanings. It is explained that the term Gayatri is derived from the root ‘traing’ (paalana) which means ‘to protect’. Expanding on that explanation, Chandogya Upanishad says: ‘This mantra called Gayatri in Gayatri-chhandas protects one who chants it. That is why it is called Gayatri’ (Gayatri trayate cha– Ch.Up.) 

Satapatha Brahmana ( in a similar manner explained Gayatri as that which protects (tattre) sense-faculties (including mind) and the life-principles (prana) which are called ‘gaya’: (prana vai gayaasthan trayati- tasmat Gayatri).

sā haiṣā gayāṃstatre prāṇā vai gayāstatprāṇāṃstatretadyadgayāṃstatre tasmād-gāyatrī
nāma sa yāmevāmūmanvāhaiṣaiva sā sa yasmā anvāha tasya prāṇāṃstrāyate 

5.2. It is said; Gayatri is itself the prana; and, in prana reside all the Devata-s, the energies and activating faculties. And thus; all knowledge, action and the consequences thereof become united in Gayatri. Being prana, Gayatri is the very self of all existence (jagatah atma).

5.3. Yaska-charya explains the term Gayatri by changing the order (sequence) of its syllables (Varna –vyatyaya). He says that Gaya-tri, in fact, could as well be read and understood as tri-gaya, as having three modes of articulation body (rupeshu), speech (vachasi) and mind (manasi) – 

gāyatrī. gāyateḥ. stuti. karmaṇas, .tri. gamanā.vā.viparītā (7,12); trigamana trishu rupeshu, manasi, vachasi vipushi cheti gamanam gatim dadati sa .

That is to say; Gayatri inspires or finds expression in our mental process, speech , behavior and physical activities.

5.4. But , largely, the term Gayatri has acquired the meaning ‘as that which protects the one who recites it mindfully (gayantam trayate yasmad gayatri smarata budhaih)’. There is a firm faith that Gayatri protects the devout from various evils and sins.

Therefore, Gayatri mantra became a vital part of the daily prayers known as Sandhya. Not merely that; the Gayatri mantra became so important that its recitation by itself came to be known as Sandhya. That is because, it is explained, Gayatri mantra merits ‘perfect meditation’ (samyak dhyanavat sandhya).

[There is another rik in the fifth mandala of Rig-Veda Samhita (RV_5,082.01) that strongly resembles Gayatri mantra. Its Rishi is Syavasva-Atreya (also called Syavasva Archanasa, meaning the son of Archanas); its Devata is also Savitr; and it is in Anushtup chhandas. Anukramani, the Vedic glossarydescribes it as ‘the other Savitri’ (ity uktatvat savitram)

tat savitur vrnīmahe vayam devasya bhojanam | śrestham sarvadhātamam turam bhaghasya dhīmahi ||

We crave of Savitar the God this treasure much to be enjoyed. The best, all-yielding, conquering gift of Bhaga we would gladly win

(Translation by Ralph T H Griffith)]

The Rishi

6.1. Rishi in the Rig-Vedic context is an illumined wise seer; an author of a Rik – a mantra expressing the Truth revealed to him. It is not a product of his reasoning or intellect, but of an intuitive perception. And according to Yaska, those who envisioned the mantras (mantra-drastarah) are Rishis (ṛṣir. darśanāt. stomān. dadarśa  –  Nirukta 2.11). 

A Rishi is therefore a wise seer, a Drastara, one who visualizes a mantra. He is also the one who hears. The seers were the “hearers of the Truth” (kavayaha sathya srutah).

Sri Aurobindo described Shruthi as “divine recordings of cosmic sounds of truth” heard by the Rishis. The Vedas are thus Shruthis, revealed scriptures. That is the reason; the Vedas are Apaurusheya, not authored by any agency.

[Patanjali , while commenting upon Panini’s Ashtadhyayi makes a distinction between the expression tena proktam (4,3.101)  which suggests that it was revealed by him; and the expression pūrvaiḥ kṛtam (4,4.133) which means that it was composed or authored by him. The general idea is that a mantra is not composed by a Rishi ; but it is revealed to him by intuitive perception.]. 

The term Rishi is defined as “rishati jnānena samsāra-pāram” , meaning one who goes beyond the mundane world by means of knowledge. Further, some scholars think the root ‘drish’ (sight) might have given rise to root ‘rish’ meaning ‘to see’. That is to say; the Rishi is one who envisioned the entities beyond the range of human senses, conceived the self evident knowledge (svatah pramana) and realized the Truth by direct intuition.

Vamadeva, a Rishi in one of his hymns (RV 4.3.16) describes himself as the illumined one, expressing the Truth revealed to him (ninya vachasmi).

The Sanskrit lexicon Amarakosha (2.7. 43) also says that one who speaks the Truth is Rishi (Rishyah satya-vachasah). A Rishi in the Rig Veda is a sage who realized the truth

Further, it is also said; a Kavi is the most exalted Rishi. And, one cannot be a Kavi unless one is a Rishi (naan rishir kuruthe kavyam). It is his intuition (prathibha) and expanded consciousness that inspire him to express spontaneously. Such inspired poetry raised to sublime heights is mantra.

Such a Kavi is a Drastara, a visionary (darsanat), the one who sees the unseen (kavihi-krantha-darshano-bhavathi). Katyayana and Yaska describe a Rishi in similar terms: Rishis are visionaries says Katyayana (Drastara rishayah smartarah);). According to the Brhad-devata attributed to Saunaka, a Rishi is one who has direct experience of the Reality (Rishibis tattva darshabihi – Brd- introduction-10) .

6.2. The Rishi not only gives utterance to a mantra but is also at the very essence, core of the mantra . The Rishi or the Kavi, through his all-pervasive consciousness becomes one with his creation.  Yaska-charya, therefore, speaks of close empathy, unison between the creator and his creation; and says that each tends to become a part of the other.  In the later Samhitas, the Rishi-s   came to be revered as icons of the sacred past; and their deeds were narrated as if they were the deeds of gods or of Asura the ancient ones.

6.3 However all sages are not Rishis; just as not all Rishis are Kavis. Yasca charya makes a significant classification even among the Rishis. He draws a clear distinction between a Sakshath-krutha-Rishi, the seer who has the direct intuitional perception; and the Shrutha-rishi, the one heard it from the seers and remembered what he heard.

The Srutha-rishi is like the mirror or the moon that basks in the glory of the sun. The moon and the mirror both take in the glory of the sun and put forth the shine to the world in their own way. Similarly, the Srutha_rishi obtained the knowledge by listening to the Sakshath- Krutha-Rishi, and more importantly by remembering what he heard.

The bifurcation of the Vedas/Upanishads on one hand (as Shruthi, as heard) ; and the Vedangas, Shastras, Puranas, Ithihasa etc. on the other (as Smriti, as remembered) , stems from the above concept.  Smriti, in general, is secondary in authority to Shruti.

[Baudhayana Dharma sutra ( gives a list of different types of Rishis to whom the tarpanas (oblations) are to be offered (tarpayāmi):  Sruta Rishi (One who hears from his teachers); Kanda Rishi (one who masters a section, Kanda , of a text); Tapa Rishi (one who is engaged  in  severe austerities); Satya Rishi (one who is intensely committed  to what is Truth); Deva Rishi (a Rishi of divine nature); Saptarishi (one among the  seven great sages); Maha Rishi (exalted and revered Rishi); Parama Rishi (Supreme Rishi); Brahma Rishi (one who has realized Brahman); Raja Rishi (a sagely king) ; and, Jana Rishi (a sage among the society).

In addition it also mentions ṛṣikās (female Rishis); ṛṣi.patnīs (wives of the Rishis); ṛṣi.putrās (sons of the Rishis) ; and,  ṛṣi.pautrās (grandsons of the Rishis).]

Gayatri appears before Visvamitra

7.1. The sixty-second Sukta (RV_3,062), commencing with the rik : imā u vām bhṛmayo manyamānā yuvāvate na tujyā abhūvan,  is the last in the third mandala of Rig-Veda. This Sukta has eighteen mantra-s; and, the entire Sukta is ascribed to Rishi Visvamitra.

The first three mantras of this Sukta are in Trishtup-chhandas; while the rest are in Gayatri chhandas.

Of the eighteen mantras, those numbering ten to twelve are dedicated to Savitr; while the other mantras have Indra- Varuna, Brhaspathi, Pushan, Soma and Maitra-varuna as the Devata-s.

7.2. It is the tenth mantra of this Sukta (RV_3,062.10) – tat savitur vareṇyam bhargo devasya dhīmahi |dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt || – that has come to be celebrated as Gayatri mantra. As said earlier; it is in Gayatri Chhandas; its Devata is Savitr; and its Rishi is Visvamitra.

8.1. Visvamitra is a celebrated name in the Indian traditions. There have been sages in the Vedic literature, in Puranas and in Epics who carry the name of Visvamitra. It is surmised; all those sages may not refer to one and the same person. They could be the descendants of an ancient Rishi renowned as Visvamitra.

8.2. Visvamitra mentioned in Rig-Veda is a great Rishi. As many as forty-six Suktas and a number of other mantras in Rig-Veda Samhita are ascribed to Rishi Visvamitra. He is the contemporary of another great sage Vashista, to whom about one hundred – and – four Suktas are ascribed.

8.3. Visvamitra of Rig-Veda is named in the Sarva-Anukramani (a sort of Index providing basic information about each hymn of Rig-Veda) as ‘Gathino-Visvamitrah’– the descendant of Gathi (the King of Kanyakubja?). Visvamitra – earlier known as Visvaratha – it is said, was the son of King Kaushika-Ushiratha (meaning, Ushiratha the son or the descendant of Kushika) who was valorous as the thousand-eyed Indra himself (sahasraksha-dyuti).

8.4. The Visvamitra and his sons mentioned in several other passages of the Rig-Veda are also described as Kausika-s, the descendants of Kushika. This Kushika is a mythical figure. And the term Kushika is also an epithet for Indra. The decedents of Kushika – Kaushika – were a family of traditional purohita-s, the family priests of Kings; and, were the followers of sage Angirasa, especially devoted to worship of Indra.

8.5. Yaska-charya recognizes Visvamitra as the purohita of King Sudasa (viśvāmitra.ṛṣiḥ.sudāsaḥ.paijavanasya.purohito.babhūba– Nirukta: 2.24).

It is said; Visvamitra also helped Bharatas in crossing the rivers Vipasa (Beas) and Satadru (Sutlej) that were in full flow .The Bharatas, apparently engaged in a raid, found it difficult to cross the rivers in high flood. But, Visvamitra, by prayers, induced the waters to subside (RV: 3.121) – viśvāmitrebhir idhyate ajasraḥ.

8.6. Among the many sons of Visvamitra, Madhuchandas Vaiśvāmitra is well known. The first mantra of Rig-Veda (Agni mele purohitam…) is ascribed to Madhuchandas. He is the Rishi of the first hundred-and-two mantras of Rig-Veda; and, hence he earned the title ‘Satarchina’.

8.7. But the most debated of Visvamitra’s decedents is surely Sunahsepa. A story narrated in Aitareya Brahmana (7.13-18) brings together Visvamitra and the lad Sunahsepa Ajigarti (son of the poor and greedy Ajigarta Sauyavasi). It is said; Visvamitra adopted Sunahsepa Ajigarti as his son; or rather, the boy gave up his family and selected Visvamitra as his father. The later text Vasishta Dharma- sutra (17.33-35) cites this as an example of a case where a boy gives himself in adoption.

svayam upāgatas caturthas //śunaḥśepas vai yūpe niyuktas devatās tuṣṭāva(stu-) / tasya iha devatās pāśam vimumucus(vi-muc-) tam ṛtvijasūcus(vac-) mama eva ayam putras astu(as-) iti tān ha na saṃpede(sam-pad-) / te saṃpādayāmāsus(sam-pad-)  eṣas eva yam kāmayet(kam-) tasya putras astu(as-) iti / tasya ha viśvāmitras hotā āsīt(as-) tasya putra-tvam iyāya(i-) – Va.17.34-35 

Another text, Bahudayana Dharma-Sutra (mātā.pitṛ.vihīno yaḥ svayam ātmānaṃ (dadyāt sa svayaṃ.dattaḥ – classifies such an adopted-son as one among twelve types of sons; but, places him below the biological (aurasa) sons’

(aurasaṃ putrikā.putraṃ kṣetrajaṃ datta.kṛtrimau / gūḍhajaṃ ca apaviddhaṃ ca riktha.bhājaḥ (pracakṣate / kānīnaṃ ca sahoḍhaṃ ca krītaṃ paunarbhavaṃ tathā / svayaṃ.dattaṃ niṣādaṃ ca gotra.bhājaḥ pracakṣate2.2.3.31-32).

Hence, the boy Sunahsepa came to be known as kritrima –vaisvamitro – devaratah, the god-given non-natural son of Visvamitra.

Sunahsepa grew into a great Rishi. The hymns 24-30 in the first mandala and the third hymn of the ninth mandala of Rig-Veda are ascribed to him. The later Rishis, the Kapileya-s and the Babhrava-s are mentioned in the Aitareya Brahmana (7.17) as descendants of Sunahsepa Devarata Vaisvamitra.


9.1. It is said; one cannot truly comprehend a Vedic mantra without a good understanding of its Chhandas, the metrical form. Chhandas is the very basis of the structure and of the import of Vedic hymns (chandah paadau tu vedasya– Paniniya Shiksha – 41). The term Chhandas is a word derived from the root (dhatu) चदि , giving rise to ahlade (आह्लादे, joy or delight).

The term Chanda (Sanskrit: छन्द) , therefore, indicates that which is ‘pleasing, alluring, lovely, delightful or charming’. And, Chhandas is the joy in structuring the syllables and words of the mantra (chhandayati ahlada-dayani chhandas – Amara Kosha 3.20). It also sets the rhythm for chanting of the mantra. Chhandas enlivens and articulates the meaning of the mantra. And, one has to unravel, untie the covering of Chhandas (chandaamsi chhadanaath – Nirukta – 8.3.11) in order to fathom the true intent of the mantra. (11,5: candraś. candateḥ. kānti. karmaṇah / candanam. ity .apy. asya. bhavati)

Since the purity in transmission of the Vedas is highly dependent on the sound or the way they are uttered, Chhandas is very important for their accurate utterance.

The Rig-Veda and Sama-veda mantras are entirely composed of Riks , following certain  Chhandas. But, the Yajur-veda has both prose and verse (shloka) forms of mantras; and, its shlokas are composed in appropriate Chhandas.

Vaidika Chhandas, the meter of the Vedic mantras, is different from Chhandas and meters of poems in classical Sanskrit. Vaidika Chhandas is Akshara pradhana (अक्षरप्रधानम्). Here, the number of letters is significant . But,  in classical Sanskrit, the number of syllables as well as their rhythm and  pitch-quality (Laghu and Guru) are taken into account 

10.1. Gayatri, in fact, is the name of one of the metrical forms (Chhandas) adopted in Rig-Veda. The Gayatri Chhandas is referred to in Rig-Veda (1.12.11) as ‘Gayatra’ or ‘Gayatram’. It is said; that out of 10,552 mantras in Rig-Veda Samhita as many as 2,456 are in Gayatri Chhandas. But, the largest numbers of mantras (4,251) in Rig-Veda are in Trishtup Chhandas. And, the rest (1,346) are in Jagati chhandas.

10.2. Gayatri Chhandas is associated with Agni (aṣṭākṣarā vai gāyatrī gāyatram agneś-chando – Sp.Br. Agni is the first and the foremost of the Vedic deities without whom no ritual is possible. Trishtup Chhandas is associated with Indra; and, Jagati Chhandas with Visvedeva-s.

10.3. Among the fourteen* types of  Chhandas used in the Vedic texts, Gayatri is the shortest (with twenty-four matras). It is regarded the first (head: atah shirah) and the basic metrical form. And, it is the best. Taittiriya – Aranyaka (10.34) regards Gayatri as the Mother of all the Chhandas (gayatrim chhandasaam mata); born of Brahman (Brahma –yoini); and, as one that signifies Brahman in three letters (tri-akshare Brahma-vaadini). Almost all the Samhitas (excepting Krishna-yajurveda) begin in Gayatri Chhandas.

[* The fourteen types of Chhandas employed in Vedic texts are listed as : Gayatri; Ushnik; Anushtup; Brhati; Pankthi; Trishtup ; Jagati ; Ati- Jagati ; Shaktari ; Ati – Shaktari ; Ashti ; Ati- Ashti ; Dhruthi ; and , Ati – Dhruthi .

Gayatri Chhandas has twenty-four syllables; and, the six other Chhandas that follow thereafter has each four syllables more than it’s preceding one (e.g. Jagati the seventh chhandas has 4×12 = 48 syllables).

Incidentally, the seven horses yoked to Sun-god’s chariot are named: Gayatri, Brhati, Ushnik, Jagati, Trishtup, Anushtup and Pankthi (SB: 5.21.16.)]

Among such fourteen types of Chhandas, the following seven are said to be of importance  in the Vedic texts :


Further,  according to other classifications made in texts dealing with Chhandas (छन्दस्सूत्रम्):  Ashti (अष्टिः – 64), Prakrti (प्रकृतिः – 84), Vikrti (विकृतिः- 92), Abhikrti (अभिकृतिः – 100), Utkrti (उत्कृतिः- 104) are mentioned as a few other Vedic Chhandas. Some other texts dealing with Chhandas, include Rkpratishakhya, Shankhayana Shrauta sutras and Nidana Sutra of Samaveda.  The devotional hymns etc., are usually constructed in other meters; which are mostly different from the Vedic Chhandas 

10.4. As said earlier, Gayatri Chhandas is associated with Agni, the first and the foremost of the Vedic deities. The Rigveda commences with Agni Sukta, composed in Gayatri Chhandas. Because of that, Gayatri Chhandas is invested with great sanctity; and, all the other mantras in this Chhandas are of special significance. The Satapatha Brahmana ( declares the mantra in Gayatri Chhandas is Agni himself (Gayatri va Agnihi; and Agnir vai Gayatri). And, that Agni, indeed, is the face (mouth) of Gayatri (tasya Agni-reva mukham). That is the reason, it is explained, the opening mantras of all the Yajna-s are in Gayatri Chhandas.

The Gayatri Chhandas is adorned with eight letters – Astakshara Gayatri / Gayatri Brahma-varchasam – (Tai.Brh. . The Satapatha Brahmana ( also says – Tato astakhshara Gayatrya bhavat.

It is also said; the line of Gayatri Chhandas having eight letters* in association with Pranava (Aum) as the ninth letter (navakshara vai), by itself forms the first half of the Yajna (purvardha vai yajnasya Gayatri-SB : – navākṣarā vai gāyatryaṣṭau tāni yānyanvāha praṇavo navamaḥ pūrvārdho vai yajñasya gāyatrī

[* Some say; this refers to the eight letters of the subtle and mystical fourth-line (Turiya paada) of Gayatri: paro (2), rajas (2), ya (1), pra– tapa iti (3).]

10.5. The root of the term Gayatri is ‘gai’ (sabde) which denotes the sense of sound or speech or singing. That is the reason, it is said, the rik-s in Gayatri Chhandas lend themselves to singing rather easily (gana-anukula-rik).

A Sukta in Rig Veda (1.10.01) commences with the words ‘gāyanti tvā gāyatriṇo‘. Yaska-charya (Nirukta: 7.12.5)  expands on that and says that rik-s in Gayatri-Chhandas are ideal for singing the praises of deities (gāyatrī.gāyateḥ.stuti. karmaṇas). The rik-s in Sama-Veda are therefore mostly in Gayatra-chhandas.

11.1. As regards the Gayatri mantra, in accordance with the characteristics of the Gayatri Chhandas  (metrical form) in which it is composed,  it is required to be made of twenty-four letters, akshara or matra (Gayatri chaturvimsatyakshara); arranged in three lines (tripaada); each paada having eight letters (ashta-aksharatmaka-paada). And, the mantra is made of nine words.

Please listen to the excellent presentation of the Samhita-pata;Pada-patha; Krama-patha; Jata-patha; and , Ghana-patha of the Gayatri Mantra by Pandit Sri Suresh . Please click here]

11.2. But, the first line of the mantra (tat-sa- vi –tur -vr-re-nyam) has only seven matra-s. The requirement of the chhandas is satisfied in either of two ways: 

One; the Pranava, that is, Om (ॐ) is added at the commencement of the first paada to make it eight-lettered (adi-omkara- sahita astakshara). The Pranava, thus, indeed becomes an integral part of Gayatri-mantra. Then, the first paada would read: ॐ तत्स॑वितुर्वरे॑ण्यम्।

And, the alternate way is to split last matra ‘nyam’ into two: ‘ni’ and’ yam’, in order to render the line in eight matra-s.

For similar reasons, the last matra of the third line ‘yat’ is taken to be one matra.

Tri-rupa Gayatri

12.1. Gayatri is at once the name of the mantra, the name of the Chhandas; and is also the name of the Goddess Gayatri Mata. Gayatri is trinity; and is hailed as Tri-rupa Gayatri. Gayatri is most usually explained or interpreted in terms of triads. Gayatri is also hailed tri-akshare Brahma-vaadini, the one who signifies Brahman in three letters.

Gayatri as mantra

13.1. To start with, Taittiriya-Aranyaka (10.35) describes, Gayatri as a mantra structured in three lines (tri-paada). And, a paada (foot), etymologically, is that which moves, activates and enlivens (padyase).

13.2. Each of the three paada-s is identified with a Veda: Rg, Yajus and Sama. Following that, Gayatri is celebrated as the mother of all Vedas – Veda Mata (AV: 19.71.1); and, she is requested to bless  the  devotee with wisdom, material prosperity , proginee,  long life and ultimate liberation.

stutā mayā varadā vedamātā pra codayantāṃ pāvamānī dvijānām |  āyuḥ prāṇaṃ prajāṃ paśuṃ kīrtiṃ draviṇaṃ brahma varcasam |  mahyaṃ dattvā vrajata brahmalokam ||(AVŚ_19,71.1)||

13.3. Further; each paada of the mantra is also identified with each of the three matra-s (syllable) of the Pranava Aum; and with each of the three Vedas. And again, each paada of the mantra is identified with each aspect of Gayatri – Gayatri, Savitri and Sarasvathi.

:- The first paada of the Gayatri mantra is identified with the first matra of Pranava ’ Aa’ (a-kaara) , which in turn is identified with Rig-Veda. The word ‘Savitr’ in the first paada of the mantra (tat Savitr varenyam) is of essence here; and, it signifies creation and inspiration (stute).The first paada of the Gayatri mantra is associated with Savitri who represents dawn.

: – The second paada of the mantra is identified with the second matra of Pranava ‘U’ (u-kaara), which in turn corresponds to Sama-Veda. The verb ‘dhimahi’ in the second paada of the mantra (bhargo devasya dhimahi) is of importance here; and, it signifies precise articulation (gaana-kriya).The second paada of the Gayatri mantra is associated with Gayatri as Vac, clear speech (gai-sabde).

: – The third paada of the mantra is identified with the third matra of Pranava ‘M’ (ma-kaara), which in turn is identified with Yajur-veda. The key word here is ‘dhiyah’ in the third paada of the mantra (dhi yo nah prachodayat) signifying ritual-actions (karma). The third paada of the Gayatri mantra is associated with Sarasvathi (uninterrupted rituals).

There also other interpretations.

14.1. The Shandilya Upanishad (1. 17) identifies the first matra of Pranava with Gayatri; the second matra with Savitri; and the third with Sarasvathi.

prāṇāpānasamāyogaḥ prāṇāyāmo bhavati ।
recakapūrakakumbhakabhedena sa trividhaḥ ।
te varṇātmakāḥ । tasmātpraṇava eva prāṇāyāmaḥ
padmādyāsanasthaḥ pumānnāsāgre
śaśabhṛdbimbajyotsnājālavitānitākāramūrtī raktāṅgī
haṃsavāhinī daṇḍahastā bālā gāyatrī bhavati । ukāramūrtiḥ
śvetāṅgī tārkṣyavāhinī yuvatī cakrahastā sāvitrī bhavati
makāramūrtiḥ kṛṣṇāṅgī vṛṣabhavāhinī vṛddhā
triśūladhāriṇī sarasvatī bhavati

14.2. Gayatri is revered as the very foundation (adhistana) of all beings and objects. Gayatri represents earth (prithvi), as all existence is established on earth. The prithvi, in turn, stands for human body on which are settled all the vital-currents (sarve-pranah) and sense- functions (indriya kriya).

In these traditional texts, when human body is referred to as the foundation (aadhara), it is the heart (hrudaya), the very core of the being, that is actually meant. For, all the vital currents (hrudi praane) and sense-functions are established (prathistitha) in the heart. Gayatri, therefore, represents the heart-lotus (hrudaya pundarika), the life-centre of all existence. (Ch.Up.3.12.3)

14.3. The Chandogya Upanishad (3.12.1) says that Gayatri signifies all beings: past, present and future. It is vac, representing the vital currents (prana); it is vac (speech) in the sense of mantra (gaayati) the recitation of  which protects one who recites (traayate) ; it is vac representing all the elements – (Vac va Gayatri; vac va idam sarva-bhutam , Gaayati cha, traayate cha); and,   it is as vac Gayatri is all pervasive (Gayatri vac vai gayatriti) .

gāyatrī vā idaṃ sarvaṃ bhūtaṃ yad idam kiñca | vāg vai gāyatrī |vāg vā idaṃ sarvaṃ bhūtaṃ gāyati ca trāyate ca || ChUp_3,12.1 ||

14.4. Yaska-charya mentions that mantras have three layers of meaning (traye artha).The essential power of the mantras are to transport us to the world of ideas beyond the ordinary and to experience the sublime ideals that its Rishi envisioned. Accordingly, Gayatri mantra too is interpreted, with special reference to its Devata Savitr, in terms of: Adhi-YajnaAdhi-Daivata; and, Adhyatma. (We shall come to this a little later).

15.1. Ultimately, apart from the conditioned aspects of knowledge, vital current etc there is an un-conditioned, absolute aspect to the mantra; and, hence is called a-pada. Gayatri is not mere aggregate of letters; Brahman is its essence. And, this is Savitr in its true nature, un-conditioned and beyond relative existence. Savitr has to be realized in the space within (antar-akasha), in the depths of one’s heart-lotus (daharam pundarikam).

Gayatri as Devata

16.1. Gayatri – the mantra and the Chhandas – are personified as the Goddess. The Mother as nirguna is the form-less vachya-shakthi; and as saguna, she is the presiding deity of the Gayatri mantra. The mantra itself is Devatha. The worshipper awakens and enlivens the potent Goddess residing in his heart-cave, by her/his devotion and earnestness.

[According to some, it was the Tantra ideology that turned a mantra dedicated to the solar deity Savitar into a meditation on the Mother Goddess. It also brought in mystic syllables known as Vyahritis which are similar to the Bija-aksharas of Tantric meditation. It’s Dhyana-slokas portrayed Gayatri as a goddess with symbolic iconographic features. The repetition (japa) of Gayatri mantra is preceded by purification rituals of Tantric nature, such as achamanapranayama etc.

In turn, the Vedic tradition too accepted and revered the personified form of Savitri mantra; as Mother Goddess (asya maata Savitri: Manu.2.170) – Gayantam trayate. And, Chandogya Upanishad (3.12) glorified Gayatri as being that which exists right here, that which sings (gayati) and saves (trayati) all things in their Reality – vāg vā idaṃ sarvaṃ bhūtaṃ gāyati ca trāyate ca || ChUp_3,12.1 ||.  ]

16.2. In the composite Dhyana-sloka submitted to Gayatri, the mantra and the goddess unite. The hymn addressed to Gayatri (Gayatryah), she is celebrated both as the mantra and as also the goddess.

:- As mantra, Gayatri (Gayatryah) is described as being in the form of Gayatri chhandas (Gayatri-Chhandah), having Viswamitra as Rishi (Vishwamitra Rishih) and Savitr  as Devata (Savitaa Devata). Gayatri is composed of three lines (Tripadaa), having twenty-four syllables (Chaturvimsaty-aksharaa.  Her mantra is of six kinds (Shatkukshih) embodying the principles of : Vak (speech) ; bhuta (beings) ;  prithvi (earth); sarira (body) ; hrudaya (heart) ; and, prana (vital currents).

: – As Goddess , the fair and bright (swetha varnaGayatri descends from the Gotra of Rishi Samkhyayana (saamkhyaayana sa gotra). She is endowed with five heads (Panchaseersh) .  She represents the five vital currents (Praana, Apana, Vyana, Udana and Samaana). Agni glows in her face (Agnirmukham), Brahma is in her head (Brahma Shiro), Vishnu resides in her heart (Vishnur hridayam)Rudra is her tuft (Radrah Sikhaah ) and the earth is her generator (Prithivi Yonih)She presides over   Upanayana  (upanayaney viniyogah ).

[Gayatryah Gayatree Chhandah Vishwamitra Rishih, Savitaa Devataa, Agnirmukham, Brahma Shiro,Vishnur hridayam, Radrah Sikhaah, Prithivi Yonih, Praanaa paana vyaanodaana samaanaa sa praanaa sweta varnaa saamkhyaayana sa gotra Gayatree Chaturvimsatyaksharaa Tripadaa Shatkukshih, Panchaseershopanayaney viniyoga ]


17.1. Gayatri as Devata, the Goddess , is hailed as Tri-rupa –Gayatri, also because she combines in herself the three goddesses : Gayatri, Savitri and Sarasvathi. Gayatri is the protector of life principles; Savitri of Satya (Truth and integrity of all Life); and, Sarasvathi of the wisdom and virtues of life.

17.2. Gayatri is associated with three ‘savana-s’ (morning, midday and evening). She is said to manifest in three forms as : Gayatri in the morning (pratah-savana); Savitri in the midday (madyanha savana);  and , as Sarasvathi in the evening (saayam savana) – [Aitareya Brahmana-13.25].


pūrvāhṇakālikā sandhyā, kumārī, raktavarṇā, rakta-gandha-mālyānu-lepinī, pāśā-aṅkuśā-akṣa-mālā kamaṇḍalu-varahastā, haṃsārūḍhā, brahma-daivatyā, ṛgveda-sahitā, āditya-patha-gāminī, bhūmaṇḍala-vāsinī |


madhyāhṇakālikā sandhyā, yuvatī, śvetavarṇā, śveta-gandha-mālyānu-lepinī, triśūla-ḍamaru-hastā, vṛṣabhā-rūḍhā, rudra-daivatyā, yajurveda-sahitā, āditya-patha-gāminī, bhuvoloke vyavasthitā |


sāyaṃsandhyā, vṛddhā, kṛṣṇāṅgī, kṛṣṇa-gandha-mālyānu-lepinī, śaṅkha-cakra-gadā-bhayahastā, garuḍā-rūḍhā, viṣṇu-daivatyā, sāmaveda-sahitā, āditya-pathagāminī, svarga-loka-vyavasthitā ||

But, it is also said; Gayatri herself represents all three savana-s (Gayatri vai sarvani savanani).

17.3. She is Trinity herself.  As Gayatri in the morning she is Bramha svarupini; as Savitri in the mid-day she is Rudra svarupini; and as Sarasvathi in the evening she is Vishnu svarupini.

17.4. Mahanirvana Tantra regards the Matrka–Trinity of Brahmi, Vaishnavi and Maheshwari as three aspects of Goddess Gayatri. She is Brahmi in the morning; Vaishnavi in the midday; and, Maheshwari in the evening.

17.5. Goddess Gayatri is revered as the sum or the aggregate (samasti svarupini) of all that is divine (Sarvadevata Svarupini; Sarvamantra Svarupini) – Gayatri vai idam sarvam.

The Devata

rathasaptami _c

18.1. The Gayatri mantra is addressed to Savitr; and, he is the Devata of the mantra. The Rig-Vedic god Savitr is understood and interpreted in varieties of ways. These explanations and interpretations are spread over a wide spectrum; ranging over the ritualistic, philosophical and esoteric understanding of the term Savitr.

: – Savitr is an ancient Vedic deity. He is an independent god in his own right. But, Savitr is sometimes taken as Surya; also, at times, not as Surya. At one level, Savitr is conceived as the power to dispel darkness. Savitr, here, is the aspect of Sun before daylight; and, after daybreak he is Surya*.Savitr, in this sense, is the one who inspires or gives rise to Sun. Savitr is also the motive power, the symbol of light that invokes radiance in hearts of beings. He is the awakening that impels men and creature to action. His mantra says: “We contemplate on the adorable brilliance of god Savitr, may he inspire our intellect”.

 [*The scholars tend to view Savitr more as a splendid concept than as a natural phenomenon.]

: – At other places in the Samhitas, Savitr is variously identified with Agni, Soma, Prajapathi, Visvedeva and Surya; or with their aspects. At another level, Savitr is identified with one’s mind, consciousness and with one’s own self (antaryamin).   Savitr, here, is the inner-light that illumines, enlivens, prompts and inspires (su-preraka) all our thoughts, speech and deeds.

: – Savitr the luminous one (divyati prakashata iti) is also the Purusha who resides in the heart –lotus of the devotees (hrudayaravinde); and is perceived in meditation (dyatatvat).

: – And again, Savitr residing in the solar orb is the symbol of Brahman (asaavaadityo Brahma).

It is said; for a beginner, Savitr might appear a functional deity; but to the seer, Savitr is a representation of Paramatman free from attributes. Following that, the first syllable of the mantra ‘tat’ could be taken either as a  neuter pronoun meaning ‘that’, or understood in silence  as ‘that One’ the Supreme principal Brahman.

: – Ultimately, it is said, Savitr is verily the Absolute Parabrahman.

Let’s look at some of these aspects.

Savitr as Vedic god

19.1. Savitr is an ancient (Asura) Vedic god of the upper regions (dyu-sthana). He is celebrated in eleven entire Suktas and in many separate stanzas as well. Everything about him is beautiful and brilliant.

He is pictured, pre-eminently, as a golden deity adorned with golden-eyes; golden – arms and golden-hands; and having a golden-tongue. His chariot and its shaft, made of gold (ratham hiranya pra-ugam vahantah –RV: 1.35.4-5), are drawn by two or more brown, white-footed horses adorned with pearls (krsnavant).

The yellow-haired (haridra kesi) Savitr rises up from the east, following the emergence of Ushas the goddess of dawn; and illumines the sky. He moves across the sky seated in his bright golden chariot (shubrabhyam yajato haribhyam), filling all directions with his boundless golden lustre (hiranyim amitam) seeing all creatures, dispelling darkness and sorrows.

He rises aloft his strong golden arms extending to ends of earth (hiranya divo antha anustam: RV: 7.45.2) and blesses all beings (sakala shreyamsi dhatrunam). The other gods follow him.

19.2. His countenance of golden splendor is pleasing; and his speech is clear and sweet. On his ancient path, he protects his worshippers; and conveys the departed ancestors (pitris) to where the righteous dwell. Savitr governs the cosmic order Rta. And, all the elements and gods are subject to his law.

19.3. He protects the universe (vishvam bhuvanam dharayistathi: RV: 4.54.4).Prayers are submitted to this glowing, venerable god to inspire, to stimulate and to illumine ones heart and mind (RV: 3.62.10).

Savitr according to Yaska-charya

20.1. Yaska-charya, the great grammarian and etymologist of very ancient India, classifies Savitr both among the Devatha-s of the mid-region (madhyama – sthana) as also among the Devatha-s of the upper-realms (dyus -sthana). Savitr as the Devata of the mid-region, settled beyond interference (aturte), establishes (sthiram akarat) the earth (prihvim) firmly, easily and happily. He is associated with the clouds, the rains, the earth and the mind; and, he holds afloat the sky (akashbhane) without visible support (aalambanam tad-rahite).

20.2. The earth fully established by Savitr (RV: 10.149.1) symbolizes matter. And, the heaven which he holds afloat, without any support, is the consciousness. And, between the two is the mid-region where Savitr has settled Soma (aturte baddham Savita). Soma, here, symbolizes the alert mind which is guided by Savitr along the right path (Savitr is therefore called ‘Sunita’, ‘sushtu neta’). Savitr, in association with Soma is variously described as ‘Asura’ the giver of life (prana-daata), Vi-suparna (possessed of splendid forms).

20.3. Savitr in the upper-realms (dyus-sthana), symbolized by solar orb, is the Devata par excellence. He illumines the earth as well as the atmosphere and the highest realms (nrchaksha yeva devo madhya aastha aa prapivaan rodhasi anthariksham – RV: 10.130.2). He is the very soul of all that moves and all that stays in the world. He is the sight of the human beings who can see (nrchaksha), abiding in the midst of the heart-space (hrudayakasha).

20.4. Yaska-charya (Nirukta: 10.33) cites a mantra from Rig-Veda comparing Savitr with another Vedic god Tvashtr.


The Rishi of this mantra is Prajapathi, described as the son of Visvamitra. The skilful Tvashtr provides form to objects (Tvashta rupani pimsatu: 10.184); and   projects the earth and sky alike, just as Savitr does (RV: 10.110.9).

ya ime dyāvāpṛthivī janitrī rūpair apiṃśad bhuvanāni viśvā | tam adya hotar iṣito yajīyān devaṃ tvaṣṭāram iha yakṣi vidvān

21.1. As a solar god Savitr is related to Truth and to the cosmic order Rta. In that context, Yaska-charya, again, explains the term Savitr as the progenitor, the one who gives birth to all things (Savitr sarvasya prasavita: Nirukta– 10.3). Savitr is hailed as the most real (satya), the source of all order and the true-principles (satya-dharma) that govern all existence.  

And, in that sense, Savitr is one with Varuna who represents Satya the Absolute Truth; and, Rta the cosmic order conditioned by space, time and circumstances.

Satya is the Truth of Being: and, Rta is the truth of becoming. Savitr Devata is related to both. It is also said; Savitr is Satya, for it is the essence of all things – living and nonliving; with form and without form.  The humans must follow the course of Savitr (satya) and accomplish their tasks (devasya Savithuhu karma kurvanthu manavaha – AV: 6.23.3)

22.1. Yaska-charya calls Savitr as Kavi; as the one who knows all the past, present and future. He is the seer of the beyond, the omniscient. He is the one who draws out sublime thoughts from the womb of mystery; and brings them to light for the benefit of all. Savitr is the most adorable – ‘varenyam’. He inspires all  (Savita sarvasya preraka) to move upwards towards the heavens viz. the higher reaches of consciousness.

22.2. According to Yaska-charya, Savitr is the inner-light, the inner controller (antaryamin). He releases (prasuta) actions from their un-manifest states. And, prompts (su-preraka), inspires and guides all to engage in good thoughts and right actions; and to tread on the right path.

Savitr and Agni

23.1. Savitr, the solar deity is at times identified with Surya as also with Agni who is a Devata of Prithvi-sthana, the earth – region (agnir jyotih, jyotis surya svaaha). Savitr also is Apam-napath, the child of waters; the favourite epithet of Agni.

23.2. When Savitr is associated with Agni, he is described as the ascending flames of Agni (urdhvam keturn). Savitr as Agni is the purifier of all things (pavaka) ; as also of the minds and hearts of humans. Along with Agni, Savitr   becomes a part of the Yajna. Savitr is invoked at the commencement of the Yajna with prayers for the successful completion of a Yajna (Savitr yajnam pranayeti).

23.3. In the context of Yajna, Savitr is also conceived as the visible representation of the year of twelve months (kapala) – (dwadasa –kapalah savitro bhavati; dwadasa vai masah samvathsarasya). The presence of Savitr is symbolized by a circle drawn in the yajna-vedi; and it is surrounded by an altar made of fifteen bricks (ishtaka) symbolizing fifteen days of the first half of the month (purva-paksha); or of the latter half of the month (apara-paksha) .

23.4. At another level, during the Yajna, Savitr becomes the inner-being (antaryamin) and the inspirer (preraka) that dwells in the heart of the performing priest (adhvaryu).


Savitr and Soma

24.1. Savitr the Devata of Gayatri mantra is closely associated with Soma. In every Sukta addressed to Savitr there are mantras which praise Soma. Prayers are submitted to Soma to provide food that is free from contamination and that is free from danger (anamiva ishaskrath) to humans (dvi-paade) and to the animals (chatush-paade). Soma is requested to prolong our lives (ayur-vardaya)   by driving away threats and dangers.

25.1. Soma in the Vedic context has many references: as plant (adh-bhautika), the drink (adhi-yajna), the moon (adhi-daivata) and the mind (adhyatma). Its esoteric meaning is taken as that which provides reality or substance to the un-manifest (satyvataraya agnau suyate tasmat-somah).  Soma as the gentle devoured substance is the partner of Agni the fiery devouring spirit (annada). Soma the substance of the universe is ‘food (anna)’.  Food is the principle of all, for, truly, the beings are born from food, when born they live by food; and when they are dead they themselves become food “(Taittereya Upanishad 3.2)

25.2. Just as with Savitr, Soma is closely associated with Surya too. Soma is often described as bright (aruna bhabru), fascinating (sona) and luminous (hari); and he shines along with the sun (Soma Suryena rochate -RV : 9.2.6). If Surya is the eye of the gods (asau vaa aditya devaanam chakshasu), Soma is the eye of the manes,  pitris (Chandrama vai pitrnam chakshuh). If Surya is the symbol of eyes (chaksho Surya) , Soma is the symbol of mind (Chandrama manaso).

Thus, if one is the sight, the other is the insight.

25.3. Following that, Soma is symbolized as the parent of all mind-process (pita matinaam), the leader of thoughts (neta matinaam) , the protector of wisdom (patir dhiyah) and the master of mind (manasas patih). He is the true (dhira)   knower of all things ( manishi, medhira , vipra) here and beyond (visvavid), hidden (kratu-vid) and revealed (kavi kratu). The secrets of all the senses are laid bare by the shining Soma (devo devaanam guhyani nama-avishkrnoti –RV: 9.95.2). He is the lord of all speech (somo raja vaksah). He is the Lord of the Yajna ; and one who assigns to each Deva his share in the Yajna  (bhagam devabhyo vidadhatyayan ).

25.4. Soma is called here Samudra meaning not only vast but also ever – active mind, the mind which operates creatively and ceaselessly. He is projected in the image of a powerful, unruly and impetus horse (asvam ivadhukshat dhunim).

25.5. In all these references, Soma represents the evolved, well ordered, efficient and far-reaching mind (daksho devanaam asi –RV: 9.85.2) ; the mind that helps us to reach Savitr. Soma is presented as the very soul of sense-function (atmendriyasya bhavasi dhasir uttamah). He is the true source of inspiration to reach Savitr.

26.1. Incidentally, I may mention that there is in the Rig-Veda a hymn (149 of the tenth mandala) associated with Savitr (Savitr pratipaadaka Hiranya –stupa mantra) . The Rishi of this mantra is Archan, the son of Hiranya-stupa who in turn was the son of the most celebrated Rishi Angirasa. Because of his devotion to Savitr,  Archan earned the epithet of Savitarchan.

26.2. Both the father and the son in their hymns addressed to Savitr also praise  Soma – pavamana, the purifier. Hiranya-stupa (father of Archan) adores Soma variously as light (jtothi), bliss (svar), strength or ability (daksha), wisdom (kratu) and protection (uti) – (RV: 9.4.1-3).   Hiranya-stupa prays to Soma to lead him to Savitr or Surya (tvam Surye na aa bhaje – RV: 9.4.5).

26.3. As regards the son Archan; he describes Soma as ‘the other principle’ (anyad abhavat) which came into being after (paschath) Savitr. In his adoration of Savitr (Somasyevamsum prati- jagaraham), Archan invokes the lustrous (amsu) Soma, the one who bestows the wealth of the earth as also that of the heaven (dvi-barhasam rayim).And , prays to Soma to lead him to Savitr.

26.4. Following the family tradition, Archan’s son Syavasva Archanasa also composed hymns devoted to Savitr. His rik appearing in the fifth mandala of Rig-Veda Samhita (5.82.1) gained fame as ‘the other Savitri’ (ity uktatvat savitram).

[Please see Note to paragraph 5.4 above]

Savitr and Surya

27.1. Savitr just as the other Devatha-s of the upper realm (dyus sthana) is a solar deity; he was one of the Adityas. Their several aspects and functions are described variedly as: Pushan the one who nourishes ; Vishnu the one who pervades ; Keshi the one who provides light (pra-kasam) ; Vaisvanara the one who assumes varied forms ; and, Vrshakapi the one becomes red and ascends the sky like a bull.  The Vedic mantras adore the Devatha-s of the upper realm (dyus sthana) by these and other names; for, they all, in essence, are of solar-spirit.

27.2. Savitr, as a solar deity, dispels darkness and makes way for dawn, illumining the entire world. In other words, Savitr is the one that brings forth Surya who causes the day.

27.3. Savitr, here, is conceived as an aspect of Sun before daylight (udayat purvabhavi); and, after daybreak the Sun is called Surya (Surya iti). Thus, Surya is the later form of Savitr. Some say, Savitr is Surya when present below the horizon, but not quite visible.  Savitr is also called Bhaga (Savita Bhagaha: RV 5.82.3)  in a sense of the ‘early (proto)’ Surya.

27.4. Savitr, thus, comes after night (tamas) and before light (jyothi):  (tamasya kirna rashmir bhavathi). It is also said; the night comes at his command sending all beings to rest. Savitr is the bridge between night and light. Night is un-manifest; and light is manifest. Savitr in this sense is both un-manifest (A-vyakta) and manifest (Vyatka).

28.1. Sri Sayana-charya also describes Savitr as the deity who presides during the time between dawn and the emergence of Sun*. Savitr is the emerging rays of light (urdhva bhanum savita devo asred). Savitr, here, is visualized as the power to dispel darkness and enliven all existence (Brhad –devata: 2.61-62).

28.2. Sri Sayana, therefore, regards Savitr as the inspiration, the illumining power of Surya. He expands: “the all-knowing Aditya (Surya), the protector of all beings (gopah) who moves in the mid-region permeating all the three worlds with his rays derives his inspiration (tasya prasave) from Savitr”.

[*Sri Aurobindo interprets night as ignorance. And, once the senses are controlled and the mind is stabilized, Ushas the dawn of consciousness arises. Following her, comes Savitr the awakening, the grace and the inspiration to seek Satya, the Truth, personified by the Surya. “His coming is the advent of God’s hour, awakes the asleep and ennobles the vilest things”.]

28.3. Sri Sayana explains that the expressions Surya and Savitr imply the power to protect, to inspires and flash forth (pra-sauti). He also says Savita is that which enlivens and inspires all beings (Savita sarvasya prerako devah). And, Savitr, like Surya, pervades spreads and holds together different thingsSavitr just as Surya represents light, energy, inspiration, intellect and consciousness.

28.4. Svetasvatara Upanishad (2.7) describes Savitr as a Deva, a luminous god, who shines in the sky with dazzling brilliance (divyati prakashata iti). He is adored by all the gods (sthuyate sarva-devathaihi). The Deva illumines the world and makes all life possible. It is Savitr alone (ekah) that has the power to propel, inspire and flash forth.

29.1. Savitr, here, is the radiance that illumines and enlivens all existence. He provides the inspiration and the impetus to life. He resides in the heart-lotus of the devotees (hrudayaravinde); he is to be meditated upon (upasate); and perceived in meditation (dyatatvat).

29.2. Savitr is truly one’s own self, vivifying the body, the sense-functions and the mind, providing wealth for the total welfare. He lightens up all our thoughts, our resolves and our aspirations.

Savitr and Purusha

30.1. It is said; Savitr is Purusha. The Purusha Sukta of Rig-Veda (10.90.2) describes with awe and wonder the majesty of Purusha. It says; all that exists as the world we know (sarva bhutani) is only one-fourth of the Purusha; and three – fourths of him are in the upper realms beyond our perception (tri paadasyam amrutam divi).

30.2. The Gayatri mantra is said to be four-footed (chatuspaada) when Pranava (Om) accompanies it. However, when Pranava is omitted it is only three-footed (Chatuspaada Gayatri pranavena saha; pranavam vina tripaada). It is said; the fourth paada (turiya paada) is hidden or un-manifest. It represents the Purusha abiding in the solar orb (Surya mandala-antargata-purusha),  beyond intellect.

30.3. It is said; the Turiya paada is the unconditioned and the most subtle aspect of the mantra.  And, it And hence, it is named A-paada. This is Savitr in its true nature – un-conditioned by aught and beyond relative existence. It is most worthy of worship (varenyam) and contemplation (dhyayema).

The Turiya paada is said to represent Purusha ; for . it completes to perfection  the three Padas of the Gayatri (Purushah sarva purnath). The Turiya Pada resides in the heart of the devotee , without explicitly revealing itself (puri sayanat).

31.1. Savitr or Purusha is cosmic in nature. He fills and enlivens the entire universe; yet, he also dwells hidden in heart-cave of each being as its essence (guru guha), consciousness and strength. He is the antaryamin, the very life of life. Savitr resides in the heart-lotus (hrudaya-aravinda) of the devotee; and there he becomes visible. Hence Savitr is called ‘darsata’, that which is seen. The essentials of our existence are all settled in Savitr, like the spokes of the wheel in its hub.

31.2. This Savitr or Purusha is verily the Brahman (jagat prerakasys Brahma- rupasya Savituh), the supreme consciousness, beyond the three gunas (paro rajasa) and illuminating the three worlds (tapati), ruling over them (adipathya bhavena).

savitrā prasavena juṣeta brahma pūrvyam / tatra yoniṃ kṛṇavase nahi te pūrtam akṣipat // SvetUp_2.7 //

Let’s talk about the components of the Mantra and its import in the next part.

Gayatri scan0001



Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Devi, Gayatri


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