Tag Archives: Chitrakavya

Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Three


Continued from Part Two

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]

 Classifications of the Kavya


Kavya has been classified into  incredible number of different  categories.


Agnipurana –kavyadilakshanam– classifies Vanmaya (everything that is expressed in words, i.e. literature) in several ways: Dhvani, Varna, Pada and Vakya (Ag. pu. 336.1); and  into Shastra, Itihasa and Kavya (Ag.pu.3336.2).

dhvanir-varṇāḥ padaṃ vākyam ityetadi vāṅmayaṃ mataṃ //AP_336.001cd/
śāstre itihāsa vākyānāṃ trayaṃ yatra samāpyate /AP_336.002ab/

And later, Vanmaya was again classified into Shastra (Veda, Purana and even Epics) and Kavya. And, it was said ; in the Shastra the words (śabda)  are important; in the Itihasa (historical narration) the facts (niṣṭhatā) are important; whereas in the Kavya the ability to express the  meaning  (abhidhā)  is more important .

śāstre śabda pradhāna-tvam itihāseṣu niṣṭhatā //AP_336.002cd/
abhidhāyāḥ pradhānatvāt kāvyaṃ tābhyāṃ vibhidyate /AP_336.003ab/

Shastra , in turn , has again been classified into Apaurusheya and Paurusheya.

The term Shastra commonly refers to a treatise or text on a specific field of knowledge. In early Vedic literature, the word referred to any precept, rule, teaching, ritual instruction or direction. For instance; in the Rig-Veda 8.33.16 the term Sastra  means rule or instruction :  nahi ṣastava no mama śāstre anyasya raṇyati.

    And, the Ṛigveda-prāti-śākhya (11.36; 14.30) uses the term Shastra to refer        to  its  prātiśākhya tradition.

And, in late and post Vedic literature Shastra referred to any treatise, book or instrument of teaching, any manual or compendium on any subject in any field of knowledge, including religious.

Yaska calls Nirukta (etymology) as a Shastra – śabdānām itaretara upadeśaḥ  śāstra- Nir.1.2

And, Shastra  is often a suffix, added to the subject of the treatise, such as Yoga-Shastra, Nyaya-Shastra, Dharma-Shastra, Koka– or Kama-Shastra, Artha-Shastra, Alamkara-Shastra (rhetoric), Kavya-Shastra (poetics), Sangita-Shastra (music), Natya-Shastra (theatre & dance) ; and such  others.

Here, the term Shastra is commonly understood as that which instructs or teaches; it covers the theory of a practice as also the practice of a theory.


Just by the way, let me mention about a totally different kind of interpretation of the term Shastra ,  which is commonly understood as that which instructs or teaches .

Paramartha (an Indian Buddhist scholar-monk who arrived in China during 546 C E; and went on to the Court of the Emperor Wu, at Liang), in his translation into  Chinese of Abhidhammakosa-bhashya, of Vasubandhu, explains the term Shastra by breaking it into two syllables – shas and tra.

According to Paramartha, the first (shas) relates NOT to the root ‘to instruct’; but, to the root shas, ‘to destroy’.

And, the second part (tra) relates to the root ‘trayi’, meaning ‘to to save or to rescue’ (trayate, trati); OR, to the root Tr, related to the meaning ‘to cross over’ (tarati, tarayati).

Accordingly, Paramartha interpreted the term Shastra as that which destroys the impediments (klesha); and, as that which rescues, saves and enables one to cross over the sea of existence (samsara). ]


[ If we take a bird’s-eye view of the Sanskrit literature we may classify them as Epic and Lyric kavyas, the charita kavyas (dealing with the lives of kings and patrons of learning), the prasastis or panegyrical verses, the different types of dramas, lyric kavyas, the century collections or satakas, the stotra literature or adoration hymns, the Campus or works written in prose and verse, the katha, literature, the nlti literature, the didactic verses and stray verses such as are found in the anthologies. The sources of the materials of kavya as held by Rajasekhara, are Sruti, Smrti, Purana, Itihhsa, Pramana-vidya, Samaya-vidya or the sectarian doctrines of the Saivas, Pancaratrins, etc., the Arthashastra, the Natyashastra and the Kamashastra, the local customs and matiners, the different sciences and the literature of other poets

–  Prof. S. N. Dasgupta, A History of Sanskrit Literature – Classical Period – vol. I ]

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In the Literary traditions

 (a) Shravya and Drshya

In the literary traditions, even from the very early period, Kavya was classified in several different ways. The usual means were (a) by language; (b) by whether it was poetry or prose or a mixture of both; and (c) by the literary form.

And, to start with, Kavya was said to be either oral – Shravya (one that is listened to) or Drshya or Prekshya (one that is seen, visual comprehension) . This was the primary differentiation.

[ The classical name of what we call a play or a Drama was Rupaka. It was a generic term that comprised various types of plays.  And the best form of such Rupakas is the Nataka. Dhananjaya in his  Dasarupaka (ten forms of Drama) while talking about Rupaka explains : it is called a Rupaka or a representation because of the acts put on by the actors (abhinaya)  by assuming (rupakam tat samaropad )  the forms of various characters  such as gods or kings  and men and women  .  And, it is called a show because of the fact it is seen (rupam drsyatayocyate). Thus, Drama is the reproduction of a situation (Avastha-anikrtir natyam)  , in a visible form (rupa),  in the person of the actors.

The earlier authors considered Drama as the art of reproduction by imitation (anukriti). But, Abhinavagupta objected to such a banal view, saying that mere imitation of other’s movements would produce the ludicrous; and, the imitation of other’s feelings and emotions is impossible. He held the view that Drama is an artistic production, where music, dancing, acting and the dress, dyeing, and the stage environment etc., all come together in the dramatic performance. According to him, such Dramatic performance becomes an art when recitation in the form of dialogues associated with suitable gestures, postures, movement, dancing, dress and music etc., succeeds in giving expressions to sentiments and passions so as to rouse similar sentiments in the minds of the audience. Thus, Drama is an entirely a new art that aims to enliven the mind of the audience and to produce in them an aesthetic joy; and, it is not an imitation in any ordinary sense of the term. ]

Here, Drshya generally stands for Drama (Nataka) and Dance-drama (Geya-nataka) the visual comprehension of a theatrical performance; and, the Shravya covers the entire range of lyrical and epic poetry in general. And some times, in a narrow sense, the Shravya is itself known as Kavya. That might be because; in the ancient times the Epics were narrated or recited before a gathering of ardent listeners. And, individual poems or their stanzas, in most cases, gained popularity among the common people who enjoyed listening to them.  The boundaries between the oral and written poetry was never clear. Yet, the oral traditions seemed to have a strong influence over written versions.  And, in fact, even during the medieval times the written texts were corrected with reference to its oral version.

[ Please do read the Article Oral Traditions]

[However, as the classical poetry grew more complex and more elaborately structured, it became rather difficult to rely only on the oral rendering. Reading or studying a text gradually replaced listening as the commonest means of enjoying Kavya.]

But, the distinction of – Shravya and Prekshya– is not strictly observed. For instance; Drama (Nataka) is at once a Kavya- prose and poetry-  that can be read (Shravya) and that be witnessed (Drshya) on the stage. In fact, some of the finest poetry of the ancient times can be found in Sanskrit Dramas. Thus, the Drama came to be  regarded as the most enjoyable of all the forms of Kavya (Kavyeshu naatakam ramyam). Kalidasa endorses both the forms  : ‘Drama, verily, is a feast that is greatly enjoyed by a variety of people of different tastes- Natyam bhinnaruchir janasya bahuda-apekshym samaradhanam

Another is the Chitra-Kavya, where the words of the poetry are woven into figures and diagrams (Chiyrabandha) , that can be seen and read is at once a Shravya and Prekshya.

[For more on Chitrkavya: please check here :]

Coming back to Drama, the Drshya Kavya, it again was classified into two classes: Major (Rupaka) and Minor (Upa-Rupaka). Abhinavagupta explains Rupam as that which is seen by the eyes and the works containing such matter is Rupani or Rupaka. Dhanika while commenting on Dhanajyaya’s Dasarupakam explains that the terms Natyam, Rupam and Rupakam can be treated as synonymous.

Sanskrit Dramas are classified according to Subject-matter, Hero, and Rasa (Vastu neta rasas tesam bhedako). The main aspects of the Drama (Rupaka) are the plot, the hero and the Rasa (pradhāna, netà and rasa).

The subject or the story should always be about celebrated and important persons.

The Subject-matter (vastu) can be depicted in two ways (Vastu ca dvidha) the main theme (adhikarika) among with the subordinate (angam) and the incidental events (prasangika)  – Tatra adhikarikam  mukhyam angam  prasahgikam viduh.

The plot should be simple, the incidents are consistent; the progression of the events should spring direct from the story.

The hero (Neta) of the Nātaka should be a worthy or exhalted person of virtue.

Prakhyāta-vamso rājarsih-divyo-vā yatra näyakah/ tat prakhyātam vidhātavyam vrttam-atra-adhikārikam//

A Nataka should comprise one rasa-either Srngara or Vira; and in conclusion the Adbhuta becomes prominent

Eko rasa – angi -kartavyo virah srigara eva va / angamanye rasah sarve kuryannivahane -adbhutam

In the presentation of the play one should avoid showing such events as: long travel; murder; war; violent over throw; bloodshed; eating; taking bath; un-dressing;sex act etc.

Dura-dhavanam; vadham; yuddham; rajya-dessadiviplavan/ samrodham; bhojanam; snanam ; suratam; ca-anulepanam/ amvara-grahanadini pratyakshani na nirdiset na-adhikaraivadham kvapi tyajyam – avasyakam na ca //


Viswanatha in his Sâhitya-Darpana described Rupaka (Nataka) as the most logical and perfect theatrical composition. It progresses in a sytamatic manner and concludes successfully, bringing joy to all. He says, according to the Dasarupaka, the structure of the plot of the Rupaka consists three essential elements: Avastha; Arthaprakrti; and, Samdhi. These structural divisions or sequence of events of the drama correspond with the elements of the plot and the actions associated with the progressive stages in the hero’s attempts to successfully realize his purpose or objects.

(1) According to such a format prescribed for a Sanskrit Drama, the plot is expanded over five elements (Arthaprakrti): The opening sequence (mukha) is the seed (bija) very small at the beginning (arambha) ; and , expands (bindu) in multiple ways as the action proceeds into episodes (pathaka)  depicting various events (pathaki) and their resolution (karya). These are said to be the five elements of the plot (arthaprakrti).

Bīja bindu patākākhya prakaro kārya lakaā / arthapraktaya pañca tā etā parikīrtitā //

(2) These five stages (Avastha) of action that are related to the achievement of the hero’s desired object (phala) are mentioned as:  Arambha (the beginning) – mere eagerness for the obtaining of the most important result; Yathna or Prayatna (effort) – exertion attended with great haste; Prapthya (prospect of success) – with means at hand, but also with fear of failure; Niyathapthi (certainty of success) – the confidence  of succeeding because of the absence of risk; and Phalagama or phalayoga (successful attainment of the desired objective of the hero).

Avasthah panca karyasya prarabdhasya phalarthibhih / ararmbha-yatna-praptyasa-niyatapti-phalagamah.

(3) And, Samdhi is the third essential element of the narration of the story and in the development  or the unfolding of the plot. Such sequence of events (Samdhi) or Junctures  which are also five in number,  correspond to the five stages (Avastha)  associated with the actions or the stages in the hero’s realization of his purpose are : the opening (mukha); the progression (pratimukha); the development (garbha); the pause in which one stops to reflect because of anger or passion or temptation (avamarsa or Vimarsa); and, the  successful conclusion (upasamhrti or nirvahana).

Antaraik arthasambandhah samdhir ekanvaye sati / Mukha-pratimukhe- garbhahs avamarsa upasarnhrtih

Arthapraktaya pañca pañcāvastā samanvitā / yathā sakhyena jāyante mukhādyā pañca sandhaya 

The Nivahana (conclusion or finale) is that Samdhi (juncture) in which the elemrnts of the plot that started with the opening scene (Mukha) and sprouted (Bija) in the subsequent scenes and later systematically and progressively spread over in the later scenes finally concluded with the hero attaining his desired objective.

Bija va anto mukhadyartha viprakirna yathayatham / aikarthyam uparuyante yatra nirvahanam hi tat //

The plot may have all or any of the SamdhisThe Samdhis, in turn, are said to have sixty-four sub-divisions or limbs (Angas).  These help to fulfill the purpose of their respective Samadhi. The Samdhis are related to each other and to their limbs (Anga). And, they are also related to the five stages (Avastha) of the action in the play.

And, in a play it is not necessary to use all the sixty-four Angas; and, even when used,  they should be in tune with the dominant Rasa of the play.

Dr. Manjulal Gupta in her very well researched  scholarly work A Study of Abhinavabharati on Bharata’s Natyasastra and Avaloka on Dhananjaya’s Dasarupaka enumerates these sixty-four Angas and discusses each; and, in detail, on particularly those  Angas on which Bharata and Dhananjaya differed.


An interlude should always be made in between the acts of a Drama; and, performed by one or more characters middling or inferior who connect to the story of the Drama and to the sub-divisions of the plot by briefly explaining to the spectators what has occurred in the intervals of the acts or what is likely to happen later on.

The initial scenes are always auspicious and happy–feeling (adi-mangala); and, as the story unfolds, unbearable miseries are unjustly mounted by the crafty villain on the virtuous hero. In the midst of all the troubles that the hero is facing, near about the mid-point of the story, something good happens to the hero (madhya-mangala).  Somewhere in the second-half of the story, the trials and tribulations of the lovers, relieved by the rather clumsy attempts of the usually inept, food and fun loving sidekick, the vidushaka .  And,  after a hard fought  and suspenseful struggle, eventually the good and the Dharma triumphs; and all ends well (antya-mangala).

[ For more on the structure of Sanskrit Drama, please do read a very scholarly article by Ven.Dr.Thero.]

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Dhananjaya’s Dasarupakam says the the Dramas are of ten types ; and are based in Rasas ( dasadhaiva rasasrayam ) . It lists  the  major types of Dramas asnatakam ca prakaranam bhanah prahasanam dimah vyayoga samavakarau vithy ankeha- Ihāmrga iti

[The ten chief varieties of drama (Rupaka) are: the Nataka; the Prakarana; the Bhana; the Prahasana; the Dima; the Vyayoga; the Samavakara; the Vithi; the Anka (=Utsrstikanka); and , the Ihāmrga ]

Vishvanatha in his Sahityadarpana  (6. 7-11 page 118-119) gives the  list of ten major Rupakas  along  with  examples of  these  varieties:

Major (Rupaka):

  • (1) Nataka (e.g. Abhijnanasakuntalam of Kalidasa);
  • (2) Prakarana (e.g. Malathi-Madhava of Bhavabhuti);
  • (3) Bhana (e.g. Karpuracharita of Vatsaraja);
  • (4) Vyayoga (e.g. Madhyama-Vyayoga of Bhasa);
  • (5) Samavakara (e.g. Samudra-manthana of Vatsaraja);
  • (6) Dima (Tripuradaha of Vatsaraja);
  • (7) Ihamrga ( e.g. Rukminiharana of Vatsaraja);
  • (8) Anka or Utsrstikanta (e.g. Sharmistha-Yayati) ;
  • (9) Vithi (e.g. Malavika) ,and
  • (10)  Prahasana (Mattavilasa of Mahendravarman).


Please do read a brief study of the Dasarupaka of Viswanatha , according to his Sahityadarpana – by Dr. Leena Chandra K


As regards the Upa-rupakas, they were considered as a minor class of dramatic works; as distinct form the major works satisfying all the requirements prescribed for  a Rupaka or Nataka proper.  But, the earlier texts such as Natyashastra do not make a mention of the Upa-rupaka class of plays.

Perhaps, the earliest reference to Uparupaka occurs in is the Kamasutras of Vatsyayana who mentions plays  Hallisaka, latyarasaka and Preksanaka of Uparupaka type  watched by men and women of taste. Ahhinavagupta’s commentary on the Natyashastra occasionally mentions Upa-rupakas; but, witout defining the class. Rajashekara calls his Prakrit play Sattaka as not being a Nataka, but resemling a Natika, excepting that pravesakas, viskambhakas and ankas do not occur.

Thus , it seems that Upa-rupaka was a minor class of dramatic work; not satisfying all the classic, dramatic requirements, even when a full theme was handled.

Vishvanatha in his Sahityadarpana also lists the eighteen  minor types (Upa-Rupaka) , with examples :

Minor types of Drama (Upa-Rupaka)  :

  • (1) Natika (e.g. Ratnavali of Sri Harsha);
  • (2) Trotaka (e.g. Vikramorvasiya of Kalidasa);
  • (3) Ghosti (e.g. Raivatamadanika);
  • (4) Natyarasaka (e.g.Vilasavathi );
  • (5) Sattaka (e.g. Rajasekhara’s Karpuramanjari);
  • (6) Prasthana (e.g. Srngaratilaka);
  • (7)Ullapya ( e.g. Devimahadeva);
  • (8) Kavya (e.g. Yadavodaya);
  • (9)  Prenkhana (e.g. Valivadha);
  • (10) Rasaka (e.g. Menakahita);
  • (11) Samlapaka (e.g. Mayakapalika);
  • (12) Srigadita (e.g. Kridarasatala);
  • (13) Silpaka (e.g. Kanakavathi-madhava);
  • (14) Vilasika ;
  • (15) Durmallika (e.g. Bindumathi);
  • (16) Prakaranika;
  • (17) Hallisa (e.g. Keliraivataka); and,
  • (18) Bhanika (e.g. Kamadatta)

(For a detailed discussion on Uparupakas : please click here)

[Whatever scholastic value these classifications may possess, it is not of much significance in the historical development of the drama, for most of the varieties remain unrepresented in actual practice. The earlier drama does not appear to subscribe fully to the rigidity of the prescribed forms, and it is only in a general way that we can really fit the definitions to the extant specimens.

In the theoretical works, everything is scholastically classified and neatly cataloged ; forms of the drama, types of heroes and heroines, their feelings, qualities, gestures, costumes, make-up, situations, dialects, modes of address and manner of acting. All this perhaps gives the impression of a theater of living marionettes. But in practice, the histrionic talent succeeds in infusing blood into the puppets and translating dry formulas into lively forms of beauty, while poetic genius overcomes learned scholasticism and creates a drama from the conflict of types and circumstances.

Prof. S. N. Dasgupta, A History of Sanskrit Literature – Classical Period – vol. I  ]



(b) Padya – Gadya – Champu


Source : Laws practice Sanskrit drama by Prof. S N Shastri

There is another classification based in the form in which a work is composed: works written in Padas (metrical poetry, padya); Gadya (prose); and Misra or Champu (in various mixed forms, partly in verse and partly in prose) – gadyaṃ padyañca miśrañca kāvyādi trividhaṃ smṛtam (AP.336.08). And, in Drama too the dialogues in prose are interspersed by lyrical songs.

Earlier, from Bhamaha (Ca.7th century) to Rudrata (Ca. 9th century), literature was classified either as poetry or as prose. The poetry was ‘nibaddha-mukta’ (unfettered) and prose as ‘sarga-bandha’ (structured into divisions or Cantos).

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Works in Prose, generally, narrated romantic tales, prose romances etc. Such prose Kavya is categorized as (i) Katha, a narration in the form of story, fiction (e.g. Kadambari of Banabhatta; Dasakumara-Charita of Dandin, and Vasvadatta of Subandhu); and as (ii) Akhyayika, almost a non-fiction, historical narrative recounting the deed of Kings and heroes of old (e.g. Harshacharita of Banabhatta).

A distinction between historical and fictional genres (Akhyayika and Katha) was drawn as early as Bhamaha (seventh century), who contrasts Katha (imaginary tales) narratives with Akhyayika “that celebrate the real events of gods and others”.  These traditional categories often overlap each other. Historical facts were often treated as malleable material that could be molded in any manner to suit the desired impact of the text. Such supposedly historical narratives generally dealt with the contemporary Kings and their ancestors composed under Royal patronage; and, such Courtly works were meant, mainly, to please the patrons.

Katha is again of two types: complete story (Sakala katha) or a description of an episode (Eka-desa-varnana) called Knanda Katha. Here again, Katha was made into two other classes: those based on invented or fictional themes (Utpadya or Kalpita); and, those based on themes derived from well-known sources such as history (Itihasa) and legends (Purana).

The most well known among the Katha (stories) or fictional narrations themes (Utpadya or Kalpita) are the Brhat-katha of Guṇaḍya originally in Paisachi (a form of Prakrit) retold in Sanskrit by Somadeva (11th century) as Katha-saritsagara; the collection of moral tales or fables Pancha-tantra and Hitopadesa; and, the collection of highly entertaining stories or tales include the Vetala-pancavisatika, Sukasaptati   and Sihāsana-dvatrim-sātika.

Then there is the Kādambarī of Banabhatta  (7th century) which describes the affairs of two sets of lovers through a series of incarnations, in which they are constantly harassed by a cruel fate.

Another fine example of tales is the eminently readable Dasa-kumara-carita by Daṇḍin (6th-7th centuries), in which, within the framework of a boxing story, the picaresque adventures of ten disinherited princes are described in prose.


 The third genre Champu, with alternate narrations of prose and verse allows the poet greater ease or   felicity of expression. It affords the poet ample opportunities to display not only his erudition but also his command over prose as also over the verse form.

The Champu was usually a full-fledged composition of epic proportions. The Champu used metrical and non-metrical language with more or less equal prominence. The prose too was ornate and almost lyrical.

A narrative mixed in prose and verse has many examples. Sanskrit Drama too was a mixture prose and verse. Among the literary works there are many well known Champu Kavyas; for example:  Nalachampu of Trivikrama, and Ramayana Champu, Bhojachampu and Bhagavatachampu by Abhinava Kalidasa. The Prabandha or the prose in ornate style is also interspersed with verses.

The Jain writers used Champu for religious texts, while the Bengal Vaishnava School wrote Champu Kavyas relating to Krishna. The Bhoja-prabandha of Ballalasens (16th century) narrates stories of King Bhoja. The Jain Prabandhas are semi-historical works; a curious mix of legends and anecdotes.

A subject treated in prose romance was also, sometimes, rendered in Champu form. For instance; the Vasavadatta of Subandhu a work in prose   was rendered in Champu as Vasavadatta Champu.

The Champu and Prabandhas forms of literature appear to have been popular in South India, even during the later times. The Champu form of narration continued to grow with religious and biographical themes.  For instance; the political affairs of contemporary Deccan and Karnataka as well as Anglo-French conflicts form the theme of Anandaranga-champu of Shrinavasa. And, there was the Devashankara’s Purohit’s Alamkara-manjusha, which praises the achievements of Peshwa Madhav Rao I.

The longer compositions, be it Prose or Verse or the mixed Champu, all  share a few common features. They all treat a unified theme and develop it in all its fullness, spread over chapters or junctures (Sandhi) or stages in the development of the theme, following a proper sequence of events. In that sense, they resemble a Drama.


(c) Sanskrit –Prakrit -Misra

At later times, another type of classification was brought in by scholars such as Bhamaha (6th – 7th century) who classified all poetry as (i) Sanskrit; (ii) Prakrit ( local or regional languages commonly spoken) or (iii) Apabramsha (dialects prevalent  before the rise of the modern languages) . Dandin (6th -7th century), added one more category: Misra, a work written in a mixture of languages.

In the 8th-9th century, Rajasekhara, in his Kavya-mimamsa, a work devoted to literary theory, notes three important features of Indian literature: (i) It is composed in many languages including dialects and the speech of small communities; (ii) while having a distinct Indian character, it has immense regional variety of forms and themes; and (iii) it is worldly and concerns the travails of ordinary human life.

In his invocation to Lord Shiva, from whom Kavya is believed to have originated, Rajasekhara compares the various aspects of Kavya to the different organs of Shiva (Shivaroopa).  Following his interpretation if one compares Shiva to a Kavya Purusha, i.e.  to a human form, one could say that

Sabda (words) and Artha (meaning) constitute body (trunk) of the Kavya Purusha  .

Of the languages, Sanskrit is his face; Prakrit his arms; Apabhramsa his waist; and, Paisachi his   feet.  The mixed (Misra) languages are his chest.

Kavya Purusha, just as Shiva, is sweet, graceful; is having composure (Sama) pleasant nature  (prasanna), melody (madhura) as also vigor  (Ojas) and liberal (Udara) . His voice is noble.

Rasa is his soul (Atma) ; and,  Vritha its hair.

His verbal quirks are dialogues (questions and repartee, riddles (Prahelikas) and Samasya (problems).

Kavya Purusha is decorated with alliterations (Anuprāsa) and similes, Upama (sabda, artha, Alamkaras)

– (Rājaśekhara, Kāvyamīmā, Chapter 3 – kāvyapuruṣotpattiḥ tṛtīyo ‘dhyāyaḥ 3)

śabdārthau te śarīraṃ, saṃskṛtaṃ mukhaṃ, prakṛtaṃ bāhuḥ, jaghanam aparbhraṃśaḥ, paiśācaṃ pādau, uro miśram /
samaḥ prasanno madhura udāra ojasvī cāsi /
ukticaṇaṃ te vaco, rasa ātmā, rāmāṇi chandāṃsi, praśnottara pravahlikā dikaṃ ca vākkeliḥ, anuprās upamādayaśca tvām alaṅkurvanti /
bhaviṣyato ‘rthasyābhidhātrī śrurirapi bhava antamabhistauti-

‘catvāri śṛṅgāstrayo ‘sya pādā śīrṣe saptahastāso ‘sya /
tridhā baddho vṛṣabho roravīti maho devo martyānāviveśa’ /

Rajasekhara also says that a poet has to learn to compose Kavya in Sanskrit as also in Prakrit. His Prakrit composition has to be according to his own outlook, taste and talent. But, he should pay particular attention to the Vachya-Vachaka relation of Sabda and Artha. And, while handling more than one language, assigning meanings (Artha) has to be done with great care; and the poetry that flows from such careful process   would stand any test.

Drama, even in its earliest times, had been multi lingual, written in a mixture of languages. Here, the rural and certain other characters spoke not in chaste Sanskrit but in their own Prakrit or Apabhramsa dialects.  Among the Kavyas, an early example of the use of Apabramsha is the Vikramorvashiyam of Kalidasa, when Pururavas asks the animals in the forest about his beloved who had disappeared. Compositions in Apabhramsa continued (particularly in the Sindh region-Saindhava) until Vikram Samvat 1700 (about 1643 AD), when Bhagavatidasa wrote Migankaleha Chariu.


Source : Laws practice Sanskrit drama by Prof. S N Shastri

Even much earlier to that, Bharata in Natyashastra (around second century BCE) states, in general, the languages to be used in a play (pathya) as of four types: Atibhasha (to be used by gods and demi-gods); Aryabhasha ( for people of princely and higher classes); Jatibhasha (for common folks, including the Mleccha , the foreigners) and, Yonyantari ( for the rest , unclassified) . The security guards and doorkeepers were said to speak Dakshinatya (Southern) or Bahliki (Northwest -Bacteria region)

As regards the songs, the Dhruva songs sung by women were generally in Prakrit. Natyashastra also  discusses the features of the Dhruva songs composed in regional dialects ; and , in that context mentions seven known dialects  (Desha-bhasha) of its time : Māgadhī, Āvantī, Prācyā, Śaurasenī,  Ardha-māgadhī, Bāhlikā  and   Dākiātyā  (NŚ 5.17-48).

Śaurasenī was the language spoken around the region of Surasena (Mathura area). And, in the play the female characters, Vidūṣaka (jester), children, astrologers and others around the Queens’ court spoke in Śaurasenī. It was assigned a comparatively higher position among the Prakrit dialects.

In comparison, Magadhi , the dialect of the Magadha region in the East , was spoken in the play by lesser characters such as servants, washer -men, fishermen, , barbers ,doorkeepers , black-smiths, hunters  and by the duṣṭa (wicked)  . Even otherwise, the people of Magadha as such were not regarded highly and were projected in poor light.

In some versions, there is a mention of Mahārāṣṭ also. It was a language spoken around the river Godavari; and, according to linguists, it is an older form of Marāṭhī. In some plays, the leading-lady and her friends speak in Śaurasenī; but , sing in Mahārāṣṭ.

It is said; in the earliest times the Sanskrit as a spoken language had at least three distinct dialects: Udichya (North West); Madhyadesya (Mid region) ; and, Prachya (East). It is believed that the Classical Sanskrit, as refined by Panini, was based primarily in Udichya and Madhyadesya dialects.

The forms of Prakrit such as Magadhi, Ardha Magadhi and Apabhramsa were dominant in the East, up to the beginning of the 4th century AD. Most of the literary works during the early period were in Prakrit. Apabhramsa was of considerable importance till about 150 BCE. The earliest reference to Apabhramsa is found in Mahabhashya of Patanjali. It appears that Apabhramsa was not the name of any particular language but was used to denote all deviations from the normal Sanskrit.

 It was only by about the second century AD   more and more works, including those of Buddhists and Jains, came to be written in Sanskrit.

Following that period, some regional languages (Desi Bhasha) became vehicles of the living thought and emotions of the people. The literary activities in these languages picked up . And, lyrical poetry was composed in a mixture of languages- Sanskrit and Regional. There were of course number of great Kavyas in regional languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam and others. Here too the Poetic traditions of the Sanskrit language were closely followed.


 (d) Literary and the non-literary works

Kavya, the poetic way of expression is employed both by the literary and the non-literary works.  The non-literary works though in poetic form are not regarded as Kavya per se. For instance; presentation of Astronomy in Varahamihira’s Brahmasamhita; or of Algebra in Bhakara’s Leelavathi contain many verses, beautiful descriptions of nature and of poetic merit that they almost are Kavya. Similarly, Suryapandita’s work on Astronomy (Bhaskarabhushana) has beautiful verses praying to Sun god.  There are also numbers of philosophical works elucidated in poetry.

Sanskrit Poetics endorses the role of Kavya as a vehicle for imparting instructions. While the earlier theoreticians – Bhamaha, Dandin and Vamana- count the renown or fame (Kirti) won the poem and enjoyment (Priti) of the reader among aims of the Kavya, the later poets include instructions (Upadesha) as n additional aim. They also say that unlike scriptures (Prabhu samhita), the Kavya instructs in a gentle and persuasive voice, just as the sweet whispering of the beloved in to ones ears (Kantha-samhita).

At the same time, it would be incorrect to count educational or instructive poetry, religious hymns or narrative literature as Kavya. That is to say, it is not the mere outer form that decides the poetic merit of Kavya.

And, Kavya need not also always have to deal with learned matters. In fact, too much learning will affect the appeal of a poem. It might turn preachy. There are therefore short poems or couplets that in a capsule form impart moral codes (Niti), wisdom and erotic (Sringara). The most well known poems of this genre are Bhartrhari’s sets of stanzas on Sringara and Vairagya.

Kshemendra (11th century) makes a distinction between Kavya and Shastra, that is, between the purely poetic works and the subject oriented works that are in poetic form. And, he also mentions of works that fall in the intermediate zone: Shastra-kavya – poetry that is also technical; and, Kavya-shastra – a technical work that is also poetry.

This distinction, some regard, as useful, because a certain technical work may also provide good poetry while imparting knowledge. But, at the same time, a Kavya might also be sung as a stotra (e.g. Gitagovinda of Jayadeva).

Basically, Shastra is informative in its character and the style is textual; Kavya, on the other hand, is complex in its structure, employing a language of its own, embellished with artistic metaphors, similes and unusual expressions.

In order to allow his text not only to convey information but also to convey it in an artistic manner, the author-poet uses complex structures. But yet, the natural language is the foundation of the poetry. Although the words used in Kavya and in the non-literary Shastra works are the same they do not evoke the same joy or other emotions.

The poetry, on the other hand, creates for itself a language which has a character of its own (Riti, marga). It might depart from the ordinary day-to-day common usage. With that the poem aims at a definite stylistic effect (vishista). The poet arranges his building-bricks in a manner that is different from that of a non-literary work.

The poet assembles his material in a non-standard fashion; and as Vamana points out the creative process involve using a word-order (pada-charana) in peculiar or specialized (Visista) ways that possess certain characteristics (Kavya-alamkara). Vamana puts forth the view that that the special characteristics (Visesha) of a Kavya are mainly derived from the fact that the poet deliberately attempts to create a fresh or ingenious style of depiction with his unique expressions. The poetic language wears a clock or a veil, so to say.

Vamana and others lay much emphasis on the style (Riti or Marga); and, regard it as the most essential virtue of a Kavya. But, such views are not generally accepted, because Riti is but one among the ten traditionally recognized essential elements of a Kavya; and style is not everything that one looks for in a Kavya.


(e)  Mahakavya – Laghukavya

The other major division of lyrical poetry was to categorize Kavya into: (i) Mahakavya, long poems structured into chapters, following all the prescribed regulations of classical poetry; and, (ii) Laghu-kavya, shorter poems or poetry of the minor form.

Bhamaha and Vamana describe these forms as Nibaddha (cohesive poetry) and A-nibaddha (non-cohesive poetry).  Nibaddha which is equated with Mahakavya includes both the long poems (in verse, prose or a mixture of the two) as also Drama. A-nibaddha equated with Laghu-kavya covers all kinds of short poems say of one or two stanzas.

Mahakavya is the elaborate court epic  kavya in classic style narrating a noble story element (kathavastu) of sublime characters   spread over several cantos (sarga bandho mahākāvyam ārabdhaṃ saṃskṛtena) adorned with eighteen types of descriptions (asta-dasha-varnana), with well chosen forms (guna) of expression, syntax, and graces of rasa and beauty (alankara) and endowed with  eloquent imagination; and , at the same time,    satisfying all the norms and principles (kavya-lakshana)   prescribed  for a Maha-kavya by the Kavya -shastra texts – kāvyaṃ sphuṭad-alaṅkāraṃ guṇavad-doṣa varjitam (AP.336.07) . Apart from these, it must promote and further the cause of the Dharma.

Thus, a Mahakavya  composed by a great poet must be complete in all aspects :

sarva vṛtti pravṛttañca sarva bhāva prabhāvitam /sarva arītirasaiḥ puṣṭaṃ / ata eva mahākāvyaṃ tatkartā ca mahākaviḥ //AP.336.31-32//

The Laghu-Kavya comprises within it several: Muktaka – single stanza poem; Yugala – two stanza poem; Sandanitaka (or Vishesaka) = three stanza poem; Kapalaka = Four stanza poem; Kulaka – five to fifteen stanza poem; Samghata = series of stanzas; Kosha (treasure) – collection of stanzas; and Khanda-kavya– short poetic work – ākhyāyikā kathā khaṇḍa-kathā pari-kathā tathā.

mahākāvyaṃ kalāpaś ca paryābandho viśeṣakam //kulakaṃ muktakaṃ koṣa iti padya kuṭumbakam /AP.336.23-24//


According to Bhamaha, a Mahakavya should be composed of Sargas (Cantos- Sargabandha – sargabandho mahakavyam). Its subject matter (Vastu) should be Noble. It may concern the humans or the legends of divine beings (devadicarita). It may be based on a traditional lore or on an imagined story (Utpadya-vastu) rooted in Arts (Kalashraya) or in treaties (Shastras).

Its hero (Nayaka) should be noble; and, should be endowed with all the virtues. Prominence should be given to the hero; describing his noble birth, prowess, training in Shastra etc.

A Kavya, according to Bhamaha, may be in prose (Gadya) or verse (Padya). It may be written in Sanskrit, Prakrit or Apabhramsa.

The story should be narrated in refined language (a-gramya) with graceful and meaningful words adorned with Alankaras (salamkaram).

Manthra (state councils), Doothaprayana (emissaries-relation with other states), battles, victory of the hero, are to narrated in five Samdhis.  It should be comprehensible without detailed explanation; but, complete in all aspects.

One predominant sentiment should run through the entire length of the poem. The other Rasas could be brought out separately.

Though it deals with the four-fold Purusharthas, the Artha should be given prominence. Worldly matters should be depicted.

sargabandho mahakavyam mahatamca mahaccayat; a-gramya,, sabdamartham ca salamkaram sadasrayam mantra-dutaprayarajinayakabhyudayaisca yat; panacabhih santibhiryuktam natiyakhyeyamrdhimat; Caturvargabhidhanepi bhuyasarthopadesakrt yuktam lokasvabhavena rasaisca sakalaihiiprthak; nayakam pragupanayasya vamsaviryasrutadibhithi natasyaiva vadham bruyadanyot karsabhidhitaya yadi kavya’ sarirasya na sa vyapitayesyate – Kavyalankara I, 18-23 .


Dandin in his Kavyadarsa gives an elaborate definition of Mahakavya, the summit of Kavya genre – sargabandho mahākavyam ucyate tasya lakṣaṇam :

The composition in Cantos (Sargabandha) begins with a benediction (asis or Mangala), or a salutation (namaskriya) or an indication of the plot (Vastu-nirdesha) – āśīrnamaskriyā vastunirdeśo vāpi tanmukham .

Its story (Katha) is based on a traditional narrative (itivrtta), or on a true event  (ithihasa) from one or the other sources – itihāsa kathodbhūtam itarad vā sadāśrayam .

It deals with the fruits of the four aims of life (chatur-varga phala Purushartha) and four types of heroes – catur udātta-nāyakam . Its hero  or the principal character (Nayaka) is well accomplished in all the arts, graceful  and noble (Dhirodatta). The Anti-hero (Prati-nayaka) lacks all such virtues; but is powerful , passionate and full of anger.

The sequence of events in the Sarga-bandha should be structured in Samdhis (junctures) providing for a logical progression of the events in the story. Accordingly, a Kavya should begin with an happy opening (Mukha or Adi-mangala) , against which is set the second Samdhi (Prati-mukha) . Following which the third Samdhi , the Garbha (embryo) gradually unfolds the plot. That leads to the fourth Samdhi , the Vimarsa the crisis or the testing-times in the life of the principal character (Nayaka). And, his trails and tribulations are resolved (Nirvahana)  in the fifth Samdhi. And , the Kavya is concluded on an auspicious note ( Antya-mangala).

Adorned (Alamkara) with eighteen (ahsta-dasha-varnana) types of descriptions  including that of 

the cities (nagara); oceans (arnava); mountains (shaila); seasons (vasantadi ritu); the raising of the sun and moon (chandra surya-udaya-asthamana);

nagarā arṇava śailā rtu candrā arka udaya varṇanaiḥ ;

playing in pleasure-parks (vana vihara), (udyana), and in water (jala krida); drinking parties , first blossoming of love (Purva-raga) and the delights of love-making (madyapana surata); weddings (vivaha); the separation of lovers (viraha) – udyāna salila kṛīḍā madhu pāna aratotsavaiḥ; discussions with the wise (vipralambha), weddings, the birth of a son (putrodaya)

– vipralambha vivāhaiś ca kumāro udaya varṇanaiḥ;

state-craft (raja-mantra); gambling or dispatching  messengers (dyuta);  wars  (yuddha);  campaigns (jaitra-yatra); and,  accomplishments of the hero (nayaka abyudaya)

mantra dūta prayāṇāji nāyakā abhyudayair api.


It is not too condensed; but , is pervaded with Rasa (aesthetic mood) and Bhava (basic emotion) – alaṃkṛtam asaṃkṣiptaṃ rasa bhāva nirantaram;

having  Cantos (Sarga) that are not overly diffuse; composed in meters that are pleasing to hear, with proper junctures , and ending with different meters (that is, meters different from the main or the carrying meter of the Canto)

sargair anativistīrṇaiḥ śravyavṛttaiḥ susaṃdhibhiḥ .

Such a Kavya pleasing to the world and well ornamented (Sadalamkriti) will last until the end of creation

– sarvatra bhinna vṛttāntair upetaṃ loka rañjanam ; kāvyaṃ kalpāntara sthāyi jāyate sad alaṃkṛti.

Even if it lacks some of these features, a Kavya does not become bad, if the perfection of the things that are present delights the connoisseurs (Sahrudaya).

nyūnam apy atra yaiḥ kaiś cid aṅgaiḥ kāvyaṃ na duṣyati, yady upātteṣu saṃpattir ārādhayati tadvidhaḥ  

sargabandho mahākavyam ucyate tasya lakṣaṇam &
āśīrnamaskriyā vastunirdeśo vāpi tanmukham // DKd_1.14 //
itihāsakathodbhūtam itarad vā sadāśrayam &
caturvargaphalāyattaṃ caturudāttanāyakam // DKd_1.15 //
nagarārṇavaśailārtucandrārkodayavarṇanaiḥ &
udyānasalilakṛīḍāmadhupānaratotsavaiḥ // DKd_1.16 //
vipralambhair vivāhaiś ca kumārodayavarṇanaiḥ &
mantradūtaprayāṇājināyakābhyudayair api // DKd_1.17 //
alaṃkṛtam asaṃkṣiptaṃ rasabhāvanirantaram &
sargair anativistīrṇaiḥ śravyavṛttaiḥ susaṃdhibhiḥ // DKd_1.18 //
sarvatra bhinnavṛttāntair upetaṃ lokarañjanam &
kāvyaṃ kalpāntarasthāyi jāyate sad alaṃkṛti // DKd_1.19 //
nyūnam apy atra yaiḥ kaiś cid aṅgaiḥ kāvyaṃ na duṣyati &
yady upātteṣu saṃpattir ārādhayati tadvidhaḥ // DKd_1.20 //


The ultimate test of a classic poet is Mahakavya, presented as a splendid unity of descriptive and narrative delight. Its long narrative has to be structured into Cantos (Sargabandha) rendering the theme in sequential junctures (Samdhi).

The earliest surviving Kavya is Buddhacarita by Ashvaghosa (first century). Some of the renowned Mahakavya-are: Raghuvaśa and Kumārasambhava by Kalidasa; Kirātārjunīya by Bharavi; Śiśupāla-vadha by Māgha; Naiśadha-carita by Sri-Hara; and, Bhaṭṭikāvya, by Bhaṭṭi.

Unlike the prose narrative (Katha and Akhyayika) and the mixed genre of Champu or Drama (Rupaka) , the Makakavya is a poem composed entirely of quatrain-like Kavya stanzas. The Kavya poet arranges his or her in variety of elaborate meters, usually keeping the single ‘carrying’ meter up to the end of the Canto. The concluding verses are , however, composed in a different meter. 

The characteristics of a Mahakavya may generally be treated as falling under two broad heads: essential and non-essential or formal. The essential characteristics are based on three constituents of Kavya: plot (Vastu or Itivrtta), the hero (Netr or Nayaka) and the main emotional content that it aims to portray (Bhava).

The plot must not be entirely fictitious; but must have a base in history or in Purana. The hero must be accomplished person of very high linage, a very noble person (Dhirodatta). The delineations of various sentiments and emotions are the third characteristic.

The non-essential characteristics are many; and, they generally apply to the techniques of narration and descriptions. A list of such characteristics includes that the number of Sarga should not exceed thirty but should not be less than eight. The number of verses should not be less than thirty but should not exceed two hundred. The last two or three verses of a Canto should be composed in a different meter or meters.

These characteristics are not essential. They may or may not be present in a Kavya.(e.g. The Haravijaya has more than fifty Cantos; some Cantos of Naisadhiyacharita contains more than two hundred verses; and the first Canto of the Bhattikavya has only twenty-seven verses).


Among the Laghukavya-s, a comparatively more detailed form is Khanda Kavya, which takes an independent position between Laghukavya and Mahakavya.

Kavya consisting one Section (Khanda) is called Khanda Kavya. It is different from a series of stanzas (Samghata). Khanda can employ themes much more freely and it usually narrates a story; or it might sometimes provide a background to the narrative. The classic examples of Khandakavya are: Kalidasa’s Meghadutam having about just over one hundred stanzas and Bilhana’s Chauri-surata-panchasika (fifty stanzas concerning secret enjoyment of love-act).

The other forms of Laghu-kavya generally comprise : Muktaka – single stanza poem; Yugmaka (also called Yugma, Yugala or Yugalaka) – two-stanza poem; Sandanitaka (or Visesaka) – three stanza poem; Kapalaka – four –stanza poem; Kulaka – five to fifteen stanza poem; Samghata – series of stanzas;  and, Kosha – collection of stanzas – kulakaṃ muktakaṃ koṣa iti padya kuṭumbakam.

In Yugmaka, the pair, two stanzas are closely linked by both syntax and content. Both the Mukataka and Yugmaka show a clear tendency to be constructed on one sentence –one –stanza principle.

If the number of stanzas exceeds two  Sandanitaka (the chain) , Kapalaka (the group) or Kulaka (the multitude)  are the terms used , in a narrow sense, are the names given to poems of three , four or four or five to fifteen  stanzas respectively.

kalāpo ‘tra pravāsaḥ prāganurāgāhvayo rasaḥ / saviśeṣakañca prāptyādi saṃskṛtenetreṇa ca // ślokair anekaiḥ kulakaṃ syāt sandānitakāni tat/AP_336.036/

Samghata (the junction) is a sort of longer poetry all written in the same meter, dealing with one single theme through the whole series of stanzas: a mountain , a season, a wedding , a battle etc.

The Kosha (treasure) on the other hand is longer and heterogeneous. These perhaps could be called Anthologies; and these form an important category in Sanskrit and Prakrit literature. They are collections of Muktakas selected from various sources, arranged as per a theme or in a random fashion.

The single stray verse (Muktaka) containing a single line of thought, emotion or expression or description or a summary – muktakaṃ śloka ekaikaś camatkāra kṣamaḥ satā ṃ– is very often used in all types of Kavyas. It is either used at commencement of the Kavya either as benediction (Mangala) or to pay homage to the earlier Masters of the tradition or to summarize the theme that is going to be presented or the mood  of the Kavya itself . These single stanza poems could be compared to Indian miniatures; both present selected fields of animate and inanimate reality typical of the art in question.

The single unit of two or more stanzas in the same meter or in alternate meter (Paryaya Bandha)


(f)  Dhvani – Guna – Chitra

Anandavardhana (Ca. 850 AD) in his Dhvanyaloka chose a different type of classification. He graded the Kavya into three classes (a) Dhvani-kavya (the poetry that suggests) as the true Kavya, the best (Uttama), where Dhvani the unspoken suggestive element is dominant; (b) the second, Gunibhuta-vamgmaya-kavya (well endowed descriptive poetry, as the middle (Madhyama) where Dhvani is secondary to Alamkara, and serves as a decoration for the spoken or expressed meaning; and (c) and Chitrakavya (poetry that structured into various patterns or drawings) as the least (Adhama) which depends entirely on verbal play for  its elegance and elaboration, and where Dhvani the suggestive power of poetry is absent.

Anandavardhana believed that all good poetry has two modes of expression – one that is expressed by words  embellished by Alamkara ; and the other that is implied or concealed – what is inferred by the listener or the reader And , in  the implied one –  the Dhvani – lies the soul of the poetry.

Anandavardhana regarded Dhvani – the suggestive power of the Kavya as its highest virtue. The Alamkara, figurative ornamental language, according to him, came next. In both these types of Kavya, there is a close association between the word and its sound, and between speech (vak) and meaning (artha). The word is that which when articulated gives out meaning; and meaning is what a word gives us to understand. Therefore, in these two types of Kavya there is a unity or composition (sahitya) of word (sabda-lankara) and its meaning (artha-lankara).

Then, Anandavardhana expanded on the object (phala) of poetry and how it is achieved (vyapara). The Rasa, he said, is the ultimate enjoyment by the reader; such enjoyment is the object of poetry. According to him, Rasa is not made; but, it is revealed; and its revelation is best when done through Dhvani. And, that is why words and meanings must be transformed to suggestions (Dhvani) of Rasa.

Anandavardhana’s classification is generally accepted and has come to stay. But, what has changed is the types of discussions around it. The later discussions are more pointed and specific.

Let’s talk about the concepts of Sphota, Dhvani and Rasa in the next segment.


 Continued in

The Next Part

Sources and References

I gratefully acknowledge these and other wonderfully well researched  works of great merit

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

A History of Classical Poetry: Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit by Siegfried Lienhard

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

ALL Pictures are from Internet

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Posted by on July 21, 2015 in Kavya, oral traditions, Sanskrit


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Chitrakavya – Chitrabandha

A. Chitrakavya

1.1. Sanskrit poetry has an amazingly vast variety of forms and structures. There is at the top the most elaborate Maha-kavya in classic style narrating a noble story element (kathavastu) of sublime characters   spread over several cantos (sargabandha),  adorned with eighteen types of descriptions (asta-dasha-varnana),  with well chosen forms (guna) of expression, syntax, and graces of Rasa and beauty (alankara) and endowed with  eloquent imagination; and, at the same time, satisfying all the norms and principles  (kavya-lakshana)  prescribed  for a Maha-kavya by the Alankara-sastra texts. The sophisticated thematic construction of such courtly epics is presented as a splendid unity of descriptive and narrative delight.

There is at the other end of the spectrum, the rather flippant or absurd minor poems, as also terse lyrical couplets that dispense in capsule form erotic or didactic (niti) wisecracks.

1.2.  In between there are verities of slightly less elaborate Laghu-kavya or Khanda –kavya, Champu Kavya (written in a mix of prose and poetry), Giti Kavyas, Mukutas, biographical poems, anthologies and stotras etc.

Among these, is a wonderful class of poetry based in brilliant flexible or rather mischievous play of vowels, consonants, words and sounds. The elements of the verse are, at times, picturesquely patterned into designs (bandha), geometric figures or into images of familiar things in life such as a flower, wheel, flag, drum, umbrella, mace etc. Perhaps because of its figurative quality this class of poetry is known as Chitra-kavya.

2.1. The term Chitra has several interpretations such as image (or picture), uniqueness or peculiarity (as in vichitra) or wonder. The Chitrakavya aims to generate a sense of wonder by resorting to unusual (peculiar) management of certain meters; innovative poetic structures, designs or patterns (bandha) resembling objects (vastu) or their movements (gati) that one commonly sees in life. The Chitrakavya also attempts to evoke poetic or emotive images.

And in that sense it is an imitation, a reflection or an image (Chitra) of true poetry (Kavya); but,  it is not the poetry itself. It is ‘image- poetry’.

The other way to look at it is to treat Chitrakavya as architecture of poetry where the sounds of syllables (matra) and letters (akshara) take a visible form.

[Incidentally, the Chitrasutra of Vishnudarmottara  wonders why the concept of Rasa is extended to all arts but not to architecture.]

2.2. The other interpretation extended to the term Chitra is: the figure of speech (Chitra-alankara),  where the poet plays on the sound of the letters with particular importance to similes (upama) and metaphors.

3.1. Even from its early stages,  the Sanskrit poetics has recognized the close association between the word and its sound; and,  between speech (vak) and meaning (artha). The word is that which when articulated gives out meaning; and meaning is what a word gives us to understand. The tradition, therefore, believes that Kavya is a unity or composition (sahitya) of word (sabdalankara) and its meaning (arthalankara).

The concept of Chitrakavya however seemed to be: whatever be the source of its inspiration, kavya is a ‘thing made of language’. The elements that go into a kavya are the words, meanings and the way in which the words have to be compounded. The Chitrakavya , therefore, treats pictures evoked by the sound of the word and its meaning as separate figures (sabda –chitra and artha-chitra); and , it also in some other ways, combines the word and the meaning into a common figure or an image (ubhaya-chitra).

3.2. Chitrakavya (marvel-poetry) embraces all ingenious forms of poetic compositions. The skillful  artistry of words and dexterous enterprise of the poet  is displayed in  unusual  and clever arrangement of letters, in  different combination of words , to evoke varied meanings where the sequence of words when read from the reverse direction –right to left – produce a different meaning; in alliteration of letters (anuprasa); alliteration of words (pada prasa); in ambiguous use of a word where it conveys different meanings depending upon the context (latanu-prasa); in the play of pun (slesha or sabda slesha) ; in change of voice (kaku) or in poetic subversion  or deviant expression (vakrokthi) and so on .

Chitrakavya also  uses certain other features that are peculiar to Sanskrit language. For instance; yamaka is a permutation of  identical set of syllabic strings described by the poet Bhamaha as ‘chimes’ where a letter or a word is repeated regularity at fixed positions in a stanza , say at the beginning, or the end of only  line , or at the middle of only two lines (paada).

4.1. As said; the object of Chitrakavya is to ignite awe and wonder; to evoke amusement and pleasure; and, to offer intellectual challenge. Such poetic tricks or riddles (kuta) have been employed in Sanskrit poetry for a very long time. In Mahabharata there are verses that play on alliterations, puns and chimes.  

For instance; (in Jatugriha Parva, a sub-section of the Adi Parva- CXLVII) Vidura the uncle of the Pandavas employs kuta an oblique form of verse, as described in Chitra-alankara, where the real intent is concealed and couched in philosophical or mystical words. Through a Kuta verse (riddle) Vidura, (who was conversant with the jargon of the Mlechchhas), successfully cautions Yudhistira that the house built for them at Varnavata by Duryodhana is actually a lac -house (Jatugriha) ; and it is meant to burn them all into ashes.

He that knows the schemes his foes contrive in accordance with the dictates of political science, should, after knowing them, act in such a way as to avoid all danger. He that knows that there are sharp weapons capable of cutting the body though not made of steel, and understands also the means of warding them off, can never be injured by foes. He lives who protects himself by the knowledge that neither the consumer of straw and wood nor the drier of the dew burns the inmates of a hole in the deep woods. Those who live in a hole like rats will not be harmed by fire.  The blind man sees not his way: the blind man has no knowledge of direction. So always be vigilant.  He that has no firmness never acquires prosperity. Remembering this always be upon your guard. The man who takes a weapon not made of steel (i.e., an inflammable abode) given him by his foes, can escape from fire by making his abode like unto that of a jackal (having many outlets). By wandering a man may acquire the knowledge of ways, and by the stars he can ascertain the direction, and he that keeps  his five (senses) under control can never be oppressed by his enemies.’

paureu tu nivtteu vidura sarva-dharma-vit
bodhayan pā
ṇḍava-śreṣṭham ida vacanam abravīt

” prājña prājña pralāpajña samyag dharmārtha-darśivān
tathā kuryād āpada nistared yathā
niśita śastra śarīra-parikartanam
yo vetti na tam āghnanti pratighātavida
aghna śiśiraghnaś ca mahākake bilaukasa
na dahed iti cātmāna
yo rakati sa jīvati
ur vetti panthāna nācakur vindate diśa
tir bhūtim āpnoti budhyasvaiva prabodhita
anāptair dattam ādatte nara
śastram alohajam
śvāvic chara
am āsādya pramucyeta hutāśanāt
caran mārgān vijānāti nak
atrair vindate diśa
ātmanā cātmana
pañca pīayan nānupī

Its inner meaning was that the rogue Purochana would set the house on fire; he is a dreadful foe; you can guard yourself only when you runaway through the underground tunnel. 

Yudhistira replies “I understood what you said” (vijñātam iti tat sarvam ity ukto viduro mayā) ; and, saved himself, his brothers and their mother.

vidurea kto yatra hitārtha mleccha-bhāayā
vidurasya ca vākyena suru
ādyā pañca-putrāyā suptāyā jatu-veśmani
purocanasya cātraiva dahana
sapra-kīrtitam – 01,002.08

And thereafter, the Pandavas set out on the eighth day (aṣṭame ‘hani) of the month of Phalguna when the star Rohini was in the ascendant; and , arriving at Varanavata they beheld the town and its people.

aṣṭame ‘hani rohiṇyāṃ prayātāḥ phalgunasya te / vāraṇāvatam āsādya dadṛśur nāgaraṃ janam


 4.2. The other major poets such as Asvaghosha (sundaranabdana), Sri Harsha (naishabha-charitra), Bharavi (kiratarjuneeya), Magha (sishupalavadha), Kalidasa (Raghuvamsha) and many other later poets also enjoyed using Chitrakavya techniques as playful indulgence.

Further  , it  is surprising that Anandavardhana the rhetorician who looked down on Chitrakavya did himself used Chitra techniques in  his works Dhvanyaloka as also in Devistataka.  For instance; in Anandavardhana’s Devisataka (850 AD) almost every stanza contains a verbal display of some sort: Verse eight when read backwards becomes Verse nine; in verse ten,  four lines can be read forwards and backwards; in verse forty six , only two letters Ma and Na are used with the  vowels; in verse fifty nine ,  only two letters Tha and Va are used.

Anandavardhana’s stricture seems to have had   little impact on its practice.If anything, the popularity of Chitrakavya only increased in the following centuries.

4.3. Among the scholar poets, Sri Anandathirta who later became Sri Madhawacharya the founder of the Dvaita philosophy in his Yamaka-bharata narrates the Mahabharata in verses employing yamaka – chimes.

Sri Vedanta Desika (12-13th century) the remarkable scholar – poet in his Paduka Sahasram celebrating the glory of Sri Ranganatha’s Padukas in 1008 verses   employs Chitra-paddathi for 40 verses (911-950)- (we shall return to Sri Desika’s work later).

The noted Advaita scholar Sri Appayya Dishitar wrote a descriptive text of literary criticism Chitra Mimamsa studded with illustrations.

5.1. There are also kavyas written entirely in the Chitra paddathi. These are generally of two types: the poems of chimes (yamaka-kavya) having varieties of chimes yamaka at fixed positions in stanza to convey different meanings; and the other being the poems of pun (slesha-kavya) having the same set of words so that a line (paada) conveys more than one meaning.

5.2. An instance of Yamaka-kavya is Chaturvimsatika  ascribed to a Jain monk Shobanamuni (10th century). The poem has four groups of verses. The first group of verses is in praise of twenty – four Tirthankaras; the second of all the Jains; the third adulates the Jain doctrine; and, the fourth sings the glory of all deities.   The verses are so constructed that the fourth line has the same set of letters as in the second line, but conveys a different meaning.

5.3. There are too many Slesha-kavyas where each of its lines gives forth more than one meaning. For instance, the Rama-pala –charita   by the court poet Nandin depicts at once two stories (dwi-sandhana—kavya), one of the Sri Rama and the other of King Rama Plala of Bengal (1104-1130) .

Another is the ‘ Raghava-yadava – Pandavveya’ by Chidambara Sumati (16th century) a court poet of Vijayanagara which narrates simultaneously three stories (Tri-sandhana kavya’) those of Rama, Krishna and Arjuna. Such Slesha – kavyas, by laborious splitting compound words; by repetition of sounds (srutyanusara), of vowels (varna-anusara) and of words (pada – anusara);    and by interpreting the words depending on the context, can yield five or even seven stories.

The authors of the Slesha-kavyas must have gone into enormous  study and trouble in crafting  multiple headed literary works , employing varieties of techniques. Such works are unique to India;  and, in particular to Sanskrit. I believe no other literary tradition in the world has such bi-textual poetry, equaling the Slesha Kavya.  But , sadly, the theorists of the classical Sanskrit Kavyas deplored the Slesha Kavyas ; and, pushed it down to a low level. It was even treated as an aberration. Even during the modern times, there have hardly been any serious academic studies. concerning the Slesha Kavyas. As a result, this fascinating  creative literary form is now left in utter obscurity .

[ For more on Slesha , please read :Extreme Poetry , the South Asian movement of simultaneous narration by Yigal Bronner.]

5.4. There is also a Viloma-kavya where the first half of the verse is repeated backwards (viloma) in the second half; and they together form an entire line (pada). When the method is extended in a certain order the verse becomes all-moving (sarvathobhadra) or half-moving (ardha-bhrama).

A 16thcentury poet Daivajna Suryadasa Kavi from Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh wrote a Chitrakavya in the Viloma (reverse) style narrating the story of Rama and Krishna (Rama-Krishna-Viloma-Kavya) in 38 slokas. Each sloka has four lines, of which the first two lines relate to Rama-story while   the next two lines to Krishna story. The specialty of this Kavya is that the third line is composed by reversing the order of letters in the second line, while the fourth line is a reversal of the order of letters in the first line.

For instance :

(Forward) तं भूसुतामुक्तिमुदारहासं वन्दे यतो भव्यभवम् दयाश्रीः ।

“I pay my homage to Him who rescued Sita, whose laughter is captivating, whose incarnation is grand, and from whom mercy and splendor arise everywhere.”

(Backward) श्रीयादवं भव्यभतोयदेवं संहारदामुक्तिमुतासुभूतम् ॥

“I bow before that Sri Krishna, the descendant of Yadava family; who is a
divinity of the sun as well as the moon; who destroyed Putana who only gave destruction; and who is the soul of this entire universe

[ Please check for the text of the Kavya  :  ]

There is also a Viloma kavya by Venkatadvari titled Yadava-raghaveeyam. The Yadava-raghaveeyam a poem with two meanings (anuloma-viloma-kavya) comprises 30 verses and deals with the story of Rama and Krishna together by adopting the style of anuloma and prathiloma, that is, reading each stanza as such and in reverse order, the former telling the story of Rama while the latter narrating the story of Krishna. Hence this work actually consists of 60 slokas in all.

For instance :

वन्देऽहं देवं तं श्रीतं रन्तारं कालं भासा यः ।
रामो रामाधीराप्यागो लीलामारायोध्ये वासे ॥

“I pay my obeisance to Lord Shri Rama, who with his heart pining for Sita, travelled across the Sahyadri Hills and returned to Ayodhya after killing Ravana and sported with his consort, Sita, in Ayodhya for a long time.”

In reverse

सेवाध्येयो रामालाली गोप्याराधी मारामोरा ।
यस्साभालंकारं तारं तं श्रीतं वन्देहं देवं ॥

“I bow to Lord Shri Krishna, whose chest is the sporting resort of Shri Lakshmi;who is fit to be contemplated through penance and sacrifice, who fondles Rukmani and his other consorts and who is worshiped by the gopis, and who is decked with jewels radiating splendor.”

It is said; Sri Venkatadhvarin or Venkatacarya was the son of Raghunatha and Sitamba of the Atreyagotra . His grand-father Sririnivasa known as Appayaguru was the nephew of the great Tatacharya of Kancheepuram , a contemporary of Appayadiksita .

Venkatadhvari who lived in the 17th century is believed to have been born at Arasanipalai a hamlet near Kancheepuram and was a follower of Sri Vedntadesika. He had mastery in poetry and rhetoric. He composed 14 works, the most important of them being Lakshmisahasram a hymn to Goddess Lakshmi which is modeled on “Padukasahasram” [पादुकासहस्रम्], the well-known work of Sri Vedantadesika.

5.5. And as late as in the 19th century a poet named Krishnamurthy (son of Gauri and Sarvajna) of Kanchipuram succeeded in producing a very difficult form of Chitrakavya. He narrates the story of Ramayana in a sloka by employing only 32 letters (syllables) and by arranging them in a circular form, as like bangle (kankana).The reading of the letters backward and forward, from a particular starting point can produce in all 64 verses. I learn a copy of his Kankana-bandha –Ramayana is placed at the Saraswathi Mahal Library of Tanjore.

: नेतादेवालीनामाशाधानाधीनानेकालोकी | मास्यानंभाख्यायोगीशं पायादेतं रामेराजा ||

6.1. Good and enjoyable Chitrakavyas are extremely difficult to compose and structure. It demands enormous skill and patience. A Chitrakavya poet should also have excellent command over the language and be thoroughly familiar with its mechanics for manipulating their multiple applications. The difficulty of the poet in constructing these types of poems is exacerbated by the requirement that each type of Kavya should be structured in its own prescribed meter.

For instance; the verses patterned into design of coiled snakes (kundali-naga-bhanda) are to be composed in a meter that has twenty-one syllables in each line. Such restrictions impose additional constraints on the poet.

The Vishnudarmottara a text of 6th century lays down that a riddle should be expressed in less than two full verses . That explains why Ubhyachitra class of verses which aim to maintain a balance between the sound and the meaning of the word, are difficult to produce. Much of the trouble is often of the poet’s own making; and that is compounded because of the tendency to use inscrutable or difficult words and expressions.

There are innumerable poems of the Chitrakavya genre, displaying immense variety .It is almost impossible to list out even their various   classifications.

[Shri V. Venkateswara  mentions : there is a long tradition of Chitra Kavyas in Telugu also, such as ,  Paada bhramaka, padya bhramaka, niroshtya kavyas, dwyarthi kavyas, bandhas etc. from 11 th century till date.]


7.1. Though the Chitrakavyas are highly enterprising and extremely difficult to compose, they are not rated high by the scholars specialized in literary criticism. The Chitrakavya  ( particularly its Sabda-chitra component )  is classified as an inferior type of poetry (Adhama-kavya) because it is viewed mostly as an artificial language-acrobatics, verbal jugglery that is not easy to understand; and confronting the reader with riddles, distractions and confusions. Generally, it is accused of giving the ’word-puzzles’ a poetic garb.

7.2. The Sanskrit scholars have always held that the emotive content (rasa) is the soul of poetry, while sound (sabda) and meaning (artha) form its body. The votaries of classical poetry, therefore, point out that Chitrakavya does not merit to be recognized as true or authentic poetry because it does not satisfy the objectives of a good poetry. It has no soul (kavyasya=atma) . Chitrakavya might amuse or entertain but it lacks the poetic beauty, the sensitivity of suggestion (rasa-dhvani) and does not inspire or elevate the reader to higher ideals. It also lacks, they say, mādhurya (sweetness), rasa the emotional content, or exquisite turn of phrases (pada-lalitya), descriptions (varnana)or vision (darshana) etc.

7.3. Shri Kalanath Jha in his scholarly treatise Figurative Poetry in Sanskrit Literature (1975) – ( which is a rare  book that is devoted entirely to discussion on all aspects of Chitrakavya; the others being Chitra Bandha by V Balasubraumanyam and The pattern Poetry : Guide to an Unknown Literature by Dick Higgins )  – defends its merits and remarks :

”What is called Chitrakavya, especially the one endowed with  arthachitra  (meaning), can be poetry of very high order provided there is a concord between the meaning of the word and its representation; and there is consistency in treatment of the subject. The figures with which this division of poetry is constituted are not irrelevant, as they succeed in evoking a fine poetic sense; or an equally superb poetic image. All this is related to creative urge of the poet. The strength of Chitrakavya is in evoking a visual image of the poetry, throwing open a new perspective and stroking imagination. These create a class of poetry which inspires and also impresses”.

7.4. Shri Jha also says, Chitrakavya is essentially not inferior; but the overuse of sterile techniques caused it great harm. The other reason for relegating Chitrakavya to a low position, according to him, is that adequate attention was not paid to the development of its Arthachitra component. And, because of that the figures of sound lost their inner appeal in the midst of verbal jugglery. Shri Jha concludes that Chitrakavya which entertains and challenges, far from being ‘inferior’, demonstrates the amazing possibility inherent in a language, along with the potential for originality and creativity. The excellence achieved in Chitrakavya is unmatched in any of the literature in the world over. Backed by a history of more than a thousand years, Chitrakāvya still continues to be composed by small pockets of scholars throughout India. Yet, sadly, it seems to be a dying art.


B. Chitrabandha

Classifications under Sabdachitra by Bhoja

8.1. There are too many texts and authorities on Chitrakavya. For the limited purpose of this post let me follow the explanations offered in Sarasvathi-kanta-abharana (ornament in the neck of Sarasvathi) edited by KN Sharma and V.L , Pansikar (1934). It is a text of the Alankara-sastra ascribed to King Bhoja (1018 – 1063) of the Parmara dynasty, ruling the Malwa region from its capital at Dhara (according to some, Bhoja shifted his capital from Ujjain to Dhara). Sarasvathi-kanta-abharana is an elaborate text of 643 verse enriched by as many as 1,563 examples (or illustrations) spread over five Chapters.

8.2. As said earlier, the concept of Chitrakavya seemed to be that kavya is a ‘thing made of language’. The elements that go into a kavya are the words, meanings and the way in which those words have to be compounded. In such a scheme of things, the Sabdachitra the word-picture occupies a key position.

9.1. Though the Sabdachitra , which relies more on the sound of letters and words than on their meaning , was  not rated highly the scholars of his time,  However,  Bhoja considered it as an important  aspect of  Chitrakavya; and , accorded it elaborate treatment.  He classified Sabdachitra into six varieties.

The first and the second are based in the use of vowels and consonants –Svarachitra and Vyanjanachitra. And they together constitute Varnachitra – the play on alphabets and syllables. In the Varnachitra he gives detailed descriptions and instances of verses composed of only one or two consonants having no dental or labial or palatal letters; or having any two or three of the short / long vowels.

9.2. The third is Sthanachitra, which is the use of sounds by classifying them dependent on their origin (pronunciation) in different parts of mouth and throat. Bhoja provides instances of verses composed by use of only one or two consonants not involving teeth or palate or throat; as also of verses using only two or three short/ long vowels.

[In the Sanskrit arrangement, all the vowels come first, alternating long and short (- a -, – â- etc.); then those consonants like –k-, -kh-, -g-, and – gh – which are pronounced in the throat, alternating aspirated and un-aspirated, voiced and unvoiced;then, in similar alternating fashion, those consonants that are pronounced on the palate, like –ch– and -j-; and after them those on the teeth, like -t- and –d-; and last but-one those on the lips, like -m- and -p- . All sounds are arranged as those from the inside of the mouth proceeding outwards, in order. The list is rounded off with semi-consonants like -ya- and -va-, and aspirated and sibilant sounds like -h- and -s-. No other ancient system of writing seems to have been so systematically thought out.]

9.3. The fourth and fifth are Aakarachitra and Bandhachitra , which closely resemble each other; and, therefore their distinction was not strictly followed in the later times. These categories detail the bandha-techniques by employing verses which  can be designed and woven into various patterns of objects, animals, birds etc.

Under the former , the Aakara-chitra , which is based on the shapes and forms of things, Bhoja mentions that the padma-bhanda (lotus) and chakra-bandha (wheel) are popular. Besides, there are mangala-chitras, the patterns of poetic structures that resemble auspicious designs such as Swastika, Shanka, and Chakra etc. About twenty such patterns are mentioned.

Among the Aakarachitra, Bhoja mentions varieties of lotus designs: four petalled, the eight petalled, the sixteen petalled; and an eight petalled one bearing the name of the poet. As regards the chakrabandha (wheel), it depends on the number of spokes on the wheel that one adopts.  There could be as many varieties as there are spokes on one’s wheel. Ten such types are described by Bhoja.

And, Bhoja remarks that all other designs can be treated as falling under the latter variety, the Bandhachitra. An important feature of  Aakarachitra or  Bandhachitra or even ofGatichitra is the repeated use of certain letters in certain specified positions in order to enhance the sense of wonder.  Thus,  alliteration and chimes is important to these designs. Bhoja however cautions that in the case of Bandha poetic-designs , it is essential to predetermine the positions for certain letters.

There are more than 200 known varieties of Bandhas. These include 12 types of Naga-bandha of single or multiple coiled or uncoiled snakes; 19 types of Ayudhas, weapons, such as sword, knife, mace and such others; 16 types of Abharana-chitras   resembling ornaments , such as bangle, armlet, girdle etc; and , 38 types of miscellaneous formations , Anya-aakara-Chitra: those resembling umbrella (chatra-bandha), banner or flag (pataka-bhanda), mace (gadha-bandha) in addition to  sun, moon , Meru, bed, swing, lamp, pestle, bell and so on.

The Yantras (charts) , which are drawn by Tantrics , employ many types of Bandhas. And, as poetic designs too the Bandhas seem to be gaining popularity, even in recent days.

9.4. The sixth is Gatichitra (movement) where a striking verbal effect is created through movement of certain letters or groups of letters in a specified order. The techniques commonly used in the Gatichitra are basically Viloma-chitra (reverse order), which when extended in certain order produce Ardha-bramana (half reverse) and  Sarvatobhadra (multiple movements).

Regarding the specific types of patterns under Gatichitra, six are mentioned. Of these, the first two are of Yamaka character where similar sounding letters are repeated giving out different meanings, depending upon their position in the Chitra. One is Aavali, an unbroken series of same letters; and, the other is  Srinkhala-bandha , a chain like formation where the entire verse is composed in such a manner that every succeeding word starts with the last letter of the previous word.

The next three Gatichitra patterns – rathapadagajapada and turagapada – are based on Chess board moves of a camel (Bishop), elephant (Rook) and horse (knight) respectively. The specialty of the knight-walk pattern is that when all the letters of the verse are systematically written so as to fill all the 64 squares of the Chess board , then the letters in the squares  where the knight lands on  each of its move give forth another verse.

And the sixth is Kakapada (crow feet), where riddles are posed in verses arranged in the shape of crow’s feet.

In addition, verses in image of musical drum (muraja) complete with straps ; and also Gomutrika – resembling patterns made by cow’s urine while the cow is on the  move –  are usually included under Gatichitra, by the later scholars.

Gomutrika , in turn, has several varieties . That which consists two or more lines is pada-gomutrika; a verse of four lines giving rise to another is ardha-gomutrika; and, where it involves two verses is sloka-gomutrika. There is also a class based in verses of reversed order or written in varied meters.

hamsa 5

C. Illustrations

All the illustrations provided under belong to the Sabdachitra class of Chitrakavya.

11. Varnachitra

11.1. Consonants

The following is a verse composed by aligning all the 33 consonants in Sanskrit in their natural order (It is like writing a verse by stringing together a, b, c etc in their order).

Who is he the lover of birds, pure in intelligence, adept in stealing other’s strength, leader among destroyer of enemies, the steadfast, the fearless, and the one who filled the ocean. He is the Maya, whose blessings destroy all foes.

At the other end, is a verse written by using only one consonant –da

Sri Krishna the one who confers all boons, the destroyer of evil minded, the great purifier, whose arms punishes the wicked and protects the virtuous shot his lethal arrow at the foe.


There are In between are plenty of verses made by using two or three consonants.


11.2. Vowels

The following is a witty verse formed entirely by the vowel Uu

The gods took refuge in Brihaspahi, the lord of speech, the Guru of gods in heaven, as they went into the battle. They prayed him to stay happy and strong; and not to fall back into sleep again and again.

This sloka uses only one vowel (e) in the first line and one vowel (a) in the second line.

O Lord Shiva of three eyes , knower of all existence, destroyer of the worlds, Lord of the eight-fold super-powers and of immense wealth, the Lord who killed Daskha and Kamadeva do protect me.


11.3. Vowel and Consonant

Here is an amazing sloka of 32 syllables using only one consonant (Ya) and one vowel (Aa):

यायायायायायायायायायायायायायायाया।  यायायायायायायायायायायायायायायाया।।

The Paduka (footwear) which adorn the Lord , which help in attaining all that is good and auspicious, which removes all ills, which gives knowledge, which inspires desire to be in presence of the Lord, by which all places of the world can be reached , these padukas are of the Lord

(This verse is taken from Sri Vedanta Desika’s Padukasahasram)


12. Sthanachitra

Sthanachitras are composed by using consonants of only one group. This verse uses only gutturals.

You the traveler who bathes in the rippling waves of the Ganga you are unaware of the sufferings of the world, you go up Mount Meru to rest, come down to save us from sins.


13. Akarachitra

Aakarachitras are based on the shapes and forms of things. Among these the padmabhanda (lotus) and chakra – bandha(wheel) are popular.


13.1. Padmabhanda

The following is an Illustration of an eight petalled lotus with a central part. The letter ya is placed at its centre. In this instance on two petals carry one letter each. And the other six petals have two letters each.

Now beginning with the central ya move upward to the vertical petal where there is the letter Sri and above that is the letter ta l. With this, you got the first four letter word: ya-sri-ta = Yasrita. Then move in the clockwise to the next petal which has the letters pa and va; then move to the next petal which has letters ta and na. Then move to the center of the lotus design to pick up the letter ya. And that gives: pa-va-na-ta-ya which forms the word pavanataya. Continue in similar manner clockwise following the dotted lines. And, finally you get the verse which reads:

Yasrita pavanatya yatanacchadanichaya/   Yacaniya dhiya maya yamayasyamstutasriya//



13.2. Chakrabandha

There are several varieties of wheel designs (chakrabandha) depending on the number of its spikes. In the instance given here the wheel is designed by using six spikes.


The Śiśupāla-vadha, of Māgha contains a verse written in the difficult wheel -design, or Chakra-bandha. If you rearrange the syllables in the form of a wheel, there is a message hidden among the spokes:

Magha Shishupala vadha

The following Chakrabandha was created in recent times by DEMIAN MARTINS

Here every line of the verse begins and ends on a separate spike. Except that the first and the last letters are on the rim of the wheel. The fourth line is on the rim of the wheel.

The middle letter of all the three lines is one and the same; and therefore it appears on the hub of the wheel at its centre.

Every fourth letter of the line on the rim is shared by the line that it relates to.

The verse is a prayer at the feet of Lord Chaitanya the personification of Krishna ; and ,also seeking the blessings of Srila Prabhupada.

[This chakrabandha was designed by DEMIAN MARTINS  in 2010]


13.3. Murajabandha -musical drum

This also is a popular example of Akarachitra. To start with, the four lines of the verse are written in their natural order. The first two major strings to tighten the  drum are (ABC in ‘V’ shape ) are drawn touching the top two sides of the drum and the middle of the bottom side.Then the next major string (DEF in inverted V shape) touching the bottom two side and the middle of the top side. The syllable laying on these two major strings form the first and the fourth lines of the verse. Then two minor strings are drawn forming two diamond shaped figures (GHIJ and KLMN) – the letters I and M are at the centre of the drum. The syllables on these two minor strings form the second and the third lines of the drum.

The army was very efficient and as it moved the warrior hero was very alert. The soldiers in that army raised a huge noise. The army was fierce with intoxicate and restless elephants. There was no thought of pain.


14. Gatichitra

14.1. The entire verse is a palindrome – the line can be read in both ways (say as in Malayalam, Noon etc)

O immortals, the lover of sharp sword s does not tremble like a frightened man in his battle full of grand chariots and demons the devourers of humans.

Magha is known for the beauty of his poetry and his skill of the storytelling.  That has impressed scholars throughout the ages.  Besides that, Magha was a manipulator of the Sanskrit language; and, there is none equal to him. The following verse, in the 19th chapter of Śiśupāla-vadha could be taken as an illustration of his skill in creating a palindrome in four directions ; the most complex poetic device ever created.

रसाहवा वाहसार-

rasāhavā vāhasāra-

Now, if you reverse the lines as though placing a mirror beneath them, this forms a palindrome in four directions:

Shishupala Vadha mirror effect

“ [That army], which relished battle (rasāhavā) contained allies who brought low the bodes and gaits of their various striving enemies (sakāranānārakāsakāyasādadasāyakā), and in it the cries of the best of mounts contended with musical instruments (vāhasāranādavādadavādanā).” (Trans. George L. Hart)

[ Source : Paul M.M. Cooper · in Art & aestheticsBooks, Literature & Creative Writing.]


14.2. Ardha-bramana


Ardha-bramana is half movement. In this design:

i. Only eight letters are used in the entire verse (otherwise, it just does not work)

ii. The verse has four lines.

iii. When that is converted into a grid it will have 32 cells.

iv. The first four letters of the top (first) line is formed by the first letter of each of the four lines, picked up in descending order in the grid.

v. The next four letters of the top (first) line is formed by the last letter of each of the four lines taken in ascending order in the grid.

vi. You will notice that the first four letters of each line are mirror reflections of the last four letters of that line (that is to say, the last four are the reversed order of the first four).


14.3. Sarvathobhadra

Sarvathobhadra is also a viloma (reversed) type of Chitrabandha. As seen above, in the Ardha-bramana the first half of the line (paada) is reversed (repeated backwards – viloma) in the second half. When this the design is extended into the Sarvathobhadra  grid of 64 cells (8 x 8) the verse gains  greater mobility.

Oh man , this is the battle field which excites even the gods. It is not mere battle of words. Here the men fight and risk their lives , not for themselves but for the sake of others. The field is dangerously filled with mad and intoxicating elephants. Those eager to fight and even those eager to survive but not fight have also fight.

[This is verse taken from Bharavi’s kiratharjuneeya. It is a description of a battle. It is said that both Sarvathobhadra and Gomutrika represent battle formations (vyuha). While Sarvathobhadra is a hallow square formation or disposition of troops facing outwards, the Gomutrika is a diagonal disposition of troops.]


Sarvathobhadra resembling a Chess board is a type of magic square. The 64 letters of the verse are systematically filled into each of boxes in the square.

You will find that the verse can be read horizontally, vertically and even backwards; and you will get the same verse. That becomes possible because each quarter-stanza (16 letters) is  composed of two sets of  palindromes (of eight letters each)  where in each set the last four letters are the reversed order of the first four. Again the first four syllables of the first quarter (de, va, ka, ni) are formed by taking the first syllable of each quarter, in sequence. Similarly, the first four syllables of the second quarter (va, hi, ka, sva) are the same as the second syllable of each quarter .

Sarvathobhadra is a complicated mix of a double palindrome and acrostics where the letters picked up from other quarters form a new word.


14.4. Gomutrika

Gomutrika, as the name indicates, is a design similar to the zig zag patterns on the ground made by the sprinkling cow’s urine, while the cow is on the move. In this composition, every alternate letter of the first and third lines of a verse is the same as every alternate letter of the second and fourth lines.   The first two lines of the verse are written in one sequence and the other two lines are written as another sequence.

May Indra, who wields the thunderbolt who disperses the clouds in the sky, who desires pleasures from his consort Sachi, the daughter of demon puloma-may that Indra remove illusions, protect you from fear of all dangers and misfortunes.


The following is another example of Gomutrika-bandha from Sri Rupa Goswami’s Citra Kavitani I – an amazing Sanskrit Poetry.  Sri Rupa Goswami (1489–1564) was a great Guru, poet, and philosopher of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition.




14.5. Turaga-bandha – the knights walk

The Turagabandha which mimics the moves of the knight pawn on the Chess board is the most celebrated of all the bandhas. Before discussing Turaga-bandha let me talk of a few other things.

There was for a long time a mathematical problem known as the knight’s tour problem. It involved the moves of the knight pawn on a empty Chess board. The problem posed was to move the knight so that it visits every square (64) on the board – but only once. And, at the end of the tour it must come back to the square from which it began. The first mathematician to investigate the Knight’s tour problem was Leonhard Euler (1707 to 1783) , a Swiss mathematician. Since then it has come to be known as Euler Chess Knight Problem.   (For more on that please





Sri Vedanta Desika (12-13th century) the remarkable scholar-poet in his Paduka Sahasram celebrating the glory of Sri Ranganatha’s padukas in 1008 verses   employs Chitra-paddathi for 40 verses (911-950).

Among these, the verse No.929 and N0.930 are hailed as astounding solution to the ‘knight’s tour problem’.

The syllables of the first Sloka (No.929) are posted, in sequence, on the squares of the Chess board.

स्थिरागसां सदाराध्या विहताकततामता । सत्पादुके सरसा मा रङ्गराजपदं नय ॥

O the sacred Padukas of the Brahman, you are adorned by those who have committed unpardonable sins; you remove all that is sorrowful and unwanted; you create a musical sound; (be pleased) and lead me to the feet of Lord Rangaraja.

Then if the syllables on the squares that the knight visits are put together in their sequence it produces the Sloka No.930

The Padukas which protect those who shine by their right attitude; who is the origin of the blissful rays which destroy the melancholy of the distressed; whose radiance brings peace to those who take refuge in them, which move everywhere,  -may those golden and radiating Padukas of the Brahman lead me to the feet of Lord Rangaraja.

The same table in English



The second verse not only provided the solution to the knight’s tour problem but went far beyond that.   It is said composing     such verse is far more difficult than solving the original Chess-knight problem. It is all the more amazing when you realize that Sri Vedanta Desika lived at least six hundred years before Euler.


References and Sources

1. Sarasvathi-kanta-abharana edited by KN Sharma and VL Pansikar (1934).

2 . Figurative Poetry in Sanskrit Literature by Kalanath Jha (1975)

3. Chitra Bandha by V Balasubraumanyam (2010)

4. The Wonder that is Sanskrit by Sampadananda Mishra and Vijay Poddar (2006)

I acknowledge the figures and Slokas taken from

The wonder that is Sanskrit  And from  The Figurative Poetry in Sanskrit Literature

The rest of the images are from internet


Posted by on October 10, 2012 in General Interest, Kavya, Sanskrit


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