27.2   METERS IN SANSKRIT POETRY



One of the most attractive features of Sanskrit is its verse. The complex Sanskrit metres have a majestic sonority that is unmatched in any other language. A Sanskrit verse properly chanted seems to carry an authority that confirms and supports its meaning. There are strict rules for Verses . Sanskrit verse is written on the basis of long (L) and short  (S)   syllables. In Sanskrit these are called guru (heavy) and laghu (light). English metres are based on accented syllables, but classical Sanskrit does not have accents like English. Nevertheless, the idea of heavier and lighter syllables can be seen as something similar to accented and unaccented syllables.

Generally, each verse should contain four lines of a predetermined number of syllables, in which the long and short syllables have a fixed order. So, for example, in order to write a Sanskrit verse in the metre known as mAlinI, we must start with six short syllables followed by two longs, then another long, followed by short-long-long, short-long-long. So our first job is to learn to distinguish between long and short syllables, otherwise we won’t ever be able to properly pronounce or chant a Sanskrit verse.

Now, how can we distinguish between long and short syllables? In Sanskrit there are only five short vowels: a, i, u, R and L. So in the word Rsi, we have two short syllables. All the other vowels, A, I, U, RR, e, ai, o, au, are considered to be long. Thus, the word rAdhA contains two long syllables, rA-dhA. Therefore, if we wish to correctly pronounce Sanskrit verse, we must be very careful to clearly make a difference between short vowel sounds and long ones. This is especially important for Westerners who are reading transliterated texts to remember.

Also the following are long syllables:

Any short vowel followed by the anusvaara (m)

Any short vowel followed by the visarga (h)

Any short vowel followed by a double consonant

(The exceptions to this rule are the double consonants pr, br, kr and those starting with h. In these four cases the preceding short vowel can optionally remain short.


The most common meter in scriptural literature is the anushtup metre which has eight syllables in each quarter.   It follows the rule below.  The dashes  stand for those syllables that are unrestricted.


First quarter:     -  -   -   -    S   L   -   -

Second quarter:  -  -   -   -   S   L   S  -

Third quarter:     -  -   -   -   S   L   -   -

Fourth Quarter   -   -   -   -  S   L   S   -


The rule itself is stated in a verse which is in this anushtup meter, which naturally follows this rule: The formula verse  is :


pancamaM laghu sarvatra saptamaM dvicaturthayoH /

shhashhTam guru vijAnIyAt etat shlokasya lakshanam //


Meaning: Everywhere (i.e. in all four quarters) the fifth is short. In the second and fourth quarter the seventh is also short.The sixth is always long. This is the definition of a shloka !


Broken into syllables (aksharas) this becomes: (The syllables restricted by the rule are shown in bold)

Pan-ca-maM-la-ghu-sar-va-tra    sap-ta-maM-dvi-ca-tur-tha-yoH /

Shhashh-TaM-gu-ru-vi-jA-nI-yAt    e-tat-shlo-kas-ya-lak-sha-Nam //


Further examples:


Gu-rur-brah-mA-gu-rur-vishh-NuH    gu-rur-de-vo-ma-hesh-va-raH /

Gu-rus-sAk-shAt-pa-raM-brah-ma     tas-mai-shrI-gu-ra-ve-na-maH //


ShrI-rA-ma-rA-ma-rA-me-ti       ra-me-rA-me-ma-no-ra-me /

Sa-has-ra-nA-ma-tat-tul-yaM    rA-ma-nA-ma-va-rA-na-ne //


mA-ni-shhA-da-pra-tishh-TAM  tvaM    a-ga-maH shAsh-va-tIH-sa-mAH /

yat-kroun-ca-mi-thu-nA-de-kaM           a-va-dhIH-kA-ma-mo-hi-taM // 

                                                                                                  (from Valmiki Ramayana)


pa-ri-trA-NA-ya-sA-dhU-nAM           vi-nA-shA-ya-ca-dushh-kRRi-tAM /

dhar-ma-sam-sthA-pa-nAr-thA-ya     sam-bha-vA-mi-yu-ge-yu-ge //

                                                                                          (From the Gita in Mahabharata)


yA-de-vI-sar-va-bhU-te-shhu       bud-dhi-rU-pe-Na-sam-sthi-tA /

na-mas-tas-yai-na-mas-tas-yai    na-mas-tas-yai-na-mo-na-mah //

                   For other meters of longer verses  GO TO 27.3

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© 2017 by V. Krishnamurthy