Meters of Gita — Anustap and Tristup

Intuition and disassembly into word patterns

Sujatha Ratnala
9 min readDec 26, 2020

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I was trying to chant familiar verses of Gita with the Anustup pulse. It seemed impossible at first. Gave it some thought and was able to make some progress after familiarising with the patterns that aided Anustup. In the words of Gita.. na hi jnanena sadrsam pavitram.. Knowledge indeed is purifying and can reduce the dimensions of hurdles..

A few interesting finds.. What patterns lead to Anustup? What are the other meters in Gita?

Anustup is a very common meter pattern. It is widely followed in Raamayanam, Devi Mahatyam, Bhagawat Gita, Vishnu Sahasra Naamam, Lalitha Sahasranaama, Bhagawatham and other popular works.

What is Chandaas in a nutshell?

Everything in the Universe has a heart beat and a periodicity.. Be the earth revolving around the Sun or the seasonal patterns in plants.. The happy hum of a song or the rage of anger. Every work of creation be it poetry or art is inspired by a surge of patterns. The ancient seers seemed to be smitten by this observation and called these patterns as chandaas.. The periodic sway of a snake, the rhythymic plunge of a lion, the cascading drop of anautumn bamboo leaf gave rise to meters like Bhujanga paryatam, sharduulam and other meters.

In the domain of sounds, there are 2 kinds of sounds.. short and long syllables. And the various chandaas meters are like templates.. defining constraints of the length of the verse and syllable type at each position.

And it is interesting to note that this domain of binary audio sounds led Acharya Pingala to develop binary system of representation of sound clusters, found the Fibonacci series and Pascal triangle and famous for his writings on Chandaas.

Our scriptures mention that knowledge of chandas results in fame, long life, joy, growth and auspiciousness. Natyashastra quotes that there is no word without chandas and no chandas without a word.

Like the horses striding in the dust, the words of Gita fly into our ears.. Like a train chug chugging in the tracks, the verses seep into the highways of our mind. Each word announces a vivid landscape or emotion. There is a remarkable landing in the words of Gita..

In the world of telecommunication, information is coded on top of a carrier frequency.. Likewise the Chaandas or meter is the underlying periodic carrier and the verse is the information on top of the carrier.

Long and Short syllables..

Since this article is around syllables, a quick definition of a syllable.. It has one supporting vowel and usually a single consonant for an easy takeoff. There could be more than one trailing consonants. A syllable is short or Laghu when the vowel is Laghu and there are no trailing consonants/sounds. A syllable is long or Guru when it contains long vowel or trailing consonants.

Short Vowels
a (अ), i (इ), u (उ)
Long Vowels
aa (आ), ii(ई), uu(ऊ), ae (ए), ai (ऐ), oo (ओ) and au (औ)

Anustup Meter

Like told in Gita.. The essence or starting point of all meters in Gayatri meter. ‘gaaya tri’ which was used for vedic chanting has 3 lines of 8 syllables each in one verse. Anustup is a derivative and has 4 quarters or padaas or footworks. Hence the name ‘anustup’ as anu is to follow.. stup is to establish. An additional 8 syllable quarter in comparison with Gayatri.

Anustup meter is like a template. It calls for 8 syllables in each quarter which makes the verse length of 32 syllables.

yada yada hi dharmasya (odd ) .. glanir bhavati bharata (even)
abhyutthanam adharmasya (odd).. tadatmanam srjamyaham (even)

And Anustup meter puts a light constraint on the landing of the odd and even quarters.. Like the gait of an animal.. the right and left foot movements.. and the right foot perhaps having a deeper sound than the left..

Following represents the Anustup constraint on the 32 syllables of the line. X is a dont care.. S is a short syllable.. L denotes a long syllable.

X X X X -S L L X.. X X X X -S L S X
X X X X -S L L X.. X X X X -S L S X

As there are 5 dont cares in each quarter, this constraint turns out to be 3 out of 8 syllables as depicted above. And this is flexible enough compared to other meters making it a popular choice for shloka compositions.

Line endings in Anustup

A few illustrations on line endings which correspond to the second constraint of S L S X or a la laa la X kind of sound. A few examples from Gita and other popular works that assist in this ending.

Sambhodana of Arjuna and Krishna

pa ran ta pa
dha nan ja ya
(ku) ru nan da na
ar ju na
bhaa ra ta

ja naar dha na
ja gat pa te
(pu) ru shot ta ma
(pa) ra mesh va ra
(ma) dhu suu da na

The sambodhana or calling out by names is seen quite often in Gita and almost ubiquitious in every line in Sundarakhandam.. And the callout name falls in the end of the verse..

There seems to be perfect harmony in the design of Anustup and the place holder for names at the end. And the flexibility in the last syllable makes it just brilliant. It not just accomodates Sambhodana noun forms but allows other noun cases and feminine noun forms.

Illustrations from Lalitha Sahasranamam

It is replete with these kind of feminine words which go well with Anustup line endings.

sa man vi ta
naa yi ka
bhu shi ta
ni ran ja na
ka laa dha ra
ra joo gu na
sa hoo da ri
vi var ji ta

Line endings in Vishnu Sahasranaama

Here the entire composition is in first vibhakthi (actor). A few names which illustrate S L S X line endings.

ma haa ba lah
pu ran da rah
ma haa sha nah
ha laa yu dah

Line endings in Sundarakandam

a rin da ma (annihilator of enemies)
ha ri shaar du lah
ha ri pun ga va
vaa na root ta mah

Few other word forms from Gita chapter 2 that assist this ending.

Dual Words

yu gee-yu gee
ja yaa-ja yau
shu bhaa- shu bham

I would assume other words like tatra-tatra, punah-punah, muhur-muhur seemless fit in here.

Verb Endings

It is interesting to observe these verbs.

u pa pad ya te
ba bhu va ha

kal pa te
jaa ya the
vid ya te

ar ha si
ka rish ya si
na -muh ya ti
gac cha ti

The root words, their expansion and expression into the verbs tenses and forms are things to consider here. For instance, in the “yadaa yadaa hi dharmasya.. srujaamyaham” the first person verb ‘sru jaa mi’ does not fit the bill. Cleverly, with the addition of the pronoun ‘aham’, the effect is achieved.
sru
jaam ya ham

Noun Endings

ja naa dhi pah
paa va kah
maa ru tah
sa naa ta nah
kau sha lam

Story goes that Adishesha once visits the Earth to experience the beauty of the rivers, mountains, valleys.. Alas, Garuda spots him and demands his desire to devour the snake. Adishesha makes a last wish before dying. He would like to transmit his knowledge of chandaas patterns to Garuda before dying lest the knowledge would be lost forever. Garuda obliges and Adishesha begins his exposition.

Garuda is so lost in the ecstasy of the teachings that he does not notice slowly sliding and escaping into the waters. When he realises that he no longer sees the Adishesha in his vicinity, Adishesha outwits him telling.. “I have been telling you Bhujanga Paryaatam.. Bhujanga Paryaatam.. You seemed to be lost.”

Midway Constraints in Anustup

So far we have seen the line ending constraints.. Let us briefly see the constraints in the odd quarters. They require a landing sequence of S L L X

annād bhavanti bhūtāni parjanyād anna-sambhavaḥ
yajñād bhava
ti parjanyo yajñaḥ karma-samudbhavaḥ

ti bhuu taa ni, ti par jan yo

A few words from chapter 3 of Gita that land into this pattern. It is not surprising that these words always seem to occur only in odd quarter endings and not otherwise.

Names

ma haa baa hu
goo vin
dam
kaun tee ya
vaar shnee ya

Nouns

kar tav yam
daur bal yam
sam sid dim
san tush tah

kar maa ni
bhu taa ni
shas traa ni
par jan
yah
vi muu daat ma

Well, on further math, one can figure out how these words could have been formed by alchemy of smaller words fusing into a bigger one.. And further by inserting smartly filler words like ‘eva’, ‘ cha’ at the end, like binary shift operations, the effect is kind of shifted by a few syllables from the end.

Valmiki’s Ramayana which precedes Mahabharata is full of poetic spins and composed in Anustup meter for the most parts. It seems like the technology of Anustup was not a big deal in Bhagawad Gita times considering the work of the predecessors.

It takes so much of an effort to even understand the surface of meter. Dr Sampad mentions that in ancient India, even writings on math and non poetic topics were metered as it made the expression lucid. Non metered expression was considered more difficult.

How did they even manage it? I would think they were well equipped with thesarus of Amara kosha, Paninian rules of grammar and word formation, chanting of hymns, study of previos works.. When the urge to compose landed in them, they would meditate on a meter that fitted the emotion and the words would just pour out.

The 11 Syllabled Tristup Meter

While Anustup or the shloka is the prevailing meter of Bhagawad Gita, it switches to Tristup meter for dramatic moments.

It calls for 3 more syllables compared to Anustup hence making it 8+ 3 = 11 syllables in each quarter. Unlike Anustup where the constraint is relaxed to 3 out of 8 syllables, Tristup meter calls for a high 11 out of 11 constraint. There are 2 variants of Tristup -Indravraja & Upa Indravraja. Indravraja begins with a long syllable and Upa Indravraja with a short syllable.. otherwise they are identical.

Indravajra     L L S L - L S S L S L L (11)
Upa Indravajra S L S L - L S S L S L L (11)

Since each verse runs into 4 quarters and eEach quarter could either be of Indravajra or Upa Indravajra type. This gives us 16 possible combinations of the 4 quarter arrangements. Of which one type is I I I I where in all 4 quarters belong to type Indravajra. Another type is U U U U where in all 4 quarters belong to type Upa Indravajra. And it leaves us 14 combinations of a mix of both types. These varieties are called as upa jati.

Verse 15.15 which is one of the key messages of Gita beautifully fits all the 4 quarters into Indravraja style.

L L S L - L S S L S L L

sar vas ya chāhaṁh ṛi di san ni viṣh ṭo
mat taḥs mṛi tirjñā na ma po ha naṁ cha
ve daiśh cha sar … vai ra ha me va ved yo
ve dān ta kṛid .. ve da vi de va chā ham

Meters in Bhagawadgita

I have taken the numbers from this link which is based on the book “Sadhaka Sanjivani” by Swami Ramsukhdas.

645/700 verses in Gita are in anusthup meter. The remaining verses (55/700) are either in mixed upajati (49/700) or in indravraja and upendravraja variants of tristup meter(6/700). Following is the breakup of Tristup verses.

Indravraja: 8.28, 15.5, 15.15Upendravraja: 11.28, 11.29, 11.45 Upajati:
Ch 2: 5-8, 20, 22, 29, 70
Ch 8: 9, 10, 11
Ch 9: 20, 21
Ch 11: 15-27, 30-44, 46-50
Ch 15: 2-4

Anustup has 2 variants-vipula & pathyavaktra. Have not explored it in this post.

Like an unending rabbit hole, one could go on learning, deconstructing, disassembling the patterns and more complex pieces. For now I will stop.

In another post, I hope to write about the brilliant mandakranta meter of Meghadootha. It has a 16/17 constraint which makes it very interesting. And a magical weave of words to reflect the fast and slow paced motions and emotions in relation to the pace of the sounds.

REFERENCES

  1. Chandovallari -A handbook of Sanskrit prosody — Dr Sampadananda Misra (Have referred this book for the definition of Anustup and Tristup)
  2. Chandas — The Vedic Metres by Dr. Shreehari Gokarnakar
  3. Chandas — Rhythym of Sanskrit- Dr Sampadananda Misra
  4. An overview of chandaas in each chapter of Gita -Swami Ramsukh Das
  5. Summary of chandaas split in Gita

Interesting Links & Further Reads

  1. Types of Anustup — Vipula and Pathya Vakra
  2. Pascal’s triangle in Pingala’s Chanda shastra — Prof K Ramasubramanium IIT Madras
  3. Poetry, Daisies and Cobras — Field medalist Manjul Bhargava
  4. Types of Swaras -Dr Sowmya Krishnapur
  5. Talk by Dr Sampadananda Misra

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Sujatha Ratnala

I write.. I weave.. I walk.. कवयामि.. वयामि.. यामि.. Musings on Patterns, Science, Linguistics, Sanskrit et al..