Cushioning the Seed-Dhatu Vikarana

Exploring the classes of Verb Roots in Sanskrit

Sujatha R
4 min readOct 5, 2020

A seed incubates and eventually divides into branches and leaves. Bones are cushioned with muscles. Cells orgenelles are cushioned by fluids.

I came across an interesting Sanskrit grammar talk on Verbs called as Vikarana.. Before launching the root as a verb, there is a cushioning that happens. As students of Sanskrit, we must have observed and wondered why. The extra padded sounds like va, ya, no, aa between the root and the verb.

bhu becomes bhavati (be)
ji becomes jayathi (win)
becomes likati (writes)
aap becomes aapnoti (gets)

How does this stuffing happen? Is there a heuristic? I got interested and was pleasantly surprised to find a few verb roots in Bhagawadgita and their expansion pattern.

The root words are so tiny that it perhaps calls for this kind of dispersion.. They are tiny fragments of high contrast sounds.. And these vowel, semi vowel and nasal kind of sounds seem to provide integration, fluidity and soft transition in the mouth.

“He who knows the secret of sound, knows the mystery of the whole universe”

A verb can be represented as 2 transformations over the Root. First it gets a body through this vikarana process and then a mood context of the tense.

Verb = Root + Vikarana affix + Verb Context affix

Panini identifies a repository of 2000 verb roots. These roots are divided into 10 classes dhatu gana based on stuffing and vowel modifications. Of which the first 4 classes represent 1700 of the 2000 roots.

Primarily there are 2 kinds of operations.

  1. Vowel ending of the root is upgraded to its higher form. This process is called as guna adesha. Something like upgrading its character.. ‘a’ remains uneffected in this process though.
    इ, ई => ए
    उ, ऊ => ओ
    ऋ => अर्
    Essentially {i, ī}, {u-ū}, {ṛ, ṝ} get transformed to {e, u, ar}
  2. Bit stuffing with sounds like a, ya, aya, na etc. Let us look at a few examples.
  1. vowel upgradation + ‘a’ stuffing

It is interesting to note that out of 2000 roots identified by Panini, 1000 of them fall in this category.

The ‘i’ ‘u’ root vowel ending gets transformed to their higher form ‘e’ ‘o’.. ‘a’ has no transformation.
They combine with the stuffed ‘a’ and form ‘aya’ ‘ava’ like sounds.. This processcan be enumerated as guna adesha of the vowel+ ‘a’ stuffing

pat patathi
vand vandate
ji jayati (i -> aya)
bhu bhavati (u -> ava)

2. ‘a’ stuffing only

In this case there is no vowel replacement. Only stuffing of ‘a’.
lik + a +ti => likati
kship + a + ti =>kshipati

3.’ya’ stuffing only
nrut +ya + ti = nrutyati
yudh + ya + te = yudhyate

4. vowel upgradation + ‘aya’ stuffing
Interestingly 500 of the 2000 roots fall in this category.

chur + aya + ti = chorayati (u gets upgraded to o)
kath + aya + ti => kathayathi

The above 4 forms constitute the major forms. Let us see few other forms.

5. Stuffing of naa

Now I can appreciate the appearance of ‘naa’ sounds in these roots that occur in Bhagawadgita.

gru + naa +ti = grunaati (holds)
+ naa +ti = naati (eats)
poś + naa +ti = poshnaati (nurtures)
jan + naa +ti = janaati (knows)

6. Absence of Vikarana Filter

As the name indicates, there is no stuffing that happns here.
as + ti =asti
han + ti = hanti
ya + ti = yati

7. Absence of Vikarana Filter. But Duplication of the Root + vowel upgradation

Another interesting transformation. Here there are no external padded sounds. The Root is duplicated, transformed and added like a prefix.. These roots also find place in the Gita.

daa dadaati (gives)
huu juhoti (offers)
haa jahaati (fight)
bhi bibhiti (scared)

8. Adding n before the last letter

So far the additions were after or before the root. Here the addition happens before the last letter of the root.

yuj yunjte (unites)

I just made a wild wild heuristic on how many roots could be generated with consonant vowel consonant combinations..Ignoring nasal and semi vowel thermal sounds we have 5*4 ~20 consonants.

Number of combinations is 20.10.20 which is 4000.. Not too far from Panini’s 2000. Not taking into account roots longer than 3 sounds and the domain is also shared with noun roots and affixes

On the filler sounds aya ava a ya na.. It seems to fit into na mah shi va ya. A mystical chant with semi vowels, thermals and nasal sounds.. perhaps representing the elements.


Verbs in Sanskrit — Overview of the 10 Dhaatu Ganas by Neelesh Bodas

List of Roots



Sujatha R

I write.. I weave.. I walk.. कवयामि.. वयामि.. यामि.. Musings on Music, Linguistics & Patterns