Milling the Compound Words.. Samasta Padams

A Grammar topic on Patterns & Schema

Sujatha R
12 min readJun 30, 2022

Welcome to the workshop of wordsmiths.. Alchemy brewing in bonding and spinning word forms..

Imagine a train of English compound words speeding nearby..

word-smith, tech-savvy, razor-focussed, bleeding-edge..
sky-scrapers, thunder-bolt, helter-skelter..
super-nova, sub-optimal, uber-rich, hyper-tension..
barge-in, check-out
fifty-three, two-thousand.

They bring in such charm, such brevity, and light to the language. Is there a recipe in making such words?

English being a simple and derived language does not tell us much.. Yet, we can take clues from Sanskrit, which has a secret sauce and a framework for compound words.

I was intrigued by the verses in Tyagaraja kritis and other works. Like a rap and like a wave, smaller words shedded their endings and smelted and fused into grand new forms. As though in a meta language of itw own.. That made me to explore this topic..

jagad-Ananda-kAraka
sAmaja-vara-gamana
raghu-vamsha-sudha
shakti-sahita-ganapatim
avinaya-apanaya-vishnum

Thanks to my high school hindi teacher for introducing this topic, and Dr Sowmya Krishnapur’s incredible lecture series on YouTube.. The elaborate classification and sub classification reminded me of my Biology lessons. The forest and its complexity are seen with a simple lens of classification. Plants, Animals.. InVertebrates, Vertebrates..

And the Works of Sanskrit are loaded with these expressions. In the thick forest of sounds, it is hard to identify these without the tools of grammar.

Sharing this post as I am learning the blocks. I have included Illustrations from familiar verses and songs, and have written the explanations in English. I tend to see parallels in Set theory, Chemistry, Programming, and I hope, it makes the topic more interesting and relatable.

And unlike the other Grammar topics in Sanskrit which are very vast, I feel this basics of this topic is simple and relatable. We are surrounded by these words all the time.. Our names, the names of dieties, the Sahasra Namams..

A peek into the topics.

Tenets of Samaasa
*Fusion and principles of reduction
*Disassembling the word:
vigraaha vaakyam
*Samaasa: A poetic choice
*Case of multiple decodes

Types of Samaasa- Part 1
1) Simple Aggregation and Listing द्वन्द्वः samaasa
2) Generating Avyayas — अव्ययीभाव samaasa
3) Case of Co-residency & Karma-dhāraya
4) Relation through Vibhaktis तत्पुरुषसमासः
5) Pointer to Pointer: बहुव्रीहिः Samaasa

Some more topics
* mahaa & atma exceptions
* pronoun fusion
* dropping feminine extensions

Types of Samaasa-Part 2
* 4) Verb actions:Unstated and implicit Relations
* Prefixes and Word Building
* Action in words — gate

Some more topics
*Nesting of Compound words
*Disassembling a Long Word

Tenets of Samaasas

What kind of Alchemy is possible? What are the set of rules? How openended are they? Can we generate newer compound words prescribing to these rules?

What are the mechanics of word forming? The generated word follows linga-vachana-vibhakti traits of which word? A or B? Or Neither?

Fusion and principles of reduction

Alright.. What is samaasa?

Imagine A and B combine to form a word. thunder and bolt fuseinto thunderbolt. And then this word can expand into forms like thunderbolting, thunderbolts, thunderbolted.. Only the baseforms contribute in the fusion proces..

In Sanskrit, every noun has a landing through its “context” which is provided by “vibhakthi” endings. Imagine these endings to be like the feet of the word.

rAma => rAmah, rAmam, rAmeNa, rAmasya etc.. 

During Samaasa, the individual words drop their vibhakti feet, and a new word is formed.
A + B => (A)(B)

Krishna and Rama => कृष्णः च रामः च => [कृष्णः] [रामः] => कृष्णराम

And the new word, depending on the type of Samaasa and usage , gets its expression of vibhakti, linga and vachana.

Here, we are generating a pair word, hence the resultant word is masculine and a dual word. कृष्णराम => कृष्णरामौ

This is Samaasa is a nutshell.

Disassembling the Samaasa: vigraaha vaakyam

The expanded sentence form of the compound word is called as vigraaha vaakyam. In this post, I shall expand the meaning in English for simplicity.

कृष्णः च रामः च => कृष्णरामौ

Samaasa is not plain Sandhi..

Sandhi happens whenever 2 adajacent sounds combine. So yes, rules of Sandhi are followed even in the intersection point of (A) and (B).

Any 2 random words A & B cannot be combined to form a compound word. There has to be a legitimate relation between the words, and approved by the framework of Samaasa.

For instance, the 1000 names in Vishnu sahasranamas have sandhi between them to aid fluidity.. They are still individual words/compound wods in prathama vibhakti, mostly ending with visargas.

Saamasa is a poetic choice

While Sandhi enables oral fluidity and occurs at any sound junctures, Samaasa on the other hand is a poetic choice of brevity & style. Poets like Dandi have used a single compound word that runs into pages.

Case of multiple decodes

The exact meaning of Samaasa can be known only from the context of usage. A famous verse to illustrate this principle.. A beggar once tells the king. Both of us are लोकनाथ..

Well, King is लोकनाथ “Lord of the world” (this meaning, thanks to तत्पुरुषः family of samaasa). Beggar is लोकनाथ too “He whose lord is the world” (thanks to बहुव्रीहिः samaasa)

हे राजेन्द्र! Both of us are लोकनाथ.. त्वं तत्पुरुषः अहं तु बहुव्रीहिः

Framework of Samaasa — Part 1

Well, imagine the confusion if any 2 nouns could combine just like that. How to decode them? The framework of Samaasa opens up categories and lays down some rules, restrictions, constraints inorder to combining related nouns. Let’s begin the fun..

a) Simple Aggregation and Listing
b) Generating Avyayas
c) Adjectives, Descriptors & Karma-dhāraya
d) Relation through Vibhaktis
e) Pointer to Pointer

a) Simple Enumeration and Grouping द्वन्द्वः samaasa

A list of related items are enumerated.. A, B, C, D => [A][B][C][D]. It could be opposite words, or list of related words

Enumeration
hari-harau hari & hara
rAma-lakshmanau rAma & lakshmaNa
mata-pitarau mother & father
brahma-vishNu-maheshwarAh trinity
sheet-ushna-sukha-dukhaaH winter, summer, sorrows and happiness
labhAlabhau profit & loss
Clustering
paaNi-paadam cluster of hand and feet
putra-pautram cluster of children-grandchildren

**This is the only samaasa, where more than 2 words can be combined in one step.

Brahma-Muraari-Sura-Arcita-Linggam
worshipped by brahma vishnu and suras.

For illustrations from Gita, I have provided links from samsasdhini, which give a visual illustration of the samaasa. Feel free to use the site for future study.

sukha-dukhe same kṛtvā lābhālābhau jayājayau Gita 2.38
Having made — pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat — the same

sheet-ushna-sukha-dukhaadaH Gita 2.14
fleeting perceptions of winter-summer-happy-sad

b) Generating Avyayas - अव्ययीभाव samaasa

In this recipe of A + B, A is the focus word, and mostly an avyaya. The resulting word is an avyaya. In उपकृष्णम्, the focus is on “proximity” and not “krishna”

उपकृष्णम्    near Krishna
अधिहरिम् in Hari (my destination)
यथाशक्ति as per capacity
प्रतिदिनम् every day
जन्म from the time of birth
हिमालयम् pan Himalayaas
adyAtma in the self
adhidevam, adhibhutam (from Gita)

Note: In order to expand these words, the A cannot be used..
upakrishnam => Krishnasya sameepe and not ‘upa krishna’

c) Case of Co-residency & Karma-dhāraya

In this simple recipe of A + B, the focus is typically on B, and A serves as an adjective, and a description on B.

In neela-kanta, the focus is on kanta. Neela is a qualifier of kanta

B qualifies A. Hence called karma-dhāraya as B holds the attributes. A & B have the same vibhakti, as A is merely adding more description.

A very interesing concept of co-residency as both A & B point to the same thing.. Unlike Sita-Ram, where Sita and Ram do not point to the same object. See this phenomenon in all the illustrations.

महादेवः => महान् देवः great god
कृष्णसर्पः => कृष्णः सर्पः black snake
नीलोत्पलम् => नीलम् उत्पलम् blue lotus

When metaphors are used for the comparison..

kunda-dhavala    white like the kunda flower
indu-dhavala white like the moon
tushaara-dhavala white like snow flakes
guru-devA devA like guru
vidhya-dhanam vidya like dhanam

From Saraswati Stotram composed by sage Agatsya..

Yaa Kunde[a-I]ndu-Tussaara-Haara-Dhavalaa
Goddess Saraswati is blemishless and White.. What kind of white?
whiteness of kunda flower.. whiteness of Indu moon.. whiteness of a garland of snow-flakes tushaara-haara

Call outs to mighty folks

(Krishna’s call out to Arjuna)nara-shArdhulah  tiger-like valiant man
nara-pungavah
purusha-rishaba bull-like towering personality

We remind ourselves.. All these are descriptors.. They describe the object in focus.. Case of co-residency.. karma-dhāraya samaasa.

Named instances

bengaluru-nagari    city called Bengaluru
ayodhya-nagari city called Ayodhya
aamra-phalam fruit called mango

Good and Bad

suputra             good son
kuputra bad son

In the below illustrations from Lingastakam, there are intermediate samaasas. At this point, let us ignore the nesting and just focus on the final samaasa.

Brahma-Muraari-Sura-Arcita-Lingam
What kind of lingam? That which is worshipped by all.. xx_arcita-Lingam.. (((brahma-murari-sura)-archita)-lingam)

Nirmala-Bhaasita-Shobhita-Lingam
What kind of lingam? A pure-shining-well-adorned lingam
((Nirmala-Bhaasita-Shobhita)-
Lingam)

d) Relation through Vibhaktis तत्पुरुषसमासः

We have previously seen descriptors and karma-dhāraya.. The adjectives had the same vibhakti.. Now let’s take a step forward where the relation expands through vibhaktis.

A + B => [A][B]

The focus of the compound word is still on B. Relation of A with B is expressed through its vibhakti. As expected, vibhakti of A is dropped in the process of fusion.

Let us see typical usages through each vibhakti.

3 By/With (Instrument)KAlidasa-likhitam    composed by Kalidasa
tyAgaraja-virachitam composed by Tyagaraja
tyAgarAja-nutam praised by Tyagaraja
rAma-hatam killed by Rama
ksheera-annam rice made with milk (kheer)
dadhyonnam rice made with curd
4 For
chaatrArthaa for the students
5 From
chora-bhayam scared from thiefs
paapa-muktihi free from paapa
6 Of
dEvAlaya home of devas
dharma-kshetra land of dharma
kuru-kshetra land of kurus
rAmAyana journey of rAma
**the most common samaasa**
7 In 'Proficiency'
veeNa-praveeNah proficieny in veena
kAvya-kushalaH proficiency in poetry
kArya-chaturaH proficiency in work

dharma-kṣhetre kuru-kṣhetre samavetā yuyutsavaḥ Gita 1.1
O Sanjaya.. After assembling on the
land-of-dharma.. on the land-of-kuru..

e) Outside Reference: बहुव्रीहिः Samaasa

Think of the words ‘level-headed’, ‘far-sighted’. The focus is neither on ‘level’ nor on ‘head’. The focus is on a ‘person’ whose head can think in a balanced way.

That is BahuVreehi Samaas for us. The alchemy of X and Y and pointing to Z. The focus is neither on X nor on Y but something outside..
X Y -> Z, and !X, !Y

neelakanTa  "He" who has a blue neck
peetAmbara "He" who has a yellow robe

dashAnana, chaturAnana, chaturmukha

The focus on the above words is on the person with the description. Let us check out some common words.

"with out"
anEsha "He" who does not have a lord(absolute)
anAtha "He" who does not have a caretaker(orphan)
achintaya "He" who cannot be imagined"
"with"
Sa-shankachakra "He" who has shanka and chakra

Where there is a Vibhakthi in the relation of A & B

vishwa-natha    "He" who is lord of the world
chakra-pANi "He" who has chakra in his hand
chandra-shekara "He" who has a moon on his head
chid-ambara "He" who has garb of consciousness
dhruta-pushpa "That" which holds the flowers (trees)

Metaphors

rajeeva-netra   "He" who has lotus like eyes
chandra-vadana "He" who has moon like face
vruk-odhara "He" who has an appetite like a wolf(Bheema)
samaja-varagamana "He" who has elephant like majestic gait
Aditya-varna "He" who has Sun like splendor

Mental conditioning

doora-darshi     "He" who is far-sighted
veeta-raaga "He" who is free from attachments
vijit-atma "He" who has conquered himself

Some more topics

Now that we have seen the major types os samaasa, let’s see a few more topics and categories.

Exceptions to the base words:

Mahaa & atma origins

So far we have seen that the base words are used to combine. Following are the exceptions where basewords are further condensed. Note: Hyperlinks for the noun tables are provided in the links.

atman => atma, hence atma-vidya
rajan => raja, hence raja-rshi
mahat and mahati (masculine & feminine) => mahA, hence
mahAbhArat, mahAnadi, mahAdeva

Pronoun alchemy

In the pronoun associations, any form of **I/You**is condensed further to “mat/tvat”. The usage is quite popular in verses. In case you hear them the next time..

अस्मद् => मत् / मद्
युष्मद् => त्वत् / त्वद्
मत्-मनाः भव मत्-भक्तः मत्-याजी माम् नमस्कुरु ।
माम् एव एष्यसि युक्त्वा एवम् आत्मानम् मत्-परायणः Gita 9.34
Become my minded, my lover and adorer, a sacrificer to me, bow thyself to me, thus united with me in the Self thou shalt come to me, having me as thy supreme goal.From Suprabhatam
त्व
द्गोपुराग्रशिखराणि निरीक्षमाणाः Crest of your temple tower
त्वत्पादधूलिभरित Adorned by the dust of your feet

Some more samaasas — Part 2

f) Doer of the Action.. उपपदसमासः

Another popular samaasa..
Look at the word endings in the block below.. The words कारः, धारः, दः are related to verb actions, and are not meaningful words on their own. The word generated => points to the doer of the action.

कुम्भकारः => कुम्भं करोति potter
सूत्रधारः => सूत्रं धरति he who holds the principles
धनदः => धनं ददाति he who gives charity
पङ्कजम् => पङ्के जायते that which is born in dust
सर्वज्ञः => सर्वं जानाति he who knows everything
सामगः => सामं गायति इति he who sings sAma vedA
शास्त्रकृत् => शास्त्रं करोति इति he who is well versed in shastras

From Jagannatha astakam, composed by Shankaracharya:

Jagannatha-Swami ! Nayana-patha-gaami
O Jagannatha Swamy! May you be the
walker-in-the-path-of-the-eye (May you be my inner vision.. May you be my destination..)

g) Number Sense: द्विगुसमासः

tri-loka = “the three worlds”
tri-guṇa = “the three qualities”
sapta-rṣi = “the seven rishis”
sapta-sindhu = “the seven rivers”
pancha-vaTi group of five trees
pancha-pAtram alloy of five metals
nava-rAtram group of nine nights

h) Negations नञ्समासः

A simple samaasa where the opposite meaning is derived. ‘a’ is added to words beginning with consonants and ‘an’ is added to words beginning with vowels.

adharmam, asatya, avidya
akarma, asat, aphalaakankshi
aneka, anartha
anicchan, anudwega, anaashrita ,

i) Transitional Effects गतिसमासः

Think about these English words.. Simplify, Clarify, Whiten.. There is a notion of transition from stage A to stage B.
Like in Simplify => from complex to simple..

Notice the stretch in the verb..

स्वच्छीकृत्य  to clean (अस्वच्छं स्वच्छं कृत्वा )
शुक्लीकृत्य to whiten
सरलीकृत्य to simplify (असरलं सरलं कृत्वा)

j) When the Relation is “hidden” and “implicit”

Let us take the English notation for these numbers. The relations “more than” and “times” is implicit or hidden in the compound word.

Fifty-two => Two “more than” fifty
Two hundered => two “times” hundered

Similarly, we have

Dwi-vimshati => dwi “adhikam” vimshati
Venu-madhava => venu “vaadaka” madhava, flute playing madhava

Decoding the long compound word

So far, we have seen examples of 2 words and how they combine. a compound word is always formed by stacking 2 words together.. For an N-word long SamastaPadam, there will be N-1 intermediate samaasas.

A simple Left to Right order illustration

Raama-Ravana-yuddha-katha-prerita-kavyaani
((((((Raama-Ravana)-yuddha)-Katha)-prerita)-kavyaani)
Poetry Inspired by Story of Battle between Rama and Ravana

Ordering need not be Left to Right always

Kerala-rajya-mukhya-mantri
(Kerala-rajya)-(mukhya-mantri)
Chief minister of Kerala State

Apply Divide and Conquer.. Get an intuition of the meaning and then start grouping and regrouping.. and the good thing is that the individual words are not more than 3–4 syllables as they are in their base form.

Samaasa is a wide wide topic and needs knowledge of underlying word types and underlying framework and works of literature in order to appreciate. This post was just a way of “demystifying” what goes behind it, to give a sense of intuition.. Hopefully it was of use. Feel free to add it to your bucket list of Sanskrit items to explore later on at a right time..

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Sujatha R

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