Meters in Shankaracharya Stotrams

Some illustrations and feel of meters

Sujatha R
10 min readMar 21, 2021

Through the hallway of Shankaracharya’s and familiar compositions, a short listing of popular meters. About 30 plus stotrams and their meters. Few notations from the book Chandovallari by Dr. Sampadananda and some interesting anecdotes and audio references from Shatavadani Dr. R Ganesh.

Rhythmic Meters
3-
Bhujanga-prayaata, Totaka, Sragvini, Shravana Abharana
2-Charu Chamara, Pancha Chaamara
4-Ashwadhathi: Nataraja Stotram

Non Rhythmic Meters
Suprabhatam: Vasanta Tilaka -14
Dakshina Murthy:
Maalini -15
Saundarya Lahari:
Shikarini -17
Dakshina Murthy:
Shardoola Vikriditam -19
Vishnu Sahasranamam Dhyaanam:
Sragdhara 21

Alternating Syllable count
Bhishma stuthi: Pushpitagra 12–13

Duration based
Bhaja Govindam: Maatra Chandas

What is a ‘chandaas’ ?

Chandas means ‘joy’ ‘ahlaada’. Other meanings include ‘veda’ ‘iccha’

In the context of poetry, it refers to a signature of akshara arrangement.

Chandaas & Tune

To make any chanting simple and harmonious, it is rendered over a simple tune and raaga. The raaga is just like a staircase or a rail and should not be overly imposing and distorting the signature of long and short syllables.

The tune and the chandaas markings are like the rails and carriages. Just latch on to it, submit yourself, and the chanting, parsing, and timing of short and long sounds will follow by itself. Such is the elegance of chandaas.

How to bring the chandaas awareness in Chanting?

a) For chanting purpose, choose a raaga or a tune that is not overly classical and does not hide the nuances of short and long syllables. On hearing, it should feel like each syllable is shining and standing out. That is how I felt hearing some of the chants from Swamy Brahmananda and Veda Bharathi

b) At first hum the tune of the chant.

c) Make the hum more granular. Try to capture the short and long timing aspect of the syllables. For long verses, there are markers for breathing pauses. Take advantage of that.

Once this appreciation of tunes and movement of sounds is registered, it makes the pronunciation and learning of new chants easier. Again, all this is in my opinion. The math of chandaas is not really needed for those who have been practising the chants for a long long time or for those with a sharp sense of listening.

Long and Short syllables

What is a syllable? Each syllable has a central vowel acting as a spine.

One of the 4 conditions make a syllable Long or Guru akshara: सानुस्वारः , विसर्गान्तः, दीर्घः , युक्तपरः

a) when it ends with Anuswara, or visarga

b) has a long vowel

c) the preceding syllable is a mixed akshara having multiple consonants [this phenomenon occurs to shift one of the consonant to the previous vowel, and hence lakshmi is lakk shmi and not la kshmi, hence lakk is LONG]

d) the last askshara of a quarter can sometimes be long or short irrespective of the above rules.

• सानुस्वारः - कं जं भं
• विसर्गान्तः - रुः कः जुः
• दीर्घः - आ ई ऊ ऋ ए ऐ ओ औ की जू पे
• युक्तपरः - तृष्णा भिक्षा Short Vowels

Many compositions follow the Anustup and Tristup meters. Anustup is an 8 syllable signature that repeats every alternate quarter. Bhagawad Gita, Sundara kaandam, Aditya Hridayam, Devi Mahatyam, Sahasranamams, Astottarams use Anustup. This page lists 95 works in Anustup.

Important and stark messages are delivered in Tristup meter. Tristup is 3 more than Anustup and hence an 11 syllable signature.

In this post, we will explore chanting-related meters. I have written a detailed post on Chandaas motivation, Anustup, and Tristup meters which can be found here [1][2].

Let us look into Tristup plus .. higher syllable meters starting from 12 until 21 syllables.

The Rhythmic meters have a short signature that repeats after every 2 or 3 syllables. And the Non-rhythymic meter has a longish unique signature.

Rhythmic Meters

A)Meters repeating every 3 sounds:

1.1) Bhujanga-prayaata -12

The movement of sounds in this 12 syllable meter resembles the gait of a snake. 1 short sweep followed by 2 long sweeps. And there is a pause after the 6th and last syllable of each quarter.
‘la laa laa .. la laa laa — la laa laa ..la laa laa’

⏑- -¦⏑- -¦¦⏑- -¦⏑- -¦¦

Many popular stotrams are composed in this beautiful meter — Nirvana Shatakam, Gurvastakam, Sharada Bhujangam, Bhavani Astakam, Subramanya bhujangam, Cauvery Bhujangam

Nirvana Shatakam
ma nō budh -ya haṅ kā ¦¦ra cit tā -ni nā haṃ ¦¦
Gurvastakam
śa rī raṃ su rū paṃ ¦¦ ta thā vā ka lat raṃ ¦¦
Bhavani Astakam
na taa to na maa taa ¦¦ na ban dhur na daa taa ¦¦
Sharada Bhujangam
Suvakssoja-Kumbhaam Sudhaa-Puurnna-Kumbhaam
Damodara Astakam
namāmīśvaram sac-cid-ānanda-rūpam

1.2) Totaka Meter -12

Totaka means ‘to quarrel’. The pattern goes like ‘la la laa.. la la laa..’

⏑⏑⎼¦⏑⏑⎼¦¦⏑⏑⎼¦⏑⏑⎼¦¦

Totastakam
vi di ¦ khi la shas ¦¦ tra su dhá ¦ ja la dhe ¦¦
Madurastakam
a dha raṃ ¦ ma dhu raṃ ¦¦ va da naṃ ¦ ma dhu raṃ ¦¦
Venkatesha Stotram
kamakucha chūchuka kuṅkama

1.3) Sragvini

A wave of long-short-long

⎼⏑⎼¦⎼⏑⎼¦⎼⏑⎼¦⎼⏑⎼¦¦

Achyutashtakam
ach
yutaṃ kēśavaṃ rāmanā rāyaṇaṃ

1.4) Shravana Abharana

It means the ornamentation of the ear. Mahishasura Mardini has a periodic beat like the gentle nod of the head.

a yi gi ri
nan di ni
nan di ta
me di ni
viś va vi
no di ni
nan da nu te

B) Meters repeating every 2 sounds:

1.5) Charu chaamara Metre -15

A binary wave of long and short syllables. Beautifully rendered in Kala Bairavastakam.

⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ⏑ ¦¦⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ⏑ ¦¦⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ⏑ ¦¦⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ¦¦

kalabairava astakam
de
vaja ¦¦ sevyana ¦¦ pāvanāṅghri ¦¦ paṅkajaṃ ¦¦

1.6) Pancha chaamaram -16

Similar to charu chaamaram, a binary wave of short and long syllables. The speedy and monotonous movement of sounds makes it popular choice for Stotrams. It starts with a short syllable.

⏑ ⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ¦¦⏑ ⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ¦¦⏑ ⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ¦¦⏑ ⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ¦¦

Shiva Tandava Stotram
jaṭāṭavī ¦¦ galajjalap ¦¦rahapā ¦¦vitastha
Gaṇeśa-Pañcaratnam
nitānta-kānta-danta-kānta mantakāntakātmajam
Krishnastakam
bhaje vrajai ¦¦ ka-maṇḍanaḿ ¦¦ samasta-pā ¦¦pa-khaṇḍanaḿ

C) Meters repeating every 4 sounds

1.7) Ashvadhati

Aśva-dhāṭi represents the movement of a horse, the galloping horse movement.

The sound pattern repeats after every 4 syllables SSLS

Shambu Natanam is composed in this meter.

Story goes that at Chidambaram, Bringi and Nandi tease Patanjali as he was Adhiseesha and hence had no legs or horns in his serpentine form. Patanjali with his prowess in Grammar composes this work without need to use any long vowels. Hence called charana sringa rahita.. without feet and horns.

Patanjali’s Nataraja Stotram in addition does not use any long vowels. The long syllables are formed mostly by compounding anuswara and few times mixed consonants.

Anuswar is like soft stops, like the ringing of bells and this effect is beautiful. Like galloping of horses, this 26 syllable meter ashwadhati seems like trotting.

sa dan chi ta
mu dan chi ta
ni kun chi ta
pa dam ja la
ja lan cha li
ta man ju ka ta kam
pa tan ja li
dru gan ja na
ma nan ja na
ma chan cha la
pa dam ja na
na ban ja na ka ram

Non Rhythmic Meters

These have a distinct signature repeating in every quarter. And there is a beauty in the pattern of the signature. Sometimes a train of fast sounds, Sometimes short trains. These meters are very unique and remove the element of monotony which exists in the rhythmic meters.

Vasanta Tilaka -14

King Bhoja is known for his use of Vasantatilakā meter in Champu Ramayana and other works. Kalidasa had started the tradition of using this meter for Suprabatam in Raghuvamsha. Later on, it has become the default for other Suprabhatams. Note that the entire line can be chanted easily without any breaks.

A graphical representation of the 14 sounds. See the beautiful mirroring. Don’t bother to learn it on the first go. It can be captured in the tune.
- -
⏑⎼ ⏑⏑⏑ ⎼⏑
⏑⎼⏑-
- -

MS Suprabhatam tune is probably etched in many of our minds. Even without looking into the meter syntax, just notice how wavy and symmetric the chunks are. 2 long sounds at the beginning and end and a wavy arrangement./\

Venkateshwara Suprabhatam
śe ṣād
ri ¦ śe kha ra ¦ vi bho ¦ ta va ¦ sup ra bhā tam

If you are familiar, try chanting Kanakadhara stotram or Pratah Smarami with the Suprabhatam tune. How easy can it get?

अङ्गं हरेः पुलकभूषणमाश्रयन्ती
भृङ्गाङ्गनेव मुकुलाभरणं तमालम्

Kanakadhara Stotram
aṅ gaṃ
¦ ha reḥ ¦ pu la ka bhūś ¦ ha ṇa ¦ māś ra yan tī
Pratah Smaraami
prā taḥs
¦ma mi ¦hṛ di saṃs phu rad ¦ āt ma tat tvaṃ
Lalita Pancharatnam
prātaḥ smarāmi lalitāvadanāravindaṃ
Viveka chudamani 551
प्रारब्धकर्मपरिकल्पितवासनाभिः

Though all of them can be rendered in the same raaga, I have learned Pratah Smarami and Kanaka Dhara stotram in different tunes.

2.1) Maalini meter -15

Mālinī, a meter of 15-syllables, is one of the most musical meter of the Sanskrit world. Most of the poets including Kalidasa have employed this, mainly for the end of the sarga. It was a convention to change the meter towards the end.

‘Maalini’ means Garland. It starts with 6 short syllables followed by 2 long syllables and a pause yati. The 10th and 13th syllables are again short. This meter is asymmetric as we can see. Most of the time, the words end in the designated pause areas as shown below.

Observe the first part. 6 fast sounds followed by 2 slow sounds.
va ta vi ta pi sa mī pē

Swami Brahmananda’s chanting tune accommodates the meter beautifully for Dakshinamurthy Dyaanam.

⏑⏑⏑⏑⏑⏑⎼ ⎼ ¦¦ ⎼⏑⎼ ⎼⏑⎼ ⎼¦¦

Dakshinamurthy Dhyaanam
va ṭa vi ṭa pi sa mī pē ¦¦ bhū mi bhā gē ni ṣaṇ ṇaṃ ¦¦
Shiva Manasa Pooja Last verse
kara charaṇa kṛtaṃ vāk ¦¦ kāyajaṃ karmajaṃ vā¦¦

** Remember the tip. The pauses always end with long syllables.

2.2 Shikarini -17

In this class of asymmetric meters, the sound groups are not at all rhythmic. It is used in plays and poems where a lot of poetic fancy and imagination is involved.

Shikarini’ means peak. Opposite to Malini, it starts with slow sounds followed by fast sounds. (⏑ ⎼ ⎼ ⎼ ⎼ ⎼ ¦¦⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⏑)

⏑ ⎼ ⎼ ⎼ ⎼ ⎼ ¦¦⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⎼ ⎼ ⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⎼ ¦¦

There is a pause after the 6th and last syllable of every quarter.

Both Saundaryalahari and initial verses of Shivananda lahari are composed in this meter. It brings out waves of bliss and beauty in both compositions. The slowness of Shiva with the vibrance of Parvathy. The Yaman raaga based chanting by Vedabharathi nicely accommodates the meters [1] [2]

⏑ ⎼ ⎼ ⎼ ⎼ ⎼ ¦¦
⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⎼ ⎼ ⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⎼ ¦¦
Saundarya Lahari
śi vaḥ śak tyā yuk tō
ya di bha va ti śak taḥ pra bha vi tuṃ ¦¦
Shivananda Lahari
ka lā bhyāṃ cū ḍā laṅ
kṛ ta śa śi ka lābh yāṃ ni ja ta paḥ ¦¦
Devi Aparadha Kshamapana Stotram
na man tram no yan tram
ta da pi cha na jaa ne stu ti ma ho

2.3 Mandakraanta -17

Kalidasa’s famous Meghadootha uses the Mandakraanta meter. Very similar to the Shikarini.. it has an interlude of slow and fast sounds. And his portrayal of Saundarya, melancholy, and reverence to Shiva and Bhavani is beautifully brought out in this meter. The initial slow sounds coursely paint the visual and the fast moving sounds add vivid details. It is mind blowing how he has used it to weave the entire visual in one verse.

2.4 Shardoola Vikriditam -19

Śārdūlavikrīḍitam is the most majestic meter. In Sanskrit, three metres can be treated as outstanding metres:
the smallest is śloka,
the medium is vasanta-tilaka,
and the biggest is śārdūla-vikrīḍita.

We can never feel the monotony in these three metres for they nowhere accommodate any rhythym or tāla.

The meaning of the metre itself is majestic: the gait or play of a tiger.

I try to remember the pattern with the tune of Dakshina moorty stotram. Either Swamy Brahmananda or Yaman raga based.

⎼ ⎼ ⎼ ⏑ ⏑ ⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ¦¦
⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⎼ ⎼ ⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ¦¦
Dakshina Murthy Stotram
viś van dar pa ṇa dṛś ya ¦¦
na na ga rī tul yaṃ ni jān tar ga taṃ
Shiva Mana Pooja
ratnaiḥ kalpitasanaṃ himajalaiḥ snānaṃ cha divyāmbaraṃ
Annapurna Stotram
nityānan
daka vabhayaka saundarya ratnāka
Minakshi Pancharatnam
udyadbhā
nusahasraṭisadṛśāṃ kēyūrahārōjjvalāṃ
Viveka Chudaamani
जन्तूनां नरजन्म दुर्लभमतः पुंस्त्वं ततो विप्रता
तस्माद्वैदिकधर्ममार्गपरता विद्वत्त्वमस्मात्परम् ।
आत्मानात्मविवेचनं स्वनुभवो ब्रह्मात्मना संस्थितिः
मुक्तिर्नो शतजन्मकोटिसुकृतैः पुण्यैर्विना लभ्यते ॥ २ ॥

2.5 Sragdhara 21

Sragdharā is perhaps the biggest measure generally employed in Sanskrit poetry. Sragdharā literally means a maiden with a garland:
“srag dharati iti sragdharā”.

After every 7 letters, a pause or yati occurs. The 21 syllables are divided into 3 groups.

⎼ ⎼ ⎼ ⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ⎼ ¦¦⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ⎼ ¦¦ ⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ⎼ ⏑ ⎼ ⎼ ¦¦

LLLL SLL -SSSSSSL- LSLLSLL

The dhyaanam of Vishnu Sahasra namam used to seem complex and long.. This grouping of 3 parts gives an outline. The first and third phrases are full of long syllables, and the middle phrase with short syllables. The Shiva Aparadha Stotram has this repeating verse śiva śiva śiva bhō, which follows SSSSSSL pattern.

Vishnu Sahasranamam Dhyaanam
kshi ro dan vat
pra de she
su chi ma Ni vi la sat
sa
i ka tair mauk ti kA nAM
Shivaparadha Kshamapana Stotram
ā dau kar map
ra saṅ gāt
ka la ya ti ka lu ṣaṃ
tṛ kuk ṣaus thi taṃ māṃ
kṣan tav yō mē pa rā dhaḥ
śi va śi va śi va bhō
śrī ma hā dē va śam bhō

Alternating Syllable count

4.1) Pushpitagra

A poignant Bhishma Stuthi in which Bhisma on his death bed offers his unmarried daughter, his mind as a bride to Krishna.

Till now, the meters we have explored have the same number of syllables in the four quarters of the verse. There are meters called ‘vishama-vritta’,

In Bhishma Stuthi, it alternates between 12 and 13 syllables in alternating quarters.

Bhishma Stuti
iti matirupakalpi vitṛsṇa
bhagavati sātvata puṅgave vibhūmni ।

Duration Based

4.1)Matra Chandas

The meter of the Bhaja Govindam song is पादाकुलकम् which comes under मात्राछन्दस्. It is not the number of syllables and their arrangement, but the sum of the syllabic quantities per verse (short = 1 quantity, long = 2 quantities).

This is a very free-flowing meter and every quarter in Bhaja Govindam excluding the first one has a length of 16 units.

पु न र पि ज न नम् पु न र पि म र नम्
पु न र पि ज न नी ज ठ रे श य नम्
इ ह सम् सा रे ब हु दुस् ता रे
कृ प या पा रे पा हि मु रा रे
भ ग वद् गी ता किञ् चि द धी ता
ग ङ् गा ज ल ल व क णि का पी ता
स कृ द पि ये न मु रा रि स मर् चा
क्रि य ते तस् य य मे न न चर् चा

Few more chants to resolve — Chandra shekara Astakam, Various meters of Shivananda Lahari, Dakshina Murthy 2 liners after dhyaanam

REFERENCES

  1. https://www.profvk.com/27-3-other-meters
  2. Illustrations by Shatavadini Dr Ganesh
  3. Chandovalli Book by Dr Sampadananda Mishra

Older Posts

Meters of Gita — Anustap and Tristup
https://myriadpatterns.medium.com/the-horses-of-gita-part-1-8cbd8d9beb1c

--

--

Sujatha R

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