The Horses of Gita -Part 1

Sujatha R
6 min readDec 7, 2019

Exploring poetic meters and Chandas through Gita..

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. Perhaps there is a remarkable landing in the words of Gita.. An exploration..

Each quarter is aptly called as paada or footling of the verse.

da dum dum dum … da dum dum da
da da da dum …da da dum dum
dum da dum dum …da dum dum da
dum dum dum dum … dum dum da dum

ta-taḥ śve-tair-ha-yair-yuk-te
ma-ha-ti syan-da-ne sthi-tau
mā-
dha-vaḥ pāṇ-ḍa-vaś cai-va
div-yau
śaṅ-khau pra-dagh-ma-tuḥ

“Then, seated in their great chariot, yoked to white horses, Krishna and Arjuna blew their divine conches.” 1.14

The rhythm in Nature

In a lecture by the eminent Sanskrit Scholar, Dr Sampadananda Mishra, he mentions that the ancient Seers were keen observers of patterns. Everything in nature is a periodic harmony. The periodic beat of the heart, the mothly full moon nights, the waves of the sea.. The Seers embarked this aspect of rhythm into creative pursuits. Be it dance, music, poetry or sculpturing.. the creative finesse of the mind seemed to be sparked from the rhythm of nature. Chandas literally meant Joy.

The stride of the horses, the pouncing moments of the tiger’s footworks, the rhythmic sweep of the snake, the fall of the autumn leaf.. These periodic moments were codified by the Seers and used as templates in poetry. These were the footworks on which the words were weaved.

In the good old communication systems, information is coded in either AM or FM. Either the amplitude or the frequency is modulated according to the information to be coded. The underlying carrier is the periodic Sine wave. Likewise, in the poetic composition, the Chaandas or meter is the underlying periodic carrier and the verse is the information on top of the carrier.

In the vedic era, there were 7 major meters. The Gayatri meter comprising of 3 * 8 syllables was the most popular and revered. It also included Anustubh (4 * 8) and Tristubh (4 * 11) meter. Interestingly, Anustubh, Tristubh and Gayatri are mentioned as names of Horses. The ancient Pingala sutras and even art related texts like Natyashastra had description about Chandas.

Shankaracharya’s Nirvana Shatakam follows the Snake like 2–2–1 Bhujanga Paryaatam pattern. Bhagavadgita, Mahabharatha, Vishnu Sahasranamam, Lalitha Sahasranamam and Ramayana shlokas follow the Anustub meter.

Did the Creators Backtrace?

I had this question in my mind for several days. Understanding this schema of Chandaas itself seems so overwhelming to many of us. How did the poets deliver content in such rhythm? Perhaps they visualised, meditated and moved to a higher state of consciousness and words just flowed to suite their emotion. Kind of reminds of mirror neurons and a spark of external stimulation into the intellect. Currently, we are in the era of graphing, photographing, recording, stimulation.. Perhaps in the era of no graphing, meditation and visualisation played a very big role in evolution and creative space.

Let’s get to the technicalities. What are the Sound units?

There are 2 kinds of vowels-simple and derived.

Simple Vowels
a (अ), i (इ), u (उ), ṛ (ऋ) and ḷ (ऌ)
Derived Vowels
ā (आ), ī (ई), ū (ऊ), ṝ (ॠ), e (ए), ai (ऐ), o (ओ) and au (औ)

A verse is a string of syllables much like a chain of buggies. Each syllable contains one supporting vowel. If there are multiple consonants, they can be at the trailing side of the syllable. The beginning is kept simple with one consonant if possible.

Much like the Binary system, there are 2 kinds of syllables.. Short and Long syllables. A consonant followed by a simple vowel falls under the Short Syllable. All other combinations of Long Vowel or trailing concatenated consonants or Visarga Anuswara combinations fall under Long Syllable. Essentially Short Syllable took one unit of time and Long Syllable took two units of time.

Let us take a few common English examples with Sanskrit pronunciation to get this feel. Remember, the english spellings are not 1–1 with Sanskrit .. Just for ease of illustration purpose.

Short Vowels
cuba cu-ba Short Short
Long Vowels
novi noo-vi L S
puri puu-ri L S
china ch(ai)-na L S
owl (au)l L
Multi Consonant
bengalooru ben-ga-loo-ru L S L S
california ca-li-forn-ya S S L S
sweden swe-den L L
norway nor-ve L S

Creator’s Paradise

The Jain poet Hemachandra had this theoretical question.. How many combinations of Long and Short sounds were possible in any time unit n? Interestingly, the answer is Hemachandra number which was popularised in the West by Fibonacci. Fibonacci’s number is closely related to the Creator’s paradise Golden Ratio and how much more closer can this realm of Chandas get closer to Creativity?

The Horses of Gita

With the above understanding in place, let’s dive into Anustup Chandas and verses from Gita. Majority of verses fall in the scheme of 8 8 8 8 syllables and Anustup Chandas..

Like a Boolean Circuit, Anustup Chandas puts a certain constraint on the 32 syllables in terms of which syllable needs to be long, which needs to be short and which are a dont care.. No wonder the horses deliver the verses with such a beat.

da dum dum dum … da dum dum da
da da da dum …da da dum dum
dum da dum dum …da dum dum da
dum dum dum dum … dum dum da dum

ta-taḥ śve-tair-ha-yair-yuk-te
ma-ha-ti syan-da-ne sthi-tau
mā-
dha-vaḥ pāṇ-ḍa-vaś cai-va
div-yau
śaṅ-khau pra-dagh-ma-tuḥ

Sampling a few phrases

In the above verse, the bold font typeface correspond to the long vowels. Let us inspect a few opening and closing phrases to get a feel of the pattern.

a)If there is a conversational name calling ..it is typically at the end..
b)The qualities of the warriors are rounded off at the end..
c)Sentences ending with verb instructions

In a subsequent post, I plan to cover to cover these details.. This post was more to get a feel of the chandas concept.

The Anustubh Meter

Finally let us examine the gates and constraints put by Anustubh meter.

REFERENCES

While the analogies are original, some of the inspirations from nature is from this post.

FURTHER READING

http://sanskritmetres.appspot.com/

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLABJEFgj0PWVXr2ERGu2xtoSXrNdBs5xS

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Sujatha R

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