Symposium on Chandas: Cadences of Indic Thought

The term ṛc (ऋच्) occurring in the name Ṛgveda (ऋग्वेदः) itself has a meaning of “verse”. During learning and recitation of the Veda mantra-s in the traditional manner, it is customary to acknowledge the name of the poetic meter or Chandas (छन्दस्) of the mantra, along with the names of the Ṛṣi (ऋषिः) who first witnessed the mantra and the Devatā (देवता) to whom it is addressed. Along with the discipline of correct utterance of letters that is Śikṣā, and the disciplines of correctly determining the form and function of words that are Vyākaraṇa and Nirukta, the discipline of prosody that is Chandaḥ-śāstra has been accorded the status of a Vedāṅga, a limb of the Veda. Metric verse stands out as an appealing and enduring medium for the expression of Bhāratīya thought, be it the hymns of the Veda, epic and devotional poetry, or treatises on the sciences and arts encompassing both śāstra and kāvya. A testimony to the enduring appeal of the metric verse medium to Bhāratīya hearts and minds across time and space, is that this medium over all others was chosen for Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa from deep antiquity and Kālidāsa’s Raghuvaṃśa in the Classical Period, and also in the Rāmāyaṇa relived by Kambaṉ in Tamiḻ or Tulasīdāsa in Avadhī or Kṛttivāsa in Bāṅgla closer to our times. Sayings which are recalled by Bhāratīya-s to this day and serve to connect them with both the sacred and worldly wisdom of the ages, such as Subhāṣita-s in Saṃskṛtam, kuṟaḷ-s in Tamiḻ, or dohā-s in Avadhī, are in metric verse. The origin of Chandas is close to the revelation of the Veda itself, and it seems like the effect of Chandas ever since has been to set the cadences of Bhāratīya thought itself.

The Chandaśśāstra of Piṅgala, a definitive pioneering text in Chandas like the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini in Vyākaraṇa, enumerates poetic meters occurring in the Veda corpus. The problem of enumerating possible meters in verses of a given length, both in Piṅgala’s text and in later texts based on it such as Halāyudha’s and Virahāṅka’s in the second millennium CE, stimulated early Indian efforts in the field of Combinatorics. Chandas, like Vyākaraṇa, developed as a śāstra in its own right, as well as a discipline of expression for other śāstra-s. Poetic meters employed in śāstra and kāvya literature, as enumerated in the 10th century Vṛttaratnākara compendium of Kedārabhaṭṭa, are more numerous than those occurring in the Veda. Of these meters, many that can be recognized as descendants of the Chandas families in the Veda, occur alongside meters such as Āryā which have extensive presence in Prākṛta literature besides Saṃskṛtam. It is in the Āryā meter that the Āryabhaṭiyam, the pioneering mathematical treatise in Saṃskṛtam, and the Gāhā Sattasaī, the pre-eminent poetic compilation in Prākṛta, are both written. The utility of metric verse in aiding memory reinforced by strong initial impression and aesthetic appeal has been recognized and harnessed by thinkers and expositors through the ages. While original verses of the Bhagavadgītā which is mostly in the classic anuṣṭup meter continue to be committed to memory, commentators who provided expositions in prose return to verse to provide summaries that will last in the minds of readers, like Abhinavagupta in tenth-century Kāśmīra giving Saṃskṛtam summary verses in the anuṣṭup meter in his Gītārthasaṅgraha, and D V Gundappa in twentieth-century Karṇāṭaka giving Kannaḍa summary verses in classic Kannaḍa meters in his Jīvanadharmayoga. On etymological grounds, Chandas is said to have the functions of both a protective covering and ornamental covering, and both these aspects are on display in how verses simultaneously preserve the memory and embellish the appearance of worthy ideas. 

It is in the realm of kāvya that the artistic possibilities of Chandas are experienced in all their grandeur. The most acclaimed poets in Saṃskṛtam including canonical Pañcamahākāvya-s have valued the discipline of consistently composing all verses in a sarga or chapter in a single meter. While there is artistic freedom in choosing meters, some meters have come to be naturally associated with genres, like the meter Mandākrāntā for the dūta-kāvya genre addressed to messengers for a lover like Kālidāsa’s Meghadūta, and the meter Vasantatilakā for Suprabhātam class of stotra-kāvya accompanying morning worship at temples. Verses of praise being rendered musically goes all the way back to the Veda, where some mantra-s belonging as ṛk-s in the Ṛgveda and recited to invite the presence of deities, are also sung as sāman-s of the Sāmaveda in the presence of the deities. Stotra-kāvya-s or devotional poetry both historically and in modern times, and dṛśya-kāvya-s or Sanskrit drama of ancient times both served to bring Chandas on stage in unison with other performing arts such as music and dance. Verses from the itihāsa-purāṇa and kāvya corpuses can be seen coming most alive in the company of music and dance during Yakṣagāna, Kucipuḍi and Kathakaḷi performances. As a Vedāṅga, Chandas has been likened to the feet of the Veda-puruṣa, and this seems a fitting characterization in the realm of art as well where Chandas has borne aloft the spoken and written word to the heights of expression and experience. The emphasis of this symposium is on Chandas as part of the integral infrastructure of Śāstra, Kāvya and Nāṭya.


Time Speaker Name Topic
09:30-09:35 Megh Kalyanasundaram Invocation and Welcome
09:35-09:45 Arvind V Iyer Symposium Concept
09:45-10:15 Sreelalitha Rupanagudi & Raghavendra Hebbalalu The Rhythm of Chandas – A Practical Demonstration
10:15-10:45 GSS Murthy Modern explorations into the ancient world of Sanskrit Chandas
10:45-11:15 Shashikiran BN Chandogati: Unravelling the Beauty of Poetic Metres
11:15-11:45 Dr. Shankar Rajaraman The interface of Chitrakavya and Chandas
11:45-12:15 Dr. Shrikaanth Krishnamurthy Verslation, Meters & Music
12:15-12:30 Arvind V Iyer Symposium Summary
12:30-13:00 Dr. Nagaraj Paturi Impressions and Closing remarks


Building संसाधनी (Saṃsādhanī) – A Sanskrit Computational Toolkit

INDICA’s Center for Bharatiya Languages presents a conversation with Dr. Amba Kulkarni on the 31st of March 2023 (Friday) between 1800 and 1900 hrs IST. This talk looks to introduce the listeners to संसाधनी (Saṃsādhanī), the impressive Sanskrit Computational Toolkit built under the inspiring leadership of Professor Kulkarni at the University of Hyderabad. Join in to get introduced to that intersection of Sanskrit, Grammar, Computational Linguistics, and Technology that has featured, and continues to feature, some of the most cutting-edge developments.

An Introduction to Kannada Literature

INDICA’s Center for Bharatiya Languages welcomes you to a conversation with Professor K.S. Kannan, Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj Chair in IIT-Madras, on the topic An Introduction to Kannada Literature on the 28th of January 2023 at IST 1800 hrs. This conversation, in English, intends to serve as an introduction to some facets of Kannada literature. Kannada, as some might know, is one of the six languages indigenous to India recognised by the Government of India as a ‘Classical’ language. As per this press release found on the Press Information Bureau website (, the criteria to determine the declaration of a language as a Classical language have been: i) High antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1500-2000 years; (ii) A body of ancient literature/texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers; (iii) The literary tradition be original and not borrowed from another speech community; (iv) The classical language and literature being distinct from modern, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.

An Introduction to Tamil Literature

INDICA’s Center for Bharatiya Languages welcomes you to a conversation with Pradeep Chakravarthy on the topic An Introduction to Tamil Literature on the 18th of February 2023 at IST 1800 hrs. This conversation, in English, intends to serve as an introduction to some facets of Tamil literature. As some might know, Tamil is one of the six languages indigenous to India and recognised by the Government of India as a ‘Classical’ language. Tamil was recognised as a Classical language by the Government of India (GoI) in 2004, making it the first among six that has been designated as ‘Classical’ by the Government of India. As per this press release found on the Press Information Bureau website (, the criteria to determine the declaration of a language as a Classical language have been: i) High antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1500-2000 years; (ii) A body of ancient literature/texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers; (iii) The literary tradition be original and not borrowed from another speech community; (iv) The classical language and literature being distinct from modern, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.

Sentence Construction in Sanskrit (Hindi)

INDICA’s Center for Bharatiya Languages invites you to a conversation with Professor (retd.) Dr. Vasantkumar M. Bhatt on the 10th of January (Tue) 2023 at IST 1600 hrs. This conversation, primarily in Hindi, on some aspects of sentence construction in Sanskrit, will draw from his best-selling book संस्कृत वाक्य-संरचना first published in 1996 by Saraswati Pustak Bhandar (Ratan Pola, Ahmedabad) which is already into its tenth edition in 2022. This book is written in Gujarati for those who want to learn Sanskrit as a second language.

An Introduction to the Magnificent Indian Thesaurus AMARAKOŚA

INDICA’s Center for Bharatiya Languages presents a conversation with Dr Sivaja Nair on the 16th of December 2022 at IST 1800 hrs in which she will introduce the magnificent Indian thesaurus: the Amarakośa. Dr Nair earned her PhD with a thesis titled The Knowledge Structure in Amarakośa. The Amarakośa, according to Dr Nair, is the most celebrated and authoritative ancient thesaurus of Sanskrit and is a book that an Indian child, one who learns from a traditional education system, memorizes as early as the first year of formal learning. She highlights the fact that though it might appear as a linear list of words, upon closer inspection, it shows a rich organisation of words expressing various relations a word bears with other words, and therefore, when the student of the traditional system studies further, the linear list of words unfolds into a knowledge web. Join us in this conversation to dive deeper into this recitable thesaurus, composed by Amarasiṃha, which truly is a landmark in the history of the Sanskrit language.

Language: Shaping Identity, Reflecting Consciousness, Instigating Conflict

The INDICA Center for Bharatiya Languages presents a conversation with Dr Ramesh Rao, one of the authors of the book Communicating Across Boundaries – The Indian Way, published by INDICA in 2021. Indian philosophers and sages have dealt with the nature of language for thousands of years, and Indian advances in linguistics have been profound and withstood the test of time. Indians reject the idea that language has a physical foundation, and that instead, language is “Consciousness”.  Philosophy of language has always been a part of the general epistemological inquiry in India, and therefore it has led to the search for evidence to verify belief and knowledge. But beyond this inquiry into the depths of our very being, languages, the very many in India, have shaped modern Indian identities. How we speak a language and what language we speak can affect our power and how we are perceived by others. How is it that in some Indian states there is a larger percentage of native language speakers than in other states? What does it say both about the mobility of Indians and the waning of the influence of some languages? What is the reality in India about multilingualism despite the avowed three-language formula? What should we do about the language of instruction? What should be the status of English in India? In this conversation, Ramesh Rao, a Professor of Communication, sketches some of the features of the Indian ‘language-scape,’ and how conflict is generated because of our language identities, choices, and abilities.

Sanskrit Education and Literature in Ancient and Medieval Tamil Nadu

INDICA’s Center for Bharatiya Languages presents a conversation with historian Dr Chithra Madhavan on the 3rd of December at IST 1800 hrs. The title of this conversation is a part of the title of the book Sanskrit Education and Literature in Ancient and Medieval Tamil Nadu: An Epigraphical Study written by Dr Madhavan and published in 2013 by DK Printworld as part of a series titled Reconstructing Indian History and Culture. Education, especially Vedic and Vedāntic, along with allied subjects was, as the text on the back of the book brings to the fore, a prime focus of the rulers of the Tamil kingdoms. Dr Madhavan’s book highlights the educational initiatives during the reigns of the Pallava, Pāṇḍya, Coḷa, Vijayanagara, Nāyaka and other kings. Join us for what promises to be, amongst other things, an empirically sound conversation at the fascinating intersection of two classical Indian languages: Tamil and Sanskrit.

An Introduction to Telugu Literature

The INDICA Center for Bharatiya Languages (CBL) will host a conversation with Dr Nagaraj Paturi on October 6th 2022 (Thu) at 1600 hrs IST. This conversation intends to serve as an introduction to some facets of Telugu literature. Telugu is one of six indigenous languages recognised as “classical”  (see for the criteria adopted to declare a language “classical”) by the Government of India, a status it received in 2008. As per Census 2011, there were then a little over 80 million speakers of the Telugu language, about 87% of them in Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana and Andhra Pradesh). In this conversation, Dr Nagaraj Paturi, a multi-faceted, multilingual scholar, an educator with over 30 years of teaching experience at the post-graduate level and a native speaker of the Telugu language, will not just introduce the vast, growing, and thriving literature in Telugu but also discerningly analyse how the language’s history, which spans well over millennia, has been written.

Vyākaraṇa as a Meta-Discipline of Indic Thought

Vyākaraṇa arose as the discipline of words, and ever since, has served as the grammar of thought itself. In antiquity, Vyākaraṇa is close to the revelation of the Veda itself. In purpose, it is intended to serve the living Veda as a living organ (Vedāṅga). The organic unity of the Vedāṅga disciplines concerning words, can be seen from the very births of these disciplines. The definitive Vyākaraṇa text, the Aṣtādhyāyī, contains within itself the Dhātupāṭha which also finds application in the Vedāṅga called Nirukta (Etymology). The Aṣtādhyāyī’s author Pāṇini is also the author of an authoritative text of the Vedāṅga called Śikṣā (Phonetics). Sounds and words are central to these Vedāṅga disciplines, and their scope accordingly encompassed everything in the world that sounds and words can identify and express. In how their works on Vyākaraṇa and Nirukta have the world itself as their subject matter, Pāṇini and Yāska can rightly also be counted among the earliest encyclopedists. Later luminaries in Vyākaraṇa such as Patañjali and Bhartṛhari also concerned themselves with the question of how the nature of objects can be truly described in words in a manner intelligible to other persons, thus expanding the scope of Vyākaraṇa well beyond Linguistics into Ontology and Epistemology, and also Psychology.

The Aṣtādhyāyī of Pāṇini remains the abiding gold-standard of the Sūtra format ubiquitous in Śāstra literature, be it geometry in the Śulba-sūtra or the foundational Sūtra texts of the Ṣaḍdarśana schools such as the Nyāyasūtra, Yogasūtra and Brahmasūtra. Though Vyākaraṇa has itself not been named as a school of Philosophy among the Ṣaḍdarśana-s, its indispensability to philosophical inquiry and the study of any Śāstra is extensively acknowledged. A dual foundation for the study of all disciplines, be they in the Natural Sciences or Social Sciences or Arts, is said to comprise of Kāṇāda (i.e. Logic, as formulated in the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika systems) and Pāṇinīya (i.e. Words, under the discipline of Vyākaraṇa). All textual study is said to require investigation and understanding at the three levels of Pada (words), Vākya (statements) and Pramāṇa (proof), which are respectively the subject matter of the disciplines of Vyākaraṇa, Mīmāṃsā and Nyāya. The utility of Vyākaraṇa as an interpretive tool for Sūtra texts, is on impressive display in the commentarial texts relating to the Nyāyasūtra, Yogasūtra and Brahmasūtra by the polymath Vācaspatimiśra. Competence in Vyākaraṇa remains a prerequisite in the Vākyārtha format of scholastic discussion in any traditional Śāstra. A school of Philosophy outside of the Ṣaḍdarśana-s where Vyākaraṇa has had a uniquely distinct impact,  is the Trika school, commonly referred to as the Kāśmīra Śaiva school. A fundamental subject of investigation as well as reverence in the Trika school is Vāk (the potency and phenomenon of Speech) based on the conceptualization in Vyākaraṇa texts like Bhartṛhari’s Vākyapadīya. The polymath Abhinavagupta is a representative of the Trika school, who like Vācaspatimiśra before him, adeptly wielded Vyākaraṇa as a tool of textual interpretation and philosophical inquiry.

In the vast corpus of Sanskrit poetry, the deepest and loftiest of emotions are given utterance with barely any lapse from the order of Chandas (prosody) and of Vyākaraṇa. The Itihāsa-s, namely the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata, are in a class of their when it comes to their cultural legacy, and also when it comes to how language is used in them. Usages in these epics that apparently depart from the Pāṇinian standard have traditionally been designated as ārṣa-prayoga (usage of the seers) and can in their own right be a complementary source of understanding of the use of language and its effects on human minds. In the world of the epics, practical knowledge of Vyākaraṇa is seen to be prized (as in Rāma’s praise of Hanumān’s gift of speech during their first encounter) and the terminology of Vyākaraṇa is familiar enough to supply metaphors in conversation (as Kṛṣṇa draws on in Bhagavadgītā 10:33). Sanskrit poets from Bhāsa onwards all the way to contemporary āśu-kavi-s (extempore poets) in Sāhitya-avadhāna settings have exercised immense creative freedom in content and style, without the need for the sort of poetic licence that resents or neglects Vyākaraṇa. This simultaneous commitment to the art of poetry and science of grammar is strikingly illustrated in the Bhaṭṭikāvyam, a poetic retelling of the Rāmāyaṇa which also serves the pedagogic function of teaching Vyākaraṇa through carefully designed examples. 

Vyākaraṇa has through the ages been the archetypal scholastic endeavour, supplying a template for Śāstra-s to develop their formalisms, and supplying a basis of intelligibility for Kāvya to then expand the scope of expression. The symposium proceeds with to emphasis on Vyākaraṇa as applied in other Śāstra-s and Kāvya after an analysis of some key texts considered pivotal to the study of Vyākaraṇa as a meta-discipline.

0930-0935 Invocation and Welcome Megh Kalyanasundaram
0935-0945 Symposium Concept: Vyākaraṇa as a meta-discipline of Indic thought Arvind V Iyer
0945-1015 Analysis of texts targeted at the study of Vyākaraṇa as a meta-discipline Sowmya Krishnapur
1015-1100 Vyākaraṇa vis-à-vis Nyāya, Mīmāṃsā and Sāhitya Śāstra-s Korada Subrahmanyam
1100-1130 The light of Vyākaraṇa in Poetry Sharda Narayanan
1130-1200 Śabda-Yoga: Role and Significance of Vyākaraṇa for Yoga Jayaraman Mahadevan
1200-1230 Accessibility of Vyākaraṇa across social classes: clues from Dharmaśāstra, Itihāsa and historical records Satyan Sharma
1230-1245 Symposium Summary Arvind V Iyer
1245-1300 Impressions and Closing remarks Nagaraj Paturi