[INDOLOGY] Meter identifying tool --- The actual usage and funcrion of metres

Michael Hahn hahn.m at t-online.de
Sun Mar 9 16:05:21 UTC 2014

Many thanks to Prof. Kulkarni's hint of the valuable meter identifying
tool, which greatly facilitates the task of the inexperienced student. In
this connection I would like to mention my observations regarding the
actual use of metres in classical Sanskrit literature.

There are two comprehensive collections and statistics of metres
occurring in Sanskrit literature: one by Kühnau (based on Stenzler's
collections), one by H. D. Velankar. For the bibliographical details see
my paper A030 on www.academia.edu. From these papers we can see that not
many more than 100 metres do actually occur in serious Sanskrit texts 
(the higher figure is some 130 metres). These 100 metres can roughly
be divided into two halves of 50 each with 50 of them being used very,
very rarely. The remaining 50 metres can again be split into two halves
of 25 comparatively rare metres and 25 frequently used metres which
every student of Sanskrit literature should know. They are the content
of page 6 of my "Brief introduction ..."

These figures contrast highly with what theory teaches. The most
comprehensive index of Sanskrit and Prakrit metres that can be found in
H. D. Velankar's (a really great scholar and metrician) wonderful
edition of Hemacandra's Chandonusasana lists about 1,000 different
meters. However, it is absolutely useless and superfluous to study all
of them if only one tenth of them does actually occur. It does not mean
anything if a would-be poet takes one of the additional metres from a
chandahsastra and uses it only to show his erudition, if nobody else
knows his particular metre. As Ashwini Deo has convincingly shown in her
ground-breaking paper on Sanskrit metrics, it is very unlikely for any
literature to actively use such a great variety of metres. Even the 100
(130) metres listed by Kühnau and Velankar are not really different
metres, but can be reduced to a much smaller number of basic pattens and
their variations, as are Indravajra, Upendravajra and Upajati, Vamsastha,
Indravamsa ind Vamsamala, Salini and Vaisvadevi, the four Vaitaliya and
Aupacchandasaka off-shoots etc. etc. By the way, in the 1,130 stanzas of
his Kapphinabhyudaya the poet Sivasvamin uses 43 different metres, which
is the highest number of metres in a classical work (from the first
millenium) I know of. Practically all of them belong to my "50 not
extremely rare metres" category; see my edition, Delhi 2013. The
Buddhist authors Aryasura, Haribhatta, Gopadatta use not more than 30
metres in their campu poems. The 150 metres in Jnanasrimitras
Vrttamalastuti do not mean anything because they only serve as
illustrations of theory.

In sharp contrast with the predilections of the Indian metricians for
the increase of the number of metres and the invention of ever new
varieties stands their neglect of, or silence about, some of the basic
laws.of Indian metrics that every body knew and followed but nobody
ever included in the sastras. Pingala teaches four varieties of vipulas
for the sloka (anustubh, vaktra) metre: bhrau ntau, i.e. bh, ra, na, and
ta vipula. This might habe been valid for his time. Until the 11th
century CE no one seems to have noticed that the ta vipula is virtually
non-existing in classical Sanskrit literature whereas another vipula,
the ma-vipula, is actually the most specific and most frequently used
among them. Ratnakarasanti is the first to reluctantly acknowledge it:
d.r.s.taa makaare.naapy eva.m 

Moreover, Indian metricians confined themselves only to the description
of the syllables 5, 6, and 7 of the quarter, remaining tacits about the
generally fixed structure of the preceding ga.na. It was left to Western
scholars on the 19th century to formulate thosee laws that the Indian
poets intuitively knew and followed already 2000 years earlier.

The point of my remarks is that the metrical theory as represented by
the chandahsastras is one thing and the actual practice of the poets
something quite different. I would like to encourage a deeper research
on the practical side (as done in an exmplary manner by Ashwini Deo, on
a high theoretical analytical level) and to devote more energy to the as
yet only unsufficiently explored question, what the different metres
meant for Indian poets, what they regarded as their specific functions.
Ksemendra in his Suvrttatilaka is by far too superficial. I have written
about this topic but unfortunately mostly in German.

Michael Hahn

Prof. Dr. Michael Hahn
Ritterstr. 14
D-35287 Amoeneburg
Tel. +49-6422-938963
Fax: +49-6422-938967
E-mail: hahn.m at t-online.de
URL: staff-www.uni-marburg.de/~hahnm

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