[INDOLOGY] Chronograms in Sanskrit Texts

Jonathan Peterson jon.peterson at mail.utoronto.ca
Mon Aug 9 17:01:05 UTC 2021

Dear list members,

I've wanted to consult the list for some time about the use of chronograms in Sanskrit texts. My exposure to chronograms was first as a student of Persian literature and court-historical writing (tārīkh), where the Abjad system of gematrics is regularly exploited to give a date of an event or composition as a secondary meaning of a phrase or word. A well-known example from the Mughal context being:

ای وای پادشاه من از بام اوفتاد
 "ay, wāy, pādishāh-i man az bām ūftād”
"Oh! Woe! My emperor fell from the roof!"

After letting “ay” "fall from the roof,” i.e., subtracting it from the gematric value of the rest of the phrase, we get the Hijri date of Humayun’s fall from his library and subsequent death.

For a couple years now I’ve been nurturing a side-project on the poetic writings of a student of Bhaṭṭoji Dīkṣita named Nīlakaṇṭha Śukla. Nīlakaṇṭha lived in Bananas in the seventeenth century. He uses chronograms in the closing verses of a handful of his literary writings. I know that chronograms had been used in inscriptional contexts for some time before Nīlakaṇṭha, but I would like to know more about their use both in inscriptional contexts and in Sanskrit or vernacular literary/poetic contexts. Were chronograms commonly practiced before the age of bilingual Arabic/Persian-Sanskrit inscriptions of the Sultanate period? Are there geographical patterns to their use? What are the range/frequency of uses in literary contexts?

Before the changes in the Indology website, I searched for this in the archives and recall seeing a short discussion from the 90’s or early 2000’s on chronograms in inscriptional contexts, but I can no longer find it. Any information or insights would be greatly appreciated.

Best wishes,

Jonathan Peterson
Department for the Study of Religion
Centre for South Asian Studies
University of Toronto

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