Linguistic charms in Gita

My friend Shri. R. Y. Deshpande has suggested that I may present some study of Linguistic charms in Gita. Being an engineer by profession, so, not a linguist as such, I am yet venturing to present some such study. The simple contention is that, when one undertakes study of a literature such as Gita, some linguistic charm or other will appeal to one’s mind. That is what the linguistic charms are there for, to appeal even to a common mind, not necessarily only to appeal to linguists.

As I understand, linguistic charms भाषालङ्काराः in Sanskrit literature would be of two broad categories (1) charm of sounds शब्दालङ्काराः (2) charm by figures of speech अर्थालङ्काराः. Actually in English, the term ‘figure of speech’ includes both शब्दालङ्काराः and अर्थालङ्काराः.

Charm of sounds शब्दालङ्काराः is again by Prosody छन्दांसि i.e. metrical structure of the poetry and also by such styles as alliteration and onomatopoeia प्रासाः, as also by different types of यमक, which is defined as “repetition in the same stanza (in any part of it) of words or syllables similar in sound, but different in meaning, a kind of rhyme, (of which various kinds are enumerated; see Kāv.3.2-52); आवृत्तिं वर्णसंघातगोचरां यमकं विदुः Kāv.1.61”

In Apte’s dictionary, “अर्थालङ्काराः are of various types अलंकारशेखर of केशवमिश्र mentions (verse 29) fourteen types of अर्थालंकारs as follows:- उपमारूपकोत्प्रेक्षाः समासोक्तिरपह्नुतिः । समाहितं स्वभावश्च विरोधः सारदीपकौ ॥ सहोक्तिरन्यदेशत्वं विशेषोक्तिर्विभावना । एवं स्युरर्थालकाराश्चतुर्दश न चापरे ॥ simile, metaphor, hyperbole, irony, pun, etc.”

There are अर्थालङ्काराः also by various moods and sentiments called as रस-s in संस्कृत. Again in Apte’s dictionary, “The रस-s are usually eight :– शृङ्गारहास्यकरुणरौद्रवीरभयानकाः । भीभत्साद्भुतसंज्ञौ चेत्यष्ट नाट्ये रसाः स्मृताः ॥ but sometimes शान्तरस is added; thus making the total number 9; निर्वेदस्थायिभावो$स्ति शान्तो$पि नवमो रसः K. P.4; sometimes a tenth, वात्सल्यरस, is also added. Rasas are more or less a necessary factor of every poetic composition, but, according to Viśvanātha, they constitute the very essence of poetry; वाक्यं रसात्मकं काव्यम्”. I would think that भक्तिरसः is yet another eleventh रसः, which merits to be added. Also, since भर्तृहरिः composed a distinct वैराग्यशतकम्, विरक्तिः or वैराग्यम् should become twelfth रसः.

Since Gita is well-known for its philosophical content, one may wonder whether, though it is basically a poem, it does have any linguistic charms worth noting and appreciation.

All the verses in Gita are definitely metrical. So charm of sounds शब्दालङ्काराः are definitely there. गीता सुगीता कर्तव्या is a proverbial advocacy. Majority of the verses are in अनुष्टुभ् or श्लोक-meter, having four quarters of eight letters each, though often written in two lines of 16 letters. The four quarters may make the recitation easy. But single line of 16 letters makes the writing compact, especially if all 16 letters can be written conjoint by संधि-s. For example आचार्यान्मातुलान्भ्रातॄन्पुत्रान्पौत्रान्सखीन्स्तथा (1’26) or पापमेवाश्रयेदस्मान्हत्वैतानाततायिनः (1’36) also अनार्यजुष्टमस्वर्ग्यमकीर्तिकरमर्जुन (2’2) and यतेन्द्रियमनोबुद्धिर्मुनिर्मोक्षपरायणः (2’28-अ) and many more. To recite this line (2’28-अ) by its two quarters, it would sound good recitation to say it as यतेन्द्रियमनोबुद्धिर् | मुनिर्मोक्षपरायणः | There are 645 verses in अनुष्टुभ् or श्लोक-meter. I remember having read that all the 645 verses do not exactly conform to the code for अनुष्टुभ् or श्लोक-meter, which is quoted as श्लोके षष्ठं गुरु ज्ञेयं सर्वत्र लघु पञ्चमम् | द्विचतुष्पादयोर्ह्रस्वं सप्तमं दीर्घमन्यथा || The metrical inaccuracies do not anyway hamper smoothness in recitation. The metrical inaccuracies can not only be discounted as poetical liberties निरङ्कुशाः कवयः, but also suggestive that the focus should be on the meaning and the message.

Balance 55 verses 2’5 to 2’8, also 2’20, 2’22, 2’29, 2’70, 8’9, 8’10, 8’11, 8’28, 9’20, 9’21, 36 verses (11’15 to 11’50), 15’2, 15’3, 15’4, 15’5, 15’15 have four quarters of 11 letters each.

  • Similar to the instance of saying यतेन्द्रियमनोबुद्धिर्मुनिर्मोक्षपरायणः (2’28-अ) as यतेन्द्रियमनोबुद्धिर् | मुनिर्मोक्षपरायणः | for the verse 8’9, its first two quarters may be written as कविं पुराणमनुशासितारमणोरणीयाँ-समनुस्मरेद्यः it would sound good recitation to say it as कविं पुराणम् अनुशासितारम् | अणोरणीयान् समनुस्मरेद् यः | Not only that this recitation would be good, one would have also understood the contained words distinctly in the flow of recitation itself.
  • Most of these 55 verses, I guess, would be in उपजाति meter, which is often a combination of इन्द्रवज्रा (त-त-ज-ग-ग) and उपेन्द्रवज्रा (ज-त-ज-ग-ग).

645 verses of 32 letters each and 55 verses of 44 letters each make a total of 23060 letters in Gita ! That count does not include धृतराष्ट्र् उवाच (1), संजय उवाच (9) अर्जुन उवाच (21) and श्रीभगवानुवाच (28).

I am more fascinated by the अर्थालङ्काराः in Gita.

  • To begin with the title श्रीमद्भगवद्गीता, this title is feminine by its gender. Why feminine ? It could as well have been श्रीमद्भगवद्गीतम्. I think the answer is in the epilogue समापनवाक्यम् of every अध्याय. The phrase worth noting is “श्रीमद्भगवद्गीतासु उपनिषत्सु”. Obviously the contention is that every अध्याय is an उपनिषत् and all अध्याय-s together make one comprehensive उपनिषत् the श्रीमद्भगवद्गीता. By the way, the word उपनिषत् is feminine ! Why is the word उपनिषत् feminine ? उपनिषत्-s are to Vedas as शक्ति is to शिव or प्रकृति is to पुरुष ! Since the word वेदः is masculine, the word उपनिषत् is feminine ! Every such revelation gives me immense pleasure and hence I see अर्थालङ्कार there.
  • Every chapter is called as अध्यायः (अधि + आ + अयः) Note अधि = deep आ = comprehensive अयः = penetration (into the mind of the reader, reciter, listener). Such is the impact expected from the study of each अध्याय. The English word ‘chapter’ sounds to be too poor to convey the import of the word अध्यायः. Every word is so much meaningful अर्थपूर्ण ! Understanding श्रीमद्भगवद्गीता becomes most charming, if one has some good understanding of its language.
  • The very first verse (1’1) seems to present the personality of धृतराष्ट्र्, the King, yet biased towards his sons, whom he refers to as मामकाः. The affix क in मामकाः itself connotes more affection and in turn the bias. Alternatively, for धृतराष्ट्र्, everyone fighting on the side of दुर्योधन are मामकाः. And the rest are पाण्डवाः. Maybe, a complex always lurked in धृतराष्ट्र्’s mind that he became the king, not by his own merit, but only because पण्डु awarded it to him (like a piece of bread tossed to a dog ?), All that acrimony seems to find expression in the phrase मामकाः पाण्डवाश्चैव.
  • In the phrase धर्मक्षेत्रे कुरुक्षेत्रे, often धर्मक्षेत्रे is interpreted to be adjectival of कुरुक्षेत्रे. But as a king, धृतराष्ट्र् can be wanting संजय to tell him what happened / was happening on both sides of the battle and hence would have spelt out the two sides as धर्मक्षेत्रे and कुरुक्षेत्रे.
  • Any literary composition is certainly rich with अर्थालङ्काराः, if it is replete with number of interpretations. Just by this consideration alone, Gita would stand out as a preeminent composition.
  • Verse 1’3 sounds quite satirical. दुर्योधन seems to draw attention of precept द्रोणाचार्य to the fact that his own disciples have arranged themselves against him, the arrangement itself having been schemed by his number one enemy, the son of द्रुपद. The verse seems to have the aim of inciting द्रोणाचार्य to teach lesson to his ungrateful disciples.
  • Verse 1’10 is interesting, because it brings forth arrogance of दुर्योधन in a subtle way. When pointing to his own army he calls it with the pronoun तत् (that), implying that his army is spread vast to quite some distance, hence worthy of the pronoun ‘that’. Pointing to army of Pandavas he uses the pronoun इदम् (this), implying that their army is just this much.
  • The words अपर्याप्तम् and पर्याप्तम् are not only antonyms, but each of them has inherently two contradictory meanings. One way अपर्याप्तम् means limitless. It also has an alternate meaning as ‘inadequate’. These words are very suggestive that the strength of an army is to be gauged not just by the number of soldiers, not just quantitatively, but also qualitatively, by the fighting spirit and fighting skills.
  • All the narration of दुर्योधन to द्रोणाचार्य in as many as 9 verses from 1’3 to 1’11 could have been made more distinct by prefacing it as दुर्योधन उवाच. Is there a poetic suggestion implicit in the absence of any such preface, that दुर्योधन does not merit any distinct mention ?
  • Verses 1’12 to 1’18 starting from भीष्मपितामह giving the clarion call and blowing his conch, followed by blowing of conches by श्रीकृष्णभगवान् and all the eminent Pandava-warriors is वीररस in full flow culminating in “स घोषो धार्तराष्ट्राणां हृदयानि व्यदारयत्” (भयानक-रस) and “नभश्च पृथिवीं चैव तुमुलो व्यनुनादयन्” (अतिशयोक्ति) in 1’19
  • The verses सीदन्ति मम गात्राणि मुखं च परिशुष्यति | वेपथुश्च शरीरे मे रोमहर्षश्च जायते (1’29) गाण्डीवं स्रंसते हस्तात्त्वक्चैव परिदह्यते | न च शक्नोम्यवस्थातुं भ्रमतीव च मे मनः (1’30) are so much expressive and picturesque that an absorbed reader may experience in himself, what अर्जुन might have then experienced. These verses describing the pitiable condition of अर्जुन are full of करुणरस.
  • There is करुणरस also in येषामर्थे काङ्क्षितं नो राज्यं भोगाः सुखानि च | त इमेsवस्थिता युद्धे प्राणांस्त्यक्त्वा धनानि च (1’33) because here अर्जुन is expressing his compassion. Rather his compassion continues up to नरकेsनियतं वासो भवतीत्यनुशुश्रुम (1’44) culminating in अहो बत (भय-रस) in (1’45), rather विसृज्य सशरं चापं शोकसंविग्नमानसः (करुणरस) in (1’47)
  • In the entire first chapter there is no श्रीभगवानुवाच. This means that श्रीभगवान lent a patient ear to what all अर्जुन wanted to say (शान्तरस).  

One would come across good number of similes उपमालङ्कार-s as in

  • यावानर्थ उदपाने सर्वतः संप्लुतोदके | तावान्सर्वेषु वेदेषु ब्राह्मणस्य विजानतः (2’46)
  • इन्द्रियाणां हि चरतां यन्मनोsनुविधीयते | तदस्य हरति प्रज्ञां वायुर्नावमिवाम्भसि (2’67)
  • आपूर्यमाणमचलप्रतिष्ठम् समुद्रमापः प्रविशन्ति यद्वत् | तद्वत् कामा यं प्रविशन्ति सर्वे स शान्तिमाप्नोति न कामकामी (2’70)

It comes to mind that every instance of उपमालङ्कार merits its study, taking note of उपमानसर्वस्वम् and उपमेयसर्वस्वम्, rather by tabulating them to see the one-to-one correspondence.

उपमानानि यावान् अर्थः सर्वतः संप्लुतोदके उदपाने
उपमेयानि तावान् (अर्थः) विजानतः ब्राह्मणस्य सर्वेषु वेदेषु

Now, this is interesting. At first reading one may think that the correspondence is between सर्वतः संप्लुतोदके and सर्वेषु वेदेषु. But that is not so. When a ब्राह्मण has become accomplished विजानन्, his विज्ञानम् becomes all-pervading like flood-waters. In that state of accomplishment, knowledge even in all Vedas put together would be like the water in a pond or well. I am left wondering whether there could be a better simile. Alternatively, one can also wonder whether the significance or importance of accomplishing विज्ञानम् could have been stated without the simile and yet with the same impact.

In अशोच्यानन्वशोचास्त्वं प्रज्ञावादांश्च भाषसे (2’11) would one sense उपहास ?

There is some शब्दालङ्कार of अनुप्रास of ओ-कार and of ‘यम’ in अच्छेद्योsयमदाह्योsयमक्लेद्योsशोष्य एव च (2’24) अव्यक्तोsयमचिन्त्योsयमविकार्योsयमुच्यते (2’25).

In (3’37), (3’38) and (3’39) together श्रीकृष्णभगवान् thought it worthwhile to explain the impact of काम and क्रोध on human mind not only by as many as three similes – यथा (1) धूमेनाव्रियते वह्निः (2) आदर्शः मलेन (3) गर्भः उल्बेन He gives to it the personality of someone with insatiable hunger महाशनः He further calls it as fire, which not only engulfs but has the animosity unto one’s intellect to burn it into ashes आवृतं ज्ञानमेतेन ज्ञानिनो नित्यवैरिणा. The fire is also difficult to drowse दुष्पूरेणानलेन. Maybe, without mentioning it, श्रीकृष्णभगवान् wanted to remind अर्जुन of the ignominious incident of द्रौपदीवस्त्रहरणम्. Even otherwise काम and क्रोध are such दोष-s, which incite people into indecent conduct and demean the character, both individually and socially.

I have tried to present the शब्दालङ्काराः and अर्थालङ्काराः, which appeal to my mind, here, primarily, only from the first three chapters.

There are certainly many, many more, not to forget the great रूपकम् – ऊर्ध्वमूलमधःशाखमश्वत्थं प्राहुरव्ययम् | छन्दांसि यस्य पर्णानि यस्तं वेद स वेदवित् (15’1). “One who understands ‘that’ is magi”.

शुभमस्तु !

-o-O-o-

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5 thoughts on “Linguistic charms in Gita

  1. ‘Linguistic charms in Gita’ by slabhyankar अभ्यंकरकुलोत्पन्नः श्रीपादः is an EXCELLENT Article!

  2. The Bhagavad Gita is a treasure trove. More like akshaya patram. the more we seek the more it gives… excellent article… while many of us stick to recitation and some of us get into understanding the philosophy underlying the Gita… a inguistic perspective brings a freshness. thank you for the Wonderful article

  3. Good.

    The phrase श्रीमद्भगवद्गीतासु उपनिषत्सु that appears in the epilogue quite surprised me. Doesn’t it suggest that it is श्रीमद्भगवद्गीताः , a plural word?

  4. नमस्कारं। यह अतिशयोक्ति नहीं होगी की यह बहुत ही ज्ञानप्रद लेख है गीता की सुंदरता पर। आपकी यह बात विचारनीय है कि “दुर्योध्न उवाच” ऐसा क्यों नहीं जबकि दुर्योधन के मुख से कई श्लोक बोले गए। भगवान् कृष्ण आपको ऐसे लेख और लिखने की शक्ति व् प्रेरणा देते रहे व् हम भी आपके दिए ज्ञान व् जीवन से प्रेरणा ले सके, ऐसी मेरी प्रार्थना है श्री हरि से

    डॉ प्रदीप गोयल

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