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Science of Metrics Or Prosody In Hinduism – Chanda Shastra

Chanda is one of the six auxiliary sciences of Vedas (Vedanga). Chanda Shastra is the science of metrics or prosody. There is a long textual tradition of prosody in Sanskrit. Sages such as Ashvalayana, Sankhayana, and Apastamba have formulated the rules governing the Vedic meters and arrange them in aphorisms to facilitate easy application of rituals. The later classical meters were developed from Vedic meters. Pingala systemized the science of meters.

Gayatri, usnika, brihati, pankti, anstupa (used in Valmiki’s Ramayana), tristubha, and jagati are some of the most popular meters in Vedas.

Gayatri has three lines of eight syllables each. Many of the others have four feet each. In classical Sanskrit, anustup is the most popular meter; it has several variations. In the case of long meters, yati – a pause – is introduced for rhythmic pronunciation.

The meters are broadly classified as sacred vaidika chandas and general or literary laukika chandas. A verse in which the meter may be regulated by the number and position of syllables in each pada (quarter) is known as vritta, and that in which the meter may be regulated by the number of syllable instants in each quarter is jati.

The last syllable of a quarter is understood as long or short depending on the exigencies of the meter. Writers on prosody have recognized eight syllabic groups ya, ra, ta, bha, ja, sa, ma and nagana (foot), each consisting of three syllables and distinguished from one another by a particular permutation of long or short syllables.

Gayatri, consisting of three quarters, is an example of the group of meters used in sacred hymns. It is the meter of the opening hymn of Rig Veda. There are twenty six classes of meters, each comprising a great number of possible syllable groups. The total possibilities may be several thousand out of which only about fifty have been popularly used.

Some later works on prosody are Bharata Muni’s Natyashastra, Varahamihira’s Brihata Samhita, Kedarabhatta’s Vritta Ratnakara, Hemachandra’s Chandonusasana and Ksemendra’s Suvrttalika.