Chandas

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By Swami Harshananda

Chandas literally means ‘that which exhilarates’.

  • Chandas is one of the names by which the Vedas are called. It means ‘that which exhilarates’ or ‘that which gives a (protective) covering’.
  • More commonly it denotes the meters in poetry.

Vedic prosody called ‘Chandas,’ or ‘Chandaśāstra’ is considered as one of the six ‘Vedāṅgas’ or ‘limbs of the Veda’ (subsidiary disciplines pertaining to the field of Vedic studies) without a study of which, it will be impossible to understand the Vedas properly. Before reciting the Vedic mantras (chants or hymns) it is obligatory to pay one’s respect to the:

  1. Ṛṣi - sage through whom the mantra was revealed
  2. Devatā - the deity to whom it is addressed
  3. Chandas - the meter in which the mantra is composed

The earliest of the extant works on Vedic prosody is the Chandas-sutra by Piṅgala (2nd cent. B.C.) which is in the form of sutras or aphorisms spread over eight chapters. Eleven major and many more minor meters have been dealt with in this work. Gāyatrī, uṣṇik, anuṣṭup, triṣṭup, jagatī, bṛhatī and paṅkti are the common ones among them. Usually each meter consists of one to five pādas or ‘feet’. Each pāda should consist of a specific number of letters.

For instance, the famous gāyatri meter consists of three pādas and eight letters per pāda. The various meters found in classical Sanskrit literature were gradually evolved from the Vedic meters. It was believed that the use of certain meters was conducive to the attainment of power or could bring about harm to the enemies.


References

  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore