Introduction of Lexicons


One of the salient features of Sanskrit literature is the long tradition of lexicons. These works can be traced back to over two millennia. They are known as koshas. These koshas are metrical dictionaries appearing in various forms and styles to suit the taste and understanding of various kinds of readers. The exact number of koshas produced over the years is controversial. Some scholars say it is more than 200 while some say it is more than 80.

Need for Lexicons

नरभूपौ विना कोषं प्रजोत्पादनरक्षयोः।

नैव क्षमौ यथा तद्वत् कविः काव्यकृतावतावपि॥



Someone may be an expert in grammar, yet, to write a poem requires great skill and an abundance of words. Collection of words is done by lexicons. Without a treasury, a king cannot protect his subjects, similarly a poet cannot compose an excellent poem without lexicon.

The knowledge of lexicons is important to understand the meaning of     words. To apply and use words appropriately in a sentence or poem, lexicons are important. Lexicons help to know the direct meaning of words which ultimately helps to understand the indicative and suggestive meaning of the words.

The tradition of Lexicons

Among the surviving koshas, the Nighantu (2 A.D.) is the oldest while the koshavatamsa(19 A.D)  is the latest available work. The concept of lexicography and lexicographical thinking of the word has started in the later 18th century in the world. It is difficult to figure out when and where the tradition of lexicography began in India. But it is certainly much before it started in the world. The Vedic sarvanukramanis (5-5 B.C) are perhaps one of the earliest attempts made in India in the field of Lexicography.  According to Mahadevshastri Joshi, the koshas have come into existence after passing through various stages like dhatupathas, unadipathas, ganapathas, and linganushasanas or gender-treatises. Some scholars believe that vyakarana and linganushasanas were the reference books for creating koshas. According to many scholars in the initial stage of koshas, they were known as namalinganushasanas.

Types of Lexicons

Sanskrit lexicons can be classified in two different ways.

1-   On the basis of subject matter

According to subject matter there are two types of koshas.

a.   General

These koshas contain entries of all the words from the various fields of life.

e.g. Amarkosh, Abhidhanchintamani etc.

b.   Specialized

These koshas are subject-specific. They deal with any one specific branch of study such as tantra, mathematics, medicine etc.

e.g.Dhanvantarinighantu,  Agastyanighantu.

2-   On the basis of style and structure

There are three types of koshas based on style and structure.

a.   Ekartha

They deal with synonymous words.

e.g. Abhidhanchintamani

b.   Nanarta

They deal with homonyms

e.g. Anekarthakosh

c.   Mishra

They are mixed.

e.g. Amarkosh


Some scholars are of the opinion that among the available lexicons, Abhidhanchintamani by Hemchandr is the oldest one. On the contrary, some scholars believe that Amarkosh by Amarsinh is the oldest among the available lexicons.

Examples of lexicons- Amarkosh, Vaijayantikosh, Medinikosh, Abhidanchintamani

Published On: 25-11-2015

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