(Prof. V.M. Kshirsagar, Deccan College)
Chandas is defined as yad akṣaraparimāṇam tac chandaḥ, it is the measure of akṣara. In the Vedas, the metres or chandases are dependent on the number of syllables only and the metrical music of the Vedic vṛttas was controlled by the number of these Akṣaras, now raised, now lowered in their pronunciation according to a scheme of word-accentuation in the speech system.
It is not decided yet whence the motion of the Chandas, a particular mode of presentation has arisen. We cannot speculate about the nature of the language in the beginning. Language was a means for expressing oneself, one’s emotions and feelings to other. In this regard many theories are proposed by various scholars. One of it says that the earliest language was of the manner of some sing-song mode or lyrical expression, bound to some tempo or metre. Such metrical expression is ancient. Ancient Greek literature is bound in metres. Old Avestan composition also is metrical versification and ancient Slavic Bards also are rhythmic or bound in some tempo. Sonorous rhythmic language allures the minds, keeps it spell-bound. This tempo or rhythmic expression might have given rise to earlier metres that are first noticed in the Vedic expression.
Vedic compositions contain some lyrical quality which is conducive for recitation. This method of recitation depends upon three accents, which further gave rise to seven musical tones.(1) Recitation of the Vedic texts depends upon these three accents, yet it is bound to the number of the letters also, which normally contain the regular iambic rhythm at the end of the pāda. When the ṛks were set to the tunes of music, the musical aspect of the accents was also considered and, therefore, the chandas of the sāmans also was deemed important.
These metres are the foundation or support of the metrical Vedic literature. Vedas are of the nature of speech and Chandas are the form of the speech or Vāc. – vācā vedā hy adhīyante vācā chandā¿isi tatra ha.(2) Vedic literature is verbal in nature, therefore Chandas indicated Vedic mantras. Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa indicates towards this fact.(3) Later on the term chandas was used to indicate the metres counted by the groups of letters. (4) Piṅgalācārya was the first to give a complete and scientific system of this branch, wherein he refers to many of his predecessors. Along with the definitions and discussion on Vedic metres, Piṅgalācārya gives the description of non-Vedic metres also, that are counted by the group of three Akṣaras, long and / or short. The Vedic metres follow the mono-syllabic principle, according to which the single syllable is the unit for counting metrical length; the fixed number of syllables or letters in a pāda indicates the posteriority in time.
Varṇa-vṛttas in the classical Sanskrit Literature have grown out of the Akṣara-vṛttas of the Vedas. Piṅgalācārya uses the Akṣara-gaṇas, the eight trīkasfirst for his metrical definitions. The commencement of his work is marked with the description or definition of these groups; he gives their combinations of long and short letters and symbolic names. Bharata also knows them. This type of grouping of long-short syllables helped the correct measurement of them, when employed in the metrical lines.
In the Nāṭyaśāstra, chandas are discussed as an essential part of vācika abhinaya. Vāc is the soul of this abhinaya or gesticulation; it is the source of all activities in the world. vāṅmayānīha śāstrāṇi vāṅniṣṭhāni tathaiva ca. tasmād vācaḥ param nāsti vāghi sarvasya kāraṇam.(5) This vāc includes the pāṭhya or script of the drama, therefore, Bharata has elaborately discussed about metres. He considers that word is not without chandas, both are mutually dependent- Chandohīno na śabdoˊsti na chandaḥ śabdavarjitam, evam tūbhayasa¿yogo nāṭyasyoddyotakaḥ smṛtaḥ. (6)
Bharata has classified the chandas according to the number of letters; and another assumption is that every verse of chandas contains four quarters; therefore Gāyatri turns into a chandas containing six letters in a pāda. (Gayātrayām dvau trikau jñeyau15/14-92) It is also noted that the upasargas or nipātas are used in the verses, many times to complete the number of the syllables. Whole discussion about the Chandases offered by Bharata is focussed on the dramatic plot pāṭhya or Sa¿hitā. These chandases make the pāṭhya nibaddha. The chandas contain many letters from one to nearly twenty-six; their permutations and combinations may give rise to many more. Yet, as they have no beauty or attractive nature, they are not used in poetry.
These vṛttas are classified into 3 types, sama, ardhasama and viṣama; and their employment is done according to the combination of trikas in them. – sarveṣām chandasām evem trikair vṛttam prayojayet.(7) Bharata gives the description of all the eight trikas and tells that the chandases containing 26 syllables / letters are chandas; those having more letters should be called mālāvṛttas. He also discusses the Vedic chandases like Gāyatrī, Uṣṇik, Anuṣṭubh, Bṛhatī, Paṅkti etc. He has classified these vṛttas in two types or classes, akṣara-vṛttas and mātrā-vṛttas. Akṣara- vṛttas are counted according to the arrangement of trikas, and mātrā-vṛttas depend upon the long and short time of the letters, irrespective of their number. He also has discussed the varieties of these vṛttas depending on the counting of mātrās.
Piṅgalaˊs chandasśāstra defines two groups of the mātrā-vṛttas and one more group namely the vaītālīya group which is a combination of mātrā and varṇa-vṛttas.
Bharata gives definitions of yati and prastāra also., Yati is defined as niyata-padaviccheda. In addition to all the discussion, Bharata prescribes the use of pitches of svaras, tones tāra, mandra or madhya for the vṛttas or chandas and also discusses the proper time for the use of particular vṛttas. Moreover, he prescribes special vṛttas for particular Rasa, along with the Alamkāras. He tells that for the enhancement of Śṛṅgāra-rasa, Āryā-vṛttashould be used yet he prescribes that according to meaning and Rasa, proper Chandas should be used – arthayogena chandaḥ kāryam yathārasam.(8) The vidhi of Chandas, should be decided by time and meaning, both. – vidhiḥ kālakṛtaś caiva tathā cārthakṛtoˊpi va (Nāśā. 15.109), here Abhinava explains that Dodhaka, Toṭaka are the vṛttas helpful for singing and Sragdharā is for recitations. (9)
Bharata refers to the bearing of the Chandases upon the sacrifice, yet he refers to the Dhruvāgāna, when he talks of the places of svaras, their pitches in the discussion of sacrificial metres. (dhruvāvidhāne caivāsya sampravakṣyāmi lakṣaṇam.) Moreover, he has given the types of chandases as divya, divyetara, divyamānuṣa.
In the behavior of the chandas, Bharata syas, that it contains sampad, virāma, pāda, daivata, sthāna, akṣara, varṇa, svara, vidhi and vṛtta.(10) He has discussed many akṣara-vṛttas with their illustrations which also contain the name of that vṛtta. All of this discussion occurs keeping in view the presentation of drama. Therfore, Bharata specifically says vṛttāni teṣu nāṭyeˊsmin prayojyāni nibodhata. (11)
Bharata’s Nāṭya got developed in the tradition of nṛtya, dance or nṛtta. The plot got presented through songs, set to particular composition bound in rhythm. Therefore, the theories regarding such compositions were presented along with anibaddha or unbound padas. These unbound padas also were regulated by some rhythmic compositions, which gets reflected in Viṣama–vṛttas. This rhythm was supported by the accompaniment of musical instruments, mostly beaten instruments. The prescription and description of Dhrvās and their songs related to Chandases will make this point more clear. Thus the discussion on metres presented by Bharata is very peculiar and unique in nature.
Here we should not forget the contribution of folkal and Buddhist Prakrit prosody contained in various dilects, reflected through the gāthās, ovī and other verses presented by Bhāṭas, Cāranas, Māgadhas and other nomadic singers. Their singing was more based on laya or tempo, not restricted much to the rules of laghu-guru in prosody. Vaītālīya is an example of such vṛtta, which was noted by both Piṅgala and Bharata. The composition and presentation of such metrical verses was easy and alluring to ears; therefore, it got retained in the musical flow in passing time.
Such vṛttas or chandases mark the musical part of the compositions or verses that were retained in memory through singing and recitation and thus helped the sonorous presentation for easy understandings and attracting the minds of masses also, to some extent, which was the aim of Bharat’s Nāṭyśāstra.
1) Nāradīya Śīkṣā – svaritaprabhavā hyete ṣaḍjamadhyamapañcamāḥ.
2) Bṛhaddevatā 2.45.
3) Śatapathabrāhmaṇa 188.8.131.52
4) Comm. On Chandassūtra 2.1 Chandaḥ,
5) Nāṭyaśāstra 15.3.
6) Nāṭyaśāstra 15.46.
7) Nāṭyaśāstra 15/14.84.
8) Nāṭyaśāstra 16.109.
9) Dodhakatoṭakādīnām gīyamānatayā sragdharādīnām tu pāṭhena.