Chandas (छन्दस्)

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परिचयः ॥ Introduction

Origin of Vedic meters and Musical note

Among the Vedas, the most ancient expressions like the Rgveda, Atharvaveda contain suktas that are bound to some specific patterns. These specific patterns are called Chandas (metres). These metres can be primarily classified as

  • Vedic Metres - They refer to the metres which are observed in the Vedic literature. They are also known as ‘Chandas’
  • Non-Vedic Metres - They refer to those that are observed in Classical Sanskrit literature. Also known as Vrtta or Classical metres.

छन्दसः उत्पत्तिः ॥ Origin of Chandas

Tracing the exact origin of Chandas is difficult. Some interpret that Chandas originated from the Vedas. The Vedas themselves are composed in metres such as Gayatri and Trishtubh. Some of the later Classical metres, such as Indravajra, Upendravajra, Upajati, Shalini and Vamshastha etc. are also considered to be in the Vedas.

पूषण्वतेते चकृमा करम्भं (ऋ.सं. ३.३.१८) इतीन्द्रवज्राया:। स्तुहि श्रुतं गर्तसदं युवानं (ऋ.सं. २.७.१८) इत्युपेन्द्रवज्राया:। अमी य ऋक्षा निहितास उच्चा नक्तं ददृशे कुह चिद्दिवेयु: (ऋ.सं.१.२.१४) इत्युपजाते:। इन्द्रासोमा दुष्कृते मा सुभं भूत् (ऋ.सं.५.७.६) इति शालिन्या:। रथं न दुर्गाद्वसव: सुदानव: (ऋ.सं.१.७.२४) इति वंशस्थस्य । Chandas Sutra, Intro., p.2

pūṣaṇvatete cakr̥mā karambhaṁ (r̥.saṁ. 3.3.18) itīndravajrāyā:। stuhi śrutaṁ gartasadaṁ yuvānaṁ (r̥.saṁ. 2.7.18) ityupendravajrāyā:। amī ya r̥kṣā nihitāsa uccā naktaṁ dadr̥śe kuha ciddiveyu: (r̥.saṁ.1.2.14) ityupajāte:। indrāsomā duṣkr̥te mā subhaṁ bhūt (r̥.saṁ.5.7.6) iti śālinyā:। rathaṁ na durgādvasava: sudānava: (r̥.saṁ.1.7.24) iti vaṁśasthasya ।

Hence, we may say that Chandas hail from the earliest poetic compositions like the Vedic suktas and bear some similarity with them in later patterns also. It is, perhaps, therefore, that some prosodians like Kedara Bhatta in Vrtta Ratnakara group them according to the Vedic pattern, i.e. by counting the number of syllables and label them accordingly.

The first and comprehensive work on the Chandas Shastra is the Chandas Sutra by Pingala. Some interpret that Pingala is the founder of the Chandas Shastra. His treatise, the Chandas Sutra treats all the metres Vedic and Non-vedic like Classical metres, Gathas etc.

Some other traditions consider Shiva to be the first preceptor of the Chandas Shastra. Yadavaprakasha, a commentator of the Pingalasutras, has represented the tradition of the Chandas Shastra as follows,

छन्दोज्ञानमिदं भवाद् भगवतो लेभे सुराणां गुरुः तस्माद् दुश्च्यवनस्ततोऽसुरगुरुर्माण्डव्यनामा तत:।

माडव्यादपि सैतवस्तत ऋषिर्यास्कस्तत: पिङ्गल: तस्येदं यशसा गुरोर्भुवि धृतं प्राप्यास्मदाद्य: क्रमात् ।।

(Pingala-Chandovichiti-bhasya on Chandas Sutra 8.16)

chandojñānamidaṁ bhavād bhagavato lebhe surāṇāṁ guruḥ tasmād duścyavanastato'suragururmāṇḍavyanāmā tata:।

māḍavyādapi saitavastata r̥ṣiryāskastata: piṅgala: tasyedaṁ yaśasā gurorbhuvi dhr̥taṁ prāpyāsmadādya: kramāt ।।

A story is recounted in the commentary named as Pingalapradipa on Prakrita-Pingala-Sutra by Lakshminatha Bhatta. It says that Sheshanaga, the serpent raja, is the first preceptor of the Chandas Shastra. According to this story, Sheshanaga was curious to know about how much load of the earth is carried by him. Therefore, to know the area of this earth he descended on the earth. After that, due to an enmity, Garuda ran after him to kill him. Sheshanaga sought Garuda’s permission to teach him the Chandas Shastra before Garuda would consume him. While learning the Chandas Shastra, Garuda was completely fascinated by the rhythm, tempo, intonation, movements and pauses of metres. Subsequently, Sheshanaga commenced the treatment of the metre called Bhujangaprayata. He explained its form along with an example. Furthermore, he repeated the word Bhujangaprayata four times in the same rhythm. Garuda was totally engrossed in the joy of the metrical composition. Taking advantage of the situation, Sheshanaga gave Garuda the slip and glided into the water. At this moment, Garuda realised that he had been tricked and shouted, “you have cheated me!” Sheshanaga replied, “Sir, as per my promise, I warned you, not once or twice, but four times, but you did not listen!”

The paths traced in available resources are unable to map the origin of Chandas. Accepting that the Chandas existed during the Vedas and the Chandas Shastra or prosody, the system of metres gained importance as one of the Vedangas and evolved as a science in the post-vedic period. They proved helpful to preserve enormous Vedic Literature and therefore, are treated as important.

व्युत्पत्तिः ॥ Etymology

  • The word ‘Chandas’, at first is observed in the Purusha Sukta of the Rgveda as

छन्दांसि जज्ञिरे तस्मात् |[1] chandāṁsi jajñire tasmāt | (10.90.9).

Furthermore, in sukta 130[2], metres such as Gayatri are mentioned.

  • Sayanacharya has stated that the Chandas derives its name because of its act of enveloping the papa (wrong deeds) of people.

पुरुषस्य पापसम्बन्धं वारयितुमाच्छादकत्वात् छन्द इत्युच्यते । Rgveda Sayanabhashya, Preface, p.32.

puruṣasya pāpasambandhaṁ vārayitumācchādakatvāt chanda ityucyate ।

Sayanacharya also quotes three Shrutivakyas to uphold the etymological meaning of the word Chandas. The Aitareya Brahmana (2.5) notes that Chandas protect from getting involved in the Papa karma.

छादयन्ति हि वा एवं छन्दांसि पापात् कर्मण: । chādayanti hi vā evaṁ chandāṁsi pāpāt karmaṇa: ।

According to the Taittiriya Samhita (5.6.6), once, all the deities wanted to meet Prajapati Brahma. However, his body was surrounded by a raging fire. Hence, to reach Brahma, all the deities covered their bodies with Chandas.[3]

प्रजापतिरग्निमचिनुत,स क्षुरपविर्भूत्वाऽतिष्ठत्तं देवा बिभ्यतो नोपायन् ते छन्दोभिरात्मानं छादयित्वोपायन् तच्छन्दसां छन्दस्त्वम् ।[4]

prajāpatiragnimacinuta,sa kṣurapavirbhūtvā'tiṣṭhattaṁ devā bibhyato nopāyan te chandobhirātmānaṁ chādayitvopāyan tacchandasāṁ chandastvam ।

The shield of Chandas can also protect the performer of the yajna from the heat of fire. Hence, it is said,

चीयमानाग्निसन्तापस्याच्छादकत्वाच्छन्द: । cīyamānāgnisantāpasyācchādakatvācchanda: ।

The Chandogya Upanishad (14.2) quotes that when the deities were afraid of death, they entered and hid in the three Vedas. At that time, they were covered by the Chandas.

देवा वै मृत्योर्बिभ्यतस्त्रयीं विद्यां प्राविशँस्ते छन्दोभिरात्मानमाच्छादयन् यदेभिरच्छादयँस्तच्छन्दसां छन्दस्त्वम् ।

devā vai mr̥tyorbibhyatastrayīṁ vidyāṁ prāviśam̐ste chandobhirātmānamācchādayan yadebhiracchādayam̐stacchandasāṁ chandastvam ।

Thus, the Chandas serve as a protective shield from untimely death.

अपमृत्युं वारयितुमाच्छादयतीति छन्द: । apamr̥tyuṁ vārayitumācchādayatīti chanda: ।

  • Yaskacharya accepts the meaning of Chandas as ‘to cover’ by quoting छन्दांसि छादनात् । chandāṁsi chādanāt ।
  • Bhanuji Dikshita in the commentary on Amarakosha called Ramashrami explains that

चन्दते । चदि आह्लादने दीप्तौ च (भ्वा.आ.से.) । चन्देरादेश्श्च छ: (उणादि 4.220) इत्यसुन् ।

candate । cadi āhlādane dīptau ca (bhvā.ā.se.) । canderādeśśca cha: (uṇādi 4.220) ityasun ।

Meaning: The word ‘Chandas’ is derived from the root ‘Cadi Ālhādane Diptau ca’, which is used in the sense of ‘gladdening’ or ‘pleasing’ by adding the Unadi suffix ‘Asun’. Svami Dayananda Sarasvati also quotes the same in his commentary on UnaK. as

चन्देरादेश्श्च छ:।। 4.220 ।। चन्दति हृष्यति येन दीप्यते वा तत् छन्द: ।

canderādeśśca cha:।। 4.220 ।। candati hr̥ṣyati yena dīpyate vā tat chanda: ।

  • Panini uses the word ‘Chandas’ as a synonym for the word Veda. In the etymology of the word ‘Ṛtviyaḥ’, the word ‘Chandasi’ in the Sutra ‘Chandasi Ghas 5.1.105’ refers to the Veda. The reason for using the word ‘Chandas’ in the context with the Veda can be obtained with the help of aforementioned root ‘Cadi Ālhādane Diptau ca’.

Svami Dayananda Sarasvati in the Rgveda Bhashya Bhumika opines that,

येन छन्दसा छन्दोभिर्वा सर्वा विद्या: संवृता: आवृता: सम्यक् स्वीकृता भवन्ति, तस्माच्छन्दांसि वेदा: । वेदाध्ययनेन सर्वविद्याप्राप्तेर्मनुष्य आह्लादी भवति, सर्वार्थज्ञाता चातश्छन्दो वेद: ।

yena chandasā chandobhirvā sarvā vidyā: saṁvr̥tā: āvr̥tā: samyak svīkr̥tā bhavanti, tasmācchandāṁsi vedā: । vedādhyayanena sarvavidyāprāptermanuṣya āhlādī bhavati, sarvārthajñātā cātaśchando veda: ।

Meaning: With a thorough knowledge of the Vedas, man masters all the branches of knowledge and becomes happy; hence, the term Chandas indicates the Vedas.

  • Different meanings of the word Chandas are provided by the Amarakosha (3.2.20).

विधुरं तु प्रविश्लेषेऽभिप्रायश्छन्द आशय: । vidhuraṁ tu praviśleṣe'bhiprāyaśchanda āśaya: ।

Here, the word Chandas is mentioned as ‘opinion’ and ‘control’. In the commentary Ramashrami, the word Chandas is stated as a masculine word and is derived from ‘Chadi Saṁvaraṇe’ of Curādi Gaṇa by adding the suffix ‘Ghañ’

छन्दनम् । छदि संवरणे (चु.प.से.) । घञ् । (Astadhyayi 3.3.18 )

chandanam । chadi saṁvaraṇe ( । ghañ ।

  • Amarakosha (3.3.232) refers to Chandas as Padya and desire.

छन्द: पद्येऽभिलाषे च तप: कृच्छ्रादिकर्म च । ३.३.८४१ ।[5] chanda: padye'bhilāṣe ca tapa: kr̥cchrādikarma ca ।

Ramashrami quotes that here the Padya refers to the metres like Anustubh etc. पद्ये अनुष्टुबादौ । padye anuṣṭubādau । The another lexicon named as Medini (171.22) refers to Chandas as Poetry, Veda, willfulness and desire.

छन्द: पद्ये च वेदे च स्वैराचाराभिलाषयो: । chanda: padye ca vede ca svairācārābhilāṣayo: ।

Vedic compositions also are observed to follow the willfulness of language rather than rigidly following metrical techniques. Hence, the Vedas might have been called ‘Chandas’.

  • In Sanskrit Sāhitya kā Itihāsa, the author Vachaspati Gairola mentions that

छन्दयति पृणाति रोचते इति छन्द: । chandayati pr̥ṇāti rocate iti chanda: ।

Meaning: A beautiful speech with a particular rhythm is called Chandas. Moreover, he also quotes

छन्दयति आच्छादयति छन्द्यते अनेन इति छन्द: । chandayati ācchādayati chandyate anena iti chanda: ।

Meaning: The speech that delights the mind is also called Chandas.

छन्दसः महत्त्वम् ॥ Significance of Chandas in Vedic Literature

Chandas, as one of the six auxiliary disciplines or Vedangas, has an important role in the study of Vedic literature. These six Vedangas are Shiksha (phonetics), Kalpa (ritual), Vyakarana (grammar), Nirukta (etymology), Chandas (prosody) and Jyotish (astronomy). In the Vedas, the Chandas represents the feet of the Veda-purusha. It is the foundation of the Vedas. It plays a crucial role during the chanting of suktas. By the study of the Vedas with the Vedangas, a disciple attains greatness in the Brahmaloka. Knowledge of Chandas facilitates the attainment of svarga, fame and long life. It is meritorious. It brings prosperity and is auspicious. The one who knows the use of Chandas becomes united with the Chandas and attains eternal prosperity after being free from body i.e. death. On the other hand, if anyone chants or imparts a Mantra with insufficient knowledge of the Rshi, metre, the deity and the application of the Mantra, he becomes a papi. Such a person is called a Mantrakantaka by Shadgurushishya in his commentary Vedarthadipika on the SarvaAnu., I.2.

In Vedic Literature, many stories have been woven to indicate the significance of Chandas.

  • According to the Taittiriya Samhita (, once, all the deities wanted to meet Prajapati Brahma. However, his body was surrounded by a raging fire. Hence, to reach Brahma, all the deities covered their bodies with Chandas.

प्रजापतिरग्निमचिनुत स क्षरपविर्भूत्वा तिष्ठत्तं देवा बिभ्यतो नोपायन् ते छन्दोभिरात्मानं छादयित्वोपायन् तच्छन्दसां छन्दस्त्वम् ।।[4]

prajāpatiragnimacinuta sa kṣarapavirbhūtvā tiṣṭhattaṁ devā bibhyato nopāyan te chandobhirātmānaṁ chādayitvopāyan tacchandasāṁ chandastvam ।।

  • In the same Taittiriya Samhita, a metaphor of a chariot is used for Chandas. Once, Prajapati Brahma asked the Chandas to become his chariot and carry him. At that time, the Chandas Gayatri and Jagati became the wings. Ushnik and Trishtubh became the reins. Anushtubh and Pankti became the horses and Brhati became the carriage. All of them formed the chariot and carried Prajapati.

सोऽब्रवीत् प्रजापतिश्छंदांसि - रथो मे भवत । युष्माभिरहमेतमध्वानमनुसंचराणीति । तस्य गायत्री च जगती च पक्षावभवताम् । उष्णिक् च त्रिष्टुप् च प्रष्ट्यौ अनुष्टुभ् च पङ्क्तिश्च धुर्यौ बृहत्योवोद्धिरभवताम् । स एतं छन्दोरथमास्थाय एतमध्वानमनुसमचरत् ।।

so'bravīt prajāpatiśchaṁdāṁsi - ratho me bhavata । yuṣmābhirahametamadhvānamanusaṁcarāṇīti । tasya gāyatrī ca jagatī ca pakṣāvabhavatām । uṣṇik ca triṣṭup ca praṣṭyau anuṣṭubh ca paṅktiśca dhuryau br̥hatyovoddhirabhavatām । sa etaṁ chandorathamāsthāya etamadhvānamanusamacarat ।।

  • According to the description in the Chandogya Upanishad (14.2), the deities were once afraid of death; hence, they entered threefold education. At that time, they covered themselves with Chandas and hid there.

देवा वै मृत्योर्बिभ्यतस्त्रयीं विद्यां प्राविशंस्ते छन्दोभिरात्मानमाच्छादयन् यदेभिरच्छादयंस्तच्छन्दसां छन्दस्त्वम् ।

devā vai mr̥tyorbibhyatastrayīṁ vidyāṁ prāviśaṁste chandobhirātmānamācchādayan yadebhiracchādayaṁstacchandasāṁ chandastvam ।

  • In the Aitareya Aranyaka (2.5), it is said that anybody who performs a yajna to any of the direction is protected by the Chandas from any papa karma from that particular direction.

छादयन्ति हि वा एनं छन्दांसि पापात्कर्मणो यस्यां कस्यांश्चिद्दिशि कामयते ।

chādayanti hi vā enaṁ chandāṁsi pāpātkarmaṇo yasyāṁ kasyāṁściddiśi kāmayate ।

  • According to the Shatapatha Brahmana (, the performer of a yajna is protected only because of Chandas.[3]

गायत्रेण छन्दसा त्वा छादयामि । त्रैष्टुभेन छन्दसा त्वा छादयामि । जागतेन छन्दसा त्वा छादयामि ।...७.५.२.[६१][6]

gāyatreṇa chandasā tvā chādayāmi । traiṣṭubhena chandasā tvā chādayāmi । jāgatena chandasā tvā chādayāmi ।

As per another reference, the story is as follows: Lord Brahma created this world and became free of the fear of death. At that time, he was very hungry. All the deities offered him food in the form of Chandas and he was content with that food. In this way, deities were satisfied by Chandas and Chandas by the deities.[3]

तद् यत्र छन्दांसि देवान् समतर्पयन्नथ छन्दांसि देवा: समतर्पयन् ।...४.४.३.१[7]

tad yatra chandāṁsi devān samatarpayannatha chandāṁsi devā: samatarpayan ।

  • Chandas are even called the animals of deities. They carry yajnas to the deities.[3]

पशवो वै देवानां छन्दांसि । तद् यथेदं पशवो युक्ता मनुष्येभ्यो वहन्ति । एवं छन्दांसि युक्तानि देवेभ्यो यज्ञं वहन्ति ।...१.८.२.[८][8]

paśavo vai devānāṁ chandāṁsi । tad yathedaṁ paśavo yuktā manuṣyebhyo vahanti । evaṁ chandāṁsi yuktāni devebhyo yajñaṁ vahanti ।

These are seven in number. They are in the form of seven domestic and seven wild animals. All were created by Prajapati.

छन्दांसि गच्छ स्वाहेति । सप्त वै छन्दांसि सप्त ग्राम्या: पशव: सप्तारण्यास्तानेवैतदुभयान्प्रजनयति । (Shatapatha Brahmana,

chandāṁsi gaccha svāheti । sapta vai chandāṁsi sapta grāmyā: paśava: saptāraṇyāstānevaitadubhayānprajanayati ।

  • In the Shatapatha Brahmana, Chandas are also called rasas.

रसो वै छन्दांसि । raso vai chandāṁsi ।

  • According to the Kaushitaki Brahmana, the Angirasas asked all the Adityas, “Where are you? Where should we carry the offering to you from the Sadas?” The Adityas replied, “In Chandas.” Accordingly, the Angirasas offered the offerings for Adityas in Gayatri, Trishtubh and Jagati.

तेऽब्रुवन्नङ्गिरस आदित्यान् । क्व स्थ क्व व: सद्भ्यो हव्यं वक्ष्याम इति । छन्द:सु इत्यब्रुवन् । गायत्र्यां त्रिष्टुभि जगत्यामिति तस्माच्छन्दस्सु सद्भ्य आदित्येभ्य आङ्गिरसा प्रजा हव्यं वहन्ति । (7-

te'bruvannaṅgirasa ādityān । kva stha kva va: sadbhyo havyaṁ vakṣyāma iti । chanda:su ityabruvan । gāyatryāṁ triṣṭubhi jagatyāmiti tasmācchandassu sadbhya ādityebhya āṅgirasā prajā havyaṁ vahanti ।

  • The Vishnu Dharmottara Purana states that the seven metres Gayatri, Ushik, Anushtubh, Brhati, Pankti, Trishtubh and Jagati are the seven horses of the Sun. (III Khanda, 97.12)
  • In the Bhagvad Gita, Chandas are called leaves of the eternal Ashvattha tree. This indicates that the Chandas are innumerable.[3]

ऊर्ध्वमूलमध:शाखमश्वत्थं प्राहुरव्ययम् । छन्दांसि यस्य पर्णानि यस्तं वेद स वेदवित् ||१५.१||[9]

ūrdhvamūlamadha:śākhamaśvatthaṁ prāhuravyayam । chandāṁsi yasya parṇāni yastaṁ veda sa vedavit ।।

From the above references, Chandas are remarkably significant in the Vedic Literature. Moreover, Katyayana states that the entire Sanskrit Literature is in the form of Chandas.

छन्दोमूलमिदं सर्वं वाङ्मयम् । Chandonushasana Appendix 5. chandomūlamidaṁ sarvaṁ vāṅmayam ।

The Natya Shastra states that not a single word can exist without Chandas, and no Chandas can exist without words.[3]

छन्दोहीनो न शब्दोऽस्ति न छन्द: शब्दवर्जितम् ।..४७[10] chandohīno na śabdo'sti na chanda: śabdavarjitam ।

Even speech is speechless without Chandas, states Yaskacharya.

नाच्छन्दसि वागुच्चरति इति । Nirukta 7.2. nācchandasi vāguccarati iti ।

Therefore, Chandas is indispensable in Sanskrit poetry.[3]


  1. Rgveda, Mandala 10, Sukta 90.
  2. Rgveda, Mandala 10, Sukta 130.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Shreehari V.Gokarnakar, Significance of Chandas-es in Vedic Literature, Samvit (Issue 15, Dec 2019), Kerala: Amrita Darshanam, International Centre for Spiritual Studies (ICSS), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Taittiriya Samhita, Kanda 5, Prapathaka 6.
  5. Amarakosha, Kanda 3.
  6. Shatapatha Brahmana, Kanda 7, Adhyaya 5, Brahmana 2.
  7. Shatapatha Brahmana, Kanda 4, Adhyaya 4, Brahmana 3.
  8. Shatapatha Brahmana, Kanda 1, Adhyaya 8, Brahmana 2.
  9. Bhagavad Gita, Adhyaya 15.
  10. Natya Shastra, Adhyaya 14.