Anuṣṭubh is the name of a meter and a metrical unit, found in both Vedic and Classical Sanskrit poetry, but with significant differences.

By origin, an anuṣṭubh stanza is a quatrain of four verses. Each verse, called a pāda (lit. "foot") has eight syllables.

In Vedic textsEdit

Arnold distinguishes three varieties of anuṣṭubh in the Vedic corpus: an early free form, with very few restrictions except a general iambic ("υ - υ +") tendency in the cadence (vṛtta) of each of the four pādas; e.g.

ā´ yás te sar | pirāsute | - - - - | u - u - |

ágne śám ás | ti dhā´yase‖ - - u - | u - u - ‖

áiṣu dyumnám | utá śrávah | - - - u | u - u u |

ā´ cittám már | tieṣu dhāh ‖ - - - - | u - u - ‖ [1]

next, a mildly trochaic development in the opening of each pāda; and finally the development of the "epic Anuṣṭubh" (mostly in the Atharvaveda) prefiguring the classical śloka form. Although in these hymns the iambic cadence of the first verse is still the most frequent (25%) of all varieties, it is already very nearly equaled (23%) by the normal and characteristic cadence of the first verse in the epic Anuṣṭhubh (śloka), where the iambic cadence in the first verse has entirely disappeared.[2]

In Classical SanskritEdit

In classical Sanskrit the anuṣṭubh developed into its specific epic form known as shloka, as described above, which may be considered the Indian verse par excellence, occurring, as it does, far more frequently than any other meter in classical Sanskrit poetry.[3]

The epic anuṣṭubh (shloka) is treated as a couplet. Each hemistich of 16 syllables can take either a pathyā ("normal") form or one of several vipulā ("extended") forms.

The metrical constraints on a hemistich in terms of its two constituent pādas are as follows:[4]

  • General
  1. The 1st and 8th syllables of both pādas are anceps.
  2. The 2nd and 3rd syllables cannot both be light (laghu, "υ") in either pāda; i.e. one or both of the 2nd and 3rd syllables must be heavy (guru, "") in both pādas.
  3. Syllables 2-4 of the second pāda cannot be a ra-gaṇa (the pattern "– υ –")
  4. Syllables 5-7 of the second pāda must be a ja-gaṇa ("υ – υ") This enforces an iambic cadence.
  • Normal form (pathyā)
  1. Syllables 5-7 of the first pāda must be a ya-gaṇa ("υ – –")
  • Variant forms (vipulā): The 4th syllable of the first pāda is heavy. In addition, one of the following is permitted:
  1. na-vipulā: Syllables 5-7 are a na-gaṇa ("υ υ υ")
  2. bha-vipulā: Syllables 2-7 are ra-bha gaṇas ("– υ – – υ υ") or ma-bha gaṇas with a caesura in between ("– – – , – υ υ")
  3. ma-vipulā: Syllables 2-7 are ra-ma gaṇas with a caesura after the 5th ("– υ – – , – –")
  4. ra-vipulā: Syllables 5-7 are a ra-gaṇa following a caesura (", – υ –")

Noteworthy is the avoidance of an iambic cadence in the first pāda. By comparison, Syllables 5-7 of any pāda in the old Vedic anuṣṭubh is typically a ja-gaṇa ("υ – υ"), or a dijambus.

An example of an anuṣṭubh stanza which fails the classical requirements of a shloka is from the Shatapatha Brahmana

āsandīvati dhānyādaṃ rukmiṇaṃ haritasrajam
abadhnādaśvaṃ sārańgaṃ devebhyo janamejaya[5]
"In Āsandîvat, Janamejaya bound for the gods a black-spotted, grain-eating
horse, adorned with a golden ornament and with yellow garlands."[6]


  1. Macdonell, Arthur A., A Vedic Grammar for Students Appendix II, p. 438(Oxford University Press, 1916).
  2. Macdonell, Arthur A., A Vedic Grammar for Students Appendix II, p. 438(Oxford University Press, 1916).
  3. Macdonell, Arthur A., A Sanskrit Grammar for Students, Appendix II, p. 232(Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 1927).
  4. Steiner, Appendix 4; translated: Macdonald, Appendix
  5. SBM.
  6. Eggeling's translation


  • E.V Arnold, Vedic metre in its historical development, Cambridge, University Press, 1905
  • H. Oldenberg, Prolegomena on Meter and Textual History of the RgVeda, Berlin 1888. Tr. V.G. Paranjpe and M.A. Mehendale, Motilal Banarsidass 2005 ISBN 81-208-0986-6
  • E.W. Hopkins, The Great Epic of India, C. Scribner's Sons, New York, 1901
  • Roland Steiner, "Die Lehre der Anuṣṭubh bei den indischen Metrikern." Suhṛllekāḥ, Festgabe für Helmut Eimer. (Indica et Tibetica 28). Eds. Hahn, Michael & Jens-Uwe Hartmann. Swisttal-Odendorf (1996), 227-248.
  • A. MacDonald, "Revisiting the Mūlamadhyamakakārika: Text-Critical Proposals and Problems." Indotetsugaku-Bukkyōgaku-Kenkyū 14 (2007), 25-55

See alsoEdit

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.