One notable feature of the nominal system of Sanskrit is the very common use of nominal compounds (samāsa), which may be huge (10+ words[1]) as in some modern languages such as German. Nominal compounds occur with various structures, however morphologically speaking they are essentially the same: each noun (or adjective) is in its (weak) stem form, with only the final element receiving case inflection. Some examples of nominal compounds include:

Avyayibhāva[edit | edit source]

The first member of this type of nominal compound is an indeclinable, to which another word is added so that the new compound also becomes indeclinable (i.e., avaya). Examples: yathā+śakti, upa+kriṣṇam (near kriṣṇa), etc. In avyayibhāva compounds, first member has primacy (pūrva-pada-pradhāna), i.e., the whole compound behaves like an indeclinable due to the nature of the first part which is indeclinable.

Tatpuruṣa (determinative)[edit | edit source]

Main article: Tatpuruṣa

Unlike the avyayibhāva compounds, in Tatpuruṣa compounds second member has primacy (uttara-pada-pradhāna). There are many tatpuruas (one for each of the nominal cases, and a few others besides). In a tatpurua, the first component is in a case relationship with another. For example, a doghouse is a dative compound, a house for a dog. It would be called a "caturtitatpurua" (caturti refers to the fourth case—that is, the dative). Incidentally, "tatpurua" is a tatpurua ("this man"—meaning someone's agent), while "caturtitatpurua" is a Karmadhāraya, being both dative, and a tatpurua. An easy way to understand it is to look at English examples of tatpuruas: "battlefield", where there is a genitive relationship between "field" and "battle", "a field of battle"; other examples include instrumental relationships ("thunderstruck") and locative relationships ("towndwelling"). All these normal Tatpuruṣa compounds are called vyadhikarana Tatpuruṣa, because the case ending should depend upon the second member because semantically second member has primacy, but actually the case ending depends upon the first member. Literally, vyadhikarana means opposite or different case ending. But when the case ending of both members of a Tatpuruṣa compound are similar then it is called a Karmadhāraya Tatpuruṣa compound, or simply a Karmadhāraya compound.

Karmadhāraya (descriptive)[edit | edit source]

It is a variety of Tatpuruṣa (a "nominative-tatpurusha"). The relation of the first member to the last is appositional, attributive or adverbial; this entails that if the members are dissolved, they will stand in the same case (meaning that there is no hierarchical syntactic relation between the members).


  • uluka-yatu = "owl-demon" = "demon in the shape of an owl".
  • mahā-rāja = "great-king" = "a king who is great".
  • Karmadhāraya literally means "action-carrying".

Dvigu[edit | edit source]

In a karmadhāraya compound one part behaves like an adjective for the other. If the part behaving like an adjective is a number, it is called dvigu. Examples:

  • tri-loka = "the three worlds"
  • tri-guṇa = "the three qualities". (The meaning "having the three qualities" is a bahuvrihi.)
  • sapta-rṣi = "the seven rishis"
  • sapta-sindhu = "the seven rivers"
  • dvi-gu = "two-cow" = "two cows". (The meaning "having two cows" is a bahuvrihi.)

Madhyama-pada-lopī-samāsa[edit | edit source]

It is a variety of a Karmadhāraya compound in which middle part vanishes. Examples:

  • devapūjakaḥ+brāhamaṇaḥ = devabrāhamaṇaḥ
  • Śrīyukta+Rāmaḥ = Śrīrāmaḥ

nñ-samāsa[edit | edit source]

Example: na + brāhamaṇa = abrāhamaṇa, in which 'n' vanishes and only the 'a' of 'na' remains. But with words beginning with a vowel this 'a' becomes 'an': na+aśva > (na > a > an) anaśva.

However it should be noted that this is not historically not true, that is, this never started with compounding of "na" before brāhamaṇa, and that it is a mere transformation device that traditional grammarians came up with as is typical of them and as witnessed in so many instances.

Upapada-samāsa[edit | edit source]

A variety of Tatpuruṣa compound in which nouns make unions with verbs. It is one of the easiest compounds which can be recognized as the second Pada contains a part of any verb like Kumbham+karoti iti = kumbhakāraḥ;shastram+janati+iti =Shastragnya [learned person who knows vedas]; Shiksham+karoti+iti =shikshaka [teacher one who gives knowledge]; Jalam+dadati+iti = jalada [cloud i.e. one who gives water]

Dvandva (co-ordinative)[edit | edit source]

Main article: Dvandva

These consist of two or more noun stems, connected in sense with 'and' (copulative or coordinative). There are mainly two kinds of dvandva constructions in Sanskrit. The first is called itaretara dvandva, an enumerative compound word, the meaning of which refers to all its constituent members. The resultant compound word is in the dual or plural number and takes the gender of the final member in the compound construction. e.g. rāma-lakşmaņau – Rama and Lakshmana, or rāma-lakşmaņa-bharata-śatrughnāh – Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna. The second kind is called samāhāra dvandva, a collective compound word, the meaning of which refers to the collection of its constituent members. The resultant compound word is in the singular number and is always neuter in gender. e.g. pāņipādam – limbs, literally hands and feet, from pāņi = hand and pāda = foot. According to some grammarians, there is a third kind of dvandva, called ekaśeşa dvandva or residual compound, which takes the dual (or plural) form of only its final constituent member, e.g. pitarau for mātā + pitā, mother + father, i.e. parents. According to other grammarians, however, the ekaśeşa is not properly a compound at all.

Bahuvrīhi (possessive)[edit | edit source]

Main article: Bahuvrīhi

Bahuvrīhi, or "much-rice", denotes a rich person—one who has much rice. Bahuvrīhi compounds refer (by example) to a compound noun with no head -- a compound noun that refers to a thing which is itself not part of the compound. For example, "low-life" and "block-head" are bahuvrihi compounds, since a low-life is not a kind of life, and a block-head is not a kind of head. (And a much-rice is not a kind of rice.) Compare with more common, headed, compound nouns like "fly-ball" (a kind of ball) or "alley cat" (a kind of cat). Bahurvrīhis can often be translated by "possessing..." or "-ed"; for example, "possessing much rice", or "much riced".

Aluk-samāsa[edit | edit source]

Case endings do not vanish, e.g., ātmane+ padam = ātmanepadam.

Amreḍita (iterative)[edit | edit source]

Repetition of a word expresses repetitiveness, e. g. dive-dive 'day by day', 'daily'.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Up to 30 component words with 120 syllables in some literary styles such as Kāvya.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Devavāṇīpraveśikā: An Introduction to the Sanskrit Language – Robert P. Goldman – ISBN 0-944613-40-3
  • A Sanskrit Grammar for Students – A. A. Macdonell – ISBN 81-246-0094-5


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