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Some Suggestive Uses of Alliteration in Sanskrit Court Poetry

Author(s): Kenneth Langer

Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 98, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1978), pp. 438-445
Published by: American Oriental Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/599756
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Alliteration in Sanskrit court poetry is frequently utilized to suggest an integral relationship or bond of shared qualities between words with similar sounds. Part I of this paper
briefly examines Vedic literature in respect to 1) alliteration as a semantically binding
force, 2) folk etymology, and 3) the tradition of equating certain sounds with corresponding objects and phenomena. From the perspective of these three traditions we can fully
appreciate the classical poets' employment of alliteration to produce semantic bonds.
Drawing from a variety of classical poems and collections representing a wide range of poets
and time periods, Part II cites and discusses striking alliterative clusters which involve
Sanskrit words for woman. This paper explicates six distinct types of semantic relationships
suggested by these words so bound.
I. THE TRADITIONAL CRITICISM of the alamkdraSdstra recognizes the importance of suggestion
in Sanskrit poetry. And yet the alamkdrasastra
fail to discuss certain subtle suggestive devices:
alliteration, assonance, paronomasia, and figura
etymologica,1 as these techniques have been utilized to suggest an integral relationship or bond of
shared qualities between words sharing similar
sounds.2 This is particularly surprising in the
light of three distinct pre-classical traditions
each of which served to imbue well-versed Indians
with the notion that similar sounds may suggest
that the entities "represented" by those sounds
are likewise similar. First Gonda, in his Stylistic
Repetitions in the Veda has proven beyond a
doubt that alliteration, which semantically binds
the words involved, informs Vedic texts. Second,
the authors of religious texts were known to
indulge in excessive attempts at binding seemingly

1 Gonda, in distinguishing this term from paronomasia, rejects Marouzeau's definition of figura etymologica and applies the term solely to that type of paronomasia in which a verb is used with an accusative case
noun deriving from the same root. As one example he
gives "vivre sa vie." See J. Gonda, Stylistic Repetition
in the Veda, Amsterdam: N.V. Noord-Hollandsche Uitgevers Maatschappij, (1959), p. 273.
2 The use of alliteration for this purpose is, of course,
not peculiar to Sanskrit literature. See, for example, R.
Jacobson, "ClosingStatement: Linguistics and Poetics."
in Style in Language, ed. T. Sebeok (Cambridge:M.I.T.
Press, 1975), pp. 357; 367-73.

disparate entities, processes, etc., by an appeal

to word origins. This long tradition of folk
etymology was based not on the rules defining
historical sound shifts that are known to modern
comparative and historical linguistics, but was
founded on the presumption that similar sound
patterns were criteria for positing historical
relationships between words. Third is the theory
which equates certain sounds with distinct entities
to which they belong. The relationship between
the word and thing is accepted as real, not symbolic.
Let us briefly turn to the Vedas for a look at
how similar sound clusters translate into semantic
messages. Throughout this paper I shall often
rely on the term alliteration in its widest sense to
include the aforementioned processes.3
RV. 3,39,6 rather conveniently illustrates not
only alliteration and paronomasia, but rhyme and
gdhd hitdm gihyaam gufham apsdl
hdste dadhe ddkSineddksinadanll
3 For definitions and the history of the term "allitera-

tion," see Gonda, Stylistic Repetitions, p. 177. It should

be noted that these Vedic seers (as well as the classical
poets) made little, if any, distinction between alliteration, assonance, paronomasia, etc. ". . . because it was
the mere repetition of sounds which could strike them in
the first place and which made the greatest appeal to
their imagination." (Gonda, "The Etymologies in the

Ancient Indian Brahmagas,"Lingua, 5 (1955-56), pp. 6970.


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LANGER: Suggestive

Him (Vrtra) that had secretedhimself in a hiding place,

deserved to be concealed, concealed in the waters,
he (Indra) took in his right hand, the giver of sacrificial
Gonda cites this verse as an example


of sentiments



to picture

of how
a variety

or dispositions or to express con-



. . . ."



merits a closer examination.

Alliteration, assonance, etc., combine the demon Vrtra's activities
and traits in the first half verse and the god
Indra's in the second. Not only does the verse
succeed in sharply differentiating the shameful
Vrtra, who is associated with one set of sounds,
from the victor of this cosmogonic battle who is
associated with another, but the verse also suggests, through assonance, that the waters (apsd)
were the proper place for him who "deserved to
be concealed" (guhyam).
"Gdha," "gdhyam"
and "giilham," each, contain two vowels, "u" and
"a," in the same order. The word "apsd" is
formed with the same two vowels although their
order is reversed.6 Similarly, by alliteration,
assonance, paronomasia, and rhyme, it is wholly
appropriate that "the giver of sacrificial presents
(ddksindvan) took (dadhe) [Vrtra] in his right

(haste . .


Other Vedic verses utilize alliteration and

assonance to associate a subject with a verbal
notion. Gonda cites the following example which
he accompanies with a translation that aptly
retains the sound correspondences: yavo 'si,
yavasmad dvesah "thou art barley; bar from us
enemies, bar evil spirits."?
Vocatives frequently alliterate with imperatives,
suggesting that the persons addressed are indeed
suitable subjects for the pronounced command.8
Alliteration between subject and verb, verb and
object, verb and an instrumental, as well as
4 This verse, with its translation, is from J.
Vedic Literature,(Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1975),
p. 225.
5 Ibid.
6 The reversal of vowels in apsd, the word which ends
the description of Vrtra and his exploits, may serve to
stop or even reverse the flow of words. This effect might
suggests that Vrtra himself is "self-contained"and, like
the flow of words, does not easily mix with the world of
7 Gonda, Stylistic
Repeitions, p. 190.
8 Ibid., p. 196.

Uses of Alliteration


verb with any other case noun, may be found in

the Veda.
word groups, often
etymologically paronomastic (or, to use Gonda's
phrase, "pseudo-paronomastic"), create semantic
bonds. Sukrena Socisd "with bright light" (RV.
1,48,14) and prdtar jarethe jaraneva "in the
morning ye wake up like two old men" (RV. 10,40,
3)10 exemplify these respective types.
formulaic word clusters, which are used to express
a single idea bound by its opposites, as in our
expressions "from top to toe," and "last but not
least" often express a unity of diverse elements
through alliteration and related techniques.1
The comparison in a simile or metaphor (upamdna) may alliterate with the thing compared
(upameya). Here like sound patterns may reinforce the comparison.12 In this context, as well
as others, we should not ignore the purely stylistic
factors that may motivate a poet to alliterate
words. Gonda, in his Stylistic Repetitions, does
not fail to illustrate with copious examples the
potential import (both stylistic and semantic)
of alliteration, as when it possesses a connective
function in versification or emphasizes strongly
emotional passages.13
It is not surprising that the authors of the
Brdhranas, unlike the Rgvedic seers, were hardly
content with the mere suggestion of identity
through like sound patterns.
These ritualists
were relating aspects of the sacrificial, as well as
non-sacrificial, world to their homologues in
heaven, air and earth. In showing these relationships they were not willing to risk misinterpretation. Accordingly they employed definite terms
of equivalence rather than the ambiguous hints
9 Ibid., p. 194ff.

10 Ibid.,
pp. 179-180.

11 Ibid., p. 179ff. Gonda's research shows

that in
Sanskrit 1 of every 13 phrases is alliterative (p. 180).
He concludes, "alliterationwhich must have been
rooted in at least part of the pre-historic Indo-European
soil underlines the notional relations between the main
terms of these expressions." (Stylistic Repetitions,p.

Gonda, Stylistic Repetitions, p. 196.

For the connective function of alliteration in Kalidasa, see W. Schubring, "Jinasena, Mallinatha, Kalidasa,"

Zeitschrift der Morgenldindischen Gesellschaft,

105 N.F. # 30, (1955), pp. 331-337. A discussion of

different semantic functions of alliteration can be found
in Gonda, Stylistic Repetitions, p. 178ff. and 211

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Journal of the American Oriental Society 98.4 (1978)

carried by alliteration. The threat of ambiguity

motivated these ancients to couple alliterative
devices with unambiguous statements of identities.
Obsessed with two needs-to relate the seemingly
disparate entities of the cosmos and to discover
the origins of these entities-these
ritualists frequently resorted to etymologies14 and etiologies,15
many of which had a correct etymological basis.
However much there may have been a sincere
desire to discover, as linguists, the true origin
and relationship of words, it is irrefutable that
the major thrust of such etymologizing had the
establishment of linguistic bases which would
reveal real bonds between word-concepts for its
end. The context in which we find profuse folk
etymologies in Indian religio-philosophical texts
compels us to conclude that for these Indians
etymological relationships were intended not so
much to furnish historical linguistic insights as
to reveal eternal ties between phenomena.'6
Vedic thought, not to mention the Mimdnfsd
school of religious exegesis, admits the notion that
beyond their suggestive or etymoloto realities.
gical functions-correspond
example, the word "udgitha" (chanting of the
Sdma Veda) is broken down into three syllables,
each corresponding to aspects of the phenomenal
world. "Ud" is equated with breath, heaven,
sun, and the Sama Veda, "gi" to speech, atmosphere, wind, and the Yajur Veda, while food,
earth, fire, and the Rg Veda are reduced to the
syllable "tha.'l7
In short, the traditions of alliteration and
similar sound parallelisms, etymologies based on
such sound correspondences, and religio-philo14 See J. Gonda, Old Indian (Leiden-Koln: E. J. Brill,
1971), pp. 197-223; P. Poucha, "Vedische Volksetymologie und das Nirukta," Archiv Orientalni, 7 (1935);
Gonda, "The Etymologies in the Ancient Brahmanas";
M. A. Mehendale, "Upanisadic Etymologies," Bharatiya
Vidya, 20-21 (1960-62), 40-44.
15 Ibid. See particularly Gonda, "The Etymologies in

sophical notions that equate sounds to real entities

were developed in India long before the advent of
classical Sanskrit poetry.18 Ingrained in the
minds of all well-versed Indians was surely the
belief that alliteration and other such stylistic
processes, as well as etymologies which were based
on corresponding sound patterns, suggest a
semantic bond between the terms so bound.
If we are to accept the thesis that Sanskrit
court poetry utilizes alliteration and like sabdilamkcras to this end, our evidence will have
to be internal. Nevertheless, it is my hope that
these pages which have merely touched on an
important traditional function of alliteration and
similar techniques in pre-classical literature will
encourage the reader to accept in Sanskrit court
poetry these stylistic devices which bear semantic
weight. Much kdvya does not abuse this type of
sabddlarrlkdra for the sake of merely achieving
striking repetitions of sound.
Kalidasa, for
example, does not dull our senses by a contrived
overuse of alliteration but heightens them through
his restraint.19 I believe that it has been necessary
to stress that "meaningful" alliteration has been a
rigorous tradition in pre-classical India. The
acceptance of this fact should not only add perspective to the stylistic techniques under consideration, but should help to minimize the reader's
scepticism as we now turn to the classical poetry.
II. As in Vedic and later literature that preceded
Sanskrit court poetry, alliteration and related
techniques may serve a variety of ends in kavya
literature.20 Nevertheless, we must here confine
Rhyme has long been acknowledged as an ancient
device which served to bind words semantically. Gonda
(Stylistic Repetitions,p. 204f.) quotes H. Seidler: "Durch
eine gleiche Lautung in zwei oder mehreren Wortern
wird das mit dieser Lautung verbundene oder verbindbare Gefiihl starker aktualisiert. Die Einheit von Lautung und Gefiihl schafft einen Stimmungsgrund,auf dem


die Wortgehalte

in besonderer


the Ancient Indian Brahmanas,"p. 80.

erstehen." T. Todorov goes so far as to classify rhyme as a
16 It must be admitted that a fair numberof
etymologies type of folk or, to use his term, "poetic" etymology:
were motivated by a sincere desire for the historical "... for riming words are perceived as being related in
truth of the relationship between words. Furthermore, their meanings as well." "Meaning in Literature,"
certain etymologies were not intended to be taken Poetics [1971], p. 10).
19 I have noticed countless instances
seriously. See Gonda, "The Etymologies in Ancient
where Kalidasa
Indian Brahmanas," p. 64.
has intentionally avoided the use of a word for woman
17 Ibid., pp. 84-85.

In his note 56, Gonda cites other

references exemplifying this notion: AiB. 3,46,8; gB.

10,6,2,8; TaittU. 2,6.

which would have created alliteration in the verse.

20 A. Hillebrandt, among others, has noted the use of
alliteration to create various moods. An example is

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LANGER: Suggestive

ourselves to a review of these techniques where

they create semantic bonds between the words
involved in these processes. I have chosen to
exemplify this process by an examination of
words for women. Confining myself to one such
set will later enable me to reach conclusions about
one important function of alliteration, and to
see how these devices often determine a poet's
choice of words where a large number of synonyms
are available.
Let us begin by considering verses in which the
alliteration of two or more nouns, in addition
to the direct designations of the nouns and the
a semantic
of the sentence,
SRK. 754 reads:
unmilanmuku lakar lakundakosapracyotadghanamakarandagandhagarbhah/
tam isatpracalavilocandm natdagim daligan pavana
mama sprgdngamangam//
Perfumed, oh wind, with the rich scent of pollen
dripping from jasmine branches dentate with opening
embrace my love
whose eye half flirts, whose body bends; and then,
touch me on every limb.21

Raghu. IX. 23. on which he writes, ". .. in den Worten

hat die
ranarenavo rurudhire rudhirena suradvisam...
haufige Wiederholung des r nicht nur den Zweck, Formgeschick zu zeigen, sondern das furchtbare Blutbad
klanglich zu malen, das der dahinfahrende Held unter
den Feinden der Gotter anrichtete: 'Des Schlachtfeldes
(der Sonne entgegenwirbelnder) Staub erstarrte durch
Man wird das hier nicht fir
das Blut der Gotterfeinde
eine blosse Spielerei des Dichters halten, sondern fur eine
Verwendung sprachlicher Kraft, die uns abhanden gekommen ist. In Indien geht das Verstandnis hierfiir
auf alte Zeit zuriick und hat schon bei dem feindlichen
Zauber die Rauheiten der Sprache, d.h. hartklingende
Worte verwendet; es hat aber, auch ausserhalb der Magie,
fur die ja die Wahl des Wortes Bedeutung hat, den
Poeten des Landes seit altester Zeit nicht gefehlt ....
Wenn die spateren Kunstdichter solchen Formen sich
bedienen, so sind sie nur dem ursprunglichen Gefiihl
dafir gefolgt, haben denn allerdings davon Gebrauch
gemacht, der alle Grenzen iiberschritt und sich in Formalismus verlor." (Kdliddsa, [Breslau: M & H. Marcus,
1921], S. 106-7).
21 D. H. H. Ingalls, An Anthology of Sanskrit Court
Poetry (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965),
p. 243.


Uses of Alliteration

Here "nat&igim" (my love ... whose body bends)

which ends the third pdda alliterates with "arigamarigam" (every limb) which closes the verse.
Bhavabhiuti has succeeded in uniting the hearts
of these two lovers enduring physical separation.
It is worth noting that the word "pavana" (wind)
comes directly between the words "natarigim"
and "argamarigam." Thus the flow of words
reinforces the intent of their meaning. The
separation of the emotionally harmonious lovers
is to be bridged by the wind alone.
Srligdrasataka 39 proclaims that two things alone
are worthy of man's attention-the
youth (yauvanam) of women and the forest (vanam).
kim iha bahubhir uktair yuktigiinyaih praldpair dvayam iha purusnadm sarvada sevaniyaml
abhinavamadaliladdlasam sundarinadm
stanabharaparikhinnam yauvanam va vanam vd//22

VairdgyaSataka 120 expresses the dichotomy

between a beautiful wife (bhdrya sundari) and the



". . . eka



va dari va."23 In the first example, the word for

forest (vanam) is embedded within the word for
youth (yauvanam). The verse of the VairdgyaSataka has the word for cave (dari) contained
within the word for beautiful (sundari) in "beautiful wife." Might Bhartrhari be suggesting that
hidden within each of the latter and, I dare say,
more attractive alternatives lies the former?
Is it not suggested that the differences between
beautiful youth, or wives, and ascetics' forests
and caves fade after an intensive pursuit of
either ?
An explicit grouping is often reinforced by
alliteration. In Kum. V. 71 the disguised tridentbearing god tells the forest dwelling Parvati that
two things, in their desire for Siva, have fallen
into a pitiful state-"the
splendid digit of the
moon [kald ca sd kdntimati kaldvatas] and you,
the moonlight of the eyes of the world [tvam asya
SRK. 377 proclaims
lokasya netrakaumudi]."

a vine


and a beloved



"budding" entice men. In Raghu. XIX.13 the

lap of the hedonist King Agnivarna was occupied
solely by the lovely-sounding vind (vallaki ca
22 grngaragataka 39 of
Subhaditatrigati, ed. D. D.
Kosambi, (Poona, 1957), p. 80.
VairagyaSatakam 120 (Oriental Publishing Co.,
Bombay) cited in Apte's Sanskrit-English Dictionary,
p. 803.

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Journal of the American Oriental Society 98.4 (1978)

hrdayam,gamasvani) and his lovely-eyed lass with

her sweet voice (valguvag api ca vCmnalocand).
Countless instances of alliteration merely suggest
a semantic connection rather than reinforce an
explicit notion of unity. Raghu. VII.25 offers a
challenging example of multiple alliterations and
word plays.
nitambagurvi gurund prayukta vadhur vidhatrpratimena tenal
cakara sd mattacakoranetrd lajjdvati ldjavisargam

(Indumati) with eyes like a maddened

cakora bird,
after being instructed by her guru, the very image of
embarrassed, made an offering of rice into the fire.

In the first two padas, the association of Indumati,

who is "nitambagurvi vadhur," and her preceptor,
a "guru" who is the image of "vidhdtr," is strengthened by these Sabddlamkdras. The other connections-that
she of maddened cakora eyes made
(cakdra) an offering of rice (Idja) while embarrassed (lajjdvati)-are
hardly expressing one to one
correspondences. Nevertheless, I believe that it
can be said that the consistencies of sound between
words referring to Indumati's physical attributes,
actions, and objects of action suggest the overall
harmony of Aja's newly acquired bride.
A second major category may be established in
which vocatives, in our case women addressed,
alliterate with nouns designating aspects of the
scenery being indicated by the speaker. In the
last canto of the Kum. (VIII.52), Siva, eager to
perform his rites to the twilight, consoles Parvati who has become angry at the prospect of
being ignored. Explaining why the dusk demands
his worship, the god speaks of the twilight's "form"
(tanu) after which he immediately inserts the
vocative "sutanu" (oh, slender formed woman).
The suggestion is clearly that the two "forms"
share like qualities. Consequently, Siva's worship of the twilight is hardly a full turn away
from his wife. Rather it can be interpreted as an
indirect worship of her or her qualities. In short,
Parvati needn't be upset.
In another verse of the same canto (VIII. 45)
Siva addresses Parvati as "kufilakesi" (oh you
with curls) immediately after introducing the
word "kotayah," the edges of clouds which he has
just pointed out in a description of the clouds'
splendid hues at twilight. Again the alliteration
suggests a similarity between the clouds' beauty

and the lovely locks of Parvati. Siva, as many a

clever man in Sanskrit poetry, has devised a way
of praising that which is not his beloved without
being accused of divided loyalties.
Elsewhere (SRK. 506) the maid asks the young
woman: "Oh doe-eyed girl [mrgdksi] the path [mdrgam] of what lucky man do you honor with your
glances . . ." Not only is a tie established between
the young woman's eyes and the path that she
eyes have become truly fixatedbut one can almost see the margam reflected in
the fawn eyes of this mrgdksi.
In Raghu. XIII. 57 Sita is addressed by Rama
as "anavadhydngi" (oh lady of faultless limbs)
as he points out the "Garigd" in all the river's
splendor. (The river is also "iva bhasmangaraga
tanur isvarasya.") In Kum. VIII. 68 Siva directs
Parvati's eyes to the crest of wishing trees (kalpavrksasikharesu) adorned by the pearl-rays of the
moon. Here Siva's bride is addressed as "avikalpasundari" (oh you of unimaginable beauty). Not
only is there a suggested transfer of beauty from
the well-pictured tree to the woman Parvati,
but we can speak of a subtle "suggestion through
dissimilarity" (vyatirekhadhvani) in that Parvati's
loveliness is "avikalpa" (unimaginable) while the
poor wishing tree is of the genus "kalpa," a word
which by contrast suggests an "imaginable" or
lesser beauty.
Vocatives may alliterate with imperatives that
are directed towards the person addressed. "Tararigaya drso 'igane" (Oh woman, send forth your
glances in waves) in SRK. 518 suggests that the
woman is able to project such coquettish glances
since her designation is of a like sound pattern.
As when an aspect of the scenery alliterates with
a word for woman in the vocative case,
creating a
bond between that woman and the
landscape, alliteration, etc., may serve to associate
an addressed woman with a verbal notion that
exists outside of herself. Consider Raghu. XIII.
47: "Oh woman with rounded limbs (bandhuragdtri), [the Citrakiuta mountain] binds (badhndti)
[my eye]." Is it not she that binds this man's
eye? Kum. IV. 11 alliterates the vocative, the
verbal infinitive associated with the addressed
person, and the object of that infinitive. Suggested is that Rati's beloved (priya =
Kama) alone
can ensure that the young lasses
(priyds) arrive
(prdpayitum) safely at their lovers' dwellings.
"Tanvaingi tarahgitdsi" (Oh lady, you are
shaken . ..) of SRK. 413 exemplifies a vocative
alliterating with a past passive participle. In the

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Uses of Alliteration

same vein, adjectives frequently alliterate with

the words for women, regardless of their case
Such alliteration clearly emphasizes
that the qualities represented by these predicates
truly belong to or are inseparable from the women
Kdntds are frequently klantd
they describe.
(weary) from lovemaking; bdlds are often abald
(weak) and pramadds often madd (intoxicated)
with love, etc. Figura etymologica comprise a
large percentage of this group. Sometimes words
sharing sounds create inventive alliterative patterns. When in SRK. 832 we read, "nirastabhiyo
'bhisdrikds" (the women setting out to meet their
lovers [proceed] without fear) we are struck by the
fact that there is almost a complete reversal of
letters from "irastabhiy" to "abhisdri."
Words for women alliterating with adverbs
may invite suggestive overtones. Consider grnigdrasataka 4:


women's physical appearance in Sanskrit poetry,

it is little wonder that poets frequently combine
words for women which will alliterate with other
words (and usually there is again a wide choice)
denoting parts of the female body. In every case
the similarity of sound encourages the reader to
associate the entire woman with her hips, breasts,
and so forth. The word "stana" (breast) is often
used in connection with "tanvi" or "tanvangi"
(slender woman). Words ending in visarga (which
becomes "s" before "t") often precede the words
"tanvi" and "tanvangi," creating the effect of
"... s-tanv. .." "Arga" (limb) frequently combines with "tanvarigi," "sarangdksi" (fawn-eyed)
and other words sounding similar. The streak of
hair above the navel (romavali) of a beautiful
woman (rdmi) is a word play encountered in SRK.
338. In Kum. VII 64 the women (ndryo) seeing Siva,
drink him up with their eyes (nayanaih). They
become all eyes, as it were.24 SRK 416
kvacit subhrfibhaigaih kvacid api ca lajjaparigataih
kvacid bhititrastaih kvacid api ca lilavilasitaih/ contains the phrase tanvangydh (katham api)
kumarinam etair vadanasubhagairnetravalitaih sphu- nitambasthalam" (of the slender woman ... the
region of hips). We may note an interesting verbal
rallilabj anam prakaraparikirna iva diSah//
icon in the reversal of two pairs of consonants
The semantic value of the four kvacids merely
from "tanvargydh" to "nitambasthalam," i.e.,
tell us that the women's "prolific" glances are t, n; v, n: n, t; m, b. (Of course, Sanskritists
seen everywhere differently. That lovely women
permit the alliterative interchange between the
lie behind every one of these glances strewn in
nasals "n" and "m" and the letters "v" and "b.")
some (kvacit) direction is perhaps reinforced by
Does not this symmetry of letters suggest a symthe alliterating "k" letters and the "v" and "u" metry of bodily form? Consider SRK. 399 which
(semivowel to its corresponding vowel) of the four
is more explicitly suggesting such a shift from
kvacits and the word kumdrinim. My proposal is stylistic to semantic symmetry. In this verse we
admittedly questionable. I leave it to the reader's
read "kucadvandve kurarigidrsah" (the pair of
discretion whether or not to accept this interpretabreasts of the deer-eyed woman). Examples of
tion and consequently
this entire category.
words qualifying important features of women
Unfortunately I have found no examples of words
alliterating with the word for woman are Srifor women creating obvious bonds with adverbs
garasataka 25 which speaks of the "... m adthrough alliteration. This category must remain in haramadhu vadhundm ..." (nectar of lips of the
women) and SRK. 356 which portrays the "panAmaru. 3 reads "the face of the young woman
dutarau tarunydh (very pale [breasts] of the young
[tanvyd] . . . may that [face] protect you [tat tvdm woman).
pdtu]. Although tattvdm (written together in
We have already spoken of verbs alliterating
devandgari) is properly a combination of "tat" with women addressed in the vocative. Let us
(that) and "tvdm" (you), no reader of Sanskrit
24 tain ekadrsyam nayanaih pibantyo
could fail to see the total effect of this coalescence
ndryo na jagmur
in its resemblance to "tattvam" (truth). Whereas
we may not have the liberty to read "may the
tathd hi gesendriyavrttir dsdm sarvdtmand caksur iva
face of the young woman...
protect the truth,"
we cannot prevent ourselves from associatingCf. Raghu. VII. 12. which differs only in the beginning:
woman with the
td rdghavam drstibhir dpibantyo ....
consciously or subliminally-this
While this verse
seems to undermine the "meaningful" alliteration of
In the light of the large number of Sanskrit
Kum VII. 64, we cannot be certain that Kalidasa did not
designations for woman and the importance of consider the latter version more successful.

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Journal of the American Oriental Society 98.4 (1978)


now turn to a few noteworthy examples of words

for women not in the vocative case, sharing sounds
with verbs that in some way are to be associated
with these women. In SRK. 469 the beloved
(priyd), resisting her newly acquired husband's
advances, reaches (yait) a greater charm. In
adolescence the figure of the slender girl (tanvyi)
grows (tanute) beautiful (SRK. 352). The wayfarer of SRK. 780 questions how the long days
of separation pass (yanti) for his frail darling
(priydydh).25 In Bhartrhari's verse 66 of the
Srrigrasataka a traveller, having become indifferent towards his wife, rationalizes, "what's
the use of journeying home if my beloved no longer
lives or merely breathes [prdniti priyatama]?"
Another traveller laments, "when will I see [draksydmi] the loosened robe of my fawn-eyed love
[mrgadrsa]?" (SRK. 758). Elsewhere (SRK. 425)
it is said that the full moon steals away (harati)
the splendor of the fawn-eyed maid (harinaksyah). The sprouts placed on the ears of women
(dayitd) are excitants (madayita) to the lovers of
Raghu. IX. 31. Of course sprouts alone could
never excite men's desires. The word play suggests that the dayitd (granted, with sprouts on
their ears) have become the madayita of men.
The harmonious situation of a good woman giving
birth to a son at the auspicious time is left doubtless by the alliteration in Raghu. X. 66: prasati
samaye sati." An angry woman (manini) earns the
first syllable of her name when she cries to her
lover "ma ma munca" (no, no, let me go) in Amaru.
36. SRK. 521 exemplifies a comparable type of

". . . the falling

of every



the fair-browed lass [subhruvo] trips me up [vibhramanti]." The alliteration suggests that the
brows themselves play a large role in this deception. The reader should note that the consonants
of "subhruvo" also "trip up" when they reach
"vibhramanti" (bh, r, v, to v, bh, r).
and similar sabddlamkdras are
employed quite effectively in metaphors and
similes to bind the upamdna with the upameya.
This is measureless ambrosia
this the river [sindhu] of bliss;
25 Cf. Raghu.

IX. 7 in which the word priyatamd

alliterates with and puns on yatamdna. For word plays

involving priyd and a form of the verb ya, see SRK. 780,
469, 806; Rtusamnhdra 2.19; Meghadaita 22; and Srngdradataka 66, 95.

this is sweet as honey [madhumadharam]

this truly strikes the heart [antardhunoti]:
when with a household of young wives (vadhandm)
... a man may spend his days in dalliance.26SRK.566
Here three of the four comparisons, like the upameya, "vadhanam" contain the cluster "dhu"
preceded or followed by a nasal. Rtusamhara III.
28 invokes the autumn, resplendent (kantih) like a
lover (kamini). Indumati is "uttama-saukumaryd
kumudvati" (the most tender woman, like night
lilies) in Raghu. VI. 36. In one of Bhartrhari's
less flattering moments (Srngdragataka 41) the
poet likens a woman (striyam) to an unclean
leather bag (pratyaksaducibhastrik&m).
Finally we should note the bond created between
couples, often separated, by the frequent use of
alliterating words for "man" and "woman."
The most common of such pairs are: pati/patni;
kami/kamini; vara/vadhul; and nara/nari. Serving
the same end would be the pairs: pramada/pravasin (Rtu. II. 12); katara/kanta (Amaru. 8);
jayd/jano (Meghadufta 8); and, with a proper name,
rama/Rama (Raghu. XII. 23).
In conclusion, alliteration and related techniques are indeed employed in Sanskrit court
poetry not only as word plays that charm the ear
but as devices that reinforce or suggest a semantic
bond between the words involved in alliteration
and similar Sabdilamkdras.
Of the Sanskrit
words for women that I have found to alliterate
with this intention, the majority were involved in
some connection (explicit or implicit) with 1)
other nouns, 2) an aspect of the beautiful scenery
[in this category the words for women were usually in the vocative casel, 3) adjectives describing
these women, 4) adjectives qualifying one of their
physical attributes, 5) the major terms of metaphors and similes to which these women are
compared, and 6) words for men who usually
are often separatenjoy a love relationship-and
ed from-these women. Although we cannot say
whether or not certain of the many epithets
women were
(usually vocatives)
formulated for the purpose of having a larger
access to alliterating vocabulary, the examples
cited illustrate that a poet's choice of one word
for woman over another was not infrequently
determined by his desire to create such a "meaningful" alliteration.
26 Ingalls, An Anthology, p. 202.

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In the study that I have made of words for

women in Sanskrit poetry, 343, or 31 %, of 1091
instances are involved in an alliterative type of
sound cluster. Of these 146 or 42 % (13 % of all
words examined) contain sound similarities that
translate into a semantic message or suggestion.
Granted, the use of such techniques was never
standardized nor even acknowledged by Sanskrit

Uses of Alliteration


poets or critics (had this technique been incorporated into the alamkarasastras my figures
would be much higher I); nevertheless, "meaningful" alliterative and similar techniques are indeed
an important aspect of kdvya to which readers of
Sanskrit poetry should be alerted, lest we overlook or minimize the significance of this understated and often elusive stylistic device.

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