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One notable feature of the agglutinative nominal system of Sanskrit is the very common use of nominal compounds (samāsa), which may be huge (10+ or even 30+ words), as in some languages such as German. Nominal compounds occur with various structures, but 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:
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., avyaya). Examples: yathā+śakti, upa+kriṣṇam (near kriṣṇa), etc. In avyayībhāva 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.
Unlike the avyayībhāva compounds, in Tatpuruṣa compounds second member has primacy (uttara-pada-pradhāna). There are many tatpuruṣas (one for each of the nominal cases, and a few others besides). In a tatpuruṣa, 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 "caturtitatpuruṣa" (caturti refers to the fourth case—that is, the dative). Incidentally, "tatpuruṣa" is a tatpuruṣa ("this man"—meaning someone's agent), while "caturtitatpuruṣa" is a Karmadhāraya, being both dative, and a tatpuruṣa. An easy way to understand it is to look at English examples of tatpuruṣas: "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.
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, this is not historically true. That is, it did not start with compounding of "na" before brāhamaṇa. It is a mere transformation device that grammarians came up with as witnessed in so many instances.
A variety of Tatpuruṣa compound in which nouns make unions with verbs. These compounds can be recognized as the second Pada contains a (possibly transformed) verbal root (dhātu): kumbham + kṛ = kumbhakāra [potter, lit. one who makes pots]; śāstram + jñā = śāstrajña [learned person, one who knows treatises]; jalam + dā = jalada [cloud, one who gives water].
These consist of two or more noun stems, connected in sense with 'and' (copulative or coordinative). There are mainly two kinds of द्वन्द्व (dvandva pair) constructions in Sanskrit:
The result of इतरेतर द्वन्द्व (itaretara dvandva enumerative dvanda) is an enumerative 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. For example:
- रामलक्ष्मणौ rāmalakṣmaṇau Rama and Lakshmana, equivalent to रामः च लक्षमणः च rāmaḥ ca lakṣmaṇaḥ ca. It describes the sons of King Daśaratha, around whom, along with Rāma's wife Sītā, the epic Rāmayaṇa revolves.
- रामलक्ष्मणभरतशत्रुघ्नाः rāmalakṣmaṇabharataśatrughṇāḥ Rama and Lakshmana and Bharata and Shatrughna, equivalent to रामः च लक्षमणः च भरतः च शत्रुघ्नः च rāmaḥ ca lakṣmaṇaḥ ca bharataḥ ca śatrughṇaḥ ca. It describes all the sons of King Daśaratha.
- धातुलकारपुरुषवचनानि dhātulakārapuruṣavacanāni verb stem, case, person and number, equivalent to धातुः च लकारः च पुरुषः च वचनं च dhātuḥ ca lakāraḥ ca puruṣaḥ ca vacanaṃ ca. It describes the method of describing verb inflections and conjugations.
Words may be organised in a compund to form a metonym, and sometimes the words may comprise all the constituent parts of the whole. The resultant compound word exhibits समाहार द्वन्द्व (samāhāra dvandva collective dvandva), and is always neuter and in the singular number.
- पाणिपादम् pāņipādam limbs/appendages, equivalent to पाणी च पादौ च pāṇī ca pādau ca (two) hands (and) two feet
According to some grammarians, there is a third kind of dvandva, called एकशेष द्वन्द्व ekashesha dvandva one-(stem)-remains dvandva, where only one stem remains in the compound of multiple words: this exhibits "true" metonymy.
- पितरौ pitarau parents, equivalent to माता च पिता च mātā ca pitā ca mother and father. Here, the only stem used is पितृ pitṛ father, which in dual case (as there are two entities: mother and father) declines to give pitarau fathers, or in this case pitarau parents. Itaretara dvandva can also be performed to give मातापितरौ mātāpitarau mother and father, and this can mean precisely the same as pitarau.
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 bahuvrīhi 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".
Case endings do not vanish, e.g., ātmane+ padam = ātmanepadam.
Repetition of a word expresses repetitiveness, e. g. dive-dive 'day by day', 'daily'.
- Up to 30 component words with 120 syllables in some literary styles such as Kāvya.
- Kumar, Animesh (May 23, 2007). "Sruti Krta Rama Stuti". Stutimandal.com. Retrieved July 1, 2011. "A compound with 16 words and 44 syllables from the Bhusundi Ramayana: कमला-कुच-कुङ्कुम-पिन्जरीकृत-वक्षः-स्थल-विराजित-महा-कौस्तुभ-मणि-मरीचि-माला-निराकृत-त्रि-भुवन-तिमिर (IAST kamalā-kuca-kuṅkuma-pinjarīkṛta-vakṣaḥ-sthala-virājita-mahā-kaustubha-maṇi-marīci-mālā-nirākṛta-tri-bhuvana-timira)."
- "Virudavali - Jagadguru Rambhadracharya". Shri Tulsi Peeth Seva Nyas. Retrieved October 25, 2012. "A compound with 35 words and 86 syllables from the Virudavali of Rambhadracharya: साङ्ख्य-योग-न्याय-वैशेषिक-पूर्व-मीमांसा-वेदान्त-नारद-शाण्डिल्य-भक्ति-सूत्र-गीता-वाल्मीकीय-रामायण-भागवतादि-सिद्धान्त-बोध-पुरः-सर-समधिकृताशेष-तुलसी-दास-साहित्य-सौहित्य-स्वाध्याय-प्रवचन-व्याख्यान-परम-प्रवीणाः (IAST sāṅkhya-yoga-nyāya-vaiśeṣika-pūrva-mīmāṃsā-vedānta-nārada-śāṇḍilya-bhakti-sūtra-gītā-vālmīkīya-rāmāyaṇa-bhāgavatādi-siddhānta-bodha-puraḥ-sara-samadhikṛtāśeṣa-tulasī-dāsa-sāhitya-sauhitya-svādhyāya-pravacana-vyākhyāna-parama-pravīṇāḥ)."
- 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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