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For other uses, see Svādhyāya (disambiguation).
Rigveda manuscript, Sanskrit in Devanagari script, India, early 19th century

Svādhyāya (Devanagari: स्वाध्याय) is a Sanskrit term in Hinduism having several meanings, including study of the Vedas and other sacred books, self-recitation, repetition of the Vedas aloud, and as a term for the Vedas themselves.[1][2][3] Svādhyāya is extolled in orthodox Brahmanism in its traditional sense as "study of the scriptures and darśanas which help the understanding of the nature of the Paramātman."[4] Some translators simply use the word "study" without qualifying the type of study.[5][6]


Adhyāya means "a lesson, lecture, chapter; reading" (- Monier-Williams). Svādhyāya (a compound of sva + adhyāya), therefore, literally means one's own (Vedic) lesson (taught by guru), i.e.,of one's own shakha (śākhā or recension)'.

Sāyana defines the "sva-" in svādhyāya as "āmnātah", i.e., "handed down as a sacred tradition",[7] and says that svādhyāya is not a kāmya (depending on self will) but a nitya karma (a religious duty to be performed daily)[8] Manusmriti defines svādhyāya as a daily duty (2.105) and extols its virtues (Mn.2.107).

There are certain days on which svādhyāya is prohibited, these are called anadhyāya, after which svādhyāya must be resumed on the following day ; therefore the day of resumption is also called svādhyāya.[9] All anadhyāya days are mentioned in traditional panchangas (religious almanacs) of Hindus. Manusmriti says that there should be no anadhyāya in the study of six Vedangas(Mn.2.105), but clears this statement in next verse by asserting that the mantras of nityakarma give virtue even on an anadhyāya day (Mn.2.106),which implies that other mantras should not be studied on anadhyāya days.

Learning one's Vedic recension[edit]

As a tool for memorization, svādhyāya had a unique meaning for Vedic scholars as the principal tool for the oral preservation of the Vedas in their original form for millennia. When used as a formal part of scriptural study, svādhyāya involves repeated recitations of scripture for purposes of mastering the mantras with their accurate pronunciation.[10]

The Vedas had not been committed to writing in ancient times. Almost all printed editions depend on the late manuscripts that are hardly older than 500 years, not on the still-extant and superior oral tradition.[11] Monier Monier-Williams defines śruti as "sacred knowledge orally transmitted by the Brāhmans from generation to generations, the Veda".[12] Michael Witzel explains this oral tradition as follows:

The Vedic texts were orally composed and transmitted, without the use of script, in an unbroken line of transmission from teacher to student that was formalized early on. This ensured an impeccable textual transmission superior to the classical texts of other cultures; it is, in fact, something like a tape-recording.... Not just the actual words, but even the long-lost musical (tonal) accent (as in old Greek or in Japanese) has been preserved up to the present.[13]"

The commentator Sāyana discusses this term in the introduction of his commentary on the Ṛgveda, in which he says that svādhyāya is the cause without which vedic rituals (yājnika karmakānda) cannot take place.[14] Sāyana also quotes Yājnvalkya Smriti as saying that "All vedas ought to be studied, and if all the Vedas cannot be studied then three or two or at least one Veda must be studied, because one Veda is handed down by one's own forefathers as a tradition (i.e., one's own shakha)".[15]

Pattābhiram Shāstri says that since one is only allowed to use the mantras of one's own śākhā in rituals, it follows that the vedic meaning of svādhyāya is "a systematic recitation of one's own Vedic branch (śākhā) according to the Śastric commands".[16] He also says that "this recitation and study is that of one's own recension and not of entire Veda for there is a commandment (from Taittiriya Aranyaka 2.15 : svādhyayo-adhyetavyah) study and recite one's own Vedic recension." Śāstri quotes a traditionally practised rule which says : "one should recite a recension(śākhā) of another Veda only after one has recited one's own recension (in actual yajnic ritual)".[17]

The strictly vedic meaning is still being practised by all vedic scholars.Pattābhiram Shāstri says "in this twentieth century the traditional recitation of the Veda is practically disappearing".,[18] which means that fewer peoples are practising svādhyāya now in its strictly traditional ritualistic sense. This vedic meaning of svādhyāya can be understood only in the context of sampradaya, charana (cf. charanavyuha), shakha, etc.

Ongoing study of scriptures[edit]

The Taittirīya Upanishad, which belongs to the Yajur Veda, is still very popular among those who learn Vedic chanting in the traditional manner.[19] The first chapter concludes with an exhortation by the Vedic teacher to his students, on the eve of their returning home after the completion of their studies, an event that S. Gambhīrānanda describes as "comparable to a Convocation Address of modern times, instructing them how to conduct themselves in the world."[20] It is the order of a guru to his disciple at the occasion of his Samāvartanam, a Hindu Saṃskāra that is comparable to a graduation ceremony.[21]

It includes a section (1.9) in which the ongoing importance of svādhyāyā is stressed again and again in a list of virtues that are to practiced, with each virture being followed by the phrase "svādhyāyapravacane ca", translated as "and learning and teaching" by S. Gambhīrānanda[22] and as "the study and recitation [of the Veda]" by R. C. Zaehner.[23] This litany of virtues concludes with a final statement that "learning and teaching alone" are to be practiced, for "that indeed is the austerity" (Sanskrit: tapas)[24][25]

Maurice Winternitz cites another passage where the teacher sums up advice for the scholar who is departing on his life's journey, translating 1.11 as "Speak the truth, do thy duty, neglect not the study of the Veda."[26] That section includes direct orders to "Do not neglect study" (svādhyāyāt mā pramadaḥ)[27][28] and "Do not be careless about learning and teaching" (svādhyāyapravacanābhyāṁ na pramaditavyam)[29][30]

Other scriptural mentions[edit]

The earliest mention of Svādhyāya is found in Taittiriya Aranyaka 2.15: "svādhyayo-adhyetavyah" ("svādhyāya must be done/studied"). Śatpath Brāhmana also repeats it.[31]

Chāndogya Upaniṣada (4.16.1-2) says that Brahmā (a brāhmana silently overlooking the yajna) must remain silent (mauna) during a yajna and keep on meditating over the meanings of mantras, while other priests should recite those mantras aloud. Hence, silent (mānas) and vocal (vāchika) both types of svādhyāya was necessary for adequate performance of yajnas. That is why Monier Williams gives both types of meaning for svādhyāya : (1) recite/repeat/rehearse the Veda in a low voice to oneself, and (2) repeat the Vedas aloud.

Study of sacred texts and related literature (adhyayana) is one of six basic duties (ṣaṭkarma) required of every Brahmin (Sanskrit: brāhmana) in Manu Smriti X.75.[32] Svādhyāya may be loosely held to be a part of adhyayana as far as learning the texts is concerned, but svādhyāya is distinguished from adhyayana in two senses (1)svādhyāya for preserving the pronunciation of sacred oral tradition in its primordial form, and :(2)svādhyāya as a variety of japa which later gave rise to non-ritualistic variety of svādhyāya best exemplified by the svādhyāya of Yoga-Sutra(chapter-2, sutra-1). Svādhyāya is distinct from adhyayana ; the latter is defined by Monier Williams as 'reading, studying, especially the Vedas (one of the six duties of a brāhmana)'.

Svādhyāya in Yoga & Gita[edit]

Svādhyāya is one of the three key elements in the practice of yoga as defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, appearing in the opening verse of Book two on spiritual practice and elaborated upon in two other verses.[33] Patanjali mentions svādhyāya a second time as one of the five recommended observances (niyamas), along with purity, contentment, austerity, and self-surrender.[34] The five niyamas, together with the five abstentions (yamas),[35] have been described as "'the ten commandments' of the Sāṁkhya-Yoga."[36]

Madhva, the dualistic Vaishnava philosopher, defined philosophy as the three-stage process of understanding (śravaṇa), reflection (manana), and application (nididhyāsana), expressing itself in two forms: study (svādhyāya) and teaching (pravacana). Of these two, Madhva considered teaching to be the highest aspect of discipline leading to mokṣa.[37] Mādhavāchārya's views on svādhyāya are to be found in chapter 15 of Sarva-Darśana-Sangraha (cf. references).

Svādhyāya is mentioned as one of the virtues in Bhagavad Gita 16.1.[38][39] It is mentioned a second time in BG 17.15 as one of the practices that comprise austerity of speech.[40]

Relationship to japa[edit]

Japa Mala, used for recitation of Japa.

The term svādhyāya also came to mean japa (repetitive prayer). The Amarakośa, an early Sanskrit lexicon, distinguishes between two different types of japa:

  • Japa for the purpose of memorization of mantras is svādhyāya.[41][42]
  • Japa for expiation of sin, is aghamarśaṇa.[43][44][45]

Both types of japa, svādhyāya and aghamarşaṇa are parts of nityakarma or daily religious rites for every Brahmin.[46]


  1. ^ For compound derivation as स्व + अध्यायः and meanings of svādhyāya as "1. self-recitation, muttering to one-self. -2. study of the Vedas, sacred study, perusal of sacred books. -3. the Veda itself. -4. a day on which sacred study is enjoined to be resumed after suspension." see: Apte 1965, p. 1016, right column.
  2. ^ For definition of "स्वाध्याय, m. repeating to oneself, study of the Veda; repetition of the Veda aloud" see: Macdonell 1996, p. 373, left column.
  3. ^ For definition as "the regular habit of study of religious books", see: Chatterjee and Datta (1984), p. 303.
  4. ^ For role in Brahmanism and quotation, see: Bhattacharyya 1956, pp. 25–26, volume 4.
  5. ^ For translation of YS 2.1 as ""Purificatory action, study, and making God the motive of action, constitute the yoga of action." see: Radhakrishnan and Moore, p. 462.
  6. ^ For translation of YS 2.1 as "Austerity, study, and the dedication of the fruits of one's work to God: these are the preliminary steps to yoga." see: Prabhavananda and Isherwood, p. 95.
  7. ^ Cf. āmnātah and āmnāya in Sanskrit English Dictionary of Monier-Williams.
  8. ^ For classification of svādhyāya as a nitya karma rather than a kāmya, see Sāyana's introduction in: Sontakke 1972, p. 18.
  9. ^ Sanskrit English Dictionary of Monier-Williams
  10. ^ For traditional uses of svādhyāya in the sense of repetition of scriptural mantras for purposes of memorization, see: Arya 1986, p. 6.
  11. ^ Quotation of "... almost all printed editions depend on the late manuscripts that are hardly older than 500 years, not on the still extant and superior oral tradition" is from: Witzel, M., "Vedas and Upaniṣads", in: Flood 2003, p. 69.
  12. ^ For definition of śruti as "sacred knowledge orally transmitted" see: Monier-Williams 1899, p. 1101.
  13. ^ For the quotation comparing recital to a "tape-recording" see: Witzel, M., "Vedas and Upaniṣads", in: Flood 2003, pp. 68–69.
  14. ^ For text of Sāyana commentary as karma-kārana-bhūta-svādhyāya see: Sontakke 1972, p. 19.
  15. ^ For Sayana quotation on need to study all vedas, see: Sontakke 1972, p. 18.
  16. ^ Quotation from Shāstri, Pattābhiram, "Introduction", in: Karpātri 1979, pp. 17.
  17. ^ For Śāstri's interpretations of requirements for recitation of śākhās, see: Shāstri, Pattābhiram, "Introduction", in: Karpātri 1979, pp. 22.
  18. ^ Quotation from Shāstri, Pattābhiram, "Introduction", in: Karpātri 1979, pp. 22.
  19. ^ For Taittirīya Upaniṣad as part of Yajur Veda, and continued popularity with students of Vedic chant, see: Gambhīrānanda 1986, p. iv.
  20. ^ For summary of the context of the exhortation in the first chapter, and quotation, see: Gambhīrānanda 1986, pp. iv-v.
  21. ^ For definition of Samāvartanam, also known as Snāna, as a Hindu sacramental ritual (Saṃskāra) that was performed at the close of the Brahmacharya period and marked the end termination of the student life, see: Pandey 1969, p. 146.
  22. ^ For Sanskrit text of Taittirīya Upanishad 1.9.1; translation of स्वाध्यायप्रवचने च (svādhyāyapravacane ca) as "and learning and teaching (are to be practiced)"; and comment that "Svādhyāyaḥ is study (of the scriptures). Pravacanam is teaching (of the scriptures)", see: Gambhīrānanda 1986, pp. 40–43.
  23. ^ For translation of the repetitions in Taittirīya Upanishad 1.9.1 as "the study and recitation [of the Veda]", see: Zaehner 1966, p. 136.
  24. ^ For translation of the closing words of Taittirīya Upanishad 1.9.1 (स्वाध्यायप्रवचने एवेति)..., etc., as "Learning and teaching alone (are the things) — this is what Nāka, son of Mudgala, thinks. For that indeed is the austerity; for that indeed is the austerity.", see: Gambhīrānanda 1986, p. 41.
  25. ^ For translation of the closing words of Taittirīya Upanishad 1.9.1 as "'Study and recitation (of the Veda) only,' said Nāka Maudgalya, 'for that is asceticism, that is (really) asceticism". See: Zaehner 1966, p. 136.
  26. ^ For context as "the teacher gives the scholar who is departing on his life's journey", and translation of opening phrases of Taittirīya Upanishad 1.11, see: Winternitz 1972, p. 259, vol. 1.
  27. ^ For text and translation of Taittirīya Upanishad 1.11.1 phrase svādhyāyānmā (= svādhyāyāt "from study" + mā pramadaḥ "make no deviation") as "Make no mistake about study", see: Gambhīrānanda 1986, pp. 47–48.
  28. ^ For translation of Taittirīya Upanishad 1.11.1 phrase as "Do not neglect study [of the Veda]", see: Zaehner & 1966 1966, p. 136.
  29. ^ For text and translation of Taittirīya Upanishad 1.11.1 phrase svādhyāyapravacanābhyāṁ na pramaditavyam as "Do not be careless about learning and teaching." see: Gambhīrānanda 1986, pp. 47–48.
  30. ^ For translation of Taittirīya Upanishad 1.11.1 phrase svādhyāyapravacanābhyāṁ na pramaditavyam as "Do not be negligent in the study and recitation [of the Veda]", see: Gambhīrānanda 1986, pp. 47–48.
  31. ^ Monier-Williams
  32. ^ For translation of Manusmriti X.75 as: "Studying, teaching, sacrificing for himself, sacrificing for others, making gifts and receiving them are the six acts prescribed for a brahmin." see:
  33. ^ For Sanskrit text of verses 2.1, 2.32, and 2.44 and discussion as a key practice, see: Taimni 1961, pp. 127–128, 220, 250.
  34. ^ For text and translation of YS 2.32, and translation of niyama as "observances", see: Taimni 1961, p. 220.
  35. ^ For the five yamas or "restraints" as: abstention from injury (ahiṁsā), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), control of the carnal desires and passions (brahmacarya), and non-acceptance of unnecessary gifts (aparigraha), see: Chatterjee and Datta (1984), p. 302.
  36. ^ For quotation including svādhyāya in the comparison to the ten commandments, see: Hiriyanna, M., "The Sāṁkhya", in: Bhattacharyya 1956, p. 49, volume 3.
  37. ^ For Madhva's threefold definition of philosophy and the twofold division of expression, see: Raghavendrachar, H. N., "Madhva's Brahma-Mīmāṁsā", in: Bhattacharyya (1956), volume 3, p. 330.
  38. ^ For text of BG 16.1 and translation of svādhyāya as "study of the scriptures", see: Chidbhavananda, p. 779.
  39. ^ For text of BG 16.1 and translation of svādhyāya as "intent on studying Holy Writ", see: Zaehner 1969, p. 369.
  40. ^ For text of BG 17.15 and translation of svādhyāyābhyasanaṁ as "the practice of the study of scriptures" see: Gambhīrānanda 1997, pp. 644–645.
  41. ^ Amarakośa 2.7.46
  42. ^ For electronic edition of Amarakośa definition as "svaadhyaayaH syaajjapaH sutyaabhishhavaH savanaM cha saa\\" see: [1].
  43. ^ Amarakośa 2.7.47.
  44. ^ For definition of अघमर्षण (aghamarşaṇa) as "expiatory, removing or destroying sin, usually applied to prayer repeated by Brahmaṇas (the 190th hymn of Rv. 10.)", and citation of Amarakośa regarding this as "सर्वैनसामपध्वांसि जप्यं त्रिष्वघमर्षणं" see: Apte 1965, p. 15.
  45. ^ For electronic edition of Amarakośa definition as "sarvainasaamapadhva.nsi japyaM trishhvaghamarshhaNam\\", see: [2].
  46. ^ MW


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