Shloka (meaning "song", from the root śru, "hear") is a category of verse line developed from the Vedic Anustubh. It is the basis for Indian epic verse, and may be considered the Indian verse form par excellence, occurring, as it does, far more frequently than any other meter in classical Sanskrit poetry. The Mahabharata and Ramayana, for example, are written almost exclusively in shlokas. The traditional view is that this form of verse occurred to Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana, on seeing a hunter shoot down one of two birds in love.
The shloka is treated as a couplet. Each hemistich (half-verse) of 16 syllables, composed of two Pādas of eight syllables, can take either a pathyā ("normal") form or one of several vipulā ("extended") forms. The form of the second foot of the first Pāda (II) limits the possible patterns the first foot (I) may assume, as in the scheme below.
The Pathyā and Vipulā half-verses are arranged in the table above in order of frequency of occurrence. Out of 2579 half-verses taken from Kalidasa, Magha, Bharavi, and Bilhana, each of the four admissible forms of shloka in the above order claims the following share: 2289, 116, 89, 85.
- The 1st and 8th syllables of both pādas are anceps.
- The 2nd and 3rd syllables cannot both be light (laghu, "⏑") in either pāda; i.e. one or both of the 2nd and 3rd syllables must be heavy (guru, "–") in both pādas.
- Syllables 2-4 of the second pāda cannot be a ra-gaṇa (the pattern "– ⏑ –")
- Syllables 5-7 of the second pāda must be a ja-gaṇa ("⏑ – ⏑") This enforces an iambic cadence.
- Normal form (pathyā)
- Syllables 5-7 of the first pāda must be a ya-gaṇa ("⏑ – –")
- Variant forms (vipulā): The 4th syllable of the first pāda is heavy. In addition, one of the following is permitted:
- na-vipulā: Syllables 5-7 are a na-gaṇa ("⏑ ⏑ ⏑")
- bha-vipulā: Syllables 2-7 are ra-bha gaṇas ("– ⏑ – – ⏑ ⏑") or ma-bha gaṇas with a caesura in between ("– – – , – ⏑ ⏑")
- ma-vipulā: Syllables 2-7 are ra-ma gaṇas with a caesura after the 5th ("– ⏑ – – , – –")
- ra-vipulā: Syllables 5-7 are a ra-gaṇa following a caesura (", – ⏑ –")
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 ("⏑ – ⏑"), 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 janamejayaḥ
- "In Āsandîvat, Janamejaya bound for the gods a black-spotted, grain-eating
- horse, adorned with a golden ornament and with yellow garlands."
Though the word shloka was used to denote stanzas in anushtup metre(eight letters per line)only, now it is used to mean any four-line stanza in any Sanskrit metre. There can be up to 26 letters in a line of a sloka.
- Macdonell, Arthur A., A Sanskrit Grammar for Students, Appendix II, p. 232 (Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 1927).
- Macdonell, Arthur A., A Sanskrit Grammar for Students, Appendix II, p. 233 (Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 1927)
- Steiner, Appendix 4; translated: Macdonald, Appendix
- Eggeling's translation
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