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Aṭṭhakathā (Pali for explanation, commentary)[1] refers to Pali-language Theravadin Buddhist commentaries to the canonical Theravadin Tipitaka. These commentaries give the traditional interpretations of the scriptures. The major commentaries were based on earlier ones, now lost, in Prakrit and Sinhala, which were written down at the same time as the Canon, in the last century BCE. Some material in the commentaries is found in canonical texts of other schools of Buddhism, suggesting an early common source.

According to K.R. Norman:

There is no direct evidence that any commentarial material was in fact recited at the first council, but there is clear evidence that some parts of the commentaries are very old, perhaps even going back to the time of the Buddha, because they afford parallels with texts which are regarded as canonical by other sects, and must therefore pre-date the schisms between the sects. As has already been noted, some canonical texts include commentarial passages, while the existence of the Old Commentary in the Vinaya-pitaka and the canonical status of the Niddesa prove that some sort of exegesis was felt to be needed at a very early stage of Buddhism.[2]

As with the Canon itself, the contents of collected editions of the Theravadin commentaries, compiled from the fourth century CE onwards, vary between editions. The minimal collection, found in the Thai edition (1992) includes the following (Skilling 2002).

In addition, the following are included in one or both of the other two editions: the Burmese Chatthasangayana edition (a list of contents can be found in Thein Han 1981) and the Sinhalese Simon Hewavitarne Bequest edition.

  • Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga, a systematic presentation of the traditional teaching; the commentaries on the first four nikayas refer to this for the material it details. In both Sinhalese (Mori et al. 1994) and Burmese
  • The Patimokkha (Pruitt & Norman 2001, page xxxvi) and its commentary Kankhavitarani, ascribed to Buddhaghosa
  • Commentary by Dhammapala on the Nettipakarana, a work sometimes included in the canon
  • Vinayasangaha, a selection of passages from Samantapasadika arranged topically by Sariputta in the twelfth century (Crosby 2006)
  • Saratthasamuccaya, commentary on the Paritta. In Sinhalese (Malalasekera 1938).


Below is a listing of fourth- or fifth-century CE commentator Buddhaghosa's fourteen alleged commentaries (Pāli: atthakatha) on the Pāli Tipitaka (Norman 1983).

Pali Tipitaka Commentary
from the
Vinaya Pitaka
Vinaya (general) Samantapāsādikā
Patimokkha Kaṅkhāvitaraṇī
or Māṭikaṭṭhakathā
from the
Sutta Pitaka
Digha Nikaya Sumaṅgalavilāsinī
Majjhima Nikaya Papañcasūdani
Samyutta Nikaya Sāratthappakāsinī
Anguttara Nikaya Manorathapūraṇī
from the
Khuddakapatha Paramatthajotikā (I)
Dhammapada Dhammapada-aṭṭhakathā
Sutta Nipata Paramatthajotikā (II),[3]
or Suttanipāta-aṭṭhakathā
Jataka Jātaka-aṭṭhavaṇṇā,
or Jātaka-aṭṭhakathā
from the
Dhammasangani Aṭṭhasālinī
Vibhanga Sammohavinodanī
Dhatukatha Pañcappakaṇaraṭṭhakathā

Only the Visuddhimagga and the commentaries on the first four nikayas are accepted by a consensus of scholars as Buddhaghosa's.[4]


The commentator Dhammapala's date is uncertain. He wrote after Buddhaghosa, and probably no later than the 7th century.[5] His Khuddaka Nikaya commentaries are Paramatthadipani comprising

  • Udana-atthakatha regarding the Udana.
  • Itivuttaka-atthakatha regarding the Itivuttaka.
  • Vimanavatthu-atthakatha regarding the Vimanavatthu.
  • Petavatthu-atthakatha regarding the Petavatthu.
  • Theragatha-atthakatha regarding the Theragatha.
  • Therigatha-atthakatha regarding the Therigatha.
  • Cariyapitaka-atthakatha regarding the Cariyapitaka.

Other Khuddaka Nikaya commentaries[edit]

Other Khuddaka Nikaya commentaries are

Three books are included in some editions of the Khuddaka Nikaya: Nettipakarana, Petakopadesa and Milindapañha. Of these only the Nettipakarana has a commentary in any standard edition.


  • Visuddhimagga
  • Samantapasadika
    • Introduction translated as "The inception of discipline" by N. A. Jayawickrama, in 1 volume with the Pali, "Vinaya nidana", 1962, PTS, Oxford
    • Chinese adaptation called Shan chien p'i p'o sha tr P. V. Bapat & Akira Hirakawa, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona
  • Patimokkha tr K. R. Norman, 2001, PTS, Oxford
  • Kankhavitarani: translation by K. R. Norman & William Pruitt in preparation
  • Sumangalavilasini (parts)
    • Introduction translated in a learned journal in the 1830s
    • Commentary on Brahmajala Sutta, abr tr Bodhi in The All-Embracing Net of Views, BPS, Kandy, 1978. Available for free download here
    • Commentary on Samannaphala Sutta, abr tr Bodhi in The Discourse on the Fruits of Recluseship, BPS, Kandy, 1989. Available for free download here
    • Commentary on Maha Nidana Sutta, abr tr Bodhi in The Great Discourse on Causation, BPS, Kandy, 1984. Available for free download here
    • Commentary on Mahaparinibbana Sutta tr Yang-Gyu An, 2003, PTS, Oxford
  • Papancasudani (parts)
    • Commentary on Mulapariyaya Sutta, abr tr Bodhi in The Discourse on the Root of Existence, BPS, Kandy, 1980. Available for free download here
    • Commentary on Sammaditthi Sutta, tr Nanamoli in The Discourse on Right View, BPS, Kandy, 1991. Available for free download here
    • Commentary on Satipatthana Sutta, tr Soma in The Way of Mindfulness, Saccanubodha Samiti, Kandy, 1941; reprinted BPS, Kandy. Available for free download @here
  • Manorathapurani (parts): stories of leading nuns and laywomen, tr Mabel Bode in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, new series, volume XXV, pages 517-66 & 763-98
  • Paramatthajotika on Khuddakapatha, tr Nanamoli as "The illustrator of ultimate meaning", in 1 volume with "The minor readings" (Khuddakapatha), 1960, PTS, Oxford
  • Dhammapada commentary, translated in two parts
    • Stories giving background to verses, tr E. W. Burlingame as Buddhist Legends, 1921, 3 volumes, Harvard Oriental Series; reprinted PTS, Oxford
    • Explanations of verses, translated in the Dhammapada translation by John Ross Carter & Mahinda Palihawadana, Oxford University Press, 1987; included only in the hardback edition, not the paperback World Classics edition
  • Udana commentary tr Peter Masefield, 1994-5, 2 volumes, PTS, Oxford
  • Itivuttaka commentary tr Peter Masefield, 2008–2009, 2 vols., PTS, Oxford
  • Vimanavatthu commentary, tr Peter Masefield as Vimana Stories, 1989, PTS, Oxford
  • Petavatthu commentary, tr U Ba Kyaw & Peter Masefield as Peta-Stories, 1980, PTS, Oxford
  • Theragatha commentary: substantial extracts translated in Psalms of the Brethren, tr C. A. F. Rhys Davids, 1913; reprinted in Psalms of the Early Buddhists, PTS, Oxford
  • Therigatha commentary, tr as The Commentary on the Verses of the Theris, by William Pruitt, 1998, PTS, Oxford
  • Jataka commentary
    • Introduction tr as The Story of Gotama Buddha by N. A. Jayawickrama, 1990, PTS, Oxford
    • Most of the rest is translated in the Jataka translation by E. B. Cowell et al., 1895–1907, 6 volumes, Cambridge University Press; reprinted in 3 volumes by PTS, Oxford
  • Madhuratthavilasini, tr as The Clarifier of the Sweet Meanlng by I. B. Horner, 1978, PTS, Oxford
  • Atthasalini, tr as The Expositor by Pe Maung Tin, 1920–21, 2 volumes; reprinted in 1 volume, PTS, Oxford
  • Sammohavinodani, tr as The Dispeller of Delusion, by Nanamoli, 1987–91, 2 volumes, PTS, Oxford
  • Kathavatthu commentary, tr as The Debates Commentary by B. C. Law, 1940, PTS, Oxford

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rhys Davids & Stede (1921–25), pp. 24-25, entry for Attha defines aṭṭhakathā as "exposition of the sense, explanation, commentary...."
  2. ^ Norman, K.R. (1983) Pali Literature, p. 119. Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden.
  3. ^ In fact this commentary did not originally have this title, but it has become traditionally known by it. Hinüber (1996/2000), p. 129 sec. 255, writes:
    Neither the author nor even a title is mentioned in Pj [Paramattha-jotika] II .... Thus, originally Pj II was anonymous, and moreover like Dhp-a [Dhammapada-atthakatha] and Ja [Jataka-atthavannana] was without an individual title: Pj might have been chosen at a later date because large parts overlapped with Pj I. [That is, because much of the Khuddakapatha is taken from the Sutta Nipata]. This connected this commentary to Pj I....
    On the whole, however, Pj I and Pj II are so different that it is difficult to imagine a common author.
  4. ^ For instance, regarding the Khuddha Nikaya commentaries, Hinüber (1996/2000), pp. 130–1, sect. 259, 260, writes:
    Neither Pj [Paramattha-jotika] I nor Pj II can be dated, not even in relation to each other, except that both presuppose Buddhaghosa. In spite of the 'Buddhaghosa colophon' added to both commentaries ... no immediate relation to Buddhaghosa can be recognized.... Both Ja [Jataka-atthavannana] and Dhp-a [Dhammapada-atthakatha] are traditionally ascribed to Buddhaghosa, an assumption which has been rightly questioned by modern research....
  5. ^ See Encyclopedia of Buddhism Vol.4, p. 502-503.


  • Crosby, Kate (2006). In Journal of the Pali Text Society, volume XXVIII.
  • Hinüber, Oskar von (1996). Handbook of Pali Literature. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-014992-3.
  • Malalasekera, G.P. (1938). Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, volume II. London: John Murray for the Government of India. ISBN 0-8288-1721-9.
  • Mori, Sodo, Y Karunadasa & Toshiichi Endo (1994). Pali Atthakatha Correspondence Table. Oxford: Pali Text Society.
  • Norman, K.R. (1983). Pali Literature, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
  • Pruitt, William & K.R. Norman (2001). The Patimokkha, Oxford, Pali Text Society
  • Rhys Davids, T.W. & William Stede (eds.) (1921-5). The Pali Text Society’s Pali–English Dictionary. Chipstead: Pali Text Society. A general on-line search engine for the PED is available at Accessed 2007-05-09.
  • Skilling, Peter (2002). In Journal of the Pali Text Society, volume XXVII.
  • Thein Han, U (1981). In The Light of the Dhamma. Online at [2].

External links[edit]