Indian Kavyashastra (Poetics) Glossary

Welcome to Indian Kavyashastra (Poetics) Glossary. Here you can find brief explanations for words and phrases related to Indian poetics. My aim in compiling this glossary is to make primary information about Indian poetics more accessible to people around the world. I welcome your suggestions for the refinement of this glossary.

- Dhirendra Tripathi (Compiler)

Poetic principle (Kavya Siddhant)

A fundamental principle of poetics that serves as the basis for a system or reason for a belief or practice associated with poetics.

There are six major poetic principles in Indian poetics: 'Ras' (~essence/sentiment), 'Alankar' (~ornamentation using figures of speech), 'Riti' (~method, ~tradition), 'Dhwani' (~literal, metaphoric, allegoric messages and their illuminating echo & resonance), 'Vakrokti' (~innuendo, ~indirectness) and 'Auchitya' (~propriety).

Ras (~essence) Siddhant

In the Ras (pronounced to rhyme with bus) principle, Kavyaras, the essence of the poem, has been accepted as the soul of poetry. It has been said Kavyaras is the form of the delightful lasting emotion realized through the medium of the poem. Acharya Bharat Muni has written at length about ras (~essence) in his book 'Natyashastra'.
As components of these eleven essential sentiments, eleven lasting emotions have also been accepted. These eleven lasting emotions are already present in the reader and through an 'inner conversation' with the poet, they are transformed into the poem's ras (~essence).

These eleven essential sentiments and their associated lasting emotions are:

  • Shringaar Ras – The word shringaar means adornment, often used in the context of a woman prettying herself. The word in this context though refers to her feeling of love that motivates her to pretty herself. The permanent emotion (permanent emotion here means an emotion which already resides in the reader) that the ras evokes is love.
  • Hasya Ras – Hasya is humorous. The permanent emotion that the ras evokes is laughter.
  • Veer Ras – Veer is heroic, brave. The permanent emotion that the ras evokes is enthusiasm, exuberance.
  • Adhbhut Ras – Adbhut is amazing, miraculous. The permanent emotion that the ras evokes is astonishment.
  • Karuna Ras – Karuna is compassion. The permanent emotion shok that the ras evokes is sadness.
  • Raudra Ras – Raudra is enragement. The permanent emotion krodh that the ras evokes is anger.
  • Bhayanak Ras – Bhayanak is scary. The permanent emotion that the ras evokes is fear.
  • Vibhatsa Ras – Vibhatsa is disgusting. The permanent emotion that the ras evokes is a strong dislike.
  • Shanta Ras – Shanta is quiet, peaceful. The permanent emotion that the ras evokes is detachment, asceticism.
  • Vatsalya Ras – Vastalya is affection. The permanent emotion that the ras evokes is love for progeny.
  • Bhakti Ras – Bhakti is devotion. The permanent emotion that the ras evokes is love for god.

Thirty-three transient communicative emotions related to these eleven essential sentiments and eleven lasting emotions have also been accepted. These thirty-three transient communicative emotions may convey an emotional state related to any of the eleven essential sentiments. These thirty-three transient communicative emotions are:

1) Vibodh (awakening, realisation) 2) Autsukya (eagerness) 3) Mati (arrived at an understanding or decision) 4) Shram (tiredness from exertion) 5) Dhriti (patience, fortitude) 6) Chapalta (restlessness of mind or body) 7) Harsh (joy) 8) Garv (pride) 9) Smriti (a transient emotion based on past experience, recollection) 10) Nirved (disinterestedness, detachment) 11) Shanka (doubt) 12) Moh (distraction, being lost due to attachment) 13) Vrida (shame) 14) Aaveg (impulsiveness, impatience) 15) Ugrata (ferocity, aggressiveness) 16) Mad (drunkenness) 17) Unmaad (frenzy, mania) 18) Vitark (argumentative) 19) Alasya (laziness) 20) Vishad (melancholy) 21) Dainya (destitute) 22) Vyadhi (sickly, frail) 23) Traas (stress due to fear of harm) 24) Chinta (anxiety) 25) Swapn (dreaminess) 26) Avahittha (hide one's feelings) 27) Asuya (jealousy, seeing fault in someone else's) 28) Amarsha (resentment) 29) Glani (guilt) 30) Nidra (sleep) 31) Apsamaar (stupor, fainting) 32) Jadta (despondency due to not getting a desire fulfilled or receiving something undesired) 33) Maran (motionlessness, death)

It has been accepted that there may be more transient communicative emotions apart from these thirty-three transient communicative emotions.

Alankar (~ornamentation) Siddhant

In Alankar principle, Alankar (ornamentation using figure of speech) has been considered as an essential element of poetry. And when a combination of words and meanings is accompanied by ornamentation, that is poetry. The number of different figures of speech in poetry has increased continuously and now more than seventy figures of speech are accepted.

Acharya Bhamah has discussed poetry and ornamentation in detail in his book 'Kavyalankar'.

Riti (~method, ~tradition) Siddhant

In Riti principle, Riti (~method, ~tradition) has been accepted as the soul of the poem. Ten poetic qualities have been accepted in Riti Siddhanta, out of which some Acharyas have considered three as major, which are Madhurya (~Mellifluence), Prasad (~Offering) and Oj (~Illumination). Vaidarbhi, Panchali, Lati and Gaudi traditions have also been accepted on the basis of 'gun' (poetic qualities), Samas (whether words used are of simple form or are of complex form being made up of more than one root word) and ras (~essence) in Riti Siddhanta. These different traditions were initially prevalent in different states. Acharyas have not considered Riti as a synonym for style (shaili).

Vaidarbhi is a poetic ~method or ~tradition. This tradition aims to bring all desired good qualities as per Indian Kavyasastra (Poetics) to a poem. The poems have gentle and melodious lines, using words that are simple and not made by conjoining other words.
Panchali is a poetic ~method or ~tradition. The poems of this tradition have lines that are pleasing to the ear. They are composed using words that are mostly simple though some words will be made by conjoining two words.
Gaudi is a poetic ~method or ~tradition. The poems of this tradition have lines that have hard sounding syllables and may have long words made by conjoining several simple words. The poems of this tradition illuminate the readers mind with a gentle radiance.
Lati is a poetic ~method or ~tradition that is close to Gaudi. The poems of Lati tradition have lines have medium length words made by conjoining two or three simple words.

Dhwani (literal, ~metaphoric, ~allegoric messages and their illuminating echo & resonance) Siddhant

In Dhwani principle, Dhwani (literal, ~metaphoric, ~allegoric messages and their illuminating echo & resonance) has been accepted as the soul of poetry. Acharya Anandvardhan has proposed this theory in his book 'Dhwanyalok'. In Dhwani principle, the primacy of, indirect implied meaning which is suggested, resonant meaning, has been accepted. This expression of indirect implied meaning can be on the basis of all three word powers, Abhidha (literal meaning), Lakshana (~metaphorical meaning) and Vyanjana (~suggested meaning). Acharya Abhinav Gupta has especially accepted Rasdhwani (~ the resonant meaning that echoes from the essence of the poem) as the soul of poetry. In Dhwani principle, Dhwani has been accepted as an independent element in poetics in addition to other merits of the poem and its poetic method. Acharyas who followed Acharya Anandvardhan have varied views on what the definition of Dhwani should be in poetics. If you wish to know more about the varied views you should read the books by these Acharyas.

Vakrokti (~innuendo, ~indirectness) Siddhant

In the Vakrokti (~innuendo, ~indirectness) poetic principle Vakrokti has been considered the life of poetry. Scholars have considered the coordinated indirectness (at times understood as crookedness) of word and meaning as Vakrokti. Some Acharyas have accepted Vakrokti and hyperbole as being inseparable. Acharya Kuntak has discussed the concept of Vakrokti and the different aspects of Vakrokti in his book 'Vakroktijivit'. In that, he has considered the exhilaration resulting from Vakrokti to be important. Acharya Kuntak is considered the originator of Vakrokti poetic principle.

Auchitya (~propriety) Siddhant

Acharya Kshemendra has discussed the principle of propriety in his book Auchitya Siddhant. In his book, Acharya Kshemendra has accepted that every part and sub part of a poem that is word, meaning, character, essence, ornamentation, custom etc. must have propriety (~suitability, ability, state of being fault-free). It is only when the essence of the poem is highly agreeable that it pervades the heart. Modern scholars have considered Auchitya to be important aspect of a poem but they considered it to be less of an independent poetic principle in itself.

Kavya Gun (poetic qualities)

'Gun' (spoken with a hard twisted 'n' sound not found in English) are those special qualities related to poetry which promote distinction in poems.

'Gun' are qualities that add grace and beauty in poetics. Acharya Vaman has presented ten such qualities for the words in a poem and ten such qualities for the meanings of the words, phrases and lines in a poem.

Both the soul and body are important in worldly life, yet the importance of soul is considered more. Similarly, many scholars have considered the soul of the poem being the source of poetic 'gun' to be more important than the poem's body being the source of poetic 'gun' . This is especially believed for the three key 'gun', Madhurya (~Mellifluence), Prasad (~Offering) and Oj (~Illumination).

Madhurya (~Mellifluence)

The quality in a poem's soul that makes the mind melt and find joy is 'madhurya'.

Prasad (~Offering)

Clarity of meaning is Prasad 'gun'. Prasad is the 'gun' related to a poem's soul that enables it to make an impression on the mind soon.

Oj (~Illumination)

Illuminating the mind is Oj 'gun'.

Shlesh (Pun)

Use of different meanings of a word, is Shlesh 'gun'.

Samata (~Parity)

Samata 'gun' is the ~parity, balance, uniformity in the composition of poetry. Such as similarity at the beginning and at the end of the composition, also consistency in the Riti (~tradition, ~method) of the composition.

Samadhi (~Enclosure)

The magical transcendental meaning conveyed by a poem is Samadhi 'gun'. A poem may do this in many ways. One such way is the attributing of the qualities of an absent entity to a present entity.

Padsaukumarya (~Fineness)

A fine, delicateness in the composition is Padsaukumarya 'gun'.

Arthvyakti (~Articulation)

Expressing the desired meaning clearly is Arthvyakti 'gun'.

Udarta (~Magnanimity)

Udarta 'gun' is the quality in a poem's composition that enables expression that is extraordinary and causes wonderment. Such as a composition's use of exceptional scholarly adjectives that enable such expression. The immense vastness of the composition is Udarta 'gun'. This immense vastness can be of the feelings, thoughts and imagination in the composition.

Kanti (~Effulgence)

The composition's effulgence, shine of intellect is Kanti 'gun'.

Word power

The power of a word to express an emotion or a thought.

Abhidha (Literal meaning)

The literal power of a word or phrase for expression.

Lakshana (~Metaphorical meaning)

The indicative power of a word or phrase for expression.

Vyanjana (~Suggested meaning)

The suggestive power of a word or phrase for expression.

Uchcharanjanit Prabhav (~Phonetics)

The effect caused by utterance.

Ghosh (Voiced)

Ghosh (voiced) consonants are consonants that require friction of air with the vocal cords for their utterance. All vowels are Ghosh (voiced). g (as in good), gh, ng, j, jh, ny, hard d, hard dh, hard twisted n, soft d, soft dh, n, m, ya, r, l, v, h, guttural g, guttural j, hard twisted d (ड़) and hard twisted dh (ढ़) are Ghosh (voiced) consonants. Some of these consonants are not found in English.

Aghosh (Voiceless)

Aghosh (voiceless) consonants are consonants that do not require friction of air with the vocal cords for their utterance. k, kh, ch (as in chat), chh, hard t, hard th, soft t, soft th (as in think), p, ph, sh and s are voiceless consonants. Some of these consonants are not found in English.

Alppran (low breath)

Those consonants that require a low amount of breath to utter are Alppran consonants. Alppran consonants sound softer. All vowels are Alppran. k, g (as in go), ng, ch (as in chat), j, ny, hard t, hard d, hard twisted n, soft t, soft d, n, p, b, m ya, r, l, v, guttural k, guttural g, guttural j and hard twisted d are Alppran consonants. Some of these consonants are not found in English.

Mahapran (high breath)

Those consonants that require a high amount of breath to utter are Mahapran consonants. Mahapran consonants sound harder. kh, gh, chh, soft th,soft dh, hard th, hard dh, jh, ph, bh, s, h, sh, guttural kh, f and hard twisted dh are Mahapran consonants. Some of these consonants are not found in English.

Komalta (~tenderness, ~softness)

~tender, gentle softness.

Vowels and consonants that are soft in their hearing are used in compositions with delicate and soft sounding verses. The order of short vowels from softness to hardness is as follows: A (as in the word a), I (short I as in the word it), U (short U as in the word pull). Long vowels are less soft in their hearing than short vowels, their order from softness to hardness is as follows: o, ay (as in say), au, ai, oo, ee and aa.

The order of softness in the hearing of softer sounding consonants starting from the softest sounding consonant as follows: ya, v, r, l, s, h, n, m, sh, k, ch (as in chat), soft t, p, g (as in go), j, soft d and b. Some of these consonants are not found in English.

The order of hardness in the hearing of harder sounding consonants starting from the from softest to hardest is as follows: kh, chh, soft th, ph, gh, bh, hard twisted n, hard dh, hard t and hard th. Among these consonants that are also Mahapran have more than one type of hardness. Some of these consonants are not found in English.

Kathorta (~hardness)

~hardness, ~denseness.

Chhand Shastra (Prosody)


A verse composed with varn and matras in accordance with special poetic considerations related to gati and yati.

Charan/pad/paad (line)

A line of a poem, one fourth of a verse with four lines.

Varn (syllable)

Varna is a syllable which also has a vowel sound. Varn can be short (laghu) or long (guru). Varna can be just a vowel or a vowel and a consonant, such as a (laghu), aa (guru), ri (laghu) and raa (guru). Sounds without vowels (such as uttering the sound of a vowel less consonant like n) are not considered syllables.


Matra translates roughtly to amount. The matra of a syllable is calculated by the duration of time taken to pronounce it. Syllables with a matra count of 1 (which take a shorter duration to utter) are called Laghu. And syllables with a matra count of 2 (which take a longer duration to utter) are called Guru.


A group of three varnas (syllables) described above is called gan (spoken with a hard twisted n).

Short syllables

Syllables with a short vowel. These vowels are A (as in the word a), I (short I as in the word it), U (short U as in the word pull), Ri (short ri as in the word rim); Ka (short Ka sound as in the word cub), Ki (short Ki sound as in the word kit), Ku (short Ka sound with a short U sound) or Kri (a little like the sound of kri in the word crisp though this sound does not have an equivalent in English).

Guru Varn (long syllable)

Syllables with a long vowel. These vowels are aa, ee, oo, ay (as in say), ai, o, and au.

Gati (flow, tempo)

The flow and rhythm in the reading of a poem is called gati.

Yati/Viram (pause, caesura)

Pause in the middle or at the end of a line of a verse. Here one can take a breath while reading the poem.

Tuk (rhyme)

The last syllables of a line have a similar sound.

Mukta Chhand (free verse)

Such poems in which the sequence of types of syllables or matras in the stanzas is not fixed.

Maatrik chhand

Verses in which the count of matra is set.

Varnik chhand

Verses in which the order (pattern) of 'gan' sometimes along with an additional laghu and/or guru varn is set.


Sphot ( ~explosion, ~eruption)

In Indian poetics, the entire process related to a syllable that can be heard, the completion of hearing is sphot. The word sphot roughly translates to ~explosion, ~eruption. The meaning that is gathered from the hearing of the syllable is shabd (word) -sphot. The act of uttering syllables creates sound waves. These waves then hit the eardrum of the listener. In the third process, the colliding waves are interpreted as sound by the listener. The imbibing of this reconstructed sound from the uttering of the syllable is sphot. It has also been said that the process that starts with the uttering of the first syllable and ends with the experience of hearing and gathering the meaning expressed by the last syllable is sphot.

Kavya srujan (poetic creation)

Kavya srujan is the process of creation of a poem. There has been a detailed deliberation about poetic creation in Indian poetics. This can be considered as a reflection and contemplation on the entire subject of artistic creation. There is a line of thought, under this discussion, that the emotionality, thoughtfulness and imagination of the poet are constantly impacted by the sensitivity and consciousness of the poetess/poet. Some of these influences inspire the poetess/poet more. This is where the process of poetry creation begins. Then the poetess/poet, on the strength of her/his skills, composes the poem capturing her/his emotions, thought and imagination.

Sahriday (~person with shared sensitivity)

A person who is sensitive to an art form.

Sahridayta (~shared sensitivity)

According to Indian poetics, sensitivity to poetry establishes a deep connection between the poet and the reader. Various aspects of this relationship have been analyzed very minutely in Indian Poetics. In this glossary, you will find many indications of this, but to understand this subject well, one should read the books written by the ancient and recent masters of Indian poetics.

Kaushal (talent, skill)

Talent, proven ability, skill. In the context of poetics, skill is the ability of emotional artistic expression.

Sukumar Buddhimani (~sensitive, tender brightness)

Sensitive thoughtful intelligence. People with this delicate intellect find more interest, resonance and entertainment in poetry.

Shruti madhur (~pleasant sounding)

Euphonic, melodious.

Shruti katutva (~harsh sounding)

Jarring, disharmonious.

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I am very grateful to the scholars of the past and present whose works have given me the confidence to attempt compiling this glossary. I especially wish to thank Dr. Dnyanraj Kashinath Gaekwad 'Rajvansh', Padma Shri Prof. Abhiraj Rajendra Mishra and Dr. Bhagirath Mishra. It is by the illumination provided by their sharing of their knowledge of poetics that I have had the courage to essay compiling this glossary.

I am grateful to Kaavyaalaya's Vani Murarka ji and Dr. Nupur Ashok ji for the feedback offered from time to time, their suggestions and their help in the implementation of suggestions.

Reference books

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