Description of the Metres


In what follows these conventions are employed:

One of the more interesting aspects of Aśvaghoṣa's prosody, at least for someone coming from a background in Pāḷi and Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, is its regularity, and almost complete lack of license in regard to to the metre. It is necessary therefore at the outset to point out that in the whole text as we have presented it here:

There are twelve metres employed by Aśvaghoṣa in the text, or at least in what remains of it, In what follows it is as well to remember that out of an original 28 Chapters in Buddhacarita only 14 remain for examination.02 there are 1010 verses in all which are listed here in descending order according to the frequency of their occurrence:

The first four of these metres are used in extensio, and therefore occur that more often, the other metres are employed as a prosodic flourish to round off the Chapters.

We can further organise the metres according to their structure: the following are Samavutta metres, having 4 similar lines to the verse (608 verses, 60%):

These three are Addhasamavutta metres, having 2 dissimilar pairs of lines (pādayuga) to the verse (105 verses, 10%):

and there is also the Śloka metre (accounting for 297 verses, 30%), which by this stage in its develoment, doesn't easily fit into any of the categories of Classical Indian prosody. The prosodic texts themselves differ one from the other in their classification of the metre. It seems best therefore to treat it as being in a class of its own.03

The main metres are described employed in Buddhacarita are described first, and then the Classical metres that are used to conclude the various chapters.


1. Upajāti (475 verses)

The Upajāti lines found in Buddhacarita are far in excess of any other metre, and Aśvaghoṣa's handling of the metre is faultless. The basic scheme of the Upajāti in Aśvaghoṣa's prosody may be described as having 2 lines showing the following structure:


This gives two basic lines of either −−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏓, known as Indravajrā, or ⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏓, known as Upendravajrā. In the text that is printed here there are 1285 Indravajrā lines; and 615 Upendravajrā, which therefore shows a marked preference for the former scheme.

These two different lines can occur in any position and any order in the two pādayuga-s that make up a verse. There are therefore 16 different species of Upajāti verse, which have all been given individual names in the Classical prosodies. I have included these names in the analysis.04 It is of some interest to see how the lines are distributed here.

It is quite remarkable how the Indravajrā lines dominate in the Upajāti verses, with the Indravajrā lines far in excess of any other, and the verses containing 3 Indravajrā lines coming next. The Upendravajrā are significantly least in occurrence.

The breaks, which vary widely in the earlier stages of Indian prosody are here always found to be −⏑⏑, and similarly there is no significance attached to the caesura, which may occur anywhere in the line.

We can see from the sandhi that the pāda-s in the Upajāti lines were taken together for pronounciation, which therefore differs from the early Pāḷi verses, where the pāda is the normal unit for purposes of pronunciation. Similarly we may note that the syntax of the verses, which in the Pāḷi period was the pādayuga, is here the verse itself, sometimes extending to a group of verses.06

Most of Chapters I, II, III, VII, IX, X, XI, and XIII are written in this metre.


2. Vaṁśastha (124 verses)

Closely related to the Upajāti meter is Vaṁśastha, which is derived from the 12 syllable Jagatī class of metres. The metre though is much more restricted that Upajāti or Jagatī, having a very definite scheme to the metre that occurs in all four lines:


which is similar then to the Upendravajrā metre (⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏓) in the Upajāti class, with an extra light syllable in penultimate position. Here again the caesura is of no significance.

Nearly the whole of Chapter VIII is written in this metre; and it's Classical structure also made it a favorite at the conclusion of Chapters in the work, so that a run of 16 verses in Vaṁśastha metre is used to conclude Chapter XII, and there are 3 verses in this metre at the conclusion of Chapter VI; besides these Vaṁśastha is also used as a run up to the concluding verse in a different metre in Chapters III, IV, IX, and XIII.


3. Śloka (297 verses)

I have elsewhere described the Śloka metre, as being an Addhasamavutta metre. See the Appendix on the Siloka and Tuṭṭhubha metres in my Outline of the Metres in the Pāḷi Canon.07 This holds true for the early stages of Indian prosody, but by Aśvaghoṣa's time, the Addhasamavutta metres had changed considerably, in that nearly all the syllables are fixed in weight, and the Śloka, which has very variable quantities will no longer fit into the category.

By far the most common form of the metre is the pathyā, which in this text shows the following form:


in the 2nd and 3rd positions of each pāda, two successive light syllables are not allowed; and in the opening of the posterior half of the line the pattern ⏓−⏑− is not allowed. As with Upajāti the sandhi shows that the two lines were taken together in pronounciation, without a pause at the end of the line.08

The pathyā form of the metre occurs in the text presented here 529 times, which given that there are 593 pādayuga-s in the Śloka metre, means that it occurs in 89% of the lines, which is typical of the Classical period.

There are only 3 variations that occur in the prior line, which can be outlined here:

navipulā ⏓⏓⏓−¦⏑⏑⏑− (49 pādayugas, 9%)

bhavipulā ⏓−⏑−¦−⏑⏑− (7 pādayugas, 1.5%)

mavipulā ⏓−⏑−¦−,−−⏓ (8 pādayugas, 1.5%)

Notice that in the navipulā-s and bhavipulās-s a heavy syllable always occurs in 4th position and at the end of the pāda. In the early period the weight of the end syllable was assured by the pause occuring in recitation.09 In the mavipulā the opening ⏓−⏑− always occurs, and there is normally a caesura after the 5th syllable. 12.92c shows an exception to this, as in both Cowell's edition which reads -karma-, and Johnson's which reads -śama-, the caesura is at the 6th.10 The bhavipulā lines here always show the same opening, so that both bhavipulā and mavipulā have fixed quantities for most of the line.

The metre is employed as then main metre in Chapters IV, VI, XII, and what remains of Chapter XIV.


4. Aupacchandasaka (78 Verses)

In the early prosody the Aupacchandasaka was very free in its opening, the important thing being that it should have 6 mātrā in the opening of the prior line, and 8 in the posterior, with the cadence −⏑−⏑−−; over time the most popular of the openings became fixed as the only proper scheme for the metre, and in Aśvaghoṣa's prosody it is a true Addhasamavutta metre, with fixed quantities in both lines. The scheme for the verse, which occurs in the first 78 verses of Chapter 5, is as follows:



5. Other Metres

We are left now with the 6 metres which are used to conclude the various Chapters. They are all fixed in the schemes, and no variation is allowed in the lines except at the end of the pādayuga, where the quantity is assured by the pause.


1. Puṣpitāgrā = (26 verses)

The Puṣpitāgrā metre, which is derived from Aupacchandasaka, with resolution of the 3rd syllable in both lines. It is employed to conclude Chapters I, V, and VIII.



2. Rucirā = (3 verses)

The Rucirā metre is derived from the Vaṁśastha metre, with resolution of the 5th syllable, which gives it 14 syllables to the pāda. The scheme of the metre is as follows:


there is a definite caesura after the 4th syllable. The metre is only emplowed in 3 verses, twice at the conclusion of Chapter III, and again at the conclusion of Chapter XII.


3. Praharṣiṇī = (3 verses)

This metre concludes two Chapters, numbers IX (2 verses), and X, it's scheme can be given as:


and again there is a definite caesura in the line, this time at the 3rd after a run of heavy syllables.


4. Mālinī = (2 verses)

In contrast Mālinī has a run of 5 light syllables in the opening. It is used as the Classical metre which closes Chapters II and XIII; In the text established by Cowell, another verse follows the Mālinī conclusion, but this is spurious.11 its scheme of 15 syllables can be outlined like this:



5. Śikhariṇī = (1 verse)

This is a 17-syllable metre, which is used at the conclusion of Chapter IV, it's scheme, which has a definite caesura after the 6th syllable is as follows:



6. Aparavaktra = (1 verse)

This metre is similar to Puṣpitāgrā, but with the Vaitālīya cadence, thereby having the followng scheme:


It occurs as the final verse of Chapter VII.