Two: Description of the Metres


2.1 The types of metre

In most metres a verse (gāthā) is made up of 4 lines (pāda), though sometimes we find verses with 6 lines, or more rarely 5. Pāḷi metres are constructed according to the amount of syllables or measures there are in the line, and the patterns that are made through the alternation of the light and heavy syllables.

The metres can be divided into two main types according to their method of construction, in outline they are:

1) The syllabic metres (vaṇṇacchandas)

2) The measure metres (mattāchandas)

We can usefully divide these into two further groups, according to the specific basis for their construction, numbers 1 and 4 below are syllabic metres, further divided according to whether their syllables are flexible or fixed; numbers 2 and 3 are types of measure metres, according to whether they have been further organized into bars or not. The metre types are listed in order of their historical emergence.01 We then have four main groups:

1) The flexible syllabic metres, e.g. Siloka, Tuṭṭhubha, Jagatī

2) The measure metres, e.g. Vetālīya, Opacchandasaka, & Āpātalikā

3) The bar metres, e.g. Gīti, Ariyā, Gubbinī

4) The fixed syllabic metres, e.g. Upajāti, Rathoddhatā, Uggatā

In the flexible syllabic metres it is the number of syllables that make up a line that is the organizing principle, e.g. Siloka has 8 syllables to the line, Tuṭṭhubha 11, & Jagatī 12. Variations are allowed in regard to the weight of a numbers of the syllables in these metres (the various patterns that can occur are discussed in the descriptions that follow).

In the measure metres the syllables may vary in amount, but the total amount of measures should remain fixed ( = 1 measure, = 2 measures), e.g. Vetālīya has 14 measures (mattā) in the 1st & 3rd lines, and 16 in the 2nd & 4th; Opacchandasaka 16 in the 1st & 3rd, 18 in the 2nd & 4th; Āpātalikā has the same mattā count as Vetālīya, but the cadence is different.

In the bar metres a secondary organising principle is employed over and above that of counting the measures, which is to organize the syllables into bars (gaṇas), normally of 4 measures to the bar. e.g. Ariya has 16 bars, with 30 measures in its 1st line, and 27 in the second; Gīti has 16 bars, with 30 measures in both lines (how these figures are arrived at will be explained below).

In the fixed metres virtually all of the syllables in the lines are of fixed quantity, with normally only the weight of the beginning and end syllables being variable, e.g. Upajāti is a fixed form of the Tuṭṭhubha metre, having 11 syllables to the line; Vaṁsaṭṭhā is a fixed form of Jagatī, having 12 syllables to the line.

After this brief outline of the different structural principles involved we can examine the metres in more depth.