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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

That of the Rigveda is most commonly employed


Of the four different systems of marking the accent in Vedic texts, that of the Rigveda is most commonly employed. Here the acute is not marked at all, while the low-pitch anudatta is indicated by a horizontal stroke below the syllable bearing it, and the svarita by a vertical stroke above. Thus yajnasya ("of sacrifice") would mean that the second syllable has the acute and the third the svarita (yajnasya). The reason why the acute is not marked is because it is regarded as the middle tone between the other two. [2]

The hymns of the Rigveda consist of stanzas ranging in number from three to fifty-eight, but usually not exceeding ten or twelve. These stanzas (often loosely called verses) are composed in some fifteen different metres, only seven of which, however, are at all frequent. Three of them are by far the commonest, claiming together about four-fifths of the total number of stanzas in the Rigveda.

There is an essential difference between Greek and Vedic prosody. Whereas the metrical unit of the former system is the foot, in the latter it is the line (or verse), feet not being distinguished. Curiously enough, however, the Vedic metrical unit is also called pada, or "foot," but for a very different reason; for the word has here really the figurative sense of "quarter" (from the foot of a quadruped), Because the most usual kind of stanza has four lines. The ordinary padas consist of eight, eleven, or twelve syllables. A stanza or rich is generally formed of three or four lines of the same kind. Four or five of the rarer types of stanza are, however, made up of a combination of different lines.

It is to be noted that the Vedic metres have a certain elasticity to which we are unaccustomed in Greek prosody, and which recalls the irregularities of the Latin Saturnian verse. Only the rhythm of the last four or five syllables is determined, the first part of the line not being subject to rule. Regarded in their historical connection, the Vedic metres, which are the foundation of the entire prosody of the later literature, occupy a position midway between the system of the Indo-Iranian period and that of classical Sanskrit. For the evidence of the Avesta, with its eight and eleven syllable lines, which ignore quantity, but are combined into stanzas otherwise the same as those of the Rigveda, indicates that the metrical practice of the period when Persians and Indians were still one people, depended on no other principle than the counting of syllables. In the Sanskrit period, on the other hand, the quantity of every syllable in the line was determined in all metres, with the sole exception of the loose measure (called cloka) employed in epic poetry. The metrical regulation of the line, starting from its end, thus finally extended to the whole. The fixed rhythm at the end of the Vedic line is called vritta, literally "turn" (from vrit, Lat. vert-ere), which corresponds etymologically to the Latin versus.

The eight-syllable line usually ends in two iambics, the first four syllables, though not exactly determined, having a tendency to be iambic also. This verse is therefore the almost exact equivalent of the Greek iambic dimeter.

Three of these lines combine to form the gayatri metre, in which nearly one-fourth (2450) of the total number of stanzas in the Rigveda is composed. An example of it is the first stanza of the Rigveda, which runs as follows:--


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