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Pàëi Prosody:

An Outline of the Metres

in the

Pàëi Canon


ânandajoti Bhikkhu

(Version 1.1, October 2001)


Table of Contents (outline)

First Topic

One: Scansion and Related Matters    Two: Description of the Metres

a: Vatta    b: Tuññhubha    c: Measure Metres    d: Bar Metres    e: Fixed Metres

Three: The Mixing of Metres    Four: Glossary & Index

Five: The Evolution of Vatta & Tuññhubha    Six: Guide to Further Study


Table of Contents (detailed)



One: Scansion and Related Matters


1.1 Scansion

1.2 Digraphs

1.3 Conventions

1.4 Exceptions

1.5 Conjuncts not making position

1.6 Sarabhatti (partial vowels)

1.7 Fluidity

1.8 Metrical licence

1.9 Vowel changes

1.10 Consonant changes

1.11 Niggahãta

1.12 Verses that do not scan correctly

1.13 Iti, and the recitor's remarks

1.14 Syllabic equivalence

1.15 Resolution

1.16 Replacement

1.17 Symbols


Two: Description of the Metres


2.1 The types of metre

2.2 The syllabic metres, akkharacchandas type 1

2.3 Vatta

2.4 Vatta Variations

2.5 Vatta periods

2.6 Tuññhubha & Jagatã

2.7 Tuññhubha & Jagatã Variations

2.8 Upajàti, Vaüsaññhà, and Rucirà

2.9 The measure metres, mattàchandas

2.10 Vetàlãya and Opacchandasaka

2.11 Mattàchandas Periods

2.12 Rathoddhatà and Pupphitaggà

2.13 Vegavatã

2.14 Svàgatà

2.15 The bar metres, gaõacchandas

2.16 Old Gãti

2.17 Gãti, Ariyà, and their derivatives

2.18 Jagaõa, amphibrachys

2.19 Hypermetres, Veóha & Gubbinã

2.20 The fixed metres: akkharacchandas type 2 aka vutta

2.21 Samavutta

2.22 Aóóhasamavutta

2.23 Visamavutta

2.24 Lakkhaõasuttanta


Three: The Mixing of Metres


3.1 Introduction

3.2 Tuññhubha, Jagatã and their derivatives

3.3 Vetàlãya, Opacchandasaka, & Vegavatã

3.4 Vatta and other metres


Four: Glossary & Index

Five: The Evolution of Vatta & Tuññhubha

Six: Guide to Further Study



I owe very great thanks to Ven. Mettàvihàrã, Ven. Nyàõasanta, and Ven. Pajàlo, for all their help, encouragement, and support, while this work was in preparation.

The idea for this book arose out of a talk I had with the English bhikkhu Ven. Pa¤¤ànanda, in which we discussed the struggle we had both been through at the beginning of our studies owing to the lack of a simple, comprehensive guide to Pàëi metrical composition. From the start Ven. Pa¤¤ànanda has helped in this work by reading it through and making a number of corrections and suggestions for improvement which have helped to clarify the presentation - without his generosity this book would be so much the poorer.

If anyone notices any mistakes or inconsistencies in this document, I would very much appreciate it if they could contact me at ih@col7.metta.lk so that corrections can be made.





An understanding of the basic principles underlying Pàëi metrical composition is not hard to acquire and will certainly enhance any reader's appreciation of the texts of Early Buddhism. Some of the most important and inspiring of these texts are written either wholly or mainly in verse, and even in the prose collections verse abounds. Below is a table giving estimates of the verse numbers in some of the most important collections in the Sutta Piñaka, from which we can see that that collection alone contains well over 20,000 verses (numbers are based on PTS editions except where stated, and in some cases are approximate only; Ce = Buddha Jayanti Tripitaka Edition):






1000+ (945 in Sagàthavagga)














1291 (Ce)


823 (Ce)






6905 (Ce)


5228 (Ce)




372 (Ce)

In recent times much scholarly work in this field has been produced, so that it is now possible to outline the prosody of these texts with some degree of accuracy. However the difficulty the interested student faces at this point is that the studies that have been done are either too detailed for the beginner, or too narrow, being based on only one metre, or one type of metre.

This work therefore is an attempt to summarise, within a relatively short compass, and hopefully in a fairly straightforward way, what is so far understood about Pàëi verse composition during the canonical period. As such it relies very much on the work of previous scholars in this field such as Smith, Warder, and Norman, whose tables on usage have been consulted at every stage. However, I have also re-scanned a number of works wherever it seemed necessary to check descriptions and standardise terminology. I have also attempted to summarise the results of monographs written by Alsdorf, Bollee, Bechert, and others.

In this work I have preferred to use the Pàëi names of the metres rather than their Sanskrit equivalents, as is the more common practice in recent works on the literature. Although verse composition in Pàëi is intimately related to that of its cultural environment, it nevertheless represents a definite stage in the development of Indian verse composition. It seems reasonable then, that if our intention is to describe the metres as they appear in the Pàëi sources, that we should also designate them by their Pàëi names, and understand from the outset that these metres differ somewhat from their usage in other, or later, cultural contexts. At the time of the composition of these verses, of course, there was nothing like the Sanskrit hegemony in cultural matters that emerged after the canon was closed. In fact, it appears that in the period under discussion it was the vernacular cultures, of which Pàëi forms a part, that were in the forefront of cultural evolution, adopting popular or folk forms into their compositions, which were still quite fluid in structure, and which were only later classified and organised by writers on Sanskrit aesthetics. However, for the convenience of the student, in preparing this paper I have provided Sanskrit equivalents for the metres (and occasionally other words) at relevant places in the work, and these and others are also noted in the glossary.

This book is divided into 6 sections: the first deals with the rules for scansion, and the exceptions that have to be taken into consideration; the second presents a description of the metres themselves; the third considers briefly the important subject of the mixing of metres; and the fourth an index and glossary, which provides definitions of all the most important terms used in the literature, and seeks to disentangle some of the confusion that exists in the terminology. In the fifth section there is an attempt to trace the evolution of the two most important metres in Pàëi against the wider background of the development of Indian metrics as a whole; and the sixth section provides a bibliography and guide to further study.

For students who are new to the subject it is recommended that they first read through the following sections 1.1-2; 2.1-3; 2.6; 2.8-17; 2.20; & 3.1 in order to get an overview of the subject, and then try scanning some verses themselves following the examples given in the text, before re-reading in more depth in order to understand the exceptions, variations, and so on that exist.


First Topic

One: Scansion and Related Matters    Two: Description of the Metres

a: Vatta    b: Tuññhubha    c: Measure Metres    d: Bar Metres    e: Fixed Metres

Three: The Mixing of Metres    Four: Glossary & Index

Five: The Evolution of Vatta & Tuññhubha    Six: Guide to Further Study