Written by Swami Chandrashekarendra
Our forefathers devised a number of methods to preserve the unwritten
Vedas in their original form, to safeguard their tonal and verbal
They laid down rules to make sure that not a syllable was changed in
chanting, not a svara was altered. In this way they ensured that the
benefits were derived from intoning the mantras. They fixed the time
taken to enunciate each syllable of a word and called this unit of time
time interval "matra*"uot; . how we must regulate our breathing to
produce the desired vibration in a particular part of our body so that
sound of the syllable enunciated is produced in its pure form: even this
determined in the Vedanga called Siksa. The similarities and differences
between the svaras of music and of the Vedas are dealt with. So those
differences between the sounds voiced by birds and animals on the one
hand and the Vedic svaras on the other. With all this the right way is
shown for the intonation of Vedic mantras.
A remarkable method was devised to make sure that words and syllables
are not altered. According to this the words of a mantra are strung
together in different patterns like "vakya", "pada", "karma", "jata",
"mala", "sikha", "rekha", "dhvaja", "danda", "ratha", "ghana".
We call some Vedic scholars "ghanapathins", don't we? It means they
have learnt the chanting of the scripture up to the advanced stage
"ghana". "Pathin" means one who has learnt the "patha". When we listen
to ghanapathins chant the ghana, we notice that he intones a few words
of a mantra in different ways, back and forth. It is most delightful to
ear, like nectar poured into it. The sonority natural to Vedic chanting
enhanced in ghana. Similarly, in the other methods of chanting like
karma, jata, sikha, mala, and so on the intonation is nothing less than
stately, indeed divine. The chief purpose of such methods, as already
mentioned, is to ensure that even not even a syllable of a mantra is
altered to the slightest extent. The words are braided together, so to
speak, and recited back and forth.
In "vakyapatha" and "samhitapatha" the mantras are chanted in the
original (natural) order, with no special pattern adopted. In the
vakyapatha some words of the mantras are joined together in what is
called "sandhi". There is sandhi in Tamil also; but in English the words
not joined together. You have many examples of sandhi in the Tevaram,
Tiruvachakam, Tirukkural, Divyaprabandham and other Tamil works.
Because of the sandhi the individual words are less recognisable in
Sanskrit than even in Tamil. In padapatha each word in a mantra is
separated from the next. It comes next to samhitapatha and after it is
kramapatha. In this the first word of a mantra is joined to the second,
second to the third, the third to the fourth, and so on, until we come
the final word.
In old inscriptions in the South we find the names of some important
people of the place concerned mentioned with the appellation
"kramavittan" added to the names. "Kramavittan" is the Tamil form of
"kramavid" in the same way as "Vedavittan" is of "Vedavid". We learn
from the inscriptions that such Vedic scholars were to be met throughout
the Tamil country.
In jata patha, the first word of the mantra is chanted with the second,
then the order is reversed-the second is chanted with the first. Then,
again, the first word is chanted with the second, then the second with
third, and so on. In this way the entire mantra is chanted, going back
forth. In sikhapatha the pattern consists of three words of a mantra,
instead of the two of jata.
Ghanapatha is more difficult than these. There are four types in this
method. Here also the words of a mantra are chanted back and forth and
there is a system of permutation and combination in the chanting. To
explain all of it would be like conducting a class of arithmetic.
We take all kinds of precautions in the laboratory, don't we, to protect
life-saving drug? The sound of the Vedas guards the world against all
Our forefathers devised these methods of chanting to protect the sound
of our scripture against change and distortion.
Samhitapatha and padapatha are called "prakrtipatha" (natural way of
chanting) since the words are recited only once and in their natural
The other methods belong to the "vikrtipatha" (artificial way of
category. (In krama, though the words do not go in the strict natural
order of one-two-three, there is no reversal of the words-the first
the second, the second after the third, and so on. So we cannot describe
it fully as vikrtipatha). Leaving out krama, there are eight vikrti
and they are recounted in verse to be easily remembered.
Jata mala sikha rekha dhvaja dando ratho ghanah
Ityastau-vikrtayah proktah kramapurva maharsibhih
All these different methods of chanting are meant to ensure the tonal
and verbal purity of the Vedas for all time. In pada the words in their
natural order, in krama two words together, in jata the words going back
and forth. The words tally in all these methods of chanting and there is
the assurance that the original form will not be altered.
The benefits to be derived from the different ways of chanting are given
in this verse.
Samhitapathamatrena yatphalam procyate budhaih
Padu tu dvigunam vidyat krame tu ca caturgunam
Varnakrame satagunam jatayantu sahasrakam
Considering that our ancestors took so much care to make sure that the
sound of the Vedas did not undergo the slightest change, it is futile
modern researchers to try to establish the date of our scriptures by
finding out how the sounds of its words have changed.