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The Charyapada (Bengali: চর্যাপদ, Assamese: চৰ্যাপদ) is a collection of 8th-12th century Vajrayana Buddhist caryagiti, or mystical poems from the tantric tradition in eastern India. Being caryagiti, or 'songs of realization' the Charyapada were intended to be sung. These songs of realization were spontaneously composed verses that expressed a practitioner's experience of the enlightened state. Miranda Shaw describes how caryagiti were an element of the ritual gathering of practitioners in a tantric feast:

The feast culminates in the performance of tantric dances and music that must never be disclosed to outsiders. The revelers may also improvise "songs of realization" (caryagiti) to express their heightened clarity and blissful raptures in spontaneous verse.[1]

A manuscript was discovered in the early 20th century. It provides the early examples of the Assamese, Oriya and Bengali languages. The writers of the Charyapada, the Mahasiddhas or Siddhacharyas, belonged to the various regions of Assam, Bengal, Orissa and Bihar. A Tibetan translation of the Charyapada was also preserved in the Tibetan Buddhist canon.

Manuscripts of the Charyapada

The original palm-leaf manuscript of the Charyapada, or Charyacharyavinishchayah, consisting of an anthology of 47 Padas (verses) along with a Sanskrit commentary, was discovered by Haraprasad Shastri at the Nepal Royal Court Library in 1907. This manuscript was edited by Shastri and published by the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad as a part of his Hajar Bacharer Purano Bangala Bhasay Bauddhagan O Doha (The Buddhist Songs and Couplets in a thousand years old Bengali Language) in 1916 under the name of Charyacharyavinishchayah. This manuscript is presently located at the National Archives of Nepal. Later Prabodhchandra Bagchi published a manuscript of a Tibetan translation containing 50 verses [2].


Pages from the Charyapada

The Tibetan translation of the Charyapada provided additional information. It names the Sanskrit commentary as the Charyageetikoshavritti, the writer as Munidatta and the translator as Chandrakirti, the 7th century abbot of the Buddhist monastery at Nalanda.

Poets of the Charyapada

The manuscript of the Charyapada discovered by Haraprasad Shastri from Nepal consists of 47 Pada or verses. The title-page, the colophon-page,the pages 36, 37, 38, 39 and 66 containing the Padas (verses) 24, 25 and 48 and their commentaries were missing in this manuscript. The 47 verses of this manuscript were written by 22 Mahasiddha, or Siddhacharyas, whose names are mentioned at the beginning of each Pada (except the first Pada). In the Tibetan Buddhist canon version of the text and its commentary there are another 3 Padas, the complete form of Pada 23 and the Siddhacharya poet Tantripāda is also mentioned. The names of the Siddhacharyas are given in Sanskrit (or its Tibetan language equivalent) prior to each Pada as follows:

Poet Pada
Luipāda 1, 29
Kukkuripāda 2, 20, 48
Virubāpāda 3
Gundaripāda 4
Chatillapāda 5
Bhusukupāda 6, 21, 23, 27, 30, 41, 43, 49
Kānhapāda 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 24, 36, 40, 42, 45
Kambalāmbarapāda 8
Dombipāda 14
Shantipāda 15, 26
Mahidharapāda 16
Vināpāda 17
Sarahapāda 22, 32, 38, 39
Shabarapāda 28, 50
Āryadevapāda 31
Dhendhanapāda 33
Darikapāda 34
Bhādepāda 35
Tādakapāda 37
Kankanapāda 44
Jayanandipāda 46
Dhāmapāda 47
Tantripāda 25

The name of another Siddhacharya poet, Ladidombipāda, is mentioned by Munidatta in his commentary on Pada 10, but no Pada written by him has been discovered so far.

Probably, the Sanskrit names of the Siddhacharya poets were assigned to each Pada by the commentator Munidatta. Modern scholars doubt whether these assignments are proper on the basis of the internal evidences and other literary sources. Controversies also exist amongst the scholars as to the original names of these Siddhacharya.

Language of the Charyapada

Haraprasad Shastri in his introduction to the Charyacharyavinishchaya referred to the enigmatic language of its verses as 'Twilight Language' (Sanskrit: Sandhya-bhasha), or Alo-andhari (half expressed and half concealed) based on the Sanskrit commentary of Munidatta. But later Vidhushekhara Shastri on the basis of evidences from a number of Buddhist texts referred to this language as 'Intentional Language' (Sanskrit: Sandha-bhasha).[3].

The Charyapadas were written by poets from different regions, and it is natural that they would display linguistic affinities from these regions. Different scholars claimed the affinities of the language of Charyapada with Assamese, Bengali, Maithili and Oriya.[4]

Affinities with Assamese

Luipa, also known as Matsyendranath, was from Kamarupa and wrote two charyas. Sarahapa, another poet, is said to have been from Rani, a place close to present-day Guwahati. Some of the affinities with Assamese are:[5]

Negatives -- the negative particle in Assamese comes ahead of the verb: na jãi (No. 2, 15, 20, 29); na jivami (No. 4); na chadaa, na jani, na disaa (No. 6). Charya 15 has 9 such forms.
Present participles -- the suffix -ante is used as in Assamese of the Vaishnava period: jvante (while living, No. 22); sunante (while listening, No. 30) etc.
Incomplete verb forms -- suffixes -i and -iya used in modern and old Assamese respectively: kari (3, 38); cumbi (4); maria (11); laia (28) etc.
Present indefinite verb forms -- -ai: bhanai (1); tarai (5); pivai (6).
Future -- the -iva suffix: haiba (5); kariba (7).
Nominative case ending -- case ending in e: kumbhire khaa, core nila (2).
Instrumental case ending -- case ending -e and -era: uju bate gela (15); kuthare chijaa (45).

The vocabulary of the Charyapadas includes non-tatsama words which are typically Assamese, such as dala (1), thira kari (3, 38), tai (4), uju (15), caka (14) etc.

Affinities with Oriya

The beginnings of Oriya poetry coincide with the development of Charya Sahitya, the literature thus started by Mahayana Buddhist poets.[6].This literature was written in a specific metaphor named “Sandhya Bhasha” and the poets like Luipa, Kanhupa are from the territory of Orissa. The language of Charya was considered as Prakrita.

In one of his poem, an author, Kanhupa wrote:

"Your hut stands outside the city

Oh, untouchable maid

The bald Brahmin passes sneaking close by

Oh, my maid, I would make you my companion

Kanha is a kapali, a yogi

He is naked and has no disgust

There is a lotus with sixty-four petals

Upon that the maid will climb with this poor self and dance."

The language of Kanhupa's poetry bears a very strong resemblance to modern Oriya. For example :

"Ekaso padumo chowshathi pakhudi

Tahin chadhi nachao dombi bapudi"

Padumo (Padma:Lotus), Chowshathi (64), Pakhudi (petals) Tahin (there), Chadhi (rise), nachao (to dance), Dombi (a female of Orissa from untouchable caste), Bapudi ( a very colloqual Oriya language to apply as 'poor fellow' )


"Hali Dombi,Tote puchhami sadbhabe.

Isisi jasi dombi kahari nabe."

These passages do not require any translation into modern Oriya.[7]

Affinities with Bengali

A number of Siddhacharyas who wrote the verses of Charyapada were from Bengal. Shabarpa, Kukkuripa and Bhusukupa were born in different parts of Bengal. Some of the affinities with Bengali can be found from[8] the genitive in -era, -ara; the dative in –re; the locative in –ta; post-positional words like maajha, antara, saanga; past and future bases in –il-, -ib-; present participle in –anta; conjunctive indeclinable in –iaa; conjunctive conditional in –ite; passive in –ia- and substantive roots aach and thaak.

Melodies of the Charyapada

From the mention of the name of the Rāga (melody) for the each Pada at the beginning of it in the manuscript, it seems that these Padas were actually sung. All 50 Padas were set to the tunes of different Rāgas. The most common Rāga for Charyapada songs was Patamanjari.

Raga Pada
Patamanjari 1, 6, 7, 9, 11, 17, 20, 29, 31, 33, 36
Gabadā or Gaudā 2, 3, 18
Aru 4
Gurjari, Gunjari or Kanha-Gunjari 5, 22, 41, 47
Devakri 8
Deshākha 10, 32
Kāmod 13, 27, 37, 42
Dhanasi or Dhanashri 14
Rāmakri 15, 50
Balāddi or Barādi 21, 23, 28, 34
Shabari 26, 46
Mallāri 30, 35, 44, 45, 49
Mālasi 39
Mālasi-Gaburā 40
Bangāl 43
Bhairavi 12, 16, 19, 38

While, some of these Rāgas are extinct, the names of some of these Rāgas may be actually the variants of the names of the popular Rāgas as we know them today[9].

Glimpses of social life

Many poems provide a realistic picture of early medieval society in eastern India by describing different occupations of people such as hunters, boatmen, and potters. It also describes the some popular musical instruments such as kada-nakada, drums, and tom-toms. The custom of dowry was prevalent. Cows were common domestic animals and elephants were common as well. Girls used to wear peacock feathers, flower garlands, and earrings.


  1. Shaw, Miranda (1995). Passionate Enlightenment::Women in Tantric Buddhism. Princeton University Press. p. 81. ISBN 0-691-01090-0. 
  2. Bagchi Prabodhchandra, Materials for a critical edition of the old Bengali Caryapadas (A comparative study of the text and Tibetan translation) Part I in Journal of the Department of Letters, Vol.XXX, pp. 1-156,Calcutta University, Calcutta,1938 CE
  3. Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol.IV, No.1, 1928 CE, pp.287-296
  4. Majumdar, R.C. (ed.). (2006) The Delhi Sultanate, Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, p.519
  5. Language and Literature from The Comprehensive History of Assam Vol 1, ed H K Barpujari, Guwahati 1990
  6. Mukherjee, Prabhat. The History of medieval Vaishnavism in Orissa. Chapter : The Sidhacharyas in OrissaPage:55.
  7. DR.Rajguru, Satyanarayan:Culturak History of Orissa (in Oriya) :Published by Orissa Sahitya Akademi,1988)
  8. Chatterjee, S.K. The Origin and Development of Bengali Language, Vol.1, Calcutta, 1926, pp.112
  9. Roy, Niharranjan, Bangalir Itihas: Adiparba (in Bengali), Dey’s Publishing, Calcutta, 1993 CE, ISBN 81-7079-270-3, pp 637


  1. Dasgupta Sashibhusan, Obscure Religious Cults,Firma KLM, Calcutta, 1969, ISBN 81-7102-020-8.
  2. Sen Sukumar, Charyageeti Padavali (in Bengali), Ananda Publishers, 1st edition, Kolkata, 1995, ISBN 81-7215-458-5.
  3. Shastri Haraprasad (ed.), Hajar Bacharer Purano Bangala Bhasay Bauddhagan O Doha (in Bengali), Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, 3rd edition, Kolkata, 1413 Bangabda (2006).

External links

bn:চর্যাপদ cy:Charyapada

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