Lesson 25 – Bahuvrīhi compounds

A short YouTube version is available here. [Expand to the full article to be able to click on the link].

In the previous lesson, lesson 24, we looked at tatpuruṣa  तत्पुरुष compounds. These are compound words where the प्राधान्यम् prādhānyam is on the second element. For example, in the word, nadītīram नदीतीरम् (the bank of a river), the syntactically important word is tīram तीरम् (bank) and hence nadītīram नदीतीरम् is a tatpuruṣa compound.

We said that tatpuruṣa compounds fall into two distinct classes.

  1. Compounds in which the prior member is a noun or a pronoun or an adjective used as a noun. These are called dependent compounds.
  2. Compounds in which the prior member is an adjective, an adverb or a noun used like an adjective. These are called karmadhāraya कर्मधारय or descriptive compounds.

In this lesson we will look at bahuvrīhi compounds.

[Some parts of this lesson has been taken from G.L. Hart’s “A Rapid Sanskrit Method”]

Bahuvrīhi compounds

We said in Lesson 23 that compound words where the प्राधान्यम् prādhānyam lies outside the compound itself, on an antecedent word, are called bahuvrīhi बहुव्रीहि compounds. For example, mahābāhu महाबाहु (he who has great hands).

In the previous lesson we saw that tatpuruṣa compounds including the karmadhāraya compounds can have either a noun or an adjective as a final member. [Don’t get confused here. We are talking here about the final member, not the prior member. The differences between tatpuruṣa compounds and the karmadhāraya are based on the prior member as we saw above.

tatpuruṣa compound that has a noun  as a final member functions like a noun and a tatpuruṣa with an adjective as a final member functions as an adjective.

For example, girau nadī –> girinadī गिरौ नदी –> गिरिनदी (mountain river) is a noun, while sthālyām pakva –> sthālīpakva स्थाल्याम् पक्व –> स्थालीपक्व (cooked in a pot) is an adjective.

A bahuvrīhi बहुव्रीहि compound takes the first type, that is the one with the noun as a final member and therefore functioning like a noun, and uses it with the idea of possessing added, thus turning it into an adjective, which then qualifies another noun taking the gender, number and case of the noun it qualifies.

Formation of bahuvrīhis from karmadhārayas (dependent compounds)

Let us take the karmadhāraya compound kāla + hasta काल + हस्त –> kālahasta कालहस्त (which means black hand). This, can be used as a possessive adjective when it becomes the following:

kālahasto rāmaḥ कालहस्तो रामः (Rama who has a black hand or simply, black-handed Rama) – masculine nominative singular

kālahastā sītā कालहस्ता सीता (black-handed Sita) – feminine nominative singular

kālahastaṃ yakṣam कालहस्तं यक्षम् (black-handed ghost) – neuter nominative singular

kālahastena rāmeṇa कालहस्तेन रामेण (by black-handed Rama) – masculine instrumental singular

kālahastair yakṣaiḥ कालहस्तैर् यक्षैः (by black-handed ghosts) – neuter instrumental plural

kālahastāyāḥ sītāyāḥ कालहस्तायाः सीतायाः (of black-handed Sita) – feminine genitive singular


Note 1 : The gender of the bahuvrīhi compound is in no way influenced by the gender of the last member noun. The gender is dependent only on the antecedent or the noun it qualifies.

Note 2 : Similarly the number (singular, dual or plural) is not influenced by the number (singular, dual or plural) of the elements within the compound.  So kālahasto rāmaḥ कालहस्तो रामः can mean Rama who has one black had, Rama who has two black hands or Rama who have three or more black hands. The number of the compound is influenced only by the number of the noun qualified by the compound.

bahuvrīhi compound of the form XY, normally means “whose Y is X” (or whose Y’s are X’s). For example, hatagaja हतगज can mean “whose elephant is killed” or “whose elephants are killed”. This was using the genitive case of “who”.

It can also mean  “by whom Y is X” etc. So hatagaja हतगज can mean “by whom elephant is killed” or “by whom elephants are killed”.  This was using the instrumental case of “who”.

Similarly, it can mean “for whom elephants are killed” using the dative case of “who”

and other cases of “who” which make sense. [Technically, hatagaja हतगज can also mean “in whom elephants are killed”, but this is a nonsense word]

[If hatagaja हतगज is interpreted as a karmadhāraya, it means a “killed elephant”]

Formation of bahuvrīhis from non-karmadhāraya tatpuruṣa [or dependent compounds]

In bahuvrīhis from dependent compounds the first member normally has a genitive sense (like in lokanātha in the verse below) , sometimes a locative sense and occasionally an instrumental or accusative sense. [In strict grammar, only the genitive case and the locative case of first member are allowed to be used as bahuvrīhis]

If it is in the genitive case, a compound XY will mean “whose Y is of X”. Eg. agnitejas अग्नितेजस् (whose brightness is of  (like) fire); hastipāda हस्तिपाद (whose feet is of elephant); lokanātha लोकनाथ (“whose lord is the world”)

If it is the locative case, a compound XY will mean “whose Y is in X” [When used in the locative sense, very often the order of the words is reversed and the word is rendered as YX. For example,  Eg. dhanurhasta धनुर्हस्त [in whose hand is a bow]

As Hart says, “In general, the interpretation which best accords with common sense is the correct one”.

An interesting verse that illustrates  tatpuruṣa and bahuvrīhi

ahaṃ ca tvaṃ ca rajendra lokanāthāvubhāvapi

bahuvrīhirahaṃ rājan ṣaṣṭhī tatpuruṣo bhavān

अहं च त्वं च रजेन्द्र लोकनाथावुभावपि

बहुव्रीहिरहं राजन् षष्ठी तत्पुरुषो भवान्

A beggar goes to a king and says: “O King, you and I are both “lokanātha”s. I am a bahuvrīhi,while you are a ṣaṣṭhī tatpuruṣa “.

The king is lokanātha which is analysed as lokasya nāthaḥ – “the lord of the world” – king.

The beggar is lokanātha which is analysed as loko nātho yasya saḥ – “whose lord is the world” – beggar

Bahuvrīhis with prefixed nouns

  1. Prefix a-/an- means “-less”. So “abhārya” means “wifeless”. adharma means “dharma-less or who is without dharma”. If adharma were interpreted as a karmadhāraya it would mean non-dharma.
  2. Prefix “su-” means “having good, having lovely, having easy etc. sudharma therefore “means having good dharma”. If it were interpreted as a karmadhāraya it would mean “good dharma”
  3. Prefix “dus-” is the opposite of “su-“
  4. Prefix “nis-” means “without”, “devoid of”,  “lacking in” etc. nirvr̥kṣaṃ vanam निर्वृक्षं वनम् means “a forest without trees”
  5. Prefix “sa-” or “saha-” means “with”, “in the company of”, “accompanied by”, “possessing” etc. savīrā nārī सवीरा नारी [“a woman with brave (sons)]

Bahuvrīhi Endings

Bahuvrīhi compounds are a difficult area of Sanskrit grammar. In fact, as G.L. Hart points out in “A Rapid Sanskrit Method”, even Kalidasa has made a mistake in rendering a bahuvrīhi compound. Since the latter element of this type of compound is a noun, and the whole compound is to be interpreted as an adjective, formation of feminine forms from masculine nouns and vice versa are very complicated. (See Pāṇini 4.1.3 to 4.1.83 for feminine formation rules.)

Some (not exhaustive) rules are given below.

  1. If the last member ends in ī, ū, or r̥ (ई ऊ ऋ), the compound is made with the ending “-ka” (kā for feminine), which is added to the weak/middle form of the stem of the last member. For example, sapatnī gives saptnīka; savadhū gives savadhūka, sadātr̥ gives sadātr̥ka etc.
  2. If the last member ends in a consonant stem, the same stem is used to form the masculine, feminine and neuter forms.
  3. If the last member ends in “-an”, the compound is declined like rājan in the masculine and nāman in the neuter. The feminine add an “ī” and is declined as nadī. Alternately, “-ka” can be added to the stem of the last member. So the bahuvrīhi, sa+rājan becomes either sarājaka (-kā) or sarājan, and sarājñī;
  4. If the last member normally ends in an “-u”, the masculine, feminine and neuter is formed from “-u” (but, sometimes in “-ū”)
  5. If the last member normally ends in an “-i”, the masculine, feminine and neuter is formed from “-i” (but, sometimes in “-ī”)
  6. If the last member ends in “-a”, “-ā”, “-am”, the masculine, feminine and neuter end in “-a”, “-ā”, “-am”. The feminines sometimes end in “-ī”

Pāṇini gives (and this makes things a lot easy!) an alternate way to make bahuvrīhis. It is permissible to add “-ka” (or “-kā for feminine), to the stem of the latter member of the compound to form the bahuvrīhi.

One thing to note (you may already have noted this) is that most bahuvrīhis can also be be interpreted as tatpuruṣas. In ancient Sanskrit (in the Vedas) , the difference between the two is indicated by a change of accent (we will learn this when we take up vedic accents in a later lesson). In classical Sanskrit, where accents have disappeared, the difference should be made out based on the context.

For example,

mahābāhu would mean “a great arm” as a tatpuruṣa and “whose arm is great” when a bahuvrīhi

sumanas would mean “a good mind” as a tatpuruṣa and “of good mind” when a bahuvrīhi

anyarūpa would mean “another form” as a tatpuruṣa and “having another form” when a bahuvrīhi etc.

Adjective Compounds as Nouns

We know that in Sanskrit simple adjectives are freely used as nouns. For example take the adjective dhanika  धनिक. As adjective it means “rich” dhanikaḥ puruṣaḥ धनिकः पुरुषः means “a rich man”.

Used as a noun dhanika धनिक means “a rich man”.

Similarly, bahuvrīhi adjectives can also be used as nouns. For example, in the verse given earlier, the  bahuvrīhi adjective lokanātha लोकनाथ was used was a noun.

Adjective Compounds as Adverbs

Adverbially used accusative cases of bahuvrīhi adjective compounds, which have an indeclinable or particle as prior member, are called avyayībhāva अव्ययीभाव by Sanskrit grammarians.

Examples are:

samakṣam समक्षम् “in sight”;

uparājam उपराजम् “with the king”;

yathākāmam यथाकामम् “as per will”;

yatrakāmam यत्रकामम् “where one will”

sakopam सकोपम् “angrily”

dvigu द्विगु compounds

bahuvrīhi compounds (especially the ones used as nouns) having a numeral as the prior member are called dvigu द्विगु by Sanskrit grammarians.

The word dvigu द्विगु itself is an example! It means “of two cows” or “of the worth of two cows” etc.

This is the end of lesson 25. In this lesson we looked at bahuvrīhi compounds.


Translate into Sanskrit:

  1. Honey like speech
  2. Courageous friend
  3. Who has water in hand
  4. Whose shore is of flowers
  5. Whose name is Ramachandra
  6. Whose speech is like honey
  7. Who has a courageous friend
  8. Who has a wife of dharma
  9. The name Ramachandra
  10. Poisoned hand
  11. Who has Surya for eyes
  12. Who has poison in hand
  13. Notorious
  14. Ill fame
  15. Of ill fame



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