7. The Metrical Context of Rig-Vedic śráva(s) ákṣitam and ákṣiti śrávas

The general form of the Vedas is that of lyrical poetry. They contain the songs in which the first ancestors of the Hindu people, at the very dawn of their existence as a separate nation, while they were still only on the threshold of the great country which they were afterwards to fill with their civilization, praised the gods, extolled heroic deeds, and sang of other matters which kindled their poetical fervor.
—Whitney [1]
Of the Vedas, the Rig-Veda is by far the most pervasively archaic in both grammatical and metrical content. Orally preserved from prehistoric times, it is a collection “prompted by a desire to treasure up complete, and preserve from further corruption, those ancient and inspired songs which the Indian nation had brought with them, as their most precious possession, from the earlier seats of the race.” [2] In fact, the Rig-Veda is the earliest attested Indic literary text, containing material dating {153|154} back to the second millennium B.C. It has always been acknowledged by Indo-Europeanists as the primary textual source for gathering the most ancient Indic grammatical evidence. And it is precisely in this textual source, the Rig-Veda, that śráva(s) ákṣitam is attested.
The Greek expression κλέοc ἄφθιτον and the Indic expression śráva(s) ákṣitam can be retrojected to a common formal prototype, *klewos n̥-dhg w hi-tom. [3] In the Rig-Veda, *klewos when accompanied by the privative prefix *n̥- plus the root *dhg w hi- is reflected not only as śráva(s) ákṣitam (from *klewos n̥-dhg w hi-tom) but also as ákṣiti śrávas (from a hypothetical *n̥-dhg w hi-ti klewos). The attestations are as follows:
Rig-Veda 1.40.4b
sá dhatte ákṣiti śrávaḥ

(Satobṛhatī verse)
“he attains [from root dhā-] imperishable fame”

Rig-Veda 8.103.5b
sá dhatte ákṣiti śrávaḥ

(Satobṛhatī verse)
“he attains [from root dhā-] imperishable fame” {154|155}

Rig-Veda 9.66.7c
dádhāno ákṣiti śrávaḥ

(Gāyatrī verse)
“attaining [from root dhā-] imperishable fame”

Rig-Veda 1.9.7bc
asmé pṛthú śrávo bṛhát
viśvā́yur dhehy ákṣitam
– –
– –
(Gāyatrī verses)
“to us fame which is wide and far
and everlasting and imperishable, grant! [from root dhā-]”
In all four Rig-Vedic attestations of śrávas in collocation with ákṣitam or ákṣiti, the word śrávas itself occupies a position within the closing of octosyllables: slots 5 6 or 7 8 of 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. The archaism of śrávas in these two positions becomes apparent when we consider the nature of the closing. The Vedic octosyllable is divisible into a 4-syllable opening and a 4-syllable closing basically because of the unfixed rhythm of the opening (#⏓ ⏓ ⏓ ⏓) and the fixed rhythm of the closing {155|156} (predominantly ⏓#). [4] Phrases in the closing are more likely to be traditional than phrases in the opening, since rhythmical inflexibility makes it harder to devise a new phrase fitting the closing than to fall back on a phrase which came already made with the right rhythmical pattern. [5]
Since the Rig-Veda reflects *klewos, when accompanied by *n̥- and *dhg w hi-, in a metrical position which indicates archaism, it is important that the same collocation is frozen within the meters of Greek as well. The cognate of Rig-Vedic śráva(s) ákṣitam, κλέοc ἄφθιτον, occurs in the epic hexameter of Iliad I 413 and in the dactylic pentameter of Sappho 44.4LP. The external value of formal Vedic-Greek comparison for positing an Indo-European phrase *klewos n̥dhg w hitom has already been discussed. [6] Now we are adding the internal evidence of Rig-Vedic metrics in order to show the archaism of śráva(s) ákṣitam. Furthermore, the ἄφθιτον of Sappho 44.4 and the ákṣitam of Rig-Veda 1.9.7c are identical not only formally (*n̥dhg w hitom) but also metrically (– ) and positionally (absolute verse-final). Watkins has pointed out still another important comparative factor: the last four syllables of ákṣiti śrávas#, (–) ⏓, are metrically identical with the corresponding segment of κλέοc ἄφθιτον#, () ⏓. [7] A combination {156|157} of śráva(s) ákṣitam# would likewise yield () ⏓, but the Rig-Veda preserves no instance of this combination in contiguity. Rather, it is found in tmesis: śrávasákṣitam#, Rig-Veda 1.9.7b … c. Nevertheless, it is this latter passage which shows the metrical and positional identity of ákṣitam with ἄφθιτον. Moreover, since ákṣitam and not ákṣiti is morphologically identical with ἄφθιτον, we may suspect on comparative grounds that a line-final combination śráva(s) ákṣitam would be more archaic than ákṣiti śrávas#. The internal evidence of the Rig-Veda offers corroboration.
The meter of ákṣiti śrávas is more common, with its long 5th-to-last syllable, than that of śráva(s) ákṣitam, which would have a short 5th-to-last syllable if it also were attested at the end of an octosyllable. This 5th-to-last syllable, the 4th syllable of the opening, is preponderantly long in the octosyllables of the Rig-Veda. In fact, the openings #⏓ – – – and #⏓ – – are three times as common as those in #⏓ – – and #⏓ respectively, while the openings in #⏓ – – are six times as common as those in #⏓ – . [8] It is interesting that the one Rig-Vedic instance of śrávasákṣitam#, in Hymn 1.9 (7b … c), occurs in the constituent of a hymn-group marked by its relative frequency of closing-irregularities, [9] whereas a hymn like 9.66, one of the {157|158} texts containing the expression ákṣiti śrávas#, belongs to a hymn-group singled out for its closing-regularity. [10] This contrast is important because extreme metrical regularity is a sign of relatively late composition; in the most archaic phases of Rig-Vedic versification, metrical irregularity is at least sporadically attested in the rhythm of the closing. In the opening, moreover, the most archaic versification is concomitant not just with sporadic irregularity but with absolute freedom in the rhythm of the meter, and this freedom is the rule rather than the exception. [11] Both internal and external metrical evidence points to a chronological evolution away from this state of absolute freedom in the rhythmical patterns of the opening, [12] and this evolution has already been summarized in the form of three chronological stages: [13] (1) the opening is absolutely free from regular patterns of quantity; (2) certain patterns in the opening tend to outnumber other patterns in frequency of occurrence; this tendency diminishes from ‘right’ toward ‘left’; (3) such tendencies become constants.
One such tendency is the selection of long over short in the 4th syllable of the Rig-Vedic octosyllabic verse (stage 2): {158|159}
#⏓ – – – is 3 times as common as #⏓ – –
#⏓ – – is 3 times as common as #⏓
#⏓ – – is 6 times as common as #⏓ – [14]
The collocation ákṣiti śrávas# (– ⏓, with long for slot 5) conforms to this metrical tendency whereas śráva(s) ákṣitam ( ⏓, with short for slot 5) would not. From the metrical standpoint, then, ákṣiti śrávas appears to be a replacement of śráva(s) ákṣitam, which in turn appears to be more archaic.
We must also determine whether ákṣitam is more archaic than ákṣiti from the standpoint of morphology. For this problem, I propose to examine the interrelation of the Indo-European formants *-to- and *-ti-, as reflected in the -ta- and -ti- of the adjectives ákṣita- and ákṣiti-. From the Indo-European point of view, as I argue elsewhere, adjectives in *-to- produce abstract substantives in *-ti-. [15]
Accordingly, we expect an abstract substantive -kṣití- on the basis of a verbal adjective -kṣitá-. Although such a substantive is not directly attested in the Rig-Veda itself, there is no reason to doubt its archaism and we may safely derive the Rig-Vedic adjective ákṣiti- as {159|160} a Bahuvrīhi built from it, meaning ‘who/which has no kṣiti-’. The substantive is attested from the Atharva-Veda onward, with the accentuation (kṣíti-) characteristic of compound ti- substantives which had switched to the status of non-compounds. There are in the Rig-Veda some rare negative abstract substantives in á-…-ti-, apparently generated by the corresponding adjective in á-…-ta-:
á-jī-ti- ‘absence of injury’
á-juṣ-ti-‘unpleasantness’ (attested along with á-juṣ-ta- ‘unpleasant’)
á-di-ti- ‘boundlessness’ (hence the goddess Aditi) [16]
Even more rare in the Rig-Veda is the Bahuvrīhi-adjectivization of ti-abstracts with the privative article a-. I find an isolated example in the adjectival use of á-di-ti, ‘who/which has no bounds’. The form and function of á-kṣi-ti- become comprehensible if we can parallel the structure of this word with that of adjectival á-di-ti. Even so, it is a fact that the usage of adjectivized ti-nouns as attributes of neuter substantives is highly unusual. [17] Thus the combination of ákṣiti- with neuter śrávas seems ad hoc and secondary, and its motivation is likely to be theme rather than grammar. Also, {160|161} since Bahuvrīhi-adjectivization with a- is such an unusual phenomenon for ti-stems, we may also suppose that the very formation of adjectival ákṣiti- is not an expected morphological development in the natural language, but rather a ready-made substitution devised in the poetic language.
The very subject-matter of ákṣiti śrávas leads to an explanation: if we survey the other contexts where śrávas is described as not liable to destruction, we find an appropriate semantic parallel: śráva(s) ámṛtyu ‘deathless ś.’ in stanza 12 of RV 6.48, an important lyric hymn belonging to the archaic constituent of Maṇḍala 6. [18] The parallelism is also morphological: like -kṣiti-, mṛtyú- ‘death’ is an abstract deverbative substantive, with zero-grade of the root. Like ákṣiti-, ámṛtyu- is a privative Bahuvrīhi. Furthermore, śrávas is also described as amṛ́tam ‘deathless’ in RV 3.53.15, so that there actually exists an extended parallelism between the verbal roots mṛ- and kṣi- in collocation with śrávas:
śrávas + amṛ́tam/áṃrtyu
śrávas + ákṣitam/ákṣiti
Then too, the privative verbal adjectives of mṛ- and kṣi- are correlates elsewhere as well. For example, in the Rig-Vedic hymn 9.113 (stanza 7), the loká-, or abode of the sun’s eternal light, is described as both amṛ́ta- and ákṣita-: {161|162}
amṛ́te loké ákṣite
To sum up: by using the comparative method, it is possible to show that (śrávas) ákṣitam is the basic variant conforming directly to Indo-European morphology, while ákṣiti (śrávas) is the derivative variant, generated from within Indic morphology. Furthermore, while ákṣiti- is formed by genuine Indic grammatical rules, its lack of a solidly-precedented grammatical constituency suggests that it is an ad hoc poetic creation.
(There is an interesting parallel in Greek. Just as the adjective ákṣiti- is built from an abstract substantive kṣiti-, so also the Greek adjective ἀθάνατοc ‘immortal’ seems to be built from the substantive θάνατοc ‘death’ rather than from the adjective θνητόc ‘mortal’. The analogue to ákṣita- would have been *ἄθνητοc, a hypothetical form which Kuryłowicz argues to be more archaic than the actual ἀθάνατοc. [19] The theoretical possibility of a form like *ἄθνητοc is evident from such formal pairs as Homeric τλητόc/ἄτλητοc).
Word-order is likewise a criterion for testing the relation of śráva(s) ákṣitam to ákṣiti śrávas. Since poetic form may blur current phases in the natural language, we may {162|163} best ascertain the Indic trends in word-order from prose, such as that of the Brāhmaṇas. There the basic positional behavior of attributes, either adjectives or genitives, is that they precede the substantive. [20] Since the expression śráva(s) ákṣitam does not conform to this prevailing Indic trend, we may infer that ákṣiti śrávas is the more normal expression, from the standpoint of nonpoetic language. From the standpoint of poetic language, on the other hand, the adjective ákṣita- is more normal in that it seems more traditional, as I will try to show.
The absence of the adjective ákṣiti- from collocations with any substantive other than śrávas is the first indication that ákṣiti śrávas may be secondary to and based on śráva(s) ákṣitam. The intricate positional constraints on the distribution of the adjective ákṣita- in collocation with substantives other than śrávas are an even more important positive indication that ákṣita- is a highly archaic component of traditional Rig-Vedic phraseology. Of the 11 occurrences of ákṣita- with neuter substantives, 9 follow the substantive rather than precede it. Furthermore, 8 times out of these 9 ákṣita- is in absolute verse-final position. This positioning within the closing shows the archaism of phrases containing ákṣita-, simply because the rhythmical inflexibility of the closing makes it {163|164} harder to devise new phrases to fit the meter and easier to retain old phrases ready-made to fit the meter.
Besides the 11 occurrences of ákṣita- with neuter substantives, this adjective is attested only with masculine substantives in the accusative (7 times) and locative (once), thus only in slots where the required masculine form of ákṣita- is not formally distinct from the neuter. Of the 8 masculine occurrences, 7 follow the substantive rather than precede it, and all 8 are in absolute verse-final position.
Where ákṣita- precedes rather than follows its substantive, there seem to be concomitant requirements: (1) adjective and substantive are in different verses, as in ákṣitam#índum of RV 9.26.2; or (2) adjective and substantive are in verse-medial position, as in #1 2 3 4 ákṣitam pā́yas 10 11 12# of 9.68.3; or (3) adjective and substantive are separated from each other by other lexical elements, as in #1 2 3 4 ákṣitam pā́yasā rája# of 1.58.5. Included in the third category is á-pra-kṣitam vásu of 1.55.8. If we otherwise compare the 5 Rig-Vedic instances of á- plus preverb plus -kṣita- to the 19 of ákṣita-, the idiosyncratic patterns of the former category emerge: áprakṣita- (1.55.8) and ávikṣita- (7.1.24) occur in absolute verse-initial position, and the latter of the two is in a distinctly non-neuter form (nominative plural masculine in -āsas); but the other 4 out of the 5 instances are either masculine singular {164|165} accusative or neuter singular, that is, in the same configuration as the attestations of ákṣita- without preverb-infixation. Of the three instances where á- plus preverb plus -kṣita- follows rather than precedes its substantive, all are in the archaic verse-final position. [21]
In conclusion, both metrical and grammatical consideration lead me to propose that ákṣiti śrávas had replaced an earlier śráva(s) ákṣitam as a phrase suitable for ending a Rig-Vedic octosyllable. For the purpose of reinforcing this proposal, more work is required on the overall behavior of phraseology involving śrávas and on the interaction of this behavior with that of Rig-Vedic meter. Before I can undertake such a task, however, I must attempt to present an overall picture of the basic Indic meters and their possible origins. For the moment, then, let us view the meters alone, without regard to the phraseology.


[ back ] 1. Whitney 1873:5.
[ back ] 2. Whitney 1873:13.
[ back ] 3. See the Introduction; also see Burrow 1959ab for the phonology of the reconstruction.
[ back ] 4. See pp. 170f.
[ back ] 5. Cf. Meillet 1935:146.
[ back ] 6. See the Introduction.
[ back ] 7. Watkins 1970: §222.
[ back ] 8. Arnold’s statistics (1905:151).
[ back ] 9. Arnold 1905:156.
[ back ] 10. See Arnold’s categorization (1905:315) of Hymn 9.66.
[ back ] 11. See pp. 35f.
[ back ] 12. See pp. 35f.
[ back ] 13. See pp. 35f.
[ back ] 14. Arnold’s statistics (1905:151).
[ back ] 15. See Gerckens 1923. For the Indic facts, see Liebert 1949, especially pp. 57f. In the following brief grammatical discussion, I will use the Indic grammatical term ‘Bahuvrīhi’; the name means ‘who/which has much rice’ and is applied to compounds with parallel semantic interrelation of components.
[ back ] 16. On Aditi, see Wackernagel and Debrunner 1954:639.
[ back ] 17. Cf. Wackernagel and Debrunner 1954:637.
[ back ] 18. On which see Arnold 1905:304.
[ back ] 19. On ἀθάνατοc vs. θνητόc, cf. Kuryłowicz 1968:250. This is not the place to discuss some recent articles disputing Kuryłowicz’s arguments. In a forthcoming work, I hope to evaluate the form and content of these articles and to discuss their relation to the current state of Indo-European studies.
[ back ] 20. For an overall discussion, with bibliography, of Indic word-order, see Staal 1967.
[ back ] 21. See p. 156 above.