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The Charyapada (Bengali: চর্যাপদ, Assamese: চৰ্যাপদ) or Charijagiti (Oriya: ଚରିଜାଗିତି) is a collection of 8th-12th century Vajrayana Buddhist caryagiti, or mystical poems from the tantric tradition in Kalinga.[1] Being caryagiti (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.[2]

A manuscript of this anthology was discovered in the early 20th century. It provides the early examples of the Assamese, Oriya, Maithili 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. It is the earliest known example of Maithili poetry. According to Bengali scholar Haraprasad Shastri (1853–1931), Charyapada is also the collection of the oldest verses written in pre-Modern Bengali.[3]



The credit of discovering Charyapad goes to Haraprasad Shastri who during his third visit to Nepal discovered about 47 verses in 1907, the body of which came to be called Charyapada, which are essentially Buddhist mystical songs. These were discovered from the Royal library of the Nepalese kings. Haraprasad Shastri first went to Nepal in 1897 for collecting Buddhist folklore. He discovered some folklore written in Sanskrit during his second trip in 1898. He undertook his third trip in 1907 in the hope of some more new folklore. He published his collections in a volume which was published in 1916. Although Haraprasad Shastri discovered as many as 47 poems (in fact 46 and a part of one), hints are there that the number would be 51 in total. These were written on narrow section of palm leaves.


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.[4]

Pages from the Charyapada

The Tibetan translation of the Charyapada provided additional information. It names the Sanskrit commentary as the Charyagiti-koshavrtti written by Munidatta. It also mentions that the original text was translated by Shilachari and its commentary by Munidatta was translated by Chandrakirti or Kirtichandra.[5]


  A sketch of Siddhacharya poet Kanhapada

The manuscript of the Charyapada discovered by Haraprasad Shastri from Nepal consists 47 padas (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 50 padas are found, which include the padas 24, 25 and 48 and the complete form of the pada 23. Pada 25 was written by the Siddhacharya poet Tantripāda, who work was not found earlier. In his commentary on pada 10, Munidatta mentioned the name of another Siddhacharya poet, Ladidombipāda, but no pada written by him has been discovered so far.

The names of the Siddhacharyas in Sanskrit (or its Tibetan language equivalent) are mentioned prior to each pada. 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 the Siddhacharyas.

The poets and their works as mentioned in the text are 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 language of Charyapada is rather symbolic in nature.[3] So in many cases the literal meaning of a word does not make any sense. As a result every poem has a descriptive or narrative surface meaning but also encodes tantric Buddhist teachings. Some experts believe this was to conceal sacred knowledge from the uninitiated, while others hold that it was to avoid religious persecution.


Haraprasad Shastri, who discovered Charyapada, considered that it was written during the 10th century. However, according to Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, Charyapada was composed between 10th and 12th century. Probodh Chandra Bagchi upholds this view. Sukumar Sen while supporting this view maintained that Charyapada could have been written between 11th and 14th century.[6] However, Muhammad Shahidullah was of the opinion that Charyapada dates back to earlier time. He maintained that it was likely to have been composed between 7th and 11th century.[7] Rahul Sankrityayan thought that Charyapada was probably written between 8th and 11th century.


There is controversy about meaning of some words. Different linguists have diverse opinion about the real meaning of certain words.

It has been said that Charyapada was written in early form of Bengali[8] and Oriya.[9]Scholars of other languages claimed that it was written in Nepalese, Gujarati, Hindi, Maithili, and Assamese. Some scholars believe its words are more similar to Bishnupriya Manipuri rather than Bengali. It is claimed that Charyapada is the oldest record of Bishnupriya Manipuri literature.[citation needed]


Haraprasad Shastri in his introduction to the Charyacharya-vinishchaya 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).[10]

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.[11]

  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:[12]

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.[13] 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 Prakrta. In his book (Ascharya Charyachaya) Karunakar Kar has mentioned that Orissa is the origin of Charyapada as the Vajrayana school of Buddhism evolved there and started female worship in Buddhism. Worship of Matri Dakini and the practice of "Kaya sadhana" are the outcome of such new culture. Buddhist scholars like Indrabhuti and Lakshminkara and Padmasambhava were born in Orissa.[14]The ideas and experience of Kaya sadhana and Shaki[disambiguation needed] upasana (worshiping female principle) which were created by Adi siddhas and have poetic expressions are found in the lyrics of Charyapada. These were the first ever found literary documentation of Prakrit and Apabhramsa which are the primitive form of languages of eastern Indian origin. The poets of Charyapada prominently are from this region and their thought and writing style has influenced to the poems in early Oriya literature which is evidently prominent in the 16th century Oriya poetry written majorly in Panchasakha period.[9]

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

Ancient Oriya scripts used by Sarahapa in his writings

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), Chaushathi (64), Pakhudi (petals) Tahin (there), Chadhi (climb/rise), nachao (to dance), Dombi (an Oriya female belonging to scheduled caste), Bapudi ( a very colloquial 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 language.[15]

  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[16] 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.


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.[17]

  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. The geographical locations,, namely Banga and Kamarupa, are referred to in the poems. Names of the two rivers that occur are the Ganga and Yamuna. River Padma has been referred to as a canal. Two occupations are mentioned. These are weaving, woodcutter and hunting. No reference to agriculture is available. Reference to prostitution by women occurs. The boat was the main mode of transport. Some description of wedding ceremony is also available.[18] 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.


Produced below is English translation of the first verse of Charyapada. It was composed by Buddhist Siddhacharya poet Luipa.

The body is like the finest tree, with five branches.
Darkness enters the restless mind.

Strengthen the quantity of Great Bliss, says Luyi.
Learn from asking the Guru.

Why does one meditate?
Surely one dies of happiness or unhappiness.

Set aside binding and fastening in false hope.
Embrace the wings of the Void.

Luyi says : I have seen this in meditation
Inhalation and exhalation are seated on two stools.

This piece has been rendered into English by Hasna Jasimuddin Moudud.[19]


  1. ^ Binayak Misra (1986). Indian culture and cult of Jagannātha. Punthi Pustak. http://books.google.com/books?id=BvYdAAAAMAAJ. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  2. ^ Shaw, Miranda (1995). Passionate Enlightenment::Women in Tantric Buddhism. Princeton University Press. p. 81. ISBN 0-691-01090-0. 
  3. ^ a b BANGLAPEDIA: Charyapada
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ Sen Sukumar (1995). Charyageeti Padavali (in Bengali), Kolkata: Ananda Publishers, ISBN 81-7215-458-5, pp.29-30
  6. ^ Sen Sukumar (1991) [1940]. Bangala Sahityer Itihas, Vol.I, (in Bengali), Kolkata: Ananda Publishers, ISBN 81-7066-966-9, p.55
  7. ^ Muhammad Shahidullah : Bangala Bhashar Itibritto, 2006, Mawla Brothers, Dhaka
  8. ^ The Origin and Development of the Bengali Language, by Sunitikumer Chottopadhya
  9. ^ a b Datta, Amaresh. The Encyclopaedia Of Indian Literature (Volume One (A To Devo), Volume 1. Sahitya Akademi publications. ISBN 978-81-260-1803-1. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=ObFCT5_taSgC&lpg=PA647&dq=charyapada%20oriya&pg=PA647#v=onepage&q=charyapada%20oriya&f=false. 
  10. ^ Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol.IV, No.1, 1928 CE, pp.287-296
  11. ^ Majumdar, R.C. (ed.). (2006) The Delhi Sultanate, Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, p.519
  12. ^ Language and Literature from The Comprehensive History of Assam Vol 1, ed H K Barpujari, Guwahati 1990
  13. ^ Mukherjee, Prabhat. The History of medieval Vaishnavism in Orissa. Chapter : The Sidhacharyas in Orissa Page:55.
  14. ^ Kar. Karunakar. Ascharya Charyachaya
  15. ^ Rajguru, Satyanarayan. Cultural History of Orissa (in Oriya). Published by Orissa Sahitya Academy, 1988)
  16. ^ Chatterjee, S.K. The Origin and Development of Bengali Language, Vol.1, Calcutta, 1926, pp.112
  17. ^ Roy, Niharranjan, Bangalir Itihas: Adiparba (in Bengali), Dey’s Publishing, Calcutta, 1993 CE, ISBN 81-7079-270-3, pp 637
  18. ^ Social Life in Charjapad by Anisuzzaman
  19. ^ Hasna Jasimuddin Moudud : A Thousand year of Bengali Mystic Poetry, 1992, Dhaka, University Press Limited.


  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).

  Further reading

  • Charjapad Samiksha by Dr. Dr. Belal Hossain, Dhaka : Borno Bichitrra.
  • Bangala Bhasar Itibrtta, by Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah, 1959, Dhaka.

  External links



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