AKSHARA GANA, MATRA GANA and AMSHA GANA
The ancient and medieval Kannada poetry was composed in three distinct prosodic modes. They are called respectively akshara chandassu, matraa chandassu and amsha chandassu. (Chandassu= Prosody, Metrics) They are based on different principles of measuring the phonetic units of poetry. However, all of them take the time elapsed during the enunciation of a phonetic unit in to consideration. The stress on a particular syllable does not have any prosodic significance. This is contrary to the practice of English prosody. The time taken to utter a short vowel is the basic unit of these prosodic systems. This unit is referred to as one mAtre.(ಮಾತ್ರೆ) There is no change in the time required, if a consonant is added to a vowel or vice versa, with out a break either before it or after it. Hence a (ಅ) and (ಕ) are both worth one matre. Such vowels and Vowel-consonant combinations are designated as Hrusva Akshara. (Short letter) The time taken to utter a long vowel either independently or in combination with a consonant is double the time required to utter a short vowel. Consequently they are worth two matres. Long vowels and their combinations with consonants are called Deergha Akshara (Long letter) A syllable worth one matre is called Laghu and that which is worth two matres is designated as Guru. The letter that precedes a consonant cluster is designated as guru and it is worth two matres. There are some more rules to decide whether a letter is laghu or guru. Very rarely one comes across a syllable which requires three matras for enunciation and they are called Plutas. In any combination of letters or phonetic units one finds different patterns of Laghu and Guru syllables. A group of letters irrespective of the number of matres is called akshara gana. A group of letters containing a particular number of matres irrespective of the number of letters is called either a matraa gana or an amsha gana.
In Sanskrit prosody and in the prosodic forms borrowed by the Kannada poets from Sanskrit, we come across poems based on Akshara Chandassu. Here the basic unit is a set of three letters. (Letter=Aksharaΐ) Only independent vowels and onsonant-vowel or vowel-consonant combinations are deemed as letters. These three letters may be either Laghu or Guru. These combinative patterns result in eight different possibilities and they are given different names. These patterns are as follows
( u =Laghu and - = Guru)
1. - - - (ma gana)
2. u - - (ya gana)
3. u (ra gana)
4. u u - (sa gana)
5. - - u ( ta gana)
6. u u (ja gana)
7. u u (bha gana)
8. u u u (na gana)
Innumerable combinations of these eight ganas (groups) may be used in a single line (paada) of a poem and they constitute metrical forms known as Akshara Vruttas.
Matraa gana chandassu is the second category that we have to consider. Here the groups are formed on the basis of the number of matras rather than the pattern of letters. Hence the name Matraa Chandassu has come into vogue. The basic units are ganas consisting of three, four and five matras respectively. A continuous occurrence of these units in a poem results in certain unique rhythm patterns. For instance successive rendering of ganas worth three matras result in utsaaha laya. Similarly successive groups of four matras result in mandaanila laya and those of five matras result in lalita laya.
It is also possible to have various combinations such as three and four and five and three.
The third category of chandassu which is indigenous to the Dravidian languages is more complex. It does not lend itself to mechanical calculations. It is much more flexible and this results in more melodious and musical meters such as saangatya and tripadi
The principle of classifying the prosodic units in to three categories of three, four and five matres holds good here also. Actually they are called Brahmagana, Vishnugana and Rudragana respectively. But the poet/singer is at liberties to elongate any letter and make it worth more matres than it usually is. Consequently a three lettered word could be a Brahmagana or a Vishnugana depending on the choice of the singer. It could even become a Rudragana if the singer is so inclined. This leads to lots of experimentation on the part of the poet. Nothing is perceived as rigid and binding. But the prosodic forms do not lend themselves to mechanical parsing. Many prosodic forms in Kannada such as Tripadi, Sangatya, and Madanavati are based on this system. Folk literature, what with its propensity for musical rendering has preferred this system.
An elementary knowledge of the principles delineated in this short note will be handy for an analysis of the prosodic patterns of Kannada poetry.
Adhyayana Samstheya Kannada
Chandassina Charite edited
by Ha.Ma. Nayaka and C.P. Krishnakumar, 1980,
Chandah Svaroopa by T.V.Venkatachalashastry, 1978,
3. Kannada Chandovikasa by D.S.Karki, 1956, Dharawada