Sanskrit compound

One notable feature of the agglutinative nominal system of Classical Sanskrit is the very common use of nominal compounds (samāsa), which may be huge (10+ or even 30+ words[1][2][3]) and are generative. Nominal compounds occur with various structures, but morphologically speaking they are essentially the same: each noun (or adjective) is in its (weak) stem form, with only the final element receiving case inflection.


The first member of this type of nominal compound is an indeclinable, to which another word is added so that the new compound also becomes indeclinable (i.e., avyaya). Examples: yathā+śakti ("per power"; as much as possible), upa+kṛṣṇam (near kṛṣṇa), etc. In avyayībhāva compounds, the first member has primacy (pūrva-pada-pradhāna), i.e., the whole compound behaves like an indeclinable due to the nature of the first part which is indeclinable.

Tatpuruṣa (determinative)[edit]

Unlike the avyayībhāva compounds, in Tatpuruṣa compounds the second member has primacy (uttara-pada-pradhāna). There are many types of tatpuruṣa (one for each of the nominal cases, and a few others besides). In a tatpuruṣa, the first component is in a case relationship with another. For example, "doghouse" is a dative compound, a house for a dog. It would be called a caturthītatpuruṣa refers to the fourth case, that is, the dative). Incidentally, the word "tatpuruṣa" is itself a tatpuruṣa (meaning a "that-man", in the sense of "that person's man", meaning someone's agent), while "caturthītatpuruṣa" is a karmadhāraya, being both dative and a tatpuruṣa.

An easy way to understand it is to look at English examples of tatpuruṣas: "battlefield", where there is a genitive relationship between "field" and "battle", "a field of battle"; other examples include instrumental relationships ("thunderstruck") and locative relationships ("town-dwelling"). All these normal Tatpuruṣa compounds are called vyadhikarana-tatpuruṣa, because the case ending should depend upon the second member because semantically the second member has primacy, but actually the case ending depends upon the first member. Literally, vyadhikarana means opposite or different case ending. But when the case ending of both members of a tatpuruṣa compound are similar, then it is called a karmadhāraya tatpuruṣa compound, or simply a karmadhāraya compound.


Dvigu is a subtype of tatpuruṣa in which the modifying member is a number. Dvigu (lit., "[a] two-cow [person]"; i.e., one who has two cows) itself is a compound : dvau+gāvau.

Karmadhāraya (descriptive)[edit]

It is a variety of tatpuruṣa as shown above, but treated separately. The relation of the first member to the last is appositional, attributive or adverbial, e. g. ulūka-yātu (owl+demon) is a demon in the shape of an owl.


It is that variety of Karmadhāraya tatpuruṣa compound in which the middle part is implied but not present for brevity. E.g., deva-brāhmaṇaḥ, lit. "god-Brahmin", concatenated from deva-pūjakaḥ brāhmaṇaḥ "god-worshipping Brahmin".


Example: na + brāhmaṇa = a-brāhmaṇa, in which 'na' when placed in an initial position becomes 'a-' (or an- before a word starting with a vowel). While useful in classification, this is etymologically incorrect as the 'a-' negation has not originated from na.


A variety of tatpuruṣa compound in which nouns make unions with verbs. These compounds can be recognized by the fact that the second part contains a (possibly transformed) verbal root (dhātu): kumbham + kṛ = kumbhakāra [potter, lit. pot-maker]; śāstram + jñā = śāstrajña [learned person, one who knows treatises]; jalam + dā = jalada [one that gives water; cloud].

Dvandva (co-ordinative)[edit]

These consist of two or more noun stems, connected in sense with 'and' (copulative or coordinative). There are mainly two kinds of द्वन्द्व (dvandva pair) constructions in Sanskrit:

Itaretara dvandva[edit]

The result of इतरेतर द्वन्द्व (itaretara dvandva "enumerative dvandva") is an enumerative word, the meaning of which refers to all its constituent members. The resultant compound word is in the dual or plural number and takes the gender of the final member in the compound construction. For example:

  • रामलक्ष्मणौ rāmalakṣmaṇau (Rama and Lakshmana), equivalent to रामश्च लक्षमणश्च rāmaś ca lakṣmaṇaś ca. It describes the sons of King Daśaratha, around whom, along with Rāma's wife Sītā, the epic Rāmayaṇa revolves.
  • रामलक्ष्मणभरतशत्रुघ्नाः rāmalakṣmaṇabharataśatrughṇāḥ (Rama and Lakshmana and Bharata and Shatrughna), equivalent to रामश्च लक्षमणश्च भरतश्च शत्रुघ्नश्च rāmaś ca lakṣmaṇaś ca bharataś ca śatrughṇaś ca. It describes all the sons of King Daśaratha.
  • धातुलकारपुरुषवचनानि dhātulakārapuruṣavacanāni (verb stem, case, person and number), equivalent to धातुश्च लकारश्च पुरुषश्च वचनं च dhātuś ca lakāraś ca puruṣaś ca vacanaṃ ca. It describes the method of describing verb inflections and conjugations.

Samāhāra dvandva[edit]

Words may be organised in a compound to form a metonym, and sometimes the words may comprise all the constituent parts of the whole. The resultant compound word exhibits समाहार द्वन्द्व (samāhāra dvandva collective dvandva), and is always neuter and in the singular number.

  • पाणिपादम् pāṇipādam (limbs/appendages), equivalent to पाणी च पादौ च pāṇī ca pādau ca (two) hands (and) two feet

According to some grammarians, there is a third kind of dvandva, called एकशेष द्वन्द्व ekashesha dvandva (one-(stem)-remains dvandva), where only one stem remains in the compound of multiple words: this exhibits "true" metonymy.

  • पितरौ pitarau (parents), equivalent to माता च पिता च mātā ca pitā ca (mother and father). Here, the only stem used is पितृ pitṛ (father) which in dual case (as there are two entities: mother and father) declines to give pitarau (fathers), or in this case pitarau (parents). Itaretara dvandva can also be performed to give मातापितरौ mātāpitarau (mother and father), and this can mean precisely the same as pitarau.

Bahuvrīhi (possessive)[edit]

Bahuvrīhi, or "much-rice", denotes a rich person—one who has much rice. Bahuvrīhi compounds refer (by example) to a compound noun with no head—a compound noun that refers to a thing which is itself not part of the compound. For example, "low-life" and "block-head" are bahuvrīhi compounds, since a low-life is not a kind of life, and a block-head is not a kind of head. (And a much-rice is not a kind of rice.) Compare with more common, headed, compound nouns like "fly-ball" (a kind of ball) or "alley cat" (a kind of cat). Bahurvrīhis can often be translated by "possessing..." or "-ed"; for example, "possessing much rice", or "much-riced".

In simple terms, it is a compound which is an adjective for a third word which is not a part of the compound.


In an aluk-samāsa, case endings do not vanish, e.g., ātmane + padam = ātmanepadam.

Āmreḍita (iterative)[edit]

A compound consisting of the same word repeated, but with the first occurrence being accented.[4] Amreditas are used to express repetitiveness; for example, from dív (day) we obtain divé-dive (day after day, daily) and from devá (god) we obtain deváṃ-devam or devó-devas (god after god).[5]


  1. ^ Up to 30 component words with 120 syllables in some literary styles such as Kāvya.
  2. ^ Kumar, Animesh (May 23, 2007). "Sruti Krta Rama Stuti". Retrieved July 1, 2011. A compound with 16 words and 44 syllables from the Bhusundi Ramayana: कमला-कुच-कुङ्कुम-पिन्जरीकृत-वक्षः-स्थल-विराजित-महा-कौस्तुभ-मणि-मरीचि-माला-निराकृत-त्रि-भुवन-तिमिर (IAST kamalā-kuca-kuṅkuma-pinjarīkṛta-vakṣaḥ-sthala-virājita-mahā-kaustubha-maṇi-marīci-mālā-nirākṛta-tri-bhuvana-timira).
  3. ^ "Virudavali - Jagadguru Rambhadracharya". Shri Tulsi Peeth Seva Nyas. Retrieved October 25, 2012. A compound with 35 words and 86 syllables from the Virudavali of Rambhadracharya: साङ्ख्य-योग-न्याय-वैशेषिक-पूर्व-मीमांसा-वेदान्त-नारद-शाण्डिल्य-भक्ति-सूत्र-गीता-वाल्मीकीय-रामायण-भागवतादि-सिद्धान्त-बोध-पुरः-सर-समधिकृताशेष-तुलसी-दास-साहित्य-सौहित्य-स्वाध्याय-प्रवचन-व्याख्यान-परम-प्रवीणाः (IAST sāṅkhya-yoga-nyāya-vaiśeṣika-pūrva-mīmāṃsā-vedānta-nārada-śāṇḍilya-bhakti-sūtra-gītā-vālmīkīya-rāmāyaṇa-bhāgavatādi-siddhānta-bodha-puraḥ-sara-samadhikṛtāśeṣa-tulasī-dāsa-sāhitya-sauhitya-svādhyāya-pravacana-vyākhyāna-parama-pravīṇāḥ).
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]