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Acquiring Vedic Chanting Skills among Rigvedi Namboothiris

Quite a lot has been done already by Namboothiris in the field of Vedic studies, particularly in the area of articulating and intoning the Vedic text correctly. Traditionally, the learning of proper chanting takes place through two sets of practices, Prakrithy and Vikrithy. The techniques of the latter, like Jata, Rathha, Vaaram, Muppiri, and Pacharathha, systematically derive and ensue from those of the former, like Samhitha, Padam and Kramam. Thus, the Vikrithis are practical forms of mnemonically reinforcing the chanting skills attained through the basic learning techniques of Prakrithy

The learning essentially comes in three stages; Samhitha (whole chunks of text), Padam (component verbal units of the text enunciated separately) and Kramam (where the verbal units are progressively intermingled). Parallel to this, a system of accurate and pre-ordained sonic qualities and tonal cadences are super-imposed on every sound uttered, and training of this operates through Udaatham, Anudaatham and Swaritham. The teacher also ensures that the learner strictly follows the conventionalized body language, like movement, directionality and synchronization of the head, associated with every sonic requirement.

Once it is ensured that the learner is confidently in control of the text, both in the verbal and phonic aspects, the teacher moves him on to further levels of chanting techniques.


Let us take the first line of Rigvedam as an example.

"agnimeele purohitham yajnasya devamrithwijam"
Samhitha will consist of vocalizing and memorizing this in its entirety first, and, then in meaningful verbal units like:
agnimeele - purohitham - yajnasya - devamrithwijam

Once the text is memorized, the leaner moves on to Padam. Here, the verbal units will then be vocalized by breaking the samhitha units into more basic morphemic units like:

agnim - eele - purah: - hitham - yajnasya - devam - rithwijam

Padam is followed by Kramam. The verbal units in Padam are progressively intermingled here immaterial of semantic coherence, since the object is mere rote memorization. Also, every second word (for example, puroitham, rithwijam, in the above text) is further re-inforced through its componential interpretation. For example,

agneemeele - eelepurohihtam - puroithamyajnasya - purohithamithi purah:

hitham - yajnasyadevam - devamrithwijam - rithwijamithyarthwijam


Vaaram is not much different from Kramam. Rather, it is an accumulated control of ten stanzas of Rigvedam.

Once the learner has become skilled in Samhitha, Padam and Kramam, he starts on Jata. Jata has the same basis as Kramam, but while Kramam is monological, Vaaram is bi-partite and dialogical.


Step 1. agnimeele, eelegnimagnimeele (This forms one utterance unit of Jata)

Step 2. eele purohitham, purohithameele, eele purohitham

Step 3. purohitham yajnasya, yajnasya purohitham, purohitham yajnasya

Step 4. yajnasya purohithamitha purah: hitham (Parigrahikkal)

            yajnasya devam, devam yajnasya, yajnasya devam

Step 5. devamrithwijamrithwijam, devam devamrithwijam

Step 6. rithwijamithyarthwijam (This is called Anthakkada)

In the dialogical recitation, one person recites steps 1, 3, 5 above and second person recites 2, 4, and 6, simultaneously. The dual recitation is such that the word(s) in common between both cantors have to be synchronized in their utterance(s). If the same word in the chanting both cantors has to be synchronized, that is, if both people chanting have to merge in harmony at the same word, they both must observe the strict codes of chanting properly and accurately.


Raththa too is chanted simultaneously by two people.

First person: agnimeele

Second person: eelegnim (downwards)

First person: agnimeele (recites again)

Second person: eele purohitham

First person: purohithameelegnim

Second person: agnimeele

First person: eele purohitham

Second person: purohitham yajnasya

First person: yajnasya purohithameelegnim

Second person: agnimeele

First person: eele purohitham

Second person: purohitham yajnasya

First person: yajnasya devam

Second person: devam yajnasya purohithameelegnim

First person: agnimeele

Second person: eele purohitham

First person: purohitham yajnasya

Second person: yajnasya devam

First person: devamrithwijam

Second person: rithwijam devam yajnasya purohithameelegnim

First person: agnimeele

Second person: eele purohitham

First person: purohitham yajnasya

Second person: purohithamithi purah: hitham (Parigrahikkal)

First person: yajnasya devam

Second person: devamrithwijam

First person: rithwijamithyarthwijam

In the above example, there are only six words. However, there are lines so long that they break down into 16 to 18 words, which make the chanting extremely complex and intriguingly difficult. The whole recitation becomes a very intricate and challenging "game" as each person has to pick up on the final component of the other person's chanting simultaneously and synchronically with him and continue the chant extending it further into the line, going on thus till the very end of the text. This becomes even more challenging when the participants move extending their words through the text forwards as well as backwards. Thus, it is a serious but productive task involving the memory, chanting ability, sense of harmony and sense of anticipation of both the cantors. In the 2006 stanzas (Varkam) of Rigvedam, there are many that go up to 21 lines.

To make a Jata or Rathha, one has to recite the whole stanza in this manner, however long the stanza is. Stanzas of less than 6 lines are not usually used for Jata or Rathha. Any stanza with 6 to 21 lines can be chosen depending on the participant's skills and abilities.


It is very clear from the above that Rathha is a very complex and challenging "game" which requires from the participants, high amount of concentration, good control over Samhitha and Padam, years of experience, sound voice control and a clear sense of euphony.

The most significant thing about this is perhaps the fact that expertise in this is unavailable through self-teaching or from written sources, but is attained only through one-to-one, face to face, dedicated learning from one's Guru.

Rituals like Agnishtomam and Athiraathram (click here to know more about it) require large parts of Rigvedam (called Sasthram, in the contexts of Agnishtomam/Athiraathram) to be chanted with the musicality, euphony and rhythm. Those well-versed in Jata and Rathha can successfully meet those requirements. Hence, the danger of losing traditional Jata and Rathha becomes a real threat to the appropriate rendering of Sasthrams. Besides, The observance of Jata and Rathha is an intellectual exercise for those who do it, and it as enjoyable to the cantors as it is to the listeners and observers.

| Article No:4.7.5 | Last update of this article:5th September 2010 |
Article written by: "Othan" (pseudonym) - "Jata, Rathha, Vaaram", and serialy published in "Anaadi", March, April 1975

Abridged by: P Vinod Bhattathiripad, Polpaya Mana, Thiruthiyad, Kozhikode - 673 004. Phone : 0495-2720522

English translation: Prof. P Bhaskaran Nayar, Lincoln University, UK

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