The Charyapada (Bengali: চর্যাপদ, Chôrjapôdô; Assamese: চর্যাপদ Sôrzapôd; Odia: ଚର୍ଯା ଗୀତି) is a collection of mystical poems, songs of realization in the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism. It was written in an Abahatta that was the common ancestor of Bengali, Assamese, Maithili and Odia between the 8th and 12th centuries and it is said to be the oldest collection of verses written in those languages. A palm-leaf manuscript of the Charyapada was rediscovered in the early 20th century by Haraprasad Shastri at the Nepal Royal Court Library.[1] The Charyapada was also preserved in the Tibetan Buddhist canon.[2] As songs of realization, the Charyapada were intended to be sung. These songs of realisation were spontaneously composed verses that expressed a practitioner's experience of the enlightened state. Miranda Shaw describes how 'songs of realization were an element of the ritual gathering of practitioners in a ganachakra:

The feast culminates in the performance of tantric dances and music, that must never be disclosed to outsiders. The revellers may also improvise "songs of realization" (caryagiti) to express their heightened clarity and blissful raptures in spontaneous verse.[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.[citation needed]


The original palm-leaf manuscript of the Charyapada, or Caryācaryāviniścaya, 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 Mahasiddhas, 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 1,90
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. 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. An attempt was made to decipher the secret tantric inheritance of Charyapada.[6] [7]


Haraprasad Shastri, who discovered a few Charyapada, considered that it was written during the 10th century. However, according to Suniti Kumar Chatterji, Charyapada was composed between 10th and 12th century. Prabodh Chandra Bagchi upholds this view. Sukumar Sen while supporting this view maintained that Charyapada could have been written between 11th and 14th century.[8] 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.[9] 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[10] and Oriya.[11] 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).[12]

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.[13]

Affinities with Assamese

Luipa 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:[14]

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 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[15] Genitive in -era, -ara;
Dative in –re;
Locative in –ta;
Post-positional words like majha, antara, sanga;
Past and future bases in –il-, -ib-;
Present participle in –anta;
Conjunctive indeclinable in –ia;
Conjunctive conditional in –ite;
Passive in –ia-
Substantive roots ach and thak.

Affinities with Oriya

The beginnings of Oriya poetry coincide with the development of Charya Sahitya, the literature thus started by Mahayana Buddhist poets.[16] Jayadeva's Gita Govinda uses the same poetical structures employed by the Charyapada and appears to have employed some of the same ragas.[17] Additionally, the Charyagiti or Charyapada were written in Kutila lipi from which Odia script was derived. Kutila lipi is the proto of Odia lipi.


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.[18]

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. No reference to agriculture is available. References to female prostitution occur as well. The boat was the main mode of transport. Some description of wedding ceremony is also available.[19]


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.
(Ka'a Tarubara Panchabee Dal,Chanchal Chi'e Paithe Kaal)

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.[20]


  1. ^ Guhathakurta, Meghna; van Schendel, Willem (30 April 2013). The Bangladesh Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press. p. 40. ISBN 0-8223-5318-0. 
  2. ^ Kværne, Per (2010). An Anthology of Buddhist Tantric Songs: A Study of the Caryāgīti. Orchid Press. ISBN 978-974-8299-34-1. 
  3. ^ Shaw, Miranda (1995). Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism. Princeton University Press. p. 81. ISBN 0-691-01090-0. 
  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. ^ Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay The Movement within: A Secret Guide to Esoteric Kayaasadhanaa: Caryaapada
  7. ^ Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay In Search of Linguistics of Silence : Caryapada
  8. ^ Sen Sukumar (1991) [1940]. Bangala Sahityer Itihas, Vol.I, (in Bengali), Kolkata: Ananda Publishers, ISBN 81-7066-966-9, p.55
  9. ^ Muhammad Shahidullah : Bangala Bhashar Itibritto, 2006, Mawla Brothers, Dhaka
  10. ^ The Origin and Development of the Bengali Language, by Sunitikumer Chottopadhya
  11. ^ Datta, Amaresh. The Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature (Volume One (A To Devo)). Sahitya Akademi publications. ISBN 978-81-260-1803-1. 
  12. ^ Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol.IV, No.1, 1928 CE, pp.287–296
  13. ^ Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra; Pusalker, A. D.; Majumdar, A. K., eds. (1960). The History and Culture of the Indian People. VI: The Delhi Sultanate. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. pp. 516, 519. The Charyāpadas of Old Bengali have also been claimed for Old Assamese ... Some Oriyā scholars, like those of Assam, regard the speech of the Charyāpadas to be the oldest form of their language. The Maithils have also made the same claim. 
  14. ^ Language and Literature from The Comprehensive History of Assam Vol 1, ed H K Barpujari, Guwahati 1990
  15. ^ Chatterjee, S.K. The Origin and Development of Bengali Language, Vol.1, Calcutta, 1926, pp.112
  16. ^ Mukherjee, Prabhat. The History of medieval Vaishnavism in Orissa. Chapter : The Sidhacharyas in Orissa Page:55.
  17. ^ Mehta, Ramanlal Chhotalal (1983). Studies in Musicology. Indian Musicologicai [i.e. Musicological] Society. p. 54. 
  18. ^ Roy, Niharranjan, Bangalir Itihas: Adiparba (in Bengali), Dey’s Publishing, Calcutta, 1993 CE, ISBN 81-7079-270-3, pp 637
  19. ^ Social Life in Charjapad by Anisuzzaman
  20. ^ 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