Listening to the Theragatha

Interplay of Rhythmic Uniformity and Change in Pali Verses


  • Kam Wai Erich Tam Mahidol University



Theragāthā, pali, metre, literary analysis, Buddhist verses


In the study of Pali metres, abundant research has been conducted on the establishment of rules and taxonomy, and scanning of unscanned verses. In comparison, the stylistic aspects of metres have been somewhat neglected. When the audiences listen to verses with their ears only set for metrical rules but not also the interplay of various rhythmic patterns, they fail to fully capture the aesthetic beauty and the very philosophical messages embedded in them. Taking the verses in the Dasanipata of the Theragatha as examples, this article focuses on the stylistic interplay of rhythmic uniformity and change in the expression of core messages in a Pali poem. It aims to unveil the poets’ strategies in the use of various types of metres and prosodic elements (opening, trimetre break, caesura and cadence) to create the narrative style of each poem and draw the audiences’ attention to the Buddha’s key teachings in the verses.


Primary Sources

The references to the Pali texts are to the Pali Text Society (PTS) editions unless otherwise specified. The following references to Pali and Sanskrit texts are also consulted:

Anandajoti, Bhikkhu, trans. 2016. Vuttodaya – The Composition of Metre by Ven. Sangharakkhita. (accessed on 3rdMay 2021).

Belvalkar, Shripad Krishna, trans. 1924. Kavyadarsa of Dandin - Sanskrit Text and English Translation. Poona: The Oriental Book Supplying Agency.

(Phra) Dhammamoli, 2003. Subodhalankaramañajri – Principles of Decorations in Sound and Meanings: Nakhom Pathom: Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University.

Fryer, George Edward, ed. 1875. “Pali Studies, No. 1: Analysis and Pali Text of the Subodhâlañkára, or Easy Rhetoric, by Sangharakkhita Thera.” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 44(2):91–125.

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Norman, Kenneth Roy, and Alsdorf, Ludwig, ed. 1966. The Thera- and Theri-gatha (Stanzas Ascribed to Elders of the Buddhist Order of Recluses). London: Pali Text Society.

Sastrulu, Vavilla Ramaswarmy, trans. 2008. Kavyadarsah of Dandin. Text with the Commentary Jibanand Vidyasagar. Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan.

Smith, Helmer, ed. 2001. Saddaniti. Oxford: Pali Text Society.

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How to Cite

Tam, K. W. E. (2022). Listening to the Theragatha: Interplay of Rhythmic Uniformity and Change in Pali Verses. Buddhist Studies Review, 39(1), 113–140.