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The bahuvrihi | Learn Sanskrit Online

The Bahuvrīhi

Introduction

Now we will study the last of the four Sanskrit compounds. What's interesting about this new compound is that both of its words are qualifiers. That is, neither word refers to the actual idea that the compound describes.

How does such a compound work? It's not something as simple as putting two adjectives together. Rather, the first word qualifies the second, and the second qualifies the idea. It is easy to confuse this sort of compound for a tatpurusha. Unfortunately, we can only tell them apart by relying on the compound's context. Like the tatpurusha, however, this compound's name is also an example of it. Consider the compound analysis below:

As you can see, this compound is called the bahuvrīhi. The name of this type of compound comes from two words: bahu, meaning "much," and vrīhi, meaning "rice." So, bahu-vrīhi literally means "much-rice," and it describes a person who has much rice. In ancient times, a person with a lot of rice would never have had to go hungry; so, he would have been considered wealthy. As a result, the word bahuvrihi describes a rich man. English has many examples of this sort of compound:

Now we can fill in the chart from the beginning of the section. Of course, the bahuvrihi can only go in the one spot remaining. But let's think through this with an example: the word bahuvrīhi. A bahuvrīhi ("rich man") is not a type of vrīhi ("rice"); vrīhi is just something that a bahuvrīhi has. Likewise, a bahuvrīhi is not a special kind of bahu ("much"); bahu just describes how much vrīhi the bahuvrīhi has. So, both bahu and vrīhi are qualifiers of the main idea ("rich man"), but neither of them alone is the main idea. Contrast this with the other compounds we've seen:

 Word 2: IdeaWord 2: Qualifier
Word 1: Ideadvandvaavyayibhava
Word 1: Qualifiertatpurushabahuvrihi

The bahuvrihi has been called one of the most characteristically Sanskrit applications of nominal compounds, where "nominal" here refers to nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. It is also one of the most conceptually difficult compounds in the language. We will look at plenty of examples of this compound both here and throughout the rest of Nouns, so you will have plenty of time to get used to it.

The nature of the bahuvrihi

To understand the bahuvrihi, we should look at a few compound analyses. That said, consider the analyses below. The first is for the dvandva, the second is for the tatpurusha, and the third is for the bahuvrihi.

The compound analysis for the tatpurusha has been expanded to include yad. With this expansion, we can distinguish among these three types of compounds based on the use of yad in their analyses:

Type of Compound
Use of yad
dvandva
yad can't be used
tatpuruṣa
yad is in case 1
bahuvrīhi
yad is never in case 1

From this, we can say that the bahuvrihi can't replace the main noun it describes because within the yad/tad structure, it's not in case 1. More plainly, we can say that the bahuvrihi is an adjective that describes the main noun but does not replace it.

Because it is an adjective, the bahuvrihi can appear in all three genders. This fact is very useful; it allows us to quickly identify whether a compound is a bahuvrihi compound. For example, consider the word kṛṣṇavṛkṣā. The word vṛkṣa is a masculine noun, but it is used as a feminine noun in the compound. This fact lets us know that kṛṣṇavṛkṣā is a bahuvrihi compound.

Ambiguity

The largest issue that most students have with the bahuvrihi is its ambiguity. Consider kṛṣṇavṛkṣa again. Although we have the stem form right before us, there is no way to determine whether kṛṣṇavṛkṣa is a tatpurusha or a bahuvrihi. None at all. We must instead look at the entire verse — or perhaps the entire passage — and guess which meaning is intended.

When the compound is used alone, the compound is almost always a tatpurusha. But that, too, is not a certain rule:

I assure you, however, that as you read more Sanskrit you will be able to differentiate between these two types automatically. Have faith and keep reading. Eventually, the entire system will be obvious to you.

Review

In this lesson, we studied the fourth of the four Sanskrit compounds. This brings our study of the Sanskrit compounds to a close. To be sure, there are a few details that we will have to work out eventually; but, these details are less important than conceptual understanding. Details will reveal themselves over time.