The tatpuruṣa

Also known as: the determinative compound

tatpuruṣa literally means “his man” or “his servant.” In a tatpuruṣa compound, the second word is the main idea and the first word describes it in some way:

  • धर्मस्य क्षेत्रम् → धर्मक्षेत्रम्
    dharmasya kṣetram → dharmakṣetram
    field of dharma → dharma field

  • कुरूणां क्षेत्रम् → कुरुक्षेत्रम्
    kurūṇāṃ kṣetram → kurukṣetram
    field of the Kuru people → Kuru field

Why do we describe this compound with a strange word like tatpuruṣa? Part of the reason is that the word “tatpuruṣa” is itself a tatpuruṣa compound:

  • तस्य पुरुषः → तत्पुरुष
    tasya puruṣaḥ → tatpuruṣa
    his man

The tatpuruṣa is common and has many different varieties. So it is worth knowing well.

Common tatpuruṣa

In the most common type of tatpuruṣa, the first word describes the second in some way:

  • नगरं गतः → नगरगतः
    nagaraṃ gataḥ → nagaragataḥ
    gone to the city → city-gone
    (case 2)

  • नखैर् भिन्नः → नखभिन्नः
    nakhair bhinnaḥ → nakhabhinnaḥ
    torn by (one's) nails → nail-torn
    (case 3)

  • गवे हितम् → गोहितम्
    gave hitam → gohitam
    good for a cow → cow-good
    (case 4)

  • चौरात् भयम् → चौरभयम्
    caurāt bhayam → caurabhayam
    fear of a thief → thief fear
    (case 5)

  • राज्ञः पुत्रः → राजपुत्रः
    rājñaḥ putraḥ → rājaputraḥ
    son of a king, prince → king son
    (case 6)

  • आतपे शुष्कः → आतपशुष्कः
    ātape śuṣkaḥ → ātapaśuṣkaḥ
    dried in the heat → heat dried
    (case 7)

Of these, the most common is the case 6 tatpuruṣa. In other cases, there are some restrictions on which words we are allowed to use.


If both words in the tatpuruṣa refer to the same idea, we get a special type of tatpuruṣa called karmadhāraya:

  • कृष्णः सर्पः → कृष्णसर्पः
    kṛṣṇaḥ sarpaḥ → kṛṣṇasarpaḥ
    black snake

  • मेघ इव श्यामः → मेघश्यामः
    megha iva śyāmaḥ → meghaśyāmaḥ
    cloud dark (as dark as a cloud)

  • शुक्लः कृष्णः → शुक्लकृष्णः
    śuklaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ → śuklakṛṣṇaḥ
    (something that is) white and black

Compounds with na

One type of tatpuruṣa uses the word na as its first word. This na becomes a in front of consonants and an in front of vowels:

  • न भावः → अभावः
    na bhāvaḥ → abhāvaḥ
    not existence → absence

upapada compounds

The word upapada has various meanings. In the context of compounds, an upapada is a word that we can create only when making a compound. Here is a classic example:

  • कुम्भं करोति → कुम्भकारः
    kumbhaṃ karoti → kumbhakāraḥ
    someone who makes pots → pot-maker

The word kāra that you see here generally exists only as part of a compound.

Here are a few more examples of upapada compounds:

  • जलं धीयते अस्मिन् → जलधिः
    jalaṃ dhīyate asmin → jaladhiḥ
    water is borne in this → water-bearing, ocean

  • जलं मुञ्चति → जलमुक्
    jalaṃ muñcati → jalamuk
    it releases water → water-releasing, cloud