A subhashita (Sanskrit: सुभाषित, subhāṣita) is a literary genre of Sanskrit epigrammatic poems and their message is an aphorism, maxim, advice, fact, truth, lesson or riddle.[1] Su in Sanskrit means good; bhashita means spoken; which together literally means well spoken or eloquent saying.[2]

Subhashitas in Sanskrit are short memorable verses, typically in four padas (verses) but sometimes just two; but their structure follows a meter. Subhashitas are one of many forms of creative works that have survived from ancient and medieval era of India, and sometimes known as Suktis.[3] Ancient and medieval Indian literature created tens of thousands of subhashitas covering a vast range of subjects.[4]

These epigrammatic verses and their anthologies are also referred to as Subhashitavali or Subhashitani.[5]


Subhashitas are known for their inherent moral and ethical advice, instructions in worldly wisdom and guidance in making righteous deeds. Subhashitas create an appeal as the inherent message is conveyed through poems which quote practical examples which are often rhythmic in nature.[6] Some authors even relate Subhashitas to sugar coated bitter medicines considering their worthiness.[6]

The subhashita deals with various subjects and includes topics of day to day experiences that every one can easily relate to.[6] A subhashita is always eloquent in form, structured in a poetical form, complete in itself and concisely depicts a single emotion, idea, dharma, truth or situation.[3]

Subhashitas are drawn from real life and give fruit of philosophy grafted on the stem of experience!

— Ludwik Sternbach[3]


Subhashitas are structured in pada-s (Sanskrit: पद, or lines) in which a thought or a truth is condensed. These epigrammatic verses typically have four padas (verse, quatrain), are poetic and set in a meter. Many are composed in the metrical unit called Anuṣṭubh of Sanskrit poetry, making them easy to remember and melodic when recited.[3] But sometimes Subhashitas with two pada-s or even one pada proclaim a truth.[3][7]

According to Mohana Bhāradvāja, Subhashita in Indian Literature is a single verse or single stanza, descriptive or didactic but complete in itself expressing a single idea, devotional, ethical or erotic in a witty or epigrammatic way.[8] Author Ludwik Sternbach describes that such wise sayings in poetic form not only contain beautiful thoughts but they also make the expressions in cultivated language.[3] He further says that such form of Indian literature had a tinge of poetry, the poetical skill being exhibited in the intricate play of words which created a slight wit, humour, satire and sententious precepts; they arose laughter, scorn, compass and other moods.[3] The poetic style of narration found in Subhashita is also termed as muktaka (independent), as the meaning or the mood of which is complete in itself.[9] This poetic form has been compared to Persian rubai or Japanese tanka by some authors.[9]


The authors of most Subhashita are unknown. This form of Indian epigrammatic poetry had a wide following, were created, memorized and transmitted by word of mouth.[3][10]

The works of many ancient Indian scholars like Bhartṛhari (5th century CE), Chanakya (3rd century BC), Kalidasa (5th century AD), Bhavabhuti (8th century AD), Bhallata (10th century AD), Somadeva Bhatta (11th century AD), Kshemendra (11th century AD), Kalhana (12th century AD) are considered to be treasures of many valuable subhashitas.[6] The famous Panchatantra (3rd century BC) and Hitopadesha (12th century AD) which is a collection of animal fables effectively use subhashitas to express the inherent moral wisdom of their stories. The Vedas and ancient scriptures like Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, Ramayana, and Mahabharata are also major sources of Subhashitas.[6]

Dedicated works

There are also various individual works such as Subhashita Sudhanidhi by Sayana of the 14th century and Samayochita padyamalika which are dedicated works of wisdom literature consisting of various subhashitas.[6] The Subhashita Sudhanidhi, as Dr. K Krishnamoorthy writes in his critical edition, also serves as a source-material to reconstruct the early Vijayanagara kingdom.[11]

Collection of verses (Subhashita Sangraha)

From the beginning of the 10th century AD several writers contributed immensely in collecting and preserving different wise sayings of contemporary and earlier poets. Author Vishnulok Bihari Srivastava opines that such subhashita sangrahas (collection of verses) have done a great service by preserving several rare subhashitas which would have otherwise been lost.[12] A few such literary works are listed below.

Sl No Work Compiled by Time Line Contents
1 Gaha Sattasai Hala 2nd-6th century[13] Gāthā Saptaśatī, 7 chapters of 100 verses each, mostly about love, emotions, relationships[14]
2 Upadesha sahasri Adishankaracharya
3 Subhashita Ratna Kosha Vidyakara 12th century Buddhist scholar whose work compiled verses of poets who flourished before 12th century. It includes many excerpts from Amaru and Bhartṛhari[12][15][16]
4 Subhashitavali Vallabhadeva of Kashmir Around 15th century Collection of 3527 Verses of 360 poets[12][17]
5 Saduktikarnaamritam Shridaradasa 1205 Consists of 2380 verses of 485 poets mainly from Bengal[12]
6 Suktimuktavali Jalhana 13th century Jalhana was a minister of the Seuna (Yadava) king Krishna[12]
7 Sarangdhara paddhati Sarangadhara 1363 AD Comprises 4689 verses[12]
8 Padyavali Anonymous - 386 Verses of 125 poets[12]
9 Sukti ratnakara Suryakalingaraya 14th century 2327 verses on ethics and morality, in four parvans divided in paddhatis, primarily dealing with dharma, artha, karma and moksha.[18][19]
10 Padyaveni Venidatta - Works of 144 poets[12]
11 Subhashitaneevi Vedanta Deshika 15th century From South India[12]
12 Subhasita muktavali Anonymous Late 16th century 32 muktamanis, 624 verses, both ethical and descriptive[20]
13 Padyarachana Lakshmana Bhatta Early 17th century 756 Verses[12]
14 Padya amruta tarangini Haribhaskara Later 17th century -[12]
15 Suktisaundarya Sundaradeva Later 17th century -[12]

Other anthologies of subhashita verses from unknown and known authors, estimated from early 1st millennium AD, are Jayavallabha's Vajjalagga and Chapannaya's Gahao.[14] However these verses are in regional Prakrit languages of India, derived from Sanskrit.

Subhashita Manjari, verse 1.5, explains the importance of Subhashita with a subhashita:

Other illustrations of Subhashita are:

Garments are cleaned by water,
the mind by truth,
the soul by ahimsa,
the intellect by knowledge.

— Subhashita Srisuktavali[3]

Pure connection may convince a lover's heart,
that ampler blessings flow when we're apart,
when she is here, my lady is but one,
when she's away, in all things I see her alone.

— Subhashita-miktavali[22]

There are tens of thousands of Subhashita in Indian literature covering topics as diverse as humor, sarcasm, criticism, politics, eroticism, emotions, love, wealth, daily life, society, learning, stages of life, ethics, morals, spirituality, deities, medicine, food, festivals, prayer, riddles, science, mathematics, poetry, language, art, Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Itihasas, and other subjects.[7][21][23]

Related terms

Lokokti (or lokavakya, pracinavakya) are Sanskrit proverbs, in the form of short sentences that express truths or facts, but they differ from Subhashitas in not being in poetical form.[3] An example of a Sanskrit lokokti is:

Heartless words get heartless answers.

— Laukikanyayanjali[3]

A sutra is another ancient Indian literary form. Sutras are concise wisdom or truth, but typically they too are not poetical. Unlike subhashitas and lokokti whose authors are unknown or long forgotten, sutras are attributed to sages, famous or known personalities. Sutras typically need to be read within a context to be completely understood.[3] An example of a Sanskrit Sutra attributed to Chanakya is:

Punishment must be proportionate to the offense.

— Chanakya-sutrani[3]


Many Subhashitas in Sanskrit have been translated into other regional languages of India.


  1. ^ L. Sternbach (1973), Subhashita - A forgotten chapter in the histories of Sanskrit literature, in Indologica Taurinensia, Torino, Vol I, pp. 169-254
  2. ^ subhASita Sanskrit English Dictionary, University of Koeln, Germany
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Sternbach, Ludwik (1974). Subhāṣita, Gnomic and Didactic Literature. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 9783447015462.
  4. ^ Kashinath Sharma (1952), Subhashita Ratna Bhandagara - A collection of over 10,000 subhasitas, Nirnaya Sagar Press
  5. ^ A Haskar (2007), Subhāshitāvali: An Anthology of Comic, Erotic, and Other Verse, Penguin, ISBN 978-0143101369, page 190
  6. ^ a b c d e f Suhas, B.R. (2011). Immortal Sayings: Proverbs Sayings and Word of Wisdom from the Vedas Upnishads Mahabharata Ramayans Puranas Panchatantra and the Work of Kalidasa Bhavabhuti, Kalhana, Bhartrihari and Other Celebrated Ancient Poets and Writers. V & S Publishers. pp. Preface. ISBN 9789381384558.
  7. ^ a b Andrew Schelling (1999), Manuscript Fragments and Eco-Guardians: Translating Sanskrit Poetry, Manoa, 11(2), 106-115
  8. ^ Bharadvaja, Mohana (2010). Ācārya Ramānātha Jhā racanāvalī. Vani Prakashan. p. 72. ISBN 9789350002100.
  9. ^ a b Ayyappappanikkar (2003). Indian Narratology. Sterling Publishers. p. 79. ISBN 9788120725027.
  10. ^ John Brough (Translator), Poems from the Sanskrit, Penguin Classics, ISBN 978-0140441987
  11. ^ Subhasita Sudhanidhi Sayana Ed. Krishnamoorthy (in Sanskrit).
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Srivastava, Mohana (2009). Dictionary Of Indology. Pustak Mahal. p. 31. ISBN 9788122310849.
  13. ^ Ludwik Sternbach (1974). Subhasita, Gnomic and Didactic Literature. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. pp. 10–14. ISBN 978-3-447-01546-2.
  14. ^ a b Daniel James Bisgaard (1994), Social Conscience in Sanskrit Literature, ISBN 978-8120811164, pp 99-101
  15. ^ Lal, Mohana (1992). Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature: sasay to zorgot, Volume 5. Sahitya Akademi. p. 3885. ISBN 9788126012213.
  16. ^ Daniel H. H. Ingalls, Sr. (1965), An anthology of Sanskrit court poetry, Vidyakara's Subhashitaratnakosha, Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0674039506
  17. ^ Peter Peterson and Durga Prasad (1886), The Subhashitavali of Vallabhadeva, Bombay, OCLC 760412000
  18. ^ Sternbach, Ludwik (1974). Subhāṣita, Gnomic and Didactic Literature. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. pp. 19-20. ISBN 9783447015462.
  19. ^ V. Raghavan (1954), "The Suktiratnahara of Kaliigaraya", Journal of Oriental Research, Volume 13, pp. 293-306
  20. ^ R.N. Dander (1962), Subhāṣitamuktāvalī, Reprinted in book form from articles in the Journal of the University of Poona, OCLC 774061193
  21. ^ a b Ludwik Sternbach (Translator), Maha-Subhasita-Samgraha, VVR Institute, ASIN B0042LS62C
  22. ^ John Brough (Translator), Poems from the Sanskrit, Penguin Classics, ISBN 978-0140441987
  23. ^ Krishna Shastri Bhatavadekar (1888), Subhashita Ratnakara: a collection of witty and epigrammatic sayings in Sanskrit at Google Books, Preface section

Further reading