( By: S.K. Harihareswara, Stockton, California )
The word 'abhi' is one of the interesting terms in Sanskrit language.
(It is pronounced as it written: 'a' is the short (hrisva) vowel, as 'a' in
'adjective'; 'bh' is the soft aspirate (mahA-prANa) of the labial (oShTya) of
the consonant in the 'pa-varga', pronounced as 'bh' in 'abhor'; 'i' is the short
vowel as 'i' in 'if'.)
We are discussing two other words also:
(i) 'abhI', wherein the last letter is a long vowel (dIrgha)
pronounced as 'ee' in 'feel'; and,
(ii) 'abhIh', which ends with the pure voiceless aspirate (visarga) 'h',
pronounced as the English letter 'h' itself.
Later on in this article, we will also discuss the relation among 'abhi',
'abhI' and 'abhih'.
Let us visit these words under six sections:
A. 'abhIh' -the term Sri Vivekananada liked very much.
B. 'abhi' in the "Words of the Wise" ('subhAshitas').
C. 'abhi' in Bhagavadgita & in a few popular Prayer mantras.
D. Famous persons/places with 'abhi'.
E. The etymology of 'abhi/abhIh/abhi' in Sanskrit grammar. We will
take this up last as it may be of interest only to a few readers.
A. 'abhI' & 'abhIh"; "Be Fearless" - Swami Vivekananda:
1 The Sanskrit word is "abhIh, pronounced as "abhIihi" because the word
ends with a visarga ("aha") and the previous vowel is "I". If you write "namah",
you generally pronounce it as "namaha", isn't it?
2 The root of the word is "bhI", for 'fear'. The 'upasarga' prefix 'a' negates
the original meaning of the root and turning it 180 degrees to make it
"fearlessness".(More on this characteristic of an 'upasarga', later.)
The root 'bhI' belongs to the 3rd Gana and is Parasmai-padi verb format.
(bibheti, bibhitah, bibhyati... etc.) and is of course akarmaka.
There is a noun in feminine gender 'bhI, ' meaning 'fear' in Sanskrit.
"dara trAsau bhItir bhIh sAdhvasam bhayam" - iti amarah. (amarakosha, 1.8.229).
O what a language, Sanskrit is! 'bhI' meaning 'fear' is in feminine gender!
3 Swami Vivekananda likes this word 'abhIih' very much." 'Be fearless'
declare our Upanishads again and again...", he tells us. In the book
'Selections from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda', this word
'Abhi' tops the list in the Index. He exhorts:
"... Strength, O Man, say the Upanishads, stand up and be strong.
Ay, it is the only literature in the world where you find the word
'abhIh' , ' fearless' used again and again. In no other scripture in the
world is either applied to God or man. Abhih, fearless..."
(Article 'Vedanta and Indian Life',
page 222; 'Complete Works" 3.237)
In his 'Address at Calcutta & Reply', he states:
"... Be bold and fear not. It is only in our scriptures that this
adjective is given unto the Lord - 'Abhih, Abhih'..."
('Complete Works", Vol. 3, p 318)
While speaking on 'Bhakti', he states:
"... Very few indeed are there who can understand and appreciate,
far less live and move, in the grandeur of the full blaze of the light
of Vedanta, because the first step for the pure Vedantist is to be
'Abhih' , fearless..." (ibid, Vol. 3, p 386)
4 These 'abhih' lines also appear in other books of his speeches (example: "kolombOdinda almOrake", a Kannada Translation by Kuvempu, a biography
entitled "Swami Vivekananda", by Kuvempu).
5 In 'Raghu-vamsha', Kalidasa uses the epithet word 'abhIh' meaning
6 You have heard 'vIta-rAga-bhaya-krodha' occurring at several places in
Bhagavad-gita.(2.56, 4.10 etc..) It is actually 'vi-gatah bhayah', meaning
'freedom from fear' or 'devoid of fear' (see 5.28), or 'a-bhaya' (as in 10.4)
With this in mind, Manu uses the word 'vItar-bhI' (fearless person) while
discussing the qualities of an ideal ambassador, 'rAja-dUta' thus:
"anuraktah shuchir dakShah smritimAn desh-kAla-vit |
vapuShmAn vIta-bhIr vAgmI dUto rAjnah prashasyate ||" (Manusmriti 7.64)
7 There are several occurrences in Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda &
Atharvaveda of the word 'abhI'. So far I have found them synonymous to
the 'avyaya' or 'upasarga 'abhi' only. ( Here is a strange coincidence 'abhI'
occurs in both Rigveda 4.31.3 & Atharva 4.32.3. but they are two
different hymns, though they start with the word 'abhI' ! )
B. Look at these beautiful 'words of the wise' ('subhAShita') (Ref 15):
1 "abhi-arhitam pUrvam "
(Top priority to the most deserving!)
2 "abhi-arthanA-bhanga-bhayena sAdhur mAdhyastham
iShTe api avalambate arthe"
(With the apprehension that their request may be unfulfilled,
wise would stay neutral though unwillingly!)
- Kalidasa, Kumara-sambhava.
3 "abhi-Agatah (= abhyAgatah) svayam eva viShNuh"
(The person who comes (as a guest to the house)
unannounced are to be revered/ are indeed divine!-
says Vyasa to Mandanamishra pointing out to Acharya
Shankara who had gone to his house to debate with him.
Ref. 14, Shankara Vijaya, 8-34 )
4 "abhyAsa-anugatA vidyA, buddhih karma-anusAriNI..."
(Practice renders expertise in the field of study,
as wisdom is achieved by one's activities...)
5 "abhyAsAt ramate jnAnam"
(Wisdom shines due to practice ) - Bhagavad-gita
6 "abhyasAd abhimAnat cha tathA sampratyayad api|
viShayebhyash cha tantrajnAH prItim Ahuh chaturvidhAm||"
(Love is of four types, so declare the experts:
That which is cultivated by practice, pride, faith and
due to sensual activities.) - Vatsyayana, Kamasutra.
7 "abhi-gamanIyash cha guNAh sarvasya"
(Virtuous character is acceptable to all)
- bANa, Harsha-charita
8 " abhi-chAreNa paropaghAtah mahA-pAtakInAm,
na mahA satvAnAm"
(Sorcery to hurt enemies is the way of the wicked;
good people have other methods.) - Somadeva, Niti-sutra.
9 "abh-tapta-mayo api mArdavam bhajate kaiva,
(Even the strong iron gets mellowed in extreme heat,
what to say about men of tender body?)
- Kalidasa, Raghuvamsha
10 "abhi-droheNa bhUtAnAm arjayan gatvarIh shriyah|
udAnvAnIv sindhUnAm ApadAm eti pAtratAm||"
(He who earns the ever slippery prosperity by cheating
others, will end up in troubles as all the rivers end up in the
ocean.) - Kirata-arjuniya
11 "abhi-nandati bHutAni vinAshe pApa karmaNah"
(Everybody rejoices in the fall of the wicked.)
12 "abhi-prAya sampAdanAt hi pUjA-kritA bhavati;
na tu gandha-mAlya abhi-hArENa"
(One is honored by respecting his/her ideas;
not by garlanding him/her or giving bouquets.)
-AryashUra, jAtakamAla, hamsajAtaka
13 "abhimAna vihInAnAm kim dhanena kim AyuShA?"
(What is the use of wealth or life without self-esteem?}
14 "abhivAdana-shIlasya nitya-vriddh-upasevinah"
chatvAri tasya vrdhante Ayur-vidyA-yasho-balam||"
(One who always salutes and serves the elders will
get these four: long life, knowledge, fame and
strength.) - Mahabharata
15 "abhivAdayed vriddhAnsh cha, dadyAsh cha eva Asanam
svakam| krita anjalir upAsIta, gachChatah priShTah
anviyAt||" (Elders are always to be saluted & respected.
One should get up give the elder one's seat. One should sit
humbly, with folded palms, in the elder's presence. While
bidding farewell, one should walk behind the elder
respectfully.) - Manusmriti 4.154
16 "abhi-shaptah puNya-kArye pravritto api na siddhi-bAk,
bharta-anugamana udyuktA rEnukA jana-mArikA||"
(The cursed fellow wouldn't make any head-way even
though he tries to do good. Look at what happened to
Renuka; she tried to approach her husband, but caused lot
of violence to people!)
- Venkataraya, purANArtha-sangraha, (rAjanIti ).
17 "abhi-uchChitash cha avishvAsyah;
buddhir hi chitta vikAriNI"
(Do not depend on one who became suddenly very wealthy;
Too much quick prosperity make the mind unstable)
- Kautilya, Artha-shastra
C. 'abhi' in Bhagavadgita & its usage in some other examples :
(i) In the beginning of all our endeavors, we pray God for the annihilation
of all our problems, with a word starting with 'abhi':
"abhi-Ipsita-artha sidhi-artham, pUjito yah surair api|
sarva-vighna-chchidai tasmai, shrI gaNAdhipataye namah ||"
(He whom even the Divinities worship,
He who tears apart all the obstacles in my way,
I salute that Lord GaNesha praying to fulfill my wishes!)
(ii) While worshipping, we offer pAdya/arghya/ AchamanIya etc., stating:
"abhIShTam siddhi me Deva, sharaNAgata vatsala |
bhktyA sam-arpitam tubhyam, sam-svIkuru paramEshwara! ||"
(iii) Here is a prayer to Sri Saraswati:
"yA shArdAmbA iti abhidhAm vahantI
kritAm pratijnAm paripAlayantI |
adyApi shrigEri-pure vsantI
pradyotate abhIShTa-varAn dishantI ||"
(Fulfilling the promises she had made
[to Acharya Sri Shankara],
Taking the name of Sri Sharadamba,
She eternally resides shining in the City of Shringeri,
Bestowing the wishes of all her devotees.)
- Shankara Vijaya 12-69 (Ref. 14)
(iv) In the very beginning of Homa/Havana, we pray to Agni:
"hE agnE, prtyang-mukhan-san, mama abhi-mukho bhava...."
(O Mystic Fire, turn and face towards me, please!...)
(v) It seems that the author of "Bhagavad-gita" is also fond of 'abhi' in
its various prefixural uses:
abhikram (beginning): na iha abhikrama nAshO asti - 2.40
abhichar (avi+abhichara): yogena avyabhichAriNyA - 18.33
abhijan ( generate): kAmAt krodho abhijAyate - 2.62
yoga-bhraShTo abhijAyate - 6.41
sampadam daivIm abhijAtasya - 16.2
abhijAtasya ..sampadAm - 16.4
sampadam daivIm abhijAto - 16.5
abhijanavant (noble descent): Adyo abhijanavAn asmi - 16.15
abhijnA (aware of): iti mAm yo abhijAnAti - 4.15
mohitam n abhijAnAti mAm - 7.13
mUDo ayam n abhijAnAti - 7.25
n tu mAm abhijAnAnti - 9.24
bhaktyA mAm abhijAnAti - 18.55
abhitas(towards, around): abhto brahma-nirvANam - 5.26
abhidhA (naming, denote): kShetram iti abhidhIyate - 13.01
sa Aditya iva abhidhIyate - 17.27
sa tyAgI iti abhidhIyate - 18.11
mad bhakteShu abhidhId - 18.68
abhinand (rejoice) : na abhinandati na dveShTi - 2.57
abhipravrit (advancing to): karmaNi abhipravritto api - 4.20
abhibhU (predominate): adharmo abhibhavati ut - 1.40
rajas tamas abhibhUya - 14.10
abhimAna(pride, self-esteem): dambho darpo abhimAnash - 16.4
abhimukha(facing): samudram eva abhimukhA - 11.28
abhiyukta(engaged, absorbed) teSham nitya-abhiyuktAnAm - 9.22
abhirakSh (whole protection): balam bhISma- abhirakShitam - 1.10
balam bhima- abhirakShitam - 1.10
bhIShmam eva abhirakShntu - 1.11
abhiram(delight & attachmnt):sve sve karmaNi abhiratah - 18.45
abhisandhyA (intention): abhisandhyAya tu phalam - 17.12
abhihan (striking, smitten) : sahasA eva abhihanyanta - 1.13
abhihita (declare): eShA te abhihitA sAnkhye - 2.39
abhi+adhika (super) : na tvat samo asti abhyadhikah - 11.43
abhi+arch (devoted worship): sva karmaNA... abhyarchya - 18.40
abhi+Asa (practice, study): sva adhyAya abhyasanam - 17.15
abhyAsena tu kauntEya - 6.35
abhyAsa yoga yuktena - 8.08
abhyAsa yogena tatah - 12.09
abhyAse api asamatho asi - 12.10
abhyutthAna (uprise): abhyutthAnam adharamasya - 4.07
D. Some famous persons/places having names starting with 'abhi':
1 abhimanyu: The brave son of Subhadra & Arjuna in
Mahabharata, married Uttara (daughter of Virata & Sudikshna) and
Shashi-rekha (Daughter of Balarama & Revati); fought on behalf of
Pandavas in the absence of Arjuna in the Mahabharata war;
father of Parikshit who continued the dynasty. (manyu = fury)
2 abhijit: Daughter of Daksha; a constellation; wife of
3 abhiShyanta: a king of Lunar dynasty; son of vahini
( Ref. Mahabharata, Adiparva)
4 abhIru: A saintly king ( Ref. Mahabharata Adiparva)
5 abhibhU: A son of king of Kashi; fought for Pandavas;
killed by Vasudana
(Ref. Mahabharata, Udyoga, Drona & Karna parvas)
6 abhisAra: A kingdom north of Takshashila, ruled by
Chitrasena, who was defeated by Arjuna during RajasUya
(Ref. Mahabharata, Sabha & Bhishma parva)
7 abhikAla: A village passed by the messengers of VasiShTa
on their way to Kekaya (Valmiki Ramayana, 2.68.17)
8 abhinava-gupta: Born c.900AD in Kashmir to Vimala &
Narasimha-gupta (Chukhala); famous philosopher; Author
of several books on philosophy, Shaiva-siddhanta, Poetics,
Dance, Music, Literary Criticism etc., like "Ishvara
PratyabhijnA VimarshinI, 'mAlinI vijaya vArtika',
'tantrAloka', paramArtha-sAra', 'dhvanyAlOka-lochana' etc.
(Ref. JnAna-gangothri, Vol. 7, p73)
9 abhinava-mangarAja: A Kannada poet who wrote a
'abhinava-nighanTu' dictionary in 1398 AD. (There was
another poet, Mangarasa I who lived during the reign of
Harihara Raya I)
(Ref. Kannada Vishvakosha, Vol. 1, p 394)
10 abhinava-shankara: According to the annals of Heads of
the Sanctuary (Matha) in Kanchi-kamakoti, there were four
Shankaras after the Acharya Sri Shankara. The thity-eigth
Head is this Swamiji Shankara. As he traveled round the
country several times like the original preceptor and vigorously propagated the ideals of Advaita, he was nick-
named as 'abhinava-shankara' ( died circa 841AD).
E. 'abhi", its Etymology:
1 Elements of Samskrita Grammar:
In Samskrita, all the words 'were' generally categorized into two groups,
(a) Verbs ('Tinganta') only and,
(b) Nouns & all the other Parts of Speech ('Subanta').
In the 'Subanta' category the family of Adverbs, Prepositions, Interjections,
Conjunctions and Indeclinables - are included. The members of this family
have several common features, which is relevant to the topic.
Some special features of Sanskrit are:
a) there are three genders (four, if you consider pum-strI, a
common gender), three numbers (singular, dual & plural) and,
seven + one cases ('vibhakti');
b) nouns and adjectives take different forms depending on these;
c) an adjective qualifying a noun should be in the same gender-
number-case as of the noun.
2 However, 'Indeclinables' are those which remain unchanged. These
are mainly three types General indeclinable ('avyaya'), Preposition
('upasarga') & Adverb ('kriya-visheShaNa').
Here is a famous couplet to define an 'avyaya':
"sadrisham triShu lingeShu, sarvAsu cha vibhaktiShu |
vachaneShu cha sarveShu yan na vyeti tad 'avyayam' ||"
meaning, the 'avyaya' remains same in all genders, numbers and
cases ('na vyeti = vytyAsah na bhavati') ( MahAbhaShya 1.1.37-8):
'avyayas' are of two kinds: 'siddha' & 'sAdhita':
'siddha', Original: Examples, cha, tu, ih, vai, api, eva, abhi
'sAdhita', Derived: Examples, sarva+dA = sarvadA, putra-vat,
pUrva+tas = pUrvatah, paritah, abhitah.
3 Another way of categorizing these indeclinables is the Panini's method.
The great grammarian groups them into three ('svrAdi nipAtam avyayam ;
chAdyo'satve; prAdayah' Ref. 3, p 95)
1) those words starting with svar ( svar, antar, prAtar, ... );
2) nipAtas like cha, vA, ha etc.
3) those that start with 'pra'. (Ref. 7, p126-129;)
The words in the third group are also called as "upasarga's".
4. Preposition (upasarga): These are prefixes added to roots of the words
resulting in new formations with varied meanings quite different from the root.
There is another popular couplet to illustrate the point:
"upasargena dhatu+arthah balAd anyatra nIyate|
prahAra, AhAra, samhAra, vihAra, parihAra-vat||"
(The indeclinable prefix when added to the root takes it
forcibly elsewhere in its meaning. For example, the root 'hri'
with different prefixes have differing meanings: prahAra =
beating; AhAra = food; samhAra = killing; vihAra = jay- walk for pleasure, parihAra = resolution for a given roblem.)
Panini lists twenty upasargas. Here is a list in
the alphabetical order(Ref. 4, p465-6):
ati, adhi, anu, apa, api, abhi, ava, A, ut, up,
dus, ni, nis, parA, pari, pra, prati, vi, sam, su
The upasarga prefix 'abhi' also changes the meaning of the verbs or
nouns it joins with, essentially in the sense of:
1 to, towards, 2 on, upon 4 in the presence of 5 intensely
6 Very etc.,
5 A few examples of 'abhi" with other roots are:
abhigrA (to smell), abhijnA ( knowing, conversant), abhidruh
( to do violence), abhidhA (tell, speak), abhidhAna(appellation), abhiniviShT
(concentrated), abhiprAya (intention), abhibhU ( overpower), abhimata
(consent), abhiyukta (deligent), abhiyoktra ( attacker), abhilaSh ( to crave),
abhivrit (approach), abhiShyand ( to flow), abhIShTam), abhiyuchchaya,
abhyudaya, abhyadAnam, abhidAnam, abhyAsah, samahivyAhArah etc.,
(Ref. 1; Ref. 9, p374-5)
Sri Lalita has an epithet "abhyAsa-atishaya-jnAta" ( LalitA sahasra
nAma 990); See also in Manu Smriti 'abhichArEShu sarvEShu' ( 9.290 ),
'abhipUjit lAbhAnstu' ( 6.58 ), 'abhivAdana shIlasya' ( 2.121 ), 'abhiyoktA
na ched brUyAt' ( 8.58 ), 'abhishastasya shanDasya' ( 4.211), abhi Shahya tu
yah kanyAm' (8.367 ), 'abhyanjanam snApanam cha' (2.211), abhi-angam
anjanam chAkShNoh' (2.178 ) etc. (Ref. 13)]
6 As an indeclinable, 'abhi ' is used in the sense of 'to' or 'towards' and
some what synonymous to 'prati'. If you look at the prepositional Adverbs
'paritah' and 'abhitah', both meaning 'around' (similar to the accusative case
'sarvatah' & 'samantatah', see Ref. 10, p 145), their derivation out of 'pari'
& 'abhi' can be sensed comparing them with vastu > vastutah; agra > agratah;
samanta > samantatah; sarva > sarvatah etc. (See Ref. 2, Section 34, p 19
that quotes abhitah & paritah; Also Ref. 5, p 85-87and Ref. 12, p306 fn.
"bhAva-pradIpa"; vArtika 137)
Also just like atas > atah, itas > itah, yatas > yath, svatas > svatah (Ref. 6,
Sec. 1098 a), abhitas > abhitah, the ending 's' always gives way to visarga.
F. abhi, abhI and abhIh:
"abhIh" is similar to "lakshmIh". In Vocative case ('Sambhodana PrathamA
vibhakti') it takes the form of 'hE abhi', or simply 'abhi'.
Also, when a Sanskrit word with a long 'I' is borrowed into another
Indian language, the ending 'I'usually will be modified into a short 'i';
For example: devI > devi; jananI > janani; jnAnI > jnAni; nadI > nadi.
dhanI >dhani > dhaNi (Kannada). Keshi-raja the grammarian, in his
'shabda-maNi-darpaNa' has a separate chapter for Kannada words derived
with slight modifications from Sanskrit - 'tadbhava' words.
On the same lines, 'abhIh' > 'abhI' > "abhi" formation can be considered
1 Vaman Shivram Apte, "Sanskrit-English Dictionary", 1976,
2 Vaman Shivram Apte, "Sanskrit Composition",
1984, Choukhamba Sanskrit Series Office.
3 G K Timmannachar, "High School Sanskrit Grammar",
1947, Dept. of Public Instruction, Mysore.
4 N. D. Krishnamurthy et al, ""Conversational Sanskrit",
1988, Adarsha Educational & Social Service Trust.
5 B. Narayana Tantry, "sodAharaNa samskrita vyAkaraNa sangrahah",
1994, Pub by Author c/o Diganta Mudrana, Mangalore-8
6 W.D.Whitney, "Sanskrit Grammar", 1994, Motilal Banarasidas.
7 J. R. Ballantyne, "Laghu-kaumudi of Varada-raja",
1976, Motilal Banarasidas
8 R Antoine, "A Sanskrit Manual (for High Schools)",
1972, Xavier Publication.
9 Michael Coulson, "Sanskrit, an Introduction to the Classical Language",
1992, 2nd Edn, NTC Publishing Group
10 Arthur A. Macdonell, "A Sanskrit Grammar for Students",
1985, Motilal Banarasidas.
11 Arthur A. Macdonell, "A Vedic Grammar for Students",
1993, Motilal Banarasidas
12 V Prabhanjana Achar, Ed."Sumadhva-vijaya",
1994, Anandatirtha Pratishthana.
13 J L Shastri, Ed. "Manusmriti with Kullukabhatta Bhashya" ,
1990, Motilal Banarasidas
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(& Madhaviya Shankara Vijaya)
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