Introduction to the Kathāmṛta – Part 7 – Bhūta-bhāṣā or Paiśācī-bhāṣā

This article is part 7 of 20 in the series Introduction to the Kathāmṛta

Bhūta-bhāā – Paiśācī-bhāā

Guṇāḍhya did not compose the Bhat-kathā in the Sanskrit language and it is said that he wrote it in the Paiśācī-bhāā. (Daṇḍin and others call this ‘Bhūta-bhāā’). This is quite possible. It is but natural for all regional stories to be first born in the vernaculars and then spread through them. They enter formal written literature only later. It is also common to be faced with the following doubt upon seeing the manner in which Sanskrit is used in the Indian literature – was it ever a spoken language? It appears that there were several ‘spoken dialects’ along with a standardised written Sanskrit. These spoken variants probably ‘became the Prākts’ in the later days and they were put into writing too. Paiśācī is also one such variety of Prākt.

There have been several debates and discussions about the region where the Paiśācī language was spoken, its characteristic features, the existence of its variants and if it is the same as the ‘Bhūta-bhāā’. It is quite plausible that the work that both Somadeva and Kṣemendra referred to was in the Paiśācī language and they called it by the name ‘Paiśācī’[1]. We can infer this from their own words. (George Abraham) Grierson calls the language that is today spoken around the Kashmir region as ‘Paiśācī[2]’. In his view, the Paiśācī language was spoken in the vāyavya (North-West)[3] region of India and must have spread to other regions later on. Stenco is of the opinion that the language was spoken in Central Hindustan. He quotes a sentence from Rājaśekhara’s Kāvya-mīmāmsā to support his argument. However, Rājaśekhara might have relied on the popular folk tradition and what is said in the Bhat-kathā-mañjarī. In sum, the Paiśācī-bhāā is not what is spoken by Piśācas (i.e., ghosts, vultures). It was certainly a language that was spoken by people and was a form of Prākt[4].  The language was probably spoken by people who lived in the mountainous regions. It is quite possible that the educated people who lived in the cities called it ‘Paiśācī’ with a sense of dismissal. It is, however, unfortunate that we do not have even a single sentence of the original Bhatkathā available to us today to provide as an instance of the Paiśācī language. The examples quoted by Dhanika as belonging to the Bhat-kathā are actually from the Bhat-kathā-mañjarī (see footnote 1 of part 5). It was only after several centuries that the Prākt grammarians wrote down whatever has come down traditionally.

We can get a feel of the particular Prākt language by taking a look at the work of Vararuci, the earliest grammarian among them:

Vararuci who probably belongs to the 3rd Century BCE (or to 5th Century BCE), lists the characteristics of Paiśācī-prākta in the 10th Pariccheda of his work Prākta-prakāśa. A person named Kātyāyana has written a commentary on this work. It is probably because of this that many scholars think that Vararuci and Kātyāyana were the same person and Kātyāyana is the gotra of Varauci. It is likely that the scholar who wrote the vārtikas upon Pāṇinī’s sūtras is different from the author of Prākta-prakāśa. Stories related to Vararuci can be seen in a later post where analysis of Guṇāḍhya’s story is present.

Prākta-prakāśa is a work on the grammar of the Prakrit language and it has fifteen paricchedas (loosely translated as ‘chapters’). The first nine paricchedas talk about the structure of the Maharāṣṭrī-prākta and the tenth talks about the Paiśācī-prākta. The characteristic features of Māgadhī, Śaurasenī-prāktas in the eleventh and twelfth paricchedas[5]. To these varieties, Hemcacandra (1088-1172) has added Cūlikā-paiśācikī[6] and Apabhraśa. He narrates the features of six languages in all. (PaiśācīPrāktavyākaraa, pāda 4, sūtra 303-328). Mārkaṇḍeya-kavīndra (17th Century CE) categorizes Paiśācikī into Kekaya-paiśācikī, Śaurasena-paiśācikī and Pāñcāla-paiśācikī.

Prākta is a term that refers to the variations in pronunciation that has taken place in the speech of the people. प्रकृतिः संस्कृतं, तत्र भवं तत्र आगतं वा प्राकृतम् (Hemacandra). This is one point of view. The colloquial language naturally spoken by the people from birth is Prakrit and providing a grammatical structure to the same, adhering to the various rules and regulations, results in the language becoming Sanskrit—this is another point of view. For Kannada speakers, Prakrit words will appear to be similar to tadbhavas (Sanskrit words Kannadized). Even today, several tadbhava words used in Kannada are all Prakrit words—ಅಜ್ಜ, ಆಣತಿ, ಇಂಗಾಲ, ಕತ್ತರಿ, ಕುಂಬಾರ, ಜವ್ವನ, ದೆವ್ವ, ಪಟ್ಟಣ, ಪಂಡೆ (ಖರ್ಜೂರ), ಭತ್ತ, ರಾಯ, ಸನ್ನೆ, etc. There are thousands of such tadbhava words that are largely confined to literature and are hardly used in day-to-day conversations. And in Northern languages like Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali, such words are ninety-five to a hundred.

Among these, since the Mahārāṣṭrī was divided into nine dialects (paricchedas) and propagated, we learn about its prominence. Daṇḍi says that the people of his era knew it as ‘Prakṛṣṭa-prākta’ (superior Prakrit). The renowned anthology of Hāla [Śātavāhana], the Gāhāsattasaī (or Gāthāsaptaśati), is composed in this Prakrit. The characteristics of Paiśācī are captured in just fourteen sūtras (loosely, ‘aphorisms’). In the opinion of Vararuci [Kātyāyana], this is the language of the piśācas (loosely, ‘goblins’) – ‘piśācānā bhāā paiśācī.’ Paiśācī originated from Śūraseni. Śūraseni originated from Sanskrit. In other words, Paiśācī has descended two steps from Sanskrit. Therefore one can call it an upa-prākta (Sub-Prakrit) or a prākta-śākhā (Prakrit branch). In this Prakrit, the words gagana, mādhava, govinda, keśava, sagrāma, taruī, kaṣṭa, snāna, sarvajña, kanyā, kārya, and hdaya become gakana, māthavo, gopinto ( > gopinda > gopendra?), kesavo, sagāmo, talunī, kasaa, sanāna, savvañjo, kañjā, kacca, and hitaaka (हितअक). The word sarvajña becomes savvajja in Mahārāṣṭrī and savvaṇṇo in Śūraseni. From these examples, one might get some idea of the difference in form between the Sanskrit and Prakrit words.[7] It would not be incorrect to say these forms (of Prakrit), to a large extent, are quite similar to what are seen in the Pali language. We have given below a few verses and phrases that are in the Paiśācī language –

1. An example of Paiśācī

सुद्धा कसाय हितपक जित करन कुतुम्ब चेसटो योगी
मुक्क कुटुम्ब सिनेहो न वलति गन्तून मुक्खपतं

(संस्कृत छाया)

शुद्धाकषाय हृदय जितकरण कुटुम्ब चेष्टो योगी
मुक्त कुटुम्बस्नेहो न वलते गत्वा मोक्षपदं

– Hemacandra’s Kumārapāla-carita 8.7

2. An example in Cūlikā-paiśācī

वन्थू सठासठेसुवि आलम्पितउपसमो अनालम्फो
सव्वञ्ञु लाच चलने अनुझायन्तो हवति योगी

(संस्कृत छाया)
बन्धुः शठाशठेष्वपि आलम्बितोपसमः अनारम्भाः
सर्वज्ञराजचरणान् अनुध्यायन् भवति योगी

– Hemacandra’s Kumārapāla-carita 8.12

3. An example for ślea (loosely, ‘pun’) involving Sanskrit and Paiśācī

कमने कतमादानं सुरतनरजतुच्छलन्त दासीनं
अप्पतिमानं खमते सो गनिकानां न रञ्जेतुं

(पैशाची छाया)
कामे कृतामोदानं सुवर्णरजतोच्छलद्दासीनां
अप्रतिमानं क्षमते स गणिकानां न रञ्जयितुं

– Rudraṭa’s Kāvyālakāra 4.13

4. A sample sentence in Paiśācī

  1. तवो सव्वेहि वि भणियं ‘यदि एवं, ता पयट्टथ तहिं चेय वच्छामो’ त्ति भणमाणा उप्पा इ ईसेय खग्गणिम्म लंगणयल(म्) पिसायत्ति

Meaning: Then everyone said, ‘Then start proceeding, let us go there’ so saying the Piśācas leapt to the skies which was as clear as a polished sword.

--Kuvalaya-mālā (B.S.O.S XII, p. 689f)

  1. किं पि किं पि हितपके अत्थं चिन्तयमानी

Hemacandra’s grammar, IV, 310

To be continued...

This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Kathāmṛta by Raghavendra G S, Arjun Bharadwaj,  Srishan Thirumalai, and Hari Ravikumar.

The original Kannada version of Kathāmṛta is available for free online reading here. To read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri, click here.


[1] Bṛhatkathāmañjarī

सेयं हरमुखोद्गीर्णा कथानुग्रहकारिणी ।
पिशाचवाची पतिता सञ्जाता विघ्नदायिनी ॥ 19-29

अतः सुखनिषेव्यासौ कृता संस्कृतया गिरा।
समां भुवमिमानीता गङ्गा श्वभ्रावलम्बिनी ॥ 19-30


यथा मूलं तथैवैतन्न मनागप्यतिक्रमः ।
ग्रन्थविस्तरसङ्क्षेपमात्रं भाषा च भिद्यते ॥ 1-11

[2] Linguistic Survey, Vol. I, Part 1. As the name Paisacha was liable to give offence, it was abandoned in later volumes and called ‘Dardic’. The inhabitants of Dardistan (Gilgit, Kashmir, Swat, Khistans, Chitral and Kafiristan) are frequently mentioned in ancient literature … as Dārada or Darada… among other approbrious names they were dubbed ‘Pisachas’. – p.108

[3] It is also said that the city of Peshawar was originally called ‘Piśācapura’ (City of the Piśācas)

[4] तथा प्राकृतमेव किञ्चित् पैशाचम्.. ते च बृहत्कथादिलक्ष्यदर्शनात् ज्ञेया इति । - Namisādhu in his vyākhyāna on Rudraṭa’s Kāvyālaṅkāra

[5] Some scholars are of the opinion that these three paricchedas that occur at the end of the work are not composed by Vararuci and have been added in the later years (J.R.A.S., 1943, p.44). In that case, we can simply understand the features of Paiśācī described in these sections are the conceptions of the author of the segment and not necessarily of Vararuci. Even then, it is quite evident that these chapters are quite old and not of recent origin.

The language is referred to by the names Paiśāca, Paiśācika and Paiśācikī. Nāgavarma who authored the Chandombudhi in Kannada calls the language Paiśācika. ಅದೆಂತೆಂದೊಡೆ ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತಂ ಪ್ರಾಕೃತಮಪಭ್ರಂಶಂ ಪೈಶಾಚಿಕಮೆಂಬ ಮೂಳುವರೆ ಭಾಷೆಗಳೊಳ್ ಪುಟ್ಟುವ..... He does not seem to classify Paiśācika under the head of Prākṛtas.

[6] Cūlikā may refer to mountainous territory

[7] For more information, one may refer to essays like the following:
Dr. A N Upadhye’s Paisachi Language and Literature (Annals of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol. 21, pp. 1–32)
Alfred Master’s The Mysterious Paisachi (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain, 1943, pp. 34–35, 217–33)
An Unpublished Fragment of Paisachi (Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, Vol. 12, pp. 659 ff.)



Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

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