What is the longest word of Sanskrit?

By: | Post date: 2010-03-12 | Comments: 11 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Other Languages
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In the post on the longest words of Greek, I mentioned the fact that Sanskrit, as reported in the Guinness Book of Records, has produced a word over twice as long as Aristophanes’ monsterpiece.

If any non-agglutinative language was going to best Greek in that regard, it would of course be Sanskrit: a language of comparable pedantry, and of much more prodigious compounding. Remember how Sir William Jones discovered it: “The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either”. Copious alright; because of its compounding, the 1880s Monier dictionary of Sanskrit (updated version online) has 180,000 lemmata, as opposed to LSJ’s ca. 120,000.

Sanskrit’s very own monsterpiece comes in the Varadambika Parinaya by Tirumalamba. This blog post has cost me 30 bucks, but I have bought the edition of the poem:

  • Suryakanta. 1970. Varadāmbikā Pariṇaya Campū of Tirumalāmbā. Volume 79 of Chowkhamba Sanskrit studies. Varanasi: Caukhambā Saṃskṛta Sīrīj Āphis.

Tirumalamba is one of the few women writers in Sanskrit, writing in the early 16th century; the work is a Campu, a mixture of prose and verse, on the marriage of her contemporary king Achyuta Deva Raya. On the literary merits of Tirumalamba’s work, I’m not competent to speak, so I won’t; if anyone from Karnataka finds this and wants to chime in, they’re welcome to. If you do go googling for the text, btw, look for Tirumalamba, and not Varadambika Parinaya: there are lots of little annoying spelling variations for the book title.

Our word comes in pp. 18–19, in the chapter on the Tuṇḍīra country (aka Thondaimandalam in Tamil Nadu, of which the capital is Kanchi). The chapter reads:

On the way, he passed through the Tuṇḍīra country.

The chapter takes up 130 lines of English translation.

The reason it takes up 130 lines is, “the Tuṇḍīra country” is preceded by 25 accusative adjectives, and followed by three more.

Those adjectives, in turn, take up several lines, and correspond to one or two sentences each in English. One or two LONG sentences.

The monsterpiece, which is only first among equals, is adjective #12. It’s full of hyphens, so to my disappointment, I’m not going to destroy all the browsers in the world after all. I have taught myself enough Devanagari to type the word in, along with its translation and commentary.

I’m attaching a gif just in case, but after some initial confusion I think I did OK. The bad typography of the original was in fact helpful: the little gaps left between the vowels and consonants meant I could actually eyeball where the vowels were. The Unicode tables are missing one ligature of the edition (ङ्ग, which should look like a dotted ड्ग).

So, the Tuṇḍīra country is, among other things:



[EDIT: restored the inherent /a/ before hyphens in the transliteration, per shreevatsa’s comment. Check out his post on translating Sanskrit verse—and not just because it links here. 🙂 ]

[UPDATE: Correction per Shreevatsa again:



It was, as if celebrating 134 the (important and) great festival of the marriage of the most suitable couple of the Goddess or Fortune and the Country, encouraged by the lovely lady in the form of the orange creeper, and the house-holder, the large garden, attractive with heaps of ripe yellow fruits, charming like numerous pellets of turmeric paste 135, set off in the silver cups of the buds of (her) bright flowers. It was admirable on account of thousands of groves of the coco-nut trees, that were richly laden with fruits and were, as if the hand of the earth, raised up to bestow the desired object on Indra‘s heaven, (which was) longing for her (of the Tuṇḍīra country) enviable 136 fortune. In it the beauty of the parting of the hair, filled with red-lead 137, of the young woman in the form of the earth was manifested 138 by the lovely path made 139 by the pollen to be seen in between the tall and densely grown trees that marked the lower limit of the range 140 of the rippling 141 rays of the sun.

134. कन्दलत् —Lit. ‘was producing’.
135. Lit. ‘morsals of turmeric mud’.
136. Lit. ‘longing’ ‘generating’.
137. This practice still exists in India. It is a sign of सुहाग (Skt. सौथाग्य), i.e. the husband being alive (or auspicious state of wifehood).
138. Lit. ‘reminded’.
139. Lit. ‘indicated’.
140. The trees were growing so very densely that the sun-beams could not penetrate through their branches. It seemed, as if the trees were the lower boundary of the field of activity of the rays of the sun.
141. Read वोचिक instead of विचिक.

In it, the distress, caused by thirst, to travellers was alleviated by clusters of rays of the bright eyes of the girls 142; the rays that were shaming the currents of light, sweet 143 and cold water charged with the strong fragrance of cardamom, clove, saffron 144, camphor and musk and flowing out of the pitchers 145 (held in) the lotus-like hands of maidens (seated in) the beautiful water-sheds, made of the thick roots of Andropogon muricatus 146 mixed with marjoram, (and built near) the foot, covered with heaps of couch-like soft sand, of the clusters of newly sprouting 147 mango trees, which constantly darkened the intermediate space of the quarters, and which looked all the more charming on account of the trickling drops of the floral juice, which thus caused the delusion of a row of thick rainy clouds, densely filled with abundant nectar.”

142. Lit. ‘their’; in the Skt. passage the noun बालिका has already occurred.
143. Lec. var. मधु-रस-शोतल for मधुर-शोतल.
144. पाटल also means the trumpet flower, but as a rule, saffron is the companion of camphor and musk in Sanskrit literature.
145. Galantikā means a pitcher and is so called because water flows out of it (गलत्यम्थोऽरुयाः गलन्तिका).
146. लवुलय —roots of Andropogon muricatus, commonly known as khas. Huts made of the sweet scented roots of Andropogon muricatus (khas ki taṭṭis) are a regular luxury in the summer season throughout India.
147. कन्दलत् in the fourth line goes with माकन्द-तरु in line 6. This custom of spreading cloth in front for a distinguished personage to treads upon still exists in India and is practiced on both formal and informal occasions. But now-a-days the colour of this cloth is not white but red. It starts from the entrance gate of a hall or a canopy and leads right up to the dais. पाकारि Lit. ‘the enemy of Pāka’, i.e. Indra.


  • Anonymous says:

    The first word in the sequence in the original text is निरन्तरान्धकारित (nirantarāndhakārita), without the long vowel (dīrgha).

  • Circe says:

    Moder Indian languages inheriting from Sanskrit also seem to have borrowed this from Sanskrit. Here is an example from a fairly modern Hindi poet, Nagarjuna (last century) from a poem called "बादल को घिरते देखा है" (lit. I have seen the clouds gathering)

    रजत-रचित मणि खचित कलामय
    पान पात्र द्राक्षासव पूरित
    रखे सामने अपने-अपने
    लोहित चंदन की त्रिपटी पर,
    नरम निदाग बाल कस्तूरी
    मृगछालों पर पलथी मारे
    मदिरारुण आखों वाले उन
    उन्मद किन्नर-किन्नरियों की
    मृदुल मनोरम अँगुलियों को
    वंशी पर फिरते देखा है।
    बादल को घिरते देखा है।

    In the first line "रजत-रचित मणि खचित कलामय" means, literally, "Of-silver-made-with-gems-decorated-artistic", and then later on in the poem, "नरम निदाग बाल कस्तूरी"‌ means
    "soft-unstained-of-a-young-musk-deer" (the reference here is to "मृगछालों" (deerskin) in the next line. This poem is by no means exotic: it was in my High School general Hindi syllabus in India 🙂

  • shreevatsa says:

    Ah, "pedestrian" 🙂 From the little I know, I think what happened is that literary theory in Sanskrit started out (around 6th century?) emphasizing alaṅkāra (lit. ornaments/decoration) — figures of speech (e.g. similes) and other embellishments like alliteration. And writers were extremely inventive, exploiting the possibilities of Sanskrit to rather ridiculous extents, until it became hard even for experts to understand the "best" works, and priorities changed (9th century?) to "poetic suggestion" (though alaṅkāra continued to be valued). So yes, though this word may hold the record for length, it is probably not the most intricate. 🙂

    The literal meanings: here goes (though I don't think this counts as a gloss?). Many words have many meanings, so I chose the one the translator used above. The translation is already literal, so it only helps match words to meanings. 🙂

    constantly darkening

    the quarters of the sky

    newly sprouting





    thick rainy clouds

    bunch, cluster [row]

    causing doubt [delusion]


    juice of flowers


    more charming

    mango tree






    covered with heaps of couch-like soft sand … densely filled with abundant nectar.





    laghu-laya- (lavulaya-?)
    Andropogon muricatus?

    impelled, driven





    lotus-like hands




    saffron [144]



    very fragrant





    stream of water

    sweet and cold water … mixed with marjoram,











    In it, the distress, caused by thirst, to travellers was alleviated by clusters of rays of the bright eyes of the girls; the rays that were shaming the currents of light,

    worlds? regions?

  • opoudjis says:

    Updated to fix the Sanskrit. I'm embarrased at the error; I'd be more embarrassed, only you're right, they *do* look similar in Devanagari. I've been caught out in both Hebrew and Arabic as well with similarities the untrained eye noted not.

    Actually the thing that surprised me the most in your own blog thread was the comment "the word looked fairly routine to me, and I should expect Bana to have flowerier stuff than that". *That's* a pedestrian compound? Then that's some literature you have there! 🙂

    You know, I'd still like to see the gloss, but that's OK. 😉

  • shreevatsa says:

    On the literary merits of Tirumalamba's work, [..] if anyone from Karnataka finds this and wants to chime in, they're welcome to.
    As it happens, I'm actually from Karnataka, but this is the first I heard of Tirumalamba or her work (though I knew of Achyuta Deva Raya). 🙁 We are rather ignorant of our literary history.

    About the more literal gloss: My Sanskrit is weak, but with the help of a dictionary I could make an attempt. You were right about the translation being too long: it appears that only about half of it (the last of the four sentences) applies to this "word"; the rest is probably a translation of the previous one(s). The translation seems fairly literal, with nothing added (and a few minor words removed).

    There are some typos in the transliteration, if you care 🙂 (the characters look similar in Devanagari): what looks like rayandamāna is syandamāna, phula is kula, phalpa is kalpa, marutraka is maruvaka, ramaṇoya is ramaṇīya, pānoya is pānīya, karutūrikātisauratha is kastūrikātisaurabha, śotalatara is śītalatara, tadoya is tadīya, mayū-rava is mayūkha, reravāpasārita is rekhāpasārita.

    I was going to post the meanings of the words I figured out, but it was too long and Blogger wouldn't allow it. 🙂 The translation is fairly literal, so it would have been pointless anyway.

  • opoudjis says:

    Shreevatsa: yes, I noticed the missing a's; the transliterator was doing it (I typed in Devanagari and then auto-transliterated), and I assumed it was a rule of Sanskrit and not just Hindi. Am fixing, and thank you.

    Also, could someone provide a more literal gloss of the Sanskrit? It still looks kind of short for the translation Surykanta gave.

    I've confirmed that I can't force the ṅg conjunct on a browser. The thread does have a picture of what the glyph looks like in TextEdit. This is not something ZWJ takes care of, as discussed by Microsoft.

  • shreevatsa says:

    Wow! The word is spectacular, but even more than the word (after all, compounds can be strung out infinitely in principle, and for all anyone knows, some unexamined Sanskrit work may well have an even longer word), it is amazing that you bought an obscure book and learnt Devanagari for a blog post!

    Note the assonance in the word, too: the "nd" sounds initially, and the "l"s later. BTW, the hyphens are a modern printing innovation; original Sanskrit manuscripts did not usually have them (though, for something like this, some scribes may have helpfully marked some break-points.) (Also, minor point: you've left out the 'inherent vowel a' before the hyphens: in Sanskrit they would be …digantara-kandaladamanda-sudhārasa-… while in modern Hindi they are left out, as you did.)

    Brilliant bit of work!

  • opoudjis says:

    For the transliteration, thanks go to http://www.alooha.com/tools-transcript-devanagari_transliteration.html .

    Here's a blog commenter complaining on the absence of that conjunct (ङ्ग ṅg) from most fonts.

    You can get the conjunct with the default Mac Devanagari MT font by enabling additional conjuncts under Advanced Typography (doesn't help with browsers though).

  • Mattitiahu says:

    This is truly amazing. 🙂 I want to go track down a copy of this poem just because of this word now.

  • John Cowan says:

    Amazing! Spectacular! And thanks much for the transcription.

    (In Unicode, ligaturing is mostly a matter of the font, so using a proper Skt font in the browser may make all the difference.)

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