Applied Amarakośa for Indian Knowledge Systems (IKS)

A Yogic Textual Case Study –

Dr M Jayaraman
Professor, Yoga and Spirituality Division,
sVYASA Yoga University, Bengaluru

Indian Knowledge systems (IKS) are pursued in a very serious manner in various centers of higher technical education in the current time. Traditionally, Kośas like Amarakośa are considered to help the process of Śaktigraha (understanding the connection between the word and meaning) in various text of Indian Knowledge systems – which is very essential in authentically unravelling knowledge that they contain. But the utility of the Kośas needs to be clearly elucidated for their useful application in IKS Literature, which is the seldom done. To this end as a case study, the 19th century commentary on Haṭhayogapradīpikā called Jyotsnā by Brahmānanda was explored. The outcome of the study is presented in this paper.

  1. Introduction: Kośa– utility and application!

Kośas (lexicons) are a class of works in Saṃskṛta Language. Traditionally, the Kośas are considered to help the process of Śaktigraha – understanding the connection between the word and meaning. Among 8 means of Śaktigraha – Kośa is also read in the following verse –    

शक्तिग्रहं व्याकरणोपमानकोशाप्तवाक्याद् व्यवहारतश्च।

वाक्यस्य शेषाद् वितेर्वर्वदन्ति सान्निध्यतः सिद्धपदस्य वृद्धाः॥

(न्यायसिद्धान्तमुक्तवली, शब्दपरिच्छेदः)

Grammar, comparison, lexicons, transactions/usage, vākyaśeṣa (something required to be under- stood to complete the sense of a sentence generally according to the context), commentaries, presence of a known word – are the sources for attaining Śaktigraha according to the learned.

The above is a sole known reference with regard to the utility of the Kośas. But the utility of the Kośas need to be clearly exemplified by showing their application for various śāstric purposes. This will in turn help in putting the Kośas to better use in the process of teaching and learning the śāstras.

  1. Why application is necessary?

There are multiple references available in Saṃskṛta lore to indicate that applied knowledge is very important than mere theoretical knowledge or textual memorization. In the realm of grammar, Sage patañjali wonders –

शब्दस्य ज्ञाने धर्मः आहोस्वित् प्रयोगे?

पस्पशाह्निकम्, महाभाष्यम् 

Where does the dharma/merit of the word lies in –in its knowledge or in its application?

It is concluded that merit lies in Prayoga or application.

Even in the Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīkṛṣṇa states –

ज्ञानं विज्ञानसहितम् (9.1) –

knowledge coupled with experiential inputs.[1]

A famous also subhāṣita states  –

शास्राण्यधीत्यापि भवन्ति मूर्खाः यस्तु क्रियावान् पुरुषः स विद्वान्।

सुचिन्तितं चौषधमातुराणां न नाममात्रेण करोत्यरोगम्॥

Even after studying the Śāstra people remain ignorant. The one who acts (based on Śāstric learning) is the real scholar. The very well thought out medicine, will not cure a person from malady by merely taking its name.

Thus in the same manner, in the context of kośas also, it becomes important to understand its application in the Śāstras.

  1. A Case Study!

As a case study to look into the application of the Kośas (especially Amarakośa) in the Śāstras –the 19th century commentary on Haṭhayogapradīpikā called Jyotsnā by Brahmānanda was explored. The outcome of the study is presented in this paper.

Haṭhayogapradīpikā is a 15th century work on Haṭhayoga – a system of yoga that teaches Āsanas , Prāṇāyāma , mudrās and the practice of Nādānusandhāna towards attainment of the state of Samādhi in four chapters, in that order. It is also important to note that this text by Yogin Svātmārāma also discusses various therapeutic benefits of the practice of Haṭhayoga.  A prose commentary on this text by Brahmānanda is very lucid and elaborate and brings out very essential and intricate details of the Hatha yoga practices. This commentary is scholarly. It refers to various sources. Amarakośa has also been utilized by this commentary. It is this commentary which is explored in the current study.

This case study assumes significance now, when there is an observable increase in interest in the utility of Indian knowledge systems.

  1. Distribution of Amarakośa references in Haṭhayoga-pradīpikā -jyotsnā commentary!

On a survey of the Jyotsnā commentary, it could be noted that in 16 occasions the Kośas were referred to by the commentator. Of these, 14 references were from the Amarakośa and one quote from Vishvakośa was used twice (3.84 & 4.9) by the commentator.

The distribution of the Kośa quotations in the commentary is as follows (the reference number given below- point to the verse and chapter of Haṭhayogapradīpikā) –

  • Chapter 1 – āsanas, prerequisites of Yoga – 1 reference – in the context of āhara for Yogins (Reference 1.59)
  • Chapter 2 – Prāṇāyāma /Kriyās – 4 References – 2 on Kriyās (Neti/Nauli – References 2.30 & 2.33)/2 on Prāṇāyāma (Bhastrikā, kumbhaka-to Samādhi) – (References 2.64 & 2.77)
  • Chapter 3 – Mudrās – 7 references – Mahābandha, Mahāvedha, Khecarī(2), vajrolī(2), Śakticālana (References 3.19, 3.27, 3.34, 3.54, 3.84 (Vishvakośa), 3.95, 3.114 )
  • Chapter 4 – Samādhi/Nādanusandhāna – 4 references – prerequisite for Samādhi, Importance of Samādhi, Nādanusandhāna (2) (References 4.9 (vishvaKośa), 4.15, 4.70, 4.84)

It becomes evident from the above that for understanding diverse aspects of Yoga Amarakośa has contributed substantially.

  1. Five Kinds of Application!

The analysis of the 16 references above indicates the use of the Kośas for five purposes. They are as follows –

  1. Explaining the meaning – 7 references (2.30, 3.19,3.27, 3.95, 3.114,4.70, 4.84)
  2. Fixing the Meaning from among many possible meanings – 4 references (2.64, 2.77, 3.54, 4.9)
  3. Bringing out various shades of meanings– 1 reference (3.84)
  4. Familiar Equivalent – 3 references (1.59, 2.33, 3.34)
  5. Utilization as an authority in Vākyārtha (śāstric discussion)– 1 reference (4.15)

These five aspects are elaborated in the order of the above enumeration taking an example for each of them.

  • Explaining the meaning

The benefits of the practice of Neti[2] is being presented from this portion of the verse and the commentary  –

जत्रूर्ध्वजातरोघौघं नेतिराशु निहन्ति च ॥ 2.30 ॥

जत्रुणोः स्कन्धसन्ध्योः ऊर्ध्वमुपरिभागे जातो जत्रूर्ध्वजातः स चासौ रोगाणामोघश्च तमाशु झटिति निहन्ति । चकारः पादपूरणे । ‘स्कन्धो भुजशिरोंऽसोस्त्री संधी तस्यैव जत्रुणी’ इत्यमरः (२.६.७८)॥

It is stated that all the illnesses that manifest above Jatru will be destroyed quickly by the practice of Neti. The commentator explains the meaning of the word Jatru as स्कन्धसन्धि – the junction of the shoulders. This explaination is quickly followed by a reference from the Amarakośa. This reference on the one hand establishes the authenticity of the meaning given by the commentator and on the other hand, shows that the source of the wordings of the meaning is Amarakośa. This indicates the utility of Amarakośa in giving lucid word meanings to terms found in traditional texts.

Similarly, for the various limbs of the body like Pārṣṇi  (गुल्फयोरधो भागः)and Gulpha (पाद-ग्रन्थिः) etc for the practice of Mahābandha (3.19) and Śakticālana  (3.14)- the commentator has depended upon Amarakośa to give lucid meaning.

  • Fixing the Meaning from among many possible meanings

Let us consider an instance from the verse on the Bhastrikā[3] Prāṇāyāma . The word laghu is to be noted from the verse below. The verse and the relevant commentary are as follows –

यथोदरं भवेत् पूर्णमनिलेन तथा लघु 
धारयेन्नासिकां मध्यातर्जनीभ्यां विना दृढम् 2.64

यथा येन प्रकारेण पवनेन वायुना, लघु क्षिप्रमेवोदरं पूर्णं भवेत् तथा तेन प्रकारेण सूर्यनाड्या पूरयेत् । ‘लघुक्षिप्रमरं द्रुतम्’ इत्यमरः (१.१.६६) ॥

After rapidly breathing in and out, when the practitioner tires out, a final retention of the breath is advised through this verse. The last inhalation should be laghu and then, the breath has to be held within by closing the nostrils with fingers.

What is the meaning of the word Laghu in the process of inhalation? The word generally has many commonly known meanings such as light, small and so on. Here the commentator states – लघु क्षिप्रमेवोदरं पूर्णं भवेत् – Laghu – quickly, the stomach has to be filled. Based on the context the commentator has fixed the meaning quick – kṣipra. And to this, Amarakośa has been cited as the authority – that can be seen above. 

Though the context and the tradition of practice leads to the meaning quick for the word Laghu – it could be textually confirmed by the  application of knowledge of Amarakośa.

Similarly, specific meanings for the the word like yoga (2.77), eka (3.54) that have multiple meanings have been fixed and confirmed based on Amarakośa, in this commentary.

  • Bringing out various shades of meanings

In this instance, while explaining a verse on the practice of Vajrolī,  Vishvakośa (another Lexicon like Amarakośa) is cited for the purpose indicated in the subtitle. The verse and commentary are as follows –

तत्र वस्तुद्वयं वक्ष्ये दुर्लभं यस्य कस्यचित् ।
क्षीरं चैकं द्वितीयं तु नारी च वशवर्तिनी ॥ 3.84 ॥

…यस्य कस्यापि धनहीनस्य दुर्लभं दुःखेन लब्धुं शक्यं दुखेनापि लब्धुमशक्यमिति वा । दुः स्यात् कष्टनिषेधयोः इति कोशः ( विश्वकोशः (2.55))

As per this text, for the practice of the Vajrolī-mudrā two things are essential – an obedient woman and milk.  For the women and the milk an adjective – Durlabha  – is used, in the source text. While explaining the meaning of this adjective – Kośa comes to the help of the commentator. It gives two possible meanings. The word Durlabha is made of two components – dus+labh. The word Labh means – to attain. The prefix dus has been given two meanings in the Kośa which is – difficult (Kaṣṭa) and impossible (Niṣedha). The commentator uses both these meanings and states that durlabha then can mean a) difficult to attain b) impossible to attain.

In the current context, it would then emerge that –

  1. an obedient women and milk are difficult to attain for a penniless person.
  2. Even for rich person – it is impossible to attain an obedient woman and milk.

This two fold meaning given by the commentator progressively intensifies the meaning of the word durlabha from being difficult to impossible. This serves the purpose of the discipline haṭhayoga by indicating that, such a practice of Vajrolī-mudrā is indeed difficult. This shows the utility of the knowledge of Kośa and also the way in which it has to be applied to heighten the emphasis on discussion at hand.

  • Familiar Equivalent

Brahmānanda has also shown the application of kośas by supplying commonly known synonyms of the words (that are seemingly rare) under discussion from kośas to facilitate comprehension. An example from the relevant text and commentary is given below –

अमन्दावर्तवेगेन तुन्दं सव्यापसव्यतः ।
नतांसो भ्रामयेदेषा नौलिः सिद्धैः प्रशस्यते ॥ 2.33 ॥

‘पिचण्डकुक्षी जठरोदरं तुन्दं …इत्यमरः’

The practice of Nauli – which is a cleansing Kriyā is described in this verse. Tunda has to be rotated clockwise rapidly with a slightly forward tilted body.

Here the meaning of the seemingly peculiar and unfamiliar word – Tunda – is clarified just by given the quotation from the Amarakośa where the word Tunda is also present along with familiar words such as  kukṣī, jaṭhara & udara. Thus even without any need to explanation by implication it is understood that Tunda means abdomen.

Even for those who may be familiar of the word Tunda, to remove any element of doubt that may linger regarding the meaning of the word– the Kośa verse, can be taken to have been quoted by the commentator.

It is to be noted that Brahmānanda uses Amarakośa in two more occasions towards similar purpose in the text for the words कोल (1.59) – jujube and स्नुही (3.34) – milk hedge plant.

  • Utilization as an authority in Vākyārtha (Śāstric discussion)

There is a lonely occasion in the commentary where the Kośa has been put to use as one among the evidences to prove a point in the a śāstric discussion. The verse and relevant portion of the commentary are as follows –

ज्ञानं कुतो मनसि संभवतीह तावत्
प्राणोऽपि जीवति मनो म्रियते न यावत् ।
प्राणो मनो द्वयमिदं विलयं नयेद् यो
मोक्षं स गच्छति नरो न कथञ्चिदन्यः ॥ 4.15॥

न च मनसो अनिन्द्रियत्वम्,  मनस इन्द्रियत्वे बाधकाभावात्…

अत एव ‘कर्मेन्द्रियं तु पाय्वादि मनोनेत्रादि धीन्द्रियम् इति (अ.को.१.५.८) प्रत्यक्षं स्यादैन्द्रियकम् अप्रत्यक्षमतीन्द्रियम्’ इति (अ.को.३.१.७९) च शक्तिप्रमाणभूतकोशोऽपि इन्द्रियाप्रमाणकज्ञानस्याप्रत्यक्षत्वं वदन् मनस इन्द्रियत्वज्ञापकः सङ्गच्छते…

The verse quoted (4.15) mentions that – without the practice of Yoga, knowledge will not arise and without the practice of Yoga (as that dissolution of the Prāṇa and the mind) by mere knowledge, mokṣa cannot be attained.  There are objections on this.  It is stated that knowledge about the conscious nature of the self arises only by Upaniṣadic sentences like “I am Brahman” etc. This view is negated and stated that knowledge supported by the practice of Yoga alone leads to the attainment of mokṣa.

In the course of this discussion, doubt is raised on the nature of the mind – as to whether it is a sense organ or not. That doubt is removed by other arguments and evidences. And mind is established as a sense organ. In that process, as is evident from the portion of commentary above –   references from Amarakośa (underlined and in bold typeface) are given.

  1. Summary

The following traditional verse defines, what a vyākhyāna (commentary/gloss) is –

पदच्छेदः पदार्थोक्तिः विग्रहो वाक्ययोजना।

आक्षेपस्य समाधानं व्याख्यानं पञ्च लक्षणम्॥

  1. Splitting the words,
  2. giving the meaning of the words,
  3. splitting the compounds,
  4. paraphrasing
  5. answering objections – are the five aspects that define a vyākhyāna (gloss/commentary).

Based on references presented above (5.1- 5.5), Brahmānanda’s commentary has benefited directly from (Amara)Kośa in the dimensions of –

  • giving the meaning of the words (5.1-5.4) and
  • answering objections (5.5).

But if one ponders further, the other aspects of the definition of a commentary (given above) like splitting of the words, splitting of the compounds and even paraphrasing – depends on the knowledge of the meaning of the word. Hence by contributing to the central aspect of understanding the meaning of the words – it becomes evident that Kośas are of immense importance in textual studies and interpretation.

  1. Conclusion

In this short study, just one commentary to one text was studied to understand the way the knowledge of Kośa is applied in the context of Indian Knowledge Systems (IKS). If more commentaries are studied from various other disciplines with this perspective, many more dimensions of utilization of Kośa can come to fore.

In conclusion, it can be stated that such deepening of understanding of the application of Kośas in texts of Indian Knowledge Systems (IKS) may serve two purposes –

  1. The commentary which is consulted for the application of Kośa, itself is understood better. When the rationale of the utilization of the Kośa-quote becomes clear, the text being studied is also understood better.
  2. It can be observed that the genre of writing commentaries in Saṃskṛta literary scenario has become rare in current times. Writing of commentaries confirming to respective śāstric framework is essential for furtherance of knowledge of Indian Knowledge system from within. Further, It is also essential that important texts of certain disciplines of Indian Knowledge systems are to be commented upon as applicable to current day scenario (like the Bhagavadgītā, kauṭilyārthaśāstra). This can happen if scholars equip themselves with the knowledge of the Kośas and know its application, as well.


  1. Amarakośaḥ, śrībhānudīkṣitakṛtayā sudhāvyākhyayā sametaḥ, Delhi, caukhambā-saṃskṛta-pratiṣṭhānam, 2002, Reprint  
  2. Haṭhayogapradīpikā of svatmarama with commentary Jyotsnā of Brahmānanda and English Translation , Raja, Kunjunni,k, Ed., The Adyar Library and Research Centre, Chennai, 2000, Reprint
  3. nyāyasiddhānta muktāvalī of viśvanātha pañcānana, Govinda Simha (1891) p.184, Accessed from online  source:, Accessed on 16 Dec, 2021

[1] विज्ञानसहितम् अनुभवयुक्तम् – श्रीशङ्कराचार्यभाष्यम् (भगवद्गीता 9.1)

[2] Neti is a generally a practice where water is poured in one nostril and expelled through the other nostril or through the mouth.

[3] This Pranayama is basically is done by rapidly breathing in and out through the nostrils and finally holding the breath and exhaling.