● The simple Sanskrit prose is the shlokas. The vowels are the first set of letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. They are called svars which literally means ‘pure sounds’. Svar is derived from svarnah the word for pure gold or from su + varnah meaning ‘a pure phoneme’. The svars contribute the measure of time, called maatraa, to speech. A maatraa is ‘a prosodical unit of one instant’. These vowels, svars , are of three types viz. short vowels, hrasva, – single meter ; long vowels, dīrgha – dual meter and prolongated vowels, pluta of three stops. There are seven short vowels and if we add all the short and longer versions of the vowels the count goes up to 23.
The consonants combined with these metered vowels give a rhythmic, chanting pattern called the mantrās and these rhythms have seven basic structures called chhands. Now, interestingly the basic count for the number of syllables in these chhands varies from 24 to 48 increasing in steps of 4. These are gayatri (24), ushṇik (28), anushtup (32), brihati (36), pankti (40), trishtup (44) and jagati (48). Pt. Motilal Shastri, a Vedic scholar of rare insight, has explained these in terms of how the Earth revolves around the Sun. The Earth has a 24o ( 23.5o to be precise) tilt in its orbit. To us, therefore, the Sun appears to move from above the tropic of Capricorn to above the tropic of Cancer by an angle of 48o approx. in its annual swing. It is this degree of change that the Vedic chhands are attuned to and this is further underlined by the fact that the middle chhanda is called brihati (36), meaning ‘the largest’ even though it is in the centre. This is because the Sun is the brightest at the Equator, in-between the two tropics.