Iti-ha-Aasam means ‘thus it happened’. The letter ‘ha’ in between is used to assert what happened as ‘certainly or factually’. They were written by great poets at a time when the characters in the said Itihaasam were still living. Thus Valmiki wrote Ramayanam when Rama and other characters were living. Similarly Vyasa wrote Mahabharatam when Pandavas were still living. That is why the letter ‘ha’ exists in the middle, to call these two kavyas as ‘Itihaasam’, to reassure that the narrations in these two, actually happened, and that there is no reason for any doubt.
Itihaasam and Chandas
Chandas, is a metre as in poetry. As there are different talas in music, there are a number of Chandas. While performing many rituals, like the daily sandhya vandana japam, we invoke the Rishis of the Mantras, touching the head, we touch the nose invoking the various chandas of the mantras being chanted, we invoke the devatas of the mantras touching the stomach. For example,in the Yajurveda Sandhya japam, the Rishis of the Mantras are : Atri, Bhrigu, Kutsa, Vasishta, Gautama, Kasyapa and Angirasa.Similarly the seven chandas (metres) are Gayatri, Ushnik, Anushtup, Brihati, Pankti, Trushtup, Jagati.The devas are Agni, Vayu, Arka, Vageesa, Varuna, Indra, and Viswedevah.Normally every mantra will have four legs or paada, each leg consisting of a fixed number of letters. But Gayatri has got only three legs (one leg extracted from each one of the three vedas, Rig, Yajur and Sama), each line consisting of eight letters, totaling 24. Since the ‘king of the mantras’ Gayatri has only three legs, it is called ‘Tripaada Gayatri’.
The Chandas, having eight aksharas or letters for each leg and having four legs, is called Anushtup Chandas.The Chandas with nine letters for each leg is called Bruhati. Pankti has ten letters and Trushtup, eleven in each line. Jagati has twelve letters in each line. Ushnik is the chandas having seven in each line, totaling 28 aksharas.The veda mantras exist in many other chandas also, much more complicated than the above seven listed. Besides, they have swara also (like raga in music). They have also, what is called Maatras. For example, Raama will be considered as two letters, Raa and ma, but Raa being the longer form of Ra, will be considered as two maatras. Thus, the two lettered Raama, will have three maatras. Every maatra in veda is so carefully preserved within their chandas, swara and maatra, that there is no scope for any corruption or change, and the veda has to be learnt only from a Guru, being taught properly and hence called Sruti.
While veda mantras have such constraints, a four line stanza in any of the chandas without any other parameter, is called sloka. The first ever such sloka, in Anushtup Chandas, that came out instantly without any effort, is the famous sloka of Valmiki, the hunter, when he got angry seeing another hunter shooting down dead the male of a pair of Krauncha birds, engaged in passionate love. The famous instantaneous sloka is :
“ Maa Nishaada Pratishtam Twam
Agamah Saaswatih Samaah.
Yat Krauncha Mithunaat Ekam
Avadhih Kaama Mohitam "
The sage Valmiki realized that what came out of compassion for the birds, was indeed a sloka in Anushtup Chandas, with eight letters for each line. He also realized that the curse to the hunter could also be interpreted, by a play of words, as “ Oh God Lakshmipati, among a couple (Ravana and Mandodari), the male who was impassioned by ill desire and committed certain sinful acts (Ravana), got killed by you and this act will give you everlasting fame”.He took this as Easwara Sankalpa and composed the entire Ramayana in Anushtup Chandas and this is the first of the only two Itihaasas.The first ever slokas, without veda mantras, are those of Ramayana by Valmiki and the Kavya style was thus born.
The different Chandas or Talas are followed while playing varying percussion instruments or in the ‘solkattu’ of Bharat Natyam or Carnatic Music (Ta Ti Ka Da Dam …).The ‘Chanda Sutram’ written by Pingala is considered as the main grammar book for ‘Chandas’ or the Thalas. There are also other references like ‘Rig sarve Anukramani’, ‘Atharvavedeeya Bruhat Sarva Anukramanika’, ‘Bruhat Devata’, ‘Chandomanjari’ and ‘Vriddha Ratnaakaram’, which describe the grammar of Chandas, in varying degrees.
Most of the veda mantras and slokas are in four lines or ‘four feet’ as they are called. A majority of them will also have the same number of Aksharas (or chandas), in each line. But, there are many mantras or slokas, where the alternative lines only have the same number of Aksharas, and this is known as ‘Visamam’ (unequal), and more commonly as ‘Vishamam’ or ‘Mischievous’.When the number of Aksharas exceed a limit, they are called ‘Dandakam’ (eg. Syamala Dandakam). Some of the ‘Vruthams’ have peculiar names, which clearly describe the nature of the meter. There is a vrutham, called ‘Sardoola Vikriteetam’ or the ‘Playing of a Tiger’. The play of words will be based on the number of Aksharas in each line or sub-line. For example, ‘Sivananda Lahari’, composed by Adi Sankara, belongs to this Vrutham. Similarly, when the composition is sung like the sound of a snake crawling, that Vrutham is known as ‘Bhujangam’, (eg. Subrahmanya Bhujangam by Adi Sankara). Lahari means wave. The waves incessantly break at the shore, some of them small and some big. A series of small waves can be suddenly succeeded by a big and ferocious wave breaking at the shore. So are the treatments in the metre of Soundarya Lahari and Sivananda Lahari.Thus it is ‘Chandas’ which has saved and delivered to the present day, the Vedas, without any loss and with the correct pronunciation of the Mantras. We owe our salute to them.
Barrend Van Nooten (1993) has shown that binary numbers were known at the time of Pingala’s Chanda Sutra. Pingala lived around early first century B.C.E. He used binary numbers to classify vedic meters. The knowledge of binary numbers indicates a deep understanding of arithmetic, since it requires only two symbols, rather than the ten developed in the decimal representation. The binary number system has become now the basis of information storage system in terms of sequences of 0s and1s, in the computers.