Samhita

the art of writing well

We have recently entertained the concept of Samhita. Samhita, a sanskrit term, specifies the excellence in the art and technique of concise, unambiguous and effective writing.

Every technical treatise or sastra in the Indian tradition is expected to have four explicitly stated elements. These four indispensable elements form a tetrad which is called anubhanda catustaya. The writing should not be rambling but restrict itself to a clear frame of reference consistently.

The four elements forming a tetrad:

  1. Visaya —the subject to be treated;
  2. Prayojnana —the purpose and object of writing;
  3. Sambhanda —the context in writing and its proper relations to other aspects;
  4. Adhikara —those qualified to read and receive the benefits of the writing;

There is no end to elaboration in writing; writing can be too elaborate or too brief; what is needed is a calculated brevity in writing.

Calculated brevity is writing sans elaboration. It is not in brevis extremis, nor is it precis. Calculated brevity is adequate for understanding and satisfies even the dull witted; an adequacy that stimulates the buddhi and improves the buddhi. This is known as caraka samhita.

There should be propriety in study. Limitless words exist; however, each lifetime is limited, so impediments confront when we undertake study. We need to only grasp the essence in writing and leave the unsubstantial. One must be like the Celestial Swan, Hamsa, who can separate milk from water.

The Indian concept of sutra embraces few words; words ought be unambiguous, and directly convey essence. Like Lord Brahma, it literally faces all four directions at once (suggesting many meanings), with applicability and relevance. Flow of meaning is uninterrupted, there is no intersection in the writing, and it is thus praiseworthy.

Excellence in writing is obtained through proper arrangement of the subject, maintenance of connections in the writing, completeness in objective, and in all aspects there is clarity in output, thus giving sweetness and exaltedness.

As life has four goals — Wealth, Right Conduct, Desire and Liberation (Artha, Dharma, Kama and Moksha), so also these goals may be found in writing that is purveyed like a samhita. Wealth in writing has the following components:—

  1. Entity —the entity (or object) of writing is stated in proper sequence;
  2. Principal Meaning —this is placed at the beginning of the writing and pursue a sequential arrangement to the end; relevance is “keeping up the connections”.
  3. Substance —the writing is substantiated with reasons, proper words, citations and illustrations, thus rendering the treatise timely, natural and free flowing.
  4. Abstinence —the writing embraces both abstinence in the excess of matter; implied meanings steer the reader, use of complex words confuses; thus abstinence secures completeness in writing.
  5. Wealth —words should have charm and be easily conveyed; vulgar words and similes ought not be employed. Such writing is exalted and the use of well known words renders lucidity to the treatise.
  6. Defects —illustrated by the absence of charm, the presence of contradiction, repetition, use of words incorrectly and confusion in the authors mind. These constitute blemished writing.
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