A subhashita (Sanskrit: सुभाषित) is a literary genre of Sanskrit epigrammatic poems and their message is an aphorism, maxim, advice, fact, truth, lesson or riddle. Su in Sanskrit means good; bhashita means spoken; which together literally means well spoken or eloquent saying.
Subhashitas in Sanskrit are short memorable verses, typically in four padas (verses) but sometimes just two, but their structure follows a meter. Subhashitas are one of many forms of creative works that have survived from ancient and medieval era of India, and sometimes known as Suktis. Ancient and medieval Indian literature created tens of thousands of subhashitas covering a vast range of subjects.
These epigrammatic verses and their anthologies are also referred to as Subhashitavali or Subhashitani.
Subhashitas are known for their inherent moral and ethical advice, instructions in worldly wisdom and guidance in making righteous deeds. Subhashitas create an appeal as the inherent message is conveyed through poems which quote practical examples which are often rhythmic in nature. Some authors even relate Subhashitas to sugar coated bitter medicines considering their worthiness.
The subhashita deals with various subjects and includes topics of day to day experiences that every one can easily relate to. A subhashita is always eloquent in form, structured in a poetical form, complete in itself and concisely depicts a single emotion, idea, dharma, truth or situation.
Subhashitas are structured in pada-s (Sanskrit: पद, or lines) in which a thought or a truth is condensed. These epigrammatic verses typically have four padas (verse, quatrain), are poetic and set in a meter. Many are composed in the metrical unit called Anuṣṭubh of Sanskrit poetry, making them easy to remember and melodic when recited. But sometimes Subhashitas with two pada-s or even one pada proclaim a truth.
According to Mohana Bhāradvāja, Subhashita in Indian Literature is a single verse or single stanza, descriptive or didactic but complete in itself expressing a single idea, devotional, ethical or erotic in a witty or epigrammatic way. Author Ludwik Sternbach describes that such wise sayings in poetic form not only contain beautiful thoughts but they also make the expressions in cultivated language. He further says that such form of Indian literature had a tinge of poetry, the poetical skill being exhibited in the intricate play of words which created a slight wit, humour, satire and sententious precepts; they arose laughter, scorn, compass and other moods. The poetic style of narration found in Subhashita is also termed as muktaka (independent), as the meaning or the mood of which is complete in itself. This poetic form has been compared to Persian rubai or Japanese tanka by some authors.
Lokokti (or lokavakya, pracinavakya) are Sanskrit proverbs, in the form of short sentences that express truths or facts, but they differ from Subhashitas in not being in poetical form. An example of a Sanskrit lokokti is:
A sutra is another ancient Indian literary form. Sutras are concise wisdom or truth, but typically they too are not poetical. Unlike subhashitas and lokokti whose authors are unknown or long forgotten, sutras are attributed to sages, famous or known personalities. Sutras typically need to be read within a context to be completely understood. An example of a Sanskrit Sutra attributed to Chanakya is:
Many Subhashitas in Sanskrit have been translated into other regional languages of India.