Yamaka is a favourite sound-device of Sanskrit poets, and is indeed perhaps found only in Sanskrit poetry. The word literally means ‘twin’ or ‘twofold’ because the device depends upon the repetition of a particular pattern of syllables with an identical sound but a different meaning. Although this pattern of syllables is impervious to word boundaries, the fact that each letter in Sanskrit can only be pronounced one way means that the sound remains identical. It should become clearer how different this is to the case in English with a simple example:
He rears a reindeer.
Her ears are inflamed.
Although the first 12 letters in both the sentences (h-e-r-e-a-r-s-a-r-e-i-n) are the same and arranged in exactly the same order, there is no similarity in sound because of the oddities of English pronounciation. In addition, because the pattern crosses word boundaries, it is almost undetectable even to the reader who sees rather than hears the verse. Were the letters to be written without any spaces, of course, the same reader would instantly see the repetitive pattern.
This week’s verse, taken from King Kampa’s frolics in the lake with his wives, demonstrates yamaka at the end of the first and second pādas and the third and fourth: ‘na vāritābhih…na vāri tābhiḥ‘ and ‘-lāmacarcikābhiḥ…. -lāmacarcikābhiḥ‘. Here the yamaka pays no heed to word boundaries, and single-syllable, meaningless parts of words – such as ‘na‘ in the first pāda or ‘lāma‘ in the third – are pressed into service. Nevertheless, the sound effect is clearly heard here. Andbecause of Sanskrit’s fondness for compounding and the joining of words through sandhi, such patterns are often easy for the silent reader too to spot.
अपि दयिततमेन वारिताभि–
र्विहृतिरसान्महिलामचर्चिकाभिः ॥ (पुष्पिताग्रा)
Though many-a-time did their beloved ask,
they left not their much-loved bask,
their tilaka and sandal paste in every way faded,
those beautiful wives of his in no way jaded.
6.65 Gaṅgādevī’s Madhurā Vijaya