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Rigveda manuscript, Sanskrit in Devanagari script, India, early 19th century

Sv?dhy?ya (Devanagari: ) is a Sanskrit term which means self-study and especially the recitation of the Vedas and other sacred texts.[1][2][3] It is also a broader concept with several meanings. In various schools of Hinduism, Svadhyaya is a Niyama (virtuous observance) connoting introspection and "study of self".[4]

Etymology, meaning and usage

Sv?dhy?ya is a compound Sanskrit word composed of sv? (?) + adhy?ya (). Adhy?ya means "a lesson, lecture, chapter; reading".[5] Sv? means "own, one's own, self, the human soul".[6] Therefore, Sv?dhy?ya literally means "one's own reading, lesson".

Sv?dhy?ya is also a compound Sanskrit word composed of sv? (?) + dhy?ya (). Dhy?ya means "meditating on".[7] The root of Adhy?ya and Dhy?ya is "Dhyai" (?) which means "meditate, contemplate, think of".[8] The term Sv?dhy?ya therefore, also connotes "contemplation, meditation, reflection of one self", or simply "to study one's own self".[9]

The term Svadhyaya has other meanings. In the Smritis, it refers to the historical practice of self-reciting Vedas to ensure it is memorized and faithfully transmitted, without writing, by the word of mouth, to the next generation.[10] In various schools of Hinduism, particularly Yoga, Svadhyaya is also a niyama, a virtuous behavior. As a virtue, it means "study of self", "self-reflection", "introspection, observation of self".[11][12][13]

Sv?dhy?ya is translated in a number of ways. Some translate it as the "study of the scriptures and dar?anas."[14] Some translators simply use the word "study" without qualifying the type of study.[15][16] MacNeill translates it as "self-study or spiritual self-education".[17] Dhy?ya, when used in the context of self study in ancient and medieval Indian texts, is synonymous with Abhyasa, Adhi and Viks; while Adhy?ya, when used in context of reciting and reading in Indian texts, is synonymous with Anukti, Nipatha[18] and Patha.[19][20]

Svadhyaya in ancient literature


Taittiriya Upanishad's hymn 1.9.1[21] emphasizes the central importance of Svadhyaya in one's pursuit of Reality (?ta), Truth (Satya), Self-restraint (Damah), Perseverance (Tapas), Tranquility and Inner Peace (Samas),[22] Relationships with others, family, guests (Praja, Prajana, Manush, Atithi) and all Rituals (Agnaya, Agnihotram).[23][24]

Taittiriya Upanishad, however, adds in verse 1.9.1, that along with the virtue of sv?dhy?y? process of learning, one must teach and share (pravacana) what one learns.[23] This is expressed by the phrase "sv?dhy?yapravacane ca", translated as "and learning and teaching" by Gambh?r?nanda[25]

In verse 1.11.1, the final chapter in the education of a student, the Taittiriya Upanishad reminds,[26]

? ? ? ? ?

Speak the Satya, follow the Dharma, from Svadhyaya never cease.

One of the earliest mention of Sv?dhy?ya is found in Taittiriya Aranyaka 2.15: "sv?dhyayo-adhyetavyah" ("sv?dhy?ya must be practiced"). ?atpath Br?hmana also repeats it.[30][full ]Chandogya Upanishad verse 4.16.1-2 recommends both silent (m?nas) and vocal (v?chika) types of sv?dhy?ya.

Other scriptures

Patanjali's Yogasutra, in verse II.44, recommends Svadhyaya as follows

Study thy self, discover the divine.

-- Patanjali's Yogasutra, II.44 [31]

Vishnu Smriti's verse 22.92, states that "human body is cleansed by water, the mind is cleansed by truth, the soul by self-study and meditation, while understanding is cleansed by knowledge".[32]

Vasistha Dharmasastra verses 27.1 through 27.7 states that Svadhyaya helps an individual understand and overcome his past.[33] Apastamba Dharmasutra states Svadhyaya is a form of Tapas. This view is shared by Baudhayana Dharmasastra in verses 4.1.29 to 4.1.30, which adds that ''svadhyaya is a means of getting past one's past mistakes and any guilt".[34] Baudhayana Dharmasastra describes ''Svadhyaya'', in verse 2.6.11, as the path to Brahman (Highest Reality, Universal Spirit, Eternal Self).[33]

Sv?dhy?ya is mentioned as one of the virtues in Bhagavad Gita 16.1.[35]Svadhyaya is mentioned a second time in Bhagavad Gita verse 17.15 as a component of the discipline of one's speech by which, states the verse, " speak words that are truthful, kind, helpful, and elevates those who hear it".[36][37]

Svadhyaya as a historical practice

Learning one's Vedic recension

As a tool for memorization, sv?dhy?ya had a unique meaning for Vedic scholars as the principal tool for the oral preservation of the Vedas in their original form for millennia. When used as a formal part of scriptural study, sv?dhy?ya involves repeated recitations of scripture for purposes of mastering the mantras with their accurate pronunciation.[10]

The Vedas had not been committed to writing in ancient times. Almost all printed editions depend on the late manuscripts that are hardly older than 500 years, not on the still-extant and superior oral tradition.[38]Monier Monier-Williams defines ?ruti as "sacred knowledge orally transmitted by the Br?hmans from generation to generations, the Veda".[39]Michael Witzel explains this oral tradition as follows:

The Vedic texts were orally composed and transmitted, without the use of script, in an unbroken line of transmission from teacher to student that was formalized early on. This ensured an impeccable textual transmission superior to the classical texts of other cultures; it is, in fact, something like a tape-recording.... Not just the actual words, but even the long-lost musical (tonal) accent (as in old Greek or in Japanese) has been preserved up to the present.[40]"

The commentator S?yana discusses this term in the introduction of his commentary on the ?gveda, in which he says that sv?dhy?ya enables Vedic rituals (y?jnika karmak?nda) to take place.[41]

Madhva, the dualistic Vaishnava philosopher, defined philosophy as the three-stage process of understanding (?rava?a), reflection (manana), and application (nididhy?sana), expressing itself in two forms: study (sv?dhy?ya) and teaching (pravacana). Of these two, Madhva considered teaching to be the highest aspect of discipline leading to mok?a.[42] M?dhav?ch?rya's views on sv?dhy?ya are to be found in chapter 15 of Sarva-Dar?ana-Sangraha (cf. references).

The Taittir?ya Upanishad, which belongs to the Yajur Veda, is still popular among those who learn Vedic chanting.[43] Recitation of mantras (Japa) is an integral part of Bhakti Yoga, and in this tradition of Hinduism, it is sometimes called Japa Yoga.[44]


There are certain days on which sv?dhy?ya were prohibited, these were called anadhy?ya, after which sv?dhy?ya must be resumed on the following day ; therefore the day of resumption is also called sv?dhy?ya.[45]

Svadhyaya as a Niyama

Yoga meditation - a means to the virtue of Svadhyaya.

Sv?dhy?ya is one of the three key elements in the practice of yoga as defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, appearing in the opening verse of Book two on spiritual practice and elaborated upon in two other verses.[46]Patanjali mentions sv?dhy?ya a second time as one of the five recommended observances (niyamas), along with purity, contentment, austerity, and self-surrender.[47] The five niyamas, together with the five abstentions (yamas),[48] have been described as "'the ten commandments' of the Skhya-Yoga."[49]

The practice of Svadhyaya as a Niyama is perfected in many forms.[9] One form of Svadhyaya is mantra meditation, where certain sound constructs pregnant with meaning are recited, anchoring the mind to one thought. This practice helps draw the mind away from outward-going tendencies, silencing the crowding of thoughts, and ultimately towards inward feeling of resonance.[9] It can alternately be any music, sermon, chant, inspirational book that absorbs the person to a state of absorption, trance, unifying oneness.[50]

Svadhyaya is practiced as a self-reflection process, where one silently meditates, in Asana, on one's own behaviors, motivations and plans. Svadhyaya is, in a sense, for one's spirit and mind a process equivalent to watching one's body in a non-distorting mirror.[51] This self-study, in Yoga, is not merely contemplation of one's own motives and behaviors, but also of one's circumstances and the environment one is in, assessing where one is in one's life, what is one's life direction, if and how desirable changes may lead to a more fulfilling Self.[50][52][53]


  1. ^ For compound derivation as + ? and meanings of sv?dhy?ya as "1. self-recitation, muttering to one-self. -2. study of the Vedas, sacred study, perusal of sacred books. -3. the Veda itself. -4. a day on which sacred study is enjoined to be resumed after suspension." see: Apte 1965, p. 1016, right column.
  2. ^ For definition of ", m. repeating to oneself, study of the Veda; repetition of the Veda aloud" see: Macdonell 1996, p. 373, left column.
  3. ^ For definition as "the regular habit of study of religious books", see: Chatterjee and Datta (1984), p. 303.
  4. ^ Sharda Nandram (2010), Synchronizing Leadership Style with Integral Transformational Yoga Principles, In Spirituality and Business (Editors: Nandram and Borden), Springer Berlin Heidelberg, ISBN 978-3-642-02660-7, pages 183-203
  5. ^ AdhyAya, Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, Germany
  6. ^ SvA, Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, Germany
  7. ^ dhyAyam, Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, Germany
  8. ^ ? Sanskrit English Dictionary, Koeln University, Germany
  9. ^ a b c Rolf Sovik (2014), Understanding Yourself: the path of Svadhyaya, Himalayan Institute Press, ISBN 978-0893892470, pages 191-197
  10. ^ a b For traditional uses of sv?dhy?ya in the sense of repetition of scriptural mantras for purposes of memorization, see: Arya 1986, p. 6.
  11. ^ C Woiwode (2013), Transcendence and Spirituality Human Needs and the Practices of the Indian Svadhyaya Movement, Journal of Developing Societies, 29(3): 233-257
  12. ^ KH Garland (2010), Yoga, Pradhana Dharma, and the Helping Professions: Recognizing the Risk of Codependency and the Necessity of Self-Care, International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 1(1): 90-97
  13. ^ L. Fishman (2002), Yoga in medicine. in Alternative medicine and rehabilitation (Wainapel S, Fast A, Editors), ISBN 978-1888799668, pages 139-73
  14. ^ Bhattacharyya 1956, pp. 25-26, volume 4.
  15. ^ For translation of YS 2.1 as ""Purificatory action, study, and making God the motive of action, constitute the yoga of action." see: Radhakrishnan and Moore, p. 462.
  16. ^ For translation of YS 2.1 as "Austerity, study, and the dedication of the fruits of one's work to God: these are the preliminary steps to yoga." see: Prabhavananda and Isherwood, p. 95.
  17. ^ Paul MacNeill (2011), Yoga and Ethics: The Importance of Practice, in Yoga-Philosophy for Everyone (Editors: Stillwagon et al.), Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 978-0470658802, Chapter 18
  18. ^ often used to describe recitation of Vedas by a student; see BL Dwivedi (1994), Evolution of educational thought in India, ISBN 978-8172110598, page 119
  19. ^ Study Monier Williams Sanskrit Dictionary, Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, Germany; see discussion notes and cited Indian texts
  20. ^ Sanskrit English Dictionary Koeln University, Germany; Search for each of: abhyAsam, adhI, vIkS, anUkti, nipaTha, paTh
  21. ^ Original:
    ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
    For two translations: TN Raghavendra (2002), Vishnu Saharanama, ISBN 8190282727, page 763, and Zaehner 1966, p. 136
  22. ^
  23. ^ a b TN Raghavendra (2002), Vishnu Saharanama, ISBN 8190282727, page 763
  24. ^ For translation, see: Zaehner 1966, p. 136.
  25. ^ For Sanskrit text of Taittir?ya Upanishad 1.9.1; translation of ? ? (sv?dhy?yapravacane ca) as "and learning and teaching (are to be practiced)"; and comment that "Sv?dhy?ya? is study (of the scriptures). Pravacanam is teaching (of the scriptures)", see: Gambh?r?nanda 1986, pp. 40-43.
  26. ^ For context as "the teacher gives the scholar who is departing on his life's journey", and translation of opening phrases of Taittir?ya Upanishad 1.11, see: Winternitz 1972, p. 259, vol. 1.
  27. ^ TN Raghavendra (2002), Vishnu Saharanama, ISBN 8190282727, page 197-198
  28. ^ For text and translation of Taittir?ya Upanishad 1.11.1 phrase sv?dhy?y?nm? (= sv?dhy?y?t "from study" + m? pramada? "make no deviation") as "Make no mistake about study", see: Gambh?r?nanda 1986, pp. 47-48.
  29. ^ For translation of Taittir?ya Upanishad 1.11.1 phrase as "Do not neglect study [of the Veda]", see: Zaehner & 1966 1966, p. 136; For translation of Taittir?ya Upanishad 1.11.1 phrase sv?dhy?yapravacan?bhy na pramaditavyam as "Do not be negligent in the study and recitation [of the Veda]", see: Gambh?r?nanda 1986, pp. 47-48.
  30. ^ Monier-Williams
  31. ^ Stephen Phillips (2009), Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0231144858, page 209
  32. ^ Original: Vishnu Smriti, Verse 22.92, page 68 (in Sanskrit)
    Translation: Vishnu Smriti Julius Jolly (Translator), Charles Scribner & Sons, Chapter XXII, Verse 92, page 97
  33. ^ a b W.O. Kaebler, Tapta-Marga: Asceticism and Initiation in Vedic India, State University of New York Press, pages 53-60, 112-115
  34. ^ Walter O. Kaelber (1979), Tapas and Purification in Early Hinduism, Numen, Vol. 26, Fasc. 2 (Dec., 1979), pages 192-214
  35. ^ For text of BG 16.1 and translation of sv?dhy?ya as "study of the scriptures", see: Chidbhavananda, p. 779.
  36. ^ For text of BG 17.15 and translation of sv?dhy?y?bhyasana? as "the practice of the study of scriptures" see: Gambh?r?nanda 1997, pp. 644-645.
  37. ^ Christopher Key Chapple (2009), The Bhagavad Gita: Twenty-fifth-Anniversary Edition, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-1-4384-2841-3, page 648
  38. ^ Quotation of "... almost all printed editions depend on the late manuscripts that are hardly older than 500 years, not on the still extant and superior oral tradition" is from: Witzel, M., "Vedas and Upani?ads", in: Flood 2003, p. 69.
  39. ^ For definition of ?ruti as "sacred knowledge orally transmitted" see: Monier-Williams 1899, p. 1101.
  40. ^ For the quotation comparing recital to a "tape-recording" see: Witzel, M., "Vedas and Upani?ads", in: Flood 2003, pp. 68-69.
  41. ^ For text of S?yana commentary as karma-k?rana-bh?ta-sv?dhy?ya see: Sontakke 1972, p. 19.
  42. ^ For Madhva's threefold definition of philosophy and the twofold division of expression, see: Raghavendrachar, H. N., "Madhva's Brahma-M?ms?", in: Bhattacharyya (1956), volume 3, p. 330.
  43. ^ For Taittir?ya Upani?ad as part of Yajur Veda, and continued popularity with students of Vedic chant, see: Gambh?r?nanda 1986, p. iv.
  44. ^ Jennifer Munyer (2012), How Yoga Won the West, in Yoga-Philosophy for Everyone: Bending Mind and Body (Editors: Liz Swan and Fritz Allhoff), Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 978-0-470-65880-2, pages 3-14
  45. ^ Sanskrit English Dictionary of Monier-Williams
  46. ^ For Sanskrit text of verses 2.1, 2.32, and 2.44 and discussion as a key practice, see: Taimni 1961, pp. 127-128, 220, 250.
  47. ^ For text and translation of YS 2.32, and translation of niyama as "observances", see: Taimni 1961, p. 220.
  48. ^ For the five yamas or "restraints" as: abstention from injury (ahi?s?, nonviolence), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), control of the carnal desires and passions (brahmacarya), and non-acceptance of unnecessary gifts (aparigraha), see: Chatterjee and Datta (1984), p. 302.
  49. ^ For quotation including sv?dhy?ya in the comparison to the ten commandments, see: Hiriyanna, M., "The Skhya", in: Bhattacharyya 1956, p. 49, volume 3.
  50. ^ a b Gary Kraftsow, Polishing the mirror, Yoga Journal, February 25, 2008
  51. ^ G Kraftsow (2002), Yoga for Transformation: Ancient Teachings and Holistic Practices for Healing Body, Mind, and Heart, Penguin, ISBN 978-0140196290, pages 22-27
  52. ^ Nina Markil, Hatha Yoga: Benefits and Principles for a More Meaningful Practice, ACSM'S Health & Fitness Journal, September/October 2010, 14(5): pp 19-24
  53. ^ Michelle Corrigan (2010), Your Quest for a Spiritual Life: Based on the Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, ISBN 978-1846942952, pages 33-34


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