Sanskrit quote nr. 15 (Maha-subhashita-samgraha)

Sanskrit text:

अकण्ठस्य कण्ठे कथं पुष्पमाला विना नासिकायाः कथं धूपगन्धः ।
अकर्णस्य कर्णे कथं गीतनृत्यम् अपादस्य पादे कथं मे प्रणामः ॥

akaṇṭhasya kaṇṭhe kathaṃ puṣpamālā vinā nāsikāyāḥ kathaṃ dhūpagandhaḥ |
akarṇasya karṇe kathaṃ gītanṛtyam apādasya pāde kathaṃ me praṇāmaḥ ||


Meter name: Bhujaṅgaprayāta (or Aprameyā); Type: Akṣaracchanda (sama); 12 syllables per quarter (pāda).

Primary English translation:

“How to offer (in worship) on the neck a garland of flowers of one who is without a neck; how to offer smell of incense when one is nose-less, how to sing and dance when one does not have ears, how to prostrate (at one’s feet) when one has no feet to prostrate at?.”

(translation by Ludwik Sternbach)

Secondary translations:

“Was soll der Blumenkranz am Halse, da ich doch keinen Hals habe? Was soll der Wohlgeruch des Räucherwerks, da ich doch keine Nase habe? Was soll Gesang und Tanz dem Ohre, da ich doch keine Ohren habe? Was soll die tiefe Verbeugung zu Füssen, da ich doch keine Füsse habe? (Verspottung des Götzendienstes)”

(translation by Otto Böhtlingk)



Presented above is a Sanskrit aphorism, also known as a subhāṣita, which is at the very least, a literary piece of art. This page provides critical research material such as an anlaysis on the poetic meter used, an English translation, a glossary explaining technical terms, and a list of resources including print editions and digital links.

Glossary of Sanskrit terms

Kaṇṭha (कण्ठ, kantha) refers to the “neck”, but in a different context can also refer to the “throat”. The word akaṇṭha refers to “one who is without a neck”. The term is used since ancient times in sciences like the Nāṭya-śāstra. The ‘neck’ in Sanskrit is also known by the common synonym grīva. (more info).

Puṣpamālā (पुष्प, pushpamala) refers to “garland of flowers”. It is composed of the words puṣpa, a most common term for “flower”, and mālā, referring to the garland. Flowers are often used in worship during religous ceremonies and such garlands are often offered to deities.

Nāsikā (नासिका, nasika) refers to the “nose” or “nostrils”. (more info). Another common term for the ‘nose’ in Sanskrit is nāsā, which in Nāṭyaśāstra is considered as one of the six minor limbs (upāṅga) used in dramatic performance with which seven different gestures (āṅgika) can be performed.

Dhūpagandha (धूपगन्ध, dhupagandha) is a compound that refers to the “the smell of incense”. It is composed of the words dhūpa (‘incense’) and gandha (‘smell’).

Karṇa (कर्ण, karna) refers to the “ear”. The word akarṇa refers to “one who is without ear”. The term is used since purāṇic times as a proper name also. (more info)

Gītanṛtya (गीतनृत्य, gitanritya) is a compound referring to “song and dance”. It is composed of the words gīta (‘song’) and nṛtya (‘dance’). For more information on the Nāṭyaśāstra, the ancient Indian science of dramatic performance, you can read the online edition here.

Praṇāma (प्रणाम, pramana) refers to “prostration”.


This quote is contained within the following Sanskrit literary sources:

Subhāṣitārṇava 7, 155: Literally “waves of poetry”. The name of an unedited and unpublished subhāṣita-saṃgraha. It consists of over 300 pages in the Bengali script.
More info

Indische Sprüchen 2: Collection of Sanskrit subhāṣitas (proverbial verses) with German translation. The book was written by Otto Böhtlingk in 1870.
More info


Otto Böhtlingk (1815) is the author of the Indische Sprüchen.

About the Mahāsubhāṣitasaṃgraha

This quote is included within the Mahāsubhāṣitasaṃgraha (महासुभाषितसंग्रह, maha-subhashita-samgraha), which is a compendium of Sanskrit aphorisms (subhāṣita), collected from various sources. Subhāṣita is a genre of Sanskrit literature, exposing the vast and rich cultural heritage of ancient India.

It has serial number 15 and can be found on page 3. (read on

Sanskrit is the oldest living language and bears testimony to the intellectual past of ancient India. Three major religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism) share this language, which is used for many of their holy books. Besides religious manuscripts, much of India’s ancient culture has been preserved in Sanskrit, covering topics such as Architecture, Music, Botany, Surgery, Ethics, Philosophy, Dance and much more.

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