Sanskrit quote nr. 35 (Maha-subhashita-samgraha)

Sanskrit text:

अकल्पः स्वाङ्गचेष्टायां शकुन्त इव पञ्जरे ।
अनुच्छ्वसन्स्मरन् पूर्वं गर्भे किं नाम विन्दते ॥

akalpaḥ svāṅgaceṣṭāyāṃ śakunta iva pañjare |
anucchvasansmaran pūrvaṃ garbhe kiṃ nāma vindate ||


Meter name: Śloka; Type: pathyā (‘normal’); 8 syllables per quarter (pāda).

Primary English translation:

“What does one get when in the womb (of one’s mother), unable to breathe, remembering previous experiences, and unable to move about—like a bird in cage?.”

(translation by A. A. Ramanathan)



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

Kalpa (कल्प) literally translates to “practicable”, “being able to”, “competent”. The antonym akalpa therefore refers to “being unable to”. Note: in a macrocosmic context, the word kalpa refers to a ‘day of Brahmā’, consisting of one thousand mahāyugas. A single mahāyuga of 4,320,000 years, contains four yugas (viz. satyayuga or kṛtayuga, tretāyuga, dvāparayuga and kaliyuga). (more info)

Svāṅga (स्वाङ्ग, svanga) refers to “the limbs of one’s body”. It is composed of the words sva (‘self’) and aṅga (‘limbs’).

Śakunta (शकुन्त, shakunta) refers to a “bird”. The word is commonly found in Sanskrit literature and used since vedic times to refer to birds. It is possible the kinds of bird it refers to is a vulture. A possible synonym is bhāsa. (more info)

Pañjara (पञ्जर, panjara) refers to “cage”. It is a common word and, for example, also represents a type of pavilion in the art of ancient Indian sculpture (śilpaśāstra), dealing with sculpture and iconography, and is closely related to vāstuśāstra (Indian science of architecture). (more info)

Pūrva (पूर्व, purva) typically translates to “previous” or “preceding”, but the word has many common and technical meanings. For example, it commonly translate to the “eastern direction”, or in a masculine context it can refer to “ancestor”.

Garbha (गर्भ) is the most common term for the “womb”. It literally translates to “inside”, “interior” etc. (more info)

Nāma (नाम, nama) is a very common term indicating “name”. It literally translates to “characteristic mark”, “nature”, “form”, etc.


This quote is contained within the following Sanskrit literary sources:

Subhāṣitaratnākara 113.4: Literally “Ocean of polite phrases”. A collection of Sanskrit subhāṣitas (epigrammatic sayings). The book was compiled by Kṛṣṇaśāstrin Bhātavadekara.
More info

Subhāṣitaratnabhāṇḍāgāra 372.141: Literally, “Gems of Sanskrit poetry”. This work is a recent compilation of more than 10,000 Subhāṣitas, or ‘sanskrit aphorisms’. The book was compiled by Nārāyaṇa Rāma Ācārya in 1952.
More info

Indische Sprüchen 7614: Collection of Sanskrit subhāṣitas (proverbial verses) with German translation. The book was written by Otto Böhtlingk in 1870.
More info

Subhāṣitasudhāratnabhāṇḍāgāra 269.27: Literally, “Treasury of Sanskrit Poetry”. A compendium of amusing, sarcastic and instructive verses. The book was compiled by Śivadatta Kaviratna in 1985.
More info


Kṛṣṇaśāstrin Bhātavadekara is the compiler of the Subhāṣitaratnākara, into which he included this quote.

Nārāyaṇa Rāma Ācārya (1900 A.D.) is the compiler of the Subhāṣitaratnabhāṇḍāgāra, into which he included this quote.

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

Śivadatta Kaviratna is the compiler of the Subhāṣitasudhāratnabhāṇḍāgāra, into which he included this quote.

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 35 and can be found on page 7. (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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