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A kārikā is a text written in metered verse form.

Mark Siderits and Shōryū Katsura state:

A kārikā is a work in verse form that contains a concise formulation of some (often philosophical) doctrine; the kārikās are the individual verses making up the work. Texts of this sort were originally used because it is easier to memorize information when it is put in verse form. The regular cadence that results when a verse is constructed out of its four feet (referred to as a, b, c, and d), each consisting of eight syllables, serves as an important mnemonic aid. On the other hand, it would be difficult to clearly formulate and fully defend a sophisticated philosophical thesis within the form’s constraints. But texts of this genre were not composed with that end in mind. The original expectation seems to have been that the student would commit the verses to memory, recite them to the teacher to demonstrate mastery, and then receive an account from the teacher that fully explained the content of each verse. In time these explanations of individual teachers came to be written down in the form of prose commentaries. It is text plus commentary that together are meant to do the work of formulating and defending the philosophical thesis in question. Memorizing the verses would have given students the outline they need in order to remember the full details of the system spelled out in the commentary.[1]


  1. Siderits & Katsura 2013, introduction.


  • Siderits, Mark; Katsura, Shōryū (2013), Nāgārjuna's Middle Way: Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, Wisdom Publications