prakṛti

(‘the natural or original principle,’ ‘that which produces effects’)

This is one of the most widely used words in Sanskrit literature as also in the Hindu scriptures.

In the most basic sense, it means nature or a natural quality.

In Vedic sacrifices, it means a model yāga—like the Darśa or the Pūrṇamāsa—others based on it being called ‘vikṛtis’.

In grammar it represents the basic form of a word.

In the Sāṅkhya Darśana, it represents pradhāna, the basic material cause of the universe, comprising the three guṇas—sattva, rajas and tamas. This concept has generally been accepted by almost all the schools of Vedānta.

In Advaita Vedānta it stands for māyā at the cosmic level and avidyā (ignorance) at the individual level.

In Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta it is called ‘acit’ (the unconscious principle) and accepted as a permanent reality, but under the control of Īśvara or God.

The Dvaita Vedānta considers it as having two aspects: the citprakṛti (conscious entity same as Lakṣmī, the divine consort of Viṣṇu) and the acitprakṛti or the unconscious basic material cause of the world.

In the Śāktatantras prakṛti is the Divine Mother who appears in five forms. They are: Durgā, Rādhā, Lakṣmī, Sarasvatī and Sāvitrī. These five goddesses are responsible for creation.

In the Āyurveda (health sciences) it stands for the general condition of the body.

The Bhagavadgītā (7.4, 5) describes prakṛti as representing two aspects of the Lord’s power, the aparā (lower) and the parā (the higher). The former comprises eight unconscious material objects and the latter, the conscious jīva (individual soul).

In political science (vide Yājñavalkya Smṛti 1.353; Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra 6.1) the word stands for the seven rājyāṅgas or constituents of the state.

In Sanskrit poetry, it is the name of a particular metre with 21 letters or syllables per line.