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Sounds

learnsanskrit.org
November 25, 2012
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a and
Almost any language resource will start by describing its language's sounds. This guide will do
the same. But unlike most other languages, Sanskrit requires total mastery of its different
sounds. They shift, blend, and transform constantly, and unless you are very familiar with
them, Sanskrit will be difficult to understand.
Fortunately, the Sanskrit sound system is easy to master. It has remained nearly the same for
thousands of years, and we know almost exactly how Sanskrit once sounded.
a
Let's start with the very first sound in the Sanskrit alphabet. It is a fundamental sound that we
can produce effortlessly:
When you produce this sound, let your breath flow cleanly through your mouth, without any
breaks or stops. Sounds produced in this way are called vowels.
As you learn the Sanskrit sounds, study the recordings carefully and consult the
knowledgeable people around you. Use the English approximations as a last resort.

To get the second sound of the alphabet, we make a twice as long as it was before. The sound
of the vowel changes slightly:
a is called short because it is not as long as . is called long because it is longer than a. As
you pronounce these vowels, try to make exactly twice as long as a.
a
"u" in "but"

"a" in "father"
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Blended sounds
Background
Some languages, such as English, have writing systems that do not match the sounds of the
language well. For example, the English word "enough" does not have a "g" sound, but a "g" is
added anyway.
Other languages, such as Spanish or Italian, have writing systems that match the sounds of the
language very well. Even if you do not know either of these languages, you can probably
pronounce words like plaza or numero fairly well.
But Sanskrit goes one step further. In almost every text, written Sanskrit is a perfect record of
the sounds that appear in spoken Sanskrit.
This might be confusing. Let's see some examples.
Examples
Here are two simple Sanskrit sentences:

blya ha
He speaks for the boy.
H
s pnoti
She obtains.
Try reading the first sentence out loud ten times.
As you might have noticed, it is tiresome to keep stopping after blya and keep starting again
at ha. That pause is difficult to pronounce, and it takes too much extra time. Because of these
pauses, speaking Sanskrit can feel hard and slow.
The earliest Sanskrit speakers solved this problemby blending words together. Blended words
are easier to say, and it takes much less time to say them. In blya ha, for example, it is so
much easier to blend a and into blyha.
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This is how Sanskrit is usually written down, too. Even if two words are supposed to be
separate, they are blended wherever possible:

blya ha blyha
He spoke for the boy.
H H
s pnoti spnoti
She obtains.
In the wild
This blending occurs almost everywhere. Try to blend the words in the sentences below:

*
pram eva avaiyate

~ 7
na anuocanti pait
~5 4 ~~U
nityaabdena atra anityatvasya abhva
These sentences are all from real Sanskrit texts, like the Upanishads:
( U

) *
(prasya pram dya) pramevvaiyate
(Taking the full from the full,) the full itself remains.
a Upaniad
the Bhagavad Gita:
(

~ 7
(gatsn agatsca) nnuocanti pait
The learned do not grieve (for the dead or the living).
Bhagavad Gita 1.11
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and technical works, like this logical treatise from the 6th century:
~5 4~~U ( )
nityaabdentrnityatvasybhva (ucyate)
By the word "permanent" here (is meant) the absence of impermanence.
Nyyapravea 2.3
So even though blending comes from spoken Sanskrit, it can appear in written Sanskrit as well.
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Simple Vowels
Sounds and letters
When most people think of written Sanskrit, they think of Devanagari:
~ ~

May our studies be glorious.


Upanishads (various)
But although Devanagari is standard now, it wasn't always. Historically, every Indian script
has been used to write Sanskrit:








This fact is deeply connected to the Sanskrit tradition, which has always valued speech over
writing. Even when writing was abundant and widely known, the Vedas and other important
texts were learned from the mouth of a teacher and memorized so that they could be taught
later on. And although it is weaker now, this tradition has survived to the present day. This
emphasis on speech over writing helps to explain why words are blended in so many Sanskrit
texts.
But it also leads to a more practical matter. If Sanskrit has no script of its own, we can choose
whatever script we like.
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Devanagari is an obvious choice. But Devanagari takes some time to learn, especially if you
have never learned another Indian script. Moreover, Devanagari was not built for Sanskrit,
and it can be awkward and clumsy when used to write it.
Instead, we could use romanized Sanskrit. It is almost as common as Devanagari, and it was
built to be easy to learn:
tejasvi nvadhtamastu
As a compromise, this guide will use romanized Sanskrit and switch to Devanagari over time.
With this approach, we can spend less time on reading and writing and more time on Sanskrit.
And speaking of Sanskrit, let us continue with the alphabet.
Seven vowels
Four of these vowels have English counterparts:
Three do not:
is extremely rare. Most texts do not have it, and it does not have a long form. Generally, you
can pronounce it however you like.
Short and long
We have studied 9 vowels so far. Of these, five are short:
and four are long:
i
"i" in "bit"

"ee" in "teeth"
u
"u" in "put"

"oo" in "mood"

(no match)

(no match)
(no match)
a i u

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Together, these nine vowels are called simple vowels.
Blending simple vowels
The simple vowels are easy to blend:

blya ha blyha
He spoke for the boy.
H H
s pnoti spnoti
She obtains.
= =
gacchati vara gacchatvara
The lord goes.
=

gacchati madhu udakam gacchati madhdakam


He goes to the sweet water.
In these sentences, the vowels that blend resemble each other. blends with , i blends with ,
u blends with u, and so on. In each case, the vowels are roughly the same, although they might
have different lengths.
Let's call such vowels similar. For example, is similar to and , but it is not similar to u.
In the wild
Try to blend the words in the phrases below:
F~
na anyadasti iti
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ea tu uddeata
These phrases are from the Bhagavad Gita:
F~
nnyadastti
(The unwise, who delight in the letter of the Vedas and proclaim) "there is
nothing else",
Bhagavad Gita 2.42

ea tddeata
(What I have declared) is just an example (of my many splendors.)
Bhagavad Gita 10.40
These two blends are common all throughout Sanskrit literature.
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Compound Vowels
Just as simple tin and copper can combine to make bronze, two vowels can combine to make a
compound vowel.
Compound vowels vowels are a crucial part of Sanskrit and are used in simple but powerful
ways. But for now, let us just pronounce them.
The vowels
Sanskrit has four compound vowels. Each is a long vowel. And each is made by a different
combination.
Since the compound vowels are combinations of two vowels, they are similar to nothing.
a/ + simple vowel
Consider the combinations a + i and a + u. These combine in an obvious way:
a + i ai
a + u au
But it can be tiresome to keep these two sounds separate. So, the early Sanskrit speakers
blended the two sounds into something a little easier:
The other combinations (a, i, , a, u, ) blend in the same way.
As you pronounce e and o, try to make the sound "flat" and constant. If you are a native
English speaker, this can be hard; English "e" sounds like Sanskrit ei and English "o" sounds
like Sanskrit ou.
For now, let's ignore combinations with and .
a/ + compound vowel
Consider the combinations a + e and a + o. These combinations are not obvious. But if we
remember that e comes from a + i and that o comes from a + u, they become easy:
a + ai i
e
"a" in "mane"
o
"o" in "go"
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a + au u
But it can be tiresome to spend so much time pronouncing a vowel. So, the early Sanskrit
speakers made the sound a little shorter:
The other combinations (e, o) blend in the same way.
Can we combine ai and au with anything? We can try:
a + ai i
a + au u
But they shorten back to ai and au, with no changes. The other combinations (+ai, +au) do
the same.
As you pronounce ai and au, try to make the "a" part of ai and au sound just like the vowel a.
The shorter it is, the better.
Blending compound vowels
When two vowels are similar, they blend easily:

blya ha blyha
He spoke for the boy.
= =
gacchati vara gacchatvara
The lord goes.
And if they are not similar, they still blend easily. a and combine like they do above:
= =
s icchati secchati
She wants.
ai
"i" in "fight"
au
"ow" in "cow"
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U

tasya udakam tasyodakam


his water
U

blasya odanam blasyaudanam


the boy's rice
U

tasya aivaryam tasyaivaryam


his power
In the last example, note that a + ai combine with no change. Also, remember that nothing is
similar to a compound vowel.
In the wild
Try to blend the words in the phrases below:
*

paya etm
~

hatv etn
~
sakh iti matv

ca oadh
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na asad sn na u sad st
These words blend as you would expect:
*

payaitm
Look at this (army of the Pandavas, O master).
Bhagavad Gita 1.3
~

hatvaitn
Having killed them,
Bhagavad Gita 1.36
~
sakheti matv
Thinking (of you) as a friend,
Bhagavad Gita 11.41

cauadh
And (I nourish all) the plants.
Bhagavad Gita 15.13

nsad sn no sad st
Then there was neither nothing nor anything.
Nsadya Skta
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Semivowels
How do two vowels blend together? If they are similar, they become long:

blya ha blyha
He spoke for the boy.
If they are not similar, the blend depends on the first vowel. a and , for example, combine to
create compound vowels:
= =
s icchati secchati
She wants.
But there are other combinations that are more puzzling:
=
gacchati ava
The horse goes.

~
sdhu ste
He sits well.
To blend the vowels in these sentences, we need a new kind of letter.
Semivowels
Consider the combinations i + a and u + a. These combine in an obvious way:
i + a ia
u + a ua
It can be tiresome to keep these two sounds separate. But these sounds do not blend easily.
They fight for space, like two wrestlers in the ring. And only one of them can remain.
Instead of blending, one of the sounds collapses and becomes shorter. Wherever possible, the
first sound is the one that shortens:
i + a ya
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u + a va
These shortened vowels are called semivowels. And apart from a and , every vowel has one:
Since semivowels can only exist around other vowels, they are all listed with the vowel a. As
you pronounce these letters, keep them as short as possible.
Blending vowels
When vowels cannot blend or combine, one of them becomes a semivowel:
= =~

gacchati ava gacchaty ava


The horse goes.

~ 7

~
sdhu ste sdhv ste
He sits well.
With compound vowels
This applies to compound vowels, too. We just have to remember where they come from. For
example, au comes from a + a + u, or u. So, we get:
= =

=
avau icchati avu icchati avv icchati
He wants the two horses.
In the wild
Try to blend the words in the phrases below:

bhavati iti anuuruma


na tu eva aha jtu na sam


ya
"y" in "yellow"
ra
(no match)
la
"l" in "loose"
va
"v" in "vase"
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~

tejasvi nau adhtam astu


*~
yadi api ete na payanti
These words blend as you would expect:
~

bhavatty anuuruma
(They dwell eternally in hell) so we have heard.
Bhagavad Gita 1.44
~

na tv evha jtu nsam


Never was I ever not.
Bhagavad Gita 2.12
~

tejasvi nv adhtam astu


May our studies be glorious.
Upanishads (various)
0

*~
yady apy ete na payanti
But even if they do not see,
Bhagavad Gita 1.38
Other sounds
We can now describe how the Sanskrit vowels blend and interact. This knowledge is highly
useful and will be especially important later on.
But there are still many other sounds to consider. Let's take a break from the vowels and see
what some of these sounds are. These sounds are much simpler, and they will be much easier
to learn.
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Stops and Nasals
Other sounds
In the Vedic tradition, the Vedas are divine and "otherworldly."
[1]
And as the language of the
Vedas, Sanskrit was seen this way, too. As a result, some saw Sanskrit as a metaphor for a
deeper divine truth. Thus Krishna says:
Of sounds I am a. Of compounds I am the dual.
I alone am unending time, the Founder facing every side.
Bhagavad Gita 10.33
To understand the metaphor, we must think about the vowel a. It is a simple and effortless
sound, and it is the sound we make when we breathe out. So when seen in this way, a is the
basis of all speech.
But we can take that metaphor and apply it to something more practical.
Vowels and semivowels
Picture the flow of air that makes the vowel a. It starts in the lungs, moves through the throat,
and flows cleanly through the mouth, like a river flowing straight.
By changing the shape of this flow, we change the sound of the vowel. This is what the tongue
does. It creates simple vowels like i and . And if we change from one flow to another, we get
the compound vowels, like ai and au.
By squeezing this flow tight, we change the sound again. This creates the semivowels, like ya
and va. Although the flow of air is pressed tight, it still flows cleanly through the mouth, with
no breaks or obstacles.
But we can alter this flow in more drastic ways.
Stops and nasals
Try pronouncing the vowel a. While pronouncing the vowel, stop the flow of air entirely, then
quickly let it flow again. This produces sounds like ka and ta and pa. We can call such sounds
stops, since they are made when the air flow stops.
Once more, try pronouncing the vowel a. While pronouncing the vowel, stop the flow of air
entirely then redirect it through your nose. Then let the air flow normally. This produces
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sounds like na and ma. We can call such sounds nasals, since they are made with help from
the nasal cavity.
Let us study these stops and nasals. They are much simpler than the vowels, so they will take
much less time.
But you might be wondering: do simple sounds like ka and na really need so much
introduction? Not quite. But by learning to become aware of how sounds are formed and why
they sound the way they do, you will have less trouble learning Sanskrit.
Stopping the flow of air
The mouth is a large cavern with a long roof. We can stop the flow of air at many points.
Sanskrit uses five of these points, and you can see them below:
In Sanskrit, the flow of air is stopped only in these five places.
These five points are:

The soft palate

The hard palate

The hard bump on the roof of the mouth

The base of the teeth


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The lips
Together, we can call these places points of sound. These five are used to create the stops and
nasals:
Soft palate
We start at the soft palate, at the back of the mouth:
Hard palate
Moving forward, we reach the hard palate:
ca looks and sounds similar to the English "ch" sound. But the two are distinct. The English
"ch" is pronounced near the teeth. ca is pronounced much further back. Getting this sound
right can take some practice.
Hard bump
Further still, we reach the hard bump on the roof of the mouth:
For convenience, let us say that these sounds are retroflexed. This word evokes a tongue that
has bent ("flex") backward ("retro") to produce the sound.
Retroflexed sounds do not exist in English. If you have trouble pronouncing them, try curling
your tongue further back.
Base of the teeth
A little further, we reach the base of the teeth:
ka
"k" in "skill"
a
"ng" in "lung"
ca
(no match)
a
(no match)
a
(no match)
a
(no match)
ta
"t" in "thumb"
na
"n" in "nose"
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This is the base of the teeth, not the tip. At the tip, you get the English "th". At the base, you
get the Sanskrit ta. The difference is small but still noticeable.
Lips
And finally, we reach the lips:
Blending stops and nasals
We have seen that vowels blend with each other in several ways. But stops and nasals are
much simpler.
Here are a few simple sentences:

tat na syam
That is not a mouth.

r nara
The king is a man.
Try reading the first sentence out loud ten times.
As you might have noticed, it is tiresome to shift fromt to n when pronouncing tat na. Because
of clustered sounds like these, speaking Sanskrit can feel hard and slow.
But as you might have guessed, the earliest Sanskrit speakers solved this problem by blending
stops and nasals together. Whenever a stop is in front of a nasal, it becomes nasal, too:

tat na syam tan nsyam


That is not a mouth.
pa
"p" in "spill"
ma
"m" in "mill"
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When a stop becomes nasal like this, it keeps its point of pronunciation. It is like a diamond
dropped in the mud; it may be dirty, but it is still a gem:

r nara r nara
The king is a man.
Still, too much blending can be a bad thing. Letters help to make one word distinct from
another. This is the main job of the stop letters. So, stops only blend between words, not
inside them.
In the wild
Try to blend the words in the phrases below:
H

tasmt na arh vaya hantum

yac chreya syt nicita brhi tat me


~~

tvatprasdt may acyuta


These phrases are from the Bhagavad Gita:
H

tasmn nrh vaya hantum


Thus it is not right that we kill
Bhagavad Gita 1.37

yac chreya syn nicita brhi tan me


Truly, tell me that which would be best.
Bhagavad Gita 2.7
~~

tvatprasdn maycyuta
My (delusion is gone, and I've come to wisdom,) by your favor, O Krishna.
Bhagavad Gita 18.73
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Voice and Aspiration
The stop letters are simple sounds produced in a simple way:
But as with many things in life, these letters become more interesting when they become more
complex. For one, we can make a stop voiced:
or unvoiced, like ka. These letters are in English, too. You can feel the difference between these
two letters by touching your windpipe while you produce them.
But Sanskrit complicates the stops letters in a second way. Recall that a stop is produced when
the flow of air stops then quickly resumes. In ka, this flow resumes normally, like water froma
tap. But this flow can also resume explosively, like water bursting through a dam:
Sounds like kha are aspirated ("breathy"), and sounds like ka are unaspirated ("not breathy").
And of course, these aspirated letters can be voiced, too:
The stops and nasals
Each of the five points of sound has four stops and one nasal. Together, these give us the
following 25 sounds:
ka
"k" in "skill"
ga
"g" in "gill"
kha
"k" in "kill"
gha
(no match)
ka
"k" in "skill"
kha
"k" in "kill"
ga
"g" in "gill"
gha
(no match)
a
"ng" in "lung"
ca
(no match)
cha
(no match)
ja
(no match)
jha
(no match)
a
(no match)
a
(no match)
ha
(no match)
a
(no match)
ha
(no match)
a
(no match)
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This arrangement is over 2800 years old. It stands at the beginning of the Indian linguistic
tradition.
varga
The word varga lets us create a shortcut to refer to certain groups of consonants. The stops and
nasals at the soft palate (ka, kha, ga, gha, a) are together called kavarga. And we have names
for the other groups of stops and nasals, too:
cavarga
ca, cha, ja, jha, a
avarga
a, ha, a, ha, a
tavarga
ta, tha, da, dha, na
pavarga
pa, pha, ba, bha, ma
We can also refer to the semivowels with the term yavarga.
Blending stops
Stops blend very easily, whether with nasals:

tat na syam
That is not a mouth.
ta
"th" in "thumb"
tha
(no match)
da
"th" in "this"
dha
(no match)
na
"n" in "nose"
pa
"p" in "spill"
pha
"p" in "pill"
ba
"b" in "bill"
bha
(no match)
ma
"m" in "mill"
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r nara
The king is a man.
or with most other letters. Stops become voiced in front of any voiced letter, including vowels:

tat asat tad asat


That is false.

vk eva vg eva
speech itself
semivowels:

= =
tat yacchati tad yacchati
He restrains it.
and other stops:

sa r bhavati sa r bhavati
He becomes a king.
but like a diamond in the mud, these stops keep their value: they use the same point of sound.
As before, stops only blend between words, not inside them. Otherwise, we would become
hopelessly confused:

tan mantram
That is a mantra.
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tan mandram
That is charming.
In the wild
Try to blend the words in the phrases below:

na asat st na u sat st tadnm


~U

7
uta amtatvasya no yat annena atirohati
These are lines from various Vedic hymns:
[2]

nsad sn no sad st tadnm


Then there was neither nothing nor anything.
Nsadya Skta
~U 7
utmtatvasyeno yad annentirohati
And he is the lord of immortality, who grows further by food.
Purusha Sukta
The first example is fromone of the most popular Vedic hymns. The line had all of its blending
undone, but we were able to fully restore it.
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Other Consonants
Generally, any sound that is not a vowel is called a consonant. Sanskrit has 33 consonants in
all: the 25 stops and nasals, the 4 semivowels, and the 4 sounds that we will study in this
lesson.
The consonants
Like all Sanskrit consonants, these four use the following "points of sound":
In Sanskrit, the flow of air is stopped only in these five places.
As you pronounce these letters, be mindful of these five points.
"s" sounds
Once more, picture the flow of air that makes the vowel a. It starts in the lungs, moves through
the throat, and flows cleanly through the mouth, like a river flowing straight.
Normally, the air flows simply and straight. But when this air flow becomes turbulent, we get a
"hissing" sound, like the "s" in "snake" or the "sh" in "shore." For convenience, let us call these
sounds "s" sounds.
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English has two "s" sounds: the "s" in "snake" and the "sh" in "shore." But Sanskrit has three:
a uses the hard palate. a is retroflexed. sa is just like the English "s".
ha
If you breathe out and make your breath voiced, you'll hear a sound like "haaa." That "h" is our
last consonant:
ha is the same breathy sound that you hear in gha, jha, ha, dha, and bha. ha is pronounced
with the soft palate, at the back of the mouth.
avarga
Together, these four sounds are called avarga.
Special combinations
Three consonant combinations are pronounced in a distinct way. ja is pronounced more like
ga. hma and hna are pronounced like mha and nha.
The history of these special pronunciations is uncertain. But this is how Sanskrit is
pronounced today.
A new convention
The a at the end of a consonant makes the consonant easy to pronounce. But this a can also be
confusing sometimes. So let us create a new convention. From now on, this guide will not
add a to the end of consonants.
Blending t
Of all consonants, t blends the most. Just as water spreads to fill its container, t changes to
blend with the letter after it.
a
(no match)
a
(no match)
sa
"s" in "snake"
ha
(no match)
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Like other stops, t can become nasal:

tat na syam tan nsyam


That is not a mouth.

tat mantram tan mantram


That is a mantra.
and voiced:

tat asat tad asat


That is false.
We have seen these changes already.
But t can also change its point of sound. If the next sound is a stop that uses the tongue,
then it changes:

tat cpam tac cpam


That is a bow.

tat ksu ta ksu


That is in the commentaries.

tat tanoti
He spreads that.
even if those sounds are voiced:

tat jyate taj jyate


That is born.
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tat amarau ta amarau
That is in the drum.


tat dahati tad dahati
That burns.
For other stops (kavarga and pavarga), the point of sound does not change:

tat kahoram
That is hard.

tat gurum tad gurum


That is heavy.

tat phalam
That is a fruit.

tat bjam tad bjam


That is a seed.
In the wild
Try to blend the words in the phrase below:

yat bhta yat ca bhavyam


This phrase is from the Purua Skta, one of the most popular Vedic hymns:

yad bhta yac ca bhavyam


(He is all of this) which has been and which is yet to be.
Purua Skta
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Our Sanskrit alphabet is almost complete. Only two sounds remain.
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Anusvra and Visarga
The two sounds here are fundamentally different from the others we have studied. They
appear only because of blending. They can be pronounced in multiple ways. They must follow
vowels. And although they seem to be consonants, the tradition calls them something else.
Each sound has its own special term.
anusvra
This sound is called the anusvra ("after-sound"). It is a "pure nasal" sound that appears only
in front of consonants.
It is difficult to pronounce a "pure nasal." But the anusvra is easy to pronounce. Generally, it
uses the same point of sound as the sound that follows it:
Written as Sounds like
akara akara
sajaya sajaya
saskta sanskta
sabuddha sambuddha
The anusvra in different contexts
Because of this behavior, saskta is spelled in English as "Sanskrit."
visarga
This sound is called the visarga ("release").
Originally, the visarga was probably just like the "h" in "house." We could think of it as an "s"
sound pronounced at the soft palate. But today, it is usually pronounced as an echo of the
vowel before it: a like aha, and i like ihi.
a
(no match)
a
(no match)
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Blending the visarga
The visarga is a difficult sound. So wherever possible, it blends with the letters around it. In
front of unvoiced consonants, the visarga becomes the "s" sound with the same point of sound:

nara carati nara carati


The man walks.

nara tarati naras tarati


The man crosses.

t k t k
Those are commentaries.
This change also occurs in front of other "s" sounds, like and s. But surprisingly, the change
is rarely written out:
(

)
nara ocati (nara ocati)
The man grieves.
H (

H)
nara smarati (naras smarati)
The man remembers.
The Sanskrit alphabet
We have now studied every sound in the alphabet.. Unlike the English alphabet, the
Sanskrit alphabet is intuitive and easy to remember:
Vowels
We start with the thirteen vowels:
a
i
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anusvra and visarga
The anusvra and visarga are not quite the same as normal consonants, so they are listed with
the vowels:
Stops and nasals
Next come the stops and nasals:
Semivowels
Then the semivowels:
"s" sounds and ha
And, finally, the "s" sounds and ha.
u

e ai
o au
a a
ka kha ga gha a
ca cha ja jha a
a ha a ha a
ta tha da dha na
pa pha ba bha ma
ya ra la va
a a sa ha
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Syllables
We have now studied every sound in later Sanskrit (with one small exception). But although
real language is made of sounds chained together, we have studied these sounds in isolation. If
we cannot pronounce these sounds together, we will be like those musicians who can play
beautiful notes but no songs.
So let us spend our last lesson here on meter, the study of how sounds flow together. Even if
you can pronounce Sanskrit well already, a good knowledge of meter is vital to understanding
certain parts of how Sanskrit behaves.
Along with phonetics (ik), meter (chandas) is one of the six vedga, the "limbs" of the
Vedas that support the study of its contents. Four of the six vedga focus on language.
Definition
We start with the most basic part of meter: the syllable. Syllables are simple. They have
exactly one vowel:

nau

yo

he
they start with consonants wherever possible:

phalam pha-lam
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-
iti i-ti
and they end with the anusvra and visarga wherever possible:
----
nara pacati na-ra-pa-ca-ti
---
ta carmi ta-ca-r-mi
Sometimes, however, a phrase can be divided in multiple ways:

-4,

-
putra pu-tra, put-ra
- ,

-
dharma dha-rma, dhar-ma
In these cases, you can divide the phrases however you like. Traditional grammar tries to make
syllables end in vowels (dha-rma). But this makes some parts of Sanskrit more difficult later
on. So let us make our own convention:
A syllable should end with a consonant if possible, without breaking the rules above.
With this convention, all phrases can be divided in only one way:

-
putra put-ra

-
dharma dhar-ma
Now we can split any Sanskrit phrase into syllables:
T

- --

-4---

anekavaktranayanam a-ne-ka-vak-tra-na-ya-nam
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Light and heavy
A syllable that ends in a short vowel is light. All other syllables are called heavy. Heavy
syllables last exactly twice as long as light syllables. This is the key insight of this lesson.
Let's see some examples. In this sentence, every syllable here is heavy:
4

U~

R --

-
vddho vkas tihaty agre vd-dho-vk-as-ti-hat-yag-re
An ancient tree stands ahead.
Even though some of these syllables have short vowels, each syllable lasts the same amount of
time.
Here is another example. In this sentence, every syllable is light:

------
sa ukam api girati sa-u-ka-ma-pi-gi-ra-ti
It swallows the parrot, too.
Like the previous example, this example has eight syllables. But since every syllable here is
light, this example lasts exactly half as long.
Finally, consider this example:

-
arjuna ar-ju-na
Arjuna
"ar" and "juna" last for exactly the same amount of time, even though all of these vowels are
short.
As you read Sanskrit, try to be mindful of these light and heavy syllables. They do more than
control how Sanskrit is pronounced; they also give Sanskrit poetry some of its beauty and
power.
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Review
And that is all! We have learned virtually everything we need to know about pronouncing
Sanskrit sounds correctly. We have also learned why and how sounds blend together. Finally,
we learned a bit about syllables and meter.
This knowledge is extremely useful, and it will make many parts of Sanskrit much easier.
In the next unit, we will finally start with real Sanskrit. We will create simple sentences,
learn how words are used together, and create new words of our own.
But before you go on, take a moment to review the material from this unit.
Sounds
Instead of just reviewing the alphabet, we can rearrange the sounds in a more meaningful way:
Vowels
Short Long
Soft palate
a
Hard palate
i e ai
Hard bump

Teeth

Lips
u o au
Consonants
Stops Nasals Semivowels "s" ha
Soft palate
ka kha ga gha a ha
Hard palate
ca cha ja jha a ya a
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Hard bump
a ha a ha a ra a
Teeth
ta tha da dha na la sa
Lips
pa pha ba bha ma va
Blending
Sometimes, it can be tiresome to pronounce certain sounds next to each other. The earliest
Sanskrit speakers solved this problem by blending words together.
Blending vowels
It is easy to blend vowels. Simple vowels are the easiest:

blya ha blyha
He spoke for the boy.
H H
s pnoti spnoti
She obtains.
= =
gacchati vara gacchatvara
The lord goes.
=

gacchati madhu udakam gacchati madhdakam


He goes to the sweet water.
Otherwise, vowels can blend in several ways. They can combine:
= =
s icchati secchati
She wants.
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U

tasya udakam tasyodakam


his water
U

blasya odanam blasyaudanam


the boy's rice
U

tasya aivaryam tasyaivaryam


his power
or one can become a semivowel:
= =~

gacchati ava gacchaty ava


The horse goes.

~ 7

~
sdhu ste sdhv ste
He sits well.
~

tejasvi nv adhtam astu


May our studies be glorious.
Upanishads (various)
Blending consonants
It is easy to blend consonants, too. Stops can become nasals:

tat na syam tan nsyam


That is not a mouth.
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r nara r nara
The king is a man.
or they can just become voiced:

vk eva vg eva
speech itself

= =
tat yacchati tad yacchati
He restrains it.

sa r bhavati sa r bhavati
He becomes a king.

na asat st na u sat st tadnm nsad sn no sad st tadnm


Then there was neither nothing nor anything.
Nsadya Skta
t, especially, blends very easily:

tat cpam tac cpam


That is a bow.

tat ksu ta ksu


That is in the commentaries.

tat jyate taj jyate


That is born.
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tat amarau ta amarau
That is in the drum.
Blending the visarga
Just like t, the visarga blends often and easily:

nara carati nara carati


The man walks.

nara tarati naras tarati


The man crosses.

t k t k
Those are commentaries.
Meter
We studied Sanskrit syllables and learned how they affect the way Sanskrit is spoken.
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End matter
Footnotes
1.
^ alaukika "not of (this) world" or apaurueya "not of mankind".
2.
^ Like most all Vedic Sanskrit, the lines here are open to some interpretation.
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