View Full Version : QuickRef: saMskRta-adhyayana: Sanskrit learning guidelines

08 April 2012, 11:13 AM
As part of my ongoing sporadic attempts at learning Sanskrit, I have started compiling notes for Quick Reference from different books, each of which has its own approach to suit different levels of learners. Since it is my aim to read Sanskrit fluently--not speak or write it--and understand the meaning and nuances of the language, I need these compilations for ready reference, so I can go about learning Sanskrit more from the religious, spiritual and secular texts directly, than from books that seek to teach the language. I would be glad to share the notes here as and when they are ready to a point, with the hope other learners might find them useful and helpful in their own approaches.

001. Sanskrit learning tools

01. To learn Sanskrit effectively, one of the first things necessary is to get comfortable with knowing, writing, typing, recognizing and pronouncing Sanskrit alphabets.

• This book is a good source of getting used to all Sanskrit alphabets (with orthography) in the devanAgarI-lipiH script (also known as nAgarI), the most popular script for Sanskrit. (Another Sanskrit script used in South India is the grantha-lipiH):

Learn Sanskrit in 30 Days

• For typing Sanskrit script using the computer, three popular transliteration schemes are used: Romanized Sanskrit, ITRANS and Baraha.

Although individual preferences differ, both ITRANS and Baraha have the advantage of being free from diacritics, so they are easy to type and remember. This pdf document has all the three schemes:

• For uchchAraNam--pronunciation, the audio files in this link could help:

• A sure way to learn the right pronunciation of Sanskrit is to listen to shlokas and stotras sung by artistes like Uma Mohan. Some links:


02. Most masculine gender nouns in Sanskrit end in visargaH, which form is the first (nominative) case of the word. visargaH also plays an important role in saMdhi--coalescence of words, and in samAsa--compound words. Unfortunately, dictionaries like MWD (Monier Williams Dictionary) omit the visargaH in listing.

• So, it is important to have for reference a dictionary like VS Apte's, which retain the visarga-ending:
The Pracitcal Sanskrit-English Dictionary


03. Other sources for ready reference include:

• A shabda-manjjarI--compilation of words under grammatical categories:
The following book is a good sourcebook for cases, pronouns, numerals, conjugation of verbs, voices, indeclinables, etc.
shabda-manjjarI by KLV Sastry and L.Anantarama Sastry

• A dhAtu-rupa-manjjarI--compilation of roots of Sanskrit verbs
dhAtu-rupa-manjjarI by KLV Sastry and L.Anantarama Sastry

dhAtu-koShaH by Bahuballab Shastri (roots in dictionary arrangement)


04. An Indian language editor using the ITRANS scheme and with Unicode output features would be of great help for use on the Internet:

• Baraha could be the first choice. Although their latest free version comes with restrictions as to language, file size, etc. the older versions have no such restrictions, so Baraha 7.0 could be a good choice:

• ITRANS 2003 transliteration-devanAgari editor can be downloaded here, but it has no Unicode support:

ITRANS 5.3 supports Unicode and can be downloaded here, but installation seems to be a problem/hassle:


05. For fluent reading and writing, one should always seek texts in देवनागरी--devanAgarI rather than resort to transliterated text. Besides, writing in devanAgarI should be practised constantly, because only phonetical transliterations are used in typing Sanskrit using a computer, which cannot rivet the devanAgarI-lipiH in mind.


08 April 2012, 11:19 AM
002. saMskRuta varNamAlA: Sanskrit alphabets

संस्कृत वर्णमाला
स्वराः (अचः)
अ आ इ ई उ ऊ ऋ ॠ ऌ ए ऐ ओ औ अं अः

व्यञ्जनानि (हलः)
क ख ग घ ङ
च छ ज झ ञ
ट ठ ड ढ ण
त थ द ध न
प फ ब भ म
य र ल व
श ष स ह

क् ख् ग् घ् ङ्
च् छ् ज् झ् ञ्
ट् ठ् ड् ढ् ण्
त् थ् द् ध् न्
प् फ् ब् भ् म्
य् र् ल् व्
श् ष् स् ह्

ळ क्ष

varNamAlA in Baraha transliteration
saMskRuta varNamAlA: Sanskrit Alphabets
svaraH (achaH): vowels
a A i I u U Ru RU ~Lu e ai o au aM aH

vya~jjanAni (halaH): consonants
ka kha ga gha ~ga
cha Cha ja jha ~ja
Ta Tha Da Dha Na
ta tha da dha na
pa pha ba bha ma
ya ra la va
sha Sha sa ha

halant: consonants with diacritic
k kh g gh ~g
ch Ch j jh ~j
T Th D Dh N
t th d dh n
p ph b bh m
y r l v
sh Sh s h

La kSha

Analysis: varNamAlA

• The term वर्णमाला--varNamAlA denotes alphabets in Sanskrit. Although varNa is mainly associated with color, the term also means 'a letter, character, sound, vowel, syllable, word' and mAlA indicates a string, so varNamAlA means 'a string of letters'.

• A vowel is known by the name स्वरः--svaraH and a consonant by the name व्यंजनं--vyaMjanaM or व्यञ्जनं--vyanjjanam.

• The word स्वरः--svaraH means 'sounded' and व्यंजनं--vyaMjanaM means 'manifesting'.

• A स्वरः--svaraH is sounded by itself, without the help of another letter. A व्यंजनं--vyaMjanaM, on the other hand, cannot be pronounced by itself unless some vowel is mixed with it.

• The term व्यंजनं--vyaMjanaM is derived by the combination वि + अञ्ज् + अन--vi + a~jj + ana--'change' + anoint/mix + respiration', that is, 'pronounce after changing by mixing with a vowel'.

For example, the consonant क्--k cannot be pronounced directly, but when mixed with the vowel अ-a, it becomes pronounceable as क-ka. This means that without the vowel the constant by itself is dead and inarticulate and that a vowel is inherent in its pronounciation. In PANini's system of Sanskrit grammar, the consonants are given with an अ--a added to them, for the sake of pronunciation.

• However, a consonant can end a word in its inarticulate form as in जलम्--jalam, meaning 'water'. Notice how the consonant is written with a diacritic in its inarticulate form, which is known by the name हलन्त्--halant or विराम--virAma.

• ळ क्ष--La kSha are actually conjunct consonants that are sometimes included in the varNamAlA.

• Unlike the Greek alphabets which bear names for their symbols (alpha, beta, etc.), Sanskrit alphabets have no names as they represent their sound directly. Exceptions are the anusvAraH, visargaH and the letter र्--r, which is known as रेफः--rephaH. The word कारः--kAraH is used to denote a sound which is not inflected: for example, ककार--kakAra for the 'ka' sound.

• A vowel by itself, or a consonant, simple or conjunct, with a vowel added to it, is called an अक्षरं--akSharaM--syllable. (Note: It is akSharaM means a letter or syllable, and akSharaH refers to Shiva or ViShNu.)


08 April 2012, 11:27 AM
003. Analysis: svarAH--vowels

ह्र्स्व स्वराः
अ इ उ ऋ ऌ

दीर्घ स्वराः
आ ई ऊ ॠ

संयुक्त/प्लुत स्वराः
ए ऐ ओ औ

शुद्ध स्वराः
अ आ इ ई उ ऊ ऋ ॠ

अ इ उ ऋ ऌ

अ आ इ ई उ ऊ ऋ ॠ ऌ ए ऐ ओ औ अं अः



hrsva svarAH: short vowels
a i u Ru ~Lu

dIrgha svarAH: long vowels

saMyukta/pluta svarAH: diphthongs, prolated vowels
e ai o au

shuddha svarAH: pure vowels
a A i I u U Ru RU

a i u Ru ~Lu

a A i I u U Ru RU ~Lu e ai o au aM aH


• Unlike in English, Sanskrit vowels and consonants are pronounced with a single, clear effort without any slurring except as dictated by saMdhi--coalescence.

• In general, hrsva--short vowels are prounced with one mAtrA--unit, of time (usually one moment) and dIrgha--long vowels are pronounced with two units of time. Notice that there is no corresponding long vowel for the letter ऌ~Lu.

• saMyukta/pluta vowels occur in Vedic Sanskrit but is rare in Classical Sanskrit. These vowels are pronounced with 3 mAtrAs. They are usually marked with the suffix '3', both in original and translitation.

• ak, ach are technical terms for the vowels they include. The term अक्षरं--akSharaM is also used to denote a letter of the alphabet, a word or speech in general.

• The Sanskrit alphabet thus includes 9 simple vowels, 4 diphthongs, and 33 consonants, making a total of 48 letters. To this are added the anusvAraH--nasalised and visargaH--aspirated.

• Apart from these classifications, the vowels in the Sanskrit of the Vedas are pronounced with intonations--(also known as svaraH). The types of intonations for the letter ka (that is, the vowel a in ka) are given below:


• The acute vowel--udAttaH is produced from the upper part of the organ of pronounciation, the grave vowel-anudAttaH from the lower part, and the circumflex--svaritaH means the combination of the two.

• The udAttaH is normally pronounced longer in time than an ordinary letter, the anudAtta shorter and the svarita much longer.

• This accentuation, is used only for chanting the Vedas and Veda mantras; it is not applicable to text in classical Sanskrit.


08 April 2012, 12:14 PM
Thank you great for this Saideo
I would like to add that learning devnagri script is not necessary to learn Sanskrit.

08 April 2012, 01:34 PM
I find this source as authentic and very easy to learn.


Hope you find it useful.

10 April 2012, 07:11 AM
Sanskrit Pronunciation

Charles Wikner, in his book A Practical Sanskrit Introductory explains the nuances of Sanskrit pronounciation and how it differs from the pronunciation of English:

• The pronunciation of Sanskrit is very simple: you open the mouth wide and move the tongue and lips as necessary: the tongue and lips are almost pure muscle and have little inertia or resistance to movement.

• By contrast, the pronunciation of English requires much effort, for we barely open the mouth (which means that all sounds are indistinct or blurred) and then instead of simply moving the tongue we move the whole jaw--and what a great weight that is to move about. Having become well practised in speaking with a moving jaw, it does require some attention to break that habit and speak with a moving tongue.

• The biggest single factor in practising the refined sounds of Sanskrit, is to open the mouth! For English, the mouth opens to a mere slit of about 6mm (a pencil thickness); for Sanskrit this needs to increase fourfold--literally! Try this out for yourself: with the mouth opened to a slit, sound a prolonged आ--A3 (that is with 3 units of time) and slowly open the mouth wide and listen to the change in the quality, to the richness and fulness that emerges. The mouth needs to open a lot more than you think--so don't think!--use a measure, like two fingers.

Pronounciation of vowels: oral guidelines
The three primary vowels: अ इ उ--a i u

The sounding of आ--A3 is simplicity itself: with body and mind relaxed but alert, open the throat and mouth wide, and with tongue relaxed, breathe out and simply desire that the vocal cords vibrate. What could be more natural than that?

This sound is central to all the vowel sounds; indeed, the whole alphabet is simply an embellishment of this sound.

• As a very rough guide, the short अ--a sounds similar to the vowel in 'but' and definitely NOT 'bat'; likewise the long आ--A is similar to the vowel in 'harm' and not 'ham'.

• In producing the short अ--a there is a slight tensioning in the throat; that tension should not be there for the long आ--A or the prolonged आ--A3.

• In spite of this diference between अ and आ, they are treated as though the same in the rules of sandhi (euphonic combination) of the grammar.

• To sound ई--I3, open the mouth as for आ--A3 and raise the back of the tongue (the tip should be relaxed behind the bottom front teeth). In producing this sound it will be noticed that there is a slight constriction or tensioning in the throat as compared with the relaxed throat when sounding आ--A3.

• To sound ऊ--U3, allow the lips to form a small circular opening of the mouth (so that the moistened back of a pencil just slips in and out, filling the opening); there should be no tension in the lips or face muscles, so pout rather than purse the lips. There will be a similar tension in the throat as for ई--I3.

• The short इ--i sounds similar to the vowel in 'pink' and NOT 'pin', and the long ई--I like 'peep' or 'seat'; the short उ--u is similar to the vowel in 'put' or 'soot' and the long ऊ--U like 'boot' or 'suit'.

The other simple vowels: ऋ ऌ--Ru ~Lu

These vowels appear to have vanished from popular speech, and the memory of how to pronounce them has faded, with the result that even pandits tend to pronounce them as 'ri' and 'lri'. It is also present in English in some pronounciations of the word 'interesting' as 'intrsting' or indeed the American 'prdy' for 'pretty'.

• To get to the correct pronunciation of ऋ--Ru3, begin by sounding a prolonged ई--I3 and slowly raise the tip of the tongue so that it pointing to the top of the head, approaching but not touching the roof of the mouth. Do not try to hold the back of the tongue in the ई--I3 position, nor try to move it out of that position: simply have no concern with what is happening at the back of the tongue, just attend to the tip of the tongue and listen. Repeat the exercise a few times until comfortable with the sound of ऋ--Ru3, then practise directly sounding ऋ--Ru3 for a full breath.

• Similarly for ऌ--~Lu3, start sounding with a prolonged ई--I3 and slowly raise the tip of the tongue to behind the upper front teeth without touching them. Continue the exercise as for ऋ--Ru3.

• The long ॡ--~LU is not used in the standard grammar, and ऌ-~Lu occurs only in one verb (कॢप्--k~Lup--to manage to be well ordered or regulated).

• In practice, when either of these vowels is followed by a consonant whose mouth position requires that the tip of the tongue be at a lower position, a vestigial इ--i will emerge due to the bunching of the muscle at the back of the tongue when moving the tip downwards, for example ऋक्--Ruk tends to produce रिक्--rik, but a word like कृष्ण--kRuShNa should produce no इ--i sound at all.

The compound vowels: ए ऐ ओ औ--e ai o au


• Let s examine what we have so far. We began with अ--a and from this developed इ-i and उ--u to give the three primary vowels, and then the इ-i gave rise to ऋ--Ru and ऌ-~Lu (Fig.1 above). These five basic vowels, each having its own unique mouth position, define the five mouth positions used for the whole alphabet.

• Further vowels are derived bycombining the अ--a sound with इ-i and उ--u to form the four compound vowels (sandhyAkShara).

• The ए--e sound arises when अ--a is sounded through the इ--i mouth position. Remember that अ--a has a relaxed throat and tongue, while इ--i has the back of the tongue raised and the throat tense; so relaxing the throat while retaining the back of the tongue raised will produce ए--e (Fig.2).

The vowel ए--e sounds similar to that in 'fair' or 'eight'.

• The ऐ--ai sound arises when ए--e is further combined with अ--a as it were. Now the only difference between ए--e and अ--a is the raised back of the tongue, so to move from ए--e towards the अ--a sound, we need to drop the back of the tongue to a position half way between that used for इ--i and ए--e and the relaxed position used for अ--a (Fig.3).

The ऐ--ai sounds similar to the vowel in 'aisle' or 'pie'; there should be no glide or slide in the sound from अ--a to इ--i.

• In a manner similar to the arising of ए--e, when अ--a is sounded through the उ--u mouth position, i.e. with the lips in the position for उ--u but the throat relaxed for sounding अ--a, the sound ओ--o naturally arises (Fig.4).

The vowel ओ--o should sound between 'awe' and 'owe' (or between the vowel sounds in 'corn' and 'cone'); the ideal is that point where the sound could be taken as either of the two English sounds.

• And finally, the औ--au sound arises when अ--a is combined with ओ--o, so that the position of the lips is roughly half way between that used for उ--u and अ--a, and the throat is relaxed (Fig.5).

• The औ--au sounds similar to the vowel in 'down' or 'hound' but without the glide from अ--a to उ--u.

Summary of all vowels

Combining the previous five sketches illustrates the central role played by the अ--a sound. Note that all these vowel sounds may be sounded continuously for a full breath: there is no glide from one sound to another. Also note that the four sounds ए--e ऐ--ai ओ--o औ--au, being an addition of two sounds as it were, are naturally long--dIrgha and may also be prolonged pluta, but have no short measure.


The English approximations are only a very rough guide, especially considering the wide variety of accents around the world. Rather follow the instructions given earlier, or oral guidance given in person.

The sixteen shakti: अं अः--aM aH

To these vowels (thirteen vowels and fourteen possible vowel sounds, including the nonexistent ॡ--~LU) are added the अनुस्वारः--anusvAraH and the विसर्गः--visargaH to form what are called मातृका--mAtRukA or शक्ति--shakti (powers or energies).

• The anusvAraH--ं--M (.) is an 'after sound', a nasal sound following a vowel. It is sounded through the nose only, and should be independent of mouth position. It may be substituted by a nasal consonant depending on the following letter.

• The visargaH--ः--H ( : ) or विसर्जनीय--visarjanIya is an unvoiced breath following a vowel, and is breathed through the mouth position of that vowel. Some traditions append an echo of the vowel after the breath, so that अः--aH may be sounded as अह--aha, etc.

• Strictly speaking, the anusvAraH and visargaH are not part of the alphabet inasmuch as they arise only through the rules of sandhi (euphoni combination). Since these both arise only after a vowel we shall precede them with अ--a (though they can occur with other vowels too) when sounding the sixteen shakti or mAtRukA which form the start of the alphabetical order:

अ आ इ ई उ ऊ ऋ ॠ ऌ ॡ ए ऐ ओ औ अं अः
a A i I u U Ru RU ~Lu ~LU e ai o au aM aH


27 May 2012, 02:48 AM
As part of my ongoing sporadic attempts at learning Sanskrit, I have started compiling notes for Quick Reference from different books, each of which has its own approach to suit different levels of learners. Since it is my aim to read Sanskrit fluently--not speak or write it--and understand the meaning and nuances of the language, I need these compilations for ready reference, so I can go about learning Sanskrit more from the religious, spiritual and secular texts directly, than from books that seek to teach the language. I would be glad to share the notes here as and when they are ready to a point, with the hope other learners might find them useful and helpful in their own approaches.

There are two Sanskrit readers that give grammatical notes for every word. If you want to learn Sanskrit directly through texts rather than through grammar books these readers could be helpful to you, although you do need to have some understanding of the grammatical terms.

The Ramopakhyana, by Peter Scharf:

The Bhagavad Gita, by Winthrop Sargeant:

You can also download Lanman's Sanskrit reader from archive.org. This one is a little archaic and references to Whitney's grammar. http://archive.org/details/LanmansSanskritReader