Thursday, July 4, 2024

21-Point Plan to Learn Sanskrit

 Learning Sanskrit by its linguistic elements भाषामूलकैः संस्कृतम् 

Recently I taught Sanskrit to two school kids during their vacation time. Of course the idea was to cover in advance whatever portion of their textbooks, I could, so that they would be that much at ease in their school.  Having glanced through the text books, I am left wondering whether the text books help the students to understand the linguistic elements of Sanskrit.

I am coming to an opinion that any language should be learnt by studying the linguistic elements of the language. Rather, you have learnt nothing of the language, if you have not learnt its linguistic elements. 

Basically linguistic skills are Reading, Writing, Speaking. For a child learning its mother tongue, the sequence is Speaking, Reading, Writing. But for learning a language like Sanskrit the sequence should start with reading and writing. It is implicit in the reading skill, that one understands the meaning of what one is reading. And that is not as easy when learning Sanskrit. People have difficulty even in pronunciations. 

That difficulty is there in English also, especially because the words ‘to’, ‘two’, ‘too’ have almost identical pronunciations. However the Devanagari Script of Sanskrit is a phonetic script. So, pronunciation of the word ‘Devanagari’ देवनागरी shall be identical, has been identical across the globe down the ages for thousands of years. 

Learning Sanskrit by its linguistic elements is basically Learning Sanskrit by its basics or fundamentals.

Here is my menu for Learning Sanskrit by its linguistic elements. 

  1. Reading and writing - Devanagari Script वर्णमाला - Vowels स्वराः, Consonants व्यञ्जनानि, अक्षरम्, difference between वर्ण: and अक्षरम्, अनुस्वारः the symbol for writing the nasals, विसर्गः, Conjunct Consonants संयुक्ताक्षराणि Pronunciations - Nasal/non-nasal अनुनासिक/अननुनासिक, short ह्रस्व, long दीर्घ, extra long प्लुत, raised उदात्त, Stressed down अनुदात्त, level स्वरित, non-explicit अदर्शनं लोपः, संहिता or सन्धिः the modification of sounds. 

  2. One-word sentences - Imperative mood singular, dual, plural of second person धातुः (Preferably all गण-पदाः) लोट् म.पु. एक-द्वि-बहु-वचनानि 

  3. Vocative (Address) case सम्बोधनविभक्तिः, exclamatories उद्गारवाचकाः  

  4. Negatives with न, मा and interrogatives with अपि, किम्. 

  5. Sentences with pronominal subject and verb - लकाराः - लट् लङ् लृट् लोट् विधिलिङ्, प्रथमा-विभक्त्याम् एक-द्वि-बहु-वचनानि of सर्वनामानि - अस्मद्, युष्मद्, तत्, भवत्, एतत्, इदम्   

  6. Sanskrit sequence (SOV) subject, object, verb - द्वितीया-चतुर्थी-विभक्तयोः एक-द्वि-बहु-वचनानि of सर्वनामानि - अस्मद्, युष्मद्, तत्, किम्, भवत्, एतत्, इदम् यत् also of vowel-ending अजन्त-प्रातिपदिकानि and consonant-ending हलन्त-प्रातिपदिकानि words 

  7. Sentences with adjectives of subject and object - यल्लिङ्गं यद्वचनं .. 

  8. Long sentences with Conjunctions, interrogatives यत्-तत्,  यदा-तदा कदा, (यदि-तर्हि) / चेत् किमर्थम्, यथा-तथा कथम्, यत्र-तत्र कुत्र, यावत्-तावत् कति कतिपयम् 

  9. Adverbs, Prepositions, all cases - subject प्रथमा, object द्वितीया, instrumental (with/by) तृतीया, dative (for) चतुर्थी, ablative (from/than) पञ्चमी, genitive (of) षष्ठी, locative (in, at, on, upon) सप्तमी, सुबन्ताः of vowel-ending अजन्त-प्रातिपदिकानि पुं.-स्त्री.-नपुं. and consonant-ending हलन्त-प्रातिपदिकानि पुं.-स्त्री.-नपुं. 

  10. Indeclinables अव्ययानि - च, वा, अपि, इव, एव, एवम्, तु, परन्तु, सम, सह, हि, अथ, इति ह्यः अद्य श्वः इदानीम् तदानीम् अन्तः बहिः उपरि नीचैः अधः अधस्तात् etc. 

  11. Compound sentences with क्त्वा, ल्यप् 

  12. Prefixes प्रादयः/उपसर्गाः Verbs with prefixes सोपसर्गाः धातवः - तिङन्तेषु सन्धयः, स्वरसन्धयः, व्यञ्जनसन्धयः, विसर्गसन्धयः 

  13. May, must, should moods - ण्यत्-तव्यत्-अनीयर्-कृदन्ताः 

  14. Voice and change of voice with transitive and intransitive verbs 

  15. Voice and change of voice with क्तक्तवतू 

  16. Other useful कृदन्ताः with तुम्, शतृ/शानच्, तृच्, 

  17. Causative प्रयोजकाः 

  18. Special constructs सतिसप्तमी, सच्छ्ष्ठी, मा, स्म 

  19. Desideratives, frequentatives etc. सनाद्यन्ताः औपदेशिकाः धातवः 

  20. Numbers - cardinal, ordinal, sets, etc. संख्याः, क्रमवाचकाः, समूहवाचकाः, इत्यादयः  

  21. Compound Words समासाः - कर्मधारयः, तत्पुरुषः, बहुव्रीहिः, द्वन्द्वः, अव्ययीभावः, द्विगुः, etc. 

It comes to mind that I should detail the 21 points such that, that detailing will become verification of how good this 21-point plan is. 

-o-O-o- 

Learning Reading and Writing Sanskrit  

For the skills of reading and writing Sanskrit one should know Devanagari देवनागरी Script वर्णमाला. In the Devanagari देवनागरी Script वर्णमाला there are 13 Vowels स्वराः and 33 Consonants व्यञ्जनानि. 

Note, Sanskrit word for letter is अक्षरम्. But the set of letters, the alphabet is called as वर्णमाला. There is a difference between the terms वर्ण: and अक्षरम्. The word अक्षरम् itself contains the वर्णाः अ-क्-ष्-अ-र्-अ-म् This chain of वर्णाः in the word अक्षरम् is like the spelling of an English word. Here the three times अ are the vowels क्, ष्, र्, म् are the consonants. Instead of writing अ-क्-ष्-अ-र्-अ-म् we write as अक्षरम्. Note, brevity is the heart of not only the Devanagari देवनागरी Script but of Sanskrit as a language. 

Note, the consonants क्, ष्, र्, म् are वर्णाः not अक्षराणि because consonants can be pronounced only if preceded or followed by a vowel. In the component रम् (र्-अ-म्) the central अ succedes वर्ण: र्, makes अक्षरम् र and helps pronouncing it. Also it precedes म् and helps pronouncing the वर्ण: म्. 

Now रम् may also be written as रं. The dot above र called as अनुस्वारः is a writing symbol for writing nasal sounds. Of course अक्षरं is more compact than अक्षरम्. But there are rules when you can use अनुस्वारः and when you cannot. When you are writing the word अक्षरम् stand alone, it should be written as अक्षरम्, not using the अनुस्वारः. When the nasal sound is at the end of a sentence or of a line in poetry, again the अनुस्वारः should not be used. Also, if the nasal sound is followed by a vowel, the अनुस्वारः should not be used. 

The Sanskrit word for a nasal sound is अनुनासिक. This word अनुनासिक is both a noun and an adjective. As a noun अनुनासिक means a वर्ण: which has nasal pronunciation. As an adjective अनुनासिक means nasal. 

The ऋषयः studied phonetics in minute details. You will appreciate that phonetically, the pronunciations of ‘n’ in ‘angle’, ‘angel’, ‘and’, ‘in’, ‘anthem’ are all different. In the English alphabet for the nasal sound there are only two consonants ‘m’ and ‘n’. In Sanskrit there are five - ङ् as in अङ्गम्, ञ् as in अञ्जनम्, ण् as in अण्डम्, न् as in अन्त:, म् as in अम्ब. 

Apart from details above about use of अनुस्वारः for म्, in the most respected text of Sanskrit grammar अष्टाध्यायी of पाणिनि, use of अनुस्वारः is advocated also for न्, provided, न् is not at the end of a line or sentence. So, one may write अन्त: as अंतः, also (अन्-अन्त) either अनन्त or अनंत. 

The letters र्ण (र्-ण्-अ) in वर्ण: and क्ष (क्-ष्-अ) in अक्षरम्, actually, only the parts (र्ण्  i.e. र्-ण्) and (क्ष् i.e. क्-ष्) are conjunct consonants. Likewise ङ्ग्  ञ्ज् ण्ड् न्त् म्ब्. As can be seen when writing the conjunct consonants संयुक्तव्यञ्जनानि the contained consonants व्यञ्जनानि are connected with each other, in the same order as they are to be pronounced taking only the initial part of the initial consonant(s). See क्त, व्य, ञ्ज. One may wonder, how many consonants can be connected like that. Comes to mind a word कार्त्स्न्यम् meaning entirety. Note र्त्स्न्य in कार्त्स्न्यम् comprises of र्-त्-स्-न्-य्-अ.   The म् at the end is not a part of the conjunct consonant, because of the vowel अ. 

Note, र् is represented by an arc above the letter when it is preceded by a vowel. When not preceded by a vowel, it is represented differently as in आर्द्रा (आ-र्-द्-र्-आ) द्रावः (द्-र्-आ-व्-अः) Note, in दर्पः (द्-अ-र्-प्-अः) it is preceded by the vowel अ. 

In this discussion of representation of, writing of conjunct consonants, one must not forget mentioning क्ष (क्-ष्-अ) and ज्ञ (ज्-ञ्-अ) which have special shapes. One must also note that ज्ञ is (ज्-ञ्-अ) i.e. in the dictionary one can find words such as ज्ञानम् as a conjunct consonant beginning with ज्. 

Actually the 13 Vowels स्वराः and 33 Consonants व्यञ्जनानि in the वर्णमाला are elemental sounds. So, the वर्णमाला is like the periodic table of elements, which we learn in chemistry. By the concept of the periodic table I would like to present the वर्णमाला as below. 

Row 1 Vowels - अ (आ) इ (ई) उ (ऊ) Note, (आ) (ई) (ऊ) are put in parenthesis, because they are long दीर्घ versions of अ इ उ 

Row 2 Vowels - ऋ (ॠ) लृ  Thesee vowels have some consonant-inkling. There is no दीर्घ लृ 

Row 3 Vowels - ए ऐ ओ औ are all diphthongs, going by the definition of a diphthong as two vowel sounds that are pronounced together to make one sound. 

Note, the Indian languages Marathi and Hindi also use the Devanagari script. When I learnt the script in Marathi primary school, I learnt it with the addition of two more vowels अं अः By that I learnt the अनुस्वारः the symbol for अनुनासिक nasal pronunciation and विसर्गः the symbol ‘:’for pronouncing a vowel with aspirated release. 

Row 4 कण्ठ्य Consonant-sounds, which emanate from कण्ठः the throat क् ख् ग् घ् ङ् Note, these five are in the order that क् and ख् are harsh कठोर there again क् is अल्पप्राण easier ख् is महाप्राण harder. Likewise ग् घ् are soft मृदु, ग् is is अल्पप्राण मृदु, घ् is महाप्राण मृदु. ङ् the अनुनासिक the nasal is also मृदु. 

Row 5 तालव्य Consonant-sounds, which emanate from तालुः the palate च् छ् ज् झ् ञ्. The order is as above अल्पप्राण कठोर, महाप्राण कठोर, अल्पप्राण मृदु, महाप्राण मृदु and अनुनासिक 

Row 6 मूर्धन्य Consonant-sounds, which emanate from मूर्धा the roof above the tongue ट् ठ् ड् ढ् ण् 

Row 7 दन्त्य Consonant-sounds, which emanate from दन्ताः back of the denture त् थ् द् ध् न् 

Row 8 ओष्ठ्य lebal Consonant-sounds, which emanate from ओष्ठौ प् फ् ब् भ् म् 

Row 9 अन्तस्थ swallowed Consonant-sounds, य् र् ल् व् Among these य् is तालव्य, र् is मूर्धन्य, ल् is दन्त्य and व् is ओष्ठ्य.

Row 10 ऊष्म frictional Consonant-sounds, श् ष् स् ह् Among these श् is तालव्य, ष् is मूर्धन्य, स् is दन्त्य and ह् is कण्ठ्य. 

Let me elaborate the pronunciations of the vowels a bit more in detail. 

Pronunciation of अ is as of ‘i’ in ‘sir’, as of ‘o’ in ‘son’, as of ‘u’ in ‘sun’

Pronunciation of आ  is  as of ‘a’ in ‘bar’, ‘car’, ‘far’

Pronunciation of इ is as of ‘i’ in ‘bit’, ‘hit’, ‘kit’

Pronunciation of ई is as of ‘ea’ in ‘beat’, as of ‘ee’ in ‘reed’, ‘seed’  

Pronunciation of उ is as of ‘oo’ in ‘foot’, ‘good’, as of ‘u’ in ‘full’

Pronunciation of ऊ is as of ‘oo’ in ‘shoot’

In English there is no vowel equivalent of ऋ (ॠ) लृ, except that the Sanskrit word ऋषि is accorded the spelling Rishi.

I shall deal with the pronunciation of ए separately. 

I don’t know of any English word having the pronunciation ऐ, though ‘i_e’ as in ‘fine’ is a diphthong close enough to ऐ. 

Pronunciation of ओ  is as of ‘oa’ in ‘goal’ or as of o_e as in ‘pole’

Pronunciation of औ is as of ‘ou’ in ‘out’ or of ‘ow’ in ‘owl’

Interestingly, all the vowels can be added to all the consonants. By adding the vowels one gets as many अक्षराणि from each consonant which is basically a sound element a वर्णः. From the consonant क् in Row 4, one gets 

क्+अ = क, क्+आ = का, क्+इ = कि, क्+ई = की, क्+उ = कु, क्+ऊ = कू, क्+ऋ = कृ, क्+ॠ = कॄ, क्+लृ = क्लृ, क्+ए = के, क्+ऐ = कै, क्+ओ = को, क्+औ = कौ  

The अनुस्वारः as well as the विसर्गः can also be added to these अक्षराणि. 

From the above it should be clear how the vowels are symbolically added to the consonant. This can be so done even with conjunct consonants. For example the English word ‘switch’ can be written as स्विच्. 

As such any word in any language can be written in Devanagari. 

But there can be a problem in making a distinction between ‘get’ and ‘gate’. If we consider that in ‘get’ the ए is somewhat stressed down अनुदात्त in Vedic Sanskrit this stressed down aspect of a vowel is denoted by an underscore. So ‘get’ is written as गेट्. If we consider that in ‘gate’ the ए is somewhat raised उदात्त in Vedic Sanskrit this raised aspect of a vowel is denoted by a small vertical stroke. I shall use an apostrophe for this. So, I would write ‘gate’ as गे’ट्. 

Actually in Sanskrit grammar it is analyzed that most vowels can be pronounced in 18 ways ! This analysis is summarized in 5 aphorisms सूत्राणि in अष्टाध्यायी. 

मुखनासिकावचनोऽनुनासिकः (1-1-8) Note अनुनासिक means nasal. Opposite is not nasal अननुनासिक. That makes अनुनासिक and  अननुनासिक as two broad types of pronunciation. 

ऊकालोऽज्झ्रस्वदीर्घप्लुतः (1-2-27) - short ह्रस्व long दीर्घ elongated प्लुत Three sub-types. So six types. 

उच्चैरुदात्तः (1-2-29) raised उदात्त

नीचैरनुदात्तः (1-2-30) stressed down अनुदात्त 

समाहारः स्वरितः (1-2-31) level स्वरित 

Three more sub-types, so (2x3x3) totally 18 types. 

If you want to stop a child from doing something unwarranted, you would pronounce अं’ऽऽऽ nasal अननुनासिक, raised उदात्त, elongated प्लुत. Is not अं’ऽऽऽ a sound of a universal language ? But credit should go to Sanskrit that it is only in Sanskrit grammar, that it is analyzed in such detail. 

Pronunciation is emitting sound waves, vibrations. Vibrations contain active energy. Rishis experienced and standardized what style of recitation of Mantras generates positive energy. That is why Mantras in Vedas have notations for raised उदात्त, stressed down अनुदात्त pronunciations. 

In Row 3, I have made a mention “विसर्गः the symbol ‘:’for pronouncing a vowel with aspirated release.” 

विसर्गः pronouncing a vowel with aspirated release is one more variant of pronunciation of vowels. The vowel may be stand alone or as a suffix of a consonant or even of a conjunct consonant. Instances of विसर्गः as a suffix are more common than with stand-alone vowels. For example धृतराष्ट्रः, पाण्डवाः, हरिः, लक्ष्मीः, सेतुः, कैः, भानोः, 

In अष्टाध्यायी विसर्गः is called as विसर्जनीयः. Actually a सूत्रम् is supposed to be composed with minimality of letters. The word विसर्जनीयः has more letters than विसर्गः. Yet in अष्टाध्यायी the term used is विसर्जनीयः, not विसर्गः. The word विसर्जनीयः brings to mind विसर्जनम् immersion of the idol of Ganesh. That immersion is a soft release, not throwing the idol into water. So, the word, the term विसर्जनीयः includes how the pronunciation should be. It should be a soft release of the preceding vowel sound. The word विसर्जनीयः is thoughtful, right ? 

Now, both pronunciation and in turn writing of विसर्जनीयः is very much influenced not only by the preceding vowel, but also by the वर्णः immediately next to it. For example 

कैः मया ⇒ कैर्मया, Note, here the विसर्जनीयः changes to र् 

पाण्डवाः च ⇒ पाण्डवाश्च, Note, here the विसर्जनीयः changes to श् 

निः+श्रेयसम् ⇒ निःश्रेयसम् Note, here the विसर्जनीयः stays, but its pronunciation is more like the श् next to it. Likewise 

दुः+साहसम् ⇒ दुःसाहसम् Note, here also the विसर्जनीयः stays, but its pronunciation is more like the स् next to it. 

सञ्जयः उवाच ⇒ सञ्जय उवाच, Note, here the विसर्जनीयः is elided, since it is followed by the vowel उ. 

सः अपि ⇒ सोऽपि, Note, here the विसर्जनीयः changes to उ, which adds to स, becomes सो and the next अ is elided, but is indicated by the symbol ऽ, which is called as अवग्रहः. 

दुःखम् ⇒ दुःखम् Note, here the विसर्जनीयः stays, but the next ख् causes a slight smell of an additional ख् sound to be coming in. This additional sound is called as जिह्वामूलीय. 

मामकाः पाण्डवाः ⇒ मामकाः पाण्डवाः, Note, here also the विसर्जनीयः stays, but the next प् causes a slight smell of an additional प् sound to be coming in. This additional sound is called as उपध्मानीय.  

Does the grammar of any language other than Sanskrit take cognisance of these जिह्वामूलीय and उपध्मानीय sounds ? Isn’t this subtlety and sensibility so charming ? 

In the सूत्रम् ८.३.३७ कुप्वोः ≍क≍पौ च the symbols ≍ before क and ≍ before पौ denote जिह्वामूलीय and उपध्मानीय sounds. 

Reading Sanskrit should be with consciousness of all these subtleties. 

The fact that pronunciation of the विसर्जनीयः is influenced by the वर्णः immediately next to it underscores a very important rule to be borne in mind for both reading and writing Sanskrit. One should always be mindful of what is next. In the book “7 Habits of Successful People” by Stephen Cowey, the first habit advocated is “Be Proactive”. Being proactive is being mindful of what is next. The motto of Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared”. One can be prepared only by being proactive, being mindful of what is next. Even writing the nasal by अनुस्वारः or not is dictated by what is next. Reading and writing Sanskrit unwittingly cultivates in you the habit of being prepared, being proactive, being mindful of what is next. 

This being mindful of what is next is important for reading Sanskrit texts, more so for reciting poetic texts. In the word अक्षरम् the first letter अ has क्ष a conjunct consonant next to it. In terms of weightage मात्रा, the letter अ is लघु small. But the next letter क्ष being a conjunct consonant enhances the weightage मात्रा of अ. So it is to be considered गुरु big. That is the rule in Sanskrit छन्दःशास्त्रम् prosody. Even when pronouncing अक्षरम् to oneself, one would realize that pronouncing अक्ष becomes smoother by giving a little stress on अ, i.e. by enhancing its weightage, being mindful that the next letter क्ष is a conjunct consonant. 

By cultivating this habit of being mindful that the next letter will make it easy to read even a long word like बाह्योद्यानस्थितहरशिरश्चन्द्रिकाधौतहर्म्या. This word has 17 letters in it. The word is a line in the poem मेघदूतम् by महाकविः कालिदासः. There the word is an adjective of अलका नगरी. See the previous line also of 17 letters is गन्तव्या ते वसतिरलका नाम यक्षेश्वराणाम्. Both the lines are metrically perfect adopting the meter मन्दाक्रान्ता having the three-letter sets गणाः conforming to मभनततगग. 

Actually what I discussed about pronunciation of विसर्जनीयः being influenced by the वर्णः immediately next to it, especially in the examples (1) कैः मया ⇒ कैर्मया, the विसर्जनीयः changes to र्, (2) पाण्डवाः च ⇒ पाण्डवाश्च, the विसर्जनीयः changes to श्, these are examples or instances of modification of the sound elements. This modification of sound elements is called in Sanskrit grammar as सन्धिः (In अष्टाध्यायी as संहिता). 

Most Sanskrit texts will have modified sound elements only. Rather, it will be hard to find Sanskrit texts without modified sound elements. So, the first step in studying any Sanskrit text should be to retrieve the text to the original forms. A novice may ask “How do I know original form of कैर्मया is कैः मया ?” He will know it only after he is well acquainted with the words कैः मया that these are the grammatically correct forms of these words, hence the original forms of these words. 

Although at the beginning of this article, I said that we read any text in any language such that we understand the intended meaning also. Let me modify that statement to say that the skill of reading Sanskrit texts may be limited initially only to reading ‘as is’. Even that is not easy, because many Sanskrit texts are of tongue-twisting type. For example one may not be very confident of being error-free in reciting blind-fold the following verse ⇒ 

न नोननुन्नो नुन्नोनो ।

नाना नानानना ननु ।।

नुन्नोऽनुन्नो ननुन्नेनो ।

नानेना नुन्ननुन्ननुत् ।।

Understanding the meaning of the verse will have to come much later. 

There are many lines in Gita, which appear to be a single word. But they contain many words. For example ⇒ 

आचार्यान्मातुलान्भ्रातॄन्पुत्रान्पौत्रान्सखींस्तथा ॥ १-२६॥

अनार्यजुष्टमस्वर्ग्यमकीर्तिकरमर्जुन ॥ २-२॥

अव्यक्तोऽयमचिन्त्योऽयमविकार्योऽयमुच्यते ।२-२५

कुर्याद्विद्वांस्तथासक्तश्चिकीर्षुर्लोकसङ्ग्रहम् ॥ ३-२५॥

पश्यञ्श‍ृण्वन्स्पृशञ्जिघ्रन्नश्नन्गच्छन्स्वपञ्श्वसन् ॥ ५-८॥

प्रलपन्विसृजन्गृह्णन्नुन्मिषन्निमिषन्नपि ।५-९

Let the initial reading and writing skill be limited to reading and writing ‘as is’. 

शुभमस्तु ! 

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