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Learn Sanskrit through self study

Introduction

Why Study Sanskrit?

The study of languages is always fascinating. For this reason alone, one can study or learn Sanskrit. The members of the Samskritapriyah group are more than fascinated by this language. They come from different disciplines and have had a long lasting association with Sanskrit. This group, comprising scientists, linguistic scholars, computer scientists, Indologists and above all, well respected Sanskrit scholars, feels convinced that there are aspects to Sanskrit not yet seen or observed in other languages.

While the lessons are the primary means to learning the language, the information presented alongside will more than arouse the curiosity of the reader. It must be emphasized that the views expressed here are not intended to start a big debate on the language itself. The group has carefully studied the information presented here, for validity, correctness and authenticity. As a consequence, the information should appeal to the scientific mind.

DISCLAIMER

The Views expressed here are specific to the Samskritapriyah group and the

Samskrit Education Society. IIT Madras, has only made available the web pages as a courtesy to the group.

Sanskrit, earliest of the ancient languages.

There is sufficient evidence available today to say that Sanskrit is the oldest language of the world.

Among the current languages which possess a hoary antiquity like Latin or Greek, Sanskrit is the only language which has retained its pristine purity. It has maintained its structure and vocabulary even today as it was in the past.

The oldest literature of the world, the Vedas, the Puranas and the Ithihasas which relate to the Indian subcontinent, are still available in the same form as they were known from the very beginning. There are many many scholars in India who can interpret them today, much the same way great scholars of India did years ago. Such interpretation comes not by merely studying earlier known interpretations but through a steady process of assimilation of knowledge linking a variety of disciplines via Sanskrit.

Sanskrit is as modern as any language can be

Sanskrit is very much a spoken language today. Even now, as we enter the twenty first century, Sanskrit is spoken by an increasing number of people, thankfully many of them young. Among the learned in India, it continues to be a bridge across different states where people, in spite of their own mother tongue, use it to exchange scholarly and even general information relating to the traditions of the country. The News service offered by the Government of India through television and radio continues to feature daily Sanskrit program catering to local as well as international news.

The grammar of Sanskrit has attracted scholars world over. It is very precise and

Sanskrit Links

(A very useful site with many related links on all aspects of

Sanskrit.)

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(Emphasis on Spoken Sanskrit)

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upto date and remains well defined even today. Of late, several persons have expressed the opinion that Sanskrit is the best language for use with computers. The Samskritapriyah group does not subscribe to this view however.

Sanskrit is a Scientist's paradise

Sanskrit, the vocabulary of which is derived from root syllables, is ideal for coining new scientific and technological terms. The need to borrow words or special scientific terms does not arise.

From the very beginning, scientific principles have been hidden in the verses found in the Vedas, Upanishads and the great epics of India. Concepts and principles seen in present day mathematics and astronomy, are all hidden in the compositions and treatises of many early scholars of the country. Some of these principles and concepts will be shown in the information section that will accompany the lessons.

Linguistics

The precise and extremely well defined structure of Sanskrit, coupled with its antiquity offers a number of areas in linguistics research including Computational Linguistics. Also, Sanskrit distinguishes itself in that it is the only known language which has a built-in scheme for pronunciation, word formation and grammar.

Sanskrit, a language for Humanity

Sanskrit is a language for humanity and not merely a means for communication within a society. The oldest surviving literature of the world, viz. the Vedas, encompass knowledge in virtually every sphere of human activity. The fact that many profound principles relating to human existence were given expression through Sanskrit, continue to amaze those who study Sanskrit. A Sanskrit Scholar understands the world better than most others.

Sanskrit perfectly depicted (and continues to depict) the social order of the day and offers clues to historical developments within the Society. The language has been used effectively to describe the virtuous and the not so virtuous qualities of great men, women, kings and queens, the philosophers and Saints of the country.

Philosophy, Theology and Sanskrit

Sanskrit abounds in Philosophy and Theology related issues. There are so many words one encounters within Sanskrit that convey subtly differing meanings of a concept that admits of only one interpretation when studied with other languages. The language thus has the ability to offer links between concepts using just the words.

Sanskrit for your emotions

The connoisseurs of the Sanskrit language know that it is the language of the heart. Whatever be the emotion one wishes to display, be it devotion, love, affection, fear, threat, anger, compassion, benevolence, admiration, surprise and the like, the most appropriate words of Sanskrit can flow like a gushing stream.

Some Unique Characteristics of the language

Sanskrit is co-original with the Vedas

The vedas cannot be studied without the

.. Vedangas, which are six in number. The first three deal with the spoken aspects of

the language. The first of these three, namely Siksha, tells us how to pronounce the

upto date and remains well defined even today. Of late, several persons have expressed the opinion

letters of the aksharas. Siksha divides the letters into three classes- Swaras, Vyanjanas and Oushmanas. Depending on the effort (Prayatna), place of origin in the body (Sthana), the force used (Bala) and the duration of time (Kala), the letters differ from each other in their auditory quality and meaning.

Vyakarna, known as the grammar of Sanskrit, is the second Vedanga which describes meaningful word formations. This is usually referred to as Sphota or meaningful sound.

The third Vedanga, Niruktam, describes certain fundamental root words used in the Vedas. Classification of words into groups of synonyms is an example. For instance, approximately a hundred and twenty synonyms for water are given in Niruktam.

The fourth Vedanga, Chandas, describes the formation of sentences in metrical form. Unlike English which used a very limited number of metres (basically four), Sanskrit offers about two dozen Vedic metres and innumerable conventional metres.

The remaining two Vedangas, Kalpa and Jyothisha deal with space and time.

The letters of Sanskrit

Sanskrit comprises fifty one letters or aksharas. In other languages, we refer to the letters of the alphabet of the language. We know that the word alphabet is derived from the names of the first two letters of Greek. The term alphabet has no other meaning except to denote the set of letters in the language.

In contrast, the word "akshara" in Sanskrit denotes something fundamental and significant. One of the direct meanings of the word is that it denotes the set of letters of Sanskrit from the first to the last. The word also means that the sound of the letter does not ever get destroyed and thus signifies the eternal quality of the sound of the letters. The consequence of this meaning is that the sound of a word is essentially the sounds of the aksharas in the word, a concept which will help simplify text to speech applications with computers.

There are two aspects of non destruction in the above explanation. The first one refers to the phonetic characteristics of the language, i.e., in any word, the aksharas retain their sound. The second aspect of non destruction, amazingly, is that the aksharas retain their individual meanings as well! To give an example, the word "guru" consisting of the aksharas "gu" and "ru" stands for a teacher- one who dispels darkness (ignorance) of the the mind (person). "gu" means darkness and "ru" means the act of removal.

Now, aren't we beginning to see something very interesting?

The popular Sanskrit language is based on root syllables and words. Unlike the other languages of the world, every word in Sanskrit is derived from a root. It is a well accepted fact that all Indo-European languages have a common origin. On the basis of the above mentioned fact that all the words of Sanskrit are traceable to specific roots, a feature not seen in other languages, one can presume that Sanskrit is most certainly the origin.

Massive, yet precise

One can learn Sanskrit purely for the sake of the great epics of India. The Ramayana has 24,000 verses fully in metre and the Mahabharata qualifies as the world's largest epic with 100,000 verses. The Mahabharata says, "what is here may be elsewhere, what is not here is nowhere." The precision with which the verses

letters of the aksharas. Siksha divides the letters into three classes- Swaras, Vyanjanas and Oushmanas. Depending
convey information on so many different aspects of life in a society, is a factor one
convey information on so many different aspects of life in a society, is a factor one
must reckon as the ultimate in composition.

Acharya Logo

The lotus flower is sacred to the people of India. It is also the national flower of India. The pink lotus is more frequently seen in the South.

The Devanagari Script

Introduction

This prelude begins with an introduction to the Sanskrit letters. The writing system used for Sanskrit is known as Devanagari. Indian languages are phonetic in nature and hence the written shapes represent unique sounds. In Sanskrit as well as in other Indian languages, proper pronounciation of the words is quite important. Hence it is necessary to learn the sounds associated with the written shapes.

The word "alphabet" is not usually applied to Sanskrit or other Indian languages. There is a subtle difference between the notion of "alphabet" and the "aksharas" as the letters of Sanskrit are called. When we think of the word "alphabet", we normally think of the name given to each letter to identify it. In most languages the letters of the alphabet have names which may give a clue to the sound associated with the letter. In Sanskrit and other Indian languages, there is no specific name given to the letters. The sound the letter stands for is actually the name for the letter. In a phonetic language, reading becomes easy since the reader will be reading out the words by uttering the sound associated with each akshara. More information on this is given in a separate section on Sanskrit and Phonetics.

For many years now, people of the world have learnt the Aksharas of Sanskrit through equivalent Roman letters which employ special marks (known as diacritics). The diacritics, which consist of marks written above or below a letter of the alphabet, refer to variations in the sound associated with the letter. Dictionaries follow his method to help the reader identify the manner in which the word should be pronounced. In India, the National Library at Calcutta has recommended that a single transliteration scheme be used to represent the Aksharas across all the Indian languages. This scheme will be used in the lessons covered in these pages. Students can take advantage of this when it comes to reading text.

The Roman Letters with Diacritic marks will be introduced along with the Aksharas themselves and hence it is not necessary for the reader to have prior knowledge of the Diacritics. A reference to this Transliteration scheme is also available in a separate page. The scheme is similar to the International Phonetic Alphabet representation but has some minor differences.

The Devanagari Script used for writing Sanskrit and a few other Indian languages has evolved from the Brahmi script which dates back to about 300 B.C. The Devanagari as we see it today, came into use around 1700 A.D. Printing in Devanagari became possible around 1850 after printing presses were establisedin India. The script studied here corresponds to modern Devanagari seen in books printed during the past seventy to hundred years. Books printed in Devanagari prior to 1900 A.D. may show some variations in representing some Aksharas.

The terminology used in classifying the aksharas is fairly standard and conforms to the terminology found in books on linguistics. It is of interest to note that the aksharas had already been classified from a linguistic point of view more than two thousand years ago. Sanskrit is probably the only language which has this distinction.

Devanagari Script (lesson 0!)

The short vowels

In Sanskrit, the vowels form an independent group from the consonants. There are fifteen vowels which comprise of five short ones, eight long ones and two support vowels. Among these fifteen, only thirteen are in normal use these days.

The vowels are called "swaras" in Sanskrit. The short ones are referred to as "hraswa" swaras.

Devanagari Script (lesson 0!)

Part-3: Suport Vowels

The support vowel concept is somewhat unique to Indian languages. A support vowel adds a specific sound to the normal vowel in a syllable. Hence the resulting syllable will sound a little different. Interestingly, the sound added by the support vowel is almost equivalent to the sound of a consonant. Yet, a subtle difference will be heard.

We saw in the first part that two of the short vowels actually have the sound of consonants (r and l). This may appear somewhat confusing to the student since a vowel is normally associated with a sound that is typically one of 'a,e,i,o,u'. But as far as Sanskrit is concerned, the concept of the vowel is that it gives life to a consonant, meaning thereby that consonants cannot be meaningful by themselves in any syllable. More on this will be found in the section dealing with phonetics.

The visarga is seen typically at the end of most masculine names

Devanagari Script (lesson 0!)

Long Vowels

There are eight long vowels. These are pronounced for a duration typically twice that of the short ones. The long vowels also include two vowels that are trated as diphthongs. However as far as Sanskrit is concerned they are not strictly diphthongs.

Devanagari Script (lesson 0!) Long Vowels There are eight long vowels. These are pronounced for a
Part-4: Generic form of a consonant The consonants in Sanskrit are known as "vyanjanani" and total

Part-4: Generic form of a consonant

The consonants in Sanskrit are known as "vyanjanani" and total thirtythree in number, though in recent times, a few additional ones have been included in the Devanagari script to support some frequently used syllables from other languages.

The consonants are grouped into six groups. The first five have five consonants each and the last one has eight. The grouping is based on the natural ordering of sounds such as gutturals, palatals etc., depending on the anatomical region involved in the generation of the sound associated with the consonants.

An interesting observation is that the letters of Sanskrit are given names exactly matching the sound they represent. A consonant derives its name from the sound when the basic vowel "a" is sounded with the consonant. In Sanskrit and in other Indian languages, each consonant has a generic form in which its pronounciation will not have any vowel sound associated with it.

The generic form applies when more than one consonant is used in forming syllables and there are many such combinations in Sanskrit. It was common practice to introduce the consonants to the children learning the language, not in their generic form but in the form where they are used with the first vowel "a". The writing system in Devanagari has a representation for the generic form of a consonant through the use of a special mark written at the bottom of the consonant's familiar representation. This mark is known as the "nether stroke" or the "halanth".

Part-5: Consonant Group-1: Gutturals

The gutturals consist of five sounds. The last one is a nasal consonant. The second and the fourth are aspirated versions of the first and third respectively. You can hear them to get an idea of their sounds. Typically, when a consonant is aspirated, a short "ha" gets added to the consonant. In English, when we say that a consonant is an aspirate, it is a consonant by itself and is not associated with any other consonant. For those familiar with Greek, the difference will be like how the consonant "chi" sounds different from the consonant "kappa".

Part-5: Consonant Group-1: Gutturals The gutturals consist of five sounds. The last one is a nasal

Part-6: Consonant Group-2: Palatals

Part-5: Consonant Group-1: Gutturals The gutturals consist of five sounds. The last one is a nasal

Part-7: Consonant Group-3: Cerebrals

Part-7: Consonant Group-3: Cerebrals Part-8: Consonant Group-3: Dentals

Part-8: Consonant Group-3: Dentals

Part-7: Consonant Group-3: Cerebrals Part-8: Consonant Group-3: Dentals

Part-9: Consonant Group-5: Labials

Part-9: Consonant Group-5: Labials

Part-10: Consonant Group-6: Semivowels, Sibilants etc.

Part-11: Consonant Vowel combinations

Sanskrit is a phonetic language. Any of the consonants can form a syllable with any of the vowels. Such combinations are written using special ligatures (specific shapes different from those of normal vowels). The Devanagari script follows fairly consistent rules to write consonant vowel combinations. In standard literature, the term "medial vowl" is used to refer to vowels inside a word i.e.,vowels occurring with consonants in the words. Exceptions to this rule of using medial vowel representations also occur.

Part-12: Conjuncts (Samyuktakshar)

Samyuktakshar or a conjunct character represents a syllable made up of two or more consonants from the basic set. In forming syllables, the Samyuktakshar will combine with one of the vowels.

Part-12: Conjuncts (Samyuktakshar) Samyuktakshar or a conjunct character represents a syllable made up of two or

In principle, arbitrary syllables may be formed by randomly combining consonants and writing the conjunct using half forms for all the consonants in the syllable except for the final. The final consonant of the syllable is writen in full form.

With a basic set of 33 consonants, the number of conjuncts which we can theoretically form is quite large. Typically,

33x33+33x33x33+3x33x33x33+

conjuncts may be possible. However, arbitrary combinations cannot be always

....... pronounced. In practice, one observes approximately a thousand conjuncts most of which have two or three consonants in them. There are some with four and at least one well known conjunct with five consonants.

Part-13: Writing methods for Conjuncts

Identifying conjuncts in written text is important for several reasons. Traditionally, Sanskrit verses were composed to conform to specific metre comprising a fixed number of aksharas. Hence the writing systems also provided some mechanism to form conjuncts from the consonants. The use of the "half form" introduced earlier is a practice allowed for many conjuncts particularly those which include a vertical stroke in their shapes. Since the half form is not clearly defined for all the consonants, special shapes were introduced for some of the conjuncts. Thus the actual shapes for many conjuncts were altered but in a way allowing enough clues to identify the individual consonants.

In many cases, the individual consonants were written one below the other vertically but with reduced sizes to accommodate writing the conjunct within a vertical span. In some cases, a combination of "half form" and writing one below the other was adopted. It must be pointed out that considerable flexibility exists in writing the conjuncts, though by convention, some shapes have become the standard. Let s look at some examples.

Samyuktakshar and vowel combinations The rules for writing syllables with samyuktakshar and vowels are the sameintricacies of the writing systems of the different languages. The referenced page presents an overview that should help the reader understand the complexities of the writing systems, specifically from the point of view of different shapes and conventions used in the scripts. Part-14: Conjuncts with "ra" Samyktakshars involving the consonant "ra" get special shapes. Unlike the other consonants which retain part of their shapes in samyuktakshars, Samyuktakshars with "ra" are written with special ligatures depending on the position occupied by "ra" within the conjunct. When "ra" occurs as the first consonant, it is given a shape called a " id="pdf-obj-19-2" src="pdf-obj-19-2.jpg">

Samyuktakshar and vowel combinations

The rules for writing syllables with samyuktakshar and vowels are the same as the ones for writing consonant- vowel combinations. The matras are used exactly the same way as before and will apply to the last consonant in the syllable except for "i" where the matra will appear before all the half-forms when half-forms are used. When the shape of the conjunct is very different, its shape may be viewed as that of a consonant itself and the matras added appropriately.

The rules for writing conjuncts are not very rigid. In respect of Sanskrit, certain conventions are followed in the use of the nasal consonants and the anuswar. Since the Devanagari script is also used for other languages such as Hindi and Marathi, one has to remember the conventions followed in those languages. The conventions do differ in the use of the nasal consonants and the sibilants.

The writing systems used in India fall under the category of syllabic writing systems. All the Indian languages which are written in one script or another strictly follow the rules for writing syllables. The Acharya site carries a special page describing the intricacies of the writing systems of the different languages. The referenced page presents an overview that should help the reader understand the complexities of the writing systems, specifically from the point of view of different shapes and conventions used in the scripts.

Part-14: Conjuncts with "ra"

Samyktakshars involving the consonant "ra" get special shapes. Unlike the other consonants which retain part of their shapes in samyuktakshars, Samyuktakshars with "ra" are written with special ligatures depending on the position occupied by "ra" within the conjunct. When "ra" occurs as the first consonant, it is given a shape called a

"Repham", a hook like ligature written above the succeeding consonant. When "ra" occurs as the last consonant in a conjunct, the ligature can vary considerably depending on the consonant involved, if it has a vertical stroke in it etc.

Among the Samyuktakshars, the ones with "ra" in them are quite many in number (typically exceeding 80). Next to "ra", "ya" occurs in many conjuncts.

"Repham", a hook like ligature written above the succeeding consonant. When "ra" occurs as the last

Part-15: List of Conjuncts

Part-16: Aksharas which look very similar

Part-17: Vedic Symbols

The Vedas constitute the oldest literature known to man. It has not been possible to determine exactly when the Vedas were written. In India, the view held is that they were not the creation of any human being but divine sounds heard by the seers who understood them, interpreted them and gave them to this world. From the beginning, Vedas have been learnt following the oral tradition and never was the need felt to have a written form. With the western scholars developing deeper interests in the scriptures of India and the advanced made in printing techniques, specific notations were proposed to indicate the swaras to be applied when chanting the mantras.

There has been very little standardization in the notations but in respect of the first two Vedas (Rig and Yajur), three swaras have specific diacritics associated with them. The figure below explains the notation.

Part-17: Vedic Symbols The Vedas constitute the oldest literature known to man. It has not been

Part-18: Rarely used Aksharas

Part-18: Rarely used Aksharas Part-19: Summary of the lesson In this lesson, we have seen the

Part-19: Summary of the lesson

In this lesson, we have seen the aksharas of Sanskrit. The vowels and consonants were introduced independently. The concept of conjunct characters was also discussed and examples of the writing methods for conjuncts were shown.

The student should practice writing the aksharas and slowly develop the skills to identify the aksharas and thus read short sentences. TheAkshara animation page is a useful resource for learning the stroking order for the Akshars. The page also includes audio examples for learning the correct pronunciation of the Aksharas.

Typesetting Devanagari

Typesetting Devanagari is a complex job involving careful selection of typefaces for each of the conjuncts. The form of writing the consonsnts one below the other was not favoured for conjuncts with more than two consonsnts since this would increase the vertical height of the conjunct. When it was indeed done, the individual consonants had to be reduced in size to such an extent that in some cases intelligiblity became a problem.

We must mention here the contributions from Franz Velthuis, Dominik Wujastyk and more recently Wikner, who have made available a fine facility to print Devanagari through Tex, a typesetting Program developed by Prof. Knuth. Much of the work related to transliterated forms of Devanagari input (such as ITRANS) is credited to their work. In particular, Wikner has designed nearly a thousand conjuncts. The software relating to this is usually seen in the archives for Tex. Interested readers may take a look at Wikner's conjuncts by printing the document sktdoc.600ps available from ftp.nacdh4.nac.ac.za/wikner/

The normal practice in India (during the past 50 years or so) has been to use the half form as well the one below the other form effectively so as not to increase the vertical height of the akshara. The choice of combining the half forms with vertically arranged combinations was often exercised by the typesetter and so it is not unusual to find different representations for the same conjunct.

Part-20: Exercises

Part-21: Listening Practice

Audio support is available in this page

Here, you can check your ability to read Devanagari. The audio corresponding to the text shown below can be played by clicking on the line you want to hear. Please try to read the line before attempting to hear the audio.

Lesson:1 Simple expressions

Introduction

The previous lesson dealt with the Devanagari Script. By now the student should be familiar with the aksharas of Sanskrit and be able to read words and sentences by successively pronouncing the aksharas in a word.

This lesson will introduce you to simple expressions. The idea is to become familiar with expressions that involve greeting a person, asking a question and such. Terms from English Grammar are used to help the student understand the nature of the expressions. In this lessons, transliterations in IPA will be included to help you read the text.

A phonetic language has its advantages. Once you know the aksharas you can read any sentence. The pronunciation is fixed by the aksharas! This is what we meant by "Eternal aspect of the sound of the aksharas" in our write up on why one should study Sanskrit.

Lesson:1 Simple expressions

Part-1: Simple expressions in the first person

Lesson:1 Simple expressions

Part-2: Simple expressions involving a question

Lesson:1 Simple expressions

Part-3: Demonstrative pronouns

Part-4: Some common expressions

Part-4: Some common expressions Lesson:1 Simple expressions Part-5: Glossary

Lesson:1 Simple expressions

Part-5: Glossary

Lesson:1 Simple expressions

Part-6: Exercises

Lesson:1 Simple expressions Part-6: Exercises Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number Introduction

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number

Introduction

In this second lesson we introduce the student to expressions which take into account person and number i.e., expressions involving one or more persons or things. In English we refer to this as expressions in singular or plural relating to first, second or third person.

Sanskrit is unique in that, it includes a special disctinction for referring to two persons or things. One might perhaps wonder why such a distinction is made at all. It happens that certain things always occur in pairs in nature. This specific form called the 'dual' in respect of number, allows one to understand easily the objects being referred to. While organs such as the eyes, ears etc, are seen in pairs, there are many other situations in nature where one comes across pairs like two oxen ploughing a field, two wheels of a cart etc.

As to whether such a distinctionis really necessary is a question that may not admit of a simple answer. There must have been some motivating reason for this!

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number

Part-1: Person and number

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number Part-2: Expressions with personal pronouns

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number

Part-2: Expressions with personal pronouns

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number

Part-3: Use of (to be) in two ways

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number Part-3: Use of (to be) in two ways Lesson2:

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number

Part-4: Number and gender

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number

Part-5: Glossary

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number Part-5: Glossary

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number

Part-6: Execises-1

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number Part-6: Execises-1 Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number

Part-7: Exercises-2

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number Part-8: Exercises-3

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number

Part-8: Exercises-3

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number Part-9: Numerals

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number

Part-9: Numerals

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number Part-10: Summary of Lesson2

Lesson2: Simple expressions: Gender, Person and Number

Part-10: Summary of Lesson2