Sunday, June 28, 2009

how to read and write sanskrit?

there are many ways to write sanskrit when it comes to roman scripts. as they say necessity is the mother of invention. these inventions came for various needs.

first was the desire to write in roman script, by english scholars of gone by centuries, when they started discovering a whole new world. a world, that they quickly found was much more than they had imagined, much richer than the physical opulence of india that had drawn them here in the first place. to use an insufficient script like roman script with only 26 letters is a challenge to say the least. the letters are not enough, and sounds are duplicated. some of the letters duplicate a sound like 'k', 'c' OR 'c' and 's' OR 'v' and 'w' OR 'g' and 'j' etc.

in the pre-computer era, print media was using special characters like ā ī ś ŗ ņ ţ which were printed only in scholarly books. so shiva (third of the trinity, mahAdeva, mahAkAla, with the trident etc.) was written as 'śiva' and durgA (the unified energy of all the divine forms, riding a lion, (called The Mother by all) is written as 'durgā'

shiva -> śiva
durgA -> durgā

note the missing 'h' in siva and a single 'a' in siva and durga.

this has led to so much confusion in reading sanskrit, along with the other funny things used by scholars, but mis-interpreted by non-scholar. people writing by hand, forgot the special marks on the 's' and 'a' and wrote
shiva -> siva and durgA -> durga

and the pronunciation changed from:
shiv-uh (शिव )-> sivaa (सिवा) (use your normal english pronunciation guesses)

so all 'sh' became 's' and all 'a' became 'aa' in pronunciation.

not only is the 's' wrong, so is the 'a', to the point that such mistakes can mean a totally different name, since a trailing long 'aa' is a way to change gender.

so kRShNa (कृष्ण)= son of vasudeva, speaker of bhagawad gItA; but it becomes krisnaa (क्रिस्ना)= with a long 'aa' and mean 'draupadi' the wife of the pAnDavas.

more damage has been done to india(ns) by trying to learn sanskrit through english texts which didn't care for the common person and their biases towards reading english words.

in the computer era, in the beginning, with the plain keyboard, a scheme was developed to correctly communicate the lyrics of popular hindi movie songs (of the golden era, which were great poetry) and for some sanskrit mailing lists (pre-web days). this is called ITRANS and has been influential in any and all further developments in this regard.

now of course we have Unicode which does a great job of making the text searchable and portable, independent of old fonts that differed in their mappings and caused lot of migration issues, or visitors had to download a truck load of fonts, one per site.

over the years, i had developed bhaarat, bhaarat2 fonts for devanAgarI and pranav and pranav2 for transliteration. the pictures below are from one of my books 'Hindu Prayer Book' in 2005 that explains the various finer points while reading/writing sanskrit in roman font.

learning devanAgarI font is a bit tricky, and steep in the beginning, but since the script is perfectly mathematical - one sound, one letter - the learning initially pays off handsomely later. after all, indian kids pick it by early on, my daughter picked up even writing by the age of 4.

more on this after readers get time to digest this :)

[ click on image to view larger, much clearer size ]

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(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
Practical Sanskrit. All rights reserved.


Saraswathan said...

I have always been longing to know the meanings of various Sanskrit Slokas and verses in Bhagvat Gita, Ramayan Etc by some simple translation. I was thrilled when I saw this Blog which was like an Elixir to my desire! IThank my Ishta Devata Hanuman for leading me to this Site!
God Bless

shashi said...

thank you for your comments.
there are many sites which provide translations or transliteration. but there aren't many who give the language break up, dwell on the deeper meaning, and how it relates to modern times. if it doesn't make any sense for present, then it is mere burden. interestingly, i have rarely found any sanskrit shloka that is not relevant today :)

yogaone said...

What font needs to be installed to see the above unicode Samskruta lipi? I checked in Firefox and cross checked in IE and I am seeing only squared blocks. Can you please help with this. I would like to read the original in Samskruta (devanaagari lipi) as it is nice and clear to read them. Thanks for your site. It is really rejuvenating to read Samskruta.
- Srinivasa, Mexico

Anonymous said...

I would really like to take the time to understand this beautiful language because I want to make hymns and songs and to read the purunas and the other vedas.

Rama_Bangalore said...

Today I first visited this site and read the explanation for "brahmArpaNaM brahma haviH.." and this Slokha I chant before starting Vishnu Sahasranama. I was briefly knowing the meaning, but now I know it completely. I am interested to learn Sanskrit and teach my children too. Please inform the practical means to learn it and I am living in Bangalore and my mother tongue is Thamizh.

shashi said...

@rama, if you are bangalore you should definitely try samskrit bharati, akshram in girinagarm. they have spoken sanskrit courses and classes.

Anonymous said...

does anybody give me the `hora kriana hora rama` typed in sanskrit?

shashi said...

shashi said...

is it hare kRiShNa hare rAma?
हरे कृष्ण हरे राम

Venu said...


I stumbled upon your blog as I was trying to remember and search for the 'karAgre lakshMi' sloka. I am fond lover of Samskrit language, went through the spoken samskritapriya course by Samskritapriya Bharati'. I read few traditional samskrit grammar books, but believe there is understanding gap to current learner at basic level. Can you suggest any grammar book?

Anonymous said...

hi their,im interested in my twin boys names being transalted into sanskrit alfie and archie ,any help would be great..wayne

Anonymous said...

I'd like to get a tattoo saying "Be the change you wish to see in the world" written down my side but how do i go about doing that? I have found it translated but i don't know how to make it "lay" properly- is sanskrit read from left to right? right to left?

Unknown said...

I found a very old document in San script or Hindi not sure if it's one of the same need someone to translate it does anybody know anybody that can do this

shashi said...

Please take pictures/scans of a few pages and post or email to
I will see what I can help.

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