Monday, March 15, 2010

meet the alphabet - letters and vowels Ri and Rii

the vowel Ri, calligraphic (left), single stroke cursive (right)

this vowel sound is the one of the most confusing sounds in sanskrit, that have also got modified in regional languages in two different ways, unlike any other sounds. the other sound being that of 'GY'/'jn' (ज्ञ) as in GYaana/JNaana (ज्ञान)

short sound - RRi (ITRANS); ऋ (devanAgarI); ṛ (IAST)
long sound - RRI (ITRANS); ॠ (devanAgarI); ṝ (IAST)
as for sanskit use, a single Ri is sufficient, but since there is another sound in marAThi language, ITRANS chose RRi, rather than just Ri.

these are sixth and seventh letters and vowels of sanskrit. the longer vowel is extremely rarely used. the shorter vowel is also used in very few words, but it is used in some of the most common or important words. i for one, never understood why such a rarely used vowel was used for such important words (see later).

a few pointers will help in its pronunciation.
  • in its current usage, in northern indian languages it is said as 'ri', just like 'r' + 'i'. in this case ripu (रिपु, enemy) and RiShi (ऋषि, sage) would sound the same.
  • in southerns indian languages, the pronunciation is like 'ru', 'r' + 'u'. in this case ruchi (रुचि, interest) and Ruchaa (ऋचा, verse) would sound the same.
  • just like 'i' + 'a' makes 'ya' sound, and 'u' + 'a' makes the 'wa' sound, 'Ri' + 'a' makes 'ra' the normal 'r' of rain, ring etc.
  • it also means that just like 'i' and 'ya' are said from front palate (moordhaa, between the base of teeth and roof of mouth cavity); 'u' and 'wa' are labials, said with the help of the lips; 'Ri' and 'ra' are also said from the same place, the moordhaa, roof of the palate. so trying to say 'wa' by quickly saying 'u' and 'a' gives us how to say 'u'. similarly, trying to saying 'ra' slowl, breaking it into '??' and 'a' will give us a good idea on how to say 'Ri'. put your tongue on the roof of the palate, and try to say 'a'.
  • remember, 'Ri' is a vowel sound, which means you should be able to sustain it for long. what do ii mean? if you say 'ka' for long and 'cha' for long, you will only hear 'a' vowel sound, after 3 seconds, you can't say whether the speaker was saying 'ka' or 'cha' since all that is left after the first split second is the vowel sound. so when you say 'Ri/ऋ/ṛ', if you make it sound like 'ri' you will hear a sustained 'i'. if you make it sound like 'ru', you will hear a sustained 'u', both of which will be incorrect. so your tongue should remain at the roof while you say this vowel.

how to write 'Ri'?
see the step by step method to write the letter. it is also one of the most complicated single letter to write. its left side is like 'tra' (त्र) and right side like a cursive 'r' of roman script.

the modified words from 'Ri' words, end up using 'r', e.g. RiShi (sage), ArSha (of RiShi).

some common words starting with 'Ri/ऋ' are -
  • Rich = ऋचा = to praise, extol; hymns of the Rigveda [ArchanA = अर्चना = praise, prayer, request]
  • Rigveda = ऋग्वेद = oldest of the four vedas
  • RiNa = ऋण = debt, obligation, minus sign in mathematics
  • RikShaH= ऋक्षः = bear, a constellation
  • Riju = ऋजु = simple, straight [Arjavam = आर्जवं = simplicity ]
  • Rita = ऋत = to pity; proper, honest, right, true; affected by [Arta = आर्त = one affected by. e.g. kAmArta = by desire; duHkhArta = by sorrow etc]. Rita is also used in the famous shloka - satyameva jayate, nAnRitam (na-an-Ritam) which means 'truth alone triumphs, "not untruth".
  • RituH = ऋतुः = season, periods.
  • RiddhiH = ऋद्धिः = increase, prosperity, growth. as in samRiddhi
  • RiShabhaH = ऋषभः = bull, male animal.
  • RiShiH = ऋषिः = inspired poet or sage; seer; singer of sacred hymns. poet is not just a wordsmith, but a viosionary.

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Sahana Singh said...

I'd like to clarify that there is a right pronunciation and a wrong pronunciation for this alphabet in Samskruta (what is called Sanskrit by laypersons). The North Indian 'ri' is wrong and the South Indian 'ru' is right as per Sanskrit standards. It is OK to say 'ri' when speaking Hindi but not while reciting Sanskrit.

shashi said...

thank you sahanaji.
the very first two points are on this. but both of these are incorrect if said as the vowel 'i' or 'u'. 'R' is a separate vowel. in normal roman characters, it is represented as Ri or Ru based on personal preference, but getting technical, it is represented only as 'ṛ'. the normal reading gives confusion because of lack of a vowel, hence a trailing 'i' or 'u' is added to remind readers that 'ṛ' is actual a vowel.

other points mentioned would also help in figuring out the pronunciation, e.g. the consonant 'ra' is obtained from 'ṛ', just like 'ya' from 'i' and 'va' from 'u'.

tonys said...

Both are wrong. Originally this vowel sound was colder to the English R and was a true vowel. In true vowels, the tongue does not touch the rest of the mouth as in Ru and Ri.

Sudh Kamp said...

You are correct in saying that Rru is the correct pronunciation in Sanskrit. Even Hindi follows the same sound as Sanskrit, but some local effects have seeped into the pronunciations and the Ree is considered correct pronunciation by Hindi speaking people and they use the same while speaking Sanskrit too.

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