Sunday, February 14, 2010

meet the alphabet - the letter a - अ

the sanskrit language's alphabet is very scientifically arranged. it shows the deep understanding of linguistics as early as 500BC (pANini's time) but the alphabet might have been in this order even in vedic times, which might push it another 1-2 thousand years back, conservatively. we will see its arrangement in later posts. check this

the letter 'a' is pronounced like 'u' of but, cut, shut etc.
in a word, the trailing sound of 'a' causes a lot of confusion in modern times. if it is not stressed enough, it sounds like a consonant without the vowel, like many english words put, cut, but etc. the lack of stress on trailing 't' is what would be called a 'halant' or vowel-less consonant sound.

when it is stressed, usually it ends up sounding like 'aa'.
e.g. yoga is pronounced erroneously like yogaa, whereas it is somewhat like "yo-g-uh" (NOT yogurt, but yogurt without the 'rt' sound!)

this confusion gives rise to errors of saying shiva as shivaa (pArvatI), brahma (brahman, the supreme unmanifest) as brahmaa (the creator, the manifest), drupada (the king) as drupadaa (his daughter), kRiShNa (the cowherd) as kRiShNaa (draupadI). gaNesha is pronounced as gaNeshaa. the 'sha' and 'ga' have exactly same vowel pronunciation, but mostly in english it is pronounced as 'ga' and 'shaa'. avoid such errors.

'a' is also a word in itself. the word 'a' (just the vowel), implies viShNu.

अकारो विष्णुरुद्दिष्ट उकारस्तु महेश्वरः ।
मकारस्तु स्मृतो ब्रह्मा, प्रणवस्तु त्रयात्मकः ॥

a-kāraḥ viṣhṇuḥ uddiṣhṭaḥ, u-kāraḥ tu mahéshvaraḥ |makāraḥ tu smṛitaḥ brahmā, praṇavaḥ tu trayātmakaḥ || (IAST)

a-kAraH viShNuH uddiShTaH, u-kAraH tu maheshwaraH |
makAraH tu smRitaH brahmA, praNavaH tu trayAtmakaH || (ITRANS)

the sacred 'om' is made up of a+u+m [a + u = o] and
a stands for viShNu
u stands for maheshwara (shiva)
m stands for brahmaa.
thus praNava (om) is trifold.

[the comments about the letter style is shown in handwriting]

as a prefix to adjectives, a- has 6 different shades of meaning. it works like the in-, im-, un- prefix of latin. apart from one exception, the an- prefix also forms from 'a' only.

this should NOT be confused with verb prefix a- denoting past tense. e.g. apaThat (read in past), agachchhat (went)

1. similarity! similar but not same. e.g. a-brAhamaNa, like but a brAhamaNa (maybe a kShatriya or vaishya)

2. lack of, absent. e.g. a-kroora (not cruel), a-krodha (lack of anger), a-lobha (lack of greed)

3. different. e.g. a-paTa - not paTa (cloth) but something else.

4. less, minimal. (this is like 2). e.g. an-udarA (small waist)
careful, it is not anudAra which is an-udAra not lenient)

5. bad, unapproved. e.g. a-kAla = not appropriate time. a-kArya = inappropriate work/deed.

6. opposite. e.g. a-satya = opposite of truth. a-dharma = opposite of dharma, wrong doing, injustice.

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  1. अकारो विष्णुरुद्दिष्ट उकारस्तु महेश्वरः ।
    मकारस्तु स्मृतो ब्रह्मा, प्रणवस्तु त्रयात्मकः ॥

    a-kAraH viShNuH uddiShtaH, u-kAraH tu maheshwaraH |
    makAraH tu smRitaH brahmA, praNavaH tu trayAtmakaH ||

    A little confused here. Should the first letter read a-kAro, the second viShNur etc. Please advise..

  2. technically yes. but in the roman script, i removed the sandhi changes to give the base words.
    without sandhi, the original would read as is given in the roman.

    अ-कारः विष्णुः उद्दिष्तः, उ-कारः तु महेश्वरः ।
    म-कारः तु स्मृतः ब्रह्मा, प्रणवः तु त्रयात्मकः ॥
    after sandhi becomes as follows -
    अकारो विष्णुरुद्दिष्ट उकारस्तु महेश्वरः ।
    मकारस्तु स्मृतो ब्रह्मा, प्रणवस्तु त्रयात्मकः ॥

  3. My apologies again but what would be the correct pronunciation if I am reading.
    Brampton, Canada

  4. अकारो विष्णुरुद्दिष्ट उकारस्तु महेश्वरः ।
    मकारस्तु स्मृतो ब्रह्मा, प्रणवस्तु त्रयात्मकः ॥

    this is the proper verse. in general, if sandhi is broken up, it can lead to extra mAtrA-s and mess up the verse structure. hence the proper verse, when read has to be read this way only.

    the sandhi breakup is given only for ease of understanding the individual words.

    try reading with the sandhi broken, i.e. with all the visarga-s, and you will see the flow breaks. hence, in sandhi the visarga goes away and the flow is smoothened a bit!

    so to sum up, the pronunciation depends on what you are reading. if you want to read the verse as is, then it is a-kAro ... etc. if you want to read it out as prose with sandhi-vichchheda, then you can read it out as a-kAraH ...

  5. Thanks brother. You are such a boon to us new learners.
    Brampton, Canada

  6. Acabo de empezar con las letras. Tanto las lecciones como el video son muy didacticos.

    Muchas gracias
    Maria Lameyer
    Madrid España

  7. Nice one! Tukaram seems to have jumbled them when he said "akara to brahma, ukara to vishnu, makara mahesh janiyela". But then, it does not matter to advaitins...

  8. Thank you so very much for sharing your knowledge. I'm just a beginner yoga student trying to learn more about the history of yoga and also to be able to read, write and chant Sanskrit. Your site is incredibly helpful!!!! Thank you again. Namaste.


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