Monday, June 28, 2010

Prāṇāyāma (pranayama) on the go - meet the alphabet - aM and aH - अं अः

In prāṇāyāma (प्राणायाम), yogic breathing, there are two special ones - bhrāmarī (भ्रामरी , like a humming bee) and kapālabhātī (कपालभाति), which are so interwoven in the very fabric of the Sanskrit language that at times the implications are scary.

Long before the 'fast food on the go', there was the concept of 'fast prāṇāyāma on the go'! There has always been a great emphasis on the correct pronunciation of the sounds. In chanting, not just the pronunciation, but the proper stress and duration are also critical.

After meeting all the vowels "अ a, आ ā, इ i, ई ī, उ u, ऊ ū, ऋ ṛi, ए e, ऐ ai, ओ o, औ au" it is time to meet two special sounds, listed under vowels as well. Please click here to see the complete chart of alphabet in a tabular form to help understand the post.

aṃ अं – anusvāra/अनुस्वार
The consonant groups of five, have the fifth member as a nasal sound, which is called anunāsika (अनुनासिक), i.e. nasal. e.g.
ta, tha, da, dha, na (त, थ, द, ध, न)
pa, pha, ba, bha, ma (प, फ, ब, भ, म)

But apart from the 20 consonants (k, kh, g, gh; ch, chh, j, jh; ṭ, ṭh, ḍ, ḍh; t, th, d, dh; p, ph, b, bh) which have a fifth nasal sound for their groups, what about other consonants like y, r, l, w, śh, ṣh, s, h ? What corresponding nasal sound is there for these?

The anunāsika (अनुनासिक, 5th of the group) when half, can and should be written as half consonant, and not as a dot. Though, nowadays they are also written with a dot on the previous consonant. Below are four examples of using half consonant or just the dot (the one with dot is in the parenthesis).
But for other consonants, there is no half nasal sound. For all these, the anusvāra (अनुस्वार) is used. In ITRANS it is denoted by 'M', in devanāgarī by a dot on top.

gaṅgā / ga~NgA (gaMgA) = गङ्गा (गंगा)
sañjaya / sa~njaya (saMjaya) = सञ्जय (संजय)
kaṇṭha / kaNTha (kaMTha) = कण्ठ (कंठ)
sambandha / sambandha (saMbaMdha) = सम्बन्ध (संबंध)
saṃsāra / saMsAra = संसार (has no other choice of like सन्सार (incorrect)

This half-nasal sound is used before a consonant of the same group. For example, before p/ph/b/bh the half nasal would be 'm' only, e.g. sambandha सम्बन्ध. half m.

Lot of words have the half 'm' at end. For example, phalam (फलम्, fruit), yānam (यानम् vehicle), rāmam (रामम् to rāma राम). Inside a sentence, a trailing 'm' can be written as anusvāra (dot on top) if the word is not the last word of the sentence, but at the end, it must be spelled out as half m म्

For example, विद्या परमं बलम् (vidyā paramaṃ balam) in this paramaṃ (परमं) has an ending dot, but balam has 'm' with halanta.

This sound, of humming in trailing words is not coincidental or accidental, it is found at an alarming frequency. Almost all noun forms have five (out of 21) endings in 'm' - rāmam, rāmābhyām, rāmāṇām ...

Every time you say such words, you are doing a short bhrāmarī prāṇāyāma, which has many benefits -
"Inhale through both the nostrils. Exhale through both nostrils and use the throat to make a soft sound, like the buzzing of a bee.

Besides having a profound effect on ears, nose, eyes and mouth, it enlivens your looks; improves the glamor of the face, improves one’s concentration levels, relieves migraine pains, reduces stress and mental agitation, hypertension, and successfully combats and helps prevent many a disease. Practice of bhrāmarī is beneficial for pregnant women."

aḥ/अः - visarga
The aḥ is an extra gust of air, and makes the sound aspirant. It is almost like second 'h' of 'huh'.

It is akin to doing a short kapālabhātī prāṇāyāma, where you use your belly like a bellow and let a quick gust of air out. So when you say rāmaḥ, at the end is an extra gust of air like in doing kapālabhātī !

Out of the 21 forms of a noun (singular, dual, plural times 7 vibhakti), 5 end in aṃ and 8 in aḥ, making a total of 13 out of 21 as a form of prāṇāyāma!

Below is the form for rāma (noun, masculine, akārānta)

रामः (rāmaḥ)रामौ (rāmau)रामाः (rāmāḥ)
रामम् (rāmam)रामौ (rāmau)रामान् (rāmān)
रामेण (rāmeṇa)रामाभ्याम् (rāmābhyām)रामैः (rāmaiḥ)
रामाय (rāmāya)रामाभ्याम् (rāmābhyām)रामेभ्यः (rāmebhyaḥ)
रामात् (rāmāt)रामाभ्याम् (rāmābhyām)रामेभ्यः (rāmebhyaḥ)
रामस्य (rāmasya)रामयोः (rāmayoḥ)रामाणाम् (rāmāṇām)
रामे (rāme)रामयोः (rāmayoḥ)रामेषु (rāmeṣhu)
हे राम (he rāma)हे रामौ (he rāmau)हे रामाः (he rāmāḥ)

Now let us see the power of a mantra using these sounds, the pure acoustic effect, even if you don't know the meaning (mahāmṛityuñjaya mantra chanting) -

om tryambaka yajāmahe, sugandhi puṣhṭivardhanam |
urvārukamiva bandhanāt mṛityormukṣhiya māmṛitāt om ||

If you say this mantra slowly, and with proper emphasis, you are doing many short bhrāmarī-s! No wonder it will have effect on you. A sincere recitation of this, will cure most of your headaches in 5 minutes or less. Just try it! Slow down the nasal sounds.

All the yoga enthusiasts and teachers, start speaking clearly, all the Sanskrit words, and you are doing prāṇāyāma even while speaking! Exercise on the go! Proper diction, stress, and duration will not only give you the extra attention (hopefully not the British style) but also a good exercise of the vocal cord and chest. More than you asked for, huḥ?

The question is - was it intentional or coincidental? In my limited knowledge of other languages, I don't know if these two sounds (especially in ending of the words) are found in other languages.

Apologies for any confusions or mistakes.

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


  1. I never thought of these half vowels as pranayama. It makes you wonder if the ancient rishis did this on purpose so that anyone speaking Sanskrit would be doing healthful and spiritual excercise even in there daily speaking. So neat! Joan from Facebook

  2. Wonderful! My Veda Guru says that vedic Chanting includes Pranayama.. now at least I know one reason why.
    Thank you!

  3. I love this! So happy I found your page!
    Lissa Coffey
    Los Angeles, CA

  4. @joan, it is highly possible that they did. and it is surprising that they succeeded in the largest ever campaign of healthy living :) :) just speak the language and you are healthy!

    @satyask - you are welcome

    @lissa - please visit us frequently, and let your friends know of this as well. we have fun sharing the joys of sankrit here (and on the facebook page).

  5. dhanyavAdaH bandhuH
    samsruta bhAshAyA prAviNyaM prApyArThe lekhanaM uttama sAdhanaM asti iti mama Ashaya asti| gmail google transliterator cha ahaM jAnAmi| tarhi kim prakAreNa iha comment frame sthane sthapayatu iti ahaM na jAnAmi| krupayA mama doshan pradarshayitu|

  6. @anonymous,
    type the sanskrit text in roman characters (pretty much what you typed) in the google transliteration window after choosing Sanskrit as the language.

    धन्यवादः बन्धुः
    संस्कृत भाषाय प्राविण्यं प्राप्यार्थे लेखनं उत्तम साधनं अस्ति इति मम आशय अस्ति | gmail google transliterator च अहं जानामि | तर्हि किं प्रकारेण इह comment frame स्थाने स्थापयतु इति अहं न जानामि | कृपया मम दोषान् प्रदर्शयितु |

  7. Thank you for this wonderful post, especially shedding more light on one of my favourite mantras. I have been studying sanskrit just over a month now and your page keeps me enthusiastic even when my brain seems so slow in absorbing even the vowels.



  8. yodih, you are most welcome. do join the facebook page as well!

  9. Beautiful article. Now I know the reason why my father looks so refreshed after reciting the rudra. The glow on his face is more than evident.
    May I should suggest this article to ur friend Mr.Paul [I met you at his class few weeks back.]
    I did nt understand the last part of the sloka - do we recite the oM and aM 5 times each?

  10. Happy to find this page. I was actually looking out for the complete "Ramah Ramau Raamaaha". Had learnt it in school. My teacher was very insistent that we try and talk atleat one or two sentence in sanskrit. Miss those days. Do you know any site where they teach you how to talk in sanskrit - a simple every day usage is what i am looking for. Thanks a lot.


  11. priya, samskrita bharati in girinagarm, bangalore does spoken sanskrit courses. try them since you are also in bangalore.

    1. samskrita bharathi is planing to have 10 days camp at ragigudda temple j.p. nagar May 3-13th. call 08026721052.veda athavale


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