Saturday, November 17, 2007

Common Sanskrit Pronunciation Errors (Part 1)

--------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Narasimha P.V.R. Rao <>
Date: Nov 17, 2007 8:10 AM
Subject: [vedic-wisdom] Common Sanskrit Pronunciation Errors (Part 1)

Namaste friends,
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa once said that even Vedas are corrupted these days. It is the nature of Kali yuga to corrupt everything.
It is my feeling that many people, including highly learned Vedic scholars, pronounce some sounds in Sanskrit mantras (including Veda mantras) incorrectly.
Of course, pronunciation is not everything. Having devotion and the spirit of surrender to god is even more important. However, pronunciation is a factor too. Especially, correct pronunciation is very important in Veda mantras. Wrong pronunciation of a Veda mantra can stop one from the most complete experience of the mantra. In fact, we have a lot of people who can memorize and repeat Veda mantras, but very few who can actually "experience" a mantra.
Over the next few months, I will write my views on correct pronunciation and point out some common errors. If you do not think that correct pronunciation is important or if you disagree with my assessment of the errors or if you do not want to change your pronunciation, please ignore my writings on this subject. On the other hand, if you are open to changing your pronunciation, please give a consideration to my views and adopt my suggestions if you find them appropriate.
*        *        *
Take the "t" sound at the end of the words like "prachodayaat", "ava purastaat", "sahasrapaat" etc. Most priests and scholars pronounce this sound incorrectly. They change "t" to something like "tu" or "ttu" or "ti" or "tti". There is a reason why this corruption came into practice, but it is a corruption nevertheless.
In "prachodayaat", the sound "yaat" as one letter/syllable/akshara. If you change it into "yaattu" or "yaatu" by adding a vowel sound at the end, it becomes two aksharas. This increases the number of aksharas, changes the chhandas and changes the meaning also. You may still experience something when meditating on the mantra, but you will never experience the mantra to the fullest with that pronunciation.
Akshara means "unperished". Vowels (swaras) are the praana (life force) of an akshara. If you have just a consonant without a vowel after it, then it has no praana. It is kshara and NOT an akshara. It perishes. For example, if you pronounce "t" as is (without adding any sounds to it), you cannot sustain the sound and the listener cannot decipher what exactly you pronounced. It has no life force.
In "prachodayaat", the whole sound "yaat" is one akshara. Because "t" has no praana by itself, it simply joins to the akshara "yaa" (which has the vowel "aa" as its praana) and becomes part of that akshara. In chhandas, "yaat" is considered one letter (one guru). When you pronounce "yaat" correctly, it is difficult for the listener to know for sure whether you said "yaat" or "yaak" or "yaan". It is possible if one listens carefully, but otherwise difficult. The "t" at the end is a very quick and abrupt transient sound without praana. So it tough to hear clearly.
This makes people add some vowel to it (like "u" or "a" or "o" or "i" or some other vowel sound in between them) so that the "t" sound gets a praana and becomes clearly audible.
It suddenly becomes an akshara and the chhandas changes.
Probably, some big teacher started pronouncing "yaat" as "yaatu" so that "t" gets a praana of itself and becomes very clear to hear, so that his students would not get confused when learning. Probably the students thought the mantra was "yaatu" (instead of "yaat") and got used to that mis-pronunciation. Probably, that became a standard practice after a couple of centuries.
If you pronounce the English word "path", you do not change it to "paaththu". You say "th" at the end of "path" as a consonant and leave it there. You don't force an vowel sound to be added at the end. The same thing holds for "t" in "prachodayaat".
*        *        *
What I said about words ending in consonants applies to all consonants and not just "t", though "t" is more commonly encountered. There can be words that end in "n" or "k" etc also. There also, people normally add an artificial vowel sound at the end and end up changing the chhandas and altering the flow of energy in the mantra. That is also wrong.
*        *        *
One more common mistake is the sound "tha" (as in "kathaa" = story). Most south Indians pronounce this as "dha" (as in "dhana" = money). In Telugu and Kannada scripts, the symbols of tha and dha looks very similar and just one dot in the middle is different. It is possible that some people started mispronouncing this sound because of their inability to see the dot and others started following. Now pronouncing tha as dha became mainstream and one pronouncing correctly will be the odd person out.
Sanskrit is not English. We never have two different symbols for the same sound or two different sounds for the same symbol. The letters "tha" and "dha" are different and their sounds are different too. Pronounce "t" (as in "tanu" = body or "taamra" = copper) with a stress/aspiration to get "th" (as in "kathaa" = story).
In the sankalpa before many poojas, people say "dharmaartha kaama moksha chaturvidha purushaartha siddhyartham". This means "for attaining the purusharthas (purposes of human existence) - dharma (fulfilling duties), artha (work and money), kaama (fulfilling desires) and moksha (developing detachment)". Most people end up pronouncing "dharmaartha kaama moksha" as "dharmaardha kaama moksha". It means "half of dharma, kaama and moksha". Even "siddhardham" means "half attainment" and "purushaardha" means "half a human". Mis-pronunciation in this sankalpa is a bad mistake and I have seen it committed by many many trained priests!
When you read Vaidika/Taantrika/Pouranika mantras, pay attention to the difference between "tha" and "dha" and learn to pronounce them differently. When you see "tha" or "dha" in the mantra, pay extra attention to ensure that you are not confusing tha for dha.
*        *        *
There are several other mistakes (in my view) commonly made by most people in the pronunciation of Sanskrit mantras. I will be pointing them out slowly in the next few months, whenever the Mother allows me to.
Please give me your consideration and take my input into consideration in altering your pronunciation (if you are open to that). If you don't find any sense in what I am saying or want to continue as taught by your gurus, I can understand that. I am not here to change everybody's pronunciation. But, because She inspired me to share my thoughts with the world, I am guessing that there are SOME who are destined to change their pronunciation based on my views. That is why I am writing these mails.
If you do not like this discussion, I am sorry and just ignore this idiot!
Best regards,

Do Ganapathi Homam Yourself:
Free Jyotish lessons (MP3):
Free Jyotish software (Windows):
Sri Jagannath Centre (SJC) website:



Brihaspati Gayatri, Vishwamitra/Gaathina Rishi Rig Veda 6.62.6