The Alphabets (Characters) of Sanskṛt

(How To Type Sanskṛt With Diacritics Easily)



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(1) 

Ladies & Gentlemen,
Let me introduce you - This is the human head - yours & mine. 
Wise men and revealed scriptures tell us it has been carefully designed by God, in His own image.
Every organ and faculty found here are marvellous in design & conception.
Today let us look at the tongue, the voice and the faculty of speech & communication through language.



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(2)

This report tells us what the topmost NASA scientists in the field of
Artificial Intelligence and Computer Languages have found out -
that Sanskṛt is more well designed than any computer language which the
best scientists in the field have ever designed.....
...and...
that NASA should "stop wasting" millions of dollars on developing and improving
Artificial Computer Languages "reinventing a wheel millennia old"
because when any existing Computer language finally becomes perfect
then it will be as good as sanskṛt already is
because "it is the only natural (i.e. spoken and understood by men) language
which is as accurate (unambiguous) as mathematics."
...and...
whatever 'languages' they have designed are so totally artificial that human beings
can never use them for normal, even  basic communication..
Yet Sanskṛt can not only be understood by computer machines,
it embodies the highest form of literature and poetry found anywhere in the history of human civilization.
So it's name, "sanskṛt" is very apt and perfect - "sanskṛt" literally means
'perfectly made' or designed.


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(3)

Now this next diagram is the definition ("from first principles",
to borrow from this wonderful speech of Rutger Kortenhorst
which he delivered to parents of students in Dublin's John Scottus School
explaining why the school teaches their children Sanskṛt)
of the sounds that are the building blocks of the Sanskṛt language
- the 25 (5 x 5, starting with 'ka' and ending witih 'ma') consonants
are perfectly symmetrical in their design

Let us understand their pattern through the following description

If we take them from first row to fifth:

1 - gutturals
ka, kha, gh, gha and ṅa are all produced at the same point of contact - the back of the tongue

2 moving forward a little - palatals
ca, ch,a j,a jha and ña  are all produced at the same point of contact - the middle of the tongue

3 moving forward a few more centimetres - cerebrals
ṭa, ṭha, ḍa, ḍha and ṇa are all produced at the same point of contact - the tip of the tongue on the ridge, or the bony, hard part of the palate, above the sloping gums.

4 move forward a little more - dentals
ta, tha, da, dha and na are all produced at the same point of contact - the tip of the tongue against the back of the upper teeth

5  move forward a little more - labials
pa, pha, ba, bha and ma are all produced at the same point of contact - the lips


And if we now take look at them from first COLUMN to fifth:

a
ka, ca, ṭa, ta & pa - all are 'normal' (i.e. not aspirated) consonants and all of them are 'not voiced'** which means they are produced by sound being produced simultaneously with the movement of the tongue when it breaks its contact with the various parts of the mouth.

b
kha, cha, ṭha, tha & pha - are all 'aspirated' consonants i.e. pronounced with simultaneous exhalation of air, (eg. 'pha' is like when we consciously join the letters 'p' and 'ha' and merge these two English words 'rip-hard' ), and all of them are 'not voiced' which means they are produced by sound being produced simultaneously with the movement of the tongue when it breaks its contact with the various parts of the mouth.

c
ga, ja, ḍa, da & ba - are all 'normal' (i.e. not aspirated) consonants and all of them are 'voiced'** which means they are produced by sound being produced from the time prior to the movement of the tongue when it breaks its contact with the various parts of the mouth.

d
gha, jha, ḍha, dha & bha - are all 'aspirated' consonants i.e. pronounced with simultaneous exhalation of air, (eg. 'pha' is like when we consciously join the letters 'p' and 'ha' and merge these two English words 'rip-hard' ), and all  of them are 'voiced'** which means they are produced by sound being produced from the time prior to the movement of the tongue when it breaks its contact with the various parts of the mouth.

** This point always brings about very interesting discussions in our Sanskṛt pronunciation courses.  Such a perfectly consistent pattern as seen the the above 4 explanations reigns throughout these 25 'sparśas', as they are aptly named - sparśa means 'touch' - so these basic 25 consonants are DEFINED by the points in the mouth from which they are produced, so even though thousands of years may roll by, the pronunciation of their sounds will never change.  And so they are also called 'akṣarāṇi' or 'the indestructibles'.  One point I find fascinating is that whenever I ask the course participants what is the difference between 'ka' and 'ga' - it is one of the easiest to distinguish, without fail, every one in the class can easily hear the difference and can also speak them distinctly correctly.  Yet, never have any of my students so far been able to actually explain with pinpoint accuracy how they actually produce that difference in sound.. 

After much discussion and speculation, they usually all give up and ask me to expalin it - so the sanskṛt codes teach us what i have defined above, 'voiced' and 'unvoiced' (to use imperfect English phonetics terminology).  Then the students all have to place their hands on their throats and repeat while carefully observing, 'ka' and then 'ga', again and again.  And finally all doubts are removed and everyone agrees that, yes, for 'ka', the tongue moves the moment the sound begins, but for 'ga', the sound begins first, and then we move our tongue.  It never fails to fascinate everyone - that such a simple thing we can all do but can't explain..and to see that the alphabet of sanskṛt is arranged in that way is amazing - not by chance at all, but carefully designed.  

And then we go on, and the students are usually even more amazed to find out that this same rule applies for all the pairs of unvoiced (column 1 & 2) and voiced (column 3 & 4).  That means for ka and ga, i make exactly the same movement and effort in my tongue, except that i have to start the sound earlier for the latter.  Likewise with kha and gha; and with ca and jacha and jha; ṭa and ḍa; ṭha and ḍha; pa and ba; pha and bha.  Simply fascinating.

And lastly the fifth column:

e
ṅa, ña, ṇa, na and ma are all nasals - sounds forced out through the nose; and in sanskṛt they can all be represented by the bindu (dot) above the character/letter - always following the rule that the particular nasal to be used will follow the group of the next letter.. Which means if we want to pronounce 'sa' '[bindu]' 'desh', because the 'd' is a dental, so the bindu will automatically (and naturally) represent the dental 'n', so we would say 'sandesh' (with the tip of the tongue pressed lightly behind our upper teeth.)  Another example:  if we want to pronounce 'sa' '[bindu]' 'kirtan', then because the kbelongs to the guttural family, we would pronounce that nasal (represented by a bindu) as a guttural too - written as 'ṅa' in romanized sanskṛt -




One of the Plus Points of the I.A.S.T. Romanized Sanskṛt Trasliteration System

Incidentally, since I have given such an elaborate analysis of the patterns in the table of consonants, let me take this opportunity to highlight one very interesting aspect of the IAST transliteration system, because it has greatly revolutionized and simplified the teaching of Sanskṛt pronunciation and writing for beginners and entry-level students of sanskṛt. 

(The above patterns can be seen very easily in the Romanized script, because we find 'h's appearing in the middle of all the aspirated consonants in the 2nd and 4th columns; we see dots appearing underneath all the cerebral consonants; we see the same letters (t, n and d) appearing in rows 3 and 4, reminding us of their similarity - in devanāgarī they bear almost no resemblance to each other even though they belong to the same family; all the nasals can at once be recognized for they are either m's or n's;  all the sibilants look like s's - either with no mark, with a mark above, or a mark below.  All these patterns standing out so clearly in the IAST Romanized Sanskṛt system [which, incidentally was created in Athens, Greece in 1912] make it much less taxing on the memory for new students, especially those of non-Indian origin, to pick up the correct pronunciation and quickly start reading Sanskṛt, from the romanized script.  And once one is comfortable with reading the Romanized script, crossing over to devanāgarī is as easy as pie.. because one would have already cleared all the earlier hurdles of simultaneously trying to do so many new things, namely, to recognize a particular alphabet, and then remember where one should place one's tongue and whether or not one should mobilize one's diaphragm to exhale air or not etc.  After being accustomed to the Romanized letters and their corresponding sounds, it is very easy to simply correlate them to the vast no. of characters/alphabets in the devanāgarī scheme - it is a wonder that with just 36 alphabets - leaving out f, q, x and z, and adding in ā, ī, ū, ṛ, ṝ, ḷ, ṁ, ḥ, ṅ, ñ, ṇ, ṭ, ḍ, ṣ, ś and : 26 minus 4 + 16 = 37 )
 


{This last letter ' l̐ ' and its capital version 'L̐' (“LATIN SMALL & BIG LETTER L WITH CHANDRABINDU ABOVE IT [Screen capture of 'LATIN SMALL LETTER L WITH CHANDRABINDU' using the Segoe UI font] ) does not appear in the chart below, so it shows 36 instead of 37 alphabets.  This L̐ is the least used romanized sanskṛt character- appearing only 4 times in all of Śrīla Prabhupāda's books.  It is not included in the Devawin Unicode list of diacritics [right click the little green tree icon near your system clock at the bottom right of your screen and then click HELP to see the list - copy below.]  Also, several of the fonts with sanskrit diacritics leave out this particular alphabet.  That means we cannot type it with the Devawin Unicode utility.  Also, some Sanskṛt Diacritic fonts also leave out this particular alphabet - you can check the information given on this page to verify which fonts have this alphabet and which don't in this way: go to http://www.pratyatosa.com/SanskritDiacriticTextConversion.htm then type Ctrl+F to activate searching within the page, then enter the words 'display 30' and click 'find' or 'search' - you will see five instances of thisSo, whenever we need to type this particular letter, if the font we are using indeed has that alphabet, we can use the 'insert symbol' command in Microsoft word to manually select it, or we can just 'borrow it' from Pratyatoṣa prabhu's conversion tool by clicking the button 'sample text' - it is found at the top of this page and copy and paste it from there, or we can just copy and paste it from here:
normal
: l̐ L̐ italics: l̐ L̐ bold: l̐ L̐ and bold-italics: l̐ L̐}

Thus we have 36 commonly used alhpabets in the IAST system of romanized sanskṛt transliteration* as follows:




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