Sanskrit & Sánscrito (English-Home)

JavaScript is disabled! Check this link!


 Learning Sanskrit - Pronunciation 1

The letters


 Introduction

This document was conceived by Gabriel Pradīpaka, as an additional support to his page "First Steps (1)". Here, we are going to deepen in the pronunciation of the Sanskrit Alphabet. In this first issue we will learn how to pronounce properly all the 49 letters of it. It is my fervent desire that all these sacred sounds may help you to experience joy in your life.

There is a measure unit called 'mātrā' or "time gap needed to pronounce a short vowel (like 'a')". Short vowels (a, i, u, ṛ, ḷ) last 1 mātrā, while long vowels (ā, ī, ū, ṝ) and diphthongs (e, ai, o, au) last 2 mātrā-s. In turn, Anusvāra ('ṁ') and Visarga ('ḥ') last 1/2 mātrā.

Have three documents at hand (print them if you can): Transliterating (2) (English), Sanskrit Alphabet and Conjuncts. You will need them very often.

To download the sounds, click on the respective icon and then select the adequate choice. If you have the Quick Time plugin installed, it is possible that you cannot download the sound directly. To work this problem around, right-click on the icon and select "Save link as..." or something like that (the statements vary according to the different browsers). That is it! Obviously, you can alternately uninstall the Quick Time plugin, but maybe you might need it for some other things. So, it is your choice, not mine.

The sound files are "properly" named, of course, so that you can recognize the letters immediately.

top


 Vowels

Sign Translit. Sound Description
a Of course, it should not be pronounced just as in English at all. Listen to the sound carefully. Your mouth should not be widely open, but it should be open just as if you were to pronounce 'o'. This vowel sound is felt in the throat, therefore it is Guttural.
ā The last vowel doubled (twice).
i It should be pronounced just as 'i' in 'bit'. The sound is felt in the palate, therefore this vowel is Palatal.
ī The last vowel doubled (twice).
u It should be pronounced just as 'u' in 'put'. The sound is felt in the lips, therefore this vowel is Labial.
ū The last vowel doubled (twice).
The tongue is rolled slightly backward, pressing against the roof. After that, 'ri' sound is to be pronounced. The 'r' is stronger than English 'r'. I could not find any exact example in English. So, listen to it. The sound is felt in the roof of the mouth, therefore this vowel is Cerebral (or Cacuminal).
The last vowel doubled (twice).
The 'ṛ' with a 'l' in the beginning. This 'l' is to be pronounced with the tongue pressing the back of the teeth. Since the sound is felt in the back of the teeth first and then in the roof, this vowel is Cerebral-Dental.
e It is a diphthong (a + i). For that reason, it begins just as the 'e' in 'bed', but in the end a little 'i' (as in 'bit') appears. This vowel is a long one (2 mātrā-s). It is Guttural-Palatal.
ai It is a special diphthong (a + e). The stress is on 'i' not 'a'. It is a long vowel (2 mātrā-s). This vowel is Guttural-Palatal.
o It is a diphthong (a + u). For that reason, it begins just as 'o' in 'pot', but in the end a little 'u' (as in 'put') appears. This vowel is a long one (2 mātrā-s). It is Guttural-Labial.
au It is a special diphthong (a + o). The stress is on 'u' not 'a'. It is a long vowel (2 mātrā-s). This vowel is Guttural-Labial.
अं aṁ It is called Anusvāra, because it always comes after a vowel. It is a nasal lengthening of a vowel, just as 'm' but pronounced through the nose (the mouth is shut). It lasts 1/2 mātrā. Here we can see it united with 'a'.
अः aḥ It is called Visarga (emission), because it is pronounced through an emission of air. This vowel sounds just as 'h' en 'home'. Sometimes, an echo of the preceding vowel is to be pronounced too. This echo is used if the Visarga (in the end of the word, obviously) belongs to a word placed at the end of a sentence. In turn, if the word is placed somewhere else, the echo is not pronounced. This vowel lasts 1/2 mātrā. Here we can see it united with 'a'.

top


 Consonants

Gutturals

Sign Translit. Sound Description
ka It is a unaspirate hard letter. In short, this letter does not reverberate (hard), and it does not need any exhalation (unaspirate) to be pronounced. It is just as 'k' in 'kick'.
kha It is an aspirate hard letter. In short, this letter does not reverberate (hard), but it does need an exhalation (aspirate) to be pronounced. Just as 'k' but with an exhalation of air.
ga It is a unaspirate soft letter. In short, this letter does reverberate (soft), but it does not need any exhalation (unaspirate) to be pronounced. It is just as 'g' in 'game'.
gha It is an aspirate soft letter. In short, this letter reverberates (soft), and it needs an exhalation (aspirate) to be pronounced. Just as 'g' but with an exhalation of air.
ṅa It is a nasal soft letter. It sounds just as 'n' in 'bang'. All nasal letters are soft.

Palatals

Sign Translit. Sound Description
ca It is a unaspirate hard letter. In short, this letter does not reverberate (hard), and it does not need any exhalation (unaspirate) to be pronounced. It is just as 'ch' in 'champion', but it is written 'c' not 'ch'. Careful!
cha It is an aspirate hard letter. In short, this letter does not reverberate (hard), but it does need an exhalation (aspirate) to be pronounced. Just as 'c' but with an exhalation of air. It does not sound like English 'ch'. Careful!
ja It is a unaspirate soft letter. In short, this letter does reverberate (soft), but it does not need any exhalation (unaspirate) to be pronounced. It is just as 'j' in 'Jane'.
jha It is an aspirate soft letter. In short, this letter reverberates (soft), and it needs an exhalation (aspirate) to be pronounced. Just as 'j' but with an exhalation of air.
ña It is a nasal soft letter. It sounds like 'nya'. All nasal letters are soft.

Cerebrals

Sign Translit. Sound Description
ṭa It is a unaspirate hard letter. In short, this letter does not reverberate (hard), and it does not need any exhalation (unaspirate) to be pronounced. It is just as 'ta' but with the tongue rolled slightly backward (pressing against the roof).
ṭha It is an aspirate hard letter. In short, this letter does not reverberate (hard), but it does need an exhalation (aspirate) to be pronounced. Just as 'ṭa' but with an exhalation of air.
ḍa It is a unaspirate soft letter. In short, this letter does reverberate (soft), but it does not need any exhalation (unaspirate) to be pronounced. It is just as 'da' but with a slight rolling back of the tongue.
ḍha It is an aspirate soft letter. In short, this letter reverberates (soft), and it needs an exhalation (aspirate) to be pronounced. Just as 'ḍa' but with an exhalation of air.
ṇa It is a nasal soft letter. It sounds like 'n' but with a slight rolling back of the tongue (as in 'turn'). All nasal letters are soft.

Dentals

Sign Translit. Sound Description
ta It is a unaspirate hard letter. In short, this letter does not reverberate (hard), and it does not need any exhalation (unaspirate) to be pronounced. It is just as 't' in 'time', with the tongue pressing the back of the teeth.
tha It is an aspirate hard letter. In short, this letter does not reverberate (hard), but it does need an exhalation (aspirate) to be pronounced. Just as 'ta' but with an exhalation of air.
da It is a unaspirate soft letter. In short, this letter does reverberate (soft), but it does not need any exhalation (unaspirate) to be pronounced. It is just as 'd' in 'doubt'.
dha It is an aspirate soft letter. In short, this letter reverberates (soft), and it needs an exhalation (aspirate) to be pronounced. Just as 'da' but with an exhalation of air.
na It is a nasal soft letter. It sounds like 'n' in 'name'. All nasal letters are soft.

Labials

Sign Translit. Sound Description
pa It is a unaspirate hard letter. In short, this letter does not reverberate (hard), and it does not need any exhalation (unaspirate) to be pronounced. It is just as 'p' in 'pink'.
pha It is an aspirate hard letter. In short, this letter does not reverberate (hard), but it does need an exhalation (aspirate) to be pronounced. Just as 'pa' but with an exhalation of air.
ba It is a unaspirate soft letter. In short, this letter does reverberate (soft), but it does not need any exhalation (unaspirate) to be pronounced. It is just as 'b' in 'boat'.
bha It is an aspirate soft letter. In short, this letter reverberates (soft), and it needs an exhalation (aspirate) to be pronounced. Just as 'ba' but with an exhalation of air.
ma It is a nasal soft letter. It sounds like 'm' in 'make'. All nasal letters are soft.

Semivowels

Sign Translit. Sound Description
ya It is a palatal soft letter. The sound is just as 'y' in 'yet'. All Semivowels are soft, that is to say, they reverberate.
ra It is a cerebral soft letter. The 'r' is not just as the English 'r' at all. The tongue rolls slightly backward till it presses against the roof, but not the soft palate. And the sound is slightly stronger than English 'r' sound. Listen to it carefully.
la It is a dental soft letter. The sound is just as 'l' in 'land', but with the tongue fully pressing the back of the teeth.
va It is a labial soft letter. The sound is just as 'v' in 'vain', but sometimes, when it comes after a consonant it is usually pronounced as 'u' (Sanskrit 'u', not English 'u'). For example: 'svāmī' (master) is generally articulated as 'suāmī. However, you can also pronounce 'svāmī', and it is correct too.

Sibilants and Sonant Aspirate

Sign Translit. Sound Description
śa It is a palatal hard letter. The sound is just as 'sh' in 'show'. All Sibilants are hard, that is to say, they do not reverberate.
ṣa It is a cerebral hard letter. The sound is just as 'śa', but with a slight rolling back of the tongue.
sa It is a dental hard letter. The sound is just as 's' in 'surf'.
ha It is a guttural soft letter. The sound is just as 'h' in 'hello'.

top


 Concluding remarks

Well, I hope you have learnt and enjoyed these wonderful sounds. Remember that the correct pronunciation of the letters is the key to the correct pronunciation of words and sentences. Utter consonants and vowels along with me to learn Sanskrit pronunciation in an adequate manner, and be happy in the process. See you.

top


 Further Information

Gabriel Pradīpaka

This document was conceived by Gabriel Pradīpaka, one of the two founders of this site, and spiritual guru conversant with Sanskrit language and Trika philosophy.

For further information about Sanskrit, Yoga and Indian Philosophy; or if you simply want to comment, ask a question or correct a mistake, feel free to contact us: This is our e-mail address.