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Light on the Language of Yoga
Variances in Sanskrit Pronunciation

by Yogi Baba Prem Yogacharya, Veda Visharada October, 2015



This is the first of a series of articles by Yogi Baba Prem in which he will introduce a few sanskrit words at a time along with audio clips of their pronounciation.

Sanskrit, the language of Yoga, is often a mystery to many students of Yoga. Yet, it would be correct to say that most students of Yoga commonly use Sanskrit terms and the language has permeated the nomenclature of everyday English; as many people are familiar with terms such as OM or Namaste, Guru, Karma or a host of other terms which are from the Sanskrit language. With the growing popularity of kirtan, many more Yoga students are being introduced to Sanskrit without even knowing it at times. One of the common issues that have plagued students of the language of Yoga is what appears as contradictory pronunciation and spelling of various terms, and at times it is difficult to find a clear explanation as to the reason for these variances. To examine this, let's explore one word--yajῆya.

Temple Yajῆya is a reference to the Vedic fire ceremony. From a Vedic and even Yogic perspective, yajῆya is rather important. But the word yajῆya has several varied and well known forms of pronunciation. With the first being as it is currently written-yajῆya, it would be pronounced as yaj-ny-ya. This pronunciation is favored in parts of India, though in other areas of India a different pronunciation is favored-- yagya (ya-g-ya). Therefore, initially, we must recognize there are numerous regional pronunciations found within Sanskrit.

As a general rule pronunciation/spelling is divided into Northern India and Southern India, but this can be misleading, as there are certainly numerous regional dialects, and pronunciation that has been slightly modified throughout the history within India. An example of this can be found in Bengali, as it favors various pronunciations that are somewhat unique to that region. These variations of pronunciation are a great source of pride in this geographic region. Another common pronunciation of Yajῆya is yajana (ya-ja-na). Yajana is probably the most common pronunciation in the West, but is more likely due to a mispronunciation of yajῆya rather than a conscious favoring of the pronunciation yajana, and here is the reason why. This pronunciation is formed due to a grammatical rule called Svarabhakti which is not commonly known to the West. I would translate this as meaning devoted vowel, it is also commonly translated as loyal vowel; still others translate it as vowel separation. In reality, all three definitions are appropriate as it merely depends upon how one looks at the word, and in essence, they are saying the same thing. Regardless of the favored translation of the rule svarabhakti, it requires, in this case, that the ‘j’ sound have its vowel added back, as it is in a conjunction or compounded with a nasal letter, then it requires that the letter that is the compound is dropped.

There is more complexity to this rule, but this information meets the need for the example just given. So in this case ‘j’ becomes ‘ja’ and the ‘ῆ’ is dropped (ya-ja-na). This teaching comes from the Prātiśākhyas. Another series of teachings commonly known as prosody favors an elongation of vowels. Of course there are various rules in chanting that require some letters are dropped or elongated in the Vedas. Creating a different sound from what is literally written and there are variations in chanting that will change the structure and flow of words as well.

So we have three very different pronunciations and sometimes spelling for the same word in our example:

  1. yajῆya
  2. yagya
  3. yajana

There are several key points to remember:

  1. That pronunciation/spelling is due to regional variations with another example being Purusha which is also pronounced as Purukha in some parts of India.
  2. There may be specific grammar rules that change the pronunciation of a word such as the example of svarabhakti that was given (note there are additional rules that can affect a word as well).
  3. And finally, we should note there are specific rules in chanting in Sanskrit where letters are changed or changed back to their original form. This is somewhat complex for most students and requires a developed and strong skill-set in Sanskrit.

We have not explored all possibilities but this should answer some fundamental questions regarding Sanskrit regarding variances in words. It is important to remember there can be numerous pronunciations/spelling to a Sanskrit word, and we must not jump to a conclusion that a pronunciation is incorrect just because it is unfamiliar with a specific pronunciation. The pronunciation may be quite valid relative to the system it is coming from.

Listen to the Pronounciation






Yogi Baba Prem

by Yogi Baba Prem

October, 2015

About Yogi Baba Prem

Yogi Baba Prem is a recognized Yogacharya and Veda Visharada (comprehensive knowledge of the Vedas) within the traditions of India. He has written numerous books, some which have been published in India. He has studied Ayurveda, Vedic Astrology and continues to explore the depths of Sanskrit. He has taught Karma, Bhakti, Hatha, Raja and Kundalini Yoga systems, as well as the lessor known Vedic and Rishi Yogas.

To learn more about his work visit
To learn more about Sanskrit training

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