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.
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:
There are several key points to remember:
That pronunciation/spelling is due to regional variations with another example being
Purusha which is also pronounced as Purukha in
some parts of India.
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).
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