Sanskrit Alphabet and Pronunciation Guide

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What is Sanskrit?

Sanskrit is an ancient language that belongs to the Indo-European family of languages. It‘s one of the earliest documented languages.

Sanskrit is the language of yoga. Learning how to read and pronounce Sanskrit can be a great part of your yoga practice. It is not as hard to learn as it may seem and it will help you deepen your practice.

Devanagari Vs. Latin Script

Sanskrit is written in a script called Devanāgarī, a writing system that‘s different from the Latin alphabet. Devanāgarī is used for many other languages like Hindi, Marāṭhī and Nepālī. It has a one-to-one correspondence between sound and script, which means you can read and pronounce it if you know the system. Like English, it‘s written from left to right.

Yoga Paper uses the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST) to write Sanskrit. As the Sanskrit alphabet has more sounds than the Latin alphabet, IAST uses additional symbols like dots and lines. You can pronounce every Sanskrit word if it’s written in IAST. If you see a Sanskrit word without these tiny symbols, there is a big chance that it is not spelled correctly.

  • Devanāgarī: प्राणायाम
  • Latin script: Pranayama
  • IAST: prāṇāyāma

Free Download: Sanskrit Pronunciation Guide (PDF)

Want to know how to pronounce Sanskrit words on your own? This 1-page PDF explaines what Sanskrit symbols look like along with a few examples.

This printable Sanskrit pronunciation guide is for you, if …

  • you’re interested in learning how to pronounce Sanskrit words correctly
  • you’re confused about how to say yoga poses, chakras, mantras, etc. in Sanskrit
  • you’re a yoga teacher
  • you plan to do a yoga teacher training
  • you want to have a full list of the Sanskrit Alphabet in Devanāgarī and IAST
  • you’re a visual learner
  • you prefer a printed version ⮕ you can print this free download at home!

How to get the free file

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  2. Receive the password
  3. Download your free file

Sanskrit Alphabet and Pronunciation: Devanagari, IAST and English examples

Vowels

It’s important to distinguish long and short vowels because it can make a difference to the meaning of a word. Long vowels have a line above the letter, except for e and o, which are always long vowels.

Usually, vowels are not written in their independent form. I‘m not going to discuss the Devanāgarī writing system in depth because I want to focus on IAST and Sanskrit pronunciation here.

Sanskrit
Devanāgarī
Sanskrit IASTPronunciation Example
ashort a like but
ālong a like father
elong e like bed
ishort i like happy
īlong i like feel, machine
olong o like law
ushort u like put, look
ūlong u like mood
aishort a + short i like eye
aushort a + short u like proud

Notes:

  • Use the UK pronunciation (Received Pronunciation) for but, father, bed and mood.
  • Use the US pronunciation for happy
  • Use the Australian pronunciation for law

Semi Vowels

The Devanāgarī writing system is somewhat unique in that the consonant letters actually show an inherent vowel ‘a’: ल translates to ‘la’, र translates to ‘ra’, etc . I’ve made the decision to leave out the inherent ‘a’ in this blog post.

Sanskrit
Devanāgarī
Sanskrit IASTPronunciation Example
llove
rIndian roti
vbetween wine and vine
lyes
pretty
Rita
bottle + short i

Sanskrit R

  • r – Use the Indian /r/, Scottish /r/ or Spanish /r/, but not the usual English /r/.
  • syllabic – Although the dot underneath the makes it look like a retroflex, this is not actually a retroflex sound
  • is a very rare sound

Visarga, Anusvāra and H

Sanskrit
Devanāgarī
Sanskrit IASTPronunciation Example
◌ंhum
◌ःh + last vowel repeated
hhigh
  • is called Anusvāra and marks a nasal sound. This can be m, ñ, ṇ, n or ṅ. Experts disagree on how it’s pronounced.
  • is called Visarga. It repeats the last vowel. Example: “iḥ” is pronounced “ihi”

Consonants

Sanskrit
Devanāgarī
Sanskrit IASTPronunciation Example
bbin
bhabhor
pspin
phscoop honey
mmuch
nnice
nycanyon
sing
retroflex n
d~ day
dh~ good honey
retroflex d
ḍhretroflex d + h
t~ table
th~ eat honey
retroflex t
ṭhretroflex t + h
cchair
chchew
jjuice
jhhedgehog
ssoup
ś~ sheep
retroflex sh

Retroflex sounds

The tip of your tongue is pointed more backwards than in English. They have a tiny dot underneath.

  • Retroflex sounds are: ḍ  ṭ  ṇ  ṣ

Aspirated Sounds

Aspiration means that there is a puff of breath afterwards. Aspirated sounds are followed by an h.

  • Aspirated sounds are : dh  ḍh  th  ṭh  gh  kh  ch  jh
  • Unaspirated sounds are: d  ḍ  t  ṭ  g  k  c  j
  • In Sanskrit, the letter “th” is pronounced in a completely different way than how English pronounces “th”!

S- and Sh-Sounds

  • s – use your regular s-sound.
  • ś – your tongue is more forward than in English “sh”
  • – your tongue tip is pointing more back than in English “sh”

Dental Sounds

d, dh, t, th, ś – Your tongue is positioned further forward, against your teeth, same position as English “th”

Sources

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