Buddha Sutras Mantras Sanskrit

Introduction Sutras Translators Mantras Prayers Sanskrit Glossary

Last updated 06/2009

Sanskrit


Table C. Pronunciation of the 33 Consonants

1. Velar or guttural sounds are produced by touching the rear of the tongue to the soft palate near the throat.
k kāya (body), like skill or skin
kh sukha (happiness), like kill or kin
g gagana (sky), like gazelle orgo
gh gharma (heat), like doghouse
gagā (the Ganges), like singer or swinger
2. Palatal sounds are produced by touching the blade of the tongue to the front palate.
c cakra (wheel), like chuck or choke, but without aspiration
ch chāya (shadow), like chuck or choke
j jaya (victory), like jug or joke.
jh nirjhara (waterfall), like j-hug or fudge-home
ñ jñāna (wisdom), like canyon. Some paople change the sound of j and pronounce this word like gnyāna, or like dnyāna.
3. Cerebral sounds are produced by retroflexing the tongue to touch the hard palate.
koi (ten million, the edge), like star or stow, with the tongue retroflexed
ṭh adhiṣṭhāna (rule over), like tar or tow, with the tongue retroflexed
vaiūrya (a transparent blue beryl), like douse or dead, with the tongue retroflexed
ḍh ḍha (perplexed), like madhouse or redhead, with the tongue retroflexed
mai (jewel), like nativity or note, with the tongue retroflexed
4. Dental sounds are produced by touching the tip of the tongue to the back of the front teeth near their roots.
t tad (he, she, or it), like star or stow
th tathāgata (the Thus-Come One), like tar or tow
d dāna (the act of giving), like douse or dead
dh dhāraṇī (retention), like madhouse or redhead
n nāga (dragon), like nativity or note
5. Labial sounds are produced by closing and opening the lips.
p padma (red lotus), like spin or spoke
ph phala (fruit), like pin or poke
b bodhi (enlightenment), like bore or bout
bh bhagavān (the World-Honored One), like abhore or hobhouse
m mudrā (seal), like magenta or mode
6. Four semi-vowels, the sounds of which are formed by slight contact.
y hṛdaya (heart, mind), like yeast or yoga
r ratna (jewel), like rite or rote, with the tongue slighly tapping the front palate. Avoid bunching the lips for the implicit w or r before the r-syllable as in English, which causes rite to be pronounced as write, and rote as wrote.
l loka (world), like lagoon or lotus
v pronounced as v if preceded by a vowel, e.g., avidyā (ignorance). If preceded by a constant, it may be pronounced as w e.g., sattva (being, creature) may be pronounced as sa-ttwa, sarva (all) as sar-wa, adhvan (time) as a-dhwan, and svāhā (accomplished) as swā-hā.
7. Four sibilants, the sounds of which are formed by half contact
ś śuddha (pure), like ship or show
uṇīa (crown of the head), like ship or show with the tongue retroflexed
s sama (equal), like salute or solo
h hasta (hand), like habituate or holy
8. Other sounds:
Anusvāra
(ṁ)
The preceding verb is nasalized, e.g., saskāra (formation, mental impression, volition) is pronounced as sangskāra, and hū (a mantra syllable) as hūng.
Visarga
(ḥ)
The preceding verb is faintly echoed, e.g., nama (homage to) is pronounced as namaha, narayo (of the two men) as narayoho, narai (with the men) as naraihi, and dukha (sorrow) as duhukha.

  Note:

  1. A vowel not preceded by a consonant or a consonant followed by a vowel forms a syllable, which is short or long, depending upon the vowel. All consonants are pronounced. For example, tadyathā is pronounced as tad-ya-thā, ratna as rat-na, and sattva as satt-va or sa-ttwa.

  2. The heavy syllable in a multi-syllable word is the penultimate syllable if
    (1) it has a long vowel, or
    (2) it has a short vowel followed by two or more consonants. Note that any of the ten aspirated consonants from kh to bh is one consonant, not two.
    For example, the heavy syllable in bālābhyām (with, for, or from the two boys) is because it meets the first condition, and in saṁyukta (complex) is yu because it meets the second condition. If the penultimate syllable meets neither condition, then check the anti-penultimate syllable, and so on. For example, the heavy syllable in udbhavakara (productive) is u, the fifth syllable from the last.


  3. The nasal sound of anusvāra (ṁ) may extend a count or two. For example, the mantra syllable hū or o can last two to four counts.

  4. How native Sanskrit speakers read a Sanskrit passage with elegant finesse is beyond us. Though we think we are pronouncing Sanskrit words according to the guideline, it is unavoidable to have our own accents. What we can accomplish with confidence is to hold half a beat (one count) for a short syllable and one beat (two counts) for a long syllable. Reciting a mantra in Sanskrit with a group (if you can find one) is possible because the music and rhythm of the entire piece flow from the syllables. Now, you can link to the mantras and voice some beautiful Sanskrit sounds.

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