Sanskrit – The Language of Yoga | Sanskrit Sayings
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Sanskrit – The Language of Yoga


Sanskrit, written संस्कृतम् in Devanagari script, transliterated in Roman script as saṁskṛtam, is an Indo-Aryan language of the ancient Indian subcontinent, with a history stretching back 3,500 years. It is related to Greek and Latin; some word similarities can be found between Sanskrit and English, for example, yuj, from which comes the word yoga, means to yoke or join.  Most of the primary Yogic texts used today were originally written in Sanskrit, and Sanskrit terms are regularly used by many yoga teachers and institutions in the West. 

Sanskrit is a living language and spoken as a primary language in some villages in India. It is taught in a large number of schools in India, as well as in ashrams and universities worldwide. It is widely used as a ceremonial and ritual language in Hinduism for practices such as recitation of hymns and chants.

Saṁskṛtam is a compound word consisting of sam (together, good, well, perfected) and kṛta (made, formed, work), which refers perfection in tonal as well as semantic qualities of the language. Generally each Sanskrit letter is only pronounced one way, unlike English (think about the ‘e’ in “they”, “eat”, “then”), so once you know how to pronounce the letters, you can correctly pronounce any Sanskrit word.

The Sanskrit language contains 16 vowels and 33 consonants and thus has a much broader range of phonetic sounds than English and other European languages.  Consequently, linguists developed a series of annotations when translitterating Sankrit into Roman script so that the additional sounds can be pronounced correctly. These annotations are called diacritic markings. The IAST system is used in this manual, the system that has been used by academics since 1888.


It is worth noting that Sanskrit vowels are each only pronounced in one way, and often different to the English pronounciation. A line above a vowel indicates long vowel sound, twice the length of a short vowel, e.g. ‘a’ as in up, rural, and ‘ā’ as in father. The vowels ‘e’, ‘ai’, ‘o’ and ‘au’ are always long.


Many Sanskrit consonants are pronounced similarly to the English equivalent; this list is of some of the consonants that are pronounced differently. A dot below a consonant indicates a ‘retroflex’, pronounced with the tip of the tongue pointing vertically and touching the hard palate. A consonant followed directly by an ‘h’ is aspirated – e.g. dha as in red-hat


Sanskrit has three sibilants ‘s’ as in sun, ‘ś’ as in shun and ‘ṣ’ as in hush. The latter is pronounced with the tip of the tongue pointing up to lightly touch the roof of the mouth. All “dot-down”, or retroflex letters are pronounced with the tongue in this position. 


The semivowels are sounds that are formed when beginning as a vowel position, and moving back to ‘a’, e.g. ‘ṛ’ to ‘a’ forms ‘ra’. The semivowel v is unusual in that it can be pronounced two ways, either v or w, e.g. svāmī can be pronounced ‘swami’ or ‘svami’. Semivowels will be explored in more detail later.

The Sanskrit Alphabet

Sanskrit letters can be classified by the point of articulation:
Gutteral letters are pronounced from the throat, such as the ‘g’ in great
Palatal letters are pronounced from the hard palate, with tongue flat against it, such as ‘j’ in jug
Retroflex letters (*) are pronounced with the tip of the tongue pointing vertically and touching the hard palate, and are represented in transliteration with ‘dot-down’ letters such as ṛ and ṣ
Dental letters are pronounced with the tongue just between the teeth
Labial letters are pronounced with the lips pushed slightly forward in an “oo” position


अ a as in up, rural
आ ā as in father
इ i as in fill, pin
ई ī as in feed
उ u as in full, bush
ऊ ū as in fool, rule
ऋ ṛ* as in Christmas
ॠ ṝ* as ṛ but twice as long
ए e as in they, pray
ऐ ai as in I, aisle
ओ o as in go
औ au as in how
अं ṁ as in hum, nasalised
अः ḥ either ahh/aha; ihh/ihi etc


क k as in coms, seek
ख kh as in back-hand
ग g as in good
घ gh as in dig-hard
ङ ṅ as in sing

च c as in chum
छ ch as in Church-hill
ज j as in joy
झ jh as in hedge-hog
ञ ñ as in canyon

ट ṭ as in tub
ठ ṭh as in not-hot
ड ḍ as in deer
ढ ḍh as in red-hot
ण ṇ as in bunting

त t as in path (without the h)
थ th as in thong
द d as in dense
ध dh as in red-hot
न n as in nut

प p as in pin
फ ph as in up-hill
ब b as in bird
भ bh as in abhor
म m as in mud

य y as in yes
र r as in run
ल l as in light
व v as in vim

स s as in sun
श ś as in shun
ष ṣ* as in hush
ह h as in honey