Monday, 20 August 2012

Aiyyo-Ram-a! The joke's on me!!

Growing up in Bangalore, we often had ‘North-Indian’ relatives visit whose constant refrain was a fairly disdainful “अरे इनको हिंदी नहीं बोलनी आती? यह 'रामा रामा' क्या लगा रखा है? यह 'राम' नहीं बोल सकते क्या?" And I did grow up wondering why ‘we’ said Ram and ‘they’ said Rama (which to me sounded like Raamaa). It was only when I began to learn Sanskrit, that I realized that the joke is on me – because in fact Rama (pronounced 'Raam' in Hindi) is actually 'Ram+a' in Sanskrit.

 One of the fundamental challenges I faced as a Hindi speaker learning Sanskrit was to train myself to consciously add the ‘a’ at the end of an ‘a’ ending word. We are hard-wired to drop the ‘a’ when we speak – and if you want to be true to Sanskrit, you will have to make a conscious effort to switch language hats – and not equate Hindi to Sanskrit. It's very difficult, but not impossible.

What makes it even more difficult is the English spellings we are used to – which are geared to the Hindi pronunciation. So, automatically हम आखरी 'अ' खा जाते हैं. In Hindi we pronounce the word like as if it ends on a consonant (Raam) - in the process we drop a complete syllable. In Sanskrit, the 'a' at the end in conjunction with the consonant (म्+अ) counts as a separate syllable. Let me give you some examples:
कमल - ka+mal 2 syllablesक+म+ल 3 syllables
नाथ - 1 syllableना+थ 2 syllables
केशव ke+shav 2 syllablesके+श+व 3 syllables
 अर्थ 1 syllable अर्+थ 2 syllables
 शिव 1 syllable शि+व 2 syllables
 नीलकंठ 2 syllables नी+ल+कण्+ठ 4 syllables
We have no problem with any other vowel, आ, इ, ई, उ, ऊ, ए, ऐ, ओ, औ - there we understand that it is a halanta (not halant :-)) consonant -क् च् ट् etc + the vowel, so क्+ई=की. But in the case of 'अ' we forget, or just slip into the familiar 'Hindified' version.

This will become very important when we proceed to words in Sandhi - for instance सतसत् is not सत+सत् . but सत्+असत् (real and unreal/true and untrue). Likewise धर्मधर्मः is not dharma and dharma as it seems at first glance, but dharm+'adharma' in a copulative compound. So you could get the meaning of a word, a line, a verse completely wrong.
So please do make it a habit to look at the end of a word carefully if it ends in 'a' - what are called a-kaarant words - and pronounce the 'a', or at least be aware of it - that'll be a good start!


Unknown said...

Wanted to clear a confusion. In the para before last, dharma with : should be dharmah, where : stands for 'h'. Why are we using an 'a' now instead of 'h'? Sorry, if this sounds very basic in nature. Also I dont see any post for lesson on 18th Aug. Did we not do any lesson?

Rohini Bakshi said...

Dear Amit, I've been trying to get some standardisation - and we are working towards it. We have nearly 150 participants all of whom use a different way of spelling and transliterating and it's quite challenging. It's very good to know that someone is looking at what I write so closely. Thank you for your attention. Indeed I did slip into the familiar English spelling of dharma, and I apologise for it. Regarding lessons on Aug 18th - there was one. But as I am on annual vacation, I have limited access - and will not be able to post anything for the next few weeks. Mihir Jha is holding fort, and perhaps you could leave a comment in the Feedback section of if you want something immediately. Classes (+my posts on them) will resume in the second half of September. Kind regards.