Here is a list of terms along with a summary of their meanings that I suggest should be learned and remain un-translated by students of Hinduism. These are terms taken primarily from the Bhagavad-gita and the Upanisads.
acarya–traditional teacher or theologian of Hindu doctrine, head of sampradaya or school of religious thought.
adharma–the opposite of dharma. Mostly the term is used in the sense of unrighteousness, impiety or non-performance of duty.
artha–wealth, not to be understood solely as material assets, but all kinds of wealth including non-tangibles such as knowledge, friendship and love. Artha is one of the four purusarthas or “goals of life” the others beingdharma, kama and moksa.
asat–opposite of sat, non-being, impermanent, false, evil, unreal, sometimes used to refer to matter or to the body.
atman–has many meanings in Sanskrit that include: soul, breath, the Self, one’s self (as a reflexive pronoun), mind, body, the Supreme Soul, etc.
bhagavan–literally one possessed of bhaga. Bhaga means fame, glory, strength, power, etc. The word is used as an epithet applied to God, gods, or any holy or venerable personality.
bhakti–love, devotion. One of the most common forms of yoga.
brahman–derived from the Sanskrit root brmh meaning to grow, to expand, to bellow, to roar. The word brahmanrefers to the Supreme Principle regarded as impersonal and divested of all qualities. This form of brahman is sometimes designated as nirguna-brahman, brahmandevoid of qualities. In contrast there is saguna-brahman,brahman invested with qualities. (See saguna-brahman).Brahman is the essence from which all created beings are produced and into which they are absorbed. This word is neuter and not to be confused with the masculine word Brahma, the creator god. Brahman is sometimes used to denote the syllable Om or the Vedas in general.
brahmana–a member of the traditional priestly class. Thebrahmana was the first of the four varnas in the social system called varnasrama-dharma. Literally the word means “in relation to brahman.” A brahmana is one who follows the ways of brahman. Traditionally a brahmana, often written as brahmin, filled the role of priest, teacher and thinker.
deva–derived from the Sanskrit root div meaning to shine or become bright. A deva is therefore a “shining one.” The word is used to refer to God, a god or any exalted personality. The female version is devi.
deva-nagari–name of the writing script in which Sanskrit and Hindi are usually written.
dharma–derived from the Sanskrit root dhr meaning to hold up, to carry, to bear, to sustain. The word dharmarefers to that which upholds or sustains the universe. Human society, for example, is sustained and upheld by the dharma performed by its members. For example, parents protecting and maintaining children, children being obedient to parents, the king protecting the citizens, are acts of dharma that uphold and sustain society. In this context dharma has the meaning of duty. Dharma also employs the meaning of law, religion, virtue, and ethics. These things uphold and sustain the proper functioning of human society. In philosophy dharma refers to the defining quality of an object. For instance, liquidity is one of the essential dharmas of water; coldness is a dharma of ice. In this case we can think that the existence of an object is sustained or defined by its essential attributes,dharmas.
guna–quality, positive attributes or virtues. In the context of Bhagavad–gita and Sankhya philosophy there are threegunas of matter. Sometimes guna is translated as phase or mode. Therefore the three gunas or phases of matter are:sattva–guna, rajo-guna and tamo–guna. The word gunaalso means a rope or thread and it is sometimes said that beings are “roped” or “tied” into matter by the three gunasof material nature.
Isa–literally lord, master, or controller. Isa is one of the words used for God as the supreme controller. The word is also used to refer to any being or personality who is in control.
jnana–derived from the Sanskrit root jna, to know, to learn, to experience. In the context of Bhagavad-gita and the Upanisads, jnana is generally used in the sense of spiritual knowledge or awareness.
kama–wish, desire, love. Often used in the sense of sexual desire or love, but not necessarily. Kama is one of the four purusarthas or “goals of life,” the others beingdharma, artha and moksa.
karma–derived from the Sanskrit root kr meaning to do, to make. The work karma means action, work, and deed. Only secondarily does karma refer to the result of past deeds, which are more properly known as the phalam or fruit of action.
ksatriya–a member of the traditional military or warrior class. A king, a prince. The ksatriya was the second varnain the system of varnasrama-dharma.
moksa–liberation or freedom of rebirth. Moksa is one of the four purusarthas or “goals of life,” the others beingdharma, artha and kama.
nirvana–blown out or extinguished as in the case of a lamp. Nirvana is generally used to refer to a material life that has been extinguished, i.e. for one who has achieved freedom from re-birth. The term nirvana is commonly used in Buddhism as the final stage a practitioner strives for. The word does not mean heaven.
|papa–literally papa is what brings one down. Sometimes translated as sin or evil.prakrti–material nature. In sankhya philosophy prakrti is comprised of eight elements: earth, water, fire, air, space, mind, intellect and ego. It is characterized by the threegunas: sattva, rajas and tamas. Prakrti is female. Purusais male.punya–the opposite to papa. Punya is what elevates; it is virtue or moral merit. Papa and punya generally go together as negative and positive “credits.” One reaps the reward of these negative or positive credits in life. The more punya one cultivates the higher one rises in life, whereas papa will cause one to find a lower position on life. Punya leads to happiness, papa leads to suffering.
purusa–man, male. In sankhya philosophy purusadenotes the Supreme Male Principle in the universe. Its counterpart is prakrti.
purusottama–comprised of two words: purusa + uttamaliterally meaning “highest man.” Purusottama means God.
rajas–the second of the three gunas of matter. Sometimes translated as passion, the phase of rajas is characterized by action, passion, creation, etc.
saguna-brahman–brahman invested with quaulities. An example of this would be an avatara of Visnu come to this world and appearing to be invested with such qualities such as name and form. In contrast to saguna-brahman isnirguna-brahman. (See brahman).
sankhya–calculating, enumeration, analysis, categorization. Modern science can be said to be a form ofsankhya because it attempts to analyze and categorize matter into its constituent elements. Sankhya (long first a) refers to an ancient system of philosophy attributed to the sage Kapila. This philosophy is so called because it enumerates or analyses reality into a set number of basic elements, similar to modern science.
sastra–an order, command, rule, scriptural injunction, sacred writings, science, any department of knowledge.
sat–being, good, virtuous, chaste, the third word of the famous three words: om tat sat, refers to what is truely real, eternal and permanent, used to mean God or the soul.
sattva–the first of the three gunas of matter. Sometimes translated as goodness, the phase of sattva is characterized by lightness, peace, cleanliness, knowledge, etc.
satyam–truth. The word satyam is formed from sat with the added abstract suffix ya. Sat refers to what is true and real. The abstract suffix ya means “ness.” Thus satyamliterally means trueness or realness.
sloka–a hymn or verse of praise, a stanza or verse in general, a stanza in anustubh metre (the most common metre used in Sanskrit consisting for 4 lines of 8 syllables), fame.
sudra–a member of the traditional working class. Thesudra was the fourth varna in the system of varnasrama-dharma.
tamas–the third of the three gunas of matter. Sometimes translated as darkness, the phase of tamas is characterized by darkness, ignorance, slowness, destruction, heaviness, disease, etc.
tyaga–abandonment, renunciation, the performance of actions without attachment to the results of action.
vaisya–a member of the traditional mercantile or business community. The vaisya was the third varna in the system of varnasrama-dharma.
varnasrama–the traditional social system of four varnasand four asramas. The word varna literally means, “color” and it refers to four basic natures of mankind:brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya and sudra. The asramas are the four stages of an individual’s life: brahmacarya(student), grhastha (householder), vanaprastha (retired) and sannyasa (renounced).
vijnana–derived from the prefix vi added to the nounjnana. The prefix vi added to a noun tends to diminish or invert the meaning of a word. If jnana is spiritual knowledge, vijnana is practical or profane knowledge. Sometimes vijnana and jnana are used together in the sense of knowledge and wisdom.
yoga–derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, to join, to unite, to attach. The English word yoke is cognate with the Sanskrit word yoga. We can think of yoga as the joining of the atma with the paramatma, the soul with God. There are numerous means of joining with God: through action, karma-yoga; through knowledge, jnana-yoga; through devotion, bhakti-yoga; through meditation,dhyana-yoga, etc. Yoga has many other meaning. For example, in astronomy and astrology it refers to a conjunction (union) of planets.
yogi–literally one possessed of yoga. A yogi is a practitioner of yoga.
Here is a sample of some sanskrit devanagari text and
Copyright© 2002 Sanskrit Religions Institute
The Sanskrit alphabet, called var∫a-målå, consists of 46 letters. The most common script used to write Sanskrit is the lettering system known as deva-någarî. With some variation this same system is used for modern Hindi. Sanskrit is also commonly transliterated using the lettering systems of many other Indian languages including Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil, Telegu, Kannada, and so on. Similarly, Sanskrit can also be transliterated using the Roman alphabet. This is illustrated in the transliteration guide. Notice that some of the Roman letters have been augmented with various dots, dashes and slashes. These are diacritical marks and they are used to precisely represent the various sounds of Sanskrit. The unique feature of Sanskrit is that the sounds are pronounced precisely as they are written. The Sanskrit language is, therefore, easy to pronounce once the sounds of the individual letters have been learned.
The arrangement of the Sanskrit var∫a-målå is systematic. The sounds are categorized according to the place within the mouth where they are produced. Five basic places are identified: the throat, the soft palate, the hard palate, the teeth and finally the lips. On the transliteration guide these sounds are respectively known as gutturals, palatals, cerebrals, dentals, and labials. In Sanskrit these five divisions are known as vargas and all sounds are associated with one, or in a few cases, two of these vargas. In the transliteration guide the vowels, semivowels and sibilants are grouped into their own categories, but in fact they belong to one or more of the vargas.
Before we demonstrate the pronunciation of each Sanskrit sound it will be useful to briefly discuss the system of diacritics. The vowels
appear in two forms, long and short. There is a short a and a long a, a short i and a long i, etc. The short and long vowels are distinguished from each other by placing a dash over the long sound. The long sound is held for twice the length of the short sound. Thus there is a and å, i and î, u and ü, etc. The final vowels: e, ai, o and au are pronounced as long sounds even though they do not have the diacritical dash mark. They are therefore not pronounced as e, ai, o and au.
A dot, which is placed under certain letters, is another important diacritical mark. This mark indicates the cerebral sound, which is made by pointing the tip of the tongue towards the top of the head as the sound is produced. The cerebral consonants are therefore pronounced: †a, †ha ∂a, ∂ha and ∫a.
In Sanskrit there are three sibilants. They are distinguished from each other by diacritical marks. The slash placed over the first letter s, indicates the palatal s pronounced as sha. The dot placed under the second s indicates the cerebral s and is pronounced with the tongue placed towards the top of the head: ßa. The final s is the dental s. It has no diacritical mark and is simply pronounced sa.
A dot, which is placed above the guttural n pronounced as õa. Another is the tilde placed over the palatal n pronounced as ña. The final important diacritical mark is the dot placed under the letter h. These are known as visarga and indicates an echo of the preceding vowel. For example, the name Råma spelled r, å, m, a, if written with the visarga is pronounced råma ̇. The letter a before the ̇ is echoed. Similarly, the word muni, spelled m, u, n, i, if written with the visarga is pronounced muni ̇. The letter i before the ̇ is echoed. The visarga echo is generally only sounded at the end of a stanza and not in mid verse.
Occasionally you will see a dot placed above the letter m. This sound is known as anusvåra, but general purposes it can be ignored and simply pronounced as the m sound.
The final aid to pronunciation is the use of the aspirate sound employed with most of the consonants. Notice the sequence of consonants in any varga. Among the gutturals, for example, there is k- h-a and g-h-a. The insertion of the h is the indication of an aspirate sound and must be pronounced as kha and gha. Similarly, amongst the palatals there is c-h-a and j-h-a that are pronounced cha and jha. The aspirate sound is similarly employed with the consonants within the other vargas.
There is a precise academic standard of Sanskrit transliteration that has developed over the years. (See the Sanskrit Pronunciation and Diacritic Guide) Unfortunately, the scheme of diacritics that is used in this system cannot be displayed on a web page. This is a problem for those who wish to present Sanskrit terms in the most accurate way. After reviewing various systems that attempt to solve this problem, including the Harvard Kyoto system and the ITRANS system, we have decided to adopt a system that is similar to what is used in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. This system places an underline mark under each letter that would normally show a diacritical mark. Those who are familiar with the academic system of diacritic notation will easily understand how the Britannica standard relates to the academic standard. Other readers may simply ignore the underlining.
There are, however, two cases where this system does not work. It fails to distinguish between two different types of letter n and two different types of letter s. Other than this the underlining system works and we feel that this is a reasonable compromise for the display of web pages. We have, however, made some our material available as a PDF download file which shows the proper Sanskrit diacritical notation for those readers who wish to see our articles complete with the proper diacritic notation.