anusvāra and visarga

In this lesson, we will learn about the last two sounds in the Sanskrit alphabet. These sounds often change if certain other sounds follow them. But with what we have learned so far, we can easily understand these sounds and their changes.

anusvāra

The first sound we will study is called the anusvāra (“after-sound”):

  • अं
    aṃ

(We've added a before the anusvāra to make it easier to pronounce.)

The anusvāra has its own distinct pronunciation. But often, its written form is used as a kind of “shorthand” for nasal sounds followed by a consonant. In each example below, we should pronounce the word on the left in the same way as the word on the right:

  • संगः → सङ्गः
    saṃgaḥ → saṅgaḥ

  • संजयः → सञ्जयः
    saṃjayaḥ → sañjayaḥ

  • संन्यासः → सन्न्यासः
    saṃnyāsaḥ → sannyāsaḥ

  • संबन्धः → सम्बन्धः
    saṃbandhaḥ → sambandhaḥ

visarga

The next sound is called the visarga (“release”):

  • अः
    aḥ

(As with the anusvāra, we've added a before the visarga to make it easier to pronounce.)

Generally, the visarga is pronounced like the “h” in “house.” It is pronounced at the soft palate.

In modern times, however, the visarga is often pronounced like an “echo” of the previous vowel when it is at the end of a verse or sentence. So aḥ is pronounced like aha, ūḥ is pronounced like ūhu, aiḥ is pronounced like aihi, and so on.

The Sanskrit alphabet

Here is the standard Sanskrit alphabet in order. First are the simple vowels:


  • a

  • ā

  • i

  • ī

  • u

  • ū



Then the compound vowels:


  • e

  • ai

  • o

  • au

Then the anusvāra and visarga:

  • अं
    aṃ
  • अः
    aḥ

Then the consonants:


  • ka

  • kha

  • ga

  • gha

  • ṅa

  • ca

  • cha

  • ja

  • jha

  • ña

  • ṭa

  • ṭha

  • ḍa

  • ḍha

  • ṇa

  • ta

  • tha

  • da

  • dha

  • na

  • pa

  • pha

  • ba

  • bha

  • ma

  • ya

  • ra

  • la

  • va

  • śa

  • ṣa

  • sa

  • ha

In the list above, we have colored each letter according to the point of pronunciation it uses. Letters that use two points of pronunciation are left black. The anusvāra is also left black, since it doesn't use any of these points of pronunciation.

Review

We have now seen all of the sounds used in normal Sanskrit. Our kitchen of sounds is well-stocked and ready for use.

  1. What is the sound aḥ called? What is the sound aṃ called?

  2. In modern times, how is auḥ often pronounced at the end of a sentence?

  3. How is saṃcaya usually pronounced? How about saṃbodhi?