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 Learning Sanskrit - Combination (1)

Vowel Sandhi -Part 1- (Primary Rules)


Gabriel Pradīpaka again. You have studied so far --First Steps, 2, 3 & 4 and Pronunciation 1 & 2-- how to pronounce and write in Sanskrit. You have also learnt how to transliterate Sanskrit properly. Before studying Sanskrit Grammar, it is necessary for you to be acquainted with Sandhi or Combination Rules. If you do not know Sandhi, you will not be able to read or write in Sanskrit because you will not understand how the words are interlinked. Therefore, Sandhi is extremely important.

Sanskrit words are very often changed when placed in the sentence in order to keep a definite phonetic harmony. If you do not know Sandhi or Combination Rules, no translation is possible either because you will be unable to trace back to the original word (before being changed and placed in the sentence).

The reason behind all those changes is, as it has been said previously, the phonetic harmony. For example:

ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om̐ namaḥ śivāya

The word "namaḥ" occurring here is the same as the original one. In a word, it has not changed at all. Because the Visarga (ḥ) is a hard letter and the "śa" is a hard one too, no changes are to be done (Go to Sanskrit Alphabet). In this case, you can take the dictionary and search for "namaḥ" and you will find its meaning: "salutation, bow, etc." Since the Visarga comes from an early "s", maybe you will find "namas" instead of "namaḥ". However, this is the only problem you might face to translate the sentence above.

In turn, "śivāya" means "to Śiva" (Dative case), but... I will explain this to you later on (Declension perhaps). Do not be in a hurry! The sacred Om̐ is the Primordial Sound, as you surely know.

Then, the entire sentence means:

Om̐, salutation to Śiva

A piece of cake! Nevertheless, things are not so easy all the time. Look:

ॐ नमो भगवते
Om̐ namo bhagavate

The previous "śa" in "śivāya" was a hard letter, but "bha" in "bhagavate" here is a soft letter (Go to Sanskrit Alphabet). There is a lack of harmony because you have a hard letter (ḥ) and a soft letter (bha). To resolve this problem, there is a Combination Rule stating that you have to change the final "aḥ" in "namaḥ" into "o". And "o" is a soft letter (all vowels are soft, except Visarga --ḥ--). Thus, both final "o" and initial "bha" are soft letters, and there is no disharmony now.

"Bhagavate" is the Dative case of "bhagavat" ("Glorious, Divine, Adorable, Prosperous", in sum "God"). Therefore, "bhagavate" means "to God, Divine, etc.". I will teach you this later on (Declension probably).

Imagine you do not know Sandhi, and you try to translate the sentence above. You will take your Sanskrit dictionary and search for "namo" and of course you will not find the appropriate meaning. You maybe discover that "namo" is the form of "namaḥ" to be used in compounds before soft letters, or something like this. You will not understand what is going on. So, study Sandhi or Combination Rules and have your problems resolved, dear friend.

Sandhi may be divided into three main sections:

1) Vowel Combinations (Vowel Sandhi)

2) Visarga Combinations (Visarga Sandhi)

3) Consonant Combinations (Consonant Sandhi)

Besides, it is available now a document with plenty of examples for every rule which has been taught.

I will have to teach you all this word for word. I am really crazy. Well, may this effort be for your welfare and why not for mankind's welfare too. Let us get down to work!


 Two major kinds of rules

Since there are many Sandhi rules within the three aforesaid sections, I will firstly attempt to divide them into two major categories:

a) Primary rules

b) Secondary rules

This division may be applied to Vowel Sandhi, Visarga Sandhi and Consonant Sandhi. Vowel Sandhi will comprise three documents: Part 1 (this document), Part 2 and Part 3. You will learn the primary rules for Vowel Sandhi in Part 1 & 2, and secondary rules for Vowel Sandhi in Part 3.

Do not try to learn by heart. Just attempt "to understand" how the rules are to be used. If you try to learn Sanskrit by heart, without any understanding behind, you will fail, no doubt. Just "understand" and use what you have learnt in a practical way. In sum, practice, practice. I will be giving more and more examples to you. In fact, I will create a whole document with examples for you. Do not worry and keep learning Sandhi. This is very important.


 1st Primary Rule

It is a very simple rule. I will place a border and a colorful background to remark the rule. I will be doing this with every rule I teach.

1st Primary Rule
Two Sanskrit vowels cannot be placed together (one following the other)

You cannot place two Sanskrit vowels (one after the other). For example:

ae, ou, ua, io, ea, etc. When two vowels are placed together they "must" combine with one another. In short, this first simple rule gives rise to Vowel Combinations.


 2nd Primary Rule

This rule seems difficult, but when understood it is very easy and extremely useful.

2nd Primary Rule
Guṇa is formed from adding "a" or "ā" to the simple vowels. If the process is repeated, Vṛddhi is formed thereby.

To explain this I have created the following table. There are three Gradations of Vowel Alternation:

Gradations of Vowel Alternation: Table 1
Type Vowels
WEAKENED GRADATION (simple vowels) a i-ī u-ū ṛ-ṝ
PROTRACTED GRADATION (Vṛddhi) ā ai au ār āl

"Weakened gradation" is a technical term for "simple vowels" (except "ā", which is a "also" a simple vowel but it is placed as pertaining to protracted gradation). And simple vowels are those which are not diphthongs: a, i-ī, u-ū, ṛ-ṝ, ḷ (the "ā" is not included here, despite it is also a simple vowel, because it comes under the category of Protracted gradation, got it?). In turn, "Strengthened gradation" (Guṇa) is a technical term for the vowels "a, e, o" and the syllables "ar, al". And finally, "protracted gradation" (Vṛddhi) is a technical term for the vowels "ā, ai, au" and the syllables "ār" and "āl". The process is very simple. The only exception is "a" whose Guṇa form is the same as weakened gradation. Pay full attention:

Table 2
(a) + a or ā (a) (only exception) + a or ā (ā)
(i) or (ī) + a or ā (e) + a or ā (ai)
(u) or (ū) + a or ā (o) + a or ā (au)
(ṛ) or (ṝ) + a or ā अर् (ar) + a or ā आर् (ār)
(ḷ) + a or ā अल् (al) + a or ā आल् (āl)

In the practical aspect, the combinations are as follows:

Table 3
[ (a) or (ā) ] + (a) = (ā)
[ (a) or (ā) ] + [ (i) or (ī) ] = (e) [ (a) or (ā) ] + (e) = (ai)
[ (a) or (ā) ] + [ (u) or (ū) ] = (o) [ (a) or (ā) ] + (o) = (au)
[ (a) or (ā) ] + [ (ṛ) or (ṝ) ] = अर् (ar) [ (a) or (ā) ] + अर् (ar) = आर् (ār)
[ (a) or (ā) ] + (ḷ) = अल् (al) [ (a) or (ā) ] + अल् (al) = आल् (āl)
[ (a) or (ā) ] + (ā) = (ā)
This way, I include "ā" also, as it is a simple vowel. Anyway, it does not form any Guṇa or Strengthened gradation because "ā" is just the Vṛddhi or protracted gradation of "a".

And now, I will give just one example of each case (except of "ḷ", "al" and "āl" because they are rarely used). There will be a special document with plenty of examples later. Sandhi is very useful when you form compounds like the following ones using the word "yoga":

I have marked with green color the resulting combination
योग (yoga) + अन्न (anna) = योगान्न (yogānna)
Yoga's (yoga) food (anna)
योग (yoga) + ईश (īśa) = योगेश (yogeśa) योग (yoga) + एकता (ekatā) = योगैकता (yogaikatā)
Master (īśa) of Yoga (yoga) Unity (ekatā) in Yoga (yoga)
योग (yoga) + उपदेश (upadeśa) = योगोपदेश (yogopadeśa) योग (yoga) + ओजः (ojaḥ) = योगौजः (yogaujaḥ)
The teaching (upadeśa) of Yoga (yoga) Yogic (yoga) vigour (ojaḥ)
योग (yoga) + ऋषि (ṛṣi) = योगर्षि (yogarṣi) योग (yoga) + अर्य (arya) = योगार्य (yogārya)
Yogic (yoga) sage (ṛṣi) Lord (arya) of Yoga (yoga)
योग (yoga) + आसन (āsana) = योगासन (yogāsana)
Yoga (yoga) posture (āsana)

And now the next primary rule.


 3rd Primary Rule

A very important rule indeed. It is used very often:

3rd Primary Rule
If a simple vowel (not a diphthong), short or long, be followed by a similar vowel, short or long, both of them will merge into the similar long vowel

That's to say: (a, ā) + (a, ā) = ā; (i, ī) + (i, ī) = ī; (u, ū) + (u, ū)= ū; (ṛ, ṝ) + (ṛ, ṝ) = ṝ; (ṛ, ṝ) + (ḷ) = ṝ

The last case is rather a special one. Since there is no long ḷ (that is, ḹ), ṝ is to be used as resulting combination. You will see an example below.

Easy! Let's see examples (just one for every case):

(a, ā) + (a, ā) = ā
I have marked with green color the resulting combination
योग (yoga) + अनुशासन (anuśāsana) = योगानुशासन (yogānuśāsana) योग (yoga) + आनन्द (ānanda) = योगानन्द (yogānanda)
Yogic (yoga) instruction (anuśāsana) Bliss (ānanda) of Yoga (yoga)
महा (mahā) + अमृत (amṛta) = महामृत (mahāmṛta) महा (mahā) + आनन्द (ānanda) = महानन्द (mahānanda)
Great (mahā) Nectar of immortality (amṛta) Great (mahā) Bliss (ānanda)
(i, ī) + (i, ī) = ī
I have marked with green color the resulting combination
सिद्धि (siddhi) + इन्द्र (indra) = सिद्धीन्द्र (siddhīndra) सिद्धि (siddhi) + ईश्वर (īśvara) = सिद्धीश्वर (siddhīśvara)
The best (indra) of the supernatural powers (siddhi) Lord (īśvara) of the supernatural powers (siddhi)
श्री (śrī) + इन्दु (indu) = श्रीन्दु (śrīndu) श्री (śrī) + ईश (īśa) = श्रीश (śrīśa)
Holy (śrī) moon (indu) Holy (śrī) Lord (īśa)
(u, ū) + (u, ū) = ū
I have marked with green color the resulting combination
भानु (bhānu) + उदय (udaya) = भानूदय (bhānūdaya) अम्बु (ambu) + ऊर्मि (ūrmi) = अम्बूर्मि (ambūrmi)
Sun-rise (bhānu-udaya) Wave (ūrmi) of water (ambu)
वधू (vadhū) + उद्यान (udyāna) = वधूद्यान (vadhūdyāna) चमू (camū) + ऊर्जः (ūrjaḥ) = चमूर्जः (camūrjaḥ)
The garden (udyāna) of wife (vadhū) The strength (ūrjaḥ) of an army (camū)
(ṛ, ṝ) + (ṛ, ṝ) = ṝ and (ṛ, ṝ) + ḷ = ṝ
I have marked with green color the resulting combination
पितृ (pitṛ) + ऋण (ṛṇa) = पितॄण (pitṇa) होतृ (hotṛ) + ॠकार (ṝkāra) = होतॄकार (hotkāra)
The father's (pitṛ) debt (ṛṇa) The letter ṝ (ṝkāra) -pronounced by- the sacrificer (hotṛ)
होतृ (hotṛ) + ऌकार (ḷkāra) = होतॄकार (hotkāra)
The letter ḷ (ḷkāra) -pronounced by- the sacrificer (hotṛ)
You may wonder: The last two examples lead to the same compound "hotṝkāra". How do I know which letter is pronouncing the sacrificer: or? The answer is as follows: These are mere examples. If you are translating a certain text in which Vedic rituals are referring to in Sanskrit, you are supposed to be acquainted with those rituals. In this case, you will be able to know exactly which letter is being referred to. Don't worry then.

Nothing else for the time being.


 Concluding remarks

It has been a short document. However, it is full of new and crucial knowledge. This knowledge is indispensable to read and write in Sanskrit properly. If you do not understand Sandhi, you will not be able to understand Sanskrit either. That's why, make a true effort to learn Sandhi. You will reap the fruits later, no doubt about it.

A few primary rules are left. We will be studying them in Combination: Vowel Sandhi -Part 2- (Primary Rules cont.). See you!


 Further information

Gabriel Pradīpaka

This document was conceived by Gabriel Pradīpaka, one of the two founders of this site, and spiritual guru conversant with Sanskrit language and Trika philosophy.

For further information about Sanskrit, Yoga and Indian Philosophy; or if you simply want to comment, ask a question or correct a mistake, feel free to contact us: This is our e-mail address.