Disclaimer: I’m not responsible if you have a brain freeze after reading this article! It is highly technical and intended only for those serious about pronouncing the hymns and chants correctly.
A problematic area of Vedic chanting is the nasal sound known as the Anusvaraha or the dot. From my learning experience, I’ve noticed that even many Sanskrit dictionaries have a hard time handling the pronunciation of this!
More so, the confusion has skyrocketed due to the slight difference in rules between Hindi and Sanskrit. To add to the chaos, these are also transliterated differently in various parts of India.
In this post, I’ll share whatever I’ve learned about the nasal sound. I hope this will demystify things a bit. Unfortunately, I don’t have too many references to prove the information I’m providing here. The pronunciation details of Anusvaraha are knowledge that’s passed on purely by oral tradition.
Basic Rules of Anusvaraha, The Dot
1. Anusvaraha has different pronunciations for vowels and consonants.
2. The dot adopts pronunciations based on the letter following it.
3. The Anusvaraha pronunciation can vary for the same word contextually — depending on whether the word is written separately or in conjunction.
4. Typically, a dot occurs only in words found in the middle of a sentence. It cannot appear as the last character of a line. (Anusvaraha does break this rule in some unique cases.)
Sanskrit = Hindi
To start with, let me focus on the commonalities between Hindi and Sanskrit. I’m using the IAST transliteration for explaining this.
The dot is pronounced as:
- ङ् (ṅ): Before the क-वर्ग or ka-series => क, ख, ग, घ (ka, kha, ga, gha). Example: गंगा will be transliterated as gaṅgā (गङ्गा).
- ञ् (ñ): Before the च-वर्ग or ca-series => च, छ, ज, झ (ca, cha, ja, jha). Example: संछन्न will be sañchanna (सञ्छन्न).
- ण् (ṇ): Before the ट-वर्ग or ṭa-series => ट, ठ, ड, ढ (ṭa, ṭha, ḍa, ḍha). Example: कंट will be kaṇṭa (कण्ट).
- न् (n): Before the त-वर्ग or ta-series => त, थ, द, ध (ta, tha, da, dha). Example: अंत will be anta (अन्त).
- म् (m): Before the प-वर्ग or pa-series => प, फ, ब, भ (pa, pha, ba, bha). Example: अंबा will be ambā (अम्बा).
- ं (ṃ): Before the vowels => अ आ इ ई उ ऊ ए ऐ ओ औ (a ā i ī u ū e ai o au). And also at the end of a word. This sound is pronounced similar to अं (aṃ) or the m-sound in sum.
Sanskrit ≠ Hindi
The variation between Sanskrit and Hindi occurs in the final set of consonants. Usually, in Hindi, the dot is pronounced the same for all of these. The dot’s pronunciation changes for each of these in Sanskrit. Regrettably, many modern-day Sanskrit texts have forgotten this rule, and the mantra science has become diluted due to this.
At the end of this post, I’ve provided a chart for easy remembrance. For now, the dot is pronounced as:
- ङ् (ṅ): Before ह (ha). Example: सिंह will be transliterated as siṅha.
- ञ् (ñ): Before य (ya) and श (śa). Example: अंश will be añśa.
- ण् (ṇ): Before र (ra) and ष (ṣa). Example: दंष्ट्रा will be daṇṣṭrā.
- न् (n): Before ल (la) and स (sa). Example: हंस will be hansa.
- म् (m): Before व (va). Example: नरंवर्षीय will be naramvarṣīya.
The Chandra Bindu
This character has lost value even in modern-day Sanskrit. Whenever we see the Chandra Bindu (the dot with a saucer) in Sanskrit, it should be pronounced similar to माँ (mām̐). As Swami explains in a video (here), we don’t say Maam or Maang. We say Maa with a unique nasal sound.
A typical example of this is the Navarna Mantra. The mantra reads:
ॐ ऐँ ह्रीँ क्लीँ चामुंडायै विच्चे
om̐ aim̐ hrīm̐ klīm̐ cāmuṇḍāyai vicce
Please note that aim̐, hrīm̐ and klīm̐ are written thus because the IAST has no matching character to represent this sound! As Swami has explained, these sounds aren’t aim, hreem and kleem. Neither are they aing, hreeng and kleeng. The ‘ng’ sound is very soft and it is almost like the resonance after ringing a bell.
Here’s a reference chart for the pronunciation of the nasal Anusvaraha: