Category Archives: Sanskrit

Suchita Parte

Suchita Parte is the first artist I am sponsoring.

Now, let me be blunt. A good deal of singing in Sanskrit sounds very stuffy. I’m talking about work which is technically flawless but sounds like it has been recorded 2000 years ago. It is fine but it does not sound very engaging. And this is a best case scenario because additionally there are the atrocious recordings of Westerners who took one Sanskrit class one day and then styled themselves Sanskrit signers. Their heavy Western accent sucks all the elegance out of Sanskrit.

Suchita Parte has broken out of the old stuffy molds. Her singing is grounded in tradition but not confined by it. Her rendition of Vedasārashivastotram is the most beautiful I’ve heard. You can listen to it and to her entire album on Magnatune.

The necessity of memorization

One of my projects this summer was to start memorizing the verses of Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. At cruising speed, I’m able to learn about one verse a day… which is not too shabby considering that in the AIIS program last summer the memorization rate was 2 verses a week. It is an unfortunate fact that during the most part of my Sanskrit studies, memorization was not a priority for me or my teachers. I’m not saying that my teachers did not ever have us memorize anything. I did memorize some vocabulary and some declension tables in my classes in Western universities. However, in the Western setting especially, memorization was a fairly limited and artificial affair. After my experience this summer, I am convinced that the memorization of actual texts is a desirable element of learning Sanskrit and should be present from the earliest stages of learning.

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Strange encounter of the Devanagari type

Yesterday, my wife and I went to a used book store. I was browsing their foreign books section and found a book with Devanagari script on it. The first thing that caught my eye was the word dharmaśāstra (धर्मशास्त्र) written on the cover. I thought “aha! a Sanskrit book”. But above it I saw the word māramana (मॉरमन), which did not ring any bell. (People who read Hindi will already have found where I erred.) I looked at the table of contents and realized immediately that the book was in Hindi, not Sanskrit. But that word, māramana, did not ring a bell. I was trying to figure out whether it was the name of an ancient author, a place, some sort of obscure philosophical view. Then I noticed the ardhacandra over the first syllabe. That’s the half moon diacritical mark above the word. This is not a normally found in Sanskrit so it has to be a modern Hindi word. Since it is Hindi, the last short “a” vowel is not pronounced so it should sound like māraman. Still, nothing came to mind. Then I remembered that the ardhacandra is normally used in transliterating the long “o” sound found in some English words (like in the name “John”: जॉन). Ok, so it is an English name sounding like moraman…. the religion of moraman…. moraman morman… Mormon!

It was an instructional book about Mormonism. It’s been my experience that recognizing English words transliterated in Hindi is pretty hard. Unfortunately, I don’t have to read such transliterated words very often. Here, I had a big fat clue in the ardhacandra but I’m reading much more Sanskrit than Hindi these days and even in the Hindi I read from time to time, the ardhacandra is not very frequent. So it initially slipped my mind. In general, Hindi transliteration of English words is done to represent how the English word sounds to the ears of native Hindi speakers. Hence, it requires quite a bit of mental gymnastics for a reader thinking in English to totally flip perspectives. The reader must no longer be an English language speaker looking at Hindi as a foreign language but must become a Hindi speaker looking at English as a foreign language. Arguably, the same gymnastics sometimes has to be performed with French for instance but because English and French “grew up” together, so to speak, and use the same script, the mental gymnastics involved are usually trivial.