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Lesson 3: Reading Vowel Markings

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Up to this point, we have studied the Devanagari alphabet in Lesson 1. Through those letters, we have made simple words. If you look at those words that were used as examples in Lesson 2, one can see a commonality between the words. The only vowel used in the words were “a.” Every letter in the last lesson ended with an “a.” In addition, we simply used the letters from the alphabet directly. Remember the first example, “tava” (Sanskrit for “your”), we split the word into “ta” and “va” and looked up the respective letters and then placed the letters in order. This lesson makes use of the vowels besides the short “a” sound. Before we see how to work this, we must look at one aspect of theory.

 

VIRAMA (HALANT)

For the consonants of the Devanagari alphabet, each letter is presented as a mix of a consonant with a short “a” sound. However, when the “a” sound is dropped, then all we hear is just the consonant without the vowel sound. For instance, “ka” without the “a” sound = “k.” To cut the vowel sound out of a consonant, a special symbol is added beneath a letter known as a virama (some refer to this as the halant).

Figure 3.1

To stress the importance of the vowel’s presence in the letter, the “a” sound is emphasized. Each consonant of the Devanagari alphabet is originally a letter with a virama which “a” added to produce the letter.

 

VOWEL MARKINGS

All vowels (except “a”) has a representative mark made to add onto consonants. Whenever a consonant makes use of a particular vowel, it adopts the representative mark of the vowel. Figure 3.2 shows the listing of the vowel markings of the vowels.

 

Figure 3.2

To make practical use of this, Figure 3.3 will show how each consonant has a virama added to it. With the help of the particular vowel, the consonant receives the sound of the vowel added. Looking at the letter “ka,” notice how the vowel addition yields the vowel marking.

 

Figure 3.3

Remember, it is the consonant with the virama that gets the vowel marking. If you add the actual letter (the letter that ends in short “a”), you do not get a vowel marking, for it is interpreted as two syllables. Figure 3.4 shows this.

 

Figure 3.4

The process for adding vowel markings applies to all letters. There are a few exceptions which will be discussed later.

SPELLING WORDS USING THE DEVANAGARI ALPHABET

Just like the last lesson, we will first learn how to write words.

 

EXAMPLE 1: “rādhā” (Radha [Sanskrit]).

STEP 1: Break the word down through its syllables.

There are two syllables in this word: “” and “dhā

STEP 2: Find the letters of the word and examine which vowels belong to each letter.

Recall the letters for “ra” and “dha” on the Devanagari alphabet. See which vowel follows the original word. You will see that both “ra” and “dha” have the long ā following them. Place the vowel markings

STEP 3: Put the letters with vowel markings in order to form the word

The entire process is shown below in Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5

 

Here is another harder example. Two words!

EXAMPLE 2: “tulasī devī” (goddess of the tulasī plant [Sanskrit]).

STEP 1: Break the word down through its syllables.

There are five syllables total: “tu”, “la”, “”, “de” and “”

STEP 2: Find the letters of the word and examine which vowels belong to each letter.

Recall the letters for “ta”, “la”, “sa”, da”, and “va” on the Devanagari alphabet. See which vowel follows the original word.

The letter “ta” has a short “u” sound.

The letter “la” has a short “a” sound.

The letter “sa” has a short “ī” sound.

The letter “da” has a short “e” sound.

The letter “va” has a short “ī” sound.

 

STEP 3: Put the letters with vowel markings in order to form the word

The entire process is shown below in Figure 3.6

 

 

Figure 3.6

 

TRANSLITERATING WORDS INTO DEVANAGARI

The steps of transliterating words are exactly the same as the steps shown in Lesson 2.

Therefore, only one example will be examined.

EXAMPLE 1:

Figure 3.7

Break all letters down. Each letter is one syllable long.

This is done in Figure 3.8.

Figure 3.8

Pay attention to the vowel markings highlighted in orange in Figure 3.9. From the two vowel markings, a long “ā” and a long “ī" is present.

Figure 3.9

STEP TWO: Identify the letters in order

Figure 3.10

 

Figure 3.10

STEP THREE: Convert them into the transliteration scheme and say the word.

 

Finally, “ba” + “la” + “” + “ma” + “” = “balarāma .” (Elder brother of Lord Krsna)

 

PRACTICE:

Try spelling these words using Devanagari Script:

1. kṛpā (grace in Sanskrit)

2. pūjā (worshipping in Sanskrit)

3. auṣadhi (medicine in Hindi and Bengali)

4. nitaī-gaura bolo (“Chant Nityananda and Gaura’s name!” in Sanskrit)

 

Try reading the words from Devanagari script.

1.

2.

3.

4. 

ANSWERS to Lesson 3

UPDATED: June 16, 2009