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Lesson 5: Consonant Clusters (Nasal Elements)




Up to this point, each syllable and every word examined was made of a letter with a mix of a vowel. Occasionally, some words would have an anusvāra or a visarga. The next three lessons examine the consonant clusters. Consonant clusters are a mixture of consonants to form a “blended sound.” In English, for example, the sound “tr” is a cluster between the letters “t” and “r.”


There are three classes of consonant clusters. The first type deals with the nasal element. Recall from Lesson 1, the first five rows of consonants have the nasal element which is the fifth letter of each row. Figure 5.1 has a table of the five nasal elements of each of the first five rows.

Figure 5.1


The fifth letter in each row serves as a nasal element to the other four elements. For example, the first row of consonants (the gutturals) has a as the ńa as the nasal element. The letter ńa will add itself to ka, kha, ga, and gha to form ńka, ńkha, ńga, and ńgha. The method of writing this cluster for the gutturals is shown in Figure 5.2. Notice how the ńa is above the guttural letter. Also notice the proper way of demonstrating a cluster. The first letter (ńa) has a virama while the second letter is a full leter.

Figure 5.2


For the other four sets of letters (palatals, cerebrals, dentals, and labials), there is one formula which is common to many consonant clusters discussed further on. A great majority of letters in the Devanagari alphabet contain a “stick” which resembles the long “ā” vowel marker. Figure 5.3 circles the “stick.”

Figure 5.3

For the first letter of a consonant cluster, one must remove the stick. This forms the “half-letter form.” Then, one joins the half-letter with the second letter in its full form. Figure 5.4 shows an example of ña and ca. The letter ña has its “stick” cut off. The remaining half-letter of ña (technically ñ at this point) binds with ca to form the cluster ñca.

Figure 5.4


The continue illustration with this point, the following table of the ña binding with the other four palatals shows how the half letter form of ñ binds with the full letter of the palatals.

Figure 5.5

To get familiar with nasal element consonant clusters, a few spelling words and transliterating words will be presented.


EXAMPLE 1: “śańkara” (Another name for Lord Siva [Sanskrit]).

Besides the obvious śa and ra letters, there is also a “ń + ka” cluster. Recall how since “ńa” doesn’t have a stick, the ka was placed beneath the ńa letter.

Figure 5.6

EXAMPLE 2: “pāṇḍava” (sons of King Pandu from Mahabharata [Sanskrit]).

The word has the letters “pa”, vowel mark for “ā”, ṇa and ḍa, and the letter va.

Since “ṇa” is one the nasal elements that have a “stick”, one can take the “stick” out to get the half letter form. Then, add the half letter form of ṇa to ḍa to form ṇḍa. 


Figure 5.7




The middle letter has a half ñ and a full ja. Therefore, the middle letter is ñja. The word is “añjalī (offering in Sanskrit)”



The last letter is a half-m with a bha. Therefore, the last letter is “mbha.” The word is ārambha (start in Hindi).


Try spelling these words using Devanagari Script:

1. pampā (A lake mentioned in the Ramayana)

2. nīlakaṇṭha (lit. “blue throated” another name for Lord Siva)

3. mṛdańgam (a drum from South India) *HINT: Does the last letter have a vowel sound? If not, what should be placed there?


Transliterate the following Devanagari words.




ANSWERS to Lesson 5

UPDATED: June 16, 2009