The Joy of Sanskrit

underground signI hauled myself down to London last night (it’s never my fave destination and my icky cold isn’t going away so this was a big effort). I’d booked on to a Sanskrit seminar weeks and weeks ago and I didn’t want to waste the opportunity. Actually it turned out to be great timing since my local Sanskrit classes are starting soon and this seminar was a great introduction to Sanskrit phonetics, some vocabulary, and a tiny bit of grammar. Just enough to get me in the mood!

We worked our way through the standard sound chart and then practiced our pronunciation with a list of  āsanas (see I now know there’s a long ‘a’ here!!). Finally we looked at a few sutras and mantras to see what vocabulary and grammar we’d picked up.

sanskrit phoneticsNerdfest! I totally loved it! There was something very absorbing about focusing just on sounds when meaning takes a secondary place. I guess it’s the opposite to much of adult communication — when the sense is all important, but you no longer revel in the creation of sounds or pay much attention to articulation. Although I don’t think I’ll ever get the hang of retroflex ‘r’. Oh well, it’s not like I’m ever going to be chatting to anyone in Sanskrit unless my circle of friends changes significantly! And I’m not sure I’ll ever want to check in for class at my studio class pronouncing ‘Haṭha’ with the correct aspirated retroflex!

Fascinating also to learn about the codification of Sanskrit in 5th century BCE and the accuracy of the technical grammars of the time, with the the understanding of linguistics surpassing other contemporary cultures such that the classification of phonetics remains largely unchanged to the present day.

But all this was done without any reference to Devanagari script — we were just using transliterations, so I’m still freaked out by not having enough time to practice my reading and writing of individual letters before my classes start. And the comment by the teacher about his first year of Sanskrit being ‘brutal’ wasn’t so encouraging. Though the fact that he was able to pick his way through the Bhagavad Gita with the aid of a dictionary after only a year says a lot! I don’t think I was reading Homer after my first year of ancient Greek.

I practiced my writing a bit on the train, sharing a table with someone who was writing music on a paper score, (and rubbing it out a lot!) another person who was writing music on their laptop, and the fourth person at the table was reading something about Anglo Saxon literature. What a cerebral bunch we must have looked! And in the middle of it my mum called to talk to me about her most recent yoga lesson. I’m sure the other passengers were fascinated by our discussion of cat tilt and dog tilt, and by my soliloquy on practice being as much about cultivating patience as achieving progress…

Hope you’re having a good weekend whatever you’re up to.

2 thoughts on “The Joy of Sanskrit

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  1. You’re inspiring me – maybe I should see if one of the universities i town is offering Sanskrit… keep us posted on how it goes!
    Good luck with the course! Good luck with learning the script of the gods!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe you should! Thanks for the lucky wishes — I’ve not made as much headway with my script as I’d have liked so far. Feels a bit more devilish than divine right now!

      Like

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