|Letters of Sanskrit - Vowel 'aa'/ā/आ|
|Written by Shashi Joshi|
The alphabet for Sanskrit language is arranged very scientifically. It shows the deep understanding of linguistics. The sounds are in order of the location in mouth from where they are produced. The vowels appear first, from the simplest to the compounds, followed by consonants, from the ones produced by throat (gutturals) to the lips (labials). Letters don't have confusing names that at times differ from their sound.All letters are called by their sound, with just the simple vowel 'a' added for ease of speaking.
Let us see the letters one at a time in this series on the Sanskrit alphabet. You may also be interested in “Learning Sanskrit: The Easy and Simple Way – Workbook 1” that is designed for the beginner in mind.
The second vowel is the letter आ.It is denoted by an 'ā' (in IAST) or 'A' or 'aa' (in ITRANS) or ‘aa’ in simple English. The sound is like the 'a' sound in ‘father, ‘far’, ‘car’, ‘card’ etc.
As we saw in the previous article on the short vowel 'a', in a Sanskrit word transliterated (or worse written in English sentence), the confusion between the short 'a' and long 'a' vowels is critical. But in practice, mostly, the two sounds are confused (specially with ordinary English spellings). Not all 'a' are long. For example, in the word 'rama', only the first 'a' is long. In 'asana' only first 'a' is long. They are written properly as 'rāma' (or as rAma/raama) and āsana (or aasana/Asana). So, the English words 'hard' and 'father' would be written in Sanskrit transliteration as hārḍa / hArDa and fādara / fAdara.
The long vowel is also called dīrgha (dIrgha / deergha / दीर्घ ) and the short vowel called hrasva (ह्रस्व). Another name for them is - guru (गुरु meaning 'more') for the long vowel, and laghu (लघु meaning small) for the short vowel. They are used in verses and metres to count patterns of long and short vowels, and generate a whole class of metres based on the patterns.
The vowel is a word in itself as well. When used all by itself as an indeclinable, it is used to show surprise, affirmation or compassion. This is similar to many other languages as well:
1. Surprise: "ā! atīva sundaram yānam!" (ooh! very beautiful car!)
2. Affirmation: "ām, aham gamiṣhyāmi" (yes, I will go)
3. Compassion: "āha! īdṝishī daridratā!" (Oh! such poverty!)
It is also added as a prefix for verbs and nouns to show -
4. Proximity, nearness. For example,
5. As opposite when used in front of words showing movement, carrying etc. For example,
6. From a starting point till now or from now to a ending point. For example,
7. To denote lesser amount For example,
8. Some more examples of how aa- prefix changes word meaning:
To write the letter in its current form, follow the strokes in this image. Make sure the lines touch. They are shown separated only for clarity.
Shashi Joshi, BTech, MS in Computer Science.
Shashi is an author, poet, photographer and Sanskrit promoter and an IT professional with a BTech from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, India and MS from University of Minnesota. He has been pursuing Sanskrit for over 25 years, inheriting the love for languages from his father.
He runs the most popular Sanskrit page on Facebook 'Practical Sanskrit' and has authored the popular book "Attitude Shift – Sanskrit Maxims for Contemporary Life and Leadership" in which he explains and interprets over 130 Sanskrit maxims for modern times in simple English and interesting stories from today and past.
His "Learning Sanskrit - The Easy and Practical Way" workbook series is welcomed by many Sanskrit learners for its intuitive, interesting, comprehensive yet simple approach. His next book is "Understanding Devotion – through Sanskrit prayers". He also writes poetry and loves playing with his camera and three children, all at the same time!