Top 10 Most Mispronounced Sanskrit Words.

Via Melissa Smith
on Feb 22, 2012
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photo taken in India by Melissa Smith

Fresh from the Texas Yoga Conference, Nicolai Bachman, Sanskrit (संस्कृतम्) scholar and well known author of the book The Language of Yoga, takes a moment to share the mispronunciations and correct pronunciations of 10 most commonly used Sanskrit words.

If you teach yoga, you need to hear this.



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More articles by Melissa, including a serenade by Steve Gold.


Editor: Brianna Bemel


About Melissa Smith

Melissa is a freelance writer, zealous traveler, momma, and AcroThaiTherapeuticsYogaLifeStudentOccasionalTeacher. She leads advanced teacher trainings for Leeann Carey Yaapana Yoga, specializing Therapeutic Partner Practice and hosts retreats in Texas, Thailand & New Orleans for Grace Yoga Retreats. Connect with her on Facebook, her Grace Yoga Blog, and Twitter. or read other Elephant Journal articles.


65 Responses to “Top 10 Most Mispronounced Sanskrit Words.”

  1. tamiapland says:

    thanks for this, melissa!

  2. Śodhanānandaḥ says:

    he says sans-skrit, not sun-skri-tam (the "correct" way, haha) (teehee)

  3. Jean LeBlanc says:

    Being French-Canadian, I get very angry when someone from France coaches me on the "correct" pronunciation of French. There's no such thing as correct or wrong pronunciation in any language.

  4. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    LOL Nobody's perfect. 😉

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  5. Sangeeta says:

    Thank you for bringing this to attention! I had the privilege of growing up in India and study Sanskrit as my second language to Hindi, a daughter of Sanskrit (both share the Devnagari alpha bate). I always wondered if anyone cared to pronounce correct Yoga words, so I very much appreciate this video!
    Actually to add, the word Yoga should have the very first one on the list, which is supposed to be pronounced as "YOG" with "A" being silent but just supporting the full sound pronunciation of "G" :))

  6. OK I knew the ones he listed :)

    what's funny is how I have studied with a few people from india and they say them in even more fun and interesting ways…

    Like yoga is just YOG — and asana's don't even have the a sound at the end. and i"m not just talking about how it's in a sentence but as a stand alone.

    I guess this is the difference that akaranandah is talking about…but at some point I have to question who REALLY knows?

  7. […] The Sanskrit language has evolved several terms to describe a teacher’s abilities, running the gamut from providers of information to guides in the inner journey. There is a huge world of difference between those who address the former type of ignorance and those who address the latter. […]

  8. Who would have thought that an article about Sanskrit would be such a big hit on elephant.

    But that's one of the reasons I love my job so much, surprises every day!

    Thanks, Melissa.

    Bob W.
    Associate Publisher

  9. This is Nicolai here to address some of these comments. Yes, I pronounced Sanskrit as it it pronounced in English, not as it is pronounced in Sanskrit (as Samskritam) because very few people would recognize the name of this language if I said Samskritam. Also, words like YOGA are pronounced as YOGA in Sanskrit but as YOG in Hindi and other Indian languages. The final "a" sound is often dropped in the prakritic languages (those derived from Sanskrit) but is definitely pronounced in Sanskrit. Also, there is in fact a correct way to pronounce in Sanskrit, although there may be regional variations, so maybe not 1 way. Remember that in Sanskrit the sound is related to the meaning, so if one pronounces the word any way they please (and there are WRONG ways of pronouncing for sure) then the vibration and energetic are different.

  10. Meredith P. says:

    Great post, Melissa! Thanks for helping us all. Now to retrain my tongue.

  11. Karmen Wilson says:

    Sanskrit is a foreign and obscure language to North Americans, so it seems reasonable that most people might have some trouble with it. The content of this posting is interesting, but I found the delivery awfully condescending ("all the time").
    Knowing how to speak Sanskrit perfectly doesn't say a thing about your level of enlightenment. The finger is not the moon… though you are admittedly excellent at pointing yours.
    What's next? Mocking people for their imperfect asanas?

  12. someone says:

    For heaven´s sake! don´t get lost in the details! It is already prostituion enough that everyone calls asanas “yoga” and that everyone considers themselves “yogis” just because they practice asanas for you to come up with this! Yoga is so hard to practice, the real yoga. It is union with God. Do you talk to God yet, face to face? It is doable and a few have done it. If you don´t guess what! you ain´t no yogini!

  13. apimom says:

    Which foreign language is foreign but not obscure? What does obscure actually mean to a language?
    I am sure God really cares if you pronounce anything right or wrong. Last time I checked he was not petty.

    "Remember that in Sanskrit the sound is related to the meaning, so if one pronounces the word any way they please (and there are WRONG ways of pronouncing for sure) then the vibration and energetic are different. " You must be kidding me! Fascinating that quite often the status of something is elevated by mentioning that "the correct word for it is "xxx", as if calling a spade something else changes its intended use and efficiency.

    By all means use the original word pronounced correctly but don't make it a religion.

    My first language is not English and I tested the truth about my statement! No change with language switch although I am always offended (kidding) that million dollar movies cannot get another language comment right or hire someone to make sure it resembles the intended language comment.

  14. vijay says:

    I really hate those kirtan singers who release music and have the pronunciation completely wrong. I recently heard some one say "narayaani" instead of "naaraayani". Thats just pure stupidity to me.

    OK, "hate" is really not the word I should be using but when I listen to those kind of mistakes it pains me and upsets me.

  15. Dearbhla says:


  16. Wow – this post has generated very strong reactions. I am very surprised to see so much negativity around pronouncing a few Sanskrit words.I certainly did not mean to be condescending. I was trying to keep the interview light and enjoyable, which is probably why my eyes may have rolled a few times. Of course pronouncing correctly has nothing to do with enlightenment, and I never said it did. Of course if your primary practice is mantra and you are using that mantra to connect within, then pronunciation is important. It is true that the word "yoga" now connotes "asana". I agree that the real "yoga" is indeed connecting to one's divine inner light of awareness, and asana can be an important part of the yogic process. But this post is not about yoga, it is about Sanskrit, and every language has words that can be spelled correctly or incorrectly, and pronounced with an acceptable degree of accuracy. One's practice is paramount of course. Pronouncing words properly in Sanskrit generates the sound vibration that is related to the meaning of what is said. This is especially important when reciting a mantra. Sanskrit is a beautiful, sacred, and important language in our world. It deserves our admiration and respect.

  17. vijay says:

    "Pronouncing words properly in Sanskrit generates the sound vibration that is related to the meaning of what is said. This is especially important when reciting a mantra. Sanskrit is a beautiful, sacred, and important language in our world. It deserves our admiration and respect." Very well said Nicolai.

    I commented earlier about some of the kirtan singers(unfortunately I do not know who it is, otherwise I would have mentioned names) completely mis pronounce some of the chants/mantras. I recently heard "naarayaani" instead of "naaraayani" which is absurd. Also some very basic mistakes in chanting hanuman chaalisa. These chants and mantras are sacred to many hindus and by not putting enough hard work to get the pronunciation right these so called kirtan artists are being very disrespectful and ignorant. People who listen to this music do the same mistake and so it has a ripple effect. I guess they are in it just to make some money in the "yoga business".

  18. yogijulian says:

    yeah "san" skrit (instead of sun-skrit) should be number one…. but personally, why the fetish with sanskrit?!

    i have always found it a bit pretentious/faux-authoritative and in-group to even use it much in teaching, let alone be preoccupied with correct pronunciation – isn't the real stuff the actual experience all human nervous systems have while engaging in the practice which transcends names and words and cultural appropriation?

    oh, wait – did i forget the special vibratory word magic that only certain aaaaaaancient languages have!?

    give me a break.

  19. AnOldTimer says:

    So, why bother with sanskrit? I've got a coupla ideas:

    1) Fun. It's just fun. Why not use it? English isn't the center of the universe or the end all be all of language, so why not enjoy the sounds to your ears and the vibrations in your body (yes, sounds make vibrations in your body, no matter if you believe they are divine or therapeutic or whatever or not — again, maybe just fun).

    2) Tradition. Or rather, respect for tradition and what it's brought us. This is something that comes from outside the Englsih speaking world. Yes, 'east and west' if you will have long been in conversation and give-and-take where yoga is concerned, so the transmission of the practices has not only been a one way thing. But Sanskrit has a long and respected history and influence on many other language and cultures. Like learning Greek and Latin (skills that are making a comeback in European education, at least) learning aspects of an ancient language can be intesting and provide avenues for intellectual and, in the case of yoga, emotional growth…. and did I say, it can be a lot of fun?

    Fun and respect and trying to pronounce things correctly doesn't need to be fetishistic. It can just be nice.

  20. AnOldTimer says:

    OK, I've got a question I don't think's been answered yet. I was in a class once with an Indian teacher who also said, with a cheeky monkey grin, that we should please not say "SHakra" but instead "CHakra". Said that "shakra" was a rude term in some parts of India, but wouldn't tell us what the term meant, what it translated as.

    I've been dying to know ever since!

    Any ideas? Anyone?

  21. lorasybert says:

    I am very disappointed in this video and the fact that it was posted to this site. I practice yoga, meditate and like this sight because I am trying to uncover my real self. The very first thing I learned when I started this journey years ago was the one of the guiding, mainframe concepts is "non judgment", and "trying is doing and accept yourself exactly as you are and where you are". I did not get that vibe from this video. I felt like I was being scolded by my mother. I was born and raised in America, not India. I am pretty good with pronouncing spanish words, but I still sound like an American speaking spanish. Namaste!!

  22. Kristin says:

    YES! I agree with Melissa's comment about Nicolai’s lighthearted nature… he's very, very sweet and playful and has a beautiful heart FAR from pretentious or condescending. I am a student of Sanskrit and a Kirtan artist who continues to study to improve my pronunciation every day, though it is FAR from perfect! :) My Sanskrit teacher says: Devotion first, Meter second, & Pronunciation third–then all will come in due time. The truth is that Sanskrit is part of yogic practice–a deep process that many are not even aware of–this video could be what evokes awareness surrounding this important topic. It's not so we can feel defensive or judgment from ourselves or anyone else. We are so fortunate to have Sanskrit teachers like Nicolai to share the importance and the energetic differences that proper pronunciation makes and that one little subtle difference changes the entire meaning and manifestation of the word or principle. The more I learn, the more I realize that I don't know… that I am far from even being a beginning student of Sanskrit.
    We were so blessed to have had a fun and playful dinner with Nicolai after the TYC, chatting about our own challenges and experiences with the language. He understands the vast nature of this Sacred language, knowing full well that it would take a multitude of lifetimes to even begin to grasp its magnitude, for it's far more than just a language–it carries a living presence that evokes abstract yogic principles through sound into this manifest, material world. It would sort of be like if your name were "John" and someone keeps calling out to "Jane." Unless you're the only person in the room, you probably wouldn't even turn to look or respond. What's more is that you had told this person over ,and over again your name, but they still continue to mispronounce it, and now your neighbors think that your name is Jane; then on top of everything else, "Jane" usually denotes a feminine form instead of a masculine form…needless to say… a fair amount of confusion. This type of mistake happens often in pronunciation of  Sanskrit, for simply changing the "a" at the end of some masculine principle or deity’s name to "ā" (like Shiva vs. Shivā) converts it to its feminine counterpart–changing the entire meaning and vibration altogether. If it were me, at some point, I would definitely want to set that person straight who keeps calling me feminine "Jane" if my name is actually masculine "John."
    To me, this video was more of a playful way for Nicolai to express the IMPORTANCE that in order to truly honor and access the language of Yoga, one MUST begin to be more conscious of proper pronunciation, use proper mouth position, and direction of breath ALL the time (that is the entire basis of the language). It's NOT like just having a different dialect or an accent when speaking a regular foreign language where someone may make more of an effort to properly pronounce things in the native country than in a casual conversation outside that country. The entire meaning and vibrational energy are changed in Sanskrit, for it is the precise science of sacred sound. Our teacher advises that the yoga students practice proper pronunciation of Sanskrit (to the best of their ability) ALL the time, not just in class or in an ashram, etc.
    Improper pronunciation in Sanskrit is NO DIFFERENT than someone laying in Savasana but calling it Down Dog. Furthermore, I think this is a good call for all of us (especially yoga instructors) to become more conscious of how we engage sound and especially the sacred language of yoga (especially when teaching)–it will prove to be a metaphor not only of  how we engage life, but reveal how it is that we engage the deepest parts of ourselves. BUT we don't need to forget that it IS a process because we are ALL still learning and are at different stages in our practice–that judgment of ourselves and others will not free us to experience yoga…May we be gentle with ourselves and others.  ALTHOUGH… I would hope that someone further along in their practice would clue me in that Savasana is Savasana ALL THE TIME if I was calling it by another name– that no matter what, Savasana will NEVER be downward facing dog. That's what teachers and masters are for.
    Thank you, Melissa for sharing this. And thank you Nicolai for honoring the essence of Sanskrit. Thank the rest of you for expressing your thoughts, both positive and negative, as well. We're all so fortunate to have a yoga community to be authentic where we are. How beautiful that we are all free to be so diverse in how we approach life.
    ps. there is a wonderful resource for yoga teachers that I highly recommend: Manorama's "Learn How to Pronounce Yoga Poses with Manorama"

  23. Sushila says:

    It is the nature of language to morph and change, like everything else in the manifest world. Meanings are much more important. Yoginglish is here to stay…for now.

  24. KLH says:

    I might appreciate this more if it were presented as a point of interest: did you know that some commonly used Sanskrit words are actually pronounced x,y, z? Instead, it comes off as rather pretentious, stating that these words "should" be pronounced differently. People use the words and relay important concepts through them…that is important. Unless you are a linguist, I do not see why you "should" pronounce them differently. Having said that, I like to hear what they sound like in their original spoken form.

  25. sandra says:

    he forgot "DanYooRasana"….

  26. janet says:

    Does it really matter that much?

  27. Rogelio Nunez says:

    You know, there is something to traditions, Yoga is ancient, Sanskrit is ancient, as mentioned above, the correct pronunciations has vibrations which impacts our energetic body….Some Yoga teachers do try and bring this forth into asana classes and since most of us were not born with sanskrit as first or 2nd language, it is helpful to get guidance from this. Think of correct pronunciation as doing a mudhra, if done correctly you get a certain effect, the same with Asana if done correctly you get the intended effect….cause and effect. Karma, rt. karma and wrong karma, over time if you practice correctly you create rt. karma, the opp. is obvious….make the link of Yoga practices, the 8 limbs spells it out…. If you don;t want to accept Yoga and its tradition, practice and teach something else…We westerners love to make things our own, label our own, brand it so why??? to commercialize, for our ego gratifications, to capitalize, for fame and glory….It takes work to learn something correctly, it;s easy to just do your own thing, what feels good, no discipline…..
    Ok I am done ranting now, ill get off my soap box…..

  28. People who live in different countries pronounce words differently just like people who live in the same country will pronounce words differently. I was taught that pronunciation used by most educated persons in a region is acceptable pronunciation.

  29. Lakshmi says:

    His pronunciation is pretty decent, which is refreshing! A lot of Western kirtan is just painful for the Indian ear. Much of it musically pleasant and you can often feel the devotion and ultimately that is most important, but it kind of just sounds like pretty gibberish a lot of the time.

  30. susana says:

    meh. I will believe this when a native sanskrit speaker pronounces the words.

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