Top 10 Most Mispronounced Sanskrit Words.

Via Melissa Smith
on Feb 22, 2012
get elephant's newsletter
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.




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. Dave Keays says:

    Excuse me for injecting some things I’ve learned over the years here. But this blog isn’t one I have frequented so by definition I’m a troll. Sorry.

    Remember that our language is a part of theirs and they both are in the indo-aryan family. The gutterals are like german, rolling r’s are like Scottish, and nasalizations are like Portugese or Spanish.

    The dravidian sound system in the south is very different than the hidustandi system in the north where there was more interaction with Aryan and Persian conquerors.

    What they teach in schools, kariboli, is the dialect from uttar pradesh. It is as close as we can come to the language before the split between urdu and sanskrit.

    Years ago I heard a story that the word “hindi” came from “people of (the river) Sindhu” as pronounced incorrectly by Persians. They had no siliblant (‘s’ sound) and used an aspiration (‘h’ sound) instead. When the indian wanderers returned home they brought back the mis-pronounciation. Their mistake was the basis for the name of the language and the people.

    Then there is the fact that like many eastern languages, they use a completely different script which is sometimes difficult to write with Romanicised letters.


  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Pranjali says:

    well said.. although i wouldn't have said it in such an explicit manner 🙂 but i hear you
    i hate it when people who show up at yuppie yoga studios call themselves "yogi"

    and am guilty of this too.. despite having learnt yoga at the age of 10 in India , my home country.

  5. sandra says:

    one of my students went to a kirtan once and she heard OM Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya as "Oh no no baklava for me" (she has no background in Sanskrit pronunciation)!

  6. sandra says:

    he forgot "DanYooRasana"….

  7. janet says:

    Does it really matter that much?

  8. 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…..

  9. 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.

  10. youcancreatemagic says:

    You would not have said this if you really were exposed to French-Canadian French on a daily basis – they literally butcher an otherwise beautiful language. So yes, there is an INCORRECT way to speaking a language. I am from Montreal, Quebec and any French from France that comes here unfortunately gets the shock of their life because of the way French-Canadians speak the language. It is quite pathetic that they get offended when someone calls them on it, yet they truly have no idea how to speak proper French – and by the way, my comments have nothing to do with the "accent."

  11. Debbie says:

    Oh, I agree… I found it hard to listen to him because he sounded so arrogant. "Mocking" was a good choice of words, Karmen. I'm sorry I wasted my time listening to him.

  12. 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.

  13. susana says:

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

  14. Ridz says:

    I love every word of yours because it reflects today's pop yoga culture where everyone who practices asanas by default call themselves "Yogi"…To be a true Yogi takes real trials and tribulations! It is a union with 'Bhramn' – the deepest of all consciousness that is omnipresent! Greetings from India.

  15. Ron says:

    Forgive me for asking… Sincerely , I mean no disrespect however if the whole point of any language is to convey exact intention or knowledge how can there be no exact language pronunciation?