This course of fifteen lessons is intended to lift the English-speaking student who knows nothing of Sanskrit, to the level where he can intelligently apply Monier-Williams’s dictionary 1 and the Dhātu-Pāṭha 2 to the study of the scriptures.

The first five lessons cover the pronunciation of the basic Sanskrit alphabet, together with its written form in both Devanāgarī and transliterated Roman: flash cards are included as an aid. The notes on pronunciation are largely descriptive, based on mouth position and effort, with similar English (Received Pronunciation) sounds offered where possible. The next four lessons describe vowel embellishments to the consonants, the principles of conjunct consonants, and additions to and variations in the Devanāgarī alphabet. Lessons ten and eleven present sandhi in grid form and explain their principles in sound. The next three lessons penetrate Monier-Williams’s dictionary through its four levels of alphabetical order, and suggest strategies for finding difficult words. The last lessons shows the extraction of the artha from the Dhātu-Pāṭha, and the application of this and the dictionary to the study of the scriptures.

In addition to the primary course, the first eleven lessons include a “B” section which introduces the student to the principles of sentence structure in this fully inflected language. Six declension paradigms and class-1 conjugation in the present tense are used with a minimal vocabulary of nineteen words. In the “B” part of lessons ten and eleven the principles of compound words are introduced.

The course aims at a practical understanding of the basic principles, at getting a “feel” for the language, and not a learning of rules by rote. To this end, each lesson concludes with exercises for the student to put that understanding into practice: answers to the exercises are presented in an appendix.

The pronunciation offered in these lessons is optimized for the English-speaking student to understand the underlying principles of sandhi (sound changes).

There are several variations in the pronunciation of some of the Sanskrit sounds, that have been handed down over generations. None of these traditions are wrong, although this may confuse the mind trained to think in terms of opposites, of right and wrong. Consider the English spoken in Britain and America for example: they are certainly different, but neither is wrong.

Where there is a variation in the form of a character, these lessons standardize on the form that is most commonly used in currently available printed editions of the Bhagavad Gītā and Upaniṣads. The common variations are illustrated in the ninth lesson.

In the English-speaking world there is currently little appreciation of the value of studying formal grammar: as a result it has become unpopular, and many schools have ceased to teach it. In view of this situation, an appendix of basic English grammatical terms is included.

Readers are invited to point out errors in the course, and offer suggestions for its imporvement.

Charles Wikner. (Note: This email address very likely no longer works.)
June, 1996

  1. Monier-Williams’s Sanskrit-English Dictionary is currently published by both Motilal Banarsidass in India and Oxford University Press in England: although the two are printed from the same plates, the latter is far superior in the quality of printing, paper, and binding — and this is reflected in its much higher price.

    [Editor’s note: This guide was originally published in 1996. The information in this footnote may no longer be accurate.]

  2. The edition of the Dhātupāṭha referred to in these notes is that edited by J.L. Shastri and published by Motilal Banarsidass: it is a small book and quite inexpensive.