Samskritam Notes: Sounds and Vibrations

Samskritam Varṇamālā

The above picture shows the organization of Samskritam varṇamālā in Devanagari script. First, there are the swaras at the top, followed by the vyañjanas. This sequence is the same in all Indian languages.

But why so? Why not in some other sequence? Why is क the first vyañjana or अ the first swara? In this article, we will look at the reason for such an organization of the aksharas. We will also see how the effects of the points of articulation were understood by Samskritam grammarians. Finally, we will also see what makes Om such a unique sound and how this ties to mantra sadhana.

Points of Articulation

This organization of aksharas is based on understanding how sounds are produced in the human mouth. In Samskritam, five areas of the mouth are important for producing various aksharas. Among these five areas, there is a progression from the back of the mouth to the front, forming the basis of the organization. The sound originates based on the contact between the tongue and these areas. Once you learn this, you will observe how the tongue shifts as you say different aksharas.

Let’s go over each area and see what sounds originate there. The following picture shows our vocal system with the vital sound sources marked.

Samskritam – Points of Articulation

The first position is the kaṇṭah or throat. When your tongue makes contact at the back of the throat to produce those aksharas those sounds are called the kaṇṭhya. To experience this, say क and feel where your tongue hits the mouth.

The aksharas that come from there are the following.


Here अ means both अ and आ. In fact it represents 18 variations of अ (See: Classification of Letters)

Now what the heck is कु? This is a short form for क ख ग घ ङ. Instead of repeating those five vyañjana, Panini calls it कु.

To understand this short form, you have to get into the mindset of Panini. He was obsessed with brevity. If you can compress 8 bytes into 1, he would do it. In an oral tradition, there is limited memory, and you need to find ways to abbreviate. This kind of brevity helps develop a sutra to make it easy to remember. In this case, you can remember the sutra अ-कु-ह-विसर्जनियानां कण्ठः Look at the first three characters of the sutra – अ कु and ह. Then it adds the visarga and says all of these come from the kaṇṭah.

As you move up from kantah, you reach the talu at the back of the mouth. This is the place where your tongue touches your back teeth. To feel this, try saying इ very slowly and see how your tongue stretches at the back and pushes against the back teeth. talu is the pressure between the tongue and the upper back teeth.

The following sounds come from the tālu and are called the tālavya.


Try saying च. Do you feel the contact of the tongue at the front of the mouth or the back? It feels like the front. If you are not feeling that pressure, you are not pronouncing it correctly. Next time pay attention. If you are going to events like Gita Chanting Competition, this will help.

The next spot in the mouth is the murdha. This is the roof of your mouth. These sounds originate when your tongue touches the top of the mouth. Try saying ट, and you can feel it. These are the mūrdhanya sounds.


The next place in your mouth is where the tongue hits the teeth. They are called the dantya


Now you can see the pattern here.

Finally, when the contact happens at the lips, it is called the oṣṭhya.


What’s left now? ए ऐ ओ औ and व. These come from a combination of two places in the mouth.

ए and ऐ come from both kantah and talu. Hence it is called kantatalu. The best way to experience this is to say अ (kantah) and इ (talu) really fast. Then, you will end up saying ऐ. Now, if you start saying अ and slowly transition to इ, somewhere in the middle, it will transition to ए. That’s why it is known as kantatalu. ए and ऐ have some proportion of अ and इ and is actually a combination letter.

ओ and औ are produced by a combination of kantah and oshtah. Hence it is called kanṭhoṣṭhya. The same process applies here as well. Say अ (kantah) and उ (oshtah) really fast. You will say औ. If you start at अ and slowly transition to उ, you will say ओ. Remember how we saw that ए and ऐ have some proportion of अ and इ. Similarly, ओ and औ have some proportion of अ and उ.

Finally, what’s left is व. That’s a combination of dantah and oshtah. So it is a dantoṣṭhya.

Going back to our original layout of letters, we now see the format based on the points of articulation.


There are one more places where sounds come from. The nose. There are five nasal sounds in the varṇamālā, the last five letters in the pillar. ङ ञ ण न म They are also called nāsikā.

But didn’t we say that these letters originate in various other places? So these letters need the original place in the vocal and the nose.

Anuswara & Visarga

What about the anuswara and visarga. The anuswara is just a nasal sound and takes on a variation of the vyañjana that follows it. Let’s look at the word संपदः. The anuswara is above स. Look at the vyañjana that follows स. That is प. Now in the varṇamālā, find the location of प. Move your finger all the way to the right, and you hit म.

Samskritam – Anuswara

The sound of anuswara becomes the sound of the vyañjana in the fifth column. Hence the word gets pronounced as sam-pada.

visarga is just the release of the breath. So, for example, if you have the word हरिः, then the ending इ remains as-is, and you release your breath.

Sounds and Vibrations

In Samskritam pronunciation, there is a conscious use of the breath. For example, say क followed by ख and watch the breath pattern. (If you did not feel any difference, you might not be saying ख with intensity). This is like a natural pranayama. Look at the breath pattern when you do the visargah. It is like a sigh, a natural de-stressor. If you take a swara like अ, there are 18 ways to say it with varying breath patterns. (See: Classification of Letters) Due to these varying breath patterns, there is a physiological impact on you. Like when you chant a mantra.

Thus these sounds don’t exist in isolation; they create an experience. Specifically, specific sequences have an impact on the mind and the body. For example, there is a systematic way in which the tongue touches the vocal system. This, in turn, causes the nerve endings to be simulated and hence the corresponding brain regions. The science of mantra believes that if you can use the right words to train your mind, sharpen its focus, and to channelize the divinity in the universe, you can rise above every negative tendency that holds you back and go past the shackles of your limited conscious mind.

Look at the mantra Om. It is made up of three sounds अ उ and म. अ starts at the throat and is the first swara the human vocal system can produce. उ comes from the lips and is the last swara the vocal system can make. Going from अ to उ covers the entire range of the vocal system. The final म is the settling down or containment of the sound produced.

Chanting Om is a mantra sadhana. Aurobindo says, “The function of a mantra is to create vibrations in the inner consciousness that will prepare it for the realization of what the mantra symbolizes and is supposed indeed to carry within itself.”

The basic principle of mantra sadhana is to practice the utterance of a sound with such intensity, fervor, and determination, that your whole being starts reverberating with that sound. You become that sound, and that sound transports you to another dimension of consciousness. Mantra is a systematized sound technology. The Samskritam sounds have been organized to affect the person chanting them. This comes from a deep understanding that everything in the universe is a vibration. The rishis knew that certain benefits could be achieved by creating those vibratory patterns through our vocal system.


  1. Lecture by Varun Khanna at Chinmaya International Foundation.
  2. The Sounds of Sanskrit: Its Alphabet by Prof. Anuradha Chowdry at IIT Kharagpur
  3. The Ancient Science of Mantras: Wisdom of the Sages by Om Swami.


  1. The technical term for replacing क ख ग घ ङ as कु is udit

Khilafat, Swami Shraddhanand and Gandhi

Photo by Ishant Mishra on Unsplash

In 1915, Mohandas Gandhi relocated to India after spending 20 years in South Africa. It took him just four years to move from the status of a foreigner to the Independence movement’s leader. In this ascendancy, he surpassed leaders like Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Lokmanya Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Aurobindo Ghose, Abdul Kalam Azad, and Annie Besant. Gandhi achieved this feat by propping up the Khilafat movement and putting that at the same level as the non-cooperation movement for Indian independence.

Two interesting episodes related to Khilafat are mentioned in Vikram Sampath’s Savarkar: Echoes from a forgotten past. The person common in both episodes is Swami Shraddhanand, a disciple of Swami Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of Arya Samaj. Swami Dayanand Saraswati used a process called shuddi to reconvert Hindus back to the fold. After his passing away, this gained momentum under Swami Shraddhanand, who conducted shuddi ceremonies in Punjab and northern India. Vinayak Savarkar used the same shuddhi ceremony in the Andaman jail.

Savarkar by Vikram Sampath

Coming back to Khilafat, Bipin Chandra Pal and Annie Beasant had the foresight to see the trouble this would bring. Lala Lajpat Rai wrote, ‘Indian Muslims are more pan-Islamic and exclusive than the Muslims of any other country of the globe, and that fact alone makes the creation of a united India more difficult than would otherwise be. ‘ Even Jinnah opposed the Khilafat agitation initially.

Despite this, Gandhi would not change his mind. Seeing the energy around the Khilafat movement, Gandhi argued that if Hindus and Muslims united for satyagraha, there would be victory. So, in 1920, he promised Swaraj to the Ali brothers – Muhammad and Shaukat. These were people with a known track record of fomenting trouble.

In the Calcutta session in September 1920, Swami Shraddhanand was on the stage with Shaukat Ali. He heard Shaukat Ali tell a few others in his company the following. “Mahatma Gandhi is a shrewd bania. You do not understand his real object. By putting you under discipline, he is preparing you for guerilla warfare. He is not such an out and out non-violencist[sic] as you all suppose. “

Swami Shraddhanand tried to warn Gandhi that his motives were being misrepresented, but they were not taken seriously.

At the annual session of the Congress in Nagpur in 1920, Gandhi consolidated his position. Muslims stood by Gandhi. They turned up in such large numbers that it looked like a Muslim session. Maulanas recited verses referring to jihad and the killing of kafirs. Again when Swami Shraddhanand told this to Gandhi, he said they were referring to the British and not Hindus.

Swami Shraddhanand on a 1970 stamp of India

Sometime after May 1921, the British government intercepted a telegram sent to the Amir of Afghanistan urging him to invade India and not make peace with the British. This was allegedly written by Muhammad Ali, but Muhammad Ali claimed that he did not know Persian or Arabic. At Motilal Nehru’s house, Swami Shraddhanand met Muhammad Ali. Ali took him aside and handed over a piece of paper which was the draft of the telegram intercepted by the British. According to Swami Shraddhanand, the handwriting was Gandhi’s.

Gandhi reached Anand Bhavan the next day, and Swami Shraddhanand asked him about the letter. Gandhi said he does not remember sending such a telegram. What is suspicious about this statement is that Gandhi himself had made the following statement earlier, ‘I would in a sense, certainly assist the Amir of Afghanistan, if he waged war against the British Government.’

In January 1921, Gandhi said that Hindu sadhus have to sacrifice their all for the sake of Khilafat. According to him, every Hindu had a duty to save Islam from danger. Six months before this, he had warned that if Hindus did not help Muhammadans during their time of trouble, their own slavery was a certainty.

Look what happened later that year. The Amir of Afghanistan did not invade India. Also, India did not achieve Swaraj by Gandhi’s promised date to the Ali brothers. The Hindus of Malabar paid the price for that unholy alliance with their lives.

The Vedic Homeland

Scheme of Indo-European language dispersal from c. 4000 to 1000 BCE according to the widely held Kurgan hypothesis By Joshua Jonathan (via Wikipedia)

In The Wonder That Was India, A L Basham presented a dramatic picture of the decline of the Harappan civilization. According to him, from 3000 BCE, invaders were present in the region. After conquering the outlying villages, they moved on Mohenjo-daro. The people of Mohenjo-Daro fled but were cut down by the invaders; the discovered skeletons proved this invasion. Basham concluded that the Indus cities fell to barbarians “who triumphed not only through greater military prowess, but also because they were equipped with better weapons, and had learned to make full use of the swift and terror-striking beats of the steppes.” Sir R [[Mortimer Wheeler]] claimed these horse-riding invaders were none other than Aryans. Their war-god Indra destroyed the forts and citadels at Harappa.

According to the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), Basham’s invaders were Indo-European speakers on a global invasion tour from Central Asia. Before the invaders split up into Vedic Aryans and Iranians, they had developed a joint culture in Central Asia, hence the similarity in Rig Veda and Avesta. Once they left Central Asia, the Indians and Iranians parted ways. The above map shows the scheme of Indo-European language dispersal.

In a previous article, based on Shrikant G. Talageri’s excellent book, The Rig Veda and The Avesta: The Final Evidence, we saw that the common culture was not developed in Central Asia. We also saw that during the Middle and Late periods of Rigveda, the proto-Iranians were settled in western parts of Punjab and Afghanistan. They continuously interacted with the Vedic Aryans, and the joint Indo-Iranian culture developed.

Rig Veda and Avesta – Chronology of development

This begs the question. Where did the Vedic Aryans live before they met the Iranians or people of the Anu/Anava tribe? Did they come from Central Asia, or did they come from the Eastern parts of India? Again for this article, I will be once again using Shrikant G. Talageri ‘s The Rig Veda and The Avesta: The Final Evidence.


Two important concepts will help understand the details. The first is related to the chronological ordering of the mandalas of Rig Veda. The second is the geography around the rivers of Punjab.

The Rig Veda Samhita consists of 10 mandalas, numbered 1 to 10. This does not mean that mandala 1 was the first and 10 the last. The chronological ordering of the books is as follows:
– Early Books: 6, 3, 7
– Middle Books: 4,2
– Late Books: 5,1, 8-10
Order of Vedic Books

Coming to the region’s geography, this is the map to remember. This shows some important rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, and Indus.

These are rivers mentioned in Rig Veda. Displaying great familiarity with the Indian North-West, the nadistuti sukta lists nineteen rivers from the Ganga to the Kurram sequentially from East to West. According to the Vedic tradition, Sarasvati flowed between the Yamuna and Sutlej, a location mentioned in other texts.

Shri. Talageri divides this area into three regions.

  1. Region East of Saraswati (Haryana and West UP)
  2. Region West of Indus (Afghanistan, South Central Asia, North West Pakistan)
  3. Region between Indus and Saraswati (North Pakistan, Punjab)

Strong evidence against the Aryan Invasion Theory comes from the above two basic concepts augmented with the names of rivers, lakes, places, mountains, and animals. There is also a big clue in nadistuti sukta. See the direction in which the rivers are named. That has great significance for what we are about to discover.

Evidence from Rivers

The Rig Veda and The Avesta: The Final Evidence

According to AIT, the joint Indo-Iranian culture is pre-Rigvedic. This culture was developed in Central Asia before the Indians and Iranians took different exits on the Aryan Invasion freeway. But in another article, we saw that the joint culture was not pre-Rigvedic, but Late Rigvedic. Now, if the Vedic culture did not develop in Central Asia, where did it originate?

From both Rigveda and Avesta, we know the regions they are familiar with. The Avesta knows the land from Afghanistan and south Central Asia to Punjab. The Rig Veda knows the area from Western Uttar Pradesh to eastern and southern Afghanistan. So, if you draw a Venn diagram, the place familiar to both the Vedic people and Iranians is the land from Punjab to Afghanistan.

Now it gets interesting. Geographical data in the Early and Middle books of Rigveda show that the Vedic Aryans lived in the interior of India, to the East of Sarasvati. The Early Books (Books 6, 3, 7) of Rig Veda don’t show familiarity with the Western region. The earliest book, Book 6, does not reference the Central or Western rivers but mentions Ganga. The next book, Book 3, refers to the two easternmost rivers of the five rivers of Punjab.

The last book in the Early Books, Book 7, refers to the third from the east of the five rivers of Punjab. This is in reference to the pivotal Battle of Ten Kings. The non-Vedic enemies are people living to the West of the fourth river (Asikni).

Two exciting pieces come out of this analysis. First, these Early Books do not use the words sapta sindhu. Second, the enemies of the Vedic people are mentioned as those who live West of the fourth river in Punjab. The Vedic attitude towards northwest and western areas is suspicion and hostility. These lands are treated as mleccha or barbarian lands; their social and religious practices are strongly disapproved. These are not considered areas that fit a visit by orthodox Brahmins. This is also reflected in later texts: In Ramayana, the good queen Kausalya is from the east and the bad queen Kaikeyi is from the northwest; in Mahabharata, Kunti is from the east, while Gandhari is from the northwest.

We see familiarity with the Western landscape as we move from the Early Books to the newer ones. The Middle Books (4, 2) show familiarity with the Western region. This is the first time three Western rivers appear (Book 4). Also, the word sapta-sindhu shows up for the first time. Finally, when it comes to the Late Books, they too refer to sapta-sindhu.

The Eastern region, the land East of Sarasvati, was known to the Vedic Aryans of the Early, Middle, and Late Books. At the same time, the Western region is unknown to the Early books, but newly familiar to the Middle Books. Three Western rivers appear in the first book among the Middle Books (Book 4), and the same rivers are known in the first book of the Late Books.

Other evidence from nature

Besides the evidence from the rivers, there is evidence from nature that rules out Afghanistan or Central Asia as the Vedic homeland. The Vedic rishis lived in a land of monsoon storms and mountains. They worshiped Indra as the most important god. The monsoon land stops after Punjab; hence, it could not have been composed in Afghanistan. The animals mentioned in Rig Veda are spotted deer, buffalo, bison, peacock, and elephant. It’s not like elephants were stampeding in Kabul during that time like in the opening scene of Lion King.

Trees provide some fascinating evidence. There is mention of khadira, and simsapa, which are used in the manufacture of the body of a chariot, kimsuka and salmali used in the manufacture of wheels, and aratu used in the manufacture of the axle. If you compare this with the Egyptians, the raw material for the chariots came from the Caucuses. We don’t say that the Egyptians came from the Caucuses because they used imported wood. If Vedic Aryans came from the Caucuses, they too would have used the same wood that should be known to them. Instead, they used Indian trees. If they rode their chariots into India as per Basham, would they have used Indian trees?

Rice and wheat are popular cereals in India, depending on which part of India you are from. Rig Vedic Aryans do not show any familiarity with wheat. At the same time, they are familiar with three preparations of rice. If the invasion route was through a wheat-producing area, why doesn’t the Rigveda mention that? This shows that the Vedic tradition took root before wheat consumption started in North India. In a later period, in contrast to the use of rice, wheat is treated with disdain. Among Brahmins, during death, when they are required to abstain from food, rice is forbidden, but not wheat.

A change in our mental model

The Lost River by Michel Danino

Before reading this book, my mental model was different. In Michel Danino’s The Lost River, it was clear that Sarasvati was the most important river for the Vedic Aryans. In forty-five hymns, the rishis praised Sarasvati; for them, she was ‘great among the great, the most impetuous of rivers,’ ‘limitless, unbroken, swift-moving, and ‘surpasses in majesty and might all other waters.’ Once Saraswati dried up after 1900 BCE, people migrated to different regions, including the Ganges Valley.

Now with this internal evidence from Rig Veda, it is clear that the story is different. Vedic Aryans during the period of Early and Middle Books did not live in Central Asia or Afghanistan but in the interior of India. Specifically to the East of Saraswati. Also, they were familiar with Ganga. From there, they progressively moved Westward. This is why the nadistuti sukta lists rivers from East to West.

Also, the Early and Middle Books of Rigveda represent a period older than the period of joint development of the Indo-Iranian culture. Moreover, this joint development happened in a region between Punjab and Afghanistan and not Central Asia.

Still crawling at Kucha Kurrichhan

Sardar Udham Movie Poster (fair use)

Sardar Udham, one of the most heartbreaking movies made on Jallianwala Bagh, was not sent to the Oscars.

Explaining why Sardar Udham was not selected, Indraadip Dasgupta, one of the jury members, told Times Of India, “Sardar Udham is a little lengthy and harps on the Jallianwala Bagh incident. It is an honest effort to make a lavish film on an unsung hero of the Indian freedom struggle. But in the process, it again projects our hatred towards the British. In this era of globalization, it is not fair to hold on to this hatred.”

Sardar Udham shows hatred towards British, jury on not sending film to Oscars. Fans are furious

Among the British atrocities in Punjab, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre is the most infamous. I recently read the book The Case that Shook the Empire, which lists many more of these atrocities.

Let’s go through some of them.

The British unleashed terror in Punjab as part of meeting the army recruitment quota for World War I.

The committee also recorded that men were captured forcibly and marched off for enlistment. Raids took place at night and men were forcibly seized and removed. Their hands were tied together and they were stripped in the presence of their families and made to bend over thorns when they were whipped. Additionally, women were stripped naked and made to sit on bramble bushes and thorn bushes in the hot sun until their men who had been hiding agreed to be recruited. In some instances, the women were made to sit with bramble between their legs overnight. Old men, too, had inhuman punishment meted out to them – they were made to sit ‘bare buttocks’ on thorns in order to force their sons to enlist.

The Case that Shook the Empire

In April 1919, Marcella Sherwood, a Church of England missionary, was allegedly attacked by a crowd as she cycled down a narrow lane. She had shut the schools and sent the kids home. While cycling through a street called Kucha Kurrichhan, she was caught by a mob, pulled to the ground by her hair, stripped naked, beaten, kicked, and left for dead. The father of one of her students rescued her by talking her to Gobindgarh Fort.

Reginald Dyer, the butcher of Jallianwala Bagh, met Miss Sherwood and ordered that every Indian man using that street must crawl its length of 150 to 200 yards on his hands and knees. Dyer explained his rationale for the order, “Some Indians crawl face downwards in front of their gods. I wanted them to know that a British woman is as sacred as a Hindu God and therefore they have to crawl in front of her, too… It is a small point, but in fact “crawling order” is a misnomer; the order was to go down on all fours in an attitude well understood by natives of India in relation to holy places.”

Indians forced to crawl up Kucha Kurrichhan where Miss Sherwood was assaulted in 1919 (Image via Wikipedia)
Indians forced to crawl up Kucha Kurrichhan where Miss Sherwood was assaulted in 1919 (Image via Wikipedia)

Many houses were alongside the street, and residents had to crawl to get their daily chores done. No one was exempt — the old, sick, the weak; everyone had to crawl. Of course, the crawl had to be perfect as well. If anyone lifted their bellies or turned to get relief from pain, the police would push them down with rifle butts. In his mercy, Reginald Dyer kept the order only from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. After 10 p.m., they were free to move about normally, except they would violate the night curfew and get shot.

On top of this, Reginald Dyer also ordered that any Indian who came within lathi-length of a British policeman be flogged. To facilitate the punishment, a flogging booth was built. Six boys were caught and given 30 lashes. When one of the boys, Sundar Singh, lost consciousness after the fourth lash, he was doused with water, and the lashing continued. He lost consciousness again, but he was lashed till the count of 30.

The next one was the salaam order. On seeing that the people of Gujranwala did not show respect to the British, a special order was issued. If the salute did not meet the expected standards, severe punishment was melted out. If the salaam was not performed by mistake, the turban was taken off his head, tied around the neck, and dragged to a military camp to be flogged. One person was even made to kiss the boots of an officer.

If they did not get an opportunity to torture, they spent their time humiliating people. Lawyers were made to work as coolies as punishment for protesting against the Rowlatt Act. The lawyers were humiliated in front of people who held them in esteem. A 75-year-old lawyer Kanhya Lal was made to carry furniture and patrol the city in the hot sun.

Immediately after Jallianwala Bagh, the administrator of Gujranwala asked for assistance. When he was told that troops could not be sent immediately, guess what was done – a bombing of the civilian population. Military bombers flew over the city and dropped bombs on random targets. A total of 12 people were killed and 24 injured in the bombing raid. The justification for the bombing of school children and farmers – “It was done to have a sort of moral effect”

The movie Udham Singh exposes only one of the atrocities committed by the British. There was no end to slaughter and torture, and the action was close to genocidal. Much of our forgotten history needs to be told, like Operation Red Lotus, Kashmir Files, etc. The old adage goes, “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” The characters of the past and the stories we tell ourselves about them shape our present and future.

There is another kind of self-censorship in the world. The country which lectures the world on freedom, democracy, and minority rights censors itself to please China. Why would American film studios voluntarily run a Chinese Ministry of Truth in Hollywood.? Money.

But accessing those Chinese screens required the approval of Chinese censors, so studio chiefs in Los Angeles started to think like Ministry of Propaganda apparatchiks in Beijing. They scrubbed scripts of any scene, image, or line that might anger officials, avoiding at all costs the “three T’s” (Tibet, Taiwan, Tiananmen) or flashpoints like ghosts (too spiritual), time travel (too ahistoric), or homosexuality (too immoral). Behind-the-scenes changes became common: Red Dawn was only released after editing out a Chinese antagonist; World War Z was revised to cut implications that a zombie pandemic had originated in China; and Bohemian Rhapsody shoved Freddie Mercury back in the closet before Queen fans in China could see his story.

‘Top Gun’ Tells The Whole Story of China and Hollywood

When Avatar made $200 million in China, it was evident to Hollywood that crawling in front of Chinese censors could make them rich. So they have been doing that since.

Now, India does not need to please the British. They did not even ask for censoring the movie. For all these years after independence, we learned more about our invaders than our heroes. It was history written by the victors. When it’s time for us to tell our stories, it’s shocking that enslaved minds still exist after seven decades of independence. The British have left, but Indraadip Dasgupta is still crawling on all fours at Kucha Kurrichhan.

Book Review: The Case That Shook the Empire

The Case That Shook the Empire: One Man’s Fight for the Truth about the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre by Raghu Palat and Pushpa Palat, Bloomsbury India; 1st edition (August 23, 2019), ‎ 162 pages

Who in their right mind would think that an Indian would get justice in the British legal system.? Between a person responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and a person arguing against the atrocities, whom would the so-called British legal system side with? Would the British system turn a blind eye to one of their own who had committed an unforgivable crime?

The answer is obvious now, as it was in 1924.

This book is about a defamation case filed by Michael O’Dwyer, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab during Jallianwala Bagh, against Chettur Sankaran Nair, a former Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council. The trial lasted five-and-a-half weeks in London. There was nothing that indicated that this would be a fair trial. The judge was a racist who saw nothing wrong in Jallianwala Bagh, and the jury agreed with him.

English juries always sided with their own, even when they were murderers. The narrative that O’Dwyer’s actions saved the empire found acceptance. The media was no different from the legal system. London Times applauded the decision, stating that it was a decisive verdict and an assertion of the will of the English people to protect India.

The person who was dragged into the court by Michael O’Dwyer was Chettur Sankaran Nair, a former Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, a former President of the Indian National Congress, and a retired Judge of the Madras High Court. Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India, described Nair “as an impossible person… He shouts at the top of his voice and refuses to listen to anything when one argues, and is absolutely uncompromising.” Also, as a Nair, he did not believe in Gandhi’s non-violence. Warriors by nature, Nairs were taught to retaliate when attacked. “I draw the line when asked to turn the other cheek to my enemy. If someone were to smite me on my cheek, I would chop his head off,” Nair once said.

There is more to like about him. He did not believe in Gandhi’s cuckoo plan for Khilafat, which he thought was impractical. And he was absolutely right, as that plan was purely for Gandhi’s ascendance into leadership than helping anyone. The Arabs or Egyptians did not want to be ruled by a Turkish Caliph. Come to think of it, even the Turks did not wish to a caliph. They were the ones who got rid of him and converted to a secular democracy. The Ottoman Empire was broken up, and some of the lands were under French control. There was no way a few petitions would cause France and Britain to sit and undo the damage they did. None of this mattered to Gandhi. He went so far as to suggest that Indian swaraj activity could be postponed if Khilafat ask could be advanced. Thus from a Swaraj, which meant self-rule for India, it got converted overnight to support an imaginary Caliphate in faraway Turkey.

Mr. Nair’s sharp personality is revealed through various anecdotes. Once Lady O’Dwyer was annoyed by Mr. Nair’s reaction to her pet. “Nair rudely and rather cruelly replied that this was because, while the English were nearer to dogs in their evolution, Indians had in their 5,000-year history moved further away.” Directly quoted individual voices are the yeast that allows history to rise. When he resigned from the Viceroy’s council, he was asked to suggest a replacement. He pointed to the turbaned, red- and gold-liveried peon standing ramrod straight by the giant doorway. His reasoning is, “He is tall. He is handsome. He wears his livery well and he will say yes to whatever you say. Altogether he will make an ideal Member of Council.”

Despite all this, he believed that an Indian could get an impartial hearing at an English court.

Indians forced to crawl up the street where Miss Sherwood was assaulted in 1919 (Image via Wikipedia)

Michael O’Dwyer was everything you would expect from a British overlord. He followed the Macaulay doctrine of contempt for Indian culture and constant reiteration of Western superiority. He believed that God had ordained Great Britain to govern the world. He also believed that British authority would be weakened if higher posts were given to Indians. He was intolerant of the growing wave of nationalism in India. He believed that India was won by the sword and must forever be preserved by force. On self-government, he proclaimed,” ‘India would not be fit for self-government much before doomsday.” Chettur Sankaran Nair was born in 1857, the year of the First War of Independence. Michael O’Dwyer and Reginald Dyer did everything to prevent anything like 1857 from re-occurring.

The book gives context to Jallianwala Bagh; it was not violence in isolation. We often speak of how Indian soldiers were all around the world during World War I. More than one million Indian soldiers were deployed during World War I, serving in the Indian Army as part of Britain’s imperial war effort. These men fought in France and Belgium, Egypt and East Africa, Gallipoli, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. What is not mentioned is how they were recruited. It’s not like a Punjabi farmer felt a sudden urge to go to Mesopotamia to defend his oppressor.

On failing to meet the recruitment targets, O’Dwyer took it upon himself to meet the goals and deployed new techniques. He did that by battering away at the darkest corners of people’s souls.

The committee also recorded men being captured forcibly and marched off for enlistment. Raids took place at night, and men were forcibly seized and removed. Their hands were tied together, and they were stripped in the presence of their families and made to bend over thorns when they were whipped. Additionally, women were stripped naked and made to sit on bramble bushes and thorn bushes in the hot sun until their men who had been hiding agreed to be recruited. In some instances, the women were made to sit with bramble between their legs overnight. Old men, too, had inhuman punishment meted out to them – they were made to sit ‘bare buttocks’ on thorns to force their sons to enlist.

Right now, we all know about what happened at Jallianwala Bagh. It’s mentioned in our history books, and many movies have depicted it. However, it was not so in 1924. Due to the draconian press rules, the atrocities in Punjab were not known around the world.

The book argues that there were some positive outcomes even though he lost the case. The court case between Nair and Michael O’Dwyer resulted in the whole world knowing about British atrocities (for which not a single British Prime Minister has apologized). It boosted the nationalist cause and a case of an Indian role in the administration of India(What an idea). No surprise on who did not send a note of encouragement or sympathy to this case – the Congress. For his efforts, there is a plaque honoring Sir Nair in the museum at Jallianwala Bagh, just outside the Golden Temple.

The book is short (162 pages). The author duo has written it in a vivid accessible style, which is how history books should be written. Together with a strong opening, setting the events of 1919 in their historical place, the reader is left with a history of British rule in Punjab from the Anglo-Afghan wars to the time of Jallianwala Bagh. Previously, I heard about Chettur Sankaran Nair from Maddy’s blog, but this book was a more detailed introduction.

The Katapayadi Number System

By Image: Gallery: archive copy, Public Domain, Link

What’s common between the first verse of Mahabharata and the last verse of Mēlputtūr Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭatiri’s Narayaneeyam written in 1586 CE.?

The first verse of adi parva reads

नारायणं नमस्कृत्य नरं चैव नरॊत्तमम देवीं सरस्वतीं चैव ततॊ जयम उदीरयेत

(” Om ! Having bowed to Narãyana and Nara, the most exalted male being, and also to the Goddess Saraswati, must the word Jaya be uttered)

Mēlputtūr Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭatiri’s Narayaneeyam ends with the words ayur- ̄arogya-saukhyam. This wishes long life, health, and happiness to the readers of his devotional poem.

The words jayam and ayur- ̄arogya-saukhyam have two properties.

  1. Both have proper meanings in the context of the sentence used (as in, they are not gibberish words.) This matters as we go into the details.
  2. The second property is not well known. Both those words encode a number that has a deeper meaning.

In this system of encoding, jaya represents 18 and ayur- ̄arogya-saukhyam 17,12,210. Counting those many days from Kali Yuga, gives the date as 8th December 1586, the completion date of Narayaneeyam.

This article looks at this style of representing numbers using meaningful words.

Katapayadi Number System

Process-wise, the encoding is simple. Each Samskritam consonant is given a number. Hence the algorithm is as simple as reading it from right to left.

encoding of jaya in katapayadi system

The letter ja is assigned the number 8 and ya, 1. Reading from right to left, it becomes 18.

Why did Vyasa pick on the number 18 and encode it as jaya? Why did he call Mahābhārata as jaya. Mahābhārata has 18 parvas. Gita has 18 chapters. The war was fought for 18 days. There were 18 akshauhini’s in the war. Thus jaya was not a random selection.

Here is the full table of the consonant to number assignment.

ka क കkha ख ഖ
ga ग ഗ
gha घ ഘ
nga ङ ങ
ca च ച
cha छ ഛ
ja ज ജ
jha झ ഝ
nya ञ ഞ
ṭa ट ട
ṭha ठ ഠ
ḍa ड ഡ
ḍha ढ ഢ
ṇa ण ണ
ta त ത
tha थ
da द ദ
dha ध ധ
na न ന
pa प പ
pha फ ഫ
ba ब ബ
bha भ ഭ
ma म മ
ya य യ
ra र ര
la ल ല
va व വ
śha श ശ
sha ष ഷ
sa स സ
ha ह ഹ
katapayadi table

Look at the letters which represent the number 1. ka, ta, pa, ya gives it the name katapayadi (adi in Samskritam means beginning). Vowels meant 0, and vowels followed by a consonant had no value. In the case of compound letters, the value of the last letter was used.

In its land of origin, Kerala, it was known by a different name Paralpperu where paral means seashell and peru name” (astronomical calculations were done using seashells).

Here is another example. The year 2010 is expressed as natanara.

This is because


If you read this backward, you get 2010. An important point is that the letters are not chosen randomly. They mean something. In this case, natanara means “a man (nara) who is an actor ( nata)”. Since there are many possible letters for each number, the mathematician can create a meaningful word from the numbers.

Similarly, ayur- ̄arogya-saukhyam represents 17,12,210 to represent the date of 8 December 1586. Why was the epoch chosen as the beginning of Kali Yuga? It was the popular way of dating events called the Kali-ahargana. Kali-yuga started at sunrise on Friday, 18 February 3102 BCE, and computing the number of days from then was common in planetary calculations.

The fact that Bhaṭṭatiri used this system is not surprising. He was a student of Achyuta Pisharati, a member of the Hindu school of Mathematics from Kerala. This is also an example where it was used in non-scientific work.

Thus the katapayadi system allows the author to represent large numbers using easy-to-remember words. It also has the flexibility to let the author pick an appropriate word for the context and one that fits the meter if it’s a poem.

During the time of Aryabhatta, there were at least three methods of writing numbers. Mathematicians like Varahamihira and Bhaskaracharya used a system called the bhoot samkhya. Aryabhatta, though, invented his own system, which was a new contribution.(The Aryabhata Number System)

Katapayadi number system was primarily used by Hindu mathematicians and astronomers in Kerala. The fact that numbers can be converted to meaningful words that can be strung together helped Malayali mathematicians perform complicated calculations from memory. They computed eclipses, memorized the calculations using words, and committed to memory. This way, there was no dependency on books or tables. This system of memorization was prevalent till around 100 years back.

The book Moonwalking with Einstein talks about various techniques used by the ancients to memorize data. One of the techniques was called memory palace. The katapayadi system looks simpler as the data to commit to memory is that table.

Origins and Spread

If you ask, who started this number system, there are many answers. It’s possible that Vararuchi wrote them in Candra-vakyas in the fourth century. Aryabahata I, who lived 100 years after, was aware of it. It was then popularized in 683 CE in Kerala by Haridatta. ́Sankaranarayana ( 825–900 CE) mentions this name in his commentary on the Laghubhaskarıya of Bhaskara I. Subhash Kak argues that the the system is much older

Though the system originated in Kerala, it spread around India. Though it was well known in the northern part of India, it was not widely used. It spread from Kerala to Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. That came due to their contact with Nilakanta Somayaji, another mathematician from the Madhava school. In Karnataka, Jains used it in their writing. Orissa has manuscripts that show usage of this system. Aryabhata II used this in the 10th century with some modifications. Bhaskara II used both Bhootsamkya system and Katapayadi system in his works.

This system was not used just in astronomy and mathematics but also in classifying music. For example, the 72 ragas were classified by musicologist Muddu Venkata Makki using the first two letters to indicate the serial number of the Melakartharagam. Thus Kanakangı shows the serial number 1, Rupavatı 12, Sanmukhapriya 56, or Rasikapriya 72.

You are too late if you think this system would help write something like Da Vinci Code. The National-Treasure-in-India script was done a few hundred years back. Ramacandra Vajapeyin, who lived in Uttar Pradesh, used this technique to forecast a dispute or war victory. His brother wrote a text to draw magic squares for therapeutic purposes.

Forgotten Mathematicians

I learned about the Hindu school of Mathematics (as opposed to the Jain school) from Kerala by reading A Passage to Infinity by George Gheverghese Joseph. Though there were few mathematicians in Kerala in the 9th, 12th, and 13th centuries, what is today called the Kerala School started with Madhava, who came from near modern-day Irinjalakuda. His achievements were phenomenal; they included calculating the exact position of the moon and what is now known as the Gregory series for the arctangent, Leibniz series for the pi and Newton power series for sine and cosine with great accuracy.

Some of these techniques were forgotten, but thanks to a renewed interest in Samskritam, there is a revival of knowledge. This whole article was triggered when I read the first chapter of my Samskrita Bharati book on sandhis which mentioned the katapayadi system.


  1. If are you curious to know why Mahābhārata was called jaya, then read this article.


  1. Vijayalekshmy M. “‘KATAPAYADI’ SYSTEM — A CONTRIBUTION OF MEDIEVAL KERALA TO ASTRONOMY AND MATHEMATICS.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, vol. 69, 2008, pp. 442–46, Accessed 7 May 2022.
  2. Anusha, R., et al. “Coding the Encoded: Automatic Decryption of KaTapayAdi and AryabhaTa’s Systems of Numeration.” Current Science, vol. 112, no. 3, 2017, pp. 588–91, Accessed 7 May 2022.
  3. Kak, Subhash. “INDIAN BINARY NUMBERS AND THE KAṬAPAYĀDI NOTATION.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, vol. 81, no. 1/4, 2000, pp. 269–72, Accessed 7 May 2022.
  4. Iyer, P. R. Chidambara. “REVELATIONS OF THE FIRST STANZA OF THE MAHĀBHĀRATA.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, vol. 27, no. 1/2, 1946, pp. 83–101, Accessed 7 May 2022.
  5. A. V. Raman, “The Katapayadi formula and the modern hashing technique,” in IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 49-52, Oct.-Dec. 1997, doi: 10.1109/85.627900.

Review: The Kashmir Files

Kashmir Files Movie Poster

In one of the shocking scenes in the movie Kashmir Files terrorists line up 23 Kashmiri Hindus and start shooting them one by one. The camera moves behind the lone terrorist holding the gun. We see the face of the victim, and in the next instant, a bullet enters his forehead, and the body falls into the pit. The terrorist moves to the next Hindu and shoots him. The camera does not skip a single victim. Finally, to make up for a count of 24, the terrorist pulls in a little boy and shoots him. There was pin-drop silence in the theater as the movie ended on this note, and we all walked out silently. I mentioned “one of the shocking scenes” because this is not the most gruesome scene. There is one which I could not watch.

While there are many movies on the Holocaust, there is almost none on the Hindu genocide in Kashmir. As I watched this movie, which brings out an ignored past, I felt angry, sad, and horrified. Anger at how various governments did nothing for the Kashmiri Hindus, sadness at how we let it be forgotten, and horror at the brutality that was done. The movie demonstrates the total failure of the system, which stood by, turned a blind eye, and was complicit in the atrocities. Kashmir Files packs a powerful punch, and it’s a punch to your gut.

There is a reason why the movie — without the usual Hindi movie elite and mandatory Punjabi songs– became a critical and commercial success. The film is brilliantly made, and it exposes the elites.

Except for a few movies like Uri, Sardar Udham, Shershaah, or Ghazi Attack, most Hindi films tell the same tired story repeated and rinsed. The fashionable ones just copy “woke” ideas from the West. Kashmir Files is a different breed. The story is told through the eyes of a young Kashmiri, who was ignorant of the events of 1990. Falling into the trap of a treacherous and scheming university professor he is motivated to fight for aazadi. Switching to the past, the film shows what happened in 1990. This was when Kashmiri Hindus were asked to either convert, leave or die. This was when politicians formed alliances with terrorists and a time when Pakistani currency was returned as change.

Anupam Kher in The Kashmir Files

The movie manages the challenge of telling the forgotten story of Kashmiri Hindus through the intense performance of Anupam Kher. The full impact of the violence is etched in his face, and we all experience his traumatic memories. The scene where he sits in a refugee camp with a box of two biscuits to when he walks around calling for the abrogation of Article 370 touches your heart. His transition from fear to sadness to numbness is one of the heart-wrenching performances by an actor in recent memory.

This is an event that the Indian “Ministry of Truth” has tried to suppress for the past 32 years. As part of writing this article, I searched up on some papers written about this incident and this is a gem by Haley Duschinski

Kashmiri Hindus are a numerically small yet historically privileged cultural and religious community in the Muslim- majority region of Kashmir Valley in Jammu and Kashmir State in India. They all belong to the same caste of Sarasvat Brahmanas known as Pandits. In 1989-90, the majority of Kashmiri Hindus living in Kashmir Valley fled their homes at the onset of conflict in the region, resettling in towns and cities throughout India while awaiting an opportunity to return to their homeland.

Haley Duschinski

A genocide was packaged as a voluntary exodus and then repeated by politicians, media, and intellectuals. This narrative was then sold to the public by the Hindi movie industry. Just watch Mission Kashmir, Haider, etc. The Malayalam movie industry, which shed copious tears over Gujarat, was busy re-reading Karl Marx while this happened in India.

Another reason this movie struck a chord is because it exposed the Leftists and their strategy. The Breaking India forces are called out, and the links between “eminent intellectuals” and terrorists are revealed. One of the interesting characters is the university professor portrayed by Pallavi Joshi. If you have read Breaking India, you know the playbook. There is an ominous dialogue she says, “The government might be theirs, but the system is ours.”

The movie brilliantly shows how fake news is created, truth is hidden, and how history is converted from “ashuddho” to “shuddho .” After watching this movie, you will not read the news the same way. It also calls out the current intellectual favorites, the Sufis, and their role in converting the Pandits many hundred years back. The technique was repeated in Malabar in 1921.

One of the most uplifting scenes in the movie is where we get educated on Kashmiri history. It answers the question: why should we care about Kashmir? Kashmir was the land of Kashyapa, Abhinavagupta, Charaka, Vagbhata, Panini, Vishnu Sharma, and Bharat Muni. It was the center of educational and cultural excellence and spirituality. Heard of Kashmiri Shaivism? Kashmir was the place for ambitious explorers seeking to grasp the vast reality of the mind, arts and sciences. A person from Kashmir was treated with respect like how we respect graduates from the best universities in the world. Unfortunately, it was this world that was ended by the Islamic invasion. The keepers of that knowledge were forced to flee at gunpoint.

The movies that have come in the past have tried to portray the terrorists as victims. However, Kashmir Files takes an unapologetic stance and shows what happened in the few days in 1990. Such movies need to be made to not forget the lessons from its aftermath. It’s not that such atrocities won’t happen again, but it will keep us on the alert to ensure that they are bought to light more quickly than in 1990 when the whole country looked the other way.

Refuting AIT using Personal Names from Rig Veda and Avesta

Scheme of Indo-European language dispersal from c. 4000 to 1000 BCE according to the widely held Kurgan hypothesis By Joshua Jonathan (via Wikipedia)

There are many similarities between Avesta,  the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, and Rig Veda. Words are similar, like haoma (soma), daha(dasa), hepta (sapta), hindu (sindhu), and Ahura (Asura). Despite that, some of the words have reversed interpretations. For example, in Old Iranian, Ahura Mazdāh is the chief of the pantheon, and the daēuuas are considered demons or fallen gods. In contrast, the Vedic tradition considers devas as gods and asuras the demons.

The commonality of words suggests that these two cultures had a common origin and such an explanation comes from the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT). The above map shows the scheme of Indo-European language dispersal. After spending time in Central Asia, a group went West and another to the East. The Westerners became Zoroastrians, and those who reached India became the Vedic people. Before the split, they spent time together in Central Asia, where the common culture developed.

According to Indian Marxist historians, Indo-European speakers had Central Asia as their habitat, and gradually over many centuries, they branched out in search of fresh pastures. According to them, these central Asian migrants wrote the  Avesta in Iran and Rig-Veda in India. They argue that people who migrated to India were dissidents of the Old Iranian; hence you find a significant reversal of meaning in concepts common to both Avesta and Rig-Veda.

Evidence from Personal Names

The Rig Veda and The Avesta: The Final Evidence

While this is the view AIT presents, what evidence do we get from the sacred texts themselves.? In this post, I will lean on the arguments laid out by Shrikant G. Talageri in his book Rig Veda and The Avesta: The final evidence. Spoiler alert: His text analysis does not support the AIT picture.

Shri. Talageri uses many data points to argue against AIT, but in this post, I want to summarize one of his arguments based on an analysis of personal names. Personal names identify society in time; just look at the change in names from your grandparent’s time to yours. Similarly, you see interesting patterns when you look at personal names used in Rig Veda and Avesta. It definitely shows a shared cultural environment.

If you were constructing a mental model in your mind based on the AIT dispersal, the above picture would make sense, right? This is because the personal names, developed in the common period, then carried over to both the sacred texts. Hence the commonality.

The examination of the books reveals something different. The commonality of Avesta is not with the entire Rig Vedic corpus; it’s only with certain books. Shri. Talageri looks at the personal names mentioned in all the books in Rig Veda and Avesta and concludes that the commonality is with the late books of the Rig Veda.

When we say the commonality of Avesta is with the late books of Rig Veda, it implies there is a temporal ordering of the 10 books. The Rig Veda Samhita consists of 10 mandalas, numbered 1 to 10. It does not mean that mandala 1 was the first and 10, the last. The chronological ordering of the books is as follows:

  • Early Books: 6, 3, 7
  • Middle Books: 4,2
  • Late Books: 5,1, 8-10

Coming back to Shri. Talageri’s argument, he noticed that in the Early Books, names with basic prefixes were common and these prefixes were simple. For example

  • Su (Good) – Das
  • Deva (divine) -sravas
  • Puru (many) – panthas
  • Viswa (every) – mitra

These names found in the Early Books of Rig Veda are also found in Avesta. This might indicate the common origin theory very well. But, these names are found in the Middle and Late books of Rig Veda.

As we move in time and come to the Middle Books, there are four Rig Vedic personalities like Turviti, Gotama, Trita, and Krsanu referred to in Avesta. When we come to the Late period, there is a flood of names common to Rig Veda and Avesta. These are complex names with both prefixes and suffixes. In the book, Talageri lists about 4 pages worth of common names. Compare that with just four names in the prior period. There are just five hymns in the Early and Middle books that have common names. When it comes to the late books, there are 326 hymns

If the common period occurred before the Aryans and Iranians parted ways, then the Early Books of Avesta and Rig Veda should have common elements. Also, as these cultures evolved over time, the common elements should diminish. But, the data shows that Avesta evolved during the period of the Late Books of Rig Veda. It shows that the common culture of Rig Veda and Avesta occurred during the period of the late books, and Rig Veda books of the Early and Middle periods predate the Avesta.

We need to update our mental model to the above diagram.

The Final Sequence

Now that we have all the pieces let’s understand what happened. Among the ancient tribes of India, the Puru/Paurava are identified with the Rig Vedic Aryans. Around 3000 BCE, they lived around and to the east of the river Saraswati (See In Pragati: Book Review – The Lost River by Michel Danino). The proto-Iranians are identified with the Anu/Anava tribe. They were originally the inhabitants of north India of the Kashmir region during the pre-Rig Vedic period. During the later part of the Early Rig Vedic period, the conflicts during Sudas’ time forced them to migrate Westward. During the middle and late periods of Rig Veda, the proto-Iranians were settled in most western parts of Punjab and Afghanistan. They had continuous interaction with the Vedic Aryans, and the Avesta was composed.

Rig Veda and Avesta: The final evidence is filled with evidence against the Aryan Invasion Theory with some original research. This argument based on personal names is just one chapter of this book. Other evidence against AIT comes from the geography of Rig Veda, the internal chronology of Rig Veda, and the absolute chronology of Rig Veda. By analyzing textual data, Shri. Talageri shows common culture across Rig Veda, Avesta, and the Mittanis.

Samskritam Notes: Classification of Letters

(This article requires you to have some basic knowledge of Samskritam and uses Devanagari script in between)

Panini’s Ashtadhyayi

I don’t know if grammarians of any other language have analyzed the letters of a language like Samskritam grammarians. Samskritam letters have been classified in many ways — from where the sound originates in the mouth to the amount of breath involved to the effort involved in saying the letter. In this post, I want to go over classifications based on length, tone, and nasalization.

In Samskritam, like most languages, there are vowels and consonants. In most Indian languages, they are kind of similar. For example, here are the Malayalam vowels. If you read the transliteration below the letter, you will find that your mother tongue has identical letters.

Malayalam Vowels

When it comes to Samskritam, the vowels are represented in the Maheshwara Sutras by the pratyahara अच् (See The brilliance of Panini). If you expand, अच्, you get the following letters: अ इ उ ऋ लृ ए ऎ ओ औ. There are just 9 letters.

The first letter is pronounced as “a” in both Malayalam and Samskritam. While Malayalam has “a” and “aa,” Samskritam has only “a.” Does it mean that Samskritam does not have a long a.?

In Samskritam, if you pick one of the vowels, it does not represent that single character but much more. For example, take the letter “a.” It’s not just one letter. It encompasses many different letters.

There are three different classifications of vowels, and they are based on

  • length (it can be short, regular, or long)
  • tone (there are three different tones or pitches at which you pronounce the letter)
  • nasalization (a letter can be said in a usual way and also in a nasalized way)


Each vowel can be pronounced as either hrasva (ह्रस्व), deergha (दीर्घ ) or plutha ( प्लुत). Let’s say someone is mentioning the person named Krishna. They could say Krishna with a short ending and not elongating the end. That would be ह्रस्व or short. If they are calling on Latha, the ending “a” is long or दीर्घ. Now let’s say Krishna is far away in the field, and Yashoda calls him “Krishnaaa” with an elongated “a” for three beats. That would be a प्लुत. When you write a प्लुत letter, you put the number 3 next to it, to indicate that it should be elongated for three beats. Technically, ह्रस्व is of one matra of time, दीर्घ is two and प्लुत three.

If you put it into a table, it will look like this.

अ ३
इ ३
उ ३
ऋ ३
ऌ ३
ए ३
ऐ ३
ओ ३
औ ३
Samskritam Aksharaprakaranam

As you can see, not all letters have all the variations.

  • लृ does not have a दीर्घ.
  • ए does not have a ह्रस्व. It starts off as दीर्घ
  • ओ, ऐ and औ does not have have ह्रस्व either.

The take away from this section is that, when you refer to the vowel अ, it refers to the three variations of अ, which are the ह्रस्व दीर्घ and प्लुत variations.

That’s not it.


Take the letter अ. You can utter it in a higher pitch, normal pitch, or low pitch. These three pitches are called उदात्त, अनुदात्त. and स्वरित

  • उदात्त is a higher pitch
  • अनुदात्त is a lower pitch
  • स्वरित happens when the उदात्त and अनुदात्त are combined, and you get the middle sound.

This is hard to explain verbally. So here are two videos where Vedic scholars demonstrate this concept. I visualize this as a sine wave. The उदात्त is the crest, अनुदात्त is the trough and स्वरित is the base.


Finally, you can utter a letter with a nasal sound or in a non-nasalized form.

These are referred to as

  • अनुनासिक (nasalized)
  • अननुनसिक (non-nasalized)

If you look at the अ mentioned in the Maheshwara Sutras, you can see that it has all these forms. If you take अ, it can have 3 lengths (ह्रस्व, दीर्घ, प्लुत), 3 tones(उदात्त, अनुदात्त, स्वरित), and 2 (अनुनासिक, अननुनसिक). Thus अ can have 18 forms. That is true for अ इ उ and ऋ. The remaining letters do not have three lengths. Hence they will only have 12 forms. So when you chant the Maheshwara Sutras, you should know that they have all these forms.

Who has ever thought about letters this way? Classifying and categorizing them in so many different ways.


  • संधिःby महबलेश्वरभट्ट्:
  • Lecture by Sri Varun Khanna at Chinmaya International Foundation

Taking Credit for Buddha’s Work

Photo by Ganesh Kumar B N on Unsplash

Having attention is the brain’s superpower, writes Amishi Jha in her book Peak Mind. Every moment, our mind is bombarded by signals from our sensory inputs. To prevent our brains from being overloaded, the brain filters out the unnecessary noise and keeps our attention on what’s important. Imagine that you are in a coffee shop. People are walking in and out, baristas are taking orders and making coffee while music is playing in the background. In the midst of this, you can focus on the conversation you are having with your friend. If not for our attention superpower, we would be paralyzed by the sheer load of information we have to process and act on.

While it’s a superpower, it’s hard to hold on to your attention. Over the past few years, I’ve squandered countless hours and a fair amount of money on productivity techniques and lifehacks to boost my attention. I have read books like Digital Minimalism, Deep Work, Focus, Atomic Habits, and the Power of Habit. I have learned techniques of using a Pomodoro Timer or using Time Blocking. I have done various productivity courses each having its own philosophy. All these techniques are really good, but they all fail for a simple reason. Attention is fragile. A notification ping on the phone and you drop everything and are scrolling infinitely.

A quick fix, you might think, is to just keep the phone in another room. That way you have outsmarted all the software engineers and psychologists who designed those addictive apps. Now try to focus on a task for 30 minutes. You will fail because your mind will start wandering. It has found an interesting thing from the past or a future activity to plan.

If you cannot hold your attention, the only thing you will achieve is to generate revenue for social media sites. At the same time, if you can better your attention span, you can achieve wonders.

Here is a recent example of someone deep in action with amazing focus.

In Game 1 of the 2018 Eastern Conference NBA finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Boston Celtics 108-83. After the game, Cavaliers’ star Lebron James was asked about a stretch where the Celtics scored seven straight points. “What happened?” James repeated back to the reporter. He paused, and it seemed like he might dismiss the question, but then, “the first possession, we ran them down all the way to 2 [seconds] on the shot clock. [The Celtics’] Marcus Morris missed a jump shot. He followed it up, they got a dunk. We came back down, we ran a set for Jordan Clarkson. He came off and missed it. They rebounded it. We came back on the defensive end, and we got a stop. They took it out on the sideline. Jason Tatum took it out, threw it to Marcus Smart in the short corner, he made a three. We come down, miss another shot. And then Tatum came down and went ninety-four feet, did a Eurostep and made a right-hand layup. [We called a] timeout.” 

It’s not just basketball. It works for anything you want to master. The challenge is in finding a technique that can help improve your attention span.

This is the end of the road for psychologists like Amishi Jha. They are excellent at identifying the problem, running experiments, and documenting the details. They know about various techniques used by successful people. For example, athletes use visualization as mental practice; golfers will practice swings in the mind and these mental rehearsals activate the motor cortex of the brain the way physical movement does.

Psychologists also know why many of the lifehack techniques don’t work. Imagine that you figured that time blocking is a wonderful technique. When you decide to focus for 30 mins on the presentation you are working on, your mind wanders. At this point, you have set goals, done your visualization, and are staying positive. The reason attention still wanders is that you need attention to implement any of these techniques, which is the original problem anyway.

At this point, science has given up. They can’t find a solution to increase your attention. Instead, in a sleight of hand, they offer you a solution – Meditation or Mindfulness or ancient teaching without the attachment of religion. This solution is not something found through the scientific process. It’s just an appropriation of a technique from the ancients.

This is not like when Einstein predicted that gravity can bend light and later experimentalists confirmed it. In this case, Buddha and his predecessors, the rishis of India had already proved that all of this works. These rishis subjected themselves to various techniques and came up with not just one, but many ways to maintain attention. They are the original scientists.

Now the research is simplified. Just prove that works by submitting it to folks in the army, students, firefighters, and whatnot. After running a battery of tests, they find that – hey this stuff works. Papers are produced, books are written and an expensive consulting business is started.

I just picked on Peak Mind because it was the most recent book I read on this topic. There are many others in this genre. They all follow a simple pattern of here is a problem and the answer in Buddhism, but without Buddha and karma and reincarnation. In a recent podcast, many high achievers admitted to practicing various dharmic practices.  Hence it is lucrative to remove “otherworldly mumbo-jumbo” from Buddhism and sell it as “mindfulness” to corporates, hospitals, and stressed out people.