Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Anuswara (or) How usability trumps grammar

The anuswAra is a curious beast. Though it is grouped with the vowels in the alphabet, it is not one. Nor is it a consonant. It is non-aligned, taking no sides in a bipolar world.

In our epics we have read of celestial beings that can assume any form according to their whim — now a hideous monstor, now a bewitching damsel and now a piece of rock. The anuswAra has turned into such a creature. Sometimes it seems like Ga (gaMgA), sometimes Ja (paMcAyat). Elsewhere it sounds like Na (pAMDava), or na (zAMti) or ma (paraMparA).

The anuswAra has now ended up as a wildcard placeholder for any nasal consonant. Correctly, in all the examples above, the respective nasal consonant should have been used. (gaGgA, paJcAyat, pANDava, zAnti, paramparA). In fact, in Tamil, where the concept of anuswAra is absent, this is how these words are written*.

So then, what exactly is an anuswAra and where should it be used? Being neither a vowel nor a consonant, the anuswAra does not have an independent existence. It is a product of sandhi. (This implies that it cannot be used at the end of a sentence or a stand-alone word.) Let's explore this with some more examples.
sam +
gIta = saGgIta
cAra = saJcAra
darbha = sandarbha
pradAya = sampradAya
That is, when m is followed by any consonant from the first four rows of the varNamAlA, it (the trailing m) is converted into a nasal of the same type as that consonant.

It is only when combining with the remaining consonants (semi-vowels, sibilants, etc.) that the trailing m becomes an anuswAra.
sam +
yOga = saMyOga
rakSaNa = saMrakSaNa
vatsara = saMvatsara
sAra = saMsAra
zaya = saMzaya
hAra = saMhAra
How does the anuswAra sound like? In other words, is it Simha, Sinha or Singha? None of the above. The pronunciation is as follows:
The anuswAra is an after-sound, a nasal sound following a vowel. It is sounded through the nose only and should be independent of mouth position. [Wikner (PDF)]
The anuswAra is one of the simplest symbols that can be written (or read) — it is represented in most Indian scripts as either a dot or a circle. Since it is also a nasal sound, it has become a comfortable substitute for all the nasal consonants: It is easier on the hand (and the eye) and one doesn't have to remember which of the four (Ga, Ja, na, Na) to use in a particular context.

Usability wins everytime.

- - -
* Therefore, this post may not make sense when viewed with Tamil transliteration.

PS: I owed Manjunath a post on anuswAra for a long time. (See the discussions at these posts: One, Two, Three.) Finally, here it is.

16 comments :

Ambarish said...

Here's a paper on the various Vedic anusvaras and their pronunciation:

http://www.sanskritweb.net/sansdocs/anusvara.pdf

Manjunath said...

In other words, is it Simha, Sinha or Singha? None of the above. The pronunciation is as follows:
The anuswAra is an after-sound, a lnasal sound following a vowel. It is sounded through the nose only and should be independent of mouth position. [Wikner (PDF)] The anuswAra is one of the simplest symbols that can be written (or read) — it is represented in most Indian scripts as either a dot or a circle. Since it is also a nasal sound, it has become an comfortable substitute for all the nasal consonants: It is easier on the hand (and the eye) and one doesn't have to remember which of the afour (Ga, Ja, na, Na) to use in a particular context.


When anuswara replaces a nasal consonant(without vowel) of the same varga in words with classified consonants, why not non-classified consonant words work also on the similar rule. Is it possible to classify these consonants based on anuswara? I mean take anusvara in siMha, saNsara, saMyoga, saMvatsara etc... representing nasal 'wa'.

Srikanth said...

Ambarish,
That was an informative link - thanks! I didn't know the vedic anuswaras had different technical terms.

Is suddhanuswara really present only before jn~ and ghn?

Srikanth said...

Manjunath,

I could not understand the question... Could you elaborate/elucidate?

Ambarish said...

Yeah, that had me confused as well, but then I'm no Vedic scholar :-)

Could the author have been talking about merely those anusvaras that are unchanged by sandhi? And I'm pretty sure this rule is specific to the KYV, or maybe even just the Taittiriya Shakha; IIRC the anusvara referred to as the Agama Anusvara appears only in the Yajurvedam.

Manjunath said...

I could not understand the question... Could you elaborate/elucidate?

I am trying to digest the paper pointed out by Ambarish. I'll come up with my thoughts later.

Srikanth said...

Ambarish,
From my understanding, by suddhanuswara, he means the anuswara which is not agama, lupta or any other. A simple anuswara.

While I have not studied the Taittiriya Samhita, I have come across the following in the Taittiriya Upanisad:
athAtas-sa(g)MhitAya upaniSadaM vyAkhyAsyAmaH

The first is agamanuswara, while the second is suddhanuswara. Here the latter occurs before V. I have come across the other mentioned anuswara types in the Taittiriyopanisad too, so I don't think the rules are too different...

Ambarish said...

Yeah, you're right. What I'd meant was that perhaps the rule that the suddha anuswara can come only before the two consonants was specific to the TKYV, but your example from the TU contradicts that. Maybe we should just e-mail the author and find out.

Srikanth said...

Ambarish,
I found a blogpost on Vedic Anuswara:
http://manollasa.blogspot.com/2005/12/on-vedic-anusvara.html
Haven't read it carefully yet. But maybe it will clarify things.

sowmya said...

Amazing to see a post like this. Nice. :)

Srikanth said...

Sowmya,
Thank you!

RamakrishnaMath said...

'It is sounded through the nose only and should be independent of mouth position'
This is a very scientific, grammatically accurate and according to the paninian grammar as it is said by Bhattoji
Dikshita, 'Naasikaa Anuswaraasya'. There for is follows that no part of the mouth should be engage while pronouncing the anuswara.
I will be very thankful if some examples are mentioned from our daily life which will help to grasp the exact pronounciation of the anuswara when it is followed by non-vargiya consonants.

RamakrishnaMath said...

Your comment,'It is sounded through the nose only and should be independent of mouth position'
This is a very scientific, grammatically accurate and according to the paninian grammar as it is said by Bhattoji
Dikshita, 'Naasikaa Anuswaraasya'. Therefor it follows that no part of the mouth should be engaged while pronouncing the anuswara.
I will be very thankful if some examples are mentioned from our daily life which will help to grasp the exact pronounciation of the anuswara when it is followed by non-vargiya consonants.

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