Learning Sanskrit Through Your Favourite Prayers

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In every home, especially Indian, prayers are heard while still in the mother’s lap and even though we don’t comprehend what we are hearing we do pick up the words.The brilliance of Learn Sanskrit through your favorite prayers lies in tapping this latent memory.


When something stops being a mere word you have to learn but is a word you are familiar with and so can visualize, it makes it that much easier to remember.

As Bibek Debroy, a Sanskrit scholar himself and member of Niti Ayog says in the preface to the book, “Since music, dance and poetry are so deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche, why don’t we use these much more to teach Sanskrit? “

The word Stotra means ode, eulogy or a hymn of praise in Sanskrit while Ranjani means to imbue with a glow, to gladden or delight. What better ode to a language than to make it understandable to as many people as possible and gladden!

Rohini Bakshi and Narayanan Namboodiri have painstakingly deconstructed 11 prayers breaking them into different components which make it easy to assimilate and commit to memory.

The structure the authors use in explaining the stotra, is a few words about it, when and why it was written and then go on to write it in Devnagari, write it in prose , give translation and then explain each word. The Devnagari is followed by a transliteration following the same pattern. It can be used for simple understanding of the prayers we chant or go deep into the meaning of the words themselves. The rhythmic beats of a prayer or a poem make it easier to memorise. Once it’s broken into word meanings those same meanings can be applied to prose.

Since it is written in Devnagari and Roman it makes for easy reading by all.

It starts with the Ganeśa Pañcaratnam and ends with Āditya Hṛdayam from Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa.

Since I am spiritually very influenced and attracted by Shri Krishna my favourite stotra is from Bhaja Govindam:

punarapi jananaṃ punarapi maraṇaṃ punarapi jananījaṭhare śayanam।
iha saṃsāre bahudustāre kṛpayā’pāre pāhi murāre॥

This is followed by the verse with words separated, then in prose, the translation:

Birth again, death again, resting again in the mother’s womb; this cycle has no shore and is very difficult to cross. Murāri, with your grace, protect me in this saṃsāra!

Finally followed by meaning of each word. The format used for writing Sanskrit in Roman has been beautifully done using International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration

Format of the Sanskrit page is:

Verse
 

Vigraha
 

Padaparicaya  

Anvaya  

The translations have been rendered beautifully and can be enjoyed by everyone whether they want to read it as pure poetry or as a prayer.

I wish that when we were taught Sanskrit in school someone had had the idea of using verses and hymns instead of the boring declension tables. After three years of studying Sanskrit in school all I recall today is nadi, nadya, nadyah whereas in just a first perusal of Learning Sanskrit I have picked up quite a few words because they struck a chord.

It’s a model, which I feel should be adopted and adapted for other ancient languages by using its poetry and hymns. Every language and region has its own rich treasure of tradition, which can resonate with people and thus used to revive it.

This does not mean that other hymns or prayers haven’t been explained before. There are many books available for religious as well as literary texts but where this book scores is its user friendly approach or as a stepping stone to #IRL or In real Life.

I have been following #SAH or Sanskrit Appreciation Hour on twitter for a number of years and it gives me immense pleasure to see it’s growth and inclusiveness, especially since I use twitter as a platform to familiarise people with Urdu and it’s rich traditions of poetry.

Over the years I’ve formed a very special friendship with Rohini and I often feel we are two sides of the same coin. We often consult each other on meanings of Sanskrit and Urdu/ Persian words. 


We are both trying to make learning ancient languages easier for all. Though Urdu isn’t ancient it’s neglected. 

The reason for our success is our use of verse and making it fun. And keeping it away from being limited to a certain section of people. 

#SAH not only managed to fit Sanskrit learning into 140 characters but stayed clear of limiting itself to any one particular section. For me that was the beauty of this format and I quote from the introduction of the book, “But beginners did not come just for the Sanskrit. They came because they were made to feel welcome irrespective of gender, colour, nationality, sexual orientation, religious belief, political inclination or social outlook.”

It was but a natural progression to use the model for a book so that even those who not on twitter can benefit from it.

It’s a fairly voluminous book but that should not put off prospective readers as its very well divided into prayers and then each prayer into verses and can be read at leisure and over a period of time.

I hope this is the first of many such readers and other popular prayers are also explained. The one that I am most familiar with which is the Gayatri Mantra and I look forward to a second one with favorite mantras in it.

I congratulate the authors and wish them all the best. They deserve every success.

 Learn Sanskrit Through Your Favourite Prayers by Rohini Bakshi and Narayanan Namboodiri is available in bookstores and Juggernaut App 

Check out Learn Sanskrit Through Your Favourite Prayers by @RohiniBakshi . Download the @juggernautbooks App now. onelink.to/jgnt 

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