Siksha (Phonetics)

First, there was silence.

Then there was Aum.

Then there were Maheswara Sutras.

Then there were the Vedas. Many sounds of the Vedas do not have a “dictionary classical sanskrit meaning”. Some sounds give you a feeling and understanding without having a “dictionary meaning”. For example, try saying Mitraya Namah (Salutations to  the Friend (Sun)) and saying Aum Hreem Mitraya Namah and then say it with the proper notes.. it will mean something else to you and affect you differently! (You can also take a look at this piece : Sounds and Meanings (Vag Artha)) . The silence of meditation is enhanced if you make / listen to the right sounds before practicing silence

Need to preserve the right pronunciation and intonation :

In spoken english, telugu and many other languages, the intonation contributes very significantly to the meaning. An imperative “come here!” is different from an inquiring “come here?” and a sarcastic ” come here?” and so on.

I have always wondered on the wisdom of reading or attempting translations that do not take swaras into account. *When translating telugu keerthanas of Thyagaraja orAnnamacharya do we take the raaga, intonations and pauses into account consciously or unconsciously? My favorite example of the importance of pauses is “together” and “to get her”. Or *rA rA mA intidAkA OR rA rAmA intidAka.. this kind of thing…

The school of translators, who follows sAyaNAcArya, accept his way of splitting the rk or the mantra into pAdAs and padAs. Did he take the swaras into account? Surely a VedAcArya like himself must have done so.. or at least must have been able to do so.. else why was he commissioned to do this work?

Max Mueller worked from manuscripts sitting in the EIC library in England. David Frawley actually learnt the Vedas and and the Vedangas and so on and became a VEdAcArya. So there is a LOT of difference in their insights, translations and paradigms. Sri Aurobindo meditated on the meanings of the sounds themselves.

It is easy enough to understand that Vedas must be chanted properly to get all the pranayama benefits and soothing effects of chanting.

The Gayatri Mantram that is blared across the loudspeakers and sung in racy tunes, is not as per Vedic Swaras and therefore is of no use to a serious student like yourself. What are Veda Swaras? Read On…

Siksha : Siksha is that Vedanga that deals with correct pronounciation.

Sanskrit text is here :

Maharshiyagnyavalkyadiviracitah siksha sangrahah is a book in sanskrit, published by Sampurnanand Sanskrit University of Varanasi.

It contains the sikshas of Yajnyavalkya, Vasishtha, Katyayana, Parasara, Mandvaya, Kesava, Malla Sarma, Panini, Narada, Somaveda and others.

It is available at Vedanta Book House and at the Sales Department of the Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, Varanasi 221 002

Source : “Siksha is related to sound, letters, pronunciation, the method of teaching and learning of these basic elements. Every Veda has its own peculiar pronunciation of certain letters, and each one of them has its specific modes and speed of recitation. A book called Siksha Sangraha contains a collection of 32 systems of siksha. These systems relate to different sakhas of the four Vedas. The most important among the books relating to siksha is the famous Paniniya Siksha. Another important book is Yaajnavalkya Siksha. In Vasishthi Siksha we have a detailed account of the differences between the mantras of the Rig-Veda and Yajur-Veda. Both Yaajnavalkya siksha and Vasishthi siksa are related to the Vajasaneyi Samhita. The other important works are: Katyaayani siksha, Paaraashari siksha, Maadhyandini Siksha, Keshavi Siksha and Manduki Siksha. In Naaradiya Siksha, which is related to the Sama-Veda, there is knowledge of the secret of different sounds. The development of Siksha as a Vedaanga and as a science demonstrates the profundity and vast scope of research that was undertaken in respect of pronunciation in ancient India. It is because of this Vedaanga that the system of Vedic recitation has remained intact right from the ancient times to the present day. A given sakha is recited in the same way all over the country, and Vedapaathis of the same sakha, belonging to different parts of India, pronounce mantras with the same intonation, speed and strength and force and even the same hand movements. If the Vedaanga system of pronunciation has remained so uniform in the country, and if the tradition has remained so powerful, it is because of the degree of perfection that was achieved in respect of Siksha.”

Vedic Swaras are Variations in Pitch :

The Gayatri Mantram that is blared across the loudspeakers and sung in racy tunes, is not as per Vedic Swaras and therefore is of no use to a serious student like yourself. What are Veda Swaras?

Gayatri MantraAs per my Veda Guru :
  • Unmarked letters are udaata.
  • If you see a horizontal line below a letter, you have to drop the pitch – anudaata
  • If you see a vertical line above a letter, you have to raise the pitch – swarita.
  • If you see a double vertical line above a letter, you to raise and the pitch and stretch it – deergha swarita.
  • prachaya : In specific instances the swara of the previous letter is carried till the next occurring anudata or till the end of that pada or mantra, that is prachaya. This rule is demonstrated in the image below.
  • There are variations between Vedic Chanting between North and South India as well as across the various mathams. Each sampradayam (tradition) is correct in its own context.

As Per Panini’s Siksha :

  • There are 3 svaras : udAtta, anudAtta and svarita and 3 kinds of time hrasva (short – 1 matra), dirgha (long-2 matras), and pluta (3 or more matras) (11)
  • udAtta niSada, gAndharva; anudAtta RSabha, dhaivata; svarita SaDja, madhyama, pancama (12)

Image Below Source. Here Numbers are used instead of lines above and below. Prachaya is illustrated clearly.

Special Rules :

Rule : An anudaata becomes an udaata if it is the last letter of the pada.

Anudaata is a low note, denoted by an underscore below the line. udaata is the middle or plain note.

paada is one part of one line that is read at a a time during pada paaTa when learning the rk.

antha paaTa is when you read the whole line all together. Both lines together constitute the Rk.

Rule : A swarita on top of an anuswAra or deergha akshara is to be treated as a dwiswarita.

In the most ancient of times, all the vedas were transmitted word of mouth. Then palm leaf and copper plate recording happened. Then paper, then printing on paper and now audio and video recording as well.

Ramakrishna MaTam started the printing of dwiswaritas – the double line on top of the letter – to indicate a high note dragged out for 2 mAtrakAlas.

Some texts did not print the dwiswaritas. They were arrived at by a set of rules, known to the Veda Gurus. Thus when my Veda Guru teaches me Vedic Chanting she makes it a point to point out all the special cases, exceptions and overrides to be followed in the pronounciation of the Veda Mantras. As I have indicated before.. there are variations between various schools.. either follow your teacher’s rules or find a teacher who specializes in your school.

Veda Swaras : Viniyoga and Artha

Vedic Swaras vary from Rg to Yajur to Sama Vedas for the same mantras.

My Veda Guru said that The Veda Artha does not vary from Veda to Veda inspite of swara variations. Thus each mantra has the same meaning inspite of having different swaras, in each of the vedas. However the viniyoga or the use to which the mantras are put vary from veda to veda ie the swaras are connected to purpose. As an example, Rg Swaras are useful for parayana and yajur swaras for abhisheka and other purposes. pArAyaNam can simply mean chanting repeatedly generally with an intent to meditate on the meaning. abhiSEkam is worship with water, milk etc. Yajur Vedic Swaras are used in pujas, temples, homas etc…

Panini Siksha

Please find below my attempts at understanding Panini’s Siksha :

pANini s’ikSA – 1 to 13 : vaRNAs, swarAs, mAtrAs, kAlAs, sthAyi :

The purpose of Panini’s siksha is to make it the meanings of words known, by making it very clear how to pronounce words.

There are considered to be 63 or 64varNAs in the school (mata) of  s’ambhu. In Prakrit and sanskrit by swayambhu (manu, Brahma), himself, these varnas were stated.

swaras (vowels) are 21 and spars’as (consonants) are 25.

– In the sparsas, it is necessary to touch the upper palate or lip with the tongue, this is not done for swaras. Swaras are a A i I etc, sparsas are ka kha etc . Modern Sanskrit counts 25 sparshas, but less than 21 swaras. So one point to be resolved is what are all the swaras that Panini had in mind. Also note that to pronounce R as in kRSNa, you must not touch the upper palate with your tongue as you do for r as in rAma. – Satya

From ya to ha there are 8., and there are 4 yamas remembered.

– I think the yamas are la, ksha, tra, gnya – Satya

anuswArAh and visargah are two nkanpas and are parAs’ritah.

– I think this means that anuswara and visarga as in am ah, always need to belong to another letters and do not exist in conversation by themselves. It also implies that anuswara and visarga are not counted as swaras – Satya

lR has a difficult ending and also pluta.


When the mAruta, (the wind in your lungs), moves in your chest the mandra swaram or low notes are generated.

This is to be used in the early mornings – prAtah savana yOgam – by the chanter (of the Vedas).

In the afternoons use the throat for madhyama and in the evenings use the top of the head for the tAra.

– based on my music lessons, there are three s’rutis. mandra, madhya and tAra which are low, medium and high. Your sa -pa – sa is your madhya sthayi. Notes below the low first sa are mandra sthayi and notes abouve the high sa are tAra sthayi. – when you sing in each sthayi, put your hand on your chest throat and top of your skull, and you can understand what Panini is saying – Satya-


udAtta, anudAtta and svarita are 3 kinds of svarAs.

hrasva, dIrgha and pluta are three kinds of kAlAs.

In udAtta niSAda gAndhAra, in anudAtta RSabha, dhaivata.,  svarita to be produced in Sadja, madhyama and pancama.


8 places of varNas are aamura, throat, top of head, root of tongue, teeth, nose, lips, palate.

pANini s’ikSA – doshas and gunas in Veda Chanting – 32 to 35 :

Sweetness, Clarity of letters, Not splitting a word (pausing for breath mid-word), Good Swaras, Courage, Competent laya (rythym, absorption in the mantra) – these are the 6 good qualities of a Vedic Chanter.

Without pressure, Holding the words and letters (properly), not weakly and not too easily, the words should be spoken.

A singer (of the Vedas), one who is too fast, one who shakes their head while chanting and one who reads from a book, one who does not understand the mantra, one with a weak voice – these are the 6 worst kind of Veda chanters.

Chanting that is  full of doubt, fear, noise (loud, full of sound), unclear, nasal, with a voice like a crow, ‘s’irasigan’, with loss of place, whispered, bitten (wrong pronounciation), hasty, with shaking limbs, nirastambilambitam – all these are doshas.

Locating the Veda Swaras mentioned by Panini on the Carnatic Scale

We have seen that ;

udAtta, anudAtta and svarita are 3 kinds of svarAs, and

In udAtta niSAda gAndhAra ;

in anudAtta RSabha, dhaivata.,

svarita to be produced in Sadja, madhyama and pancama.

In this video :

you can hear the swaras

sa = shadja for svarita

ri = RSabha for anudAtta

ga = gAndhAra for udAtta

ma = madhyama  for svarita

pa = pancama for svarita

da = dhaivata for anudAtta

ni = niSAda for udAtta

higher sa = shadja for svarita

“In the Rig, Yajur and Atharva Vedas only 3 notes called Anudatta (Nishada), Swaritha (Shadjama) and Udatta (Rishabha)” from

My thoughts :

In Om s’Antih, s’Antih s’Antih : Om and s’A are shadjas, the first two tih are nishAdAs and the final tih is rishabha.

Om and s’A are shadjas, svarita is shadja so unmarked letters are svaritas.

The first two tih are nishAdAs are udAttAs are nishadas so letters marked marked by an underline are udAttas.

the final tih is rishabha ie and anudAtta. therefore letters marked with line above are anudAttas.

After a lot of experimenting it looks like selecting nearly any 3 adjacent notes works..

In this post : Prathama Suktham we have seen the veda swaras marked in the text.

Rg Veda Prathama Suktham

In this video :


Please observe her fingers on the harmonium as she chants and teaches Agnim Ile and listen to her voice. She uses all the swaras above pancama only. She seems to be using only da, ni sa. Please check for yourself and leave a comment if you think otherwise.

Listen to the same mantras here, while following the Veda Swaras in the Image above :  (The markings in that link are for transliteration not for Veda Swaras so dont get confused. )

They seem to be using the swaras lower than pancama ie ri, ga and ma. Please check for yourself and leave a comment if you think otherwise.

hrasva, dirgha, pluta

ह्रस्व : hrasva : is 1 mAtra kAla (मात्र काल) in duration

दीर्घ : dirgha : is 2 mAtra kAlAs in duration

प्लुत : pluta : is 3 mAtra kAlAs in duration according to some scholars and 3 or more  mAtra kAlAs in duration according to some scholars. (My view is that it is 3 or more mAtrAs just like बहुवचन refers to 3 or more people or things)

pluta occurs occasionally in vedic texts and is marked by a (3) in brackets as shown.
The problem is that devanagari script and the scripts of sevaral modern indian languages when used to indicate sanskrit have forgotten how to show plutas.
We must remember that sanskrit originally was vAcya (spoken) not lEkhika (written).
Now, Panini in his siksha,  counts 21 swaras (pANini s’ikSA – 1 to 13 : vaRNAs, swarAs, mAtrAs, kAlAs, sthAyi), If you ignore dirgha and plutas you can never reach a count of 21.
Thus there are 3 each of the following.

and one each of

ऐ  (ai) 

औ (au)

लृ (lru)

Leading to a total of 21 swaras.

We know how to write the hrasva and dirgha in devanagari and other scripts, but have no symbol for the plutas. Thus instead of 18 we count 15 in some other scripts and only 13 in devanagari.

(Devanagari script ignores hrasva/dirgha variants of

ए  and

ओ  but they exist in telugu and kannada scripts).

We must also remember that other scripts eg Brahmi Script were used earlier to write sanskrit.

Chanting Sample with swaras marked and spoken (by me) : Ganapati Mantram.

Chanting Samples  (External) :

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