Transliteration/Pronunciation Guide

Śrīḥ Śrīmathē śatakōpāya namaḥ Śrīmathē rāmānujāya namaḥ Śrīmath varavaramunayē namaḥ Śrī vānāchala mahāmunayē namaḥ

How we write down Sanskrit words

Is is probably well known that the script that is traditionally used to write down Sanskrit (called Devanagari) has nearly twice as many letters than the Roman alphabet used to write European languages. To transliterate Sanskrit into the Roman alphabet, numerous systems have been introduced. In Indian studies, it is quite common to transliterate according to IAST (International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration) and many groups (best known probably ISKCON, in our tradition the Sri Matham from Australia) are following this. This standard is employing so called diacritical marks, dots and bars over / under letters to signal that this letter, while sounding roughly similar to the “plain” Roman equivalent, has to be pronounced in a slightly a different way.

However, these diacritical marks are bothersome to type on most devices and were for some time not reliably displayed when embedded in websites. So the vast majority of devotees and teachers in India does not use these marks but the so called Harvard-Kyoto Convention (or an individual variant of it, there is no factual common standard). Here, capital letters and / or repetitions are used instead of marks on the letters. Example: one of the most important names of God in our tradition is Nārāyaṇa (नारायण). The “ā” means that this a should be pronounced twice as long as the length as a normal letter a in English. The “ṇ” means that the n should be spelled retroflex, meaning that the tongue should be flexed backwards when pronouncing the letter. This gives it more emphasis and a different sound compared to a normal English “n”. Now, at books and articles from, you will usually see नारायण transliterated as nArAyaNa. Here, the long “a” is indicated by “A” since no long “n” exists in Sanskrit but an emphasized “n” is pretty common – the emphasized “n” is indicated by “N”.

As has grown organically with contributions of many authors, we are using both a variant of Harvard-Kyoto and Diacritical – essentially depending on the preferences of the author and the target audience. Below is a reference table, where we given the Sanskrit letter, the diacritical and variants of the Harvard-Kyoto transliteration.

Note that the table does not cover the transliteration of Tamil. Tamil shares many sounds with Sanskrit, in particular many vowels, but there are numerous intricacies in the Tamil alphabet that make the transliteration less straightforward. For example, a number letters change their sound depending on their environment, something that does only happen for two very specific letters in Sanskrit. Furthermore, Tamil has letters that are neither present in the Sanskrit nor in the Roman alphabet, most well known is probably the special “l” sound that occurs for example in the word Tamil (தமிழ்) where we use “zh” to represent ழ், the strong l in the end. It is one of our future projects to provide an equivalent table for Tamil, also covering the rules under which Tamil letters change their sound.


(and Hindi)

Diacritial Harvard-Kyoto (

Sound difference to basic letter (roughly)

a a

ā A long a

i i

ī I long i

u u

ū U long u

e e

R sound mix of r,i and u

ṝ RR ditto but long

lR special letter used vedic mantras

ḹ lRR

ai ai

o o

au au


aM Sound depends on surrounding letters


aH, a:

ka ka

kha kha, ka aspirated

ga ga

gha gha


ṅa Ga, na

slightly more emphasis

ca, cha ca, cha

cha, chha cha, chha


ja ja

jha jha


ña Ja, Ga

more emphasis

ṭa Ta

“closed”, less emphasis

ṭha Tha

“closed”, aspirated

ḍa Da

“closed”, less emphasis

ḍha Dha

“closed”, aspirated

ṇa Na

“closes”, more emphasis

ta ta

tha tha aspirated

da da

dha dha aspirated

na na

pa pa

pha pha, pa aspirated

ba ba

bha bha aspirated

ma ma

ya ya

ra ra

la la

va va

śa Za, Sa like sch in German

ṣa Sa, sha ditto, but less emphasis

sa sa

ha ha

The letters with a grey background are consonants. If pronounced separately or without being followed by a vowel, an “a” is added. For example, the well know Hare Krishna mantra contains the word “hare”. The Devanagari is हरे. The first letter is easily found in the table above meaning “ha”. However, “hi” would be written as ही – so in actuality, ह means just “h”. The second letter is a combination of “r” and “e” (the line on top of the “r” means “e”). So, if we just look at the letters, we actually read “hre” – but because the “a” is automatically added after the “h” if no other vowel follows, it is actually “hare”.

Readers wanting to learn the exact pronunciation of Sanskrit may start with a series of Youtube videos by Conan Mishler beginning with this video:


Adiyen Mādhava Rāmānuja Dasan

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