Posted on December 22, 2006
In the beginning, when I wanted to learn Sanskrit, I started looking for useful websites that teach the language. I came across a great many websites, and some were exceptionally useful, but I was frustrated after a short while. For one, to learn using websites, you need to be online and use your computer. Another reason for my frustration was that no website offered a comprehensive tutorial or an easy to follow plan. I will write about the websites I encountered in another post. This post will concentrate on the best books money can buy to learn Sanskrit. A rudimentary knowledge of Sanskrit is essential for those interested in Hindu culture. It will open doors of understanding into yoga, tantra, the karmas needs to ensure happiness and the principles of hindu dharma. Even with the availability of many guides in English, there is nothing like learning the principles from the source. So I hope this article will be handy for those starting out with their yoga practice, vedic learning, and those looking for advice from the Vedas on how to live the complete life.
If, for some reason, you can only buy one book, then that has to be either Introduction to Sanskrit, Part 1 or . Introduction to Sanskrit, Part 1 is a good stepping stone to other, higher-level Sanskrit lessons, and if you spend some time with it, you will have knowledge about the fundamentals of the language and be on your way to learning more. It is the best introduction to Sanskrit grammer, writing and structure that I have come across. The other book, “Learn Sanskrit in 30 Days” is available in most Indian stores, and is easily recognizable as it is part of the popular “National Integration” series of language learning books in India. It was published by Balaji Publications, 103 Pycrofts Road, Chennai, 600 014, India. If you are in India and cannot find the book try calling them at (044) 8532831 and (044) 8532653. The book was compiled by Vidyavisarada K. Srinivasachari, who is a Professor of Language at the Samskrita Bhasha Pracharini Sabha, Chitoor. This is an excellent book, but might not be available outside of India. The above links to Amazon might yield the book depending on your luck – I was lucky enough to find it at Amazon. Those familiar with the National Integration series of books will know that the book will guide you from the very basics of the script to popular phrases to rudimentary language usage. However, a small shortcoming of this book is that it treats the language from the “spoken language” aspect – which is not very essential, since we are more interested in being able to read and comprehend scriptures.
More Extensive Books
The first book in the more extensive collection has to be Teach Yourself Sanskrit Complete Course – it has a lot of lists, tables and references that will come in handy time and again. If you are prepared to spend more effort that would be required with the basic books, then this is the book for you. You might find that the learning process becomes slower after the second chapter, but persist and you will be rewarded!
Devavanipravesika: An Introduction to the Sanskrit Language is an excellent second step. It has grammatical information, transliteration instruction, Sanskrit-English, English-Sanskrit dictionarys and wonderful reading selections that will break you into the habit of reading Sanskrit. This is definitely not a beginner’s book, so you might want to keep another easier introduction to Sanskrit handy.
Grammar Guides and Tutors
As you keep learning, you will understand that a proper understanding of the grammatical structures and language constructs will help you appreciate Sanskrit works much better. By this time, you should already be comfortable with reading the Devanagari script. At this point, you will be looking to expand you library and your ken. I will try to list a few books that you might consider buying for when you are more comfortable with the basics. The first has to be Samskrta-Subodhini: A Sanskrit Primer (Michigan Papers on South and Southeast Asia). This is a comprehensive text, with exercise to flex your knowledge, and a very friendly font. This might sound ridiculous to some, but I enjoyed reading this book all the more due to the very clear fonts and typesetting. Thomas Egenes’ Introduction to Sanskrit, Pt. 2 which is the second installment of the book I mentioned before for the basic stuff is a good buy if you like the style of the author from the first book. I bought it, but to be frank, did not use it too much. This is not so much because the book is not good, but because of time limitations. If you get the version with the Cassette, (and you still have a cassette player!), you can pick up the nuances of Sanskrit pronounciation quite well.
Ramopakhyana – The Story of Rama in the Mahabharata is a beautiful reader that is fully annotated with the verses in both Sanskrit(Devanagari) and English. The Bhagavad Gita (Suny Series in Cultural Perspectives) by Winthrop Sargeant is another good read. The author’s attention to detail makes the message of the Gita shine through.
The best, albeit most expensive (at $35+), English-Sanskrit dictionary I have is A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Keep this handy and you will notice that you progress much faster in your learning.
There are a lot more books that are available, that I would like to write about, but to keep this short and simple, I will save my comments about the books for another post. The books described in this article will be more than sufficient for the beginning Sanskrit student, and should keep you busy for a few months. Happy Learning.