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FORGOTTEN TONGUE. Yogin/Yogi means "one who is joined or connected," or, literally, "one possessed of yoga." From the root car which means "to move," chakra can also mean "wheel," "circle," "center," "disc," or "sphere."


From The Asian Reporter, V15, #21 (May 24, 2005), page 13.

Timeless, immutable, and eternal

Sacred Sanskrit Words: For Yoga, Chant, and Meditation

By Leza Lowitz and Reema Datta

Stone Bridge Press, 2005

Paperback, 240 pages, $14.95

By Josephine Bridges

This slim volume is a lot more than its title lets on. The comprehensive introduction that opens Sacred Sanskrit Words includes sections on history, pronunciation, and modern Sanskrit. According to the authors, "It was the work of the Indian grammarians, in fact, codifying and cataloguing Sanskrit’s rules of usage, that led to the development of the field of linguistics."

The pronunciation guide contains each letter of the Sanskrit alphabet, its English transliteration, and an example of a similar sound in an English word, as well as information about the written language. "For each word, all the letters making up the word are written first, and then a horizontal line is added on top of the letters last, showing that the letters under the line make up that word."

"Sanskrit words and concepts started to crop up in the popular culture of the West over three decades ago, with songs like the Beatle’s [sic] ‘Jai Guru Dev Om’ and Steeley Dan’s ‘Bodhisattva,’" authors Leza Lowitz and Reema Datta write. Not to mention that "Tantra, Shanti, Om, Prana, and Shakti" are all, in addition to their Sanskrit significance, names of contemporary brands and products.

The heart of Sacred Sanskrit Words is its alphabetized collection of more than 160 words of spiritual import. Each word is written in large Devangari script, the most commonly used of many scripts in which the language can be rendered. English transliterations, meanings, comments, and cross-references follow, and some entries have extras. "Chakra," for example, contains the words for and descriptions of the seven chakras, each of which is associated with a Sanskrit vowel sound.

Four pages of sidebars treat readers to fascinating facts about Sanskrit. The pairing of the spiritual and the cybernetic on facing pages is particularly delicious. "Sanskrit isn’t called ‘The Language of the Gods’ for nothing. There are thousands of deities in the Hindu pantheon, and even their names have names." Nevertheless, "in the early 1980s, NASA announced that Sanskrit is the only unambiguous spoken language in the world, making it perfectly accessible to computer programming."

Following the entries are 12 chants in Devangari script and English transliteration, with English translations. It is as lovely to see the Sanskrit words combined into sentences as it is to read the English renditions. "We worship Lord Siva, the three-eyed Lord who is resplendent with fragrance and who nourishes all beings. May he liberate me from death for the sake of immortality, just as the ripe cucumber is severed from its bondage (off the creeper)." Should the reader be tempted to dip more than a toe into the river of Sanskrit, an extensive bibliography completes the volume.

Leza Lowitz and Reema Datta seem like authors who would value constructive criticism, so here is a suggestion for the next edition (I hope there will be many editions of Sacred Sanskrit Words). Despite earnest efforts to make the pronunciation of Sanskrit accessible, there is no information given on syllabic stress, which creates the rhythm of a language. This could be accomplished with the use of accent marks, but a CD or cassette with recordings of the language would also be a great addition to the written volume.

Want to know whether Sanskrit is written left to right or right to left? Wondering what species the Bodhi tree is? Thinking maybe yoga and physics have more in common than appears on the surface? It’s all right here in Sacred Sanskrit Words.

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