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Shiksha (Devanagari: शिक्षा IAST: śikṣā) is one of the six Vedangas, treating the traditional Hindu science of phonetics and phonology of Sanskrit.

Its aim is the teaching of the correct pronunciation of the Vedic hymns and mantras. The oldest phonetic textbooks are the Pratishakyas (prātiśākhya, a vrddhi abstract from Sanskrit prati-śākhā), describing pronunciation and intonation of Sanskrit, as well as the Sanskrit rules of sandhi (word combination) specific to individual schools or Shakhas of the Vedas.


The Pratishakhyas, which evolved from the more ancient Vedic Texts padapathas (padapāṭha) around 800 BCE, deal with the manner in which the Vedas are to be enunciated. There are separate Pratishakhyas for each Veda. They complement the books called Shiksha written by various authorities.

Five Pratishakhyas are preserved:

The Shiksha Texts and the Pratishakhyas led to great clarity in understanding the surface structure of language. For clarity of pronunciation, they propose breaking up the large Vedic compounds into stems, prefixes, and suffixes. Certain styles of recitation (pāṭha), such as the jaṭāpāṭha, involved switching syllables, repeating the last word of a line at the beginning of the next, and other permutations. In the process, a considerable amount of morphology is discussed, particularly regarding the combination of sequential sounds, which leads to the modalities of sandhi. An even more important discovery recorded in the Pratishakhya texts (particularly the Samaveda Pratishakhya, which is claimed to be the earliest[1]), is an organization of the stop consonant sounds into a 5x5 varga or square:

ka kha ga gha ṅa
ca cha ja jha ña
ṭa ṭha ḍa ḍha ṇa
ta tha da dha na
pa pha ba bha ma

in which difference between sounds is preserved whether you recite it horizontally or vertically. It was extended and completed with fricatives and sibilants, semi-vowels, and vowels, and was eventually codified into the Brahmi alphabet, which is one of the most systematic sound-to-writing mappings. Scholar Frits Staal has commented, "Mendelejev's Periodic system of elements, the varga system was the result of centuries of analysis. In the course of that development, the basic concepts of phonology were discovered and defined.[2]"

The Varga system and the Pratishakshyas, contributions of the Shiksha texts, are elaborate systems which deal with the generation and classification of sound.

Other Shiksha texts

In addition, several Shiksha texts exist, most of them in metrical verse form but a few in sutra form. The following list contains some of these surviving texts (English translation of Paniniya Siksa.pdf):

  • Amoghanandini Shiksha
  • Apisali Shiksha (in sutra form)
  • Aranya Shiksha
  • Atreya Shiksha
  • Avasananirnyaya Shiksha
  • Bharadvaja Shiksha
  • Chandra Shiksha of Chandragomin (sutra form)
  • Charayaniya Shiksha
  • Galadrka Shiksha
  • Kalanirnya Shiksha
  • Katyayani Shiksha
  • Shiksha
  • Kaundinya Shiksha
  • Keshavi Shiksha
  • Kramakarika Shiksha
  • Kramasandhaana Shiksha
  • Laghumoghanandini Shiksha
  • Lakshmikanta Shiksha
  • Lomashi Shiksha
  • Madhyandina Shiksha
  • Mandavya Shiksha
  • Mallasharmakrta Shiksha
  • Manasvaara Shiksha
  • Manduki Shiksha
  • Naradiya Shiksha
  • Paniniya Shiksha (versified)
  • Paniniya Shiksha (in sutra form)
  • Paniniya Shiksha (with accents)
  • Parashari Shiksha
  • Padyaatmika Keshavi Shiksha
  • Pari Shiksha
  • Pratishakhyapradipa Shiksha
  • Sarvasammata Shiksha
  • Shaishiriya Shiksha
  • Shamaana Shiksha
  • Shambhu Shiksha
  • Shodashashloki Shiksha
  • Shikshasamgraha
  • Siddhanta Shiksha
  • Svaraankusha Shiksha
  • Svarashtaka Shiksha
  • Svaravyanjana Shiksha
  • Vasishtha Shiksha
  • Varnaratnapradipa Shiksha
  • Vyaali Shiksha
  • Vyasa Shiksha
  • Yajnavalkya Shiksha

Although many of these Shiksha texts are attached to specific Vedic schools, others are late texts.


Traditionally syllables (not letters) in Sanskrit are called Akshara, meaning "imperishable (entity)": "atoms" of speech, as it were. These aksharas are classified mainly into two types:[3]

Svara aksharas are also known as prana akshara; i.e., they are main sounds in speech, without which speech is not possible. Pāṇini referred to svara as ac pratyahara. Later they became known as ac Akshara.

Vyanjana means embellishment, i.e., consonants are used as embellishment in order to yield sonorant vowels. They are also known as Prani akshara; that is, they are like a body to which life (svara) is added. Pāṇini's name for vyanjana was Hal Pratyahara, which were later referred to as Hal akshara.

Vyanjana aksharas are divided into three types:

Sparsa aksharas include syllables from Ka to Ma; they are 25 in number. Antastha aksharas include syllables ya, ra, la and va. Ushman aksharas include śa, sha, sa and ha.

It was said that in Sanskrit a vowel can be pronounced in 18 ways (3x2x3), based on timing, manner, and accent of pronunciation.


Each vowel can be classified into three types based on the duration of pronunciation (morae):

We see that each vowel can be pronounced in three ways according to the duration of articulation. ×. The unit of time is a mātra (approx. 0.4 second).


Each vowel can be further classified into two types based on the manner of pronunciation:

Mukha : Oral (open)
Nāsika : Nasal (all vowels are considered phonemically oral)

Pitch accent

Each vowel can also be classified into three types, that is, pronounced in three ways, based on accent of articulation. This feature was lost in Classical Sanskrit, but used in reciting Vedic & Upanishadic hymns and mantras.

Udātta : high pitch
Anudātta : low pitch
Svarita : descending pitch (usually follows high pitch)

Places of articulation

Generally, in articulatory phonetics, the place of articulation (or point of articulation) of a consonant is the point of contact, where an obstruction occurs in the vocal tract between an active (moving) articulator (typically some part of the tongue) and a passive (stationary) articulator (typically some part of the roof of the mouth).

But according to Indian linguistic tradition,[4] there are five passive places of articulation:

Kaṇṭhya : Velar
Tālavya : Palatal
Mūrdhanya : Retroflex
Dantya : Dental
Ōshtya : Labial

Apart from that, other articulations are combinations of the above five places:

Dantōsthya : Labio-dental (E.g.: v)
Kantatālavya : e.g.: Diphthong e
Kantōsthya : labial-velar (E.g.: Diphthong o)

There are three active places of articulation:

Jihvāmūla : tongue root, for velar
Jihvāmadhya : tongue body, for palatal
Jihvāgra : tip of tongue, for cerebral and dental
Adhōṣṭa : lower lip, for labial

Efforts of articulation

Effort of articulation (Uccāraṇa Prayatna) is of two types for consonants,

Bāhya Prayatna : External effort
Spṛṣṭa : Plosive
Īshat Spṛṣṭa : Approximant
Īshat Saṃvṛta : Fricative
Abhyantara Prayatna : Internal effort
Alpaprāna : Unaspirated
Mahāprāna : Aspirated
Śvāsa : Unvoiced
Nāda : Voiced

Articulation of consonants

Articulation of consonants will be a logical combination of components in the two prayatnas. The below table gives a view upon articulation of consonants.

Samskrita Vyanjana Ucchārana Pattika[5]
Prayatna Niyamāvalī Kanthya
Dantoṣṭya Oṣṭya
Sparśa, Śvāsa, Alpaprāna ka ca ṭa ta pa
Sparśam, Śvāsa, Mahāprāna kha cha ṭha tha pha
Sparśa, Nāda, Alpaprāna ga ja ḍa da ba
Sparśa, Nāda, Mahāprāna gha jha ḍha dha bha
Sparśa, Nāda, Alpaprāna,
Anunāsika, Drava, Avyāhata
ṅa ña ṇa na ma
Antastha, Nāda, Alpaprāṇa,
Drava, Avyāhata
ya ra
Ūṣman, Śvāsa, Mahāprāṇa, Avyāhata Visarga śa ṣa sa
Ūshman, Nāda, Mahāprāna, Avyāhata ha

See also


  1. Staal, J. F., The Fidelity of Oral Tradition and the Origins of Science. North-Holland Publishing Company, 1986.
  2. Frits Staal, The science of language, Chapter 16 in Gavin Flood, The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism Blackwell Publishing, 2003, 599 pages ISBN 0-631-21535-2, p. 352.
  3. "Siddhanta Kaumudi" by Bhattoji Diksita and "Laghu Siddhanta Kaumudi", by Varadaraja.
  4. "Siddhanta Kaumudi" by Bhattoji Diksita and "Laghu Siddhanta Kaumudi", by Varadaraja.
  5. "Telugulo Chandovisheshaalu", Page 127 (In Telugu).