A Beginners’ Guide to Digital Resources in Sanskrit

This is a guest post written by Udita Das.

A few months back a friend of mine told me about her harrowing experience working for a Sanskritist. The difficulty was not the Sanskritist, but rather the technical side of the work: not only did her old Mac have difficulty handling Devanāgarī script, but she was unable to find a reliable online dictionary. I could relate to her predicament; my own Sanskrit study in India didn’t entail the use of any  digital tools, and my teacher there was completely unaware of Sanskrit-related digital resources. What follows is a summary of some basic, online Sanskrit resources, and it is offered those who are studying Sanskrit but not familiar with such resources.

Online Grammar Resources

While there is no dearth of Sanskrit grammar resources available on the internet, I would recommend Antonia Ruppel’s YouTube page (the University of Texas-Austin) and The University of British Columbia Sanskrit Learning Tools. Ruppel’s audio-visual repository of her recently released book, The Cambridge Introduction to Sanskrit (2017), is an excellent entry-point for covering basic grammar. Ancient Sanskrit Online at the University of Texas-Austin can be used as an added resource to Ruppel, especially with reference to the Ṛgveda. Although not nearly complete, the University of British Columbia has the potential to be a good resource for learning Sanskrit grammar.

Digital Dictionaries

The Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries, developed by Cologne University’s Institute of Indology and Tamil, compiles a number of online dictionaries. These include thirty-eight Sanskirt to English, French, German, and Latin dictionaries; grammar resources; and a few Tamil resources.  The dictionary interfaces contain a variety of search features: from basic and list displays to advanced search and mobile-friendly formats. They can be used with different types of transliteration, including  Kyoto-Harvard, SLP1, ITRANS, Roman, and Devanagari Unicode, and they have accent features. Making it even more useful is the ability to download the dictionaries, such that they can be used offline and using a number of different dictionary viewers.

The Sanskrit Heritage Site houses much more than dictionaries. Thus, lemmatizer, declension, and conjugation engines as well as the reader are some of the best features for an absolute beginner. The first three engines can output entire lists of declensions of words and conjugated verbs respectively. The reader can process original Sanskrit by parsing grammatical forms with alternatives and links to dictionary resources for translations and even informs if unable to recognize forms. But one will still need to recognize the appropriate one from a variety of options computed by this resource. Moreover, not all words are always recognized.

Asthadhyayi.com mainly documents the entire Panini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī. While dictionary options are limited, there are some Sanskrit to Sanskrit dictionaries such as the Amarkośa and the Abhyaṅkaravyākaraṇakośa. The panel to the left has search features to find words on the basis of the first letter as well as the entire word and shows the number of documented entries.

The Digital South Asia Library is a broader repository on South Asia with dictionary being only a part of it. Apart from a number of South Asian language resources, there are not only Sanskrit dictionaries but also related Indic languages such as Pali and Prakrit. Sanskrit dictionaries are, however, limited only to Apte and Macdonell.

While a number of offline dictionary softwares are available such as EBdict, colordict, or stardict, I use goldendict. One can input hypertext formats of various dictionaries. Its ability to compute combined search reduces the user’s need to move across platforms. Moreover, the panel listing the dictionaries and history can help focus on particular dictionary entries or view previously searched words. One can also simultaneously search multiple words. 

Digital Keyboards

As for digital keyboards, there are two softwares that I would recommend. Mac users can use  LipikaIME and, for Windows users, Keyman keyboard works well. As the makers say, ‘LipikaIME is a user-configurable, phonetic, Input Method Engine for Mac OS X with built-in support for the Bengali, Devanagari, Gujarati, Gurmukhi, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Tamil and Telugu scripts, as well as the ISO-15919 romanization scheme.’ For Windows, Keyman keyboard is ‘a set of Keyman(tm)-based mnemonic keyboards for the input of Sanskrit, Pali, and Hindi in Devanagari script or Latin transliteration.’

Transliteration, Scansion, Meter Identification, Compound-Sandhi Split

Skrutable is another useful resource for transliteration, scansion, identification of specific meters and splitting compounds and sandhi. Some notable features of the site include diverse transliteration schemes in both Roman and Indic variants for outputs. Scansion is processed line by line regardless of the quantity of the input. Meter identification mostly requires the entire verse, that is, four verse quarters (pāda). Interesting is also the accompanying meter recitations alongside the identification feature. Not always sandhi-compound splits are correct and, thus, should be used cautiously. Skrutable can also process lengthy punctuated passages and fully uploaded files.

Search Engines

BBEdit is a search engine that can locate, for instance, amongst other things, the frequency of critical terms or phrases in more than hundreds of Sanskrit materials, which often help in understanding usage within a particular text or across several texts.

Online Primary Sources

Bibliotheka Polyglotta is an excellent online resource for accessing texts in primary languages and scripts. As a part of the University of Oslo’s endeavor to collate texts from diverse cultures, from Arabic to cuneiform, it also contains resources in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is a part of a section titled ‘Sanskrit-Persica’ constituting literature in Sanskrit and Persian. This section is in a nascent stage as the project has only gone so far to collect Praśopaniṣad and plans to include the Pañcatantra and other works. The Sanskrit and Persian, Praśopaniṣad, can be read alongside its Latin and English translations. 

For Buddhist Studies, there are two resources – the first one is on the Kanjur Buddhist Sutras, consisting of Tibetan translations of Sanskrit materials, and, the second one, Thesaurus Literaturae Buddhicae,contains Tibetan, English, Chinese, and some variants of these languages of Sanskrit originals. Reading a Sanskrit text alongside its translations in other languages is the best feature of this resource for it helps clarify doubts from other languages if the Sanskrit is unclear or even consider the varied translations of a single idea. Apart from Sanskrit, this site also contains resources in other Indic languages, especially inscriptions of Ashoka in Magadhi and Pāli literature. This resource is not exhaustible but is a well-rounded inventory of Sanskrit materials that could be consulted by beginners.

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