Reviews of Introduction to Sanskrit, Part One


Editorial Reviews

Introduction to Sanskrit, Part On oppblåsbare Dørvakter

Thomas Egenes, Ph.D.



India Times

The India Times endorses this book and strongly recommends it for use by Sanskrit students. . . It is the finest textbook for beginners. —The India Times, February, 1992


Number One Introductory Sanskrit Text

Introduction to Sanskrit, by Prof. Thomas Egenes, is now undoubtedly the number one introductory Sanskrit text in use in the world today.  —


A Useful Primer

A useful primer acceptable to all Sanskrit students, no matter what their orientation. It fills a real need in supplying an approach which does not rush past the all-important foundations of ample practice with simple sentences.  —David Reigle, Sanskrit Professor


Student-friendly Text

A didactically well-structured and student-friendly text. After working through 18 chapters filled with clear explanations, study tips, exercises, diagrams, and vocabulary lists, you will be able to unravel classical Sanskrit texts in the original script. This book is for everybody who wants to become acquainted with the wealth of the Sanskrit literature and who does not want to depend completely on translations. Those who want to engage themselves in the study of this discipline will want to own this book.

—Prof. G. Van Haren, The Netherlands


Best Book on the Market

Whether you are a teacher or a student, this is best book on the market. It includes the alphabet, pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. Both Devanagari script and transliteration are used.  —



This is a great tool for those who want to learn Sanskrit but lack a very thorough understanding of linguistics. Many Sanskrit textbooks have been criticized for presupposing a certain level of linguistic sophistication, which was usually developed through Latin and Greek courses, before attempting to tackle Sanskrit. Egenes realized that many people interested in learning Sanskrit were English speakers with no background in synthetic languages. So what he has created with his “Introduction to Sanskrit,” as he mentions in the introductory chapter, is a sort of pre-primer, in so much as this book is an introduction to an introduction. After going through Part 1 (Part 2 of his series focuses mostly on reading practice and prosody, I believe), you will be ready to move on to a more traditional, dense textbook, like Goldman’s “Devavanipravesika,” Coulson’s “Teach Yourself Sanskrit,” Desphande’s “SamskrtaSubodhini,” etc.

“Introduction to Sanskrit” is not, though, a piece of fluff which will teach you very little, in a mind-numbingly slow fashion. By the end of the book you will have learned: the devanagari syllabary, the seven cases and how to decline many types of nouns, a healthy number of verb tenses, how to recognize how to make sandhi changes, and built up a good-sized vocabulary. And as someone who was an absolute neophyte when they came to this book, the challenge is daunting! Sandhi, if not handled gradually like Egenes did, could be enough to drive many people away from Sanskrit. But thankfully, Egenes approached all of the difficult aspects of Sanskrit with sympathy for the learner (especially the autodidact, which many budding Sanskritists are these days); he paced the book so that it would challenging enough to hold our interest, but without alienating us with pedantry. It was very rewarding to know that after completing this book that I could comprehend, with the aid of a dictionary, sections of the “Bhagavad Gita.”

So with that I will conclude my rambling with simply this: Egenes’s “Introduction to Sanskrit” is a godsend to the student of Sanskrit, and I’d encourage anyone interested in learning the language to study with it before moving on to any other text.


University of Colorado

Susan Trip

I have been using Introduction to Sanskrit in my first-year class at the University of Colorado at Boulder. After an unhappy experiment with another first-year text, I have been very satisfied with this one. The students like it, and it works well for them.


Sanskrit Granthalaya Bookstore

“Egenes is the best that I have seen” —IANC’s Sanskrit Granthalaya Bookstore


Hinduism Today

September, 1990

If you’re interested in do-it-at-home learning of basic Sanskrit, this is among the best books we’ve seen. It is calibrated to small learning steps with appropriate exercises. The descriptions of grammatical rules is clear. . . great place to start.


Start Here!

Richard A. Weaver, Lawrenceville, GA

If you’re interested in the Sanskrit language, whether for linguistic or philosophical reasons, this is the book you should start with.

It introduces the script and the grammar in slow, gentle steps. After about 7 lessons, you ease into the different kinds of external sandhi (sound changes and assimilations from one word to another). By the end of the first volume, you’ve learned a surprising amount: most of the major declensions, and been introduced to the verb, and the principles of compound formation.
Every lesson has plenty of exercises, both English to Sanskrit and vice versa, to test your comprehension and to give you practice. The answers to the exercises are given in the back of the book.

Just a great, great introduction to the language. After finishing Book I, you can continue with his Book II, or pick up, with confidence, any of the standard academic introductions – Maurer, Goldman and Sutherland, Deshpande, even (gasp!) Coulson.

I wish every ancient language had an introductory book like this.

The One to Choose

Thomas Egenes’s “Introduction to Sanskrit” seems the one to choose, judging from the reviews, which appear well-informed.


A well structured introduction to a complex and interesting language

Ulfilas, Washington, DC

Sanskrit is naturally of interest to anyone who is fascinated by the Indo-European (IE) language group, as it was the discovery of Sanskrit that first brought the common features of IE languages into focus. The Sanskrit numbers for 1-10 (eke, dvi, tri, catur, panca, sas, sapta, nava, and dasa) echo their equivalents in French, German, Russian, and English. The author gives a clear introduction to the Devanagari alphabet (which means “city of the gods” in Sanskrit), which is also the alphabet used in the modern Indian language Hindu.


Sanskrit grammar is complex, with noun declension encompassing eight cases (nominative, accusative, instrumental, dative, ablative, genitive, locative, and instrumental), so the author really has his work cut out him for him–but he introduces this difficult grammar in well measured lessons so that the student is not unduly intimidated. There is a list of vocabulary for each of the eighteen chapters of this book. There are also exercises with a complete set of answers at the back of the book. The book itself has a large footprint, which allows for a large typeface that facilitates the reading of the somewhat ornate and unfamiliar Devanagari alphabet.


In addition to the usual grammatical complexities that one encounters in a foreign language, Sanskrit has a function that I have not seen elsewhere, the explicit modification of the spelling of the end of a word in order to blend easily with the sound of the word following it–which in Sanskrit is called “sandhi”, which means something like “combination” or “joining point.” The author begins the discussion of sandhi in Chapter 8, which is before even half of the text of the 18 Chapters has passed.


It is also worth noting that appendices constitute one third of the pages of the book. I regard this as a very good feature, as tables, indexes, and the answers to exercises in most books seem like little more than an afterthought. Such is not the case here, however, so that the student can easily find what he is looking for and refresh his memory without having to laboriously thumb through previous chapters.


A nice introductory book

Sabeshan Srinivasan, Redlands, CA

I was looking for a book to get a formal introduction to Sanskrit and I found this book to be a good primer. I am from India and have a certain familiarity and feel for Sanskrit but I lack a solid formal knowledge of the language. This book is well-written with an absolute beginner in mind. Even though I knew most of the basic concepts detailed in the first couple of chapters, I could see how useful they could be for someone with virtually no idea about the language. Sanskrit can be bewildering and mystifying for someone who has never dealt with it before. Nothing about the language is easy – the script, the phonetics, the grammar or its vocabulary. But once one gets a good grasp of the language, learning Sanskrit can be such a fulfilling experience as it opens the doors to a vast collection of ancient literature and philosophy best understood in the language in which it was originally written – Sanskrit. This book definitely meets that goal handsomely.



Raffaele, Florence, Italy

Si tratta del seguito del 1° volume di Egenes. L’ impostazione è la stessa del primo volume, per cui valgono le stesse considerazione che ho avuto l’ occasione di scrivere circa il primo volume. Gli esempi sono tratti dalla Bhagavadgita e da altre grandi opere della letteratura indiana classica. Davvero un ottimo lavoro.


Better Than Indian University’s Sanskrit Dept

Doreen A. Ahern, New Haven, CT

I am a student of Ayurveda in a foreigner’s course in India. Myself and my classmates have been knocking our heads against the wall trying to understand the Sanskrit required for our degree. We were issued no books, given no exercises or reviews of any kind. This book is a godsend. I am now teaching myself Sanskrit with the help of Thom’s two volume set, in an orderly, planned way. This book should be required for all introductory Sanskrit courses.



Ivielkor, Providence, Rhode Island

This book is wonderful. The chapters are manageable enough for me to do one a day, and there is a considerable amount of vocab introduced for a pre-primer. If you want to learn Sanskrit, this is the book to get!


Excellente Methode


C’est la seule méthode de sanskrit, à ma connaissance, qui soit vraiment pédagogique. Les leçons sont bien dosées, on apprend l’écriture graduellement, tout en acquérant peu à peu des notions de grammaire et du vocabulaire. C’est bien plus efficace que dans les autres (rares) ouvrages de ce types, qui découragent très vite le lecteur en lui imposant d’emblée l’assimilation de l’écriture et se présentent finalement plus comme des grammaires.



E McConnell

This book is fantastic! The author has taken a very complex language–I would go so far as to call Sanskrit an Indo-European nightmare–and presented it in very clear, easy lessons. The most intimidating aspect of Sanskrit might be the consonant combinations but the author eases the student through the entire alphabet over the space of a few lessons. Before I started using this book, I had attempted to learn Sanskrit with another text book and was feeling slightly overwhelmed. I have learned ever so much more from Egenes’ book in very short time!


Great Book 

Pankaj Gupta

This is an excellent and a very delightful book.  It introduces concepts in an easy to understand, tabular format, which is easy for a western student, while at the same time being respectful of the traditional teaching. The language used by the author does not feel technical, while at the same time introducing various topics with completeness and clarity.          


Absolutely Wonderful!!

Alexander J. Almeida, Ohio, USA

I adore languages and am always looking for books that will allow me to learn a language without having a teacher available. After reading the reviews for this book I decided to purchase it. I am amazed at how wonderful it has been. I have only just started but with no experience at all in Sanskrit I am learning quickly and honestly I believe that I will retain the knowledge that I am learning.


Anyone can learn sanskrit with this book

Todd Longfellow, Payson, AZ

I fully agree with those reviewers that say this is the book to start with. Sanskrit can be a complicated language to learn because it has many parts to it – verb endings, tenses, moods, etc. and noun endings, word order, and of course, the devanagari script. However, Thomas Egenes in his two books has put together an introduction to this wonderful language that takes the student in small steps and without overwhelming them with the material or complexity. Each lesson is kept simple in its presentation of the material. The student will have success from the first lesson on, and will be translating with ease. All languages should be taught this way! If you have ever wanted to learn something about sanskrit but have put it off because it looks too complicated, wait no longer – anyone can learn sanskrit using Egenes’ books. Even if you have floundered in another foreign language, you can do this!


Introduction au Sanskrit accessible au grand débutant

Trinity, France

Excellente introduction au Sanskrit qui s’adresse aux grands débutants.


Le livre (en anglais) comporte 18 leçons qui présentent l’alphabet / la grammaire / le vocabulaire de manière très progressive. Chaque leçon se termine par des exercices (dont les corrigés sont disponibles). Le devanagari est écrit en caractère large, ce qui en rend la lecture facile, et l’écriture de chaque lettre n’est pas laissée au hasard mais très bien expliquée. Les chapitres sont aérés, la prononciation bien expliquée, de bons conseils sont donnés quant à la façon de procéder dans cet apprentissage.


Possibilité ensuite de poursuivre avec le volume 2 qui introduit dans ses leçons des versets de la Bhagavad Gita. A la fin de ces 2 livres, nous devons être capable de lire la Bhagavad Gita (avec l’aide d’un dictionnaire).


Une aide précieuse et complémentaire peut être trouvée dans cet article: 108 Sanskrit Flashcards with CD qui comprend 108 cartes très bien faites et un CD audio très utile pour s’assurer d’une prononciation exacte !  


Excellent Introductory Book

Sherry Aldrich Sineath, Tallahassee, FL

This was an excellent introductory book on Sanskrit. It was obviously written by someone experienced in teaching Sanskrit, and sensitive to student input. It was

easy to follow and repetitive enough to give the beginning student a certain sense of mastery as each new piece of information would build on the last. I highly

recommend it for any beginning student who may have found the Coulson text entirely too overwhelming and confusing.


Vedic Society Review

A superb book for beginning with Sanskrit taking one through the basics of reading and writing and also the basic grammar. The book has a lightness to it and it has beautiful quotes from various texts, the quotes are especially touching and very poetic. The book is nicely structured and the author has truly mastered the subject and writes from a conscious perspective.


Clear and Simple

Michelle M. Maynard, Boston, MA

Originally I had picked up Coulson’s intro sanskrit book. I found it very difficult to understand, and as a result I gave up on learning Sanskrit. When I received Egenes book, I felt relieved and motivated because it was so clear and simple. When your learning a new language, it is important to keep things simple and to

work in baby steps. Egenes book is simple and clear!


Best choice

IM Taylor, Canberra, Australia

I think I have looked at most of the available Sanskrit introductory books – Coulson, Goldberg, Apte, Rapid Sanskrit Method, etc, first as a student and now as a

teacher. Egenes is the best that I have seen. It is clear, simple, well thought out. It uses English grammatical terms. The exercises are good, and the answers are at

the back if you need them. The devanagari is big and clear.


Excellent Sanskrit Pre-Primer

Egenes’ book is excellent as a pre-primer. It presents enough information in its 18 lessons to give the beginning Sanskritist a firm foundation for progressing to a more difficult Sanskrit primer. Covered are the basic uses of Classical Sanskrit’s 8 cases; paradigms for 9 nominal declensions; a small list of verbs showing present, imperfect, future, and gerund forms; tables for external sandhi, and coverage of two internal sandhi rules. The introduction to the Devanagari script is excellent. It goes beyond other primers and shows you how to actually write the characters. Plus, the text is large and very easy to read. It is

well-worth the price.


Chinese Edition of Introduction to Sanskrit

Many thanks to Professor Thomas Egenes , the author of “Introduction to Sanskrit”,

for his support to translate into Chinese and publish it on Internet web.




Barry McKay

Initially I’m planning to stay close to the excellent “Introduction to Sanskrit Vol 1 & 2” by Thomas Egenes. I’m undertaking this now while I am still a relative beginner and in need of much repetition of vocabulary, verb conjugation and noun declensions etc. It may be that others will find it useful as well.


Excellent Introductory Textbook

I feel that this is an excellent introductory textbook. This may be due to the fact that it is the one I am currently studying. Egenes is careful not to overload the student with all of the technicalities and exceptions to grammatical rules. He goes slow enough to not

feel buried yet fast enough to accomplish a great deal. I also enjoy his readings which are drawn from scriptures such as the Veda, the Upanisads and the Gita. —



N. Wiley, UCSB, CA

Having tried a number of textbooks to get me started in my self-study of Sanskrit, this is by far the best and most user-friendly of any that I’ve encountered. I would recommend it to anyone interested. An excellent feature not listed in the description is that it has a complete two-way glossary in the back, which is very helpful.


Perfect for Westerners 

Trupt Atma, North Carolina

I bought this book for a friend who wants to learn and understand basis Sanskrit. I reviewed it prior to buying it and I was impressed by the simplified way the book is written. This is probable one the best Sanskrit learning text in English. I would recommend to all second generation Indians and westerners who want to learn the basics of Sanskrit so they can read and interpret some of the original text of the Eastern scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali Yogasutras, Vedas and the Upanishads.


Great for Beginners

I haven’t studied Greek or Latin. Like many people I took French in high school. I’m not a linguist. Sanskrit is the first exposure to a language with so much conjugation tables and so on. The initial learning curve on Sanskrit is painfully steep. Everything is conjugated, including nouns and verbs, and there are seven cases, three genders, and three pluralities (singular, dual and plural). On top of that there are rules for how sounds change when words come together, called sandhi rules, and these sound changes are written.

All of this needs to come into play in every sentence you write, no matter how simple, like, “The man goes to the village.” First you find the singular masculine nominative of “man”. Then you find the accusative singular of “village”. Then you conjugate “goes”. Then you put them together and see if sandhi rules apply where the words come together. Oh and you have to write this all in Devanagari script, and Devanagari has about 45 basic letters which can combine together into about 200 variations.

Finally, Sandhi rules often join two words together when written so very often not only has a word’s spelling changed, but it’s now joined to the following word(s).

So there’s no easy way to get started in simple Sanskrit. Everything you write must go through the process of conjugation and sandhi formation. It’s not like learning Spanish where you can start saying basic things correctly in the first chapter and start making basic correct sentences within a couple of weeks. No, not at all.

No matter what you do, it’s not going to be easy.

And with this book, I was able to get going, without a teacher or class and it’s not painful. It’s slow and takes effort but it works. If any book can achieve that, for a language with the difficulties that are present in Sanskrit, I think that speaks very highly of the book. That’s why I’m giving this five stars.

I think this book may be unsatisfactory for someone who already speaks Latin or ancient Greek, because you’ve already seen all these conjugation tables and Sanskrit conjugations will not be totally unfamiliar to you. It’s an Indo-European languages and you can see similarities to English and other European languages everywhere.

I also think that this book will be overwhelming and overkill for someone who does yoga and wants to get a few Sanskrit words and phrases as an addition to the yoga practice. If that’s what you want, find the phrases or words you want to learn and learn them, but don’t try to get into the overwhelming complexities of Sanskrit grammar / declension / sandhi / devanagari which you need to master in order to say anything at all.

Expect to spend a couple of years of study of this book and Part II to be able to read and write in Sanskrit.


Thomas‘s review


Sanskrit is a beautiful but highly inflected language, so unless you are a linguist or just gifted with languages I highly recommend this slow and gentle introduction. Learning the devanagari script takes time, but even so the first few lessons may be a little too basic. No worries though. The learning curve steepens after the fifth or sixth lesson. Sanskrit is written exactly the way it is pronounced, so the sandhi rules — which govern how the endings of words change depending on the sound that follows — must also be mastered. This is a big hassle for students, but Egenes again uses a gradual approach and keeps the confusion to a minimum.


Plenty of exercises and a repetition of vocabulary and grammatical constructions help to cement previous lessons as the student progresses. This is a fantastic primer. Would that all language instruction books were so thoughtfully constructed! On to Part 2!


Comment Me too! With the book, that is. I’m about half way through it and making good progress. I tried to pick up Sanskrit several years ago with another textbook and didn’t get far before the complications of the language frustrated me and I gave up. I think I might make it this time!


A complex issue with a smart and easy approach


It requires time and patience. Studying (both books: 1 and2) one can come closer to the old texts written in sanskrit. Then one can proceed further, to more difficult writings …


Excellent Introductory Sanskrit Material

Kelil R. Gebrekristos, Long Island, NY

Great introductory, “pre-primer” for Sanskrit. Egenes introduces grammatical concepts, vocabulary, and syllabic letters slowly and logically, taking care never to overwhelm the student. By the end of the book you will still have a lot of work to do in order to become a fluent Sanskritist, but it will provide you with the foundation in order to study other introductory texts that tend to gloss over the fundamentals. This book can be completed quite quickly without worrying that you are overlooking something, due to it’s excellent pedagogical design. Highly recommend it to those without knowledge of more complicated, highly inflected languages, and for those who wish to self-teach themselves Sanskrit.



L. Pellerin

I became very interested in Sanskrit after visiting some temples in Japan. This is a great book for beginners, as the alphabet is big and clear, and the book shows the stroke order of each. It also eases into the grammar in such a way that you can really stick with it and not become too confused like with other text books. This is also great because it has advice and exercises to help you keep what you learn fresh in your mind. Unfortunately it does not come with a CD or cassette (for pronunciation), but there are some great websites that can help you out with that. This book is highly recommended!


Excellent Introduction to Sanskrit

E. Kirkham, California

I purchased this book on a whim. My son (10) had been studying the ancient world in his classroom for over a year and was interested in learning more about Sanskrit. This book has helped us to understand the complexity of the language and has made him even more excited about studying ancient languages. I doubt that we will ever master the language, we probably won’t even complete the book, but the spark created by the book was worth the price and we are happy to have it in our library.


Perfect Beginning

This book is laid out like a typical western textbook, which makes it very easy to follow for those of us schooled in that fashion – one fewer hurdles is very much appreciated. I’ve had a very hard time finding enough exercises and this book helps to fill that need. It has answers in the back which sets it apart from any I’ve seen before.


Loving it!

This is the only book on Sanskrit I’ve come across which is truly user friendly. Brilliant! Best thing on the market. I highly recommend it.



I love this book. I have tried to study Sanskrit before but always found it too difficult. With the help of this book I can see myself going through with the learning. The one thing that is missing is a CD with reading of the text to help with pronunciation.


As good as it gets

Mr Egenes has produced a superb introduction to this difficult language. The nagari alphabet and sandhi are introduced slowly and almost painlessly over 18 skillfully constructed chapters each one containing easily assimilable sections on grammar, alphabet, and vocabulary. The reason behind sandhi is explained so that it becomes possible to forecast some of the phonetic changes for yourself without referring to the text (always best to check at first though!). Learning Sanskrit will never be easy but this introduction is unlikely to be surpassed and having completed it you will be equipped to use all those other Sanskrit books that you found too difficult as well as moving on to Mr Egenes’ “Introduction to Sanskrit, Pt 2” which goes deeper into the grammar by studying a different part of the Bhagavad Gita in each chapter.


Good for beginners

Christopher H., Cambridge, MA

‘Introduction to Sanskrit’ provides a pedagogically sound introduction to Sanskrit. It is nicely slow-paced and thorough, and there are many exercises. The way it handles the introduction of sandhi (which tends to stick painfully in learners’ throats) is particularly user-friendly: sentences are given both with and without sandhi applied until all rules of sandhi have been taught.


Excellent Introduction To Sanskrit

Matthew M. Coniff

Egenes’ Introduction to Sanskrit, Part I is a well-written primer for the study of Sanskrit. I bought this item as a relearning tool for learning Sanskrit, which I studied in college. When I took Sanskrit on the University level, I had a relatively difficult time learning the language in the classroom setting. As I picked up this book, I really needed something that would really lay out the best possible way to self-study an historical language.


The good:

– 18 lessons lined out in a clear and concise way.

– List of relevant vocabulary and aligned grammar.

– Much assistance with the formation of the “devanagari” script.

– List of exercises covering the grammar and vocabulary of chapter with answers given in the back of the book.

– A summary list of grammar and vocabulary learned in culminating chapters given after most lessons (1-10).


The bad:

– Many of the exercises have answers given in the back of the book that can have multiple answers or answers, which may need more explanation to them. For self-study, this can be challenging, as you may be confused on whether or not your answer to the exercise is also correct. If you have a teacher, this may not be so much of an issue, but when you only have the book as a reference, it may be difficult.

– May be somewhat difficult to use if you do not have exposure to other historical language, such as Latin and Greek.


Overall, I am pleased with this book and recommend it for someone, who would like to learn this beautiful language.


A very good book for an impossible language

Maurizio Matella

I have many Sanskrit grammars, some of which were edited in the XIX century or in the first decades of the XX century; a number of them are on the other hand very recent. The method of teaching Sanskrit has changed over the years, but the language itself seems to be in some respects elusive. Its rules are very complicated (it takes a dozen of years for an Indian student to master the language), and even those who are acquainted with Latin and Greek have no little pain to find their way. Nevertheless, when reading some simple texts, any difficulty tend to vanish and everything becomes suddenly clear. This is a very strange feature of Sanskrit I found. The practical approach chosen by the Author appears therefore to be the most suitable. The rules are set out with an admirable clearness and the texts and the exercises are carefully chosen. A very good book for a nearly impossible task.


The Only Way for Beginners

J. Bogaarts, The Netherlands

Don’t look any further. There are two alternatives: the book by Coulson Teach Yourself Sanskrit Complete Course (Teach Yourself) (it is uncompromising towards beginners, just look at the reviews) and the one by Deshpande that I don’t know much about Samskrta-Subodhini: A Sanskrit Primer (Michigan Papers on South and Southeast Asia). The book by Egenes is really the best you can get. It presents a very gentle way of learning the principles of a difficult language.

The first problematic thing about Sanskrit is that is uses a script that, although beautiful if you have an eye for it, is fiendishly complex. An ordinary person could be up and going into Greek after spending an afternoon on the Greek script. Learning Sanskrit is different. You need at least a week or more. Egenes solves this by starting with Latin script and gradually introducing the Devanagari script. After seven lessons you have mastered the script and learned a lot of Sanskrit along the way.

The second problem is sandhi. In Sanskrit the pronunciation of words in a sentence is different from the pronunciation of the words standing on their own. This is regulated in the sandhi rules. The sandhi rules tell you how to pronounce all the combinations of all the possible word endings with all the possible word beginnings. The problem is that all these sandhis have to be written out. After working through the next eleven chapters you know these rules and how to apply them and you feel confident enough to start reading (for instance) a well annotated edition of the Bhagavad Gita (like Winthrop Sargeants’ one, The Bhagavad Gita (Suny Series in Cultural Perspectives)).


Review of Introduction to Sanskrit, Part 1 by Thomas Egenes

Posted on December 17, 2012

Summary: Thomas Egenes’s book A Introduction to Sanskrit, Part One is one of those rare Sanskrit text books that are well suited for the beginning self-study student. Its slow, progressive, gentle approach with its clearly typeset Devanagari, and its straightforward exercises with solutions, will serve any serious Sanskrit student well.


This edition of Thomas Egenes’s Introduction to Sanskrit measures approximately 7.5 x 9.75 inches (19 x 25 cm). It is a hardcover edition that, when opened and put on a table, will lay flat. It is printed on white, somewhat glossy paper, and the print is equally black throughout the book. Egenes uses both Roman transliteration and Devanagari throughout.

The book has around 400 pages altogether. Its Contents clearly outline the 18 Lessons of the book, together with the many appendixes and indexes. The seven-page Introduction introduces the student to Sanskrit by sections such as “Reasons for Studying Sanskrit”, “Vedic and Classical Sanskrit”, “Alphabet”, “How to Study this Text”, and also comes with a list of 14 books for further study.

The 18 lessons span 241 pages (pp. 1-241), and are around 13 pages long, on average. Each lesson include the text that explains the grammar, together with the examples that are inserted throughout the explanatory grammar text, as well as any tables of paradigms. Furthermore, it also includes the 10-15 word long vocabularies that usually do not cover more than one page and the exercises, which may cover several pages. The answers to all the exercises are put in the back of the book (pp. 242-297).

The “Tables” part of the book (pp. 298-327) contains many “reference tables”. There are various types of declension tables for nouns (masc., fem., neut. forms, ending in -a, -i, -an, -u, etc.), pronouns (mad, tvad, tad, etc.), lists of verbs with their root, present, gerund, future forms together with their English translation; there are many 3 x 3 tables exemplifying the conjugation of the verbs “asti”, “gacchati”, and “bhashate” (in present indicative, imperfect, present active, present middle, etc.); a “Prefixes” table showing commonly used prefices such as “ava-”, “upa-”, “prati-”, etc., together with their English translation/equivalents; numerals and ordinals from 1-10 are shown; and various sandhi tables cover several pages.

The “Vocabulary” contains all the Sanskrit words in the lessons, listed in both Devanagari and transliteration (pp. 328-341), while the “English-Sanskrit Vocabulary” lists all those words in English, and their corresponding Sanskrit word in both Devanagari and transliteration (pp. 342-351). The “Sanskrit Quotations” part (pp. 352-370) presents a number of verses from the Bhagavad-gita and, Upanishads, and Yoga Sutras, in Devanagari, transliteration, and in a word-for-word translation. There is also a five-page reading exercise from the Bhagavad-gita in Devanagari and transliteration without any translation (pp. 371-375), an index of Sanskrit grammatical terms (pp. 376-381), and a “General Index” (pp. 382-386).


1. Format and Layout

This Sanskrit textbook comes in a relatively large format. It is not as small as Antoine’s Sanskrit Manual for High Schools, but it is, at least, not as thick and heavy as, for example, Maurer’s The Sanskrit Language.

Egenes’s volume has a very attractive feel to it. Because of its relatively wide design (19 cm wide), and because of a nice layout with wide margins and relatively big typefaces, the text always feels inviting to read; and because of the wide margins there is always lots of space for making notes.

The Devanagari is very nicely typeset. It comes in a large font that is very black, so it is easy to read in that respect (even if it will take some time for beginners to readily commit all the Devanagari characters to memory). And I think it is noteworthy that the Devanagari always is accompanied by transliteration in this volume, to make the student comfortable at all times.

2. The Text

The text is very good. It delivers clear explanations and comes with very clear examples. The number of places in which Egenes may be misunderstood, or not understood at all, are, in my own experience, very few. What is very nice is also that he doesn’t assume that the student has a background in modern linguistics or Indo-European philology; grammatical terminology, English as well as traditional Sanskrit grammar terms, is introduced gradually. And because of not only a general index but also a Sanskrit grammar term glossary, it is easy to locate any discussion on the relevant terms.

The text also features well chosen examples that go well the discussion in the main text. Many authors do not always prioritize this. Deshpande, of course, has excellent examples as well in his Samskrta-Subodhini; but Coulson, for example, does not (too long extracts). The only thing about examples is that one might have wished that there were just as many as Deshpande (but that, of course, would have made the book substantially longer).

3. Morphology

Egenes has the right balance between morphology and usage. He does not go on and on about a thousand varieties of infixes, affixes, suffixes, and exceptions to the rules: he presents the most usual cases, and then that’s it. Then he spends time discussing the syntax, which very few other authors do (at least not as lucidly as Egenes). This means that “sentence constructions” are often talked about, as are the “roles” that the words play in each sentence.

Not ony are “sentence constructions” talked about, they are also illustrated by graphical devices, if clarity needs it. So, for example, on pp. 172-177, in the section on “Relative-Correlative Clauses”, there are many graphical “pointers” to illustrate the extent of relative clauses, correlative clauses, relative adverbs, correlative adverbs, etc. This is very good.

4. Sandhi

One problematic aspect of Sanskrit, in general, is sandhi, and perhaps especially the external variant. To “attack” this difficult aspect of the Sanskrit language, Egenes divides all the rules into smaller pieces, which he presents in Lesson 9 and onwards. I think this integration works well.

Personally, however, I don’t like the approach. But this is not because I think Egenes is not pedagogical. I simply think that sandhi, in general, should be learnt not by learning “rules”, but by learning how to recognize sandhi combinations in texts. So even though I dislike so many aspects of Coulson’s approach in Sanskrit (Teach Yourself), I have to agree with him that skipping the “rules” for sandhi is an excellent idea; it is more time-efficient in the long run, and less tedious, to simply rely on a comprehensive set of sandhi tables and a repeated confrontation with Sanskrit words in the texts.

5. Excellent exercises and solutions

This book contains not only exercises, but also answers. The exercises are very clear, and are not deliberately constructed to be extra difficult (as is seemingly the case in, for example, Coulson’s Sanskrit (Teach Yourself). Egenes’s idea here seems to be that Sanskrit is difficult as it is already, so there is no need to make it any harder than it already is.

This has the consequence then, that the exercises are formulated very clearly (unlike in Coulson), and there is no attempt to be “tricky”. The exercises are to be translated very literally, more or less, word for word, which makes it easy for the student to produce Sanskrit sentences that correspond in word order to those provided in the answer section of the book. Word order is important in this connection  because of sandhi: for if the word order in one’s own answer is not the same as that which is provided in the book’s answer, then the sandhi on some, or all, of the words may be totally different.

6. Arguments against Egenes’s Book

One argument put forward by some teachers is the “sandhi” argument. The gist of that argument is that, somehow or other, sandhi is not “taken seriously” by Egenes. That, I propose, is not correct. Egenes does take sandhi very seriously. But he also takes pedagogy seriously. So he does not follow the lead of, say, Goldman and Goldman, who — in the typical “we-dont-care-about-pedagogy-for-we-must-intimidate-our-students-so-that-we-can-quickly-locate-the-most-brilliant-minds” university style — present most of the rules of external sandhi in one single chapter in the beginning of Devavanipravesika. Instead, Egenes spreads out the sandhi lessons in various lessons, so that the student more easily can integrate it gradually.

Another argument put forward by some university teachers/professors against this book is that it is “spoonfeeding”. This argument supposedly involves the idea that Egenes somehow or other is doing something wrong in terms of pedagogy, presumably involving a “too slow” or “too neat” delivery of the information, leaving the students with “too little to think about”, perhaps also making the process “too quick”.

If this is the main thrust of the “spoonfeeding” argument, then one might reply that they, in a sense, are right. Compared to many other cryptic and arrogant textbooks on Sanskrit, this is certainly an unusually un-cryptic and un-arrogant one. Egenes is spoonfeeding, and he does it nicely, just like a caring mother does to her child. Egenes succeeds in delivering this otherwise very difficult material in a very forgiving and “soft” way. So when other authors use long, complex, convoluted explanations and footnotes, Egenes just presents everything in a very concise, lucid manner, thinking hard about exatly what to say and when to say it, so that it will be as easy for the student to assimilate as possible.

In fact, the text is so lucid that one hardly needs a teacher at all. No wonder that so many university teachers and professors do not recommend the book: it makes them more or less superflous!

A third argument might be that the book does not take “modern linguistics” seriously. There is some truth in this. This book does not integrate any “Aryan Invasion” theories, nor does it build its grammar on modern linguistic theories and concepts. But there are still many traditional Western grammar terms from Greek and Latin grammar books that are being used, such as “participles” and “nominative” and “present indicative”, etc. However, many traditional grammar terms in Sanskrit are also used in parallel, which may not be optimal for those who are purely using the text from a Western-centered linguistic viewpoint; they may not be interested in the traditional Sanskrit theories of grammar, but more concerned with comparative Indo-European linguistics and such.

This third argument may also involve an implicit criticism of the seriousness by which Egenes approaches his task, and its spiritual-religious implications. This is not a book which tries to diminish the role of the Indian civillization, or its rishis, or its ancient sacred texts. In here, the reader will not find any statements about that the Indian literature is “just literature” or “just mythology” or “just stories”, like there are in so many other Western books on Sanskrit. For Egenes, it seems, Sanskrit is a tool by which to unlock the secrets of the Indian texts — texts that are not just “literature” or “myths” but which contain truths of a higher nature. This attitude, perhaps going so far as to say that the Indian rishis really have seen the truth and nothing but the truth, is, of course, very intimidating to the academic community at large, for many reasons. This, in combination with Egenes’s silence on any “Aryan Invasion theory”, may make it very uncomfortable for many Western university professors and teachers to use this text in class.

7. Conclusion

This is a very good book. For those who are studying completely on their own, this is most probably the best book in English on Sanskrit. This book would also be of great value to anyone registerred at a university course in Sanskrit, even if the professor’s reading list doesn’t mention Egenes’s book. Egenes knows how to make things intelligible in a concise, readable way, and does not overwhelm the student with too much information at the time. And the good thing is that there is a second volume as well: so for those who want to continue their Sanskrit studies after they are finished with Part One, Thomas Egenes’s Introduction to Sanskrit, Part Two continues in (almost) the same style.


 Reviews that Refer to Introduction to Sanskrit



Niiza, Saitama

Readers who may be new to Sanskrit, and who would like to get a bit of grounding in the language before approaching the Bhagavad Gita, might take a look at Thomas Egenes, ‘Introduction to Sanskrit’ (1989). There are many primers of Sanskrit on the market, but this is undoubtedly the best as not (like that, for example, of Michael Coulson) overloading the beginner with too much detail. It also has the additional merit of printing the Devanagari letters in a large clear font, something that will be appreciated by anyone who has ever attempted to learn this difficult script.


Michael Coulson’s Teach Yourself Sanskrit —How could a college (UT) have used this book?

Lawrence Sutherland, Austin, TX

This book failed me. The author writes in a style that, by today’s casual standards, seems more suited to a highbrow English college (like the Cambridge of yesteryear). The font is terrifically small, the explanations didactic. . .Out of the 13 or so people in the Sanskrit class which used this text, only three failed to drop out; those three were already “linguistically accomplished” and could make some sense of it. In the beginning of the class, I handed everyone a sheet with the alphabet on it (not from the book); later, people said that without that favor, they’d have dropped out a lot sooner. I think Egenes or

Bucknell’s (sp?) book is probably a safer bet. I have Egenes’ and I’ve gotten alot out of it. Or you can join the Sanskrit for Social Change movement (no kidding). Burn this book.


Michael Coulson’s Teach Yourself Sanskrit —I bought and returned this book!

Murali Sreenivasan

This book is not meant for anybody to learn Sanskrit. It covers too many topics in too few pages. To make matters worse, quality of paper used in this book is really bad. Also, binding of the book is that of a cheap thriller and it is really hard to keep it open while reading.


One good thing about this book is that, all Exercises have their Solutions, and in my knowledge Egenes’s “Introduction to Sanskrit” is the only other book on Introductory Sanskrit which provides the key to exercises.  —


Michael Coulson’s Teach Yourself Sanskrit — not the best Sanskrit primer

Coulson’s text is a nightmare to use if you don’t already know some Sanskrit. I highly suggest starting off with Thomas Egenes “Introduction to Sanskrit, Part I.” Egenes text consists of 18 concise but simple lessons which provide one with a foundation in basic Sanskrit for building upon with more a thorough text. (In fact, Egenes states that his

text is a “pre-primer;” I have to say, it is a most excellent one.) Coulson’s text becomes much easier to comprehend.


Michael Coulson’s Teach Yourself Sanskrit — This Book is Great if you have a PhD in Linguistics


This book is probably a great book if you a have a firm background in linguistics, but it is hardly a “beginners book”. Its introduction to the script is also very confusing. I am going to exchange this book for Thomas Egenes book, everyone seems to say that it is much more suited for the beginner.


Michael Coulson’s Teach Yourself Sanskrit is a perverse production best avoided by beginners.

Although Coulson’s ‘Teach Yourself Sanskrit’ is, in many ways, an excellent and extremely thorough textbook, it is hardly suited to the average beginner. Most of us are drawn to Sanskrit because of a prior interest in The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads, The Mahabharata, The Ramayana, even The Hitopadesa. Coulson, however, has chosen – perversely it seems to me – to draw all of his examples from Sanskrit drama, a branch of Sanskrit literature which is of minimal interest to most readers. Even worse, he seems to have designed the book primarily for exceptionally gifted students, and for those who are already competent in an ancient inflected language such as Latin or Greek. His procedure, in other words, betrays an elitist attitude that has resulted in a book which, rather than teaching anyone Sanskrit, is far more likely to put them off for life. I gave up in despair about halfway through the book, and so have many others.


This is a pity, as Sanskrit is an exceptionally beautiful language, but there is a remedy at hand. Instead of wasting one’s time with Coulson, the beginner would be far better off acquiring a copy of Thomas Egenes ‘Introduction to Sanskrit’ (2 volumes). Almost all introductory treatments of Sanskrit have been produced for linguists, but here finally is a truly practical and useful primer of Sanskrit for ordinary folks and human beings. After working one’s way through it (and finding out why India really loves its sacred literature, epics, and wisdom stories), Coulson might be tackled with profit … but not before.


Better alternatives now available

Since I first wrote a review of this book in Feb 1999, I have taught a Sanskrit course based on Egenes’ Sanskrit textbook. I found Egenes’ book rather better than Coulson, and would recommend it above this book. —


Judith M. Tyberg’s First Lessons in Sanskrit Grammar and Reading

I was very disappointed with this book. The main problem is the Devanagari script is so small that it is barely legible, especially for a beginner. Strangely, the current edition has hand-written corrections in the margins! This book must have been quite an improvement on Lanman and Whitney when it was first published in the 1940s(?), but there are many better Sanskrit introductions available now, for example Egenes. This book is of no use to me. I have put it away on a very high shelf.



So where are we? Clearly no ideal and complete English translation of the Mahabharata exists, nor is ever likely to exist given its stupendous size. Also, to really get a feeling for the magic of the Mahabharata, you have to read at least a bit of it in Sanskrit. A practical and user-friendly ‘Introduction to Sanskrit’ for ordinary folks (as opposed to academic linguists) is that of Thomas Egenes (1989). A few months work with this will soon find anyone reading at least some of the Sanskrit, in a bilingual edition such as Monier Williams’ excellent ‘Story of Nala,’ with real enjoyment.


To conclude, if I had to choose between the Ganguli and van Buitenen, and although I’m grateful for both as both have much to offer, I would recommend Ganguli as being closer in spirit to the original – but I’d also suggest that those who are innocent of Sanskrit take a peek at Egenes. –This text refers to the Paperback edition.


way too much vocab per chapter!!!

D. Mitchell

The Sanskrit Language: An Introductory Grammar and Reader. Revised Edition (2 Vol. Set) (Hardcover)

This book has great explanations; it’s a good grammar with good stories. BUT, there’s about 80-100 words to learn per chapter! How could anyone possibly absorb this? There is a Thomas Egenes book out there and another book called Samskrtam Subodhini: a Sanskrit Primer. These two books are your best choices, the former being slow and divided up into two books and the latter being quick paced with a lot of vocab at times but also with a lot of exercises. I went to the library and took a look at this book and was disappointed. It seems most people that study a language are going to want a decent vocabulary but it’s not going to happen when there are mountains of it to learn at a time. Save your money for a good Sanskrit Reader like Lanman after you’re done with one of the two I’ve already suggested. You’ll be happier and still have a few bucks to spare.



Ljubomir Prskalovic

A Concise Elementary Grammar of the Sanskrit Language (Paperback)

First the good points: First few pages, dealing with the script, are rather good and clear in presentation. Those pages, that can be seen scanned on the site, attracted me to buy this book.

Now, the bad points: All the rest of the book. Instead of clear explanations and tabular presentation of noun declensions and verb conjugations, that I somehow expected to get, all there are pages after pages of obscure paragraphs more meant to confuse than to explain.

Let us look at Page 43, Conjugation, § 57. Preliminary remarks, II, which is supposed to explain Sanskrit moods and tenses:
”The moods are: indicative, optative, imperative; only the present has three moods, the remaining tenses only the indicative; the infrequent precative is, however, a kind of aorist optative. The tenses are: present and imperfect, which form the present system with opt. and pres.imp., future, the rare conditional, aorist, perfect.”

Precative? aorist optative? pres.imp.? And it gets worse and worse.

I really cannot recommend this book. I wasted my money and time on it. Instead I recommend “Introduction to Sanskrit” by Thomas Egenes. It is a very user-friendly book that can actually teach you something about Sanskrit.


Not the best book for the linguistic novice

Anirban Banerjee

Sanskrit Grammar for Students, New Updated Edition (Paperback)

If you have a grasp of the fundamentals of ancient Greek or Latin, then you can use this book to learn Sanskrit. For traditional Indian learners, this book might help to step into the domain of modern Indo-European linguistics. However, non-traditional learners would find ‘Introduction to Sanskrit’ by Egenes the most useful text in English.


Unfortunately, for Indian learners, the (5th grade and up) school texts are so bland that they take the fun away from the language. I think more senior students should stick to the Mugdhabodha and its commentaries as the laborious path to Panini. A 100 year old text by Ishwar Chandra Sharma (Vidyasagar) was a good read; this text is available in Bengali only.


dont believe this title

R Rosen

Complete Sanskrit: A Teach Yourself Guide (Teach Yourself Language) (Paperback)

while the book may be “complete,” unless you have a very special and rare facility with language there’s no way you can “teach yourself” sanskrit. to learn sanskrit you need a qualified tutor, and even with a tutor, expect to put in an hour a day AT LEAST in study, two hours better. and then expect to do that over a year to 18 months. dont believe these “do it yourself” or Sanskrit in a weekend workshops, they’re scams, playing to Americans’ desire to take shortcuts and avoid hard work. and even if you could teach yourself this language, this wouldn’t be the book you’d want to use. it has its good points but in the end it’s too complicated. the absolute best primer is the two volume set from Thomas Egenes, take my word for it, I have most of the popular primers including Goldman, Mauer, Kale, etc. but beware of the binding of Egenes’ second volume, the red book, it must have been done with spit, because it started falling apart almost immediately and now the book is a loose collection of sheets of paper. still it’s worth getting Egenes, he gives you a good foundation, BUT you still need a tutor and lots of abhyasa.


A unique and indispensable bilingual edition

The Bhagavad Gita (Suny Series in Cultural Perspectives) (Paperback)

I long ago lost count of the different editions of the Bhagavad Gita that I have, but it must certainly be over twenty. Of them I keep two constantly by my side, one of which is that by Winthrop Sargeant. For lovers of the Gita who, even though they may be innocent of Sanskrit, would like to approach the text in its original language, a language of great force and beauty, there could be no finer edition.


Each page is devoted to a single verse of the Gita and gives, in the left column, line by line – the Sanskrit text in Devanagari letters, its transliteration, and a word by word literal translation. Then follows a prose translation of the entire verse with, at the bottom of the page, occasional light annotations.


In the right column we are given Sargeant’s incredibly useful grammatical analysis of every single word. This analysis, which also gives relevant English synonyms, is evidently a labor of love which involved Sargeant in an enormous amount of work. In the many bilingual editions I have examined, I’ve never seen anything that even approached it, and we should all be intensely grateful to Mr Sargeant for having, out of the goodness of his heart, provided us with such an invaluable tool.


If this book has a weakness, it is perhaps that the Devanagari script is printed in far too tiny a font; but, since it is immediately followed by transliteration into the Roman alphabet, no great harm is done. Also, since Sargeant’s edition has a linguistic orientation, one will have to look elsewhere for a ‘philosophic’ commentary.


Readers who may be new to Sanskrit, and who would like to get a bit of grounding in the language before approaching the Bhagavad Gita, might take a look at Thomas Egenes, ‘Introduction to Sanskrit’ (1989). There are many primers of Sanskrit on the market, but this is undoubtedly the best as not (like that, for example, of Michael Coulson) overloading the beginner with too much detail. It also has the additional merit of printing the Devanagari letters in a large clear font, something that will be appreciated by anyone who has ever attempted to learn this difficult script.


Those who may already be comfortable with Devanagari, and who are looking for a bilingual edition of the Bhagavad Gita which, besides giving a word by word transliteration and translation, also gives a prose translation and full commentary, might look at the edition by Swami Gambhirananda with the commentary of Sankaracarya (1995). This is the second edition that I keep constantly by my side, since the two serve to complement each other beautifully.





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