Review of Introduction to Sanskrit, Part 1 by Thomas Egenes

EgenesIntroToSanskritOneMini80Summary: 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.

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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.

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8A. Summary: The Good

how good the good
+5 very clearly typeset Devanagari
+5 the explanations are short and to-the-point
+5 the examples are well chosen and very focused
+5 there are answers to the exercises
+5 the exercises are straight-forward, not unnecessarily cryptic
+5 great appendixes with nicely designed tables of noun/pronoun declension, verb conjugations, participles, etc.
+2 sandhi is introduced gradually

8B. Summary: The Bad

how bad the bad
-5 sandhi tables are not entirely intuitive
-4 full exercise answers are supplied, but not explained
-4 somewhat expensive to buy

Edition Details:

Title (1): Introduction to Sanskrit, Part One
Title (2): Introduction to Sanskrit, Part 1
Part: Whole
Author: Thomas Egenes
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass
Year: 2003
Edition: Third revised edition
Binding: Hardcover
Pages: xvii + 386 pp.
ISBN-10-a: 81-208-1140-2
ISBN-10-b: 8120811402
ISBN-13-a: 978-8120811409
ISBN-13-b: 9788120811409

See also: Book Reviews | Sanskrit Grammar | All Articles


Copyright © 2012 by Govinda Dāsa <>.
All rights reserved worldwide.

First published: 16 Dec 2012
Last revised: 05 Mar 2013


3 thoughts on “Review of Introduction to Sanskrit, Part 1 by Thomas Egenes

  1. Pingback: Reviews of Introduction to Sanskrit, Part One | Tom's Blog

  2. I keep going back to your blog, especially the decent reviews, even though I still have not started studying Sanskrit. (Consolidate Latin first.) Your blog is a joy to read.

    I would like to know whether Part 1 of Egenes alone presents the complete grammar, or there is something left for Part 2.

    • Dear Paco Cheung,

      Thank you for your nice feedback.

      As for your “completeness” question regarding Part 1and Part 2, I would say that Part 2 contains just as much grammar as Part 1 does. However, the grammar in Part 1 deals with more “fundamental” or “basic” concepts, while the grammar in Part 2 continues where Part 1 left off. In addition to the grammar, Part 2 also contains one verse from the Bhagavad-gita in each chapter, as well as a more complete selection of reference tables at the end of the book (showing different types of paradigms, such as verb endings, noun endings, pronouns, numerals, etc. that are more or less indispensable to the beginning Sanskrit student).

      Jaya Radhe, Jaya Krishna,

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