“Devotion to Shri Rama is like the rainy season, the wonderful devotees the paddy fields, and the two syllables in Rama’s name the months of Sawan and Bhadon [rainy season], says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 25)
Friend2: The language of the gods.
Friend1: The literal translation is different, though.
Friend1: The city of the demigods.
Friend2: Sanskrit is basically a high class language. If you go back millions of years, even, when more people were aware of it, still not everyone spoke it.
Friend1: There is the example of Hanuman, right?
Friend2: When he first met Shri Rama in the forest of Kishkindha, Rama was impressed by Hanuman’s Sanskrit.
Friend1: A talking monkey wasn’t enough?
Friend2: Haha, not if you are God. It takes more to impress Him. He holds these massive objects called planets in orbit, so is it really amazing if a non-human species can talk?
Friend1: But the Sanskrit was impressive.
Friend2: Well-formed, no mistakes, no stuttering. Not only that, Hanuman composed the verses on the fly. People spend hours and hours trying to get their poetry just right, and Hanuman didn’t need much time at all.
Friend1: There’s a reason I mentioned Devanagari.
Friend1: It’s a script, as well. It has a certain look to it.
Friend2: The written word is nothing more than a coding system. It’s a way for others to reproduce sounds. Without electronic devices you can hear what people from the past said. They record those sounds in the form of words, which other people can then access.
Friend1: Right, sure. Devanagari is one thing. An issue in modern times is that people learn different scripts, different languages.
Friend2: And not everyone will be able to read Devanagari.
Friend1: Let me introduce the importance of the holy name into the discussion, as I think it’s relevant. The holy name is the sound vibration representation of God.
Friend2: Non-different from the Divine. The equivalence is impossible to understand without personal experience. At first accept the truth from the guru on faith and then slowly begin to realize by constantly chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Friend1: Alright, so let’s keep with that example. The guru is teaching the disciple. The disciple doesn’t know Sanskrit. How will they learn the holy names?
Friend2: Through sound.
Friend1: What if the guru is teaching through written instruction?
Friend2: Then by words.
Friend1: Hello? The disciple can’t read Devanagari!
Friend2: Then the guru works in a language the disciple and others can understand. Oh, I see what you are saying. Is it a translation issue?
Friend1: No need to go that far. Transliteration. The sound is everything, so how do you ensure that people produce the proper sound?
Friend2: There are different standards of transliteration that scholars have come to accept. Nothing is perfect, but you try your best.
Friend1: The reason I’m asking is because I sometimes see people get upset that the name of Rama has an extra “a” at the end in the transliteration, the English spelling.
Friend2: They think it should be silent? Just “Ram” instead of “Rama.”
Friend1: Right. Some people get angry about it. It’s like this elitist attitude. “Stupid Americans. They don’t even know how to write God’s name.”
Friend2: I’ve encountered that, too. The issue is that the transliteration is entirely accurate.
Friend1: How do you prove that?
Friend2: From Vedic literature itself. It is said that Rama’s name has two syllables. If the extra “a” is left off, then the written word only has one syllable.
Friend1: Are you sure about that? The way the name is pronounced, you would think that the last “a” is not necessary.
Friend2: It’s a very short sound, that’s why it’s almost indiscernible. Still, the wise understand that the holy name which represents the king of Ayodhya, the husband of Sita, the elder brother of Lakshmana, and the object of service for Hanuman has two syllables. Just look at the Dohavali of Goswami Tulsidas. He has a series of couplets comparing Rama’s name to different aspects of life. The syllables are compared to two objects, like the two months of the rainy season. This is enough proof that the standard transliteration is proper. He was working in Hindi; not English.
Friend1: Yeah. That’s what I thought. It doesn’t seem that big a deal to me, anyway.
Friend2: It isn’t. The Supreme Lord is for everyone, and bhakti has no restrictions. Even if you don’t understand Sanskrit, you can still find the shelter of the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When desire is there God takes care of the accommodations; He makes sure the practice of devotion to Him can continue.
Holy name, the most potent sound,
In sacred works of Vedas found.
Rama, husband of Sita representing,
Through today in written word presenting.
Whether with one or two syllables to repeat,
Supreme Lord always attention to keep.
When devotee’s desire sincere,
No harm with pronunciation unclear.