Sanskrit is the ancient language the Vedas were composed in. It is the root of many Indian languages, and continues to be used as a language of religion and scholarship. Spiritual writings such as the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, the Upanishads, and Vedanta-sutra, as well as epic historical poems like the Mahabharata and Ramayana, are composed in Sanskrit.
Its written form is known as Devanagari, "language of the cities of the demigods." Sanskrit is a precise and complex language, with rules that require years of training to learn. Some scholars consider it the mother of all Indo-European languages.
(Image at right shows a sample of Sanskrit Devanagari script with Roman transliteration, from Bhagavad-gita As It Is)
The foremost Vedic scholar and teacher of the modern era, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, wrote over eighty volumes of Sanskrit translation and commentary. Aware that his reading audience would likely include scholars as well as spiritual seekers, he set publishing standards that would establish the authenticity of his literary work. Each of his books includes the Devanagari script for each Sanskrit verse, Sanskrit-English word-for-word equivalents, a standardized Roman transliteration of each Sanskrit consonant and vowel sound, and a Sanskrit pronunciation guide in the glossary.
More information on Sanskrit can be found at Sanskrit.org
— a conversation between Prabhupada and Allen Ginsberg.
Does true spirituality require a specific hairstyle, clothing style, vocabulary, and a diet of curried vegetables?
Allen Ginsberg: Your Divine Grace, my original question was, Is the complicated ritual and the Sanskrit language—are they going to keep people from accepting what you’re giving.
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. We are translating, presenting everything in the English language. All our books are being published in English. Our magazine is in English.
Allen Ginsberg: But the question is, Is the mode of life that you are proposing adaptable to many, many, many people?
Srila Prabhupada: To that I say that this Krishna culture is not something that many, many people can immediately accept.
Allen Ginsberg: Yeah. But there is a thirst felt by many, many people for an alternative answer, for a better alternative system.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. So if people are actually thirsty—if they are actually thirsty—then they can adopt this system given by the Supreme Lord. What is the difficulty there? There is no difficulty. So many American boys and girls have already adopted it, and they are not feeling any difficulty. They are feeling relief. In what respect is chanting Hare Krishna difficult? You are chanting.
Allen Ginsberg: Yes.
Srila Prabhupada: It is all in Sanskrit. What difficulty are you feeling?
Allen Ginsberg: I don’t feel too much difficulty, except aesthetically I do feel a difficulty. Yes, there is. The difficulty I feel is that there should be some flower of the American language to communicate in.
Srila Prabhupada: Therefore, we are seeking your help.
Allen Ginsberg: Hm. Well, I haven’t found another way. I still just stay chanting Hare Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada: That is also my view. I have come to America with this view: that America is at the summit of material civilization—they are not poverty- stricken, you see?—and yet they are seeking after something. Therefore, I have come to offer, “You take this. You’ll be happy.” That is my mission.
And if the Americans take this Krishna consciousness seriously, then all other countries will take it, because America is leading at the present moment. So exalted persons like you should try to understand. What is the difficulty? There is no difficulty. Chanting Hare Krishna—anyone can chant. Even the little child is chanting. So, you were asking, How can this mode of living attract many people?
Allen Ginsberg: Well, mere chanting without the practice of a philosophy …
Srila Prabhupada: Philosophy is here. We are teaching Bhagavad-gita. We are talking on Bhagavata philosophy. We are talking on Lord Sri Krishna Caitanya’s philosophy.
Allen Ginsberg: And you have a daily ritual. So my question is this: Is the Caitanya-Krishna ritual, as you have it here in this house and in the other ashrams—is this something that a large mass of people can enter into?
Srila Prabhupada: In time, yes. Why not?
Allen Ginsberg: In America?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. This we have already seen. Virtually all my students are Americans. And Krishna consciousness is spreading.
Allen Ginsberg: Yes, but what it requires is an adaptation to Indian dress and …
Srila Prabhupada: That is not very important.
Allen Ginsberg: And an adaptation to Indian food.
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. Indian food—it is not Indian food. Are you not eating fruits?
Allen Ginsberg: Yes, yes.
Srila Prabhupada: Then that is Indian food? Do you mean to say it is Indian food?
Allen Ginsberg: Well, the curried vegetable dishes.
Srila Prabhupada: Vegetables you may simply steam, if you like. That doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether you take our specific taste. No. That is not the program, that to become Krishna conscious you have to change your taste. No. We say what Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita. Patram pushpam phalam toyam yo me bhaktya prayacchati: “Anyone who offers Me with devotion these vegetables, fruits, flowers, milk—I accept that.” So we are determined to satisfy Krishna, and therefore we are selecting foodstuffs from these groups.
And these foodstuffs you are already accepting. Don’t you take vegetables? Don’t you take fruits? Don’t you take grains? So where is the new item? Now, insofar as cooking is concerned, you can cook according to your own taste. But the food groups must be these. Not flesh. Because Krishna does not say, “Offer Me flesh.”
This, very simply, is our program. And you are already eating grains, vegetables, and fruits, and you are drinking milk. So where is the difference? I don’t find any difference.
Allen Ginsberg: Well, I suppose not. You could say there is no difference, because the food is basically the same materially. It’s just a question of the style.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. My style and your style may be different. That’s all right. In any event, to maintain health and keep body and soul together, you require eating, you require sleeping, you require mating, you require defending. We don’t say that you don’t do this.
Arjuna wanted to be nonviolent and not engage in defending: “Oh, what is the use of fighting?”
Krishna said, “No. It is required. You should.” Defending is part of this Krishna culture. So where is the difference? There is no difference. Simply we are adjusting things so that you may become truly happy. Any intelligent man will accept this cultural idea. We are not prohibiting things, but rather, we are adjusting things. So there is no difficulty. Intelligent persons like you should try to understand and take this idea and distribute it, because your country is in want of this.
Allen Ginsberg: But there is a limit to how much the pronunciation of Krishna will spread, I think. There’s a limit.
Srila Prabhupada: Hmm. No limit. You can pronounce Krishna in any way. For instance, K-r-i-s-h-n-a. You can pronounce Krishna in any way. Niyamitah smarane na kalah. No hard and fast rules, no limits.
Allen Ginsberg: The limit is people’s prejudice.
Srila Prabhupada: We don’t say, “Why are you chanting Krishna like this?” We never say that. We simply say, “Please try to chant Krishna.”
Allen Ginsberg: Or let us say there would be a limit until the word Krishna became as common in English as any other English word.
Srila Prabhupada: It is already in the dictionary. In all dictionaries you will find Krishna. What more do you want?
Allen Ginsberg: Something that will not disturb truck drivers.
Disciple: They can say Christ.They can say Krishna. It is the same.
Allen Ginsberg: True. But they don’t say Christ.[Laughs.]
Srila Prabhupada: I have read one book, the Aquarian Gospel, wherein it is explained that Krist means love. Christ means love. And Krishna also means love. So from Krishna this word Krist has come. And in India sometimes people say Kristha. Instead of Krishna, they say Kristha.And in various regions has come the word Kestha. Generally, instead of pronouncing very precisely Krishna, if somebody’s name is Krishnacandra, they say, “Hey, Kesthara.”
Allen Ginsberg: Where is this?
Srila Prabhupada: In India everywhere. Kestha. So Kestha, Christ, Krist, Kristha, or Krishna—they’re in the same group. Pronouncing Krishna is not difficult.
A few references discussing why Krishna is called "Krishna."
A selection of Srila Prabhupada's commentaries and conversations about the name "Krishna," including its Sanskrit etymology (word origin). Where possible, we've provided links for further exploring the topic or obtaining your own copy of the book quoted.
The meaning of the name "Krishna":
"The name Krishna means 'all-attractive.' God attracts everyone; that is the definition of 'God.' We have seen many pictures of Krishna, and we see that He attracts the cows, calves, birds, beasts, trees, plants, and even the water in Vrindavana. He is attractive to the cowherd boys, to the gopis, to Nanda Maharaja, to the Pandavas, and to all human society. Therefore if any particular name can be given to God, that name is 'Krishna.'"
Etymology of the word 'Krishna':
''The word 'krish' is the attractive feature of the Lord's existence, and 'na' means spiritual pleasure. When the verb 'krish' is added to the affix 'na' it becomes Krishna, which indicates the Absolute Truth.''
—Mahabharata (Udyoga-parva, 71.4)
The etymology of the name 'Krishna':
If we analyze the nirukti, or semantic derivation, of the word 'Krishna,' we find that na signifies that He stops the repetition of birth and death, and krish means sattartha, or 'existence.' (Krishna is the whole of existence.) Also, krish means 'attraction,' and na means ananda, or 'bliss.'
The name 'Krishna,' meaning 'all-attractive,' can be applied only to God:
Srila Prabhupada: ... Krishna means 'all-attractive.'
Bob: Oh, I see.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. God has no name, but by His qualities we give Him names. If a man is very beautiful, we call him 'beautiful.' If a man is very intelligent, we call him 'wise.' So the name is given according to the quality. Because God is all-attractive, the name Krishna can be applied only to Him. Krishna means 'all-attractive.' It includes everything.