Sound of Half ‘g’ and half ‘m’–‘ग्’ and ‘ं’
Firstly, I must admit that this is really a tough topic indeed. There are lots of issues to deal while deciphering this particular sound and I would like to beg pardon for all the mistakes that I would have been making while dealing this topic.
Basically, we are here to discuss the sound produced by ‘ग्’ and when Anuswara ‘ं’ is added to it. The notation of this symbol turns out to be a bit confusing, as it is not taught to even students of higher Sanskrit. Seldom people tell that this is a particular sound used in Vedas and has to be given specific concern while doing Vedic chanting or Mantra reading. Ironically, this sound is particular to Sanskrit only and therefore Mangal Font (oriented more for Hindi language) does not have this symbol even when we want to insert it from the character gallery. I will use Sanskrit 99 font and have taken a .jpeg file for use of this article.
This sound is not used in general Sanskrit but can be found only in Vedic Sanskrit. In the broader context, we need to understand that a letter that is used in its half sound does not contain any ‘Matra’ or vowel sound attached to it. The letter that has been written with a ‘Halant’ with it can’t have any other vowel or ‘Matra’ attached to it. However, this ‘ग्’ is the only exception that we can find in Sanskrit. In many Vedic writings, the symbol of ‘gum’ sound is used instead of putting the anuswara mark over the half sound of ‘g’. So, while chanting these Mantras, we should understand what that symbol stands for.
If you venture to find out some texts or teachers where you can get to know the sound of this symbol, most probably you will find that its sound comes out to be ‘gum’—with half sounds of ‘g’ and ‘m’ and ‘u’ retaining the sound of ‘उ’ and not of ‘you’. If you want to know more about this sound, you can go to this link: http://www.advaita-vedanta.org/archives/advaita-l/1998-October/010277.html
Now we come to some general discussion as how this could have been made: I want to once again mention here that it is only my own perception and there is no guarantee whether I am totally right or partially wrong!
If you try to produce the sound of ‘ग’, or ‘g’ is your mouth, you can notice that your tongue touches the closest part of your throat. When you produce the sound of half-‘m’ or ‘म’, we need not close our lips and can produce this sound without even opening our mouth. This is where you notice that the distance between the sound of half ‘g’ and half ‘m’—ग् तथा म्—is most close and they are just overlapping. Now, we know that there are many words where two consecutive consonants can be half-sounds. So, this sound is not an exception in having two sounds as halves.
However, Sanskrit has a unique characteristic—its syntax is the smallest and it goes on to decrease the length of the sentence by overlapping a number of letters into one another. This sound could and its symbol could be the production of this characteristic. Very plainly, this is what I am thinking and I know I could be utterly wrong.
Now, we need to refer to an Upnishad taken from Atharva Veda—गणपत्यथर्वशीर्षोपनिषत्. In this Upnishad, we can notice the original sound that makes the Beeja-akshra of Lord Ganapati—गं. There is no Sanskrit exception in this sound and this can easily be pronounced as ‘Gam’ with only ‘m’ or sound of म being the half one.
So, we can clearly notice that this sound is unique and we need to take great care while pronouncing it. I was also pronouncing this sound as ‘Gam’ only but it should be pronounced as ‘Gum’. Now I remember that I have heard many people chanting it the correct way. At that time, I did not reconcile this sound with the symbol. But now I am clear about it. I have seen a bit alternated symbol of this sound in Bengali also but am not sure whether it is derived from it or not. So, I will leave that part of the discussion and will take it up if I could get my hands on some reference about that symbol.
Feel free to share your thoughts and corrections where I might be missing the point for my limited knowledge about Sanskrit Language.