17 English Words That Derive From Sanskrit

Background with ancient sanskrit text etched into a stone tablet, green filter.

Sanskrit is an ancient language that dates back to the Bronze Age. It is the language at the root of many languages of the Indian subcontinent, including Hindi, and it is used in ancient literary texts and sacred texts of the Hindu and Buddhist religions, particularly the Vedas. The holy and poetic nature of the language is hinted at in the meaning and origin of the word Sanskrit itself. It comes from the Sanskrit saṃskṛta, meaning “adorned, perfected.”

Indian languages aren’t the only ones influenced by Sanskrit—there are a number of words in the English language that come from this language, including some everyday words that may surprise you. Read on to learn about 17 words in English that ultimately come from the ancient language of Sanskrit.


Juggernaut is used colloquially to mean “any large, overpowering, destructive force or object, as war, a giant battleship, or a powerful football team.” However, the word literally designates a giant, decorated cart bearing an idol of the Hindu god Krishna that is used in processions at the temple Puri in Odisha, India. In fact, the word juggernaut comes from the Sanskrit Jagannātha- “lord of the world” (i.e., the god Vishnu or Krishna).

According to a 14th-century Italian friar, devotees would throw themselves under the wheels of this massive cart and subsequently get crushed to death. While this myth was widely circulated throughout Europe and gave rise to the colloquial meaning of the word juggernaut, there is no evidence that this ever happened—or even that the friar had visited Puri himself.


Like juggernaut, many words in English that come from Sanskrit are connected to Hinduism and/or Buddhism. One such word you may be familiar with is karma, “action, seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation.” Karma is popularly understood in the West as the belief that the actions you take ultimately will come back to you. The word karma comes from the Sanskrit kárman, meaning “act, deed.”


Another word that ultimately comes from Sanskrit and is connected to Buddhist beliefs is zen, which has a variety of meanings including “a state of meditative calm in which one uses direct, intuitive insights as a way of thinking and acting.” It is colloquially used in the sense of “relaxed and calmly accepting of a situation.” The word zen comes from the Sanskrit dhyāna, from the verb dhyāti “he meditates” (i.e., “sees mentally”). As you may have guessed from the origins of the word, Zen Buddhism, a sect of Buddhism that originated in China, involves a lot of meditation.


Yet another religious term that comes from Sanskrit is sattva, meaning “goodness or purity.” In Sanskrit, sattva literally means “being, essence, reality.” Sattva is a concept that you may have come across in the word Bodhisattva, meaning “a person who has attained prajna, or Enlightenment, but who postpones Nirvana in order to help others to attain Enlightenment.”


If you have any familiarity with traditional Indian holistic remedies, you may have come across the word Ayurveda, “the ancient Hindu art of medicine and of prolonging life.” The word Ayurveda comes from the combination of two words in Sanskrit: āyur- meaning “life, vital power” and veda meaning “knowledge.” Ayurvedic practice emphasizes balance and whole-body approaches to healing.


A Hindu practice that has gone mainstream around the world is yoga. Yoga is literally “a school of Hindu philosophy advocating and prescribing a course of physical and mental disciplines for attaining liberation from the material world and union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.” Practically speaking, it is a series of postures that people do for exercise and spiritual wellness. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word for “union,” a reference to the way the practice unites the mind and the body.


One popular modern method of yoga practice is known as ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga comes from the Sanskrit aṣṭāṅga, meaning “eightfold,” a reference to the eight key principles of this yoga practice: abstention, observance, posture, regulated breathing, sensory suppression, concentration, contemplation, and meditation.


Modern ashtanga yoga has an emphasis on vinyasa, popularly understood as “flow,” a reference to the movement between the different yoga poses. The word vinyasa comes from the Sanskrit word meaning “disposition [placement] (of limbs).” Essentially, vinyasa yoga emphasizes the movement of the limbs between the poses in connection with the breath.


Some words from Sanskrit in English come through Hindi. This is the case with the word bindi, “a decorative dot worn in the middle of the forehead, especially by Hindu women.” The bindi represents the third eye or the sixth chakra in some Hindu practices. The word bindi ultimately comes from the Sanskrit bindu meaning “dot, spot, globule, drop.”


In addition to religious terminology, there are some everyday words that come from Sanskrit. Some of these might surprise you. One such word is orange, which can refer both to the citrus fruit and the color. The word orange ultimately comes from the Sanskrit nāraṅga. You can clearly see the Sanskrit origins of this word in the Spanish word for orange, naranja.

Juice up your language with other ways to describe the color orange.


Another citrusy term that comes from Sanskrit is mandarin, the small orange citrus fruits that are native to China. Mandarin, especially when capitalized, can also refer to the high-ranking public officials in the Chinese Empire. In fact, the word mandarin comes from the Sanskrit mantrin, meaning “councilor.” The fruit came to share a name with these high-ranking officials because it was thought they were the same color as the yellow silk robes the Mandarins wore.


A tasty, sweet drink whose name comes from Sanskrit is punch, “a beverage consisting of wine or spirits mixed with fruit juice, soda, water, milk, or the like, and flavored with sugar, spices, etc.” (Sometimes punch is made without booze as well.) The word punch comes from the Sanskrit for “five,” a reference to the five ingredients used to make traditional punch: alcohol, sugar, lemon or lime juice, water, and spices.


Another sweet treat whose name comes from Sanskrit is candy, “any of a variety of confections made with sugar, syrup, etc., often combined with chocolate, fruit, nuts, etc.” The word comes from the Sanskrit khaṇḍakaḥ, meaning “sugar candy.” In Sanskrit khanda means “piece,” so the word literally refers to “sugar in [crystalline] pieces.”


The word loot can be both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it means “spoils or plunder taken by pillaging, as in war.” As a verb, it means “to carry off or take (something) as loot.” You might be familiar with this word already, but you may not know that it ultimately comes from the Sanskrit lōtra or lōptra, meaning “to rob, plunder.”

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These days online, many of us have avatars (often abbreviated avi) to represent ourselves. While online avatars are a modern phenomenon, the word itself has ancient roots. The word avatar originally entered English as a description of an aspect of Hindu mythology, “the descent of a deity to the earth in an incarnate form or some manifest shape; the incarnation of a god.” It comes from the Sanskrit avatāra, meaning “a passing down, descent,” a reference to this mythology. It was only much later that avatar came to mean “a static or moving image or other graphic representation that acts as a proxy for a person or is associated with a specific digital account or identity, as on the internet.”


While the name of the cheetah sounds like a Bostonian saying “cheater,” the word actually comes from the Sanskrit citraka, which figuratively means “leopard.” However, citraka literally means “speckled, variegated,” which makes sense when you look at a cheetah’s speckled-patterned fur.


When you think of the jungle, you likely think of “a wild land overgrown with dense vegetation, often nearly impenetrable, especially tropical vegetation or a tropical rainforest.” In other words, a jungle is a place where it probably rains a lot. However, confusingly, jungle comes from the Sanskrit jaṅgala meaning “uncultivated land, dry land, waterless place.” The meaning is probably more closely related with the fact that a jungle was land where there was not any human habitation or cultivation, rather than a description of an arid area.

Take the quiz

As you have seen, you may use more words from Sanskrit in your everyday life than you expect. You can review all of these words, from the holy to the everyday, in our word list here. You can also test your knowledge of the English–Sanskrit connection with our extremely zen quiz here. Namaste!

For more from the Indian subcontinent, check out other English words that come from Hindi and Urdu.

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