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Bharati Braille: Detailed Information
  Bharati Braille is based on the principle that the six dot system could also be used as a script for Indian languages. Essentially, the assignment of cells to the aksharas is based on phonetic principles and in many cases, the cells assigned for the English letters are used for similar sounding aksharas in Indian languages. Bharati Braille is common to all the languages with very few variations to cater to the differences in the aksharas across the languages.

  Bharati Braille is the standard prescribed in India for preparing Braille documents in all the Indian languages. The standard uses the six dot system as in normal Braille but the cell assignments correspond to the aksharas of the Indian languages. Very simply, Braille is used as another script to write text in all the Indian languages. This is possible on account of the phonetic nature of the languages where the writing systems follow rules for displaying syllables rather than the basic vowels and consonants.

  The six dot system provides for displaying 64 different patterns. Of these, only 63 may be used for representing the aksharas. The 64th pattern is a cell without any dots and is implied to represent the space character. In English Braille, the 63 different cells represent the letters of the alphabet (26), ten punctuation marks, fourteen frequently used short letters and the rest assigned special meanings.

  It may be noted that the assignment of meanings to each cell has no direct relationship to the set of displayable ASCII characters (96 in use). Braille is perhaps the earliest of schemes where a displayed pattern represented much more than the information conveyed by the individual cell. In other words, Braille is a scheme where some kind of data compression is applied. The meaning of a cell is to be interpreted in the context in which the cell is present, such as the cell preceding it, whether it appears in the beginning of a word, etc..  The tutorial on standard Braille presented in separate pages has relevant information.

  A sheet of printed Braille will have a series of cells embossed on thick paper and the embossing can be sensed by passing one's forefinger over each line of embossed cells. The size of a Braille cell has been standardized but small variations exist in the standards followed in different countries. The horizontal spacing between the two dots in a row is about a tenth of an inch or approximately 2.4 mm. The spacing between vertical dots in a cell is also about the same 2.4 mm. Cells are spaced between 6.4 and 7.2 mm horizontally and between 10.2 and 13.0 mm vertically. A standard sheet of Braille has about forty cells per line and may contain 20 or more lines. 

  Bharati Braille is thus a system for writing syllables using a basic set of 63 shapes, each corresponding to a cell. Here, the most basic approach to writing syllables using generic consonants has been used. A syllable in Indian languages can take any one of the following forms.

A pure vowel  V
A basic consonant and a vowel   CV
A conjunct with two or more consonants and a vowel CC..V

   Besides the syllables, special symbols are also used. These include modern punctuation marks as well.

   In Bharati Braille, the basic vowels and consonants of the languages have been assigned individual cells. Across the languages of the country, between 13 and 18 vowels are in use and the consonants are between 33 and 37 in number. Thus more than 50 cells have been assigned for the basic vowels and consonants leaving the rest for special marks.

  The cell assignment for a consonant assumes that the consonant has an implied vowel "a" as part of it. A pure consonant ( also known as a generic consonant) has no vowel and so to distinguish a basic consonant from its generic equivalent a special symbol is used in the writing systems. this is known as the halanth and its shape is a language specific ligature added to the shape of the basic consonant. Bharati Braille has set apart one cell for this purpose and this cell placed before the cell for a basic consonant turns it into a generic consonant.

 The idea here is that one can use this principle to write syllables in the CC...V form simply by concatenating the cells for each generic consonant.

  The cell assignments corresponding to the basic vowels and consonants are similar to the assignments of the English alphabet where the sounds match. But only about 25 can be matched this way. Cells in standard Braille which correspond to specific two letter contractions have been chosen to take care of the aksharas such as the diphthongs and the aspirated consonants. In assigning the cells, a superset of the aksharas from all the Indian languages (including Urdu) has been taken into consideration.

  Bharati Braille was conceived of as early as 1951. It is known that there were different schools of thought on the cell assignments. The standard was evolved after many discussions and the scheme which followed the assignments for Standard English Braille was ultimately accepted.

  Here are the assignments. In the illustrations, a rectangular frame has been superimposed on each cell to identify it easily. The frame is not part of the cell and will not be present in actual Braille documents.

  It may be seen that in a few cases, the same cell has been assigned for different aksharas across different languages. This is a consequence of the fact that the basic set of vowels and consonants actually vary across the languages. Since only 63 different cells are possible (the 64th will not have any embossed dots and thus refers to a space character), multiple assignments are unavoidable.

  It is also observed that some of the aksharas have been assigned two cells. The first of the two cells will invariably be a cell with just one dot, typically dot 5. The understanding here is that a cell with dot 5 alone is a special cell implying that the following cell has to be interpreted differently. Such schemes where a special symbol is employed to provide specific interpretation of the following character, are common with computer systems and the special character is known as the Escape character. It is remarkable, that Braille had employed this scheme long before computers came into the picture.

Basic rules for preparing Braille text

  Bharati Braille conforms to the syllabic writing system followed for all the Indian languages and syllables are just written using the cells assigned for the consonants and vowels.

  • A pure vowel is always shown using the cell assigned.
  • A basic consonant is always shown using the cell  assigned for the consonant.
  • A consonant vowel combination is shown using the  respective cells. Normally a pure vowel will not  follow a consonant and will appear only at the beginning of a word. However, there are many exceptions to this rule as will be explained below.

  • A syllable is shown using the cells assigned to each consonant  and preceded by the halanth cell for all but the final consonant which may have a combining vowel.

    Punctuation and other symbols

      The idea in Braille is that a visually handicapped person should be able to read text just as a normal person. So Braille includes all the punctuation marks and other symbols normally seen in printed text. However, since all the text has to be shown only using the 63 cells, certain conventions exist where the interpretation of a given cell may depend on the context. Such specific interpretations are normally effected through specific escape characters.

      These are the most basic punctuation marks but there are others such as square brackets, number sign etc. One observes that the punctuation marks are distinguished by the absence of the dots in the first row. Notice that both the Parentheses have the same assignment. From the context the reader will be able to correctly identify them.

      It turns out that in Bharati Braille, the punctuation follow the same assignments as in standard English Braille.


      The limit on the number of cells poses some problems when it comes to representing the numerals and related symbols. In standard Braille, as well as in Bharati Braille, numerals in normal text are represented in terms of the first ten letters of the alphabet i.e., a b c ...... j.

      To distinguish the numeral from the letter of the alphabet, a special cell is placed before the numeral. This cell is known as the Number sign. In standard Braille, the rule followed in using this special number sign is that it is placed in front of a string of numerals where the string has a specific interpretation. The number sign is not placed before every numeral.  It is present at the beginning of any group of numerals that have specific interpretation.

    Special cases requiring specific attention

      Syllabic writing systems have their complications as well. Besides, it may be necessary to effect compromises on the assignment of cells, if a number of additional symbols have to be mapped, in a language specific manner. So it is inevitable that when Bharati Braille is read, one must keep in mind the language. There is room for confusion if multilingual text in Indian languages is printed in Braille unless the person is completely familiar with the meaning of each cell. Unfortunately, the designers of Bharati Braille did not think of an effective approach to indicating a language switch. The responsibility rests with the reader.

    Here are some rules to keep in mind. 

    Mathematical point and comma

      The mathematical period (point) and the comma written to separate groups of numerals have been assigned cells different from those for the normal full stop (period) and the comma. This permits one to correctly identify the context in which the numeral string is present and interpret the same properly.

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    When learning Bharati Braille, one may feel the need for a reference that associates a cell with an akshara. This will be useful for interpreting a page of embossed Braille.

    A reference table giving this information across nine different scripts is provided in a separate page.

    The six dot system permits only 63 different cells. In Indian languages, it is known that more than 63 symbols are required if one were to consider a superset of aksharas, punctuation and other symbols. Some compromise has been effected in the cell assignments by assigning the same cell to different aksharas across different languages. The assignments are such that for any given language, the cell assignments will be complete but multilingual Braille may pose difficulties unless the language in use is apparent from the context. 


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