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The Devanagari Script


  This prelude begins with an introduction to the Sanskrit letters. The writing system used for Sanskrit is known as Devanagari. Indian languages are phonetic in nature and hence the written shapes represent unique sounds. In Sanskrit as well as in other Indian languages, proper pronounciation of the words is quite important. Hence it is necessary to learn the sounds associated with the written shapes.

  The word "alphabet" is not usually applied to Sanskrit or other Indian languages. There is a subtle difference between the notion of "alphabet" and the "aksharas" as the letters of Sanskrit are called.  When we think of the word "alphabet", we normally think of the name given to each letter to identify it. In most languages the letters of the alphabet have names which may give a clue to the sound associated with the letter. In Sanskrit and other Indian languages, there is no specific name given to the letters. The sound the letter stands for is actually the name for the letter. In a phonetic language, reading becomes easy since the reader will be reading out the words by uttering the sound associated with each akshara. More information on this is given in a separate section on Sanskrit and Phonetics.

  For many years now, people of the world have learnt the Aksharas of Sanskrit through equivalent Roman letters which employ special marks (known as diacritics). The diacritics, which consist of marks written above or below a letter of the alphabet, refer to variations in the sound associated with the letter. Dictionaries follow his method to help the reader identify the manner in which the word should be pronounced. In India, the National Library at Calcutta has recommended that a single transliteration scheme be used to represent the Aksharas across all the Indian languages. This scheme will be used in the lessons covered in these pages. Students can take advantage of this when it comes to reading text.

  The Roman Letters with Diacritic marks will be introduced along with the Aksharas themselves and hence it is not necessary for the reader to have prior knowledge of the Diacritics. A reference to this Transliteration scheme is also available in a separate page. The scheme is similar to the International Phonetic Alphabet representation but has some minor differences. 

  The Devanagari Script used for writing Sanskrit and a few other Indian languages has evolved from the Brahmi script  which dates back to about 300 B.C. The Devanagari as we see it today, came into use around 1700 A.D. Printing in Devanagari became possible around 1850 after printing presses were establisedin India. The script studied here corresponds to modern Devanagari seen in books printed during the past seventy to hundred years. Books printed in Devanagari prior to 1900 A.D. may show some variations in representing some Aksharas.

  The terminology used in classifying the aksharas is fairly standard and conforms to the terminology found in books on linguistics. It is of interest to note that the aksharas had already been classified from a linguistic point of view more than two thousand years ago. Sanskrit is probably the only language which has this distinction.

The Devanagari Script:  Historical Details

Learn to write Devanagari Aksharas
(A modern version of the older but proven chalk and board method)

Take an 0n-line quiz
(A novel interactive quiz which requires you to identify an akshara selected at random!)

Next Section  Short Vowels



Short Vowels

Long Vowels

Support Vowels

Generic form of a Consonant






Semi Vowels, Sibilants etc.

Consonant Vowel combinations

Conjunct characters

Writing methods for Conjuncts

Conjuncts with "ra"

List of Conjuncts

Similar looking Aksharas

Vedic symbols

Rarely used Aksharas



Listening Practice

  Message of the Gita

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