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.
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
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
Script: Historical Details
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
Generic form of a Consonant
Semi Vowels, Sibilants etc.
Consonant Vowel combinations
Writing methods for Conjuncts
Conjuncts with "ra"
List of Conjuncts
Similar looking Aksharas
Rarely used Aksharas