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Discussion of Tamil Fonts
  In this section, the reader is exposed to the variations seen in the fonts available for the Tamil Script. The desire to display text in Tamil on a web page had already set some pioneers on the job as early as 1992. For a variety of reasons, the developers of fonts for Tamil did not envisage a need for some minimal standardization, which resulted in totally different approaches to using the fonts on a computer, each approach based on the specific aspect of each font. 

  The purpose of this page is to illustrate the variations and also explain why most of them including the standard proposed at Tamilnet-99 have serious limitations for computing with Tamil. Viewers may want to review the section on Desirable set of characters for Printing and Display of Tamil texts to better appreciate the points made in this section. It must be kept in mind that these fonts have been designed primarily for display and printing of text using special font dependent applications for data entry. Consequently none of them can be used meaningfully for linguistic text processing in a straight forward manner.

  Fonts used for illustration



  Murasu Anjal

  Tscii compatible font

  Tamilnet99 compatible font

Links to hundreds of other fonts for Tamil are provided by Dr. Luc Devroye


1. Adhawin

Adhawin is one of the very first fonts designed for Tamil. A special application written for DOS and subsequently Windows enabled people perform data entry using a transliteration scheme. The glyphs in the font occupy the upper ASCII region. Specific remarks about the font may be seen on the right.

Useful primarily in the Windows environment. The typeface name is Adhawin-Tamil. The hyphen makes it difficult to retain this name under Unix. There is support for some of the letters from Sanskrit but this support is not complete. Special symbols in Tamil as well as Tamil Numerals are not included. This font is bilingual allowing data entry and display in Roman as well as Tamil.

This is one of the popular fonts. Created by Dr. Srinivasan of Canada.

Note: This font is obsolete today but it has the distinction of having been the very first Truetype font for Tamil.

2. Mylai

This is also an early font but designed with no specific glyph positioning scheme. Some of the Glyphs are seen in the phonetically equivalent positions with respect to Roman. The Glyphs shown here correspond to recent versions of the font.

This font was originally designed by Dr. Kalyana Sundaram, an active member of the Tamil Computing movement. This is a mono lingual font with all its glyphs in the standard ASCII positions. This makes data entry fairly straight forward and you can quickly prepare text using almost any word processor on any system that can render this font. This font is available for other platforms as well. However this fonts lacks many symbols which are required in practice for printing Tamil text.

This is also a popular font with many web sites serving documents encoded to comply with the font.

3. Murasu Anjal

  This font was specifically designed to cater to web based applications supporting data entry and display of text in Tamil. It is one of the most widely used fonts on the web, having been provided free from the very beginning. This font is supplied along with a specific application called Anjal and to use the font you must run the application as well. The application is given free. The glyphs in this font are as shown below.

This font is also bilingual but as can be seen, there are many glyphs in the font which cannot be rendered uniformly across systems. The typeface goes by the name Inaimathi (other names also given). A version for use under X-Windows is available but in bit mapped format and so scaling is not possible.

The font is popular in many web applications like email, chat and text displays. many Tamil Magazines use this font. Created by Thiru. Nedumaran, an active member of the Tamil computing movement. 

The Glyph positioning in this font does not relate to any specific scheme. The Anjal application will be required to be run on the system for data entry and display, thus restricting use to primarily Windows systems.

The large number of glyphs in this font makes it difficult to render it uniformly across systems.

4. Tamil-SCII  or TSCII

 There have been independent efforts at encoding Tamil aksharas for general use as well as use on the web. TSCII is a parallel proposal to the original implementation of ISCII-92, a standard which had some problems for the South Indian scripts. TSCII compatible fonts are usable for Tamil. Given below is the Glyph placement for a TSCII compatible font.

 TSCII fonts are rich in glyphs as can be seen from the chart. The font supports bilingual text in Tamil as well as Roman. The utilization of almost all the upper ASCII glyph locations renders this a difficult font for uniform handling across systems. The font is most useful only under a Win9x environment.
The TSCII coding is an attempt at coding the Tamil Aksharas as well. There are many TSCII compatible fonts available today.
5. Coding conforming to Tamilnet99 recommendations

 During the Tamilnet99 conference held at Chennai (Feb., 1999), there was some effort at standardizing Glyph positions for Tamil fonts. Towards the end of the conference, some sort of consensus was reached and schemes for both monolingual and Bilingual glyph placements were drawn up. Given below is the chart for monolingual font. 

The Tamilnet99 font follows the Windows/9X ANSI encoding and so avoids locating glyphs in those positions reserved by Microsoft. Most Windows9x compatible fonts follow this scheme.  While many special symbols have been accommodated, Numerals have been excluded. There are many typefaces which have been made available which conform to this coding. The typeface shown at left is known as Tamil-Kalaignar. This font is unlikely to render properly across platforms.
Tamil Unicode Fonts

  The Unicode standard has gained wide acceptance as the base for text representation, specifically where multilingual text is involved. Unicode assignments have also been made for Tamil (as well as other Indian languages) but the assignment corresponds to multibyte representation of syllables. This requires that the font used for rendering Tamil Unicode have the features of an open type font, consistent with the specifications for the rendering engine (typically Uniscribe). Most open type fonts for Indian languages are simplified by including a large number of composite glyphs thus reducing the complexity of mapping variable length codes to glyph strings.

   The Tamil font used in MSWindows applications is known as Latha. The font accommodates about 120 glyphs. The simplicity of the Tamil writing system allows Unicode for Tamil to be handled without many complications. It is interesting to observe that there are no overlapping shapes which have to be combined for displaying a syllable. The consonant-dot combination, is perhaps the only case of overlapped shapes but as can be seen from the image below, individual glyphs have been defined for each consonant with a dot.

  There are varied opinions even among Tamil Computing enthusiasts about the adequacy of the Unicode standard for Tamil. Changes to the standard have been proposed but in the absence of general consensus as to what is desirable in Tamil Computing, no point will be served in suggesting changes to a standard. A discussion on this topic has been included at this site.

Acharya Logo
  Inscription in Early Brahmi script inside a cave situated in Tamilnadu, South India. The text includes the word "satiaputo" which stands for Emperor Ashoka whose emissaries spread Buddhism in the South and Sri Lanka. The letter "sa" is not seen in Tamil and so the inscription must have ben effected by persons who knew Sanskrit as well as Tamil.

Image graciously offered for reproduction in this page by Sri. Iravatham Mahadevan.

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