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Devanagari Letters Devanagari or Devanagari, also called Nagari (Sanskrit:?????, Nagari), is a left-to-right abugida (a type of segmental writing system), based on the ancient Brahmi script, used in the northern Indian subcontinent. It is one of the official scripts of the Indian Republic. It was developed and in regular use by the 7th century CE. The Devanagari script, composed of 47 primary characters, including 14 vowels and 33 consonants, is the fourth most widely adopted writing system in the world, being used for over 120 languages.

The orthography of this script reflects the pronunciation of the language. Unlike the Latin alphabet, the script has no concept of letter case. It is written from left to right, has a strong preference for symmetrical rounded shapes within squared outlines, and is recognisable by a horizontal line, known as a shirorekha, that runs along the top of full letters. In a cursory look, the Devanagari script appears different from other Indic scripts such as Bengali-Assamese, or Gurmukhi, but a closer examination reveals they are very similar except for angles and structural emphasis.

Among the languages using it as a primary or secondary script are Marathi, Pali, Sanskrit (the ancient Nagari script for Sanskrit had two additional consonant characters), Hindi, Boro, Nepali, Sherpa, Prakrit, Apabhramsha, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Braj Bhasha, Chhattisgarhi, Haryanvi, Magahi, Nagpuri, Rajasthani, Bhili, Dogri, Kashmiri, Konkani, Sindhi, Nepal Bhasa, Mundari, and Santali. The Devanagari script is closely related to the Nandinagari script commonly found in numerous ancient manuscripts of South India, and it is distantly related to a number of southeast Asian scripts.

Table of contents
  1. Etymology
  2. History
  3. Letters
  4. Transliteration
  5. Encodings
  6. Devanagari keyboard layouts
  7. See also


Devanagari is a compound of deva (???) and nagari (?????). Deva means "heavenly", "divine", or "deity". Nagari comes from ????? nagaram, a Sanskrit word meaning "town". Hence, devanagari can be translated as "from the abode of divinity".

The use of the name devanagari emerged from the older term nagari. According to Fischer, Nagari emerged in the northwest Indian subcontinent around 633CE, was fully developed by the 11th centuryCE, and was one of the major scripts used for the Sanskrit literature.


Devanagari is part of the Brahmic family of scripts of India, Nepal, Tibet, and Southeast Asia. It is a descendant of the 3rd centuryBCE Brahmi script, which evolved into the Nagari script which in turn gave birth to Devanagari and Nandinagari. Devanagari has been widely adopted across India and Nepal to write Sanskrit, Marathi, Hindi, Central Indo-Aryan languages, Konkani, Boro, and various Nepalese languages.

Some of the earliest epigraphic evidence attesting to the developing Sanskrit Nagari script in ancient India is from the 1st to 4th centuryCE inscriptions discovered in Gujarat. Variants of script called nagari, recognisably close to Devanagari, are first attested from the 1st centuryCE Rudradaman inscriptions in Sanskrit, while the modern standardised form of Devanagari was in use by about 1000CE. Medieval inscriptions suggest widespread diffusion of Nagari-related scripts, with biscripts presenting local script along with the adoption of Nagari scripts. For example, the mid 8th-century Pattadakal pillar in Karnataka has text in both Siddha Matrika script, and an early Telugu-Kannada script; while, the Kangra Jawalamukhi inscription in Himachal Pradesh is written in both Sharada and Devanagari scripts.

The Nagari script was in regular use by the 7th centuryCE, and it was fully developed by about the end of first millennium. The use of Sanskrit in Nagari script in medieval India is attested by numerous pillar and cave-temple inscriptions, including the 11th-century Udayagiri inscriptions in Madhya Pradesh, and an inscribed brick found in Uttar Pradesh, dated to be from 1217CE, which is now held at the British Museum. The script's prototypes and related versions have been discovered with ancient relics outside India, in places such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Indonesia. In East Asia, the Siddham matrika script (considered as the closest precursor to Nagari) was in use by Buddhists. Nagari has been the primus inter pares of the Indic scripts. It has long been used traditionally by religiously educated people in South Asia to record and transmit information, existing throughout the land in parallel with a wide variety of local scripts (such as Modi, Kaithi, and Mahajani) used for administration, commerce, and other daily uses.

Sharada remained in parallel use in Kashmir. An early version of Devanagari is visible in the Kutila inscription of Bareilly dated to VS1049 (992CE), which demonstrates the emergence of the horizontal bar to group letters belonging to a word. One of the oldest surviving Sanskrit texts from the early post-Maurya period consists of 1,413 Nagari pages of a commentary by Patanjali, with a composition date of about 150BCE, the surviving copy transcribed about 14th centuryCE.

East Asia

In the 7th century, under the rule of Songtsen Gampo of the Tibetan Empire, Thonmi Sambhota was sent to Nepal to open marriage negotiations with a Nepali princess and to find a writing system suitable for the Tibetan language. He then invented the Tibetan script based on the Nagari used in Kashmir. He added 6 new characters for sounds that did not exist in Sanskrit.

Other scripts closely related to Nagari (such as Siddham) were introduced throughout East and Southeast Asia from the 7th to the 10th centuriesCE: notably in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Japan.

Most of the Southeast Asian scripts have roots in Dravidian scripts, but a few found in south-central regions of Java and isolated parts of southeast Asia resemble Devanagari or its prototypes. The Kawi script in particular is similar to the Devanagari in many respects, though the morphology of the script has local changes. The earliest inscriptions in the Devanagari-like scripts are from around the 10th centuryCE, with many more between the 11th and 14th centuries. Some of the old-Devanagari inscriptions are found in Hindu temples of Java, such as the Prambanan temple. The Ligor and the Kalasan inscriptions of central Java, dated to the 8th century, are also in the Nagari script of north India. According to the epigraphist and Asian Studies scholar Lawrence Briggs, these may be related to the 9th century copper plate inscription of Devapaladeva (Bengal) which is also in early Devanagari script. The term kawi in Kawi script is a loan word from kavya (poetry). According to anthropologists and Asian studies scholars John Norman Miksic and Goh Geok Yian, the 8th century version of early Nagari or Devanagari script was adopted in Java, Bali, and Khmer around the 8th-9th centuries, as evidenced by the many contemporaneous inscriptions of this period.


The letter order of Devanagari, like nearly all Brahmic scripts, is based on phonetic principles that consider both the manner and place of articulation of the consonants and vowels they represent. This arrangement is usually referred to as the varnamala ("garland of letters"). The format of Devanagari for Sanskrit serves as the prototype for its application, with minor variations or additions, to other languages.


The vowels and their arrangement are:
  1. Arranged with the vowels are two consonantal diacritics, the final nasal anusvara ? m and the final fricative visarga ? h (called ?? am and ?? ah). Masica (1991:146) notes of the anusvara in Sanskrit that "there is some controversy as to whether it represents a homorganic nasal stop [...], a nasalised vowel, a nasalised semivowel, or all these according to context". The visarga represents post-vocalic voiceless glottal fricative [h], in Sanskrit an allophone of s, or less commonly r, usually in word-final position. Some traditions of recitation append an echo of the vowel after the breath: ?? [ihi]. Masica (1991:146) considers the visarga along with letters ? na and ? a for the "largely predictable" velar and palatal nasals to be examples of "phonetic overkill in the system".
  2. Another diacritic is the candrabindu/anunasika ? ??. Salomon (2003:76-77) describes it as a "more emphatic form" of the anusvara, "sometimes [...] used to mark a true [vowel] nasalization". In a New Indo-Aryan language such as Hindi the distinction is formal: the candrabindu indicates vowel nasalisation while the anusvar indicates a homorganic nasal preceding another consonant: e.g., ???? [h?si] "laughter", ???? [g?ng?] "the Ganges". When an aksara has a vowel diacritic above the top line, that leaves no room for the candra ("moon") stroke candrabindu, which is dispensed with in favour of the lone dot: ??? [hu] "am", but ??? [he] "are". Some writers and typesetters dispense with the "moon" stroke altogether, using only the dot in all situations.
  3. The avagraha ? ?? (usually transliterated with an apostrophe) is a Sanskrit punctuation mark for the elision of a vowel in sandhi: ??????? eko'yam ( <- ???? ekas + ???? ayam) ("this one"). An original long vowel lost to coalescence is sometimes marked with a double avagraha: ????????? sada'tma ( <- ??? sada + ????? atma) "always, the self". In Hindi, Snell (2000:77) states that its "main function is to show that a vowel is sustained in a cry or a shout": ?????! aiii!. In Madhyadeshi Languages like Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Maithili, etc. which have "quite a number of verbal forms that end in that inherent vowel", the avagraha is used to mark the non-elision of word-final inherent a, which otherwise is a modern orthographic convention: ???? baitha "sit" versus ??? baith
  4. The syllabic consonants r (?), l, (?) and l (?) are specific to Sanskrit and not included in the varnamala of other languages. The sound represented by r has also been lost in the modern languages, and its pronunciation now ranges from [rI] (Hindi) to [ru] (Marathi).
  5. l is not an actual phoneme of Sanskrit, but rather a graphic convention included among the vowels in order to maintain the symmetry of short-long pairs of letters.
  6. There are non-regular formations of ?? ru, ?? ru, and ?? hr.
  7. There are two more vowels in Marathi, ? and ?, that respectively represent [], similar to the RP English pronunciation of <a> in act, and [?], similar to the RP pronunciation of <o> in cot. These vowels are sometimes used in Hindi too, as in ???? dlar ("dollar"). IAST transliteration is not defined. In ISO 15919, the transliteration is and , respectively.

The table below shows the consonant letters (in combination with inherent vowel a) and their arrangement. To the right of the Devanagari letter it shows the Latin script transliteration using International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration, and the phonetic value (IPA) in Hindi. For a list of all 297 (339) possible Sanskrit consonant-short vowel syllables see Aryabhata.

Vowel diacritics

Table: Consonants with vowel diacritics. Vowels in their independent form on the top and in their corresponding dependent form (vowel sign) combined with the consonant 'k' on the bottom. 'ka' is without any added vowel sign, where the vowel 'a' is inherent.

A vowel combines with a consonant in their diacritic form. For example, the vowel ? (a) combines with the consonant ?? (k) to form the syllabic letter ?? (ka), with halant (cancel sign) removed and added vowel sign which is indicated by diacritics. The vowel ? (a) combines with the consonant ?? (k) to form ? (ka) with halant removed. But the diacritic series of ?, ?, ?, ? ... (ka, kha, ga, gha) is without any added vowel sign, as the vowel ? (a) is inherent. The transliteration of each combination will appear on mouseover.

Conjunct consonants

Main article: Devanagari conjuncts

As mentioned, successive consonants lacking a vowel in between them may physically join as a conjunct consonant or ligature. When Devanagari is used for writing languages other than Sanskrit, conjuncts are used mostly with Sanskrit words and loan words. Native words typically use the basic consonant and native speakers know to suppress the vowel when it is conventional to do so. For example, the native Hindi word karna is written ???? (ka-ra-na). The government of these clusters ranges from widely to narrowly applicable rules, with special exceptions within. While standardised for the most part, there are certain variations in clustering, of which the Unicode used on this page is just one scheme. The following are a number of rules: Accent marks

Main article: Vedic accent

The pitch accent of Vedic Sanskrit is written with various symbols depending on shakha. In the Rigveda, anudatta is written with a bar below the line (??), svarita with a stroke above the line (??) while udatta is unmarked.


The end of a sentence or half-verse may be marked with the "?" symbol (called a danda, meaning "bar", or called a purna viram, meaning "full stop/pause"). The end of a full verse may be marked with a double-danda, a "?" symbol. A comma (called an alpa viram, meaning "short stop/pause") is used to denote a natural pause in speech. Punctuation marks of Western origin, such as the colon, semicolon, exclamation mark, dash, and question mark have been in use in Devanagari script since at least the 1900s, matching their use in European languages.

Old forms

The following letter variants are also in use, particularly in older texts.


See also: Indian numerals, Brahmi numerals, and Hindu-Arabic numeral system


A variety of Unicode fonts are in use for Devanagari. These include Akshar, Annapurna, Arial, CDAC-Gist Surekh, CDAC-Gist Yogesh, Chandas, Gargi, Gurumaa, Jaipur, Jana, Kalimati, Kanjirowa, Lohit Devanagari, Mangal, Kokila, Raghu, Sanskrit2003, Santipur OT, Siddhanta, and Thyaka.

The form of Devanagari fonts vary with function. According to Harvard College for Sanskrit studies:
Uttara [companion to Chandas] is the best in terms of ligatures but, because it is designed for Vedic as well, requires so much vertical space that it is not well suited for the "user interface font" (though an excellent choice for the "original field" font). Santipur OT is a beautiful font reflecting a very early [medieval era] typesetting style for Devanagari. Sanskrit 2003 is a good all-around font and has more ligatures than most fonts, though students will probably find the spacing of the CDAC-Gist Surekh font makes for quicker comprehension and reading.
The Google Fonts project has a number of Unicode fonts for Devanagari in a variety of typefaces in serif, sans-serif, display and handwriting categories.


Main article: Devanagari transliteration

There are several methods of Romanisation or transliteration from Devanagari to the Roman script.

Hunterian system

Main article: Hunterian transliteration

The Hunterian system is the national system of romanisation in India, officially adopted by the Government of India.

ISO 15919

Main article: ISO 15919

A standard transliteration convention was codified in the ISO 15919 standard of 2001. It uses diacritics to map the much larger set of Brahmic graphemes to the Latin script. The Devanagari-specific portion is nearly identical to the academic standard for Sanskrit, IAST.


The International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST) is the academic standard for the romanisation of Sanskrit. IAST is the de facto standard used in printed publications, like books, magazines, and electronic texts with Unicode fonts. It is based on a standard established by the Congress of Orientalists at Athens in 1912. The ISO 15919 standard of 2001 codified the transliteration convention to include an expanded standard for sister scripts of Devanagari.

The National Library at Kolkata romanisation, intended for the romanisation of all Indic scripts, is an extension of IAST.


Compared to IAST, Harvard-Kyoto looks much simpler. It does not contain all the diacritic marks that IAST contains. It was designed to simplify the task of putting large amount of Sanskrit textual material into machine readable form, and the inventors stated that it reduces the effort needed in transliteration of Sanskrit texts on the keyboard. This makes typing in Harvard-Kyoto much easier than IAST. Harvard-Kyoto uses capital letters that can be difficult to read in the middle of words.


ITRANS is a lossless transliteration scheme of Devanagari into ASCII that is widely used on Usenet. It is an extension of the Harvard-Kyoto scheme. In ITRANS, the word devanagari is written "devanaagarii" or "devanAgarI". ITRANS is associated with an application of the same name that enables typesetting in Indic scripts. The user inputs in Roman letters and the ITRANS pre-processor translates the Roman letters into Devanagari (or other Indic languages). The latest version of ITRANS is version 5.30 released in July 2001. It is similar to Velthuis system and was created by Avinash Chopde to help print various Indic scripts with personal computers.


Main article: Velthuis

The disadvantage of the above ASCII schemes is case-sensitivity, implying that transliterated names may not be capitalised. This difficulty is avoided with the system developed in 1996 by Frans Velthuis for TeX, loosely based on IAST, in which case is irrelevant.

ALA-LC Romanisation

ALA-LC romanisation is a/ transliteration scheme approved by the Library of Congress and the American Library Association, and widely used in North American libraries. Transliteration tables are based on languages, so there is a table for Hindi, one for Sanskrit and Prakrit, etc.


Main article: WX notation

WX is a Roman transliteration scheme for Indian languages, widely used among the natural language processing community in India. It originated at IIT Kanpur for computational processing of Indian languages. The salient features of this transliteration scheme are as follows.


ISCII is an 8-bit encoding. The lower 128 codepoints are plain ASCII, the upper 128 codepoints are ISCII-specific.

It has been designed for representing not only Devanagari but also various other Indic scripts as well as a Latin-based script with diacritic marks used for transliteration of the Indic scripts.

ISCII has largely been superseded by Unicode, which has, however, attempted to preserve the ISCII layout for its Indic language blocks.


Main articles: Devanagari (Unicode block), Devanagari Extended (Unicode block), Devanagari Extended-A (Unicode block), and Vedic Extensions (Unicode block)

The Unicode Standard defines four blocks for Devanagari: Devanagari (U+0900-U+097F), Devanagari Extended (U+A8E0-U+A8FF), Devanagari Extended-A (U+11B00-11B5F), and Vedic Extensions (U+1CD0-U+1CFF).

Devanagari keyboard layouts

For a list of Devanagari input tools and fonts, please see Multilingual support (Indic).

InScript layout

InScript is the standard keyboard layout for Devanagari as standardized by the Government of India. It is inbuilt in all modern major operating systems. Microsoft Windows supports the InScript layout (using the Mangal font), which can be used to input unicode Devanagari characters. InScript is also available in some touchscreen mobile phones.


This layout was used on manual typewriters when computers were not available or were uncommon. For backward compatibility some typing tools like Indic IME still provide this layout.


Such tools work on phonetic transliteration. The user writes in the Latin alphabet and the IME automatically converts it into Devanagari. Some popular phonetic typing tools are Akruti, Baraha IME and Google IME.

The Mac OS X operating system includes two different keyboard layouts for Devanagari: one resembles the INSCRIPT/KDE Linux, while the other is a phonetic layout called "Devanagari QWERTY".

Any one of the Unicode fonts input systems is fine for the Indic language Wikipedia and other wikiprojects, including Hindi, Bhojpuri, Marathi, and Nepali Wikipedia. While some people use InScript, the majority uses either Google phonetic transliteration or the input facility Universal Language Selector provided on Wikipedia. On Indic language wikiprojects, the phonetic facility provided initially was java-based, and was later supported by Narayam extension for phonetic input facility. Currently Indic language Wiki projects are supported by Universal Language Selector (ULS), that offers both phonetic keyboard (Aksharantaran, Marathi: ??????????, Hindi: ?????????, ????????) and InScript keyboard (Marathi: ????? ????).

The Ubuntu Linux operating system supports several keyboard layouts for Devanagari, including Harvard-Kyoto, WX notation, Bolanagari and phonetic. The 'remington' typing method in Ubuntu IBUS is similar to the Krutidev typing method, popular in Rajasthan. The 'itrans' method is useful for those who know English (and the English keyboard) well but are not familiar with typing in Devanagari.

See also

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