1. The natives of India write their ancient and sacred language in a variety of alphabets — generally, in each part of the country, in the same alphabet which they use for their own vernacular. The mode of writing, however, which is employed throughout the heart of Aryan India, or in Hindustan proper, is alone adopted by European scholars: it is called the devanāgarī.

a. This name is of doubtful origin and value. A more comprehensive name is nāgarī (perhaps, of the city); and deva-nāgarī is nāgarī of the gods, or of the Brahmans.

2. Much that relates to the history of the Indian alphabets is still obscure. The earliest written monuments of known date in the country are the inscriptions containing the edicts of Açoka or Piyadasi, of about the middle of the third century B.C. They are in two different systems of characters, of which one shows distinct signs of derivation from a Semitic source, while the other is also probably, though much less evidently, of the same origin. From the latter, the Laṭh, or Southern Açoka character (of Girnar), come the later Indian alphabets, both those of the northern Aryan languages and those of the southern Dravidian languages. The nāgarī, devanāgarī, Bengālī, Guzerātī, and others, are varieties of its northern derivatives; and with them are related some of the alphabets of peoples outside of India — as in Tibet and Farther India — who have adopted Hindu culture or religion.

a. There is reason to believe that writing was first employed in India for practical purposes — for correspondence and business and the like — and only by degrees came to be applied to literary use. The literature, to a great extent, and the most fully in proportion to its claimed sanctity and authority, ignores all written record, and assumes to be kept in existence by oral tradition alone.

3. Of the devanāgarī itself there are minor varieties, depending on differences of locality or of period, as also of individual hand (see examples in Weber’s catalogue of the Berlin Sanskrit MSS., in Rājendralāla Mitra’s notices of MSS. in Indian libraries, in the published fac-similes of inscriptions, and so on); and these are in some measure reflected in the type prepared for printing, both in India and in Europe. But a student who makes himself familiar with the one style of printed characters will have little difficulty with the others, and will soon learn, by practice, to read the manuscripts. A few specimens of types other than those used in this work are given in Appendix A.

a. On account of the difficulty of combining them with the smaller sizes of our Roman and Italic type, the devanāgarī characters are used below only in connection with the first or largest size. And, in accordance with the laudable usage of recent grammars, they are, wherever given, also transliterated, in Clarendon letters; while the latter alone are used in the other sizes.

4. The student may be advised to try to familiarize himself from the start with the devanāgarī mode of writing. At the same time, it is not indispensable that he should do so until, having learned the principal paradigms, he comes to begin reading and analysing the parsing; and many will find the latter the more practical, and in the end equally or more effective, way.

5. The characters of the devanāgarī alphabet, and the European letters which will be used in transliterating them, are as follows:





1  a

2  ā


3  i

4  ī


5  u

6  ū


7  ṛ

8  ṝ


9  ḷ

[10  [ḹ]



11  e

12  āi


13  o

14  āu


15 अः ḥ


16 अंअँ ṅ or ṁ (see 73 c).


surd asp.






17  k

18  kh

19  g

20  gh

21  n̄


22  c

23  ch

24  j

25  jh

26  ñ


27  ṭ

28  ṭh

29  ḍ

30  ḍh

31  ṇ


32  t

33  th

34  d

35  dh

36  n


37  p

38  ph

39  b

40  bh

41  m



42  y


43  r


44  l


45  v



46  ç


47  ṣ


48  s


49  h

a. To these may be added a lingual ḻ , which in some of the Vedic texts takes the place of  ḍ when occurring between two vowels (54).

6. A few other sounds, recognized by the theories of the Hindu grammarians, but either having no separate characters to represent them or only very rarely and exceptionally written, will be noticed below (71 b, c, 230). Such are the guttural and labial breathings, the nasal semivowels, and others.

7. The order of arrangement given above is that in which the sounds are catalogued and described by the native grammarians; and it has been adopted by the European scholars as the alphabetic order, for indexes, dictionaries, etc.: to the Hindus, the idea of an alphabetic arrangement for such practical uses is wanting.

a. In some works (as the Petersburg lexicon), a visarga which is regarded as equivalent to and exchangeable with a sibilant (172) is, though written as a visarga, given the alphabetic place of the sibilant.

8. The theory of the devanāgarī, as of the other Indian modes of writing, is syllabic and consonantal. That is to say, it regards as the written unit, not the simple sound, but the syllable (akṣara); and further, as the substantial part of the syllable, the consonant or the consonants which precede the vowel — this latter being merely implied, or, if written, being written by a subordinate sign attached to the consonant.

9. Hence follow these two principles:

A. The forms of the vowel-characters given in the alphabetical scheme above are used only when the vowel forms a syllable by itself, or is not combined with a preceding consonant; that is, when it is either initial or preceded by another vowel. In combinations with a consonant, other modes of representation are used.

B. If more consonants than one precede the vowel, forming with it a single syllable, their characters must be combined into a single compound character.

a. Native Hindu usage, in manuscripts and inscriptions, treats the whole material of a sentence alike, not separating its words from one another, any more than the syllables of the same word: a final consonant is combined into one written syllable with the initial vowel or consonant or consonants of the following word. It never occurred to the Hindus to space their words in any way, even where the mode of writing admitted such treatment; nor to begin a paragraph on a new line; nor to write one line of verse under another: everything, without exception, is written solid by them, filling the whole page.

b. Thus, the sentence and verse-line ahaṁ rudrebhir vasubhiç carāmy aham ādityāir uta viçvadevāiḥ (Rig-Veda X, 125. 1: see Appendix B) I wander with the Vasus, the Rudras, I with the Ādityas and the All-Gods is thus syllabized: a haṁ ru dre bhi rva su bhi çca rā mya ha mā di tyāi ru ta vi çva de vāiḥ, with each syllable ending with a vowel (or a vowel modified by the nasal-sign anusvāra, or having the sign of a final breathing, visarga, added: these being the only elements that can follow a vowel in the same syllable); and it is (together with the next line) written in the manuscripts after this fashion:




Each syllable is written separately, and by many scribes the successive syllables are parted a little from one another: thus,

 हँ रु द्रे भि र्व सु भि श्च रा म्य  मा दि त्यै

and so on.

c. In Western practice, however, it is almost universally customary to divide paragraphs, to make the lines of verse follow one another, and also to separate the words so far as this can be done without changing the mode of writing them. See Appendix B, where the verse here given so treated.

d. Further, in works prepared for beginners in the language, it is not uncommon to make a more complete separation of words by a free use of the virāma-sign (11) under final consonants: thus, for example,

अहँ रुद्रेभिर् वसुभिश् चराम्य् अहम् आदित्यैर् उत विश्वदेवैः।

or even by indicating also the combinations of initial and final vowels (126, 127): for example,

अहं मित्रावरुणो भा बिभर्म्य् अहम् इन्द्राग्नी अहम् अश्विनो भा॥

e. In transliterating, Western methods of separation of words are of course to be followed; to do otherwise would be simple pedantry.

10. Under A, it is to be noticed that the modes of indicating a vowel combined with a preceding consonant are as follows:

a. The short  a has no written sign at all; the consonant-sign itself implies a following  a, unless some other vowel-sign is attached to it (or else the virāma: 11). Thus, the consonant-signs as given above in the alphabetic scheme are really the signs of the syllables kakha, etc. etc. (to ha).

b. The long  ā is written by a perpendicular stroke after the consonant: thus, का दा हा .

c. Short  i and long  ī are written by a similar stroke, which for short i is placed before the consonant and for long ī is placed after it, and in either case is connected with the consonant by a hook above the upper line: thus, कि kiकी भि bhiभी bhīनि niनी .

The hook above, turning to the left or to the right, is historically the essential part of the character, having been originally the whole of it; the hooks were only later prolonged, so as to reach all the way down beside the consonant. In the MSS., they almost never have the horizontal stroke drawn across them above, though this is added in the printed characters: thus, originally ch_01.png kich_02.png ; in the MSS. ch_03.pngch_04.png; in print किकी.

d. The u-sounds, short and long, are written by hooks attached to the lower end of the consonant-sign: thus कु ku, कू kū; डु du, डू dū. On account of the necessities of combination, du and dū are somewhat disguised: thus, ch_05.pngch_06.png; and the forms with  r and  h are still more irregular: thus, रु ru, रू rū; हु hu, हू hū.

e. The -vowels, short and long, are written by a subjoined hook, single or double, opening toward the right: thus, कृ kṛकॄ kṝदृ dṛदॄ dṝ. In the h-sign, the hooks are usually attached to the middle, thus: हृ hṛहॄ hṝ.

As to the combination of ṛ with preceding r, see below, 14 d.

f. The -vowel is written with a reduced form of its full initial character: thus, कॢ kḷ; the corresponding long has no real occurrence (23 a), but would be written with a similar reduced sign.

g. The diphthongs are written by strokes, single or double, above the upper line, combined, for  o and  āu, with the ā-sign after the consonant: thus, के keकै kāiको koकौ kāu.

h. In some devanāgarī manuscripts (as the Bengālī alphabet), the single stroke above, or one of the double ones, is replaced by a sign like the ā-sign before the consonant, thus: ch_07.png kech_08.png kāich_09.png koch_10.png kāu.

11. A consonant-sign, however, is capable of being made to signify the consonant-sound alone, without an added vowel, by having written beneath it a stroke called the virāma (rest, stop): thus, क् kद् dह् h.

a. Since, as was pointed out above, the Hindus write the words of a sentence continuously like one word (9 a, 9 b), the virāma is in general called for only when a final consonant occurs before a pause. But it is also occasionally resorted to by scribes, or in print, in order to avoid an awkward or difficult combination of consonant-signs: thus,

लिड्भिः liḍbhiḥलिट्सु liṭsuअङ्क्ष्व an̄kṣva;

and it is used to make a separation of words in texts prepared for beginners (9 d).

12. Under B, it is to be noticed that the consonant combinations are for the most part not at all difficult to make or to recognize for one who is familiar with the simple signs. The characteristic part of a consonant-sign that is to be added to another is taken (to the exclusion of the horizontal or of the perpendicular framing-line, or of both), and they are put together according to convenience,either side by side, or one above the other; in a few combinations either arrangement is allowed. The consonant that is to be pronounced first is set before the other in the one order, and above it in the other order.

a. Examples of side-by-side arrangement are: ग्ग ggaज्ज jjaप्य pyaन्म nmaत्थ tthaभ्य bhyaस्क skaष्ण ṣṇaत्क tka.

b. Examples of the above-and-below arrangement are: क्क kkaक्व kvaच्च ccaञ्ज ñjaद्द ddaप्त ptaत्न tnaत्व tva.

13. In some cases, however, there is more or less abbreviation or disguise of the independent form of a consonant-sign in combination. Thus,

a. Of  k in क्त ktaक्ल kla; and in क्ण kṇa etc.

b. Of  t in त्त tta;

c. Of  d in द्ग dgaद्न dna, etc;

d. Of  m and  y, when following other consonants: thus, क्य kyaक्म kmaङ्य ñyaद्म dmaद्य dyaह्म hmaह्य hyaछ्य chyaड्य ḍhya.

e. Of  ç, which generally becomes ch_11.png when followed by a consonant: thus, ch_12.png çcach_13.png çnach_14.png çvach_15.png çya. The same change is usual when a vowel-sign is added below: thus ch_16.png çuch_17.png çṛ.

f. Other combinations, of not quite obvious value, are ण्ण ṇṇaल्ल llaद्ध ddhaद्भ dbhaष्ट ṣṭaष्ठ ṣṭha; and the compounds of  h: as ह्णhṇaह्न hna.

g. In a case or two, no trace of the constituent letters in recognizable: thus, क्ष kṣaज्ञ jña.

14. The semivowel  r, in making combinations with other consonants, is treated in a wholly peculiar manner, analogous with that in which the vowels are treated.

a. If pronounced before another consonant or combination of consonants, it is written above the latter, with a hook opening to the right (much like the sign of the vowel , as written under a consonant: 10 e): thus, र्क rkaर्ष rṣaर्त्व rtvaर्म्य rmyaर्त्स्न rtsna.

b. Then, if a consonant-group thus containing r as first member is followed by a vowel that has its sign, or a part of its sign, or its sign of nasality (anusvāra: 70, 71), written above the line, the r-sign is placed furthest to the right: thus, र्के rkeर्कं rkaṅर्कि rkiर्की rkīर्को rkoर्कीं rkīṅर्कों rkoṅ.

c. If r is pronounced after another consonant, whether before a vowel or before yet another consonant, it is written with a straight stroke below, slanting to the left: thus, प्र praध्र dhraग्र graस्र srach_18.png ddhraन्त्र ntrach_19.png gryach_20.png srvaन्त्र्य ntrya; and, with modifications of a preceding consonant-sign like those noticed above (13), त्र traद्र draश्र çraह्र hra.

d. When  r is to be combined with a following  , it is the vowel which is written in full, with its initial character, and the consonant in subordination to it: thus, ch_21.png rṛ.

15. Further combinations, of three, four, or even five consonant-signs, are made according to the same rules. Examples are:

of three consonants, त्त्व ttvaद्ध्य ddhyaद्व्य dvyaद्र्य dryaध्र्य dhryaप्स्व psvaश्च्य çcyaष्ठ्य ṣṭhyaह्व्य hvya;

of four consonants, क्त्र्य ktryaङ्क्ष्य n̄kṣyaष्ट्र्य ṣṭryaत्स्म्य tsmya;

of five consonants, र्त्स्न्या rtsnya.

a. The manuscripts, and the type-fonts as well, differ from one another more in their management of consonant combinations than in any other respect, often having peculiarities which one needs a little practice to understand. It is quite useless to give in a grammar the whole series of possible combinations (some of them excessively rare) which are provided for in any given type-font, or even in all. There is nothing which due familiarity with the simple signs and with the above rules of combination will not enable the student readily to analyse and explain.

16. a. A sign called the avagraha (separator) — namely  — is occasionally used in the manuscripts, sometimes in the manner of a hyphen, sometimes as a mark of hiatus, sometimes to mark the elision of initial a after final  e or  o (135). In printed texts, especially European, it is ordinarily applied to use the last mentioned, and to that alone: thus, ते ऽब्रुवन् te 'bruvanसो ऽब्रवीत् so 'bravīt, for te abruvanso abravīt.

b. If the elided initial-vowel is nasal, and has the anusvāra-sign (70, 71) written above, this is usually and more properly transferred to the eliding vowel; but sometimes it is written instead over the avagraha-sign: thus, for so 'ṅçumān, from so aṅçumān, either सों ऽशुमान् or सो ऽंशुमान्.

c. The sign  is used in place of something that is omitted, and to be understood from the connection: thus, वीरसेनसुतस् ॰तम् ॰तेनvīrasenasutas -tam -tena.

d. Signs of punctuation are  and .

At the end of a verse, a paragraph, or the like, the latter of them is ordinarily written twice, with the figure of enumeration between: thus, ॥२०॥

17. The numeral figures are

 1,  2,  3,  4,  5,  6,  7,  8,  9,  0

In combination, to express larger numbers, they are used in precisely the same way as European digits: thus, २५ 25, ६३० 630, ७००० 7000, १८९६ 1896.

18. The Hindu grammarians call the different sounds, and the characters representing them, by a kāra (maker) added to the sound of the letter, if a vowel, or to the letter followed by a, if consonant. Thus, the sound or character a is called akārak is kakāra; and so on. But the kāra is also omitted, and a, ka, etc. are used alone. The r, however, is not called rakāra, but only ra, or repha snarl: the sole example of a specific name for an alphabetic element of its class. The anusvāra and visarga are also known by those names alone.