By Shivani Sheeba V
The Sanskrit Language is considered as the language of devas (Gods) and the alphabet
in which it is written is Devanāgari. The name Devanāgarī is made up of two Sanskrit words: deva, which means god, or celestial, and nāgarī, which means city. The name is translated as ‘cities of gods’. Many languages in India, such as Hindi and Sanskrit, use Devanagarī and many more languages throughout India use local variants of this script. Like the other Indian alphabets, Devanāgarī script is syllabic in nature.
A vowel optionally preceded by one or more consonants is called a syllable. A Varṇa and akṣara often used as synonyms. But in grammar there is a little diﬀerence between them. Varṇa cannot be split up, but akṣara can be split up. अ (a) and क् (k) are varṇas, च (ca)
is akṣara as च (ca) is the combination of च् (c) and अ (a) . Svara is both varṇa and akṣara.
Some of the examples of syllables are:
का = क् + आ
िक = क् + इ
क्ष = क् + ष् + अ
ितर् = त् + र् + इ
टर् = ट् + र् + अ
त्य = त् + र् + य् +अ
On the right of ‘=’ in the above examples is the expansion of syllables in alphabetic notation. By deﬁnition, syllable is a vowel optionally preceded by one or more consonants. Thus every syllable must have a vowel. Orthographically the symbol corresponding to a vowel may precede the consonant (cluster) or follow as in िक (ki) or क’T (kī), attach on top
as in के (ke), at bottom as in कु (ku), or simultaneously on top and following position as in को (ko).
This implies the order of vowel of consonants in an orthographic representation of a syllable does not have any relation to its pronunciation. In syllable, the vowel is always pronounced at the end of the consonant cluster. This answers the anomaly in (बुिद्
buddhi) viz. , the vowel indicator orthographically precedes the consonant cluster, but
is pronounced later.
When more than one consonant are joined to a vowel the resulting letter is called compound letter (samyuktākṣara). Akṣaras are divided into three classes:
These terms indicate the syllabic or non-syllabic diﬀerence and the articulatory distinctions of the speech sounds.
The svaras are the speech sounds which can form a syllable and can be pronounced independently, i.e. it can be pronounced without the help of any other letter. The primary vowels are nine, ﬁve simple vowels and four diphthongs.
Simple Vowels: अ इ उ ऋ लृ
a i u ṛ ḷ Diphthongs: ए ऐ ओ औ
e ai o au
A vowel may be short (hrasva), or long (dīrgha) or prolated (pluta) according to the time required to pronounce it. In grammar the vowel ‘u’ has been taken to illustrate the time of the pronunciation of the vowels. The crowing of the cock in the morning represents in its three stages, these three kinds of vowels.1 A vowel whose time is that of short ‘u’, long ‘ū’ and the prolated u3 is called respectively hrasva, dīrgha and pluta.
The vowel which takes one mātrā2 or measure for its pronunciation is called hrasvasvara. A i u ṛ ḷ are hrasvasvaras. Eg: Hari, guru. Here, the underlined i and u are short vowels.
The vowel which takes two mātras or two measures for its pronunciation is called dīrghasvaras. ‘ā ī ū etc. are dīrghasvaras. Eg: Parvatī, Gaurī, gurū etc. Here the underlined ī and ū are long vowels.
The vowels having three mātrās or measures are called plutasvaras. Devadatta3 āgaccha. Here a3 is pluta or prolated.
These vowels, short, long and prolated, are further divided into three: udātta (accute), anudātta (grave) and svarita (circumﬂex). The distinction of svaras is ignored in classical Sanskrit. They are marked only in Vedic treatises.
The vowels which are pronounced from the higher part of its proper place of pronunciation such as throat, palate etc. are called udātta. The accent placed on a vowel by raising the
2The limited time, necessary for the sound produced by one, to reach the ears of another facing him, is called one mātrā
voice is udātta. Udātta proceeds from the upper part of the vocal organs.3 The vowel that is perceived as having a high tone is called udātta. This tone depends upon the various organs such as the throat, palate etc. from which the vowel is pronounced. The udātta is left unmarked in writing in Sanskrit. Eg:
Anudātta proceeds from the lower part of the vocal organ.4 The vowel accent known as grave or anudātta is pronounced by lowering the voice. In writing anudātta is marked with a horizontal line underneath the vowel. Eg: अ॒ अ॒िग्ं
Svarita is the blend of udātta and anudātta.5 The svarita accent is pronounced by the combined raising and falling of the voice. In writing, svarita is marked by a perpendicular stroke on the top of the vowel. While pronouncing svarita, the ﬁrst half is udātta and the
rest is anudātta. Eg: ई॑ ईळ॑ े
Thus anudātta is marked below, svarita is marked above and the udātta kept unmarked.
Thus, each vowel has nine forms, as it is hrasva, dīrgha and pluta, as it is udātta, anudātta and svarita. Every one of these nine, has two more forms: Anunāsika (nasal) and Ananunāsika (non-nasal)
A letter which is pronounced by the mouth in combination with the nose be called anunāsika.6 For example अँ, इँ, उँ etc. Anunāsika is denoted by a ◌ँ symbal, i.e. a dot within a semi-circle placed above the letter which it is to be pronounced सँ sam.
A letter which is pronounced by mouth in combination with throat and other vocal organs except nose be called ananunāsika. अ इ उ etc.
4Nīcairanudāttaḥ 1.2.30 The vowel that perceived as having a low tone is called anudātta
5Samāharaḥ svaritaḥ 1.2.31 The vowel that has the combination of udātta and anudātta tones is said to be svarita.
6mukhanāsikāvacano’nunāsikaḥ 1.1.8 That which is pronounced by the nose along with the mouth is called anunāsika or nasal
Thus, each of the vowels अ, इ, उ, ऋ (a, i, u, ṛ) are having eighteen forms. The vowel लृ
(ḷ) has twelve forms, as it has no long forms. The diphthongs, ए, ऐ, ओ, औ (e, ai, o, au)
are having twelve forms as they have no corresponding short vowels.
|अ इ उ ऋ लृ
a i u ṛ ḷ
|आ ई ऊ ऋृ ए ऐ ओ औ
ā ī ū ṛ e ai o au
|अ3 इ3 उ3 ऋ3 लृ3 ए3 ऐ3 ओ3 औ3
a3 i3 u3 ṛ3 ḷ3 e3 ai3 a3 au3
|उदात्ानुना सकः||उदात्ानुना सकः||उदात्ानुना सकः|
|उदात्ाननुना सकः||उदात्ाननुना सकः||उदात्ाननुना सकः|
|अनुदात्ानुना सकः||अनुदात्ानुना सकः||अनुदात्ानुना सकः|
|अनुदात्ाननुना सकः||अनुदात्ाननुना सकः||अनुदात्ाननुना सकः|
|स्व रतानुना सकः||स्व रतानुना सकः||स्व रतानुना सकः|
|स्व रताननुना सकः||स्व रताननुना सकः||स्व रताननुना सकः|
The vyañjanas are the speech sounds which cannot be pronounced independently. In other words, the vyañjana is that which is pronounced with the help of a vowel. The consonants are: (क् ख् ग् घ् ङ् च् छ् ज् झ् ञ् ट् ठ् ड् ढ् ण् त् थ् द् ध् न् प् फ् ब् भ् म् य् र् ल् व् श् ष् स् ह् – k, kh, g, gh,
ṅ,c, ch, j, jh, ñ, ṭ, ṭh, ḍ, ḍh, ṇ, t, th, d, dh,n, y,r, l, v, ś, ṣ, s, h).
The vyañjana-sounds have inherent ‘a’ in them i.e. the vyañjana-sounds are dependent on svaras. The consonants, therefore, are written with a slanting nether stroke as क् (k). The mark ◌् under the क (ka) is called virāma, which indicates a consonantal stop.
क –> क् + अ. ka –> k + a.
The consonants can be classiﬁed into three:
sparśa (stops): The sparśas are the consonants, involving a complete closure or contact of the mouth organs by which they are produced.
The consonants are divided into classes, according to the vocal organs employed in their articulation. The ﬁrst ﬁve of these classes are called varga and each varga is distinguished by the ﬁrst letter it comprises. Thus, the kavarga/ku comprises ka kha ga gha ṅa.
These ﬁve classes are sparśas, the ﬁve groups beginning with ka, ca, ṭa, ta, pa. In other words the consonants ka to ma are called stops or sparśas.
The varga is also denoted by adding a ‘u’ varṇa to the ﬁrst letter to each varga as ku, cu etc.
Antasthas (Semi-Vowel) : The sounds ya, ra, la and va are antasthas. They are considered as intermediate to a vowel and a consonant.
Ūṣman (Sibilants) : śa, ṣa, sa, and ha are known as sibilants.
Antasthas and ūṣmas are not classiﬁed under the ﬁve classes of consonants. They are treated seperately in the varṇamālā.Thus,
sparśas : ka to ma – 25 letters Anthasthas – ya, ra, la and va Ushmas – śa, ṣa, sa and ha
Ayogavāhās are four. Anusvāra, visarga, jihvāmūlīya, and upadhmānīya
Anusvāra is a nasal sound denoted by a dot (◌ं) placed above the letter after which it is to be pronounced. Eg. कं (kaṃ), अं (aṃ), इं (iṃ).
sort of hard breathing denoted by two vertical dots after the letter is known as visarga (◌ः). Eg. कः (kaḥ), िकः (kiḥ), कु ः (kuḥ) etc.. Visarga is always pronounced with svara
Jihvāmūlīya (tongue-root letter)
It is a semi-visarga when pronounced before क् , ख् k, kh. Eg.
Upadhmānīya (to be breathed upon)
It is also semi-visarga when pronounced before क् , ख् k, kh. Eg. The four ayogavāhās are considered as svaras as well as vyañjanas.
Organs of Speech
A linguistic sound can be classiﬁed on the basis of two parameters. One is sthāna, the place of articulation. The sound is named as according to the sound is produced. Here, on the basis of the place of articulation the sounds are named as kanṭhya (guttural), tālavya (palatal) etc.. 2. The another parameter is prayatna, manner of articulation. It is on the basis of the eﬀort of pronouncing a particular sound. So a linguistic sound is described in terms of place and manner.
Place of Articulation
The place where the air stops to produce the linguistic sound is called sthāna or place. The kaṇṭha (throat), tālu (palate), mūrdhan (cerebrum), danta (teeth), oṣṭha (lips), nāsikā
(nose), and jihvā (tongue) are called the places of organs. The articulatory description is given below:
- The letters produced from throat are gutturals (kanṭhyāḥ). The sounds ‘a ka kha ga gha ṅa and ha’ are kanṭhyas (gutturals).7. Gutturals are pronounced in the back of the
- The letters produced from the palate (तालु – tālu) are palatals (tālavyāḥ). The letter ‘i’ and the letters belong to the group ‘cu (ca, cha, ja, jha, ña), ya and śa are 8. Palatals are pronounced with the tongue against the palate
- The letters from the highest position of the mouth from which the sounds originate are linguals (mūrdhanyāḥ). Mūrdhan – the highest part of the The letters ṛ, ṭ, ṭha, da, ḍha, ṇa, ra and ṣa are linguals.9 The linguals are pronounced with the tongue curled back so that the bottom of the tongue strikes the roof of the mouth
- The sounds produced from the teeth are dentals (dantyāḥ). The letters ḷ, ta, tha, da, dha, na, la, and sa are den10. The dentals are pronounced with the tip of the tongue striking the root of the front teeth.
- The sounds produced from the lips are labials (auṣṭyāḥ). The letters ‘u, pa, pha, ba, bha, ma, and the upadhmānīyas are 11. The labials are pronounced with the lips closed.
- The letters ‘ña, ma, ṅa, ṇa and na are also called nasals as they are pronounced with the support of nose
- The place of articulation for the vowels ‘e’ and ‘ai’ are kaṇta and tālu.
- The place of articulation for the vowels ‘o’ and ‘au’ are kaṇta and oṣṭhau.
अकु हिवसजर्नीयानां कण्ठः. अ कु (क, ख, ग, घ, ङ)) and ह
akuhavisarjanīyānām kaṇṭhaḥ. a, ku (ka, kha, ga, gha, ṅa) and ha
इचुयशानां तालु – इ, चु (च, छ, ज, झ, ञ), य and श
icuyaśānām tālu – i, cu (ca, cha, ja, jha, ña) ya and ś
ऋटुरषाणां मूधार् – ऋ, टु (ट, ठ, ड, ढ, ण) र, and ष
ṛṭuraṣāṇām mūrdhā – ṛ, ṭu (ṭa, ṭha,ḍa, ḍha,ṇa), ra, and ṣa
लृतुलसानां दन्ताः – लृ, त, थ, द, ध, न, ल, and स
ḷtulasānām dantāḥ – ḷ, tu (ta,tha, da, dha,na) and sa
उपूपध्मानीयानाम् ओष्ौ – उ, प, फ, ब, भ, म, and उपध्मानीय
upūpadhmānīyānām oṣṭhau – u, pu (pa,pha, ba, bha, ma) and upadhmānīya
- The letter ‘va’ is produced by the eﬀort of danta and oṣṭhau.
- The tip of the tongue is used to pronounce the jihvāmūlīya
- Anusvāra is nasal as it is pronounced through
Place of Articulation
|अ आ अ३ क ख ग घ ङ ह िवसगर् (◌ः)
a ā a3 ka kha ga gha ṅa ha ḥa
|इ च छ ज झ ञ य श
i ca cha ja jha ña ya śa
|ऋ ट ठ ड ढ ण र ष
ṛ ṭa ṭha ḍa ḍha ṇa ra ṣa
|लृ त थ द ध न ल स
ḷ ta tha da dha na la sa
|उ प फ ब भ म उपध्मानीयः (≍प≍फ)
u pa pha ba bha ma upadhmānīyaḥ (≍pa≍pha)
|ङ ञ ण न म
ṅa ña ṇa na ma
|ना सका, कण्ठािदः
nāsikā, kaṇṭhādiḥ (nose, throat etc.)
guttural and palatal
guttural and labial
dental and labial
| जह्ामूलीयम् (≍क≍ख
Manner of Articulation
Though the sounds ka kha ga gha and na are produced at kantha, each syllable varies in its nature. To distinguish ka to kha, or ga and so on some more features are to be learned. That features are called prayatna. Further the voiced and unvoiced diﬀerence is made in all svara and vyanjana sounds. Sthāna remains same. ‘a’is kanṭhyavarṇa but ghoṣa. ﬁrst two are ghoṣas and the last three are aghoṣa (un-voiced). All vowels are voiced. Ha is also voiced. In ﬁve series ﬁrst two are not voiced and the last three are voiced. The manner or prayatna is of two kinds. Ābhyantara (internal) and bāhya (external).
It is the mode of articulation preparatory to the utterance of the sound. The ābhyantara-prayatna is subdivided into four, namely, spṛṣṭa, īṣatspṛṣṭa, vivṛta (open), and saṃvṛta (contract).12
- spṛṣṭa: Spṛṣṭa is the complete contact of the The. sparśa letters, ‘ka’ to ‘ma’ have spṛṣṭa-prayatna. In pronouncing these letters there is a complete contact of the root of the tongue with the various places, such as the throat, palate, teeth and lips.
- īṣat-spṛṣṭa: Slight contact of the The antasthas, ya, ra, la, and va, letters have īṣatspṛṣṭa.
- vivṛta: It is complete op The vowels and the ūṣma letters, ‘śa,ṣa, sa and ha’ belong to this class.
- Saṃvṛta: It is con The short ‘a’ is saṃvṛta in pryoga (usage), but in operation of grammar, it is always treated as vivṛta.
12यत्नो िद्धा। आभ्यन्तरो बाह्श्च। आद्श्चतुधार्। स्पृष्ेष्त्स्पृष्िववृतसंवृतभेदात्। – yatno dvidhā. Ābhyantaro bāhyaśca. Ādyaścaturdhā. spṛṣṭeṣatspṛṣṭavivṛtasaṃvṛtabhedāt
|sparśas||ya, ra,la, va||śa, ṣa, sa, ha
|a (in usage)|
It is the mode of articulation at the close of the utterance of the sound. The bāhyaprayatna is divided into eleven as vivāra, saṃvāra, śvāsa, nāda, ghoṣa, aghoṣa, alpaprāṇa, mahāprāṇa, udātta, anudātta and svarita.13. Among these eleven external eﬀorts, last three are related to svaras. They are explained under svara section. The rest eight are related to vyañjana as follow:
- Ṭhe svara, antastha, the third, fourth and ﬁfth sounds of all the series of sparśas and the uṣman ’ha’ sound are said to be ghoṣavarṇa. The term ghoṣa corresponds to the term v The ghoṣa letters are also called nāda letters.
- The ﬁrst, second sounds of all the series of sparśas and the remaining three uṣmas are said to be aghoṣavarṇa, literally means unvoiced The aghoṣa letters are also called śvāsa letters.
- The ﬁrst, third and the ﬁfth column of sounds of each series and the antasthas are called alpaprāṇas (unaspirated).
- The second and fourth column of sounds of each series are labelled as mahāprāṇa (aspirated).
- The ﬁfth column of sound in the series of the sparśa divisions are called nāsikyavarṇa (nasals)
13बाह्पर्यत्नस्त्वेकादशधा। िववारः संवारः श्वासो नादो घोषोऽघोषोऽल्पपर्ाणो महापर्ाण उदात्ोऽनुदात्ः स्व रतश्चेित bāhyaprayatnastvekādaśadhā. vivāraḥ saṃvāraḥ śvāso nādo ghoṣo’aghoṣo’lpaprāṇo mahāprāṇa udātto’nudāttaḥ svaritaśceti
|िववारः, श्वासः, अघोषः
vivāraḥ, śvāsaḥ, aghoṣaḥ
|कख, चछ, टठ, तथ, पफ, शषस
kakha, cacha, ṭaṭha, tatha, papha, śaṣasa
|संवारः, नादः, घोषः
saṃvāraḥ, nādaḥ, ghoṣaḥ
|गघङ, जझञ, डढण, दधन, बभम, य र ल व ह
gaghaṅa, jajhaña, ḍaḍhaṇa, dadhana, babhama, ya ra la va ha
|कगङ, चजञ, टडण, तदन, पबम, य र ल व
kagaṅa, cajaña, ṭaḍaṇa, tadana, pabama, ya ra la va
|खघ, छझ, ठढ, थध, फभ, शषसह
khagha, chajha, ṭhaḍha, thadha, phabha, śa ṣa sa ha
|उदात्ः, अनुदात्ः, स्व रतः
udāttaḥ, anudāttaḥ, svaritaḥ
|अ इ उ ऋ लृ ए ऐ ओ औ
a ā i ī u ū ṛ ḷ e ai o au
|The Devanāgarī Numerals|
Method of writing Devanāgarī
Order of Vowels in Consonant Cluster
The mode of indicating a vowel combined with a preceding consonant are as follows:
- The short ‘a’ has no written sign as क
- The long ‘ā’ is written by a perpendicular stroke after the consonant as का ‘kā’, चाcā.
- 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 as िक ‘ki’, क’T ‘kī’, िप ‘pi’, पी ‘pī’. Hook turning to the right is short ‘i’ and turning to the left long ‘ī’.
- The short ‘u’ and the long ‘ū’ are written by hooks attached to the lower end of the consonant as कु ‘ku’, कू ‘kū’, तु ‘tu’, तू ‘tū’.
- The ṛ vowel, short and long, are written by a subjoined hook, single and double, opening towards the right as कृ ‘kṛ’, कृृ ‘kṛ.’, पृ ‘pṛ’, पृृ ‘pṛ’.
- The ḷ vowel is written with a reduced form of its full initial character as क्लृ ‘kḷ’.
- The diphthongs are written by strokes single or double, above the upper line, combined for ‘o’ and ‘au’with the ‘ā’ sign after the consonant as के ‘ke’, कै ‘kai’, को ‘ko’, कौ ‘kau’.
Order of Consonants in Consonant Cluster
The mode of indicating a consonant combined with a preceding consonant are as follows:
- In case of consonant cluster, the consonants are written either from top to bottom or from left to righ When written from left to right, the consonants to the left undergo some changes, whereas when written from top to bottom, the consonants at the bottom undergo some changes in their shape. Further the vowel indicators appear with the top most or the right most consonant.
- left-to-right arrangement – ग्ग ‘gga’, ज्ज ‘jja’, न्म ‘nma’, त्थ ‘ttha’
- top-to-bottom arrangement – द् ‘dda’, ट् ‘ṭṭa’, ङ् ‘ṅka’,
- In case or two, no trace of the constituent letters is recognisable as क्ष (kṣa), ज्ञ (jña).
- In Devanāgarī, we observe three diﬀerent shapes for र, when it is in conjunct
When र is the ﬁrst consonant of the consonant cluster then its written as कर् (rka)
and it always occupies the top position. When it is not the ﬁrst component, it has two diﬀerent shapes depending on whether the previous consonant has a vertical line as its part or not. If the previous consonant has a vertical line as in ग, ध, च (ga,
dha, ca), etc. then the shape of र (ra) is as in गर्, धर्, चर् (gra, dhra, cr), etc. But if the
previous component does not have a vertical line as in ट, ठ, ड (ṭa, ṭha, ḍ), etc. then
the shape of र is as in टर् , ठर् , डर् (ṭra, ṭhra, ḍr), etc. When it is added to a consonant followed by a vowel, the r sign is placed furthest to the right as िकर् , (rki), क1 (rkī).
- The sign called avagraha (ऽ) is generally employed to mark the elision of short ’a’ after e or o रामोऽrस्त (rāmo’sti). The double mark (ऽऽ) is sometimes used to indicate the elision of ‘आ’ ā after initial long ‘आ ā’. तथाऽऽस्ते (tathā”ste).
- In Sanskrit, virāma or pause can be indicated only at the end of a sen The sign of punctuations, therefore, only two । and ।।. The former is used to mark the end of a sentence or the ﬁrst half of a śloka or poetical stanza. The latter is employed to denote the end of a śloka.
ह रः वणर्मालां पठित।
Hariḥ varṇamālāṃ paṭhati.
- Direction of Devanāgari script writing is left to right in horizontal
- The characters in Indian scripts have often more than one shape usually distinguishable as primary symbols and secondary symbols, primary character signs of vowels (अ आ इ ई उ ऊ ऋ ॠ ए ऐ ओ) and consonants (क ख ग घ ङ च छ ज झ ञ ट ठ ड ढ ण त थ द ध न प फ ब भ म य र ल व श ष स ह) can occur independently or in isolation while the corresponding secondary vowel signs (◌ा ि◌ ◌ी ◌ु ◌ू ◌ृ ◌े ◌ै ◌ो ◌ौ ◌ं ◌ः)
and consonants (क् ख् ग् घ् ङ् च् छ् ज् झ् ञ् ट् ठ् ड् ढ् ण् त् थ् द् ध् न् प् फ् ब् भ् म् य् र् ल् व् श् ष् स् ह्) cannot occur independently except at the end of a word, but always depend on other primary signs.
In compounding consonants, they should be taken in the order in which they are The last consonant takes a vowel, the preceding ones generally losing their nether and perpendicular strokes when combined. Eg. tsna ought to be written as त्स्न, ṇṇa – ण्ण etc. Some letters, however, change their form slightly and others entirely, when compounded with other consonants. ल्प -lpa, श्च – śca. र् immediately preceding another consonant (or the vowel ऋ) is denoted by the sign written above the following consonant, as कर् (rka).
- A Higher Sanskrit Grammar, M R Kale, Motilal Banarasi Das, Delhi, 1995
- An Essential Guide to Sanskrit, Dennis Waite, Black & White, New Delhi, 2005
- A Sanskrit Grammar, Maxmullar, Parimal Publications, Delhi, 2001
- Sandhiḥ, Mahabalesvara Bhatt, Samskrta Bharati, Bangalore, 2008
- Siddhantakaumudi, Bhattoji Dikshita, Motilal Banarasidas, 2004
- Siddhantakaumudi of Bhattojidikshita, Srisa Chandra Vasu, Motilal Banarasidas, 1995
- The Ashtadhyayi of Pāṇini, Srisa Chandra Vasu, Motilal Banarasidas, 2003