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The syllable ka in Devanagari
ka in Devanagari
Distribution area of ​​Devanagari
Font Abugida
languages Hindi , Sanskrit , Prakrit , Bihari , Bhili , Bhojpuri , Kashmiri , Konkani , Marathi , Nepali , Newari , Sindhi
Used in North India, Nepal
ancestry Protosinaitic script
 →  Phoenician script
  →  Aramaic script
   →  Brahmic script
    →  Devanagari
particularities Belongs to the Indian font family.

Devanagari ( देवनागरी , devanāgarī ) is an Indian script used to write Sanskrit , Prakrit, and some modern Indian languages ​​such as Hindi and Marathi . It goes back to the much older Brahmi script , which began in the 3rd century BC. . AD is currently in India. The oldest surviving inscription in Devanagari is from the 7th century . It has been the predominant script in India since the 11th century .

The Devanagari is a letter writing (more precisely: an Abugida ) in which each basic character represents a consonant with an inherent, short a. The graphic arrangement of the characters corresponds to the order of the spoken syllables, but not always to the order of the individual sounds , which is why one speaks of an alphasyllabic system. The direction of writing and reading is clockwise, i.e. H. left to right.

Meaning of the name

The name Devanagari freely translated means "scripture of the divine city" or "scripture from the city of the gods". This expresses that it is not of human origin. "Devanagari" is the usual transcription of the Sanskrit word, in some cases in India today there are also spellings (and pronunciations) such as "Devnagri", "Devanagri" or (more rarely) "Deonagri".


Maoist slogans on Newari in Devanagari script in Nepal
Devanagari in everyday life (street scene in Varanasi )

Of the numerous scriptures used in South Asia, Devanagari is the most common. In contrast to most of the other Indian scripts, the use of which is restricted to one language, the Devanagari is written in several important languages ​​in the north of the Indian subcontinent. The most important are Hindi , the largest Indian language and national language of the Indian Union, the Marathi spoken in Maharashtra state and Nepali , the official language of Nepal . There are also various regional languages, some of which are understood as dialects of Hindi ( Bihari , Rajasthani , Pahari etc.) and some smaller languages ​​such as Konkani in Goa , which is related to Marathi , Newari in Nepal and Bhili in West India. Sanskrit , the classical language of Hinduism , used to be written in the different parts of India in the respective regional script, but today Devanagari has established itself as the common script for Sanskrit texts.

For some languages, Devanagari is used parallel to other scripts: Kashmiri and Sindhi are written in Perso-Arabic script in Pakistan and in Devanagari in India; Panjabi write the Muslim spokesman in perso-Arab Shahmukhi -Schrift that Sikhs in the Gurmukhi script and the Hindus in Devanagari. In the case of Hindi and Urdu spoken by Indian and Pakistani Muslims , the use of the Devanagari script for Hindi and Perso-Arabic script for Urdu is the most important distinguishing feature between these two languages, along with differences in vocabulary.

Text example

Homepage of the Hindi Wikipedia . Representation of Hindi in Devanagari, no scriptura continua ; one word per rekha. The first link is: " vikipīḍiyā ".

Homepage of the Hindi Wikipedia

Characteristics of the font

Devanagari is written from left to right. In contrast to syllabary scripts such as Japanese hiragana and katakana , each character ( grapheme ) normally only represents one sound. Thus, there is a phoneme-grapheme correspondence ( PGK ). The Devanagari has 33 consonants (व्यंजन, vyañjana), 13 vowels (स्वर, svara) and 2 additional sounds. The vowel [ʌ], which is particularly common in Sanskrit and Hindi, is only shown at the beginning of the word, otherwise it is attached to the preceding consonant. The other vowels are represented by full letters at the beginning of the word, otherwise by ( diacritical ) signs, which, depending on the vowel, are on the left or right, above or below the consonant spoken in front. Vowelless consonants can either be represented by a dash (called halant or virām ) attached to the bottom of the consonant , similar to vocalized Arabic texts, or by fusing the vowelless consonants with the following vowel-bearing to form a ligature . The segmental order of the script, consisting of consonant ligatures with zero to one vowel mark, is not identical to the spoken syllables. Modern spellings use fewer ligatures than older ones.

Sanskrit text written in different scripts: "May Shiva bless whoever pleases the language of the gods." ( Kalidasa ).

Due to these peculiarities, a group of signs, an Akshara, is created for each “syllable” . The letters and groups of letters of a word are connected to one another by a continuous header called rekhā रेखा ('line').

Example: “Student”
Devanagari विद्यार्थी
Transcription: vidyārthī
Grapheme sequence: iv-dyā-thīr

This representation of the grapheme sequence using Latin letters, which is confusing for European readers, does not do justice to the Devanagari script. If you understand it as consonant writing with diacritical marks , then the i appended to the v is an arc with a line in front of the letter, different from ī , an arc with a line behind the letter. And the front of the th to speaking r is a check mark right above the vocalized consonants.

The above-mentioned modern use of Rekha is also Pausaform called. In contrast, the scriptura continua is used in old Sanskrit manuscripts , with the upper rekha ('line') only being interrupted with a few orthographically standardized exceptions. The contractions and assimilations occurring phonetically at the word and syllable boundaries are also represented by ligatures (संधि, sandhi). The following applies to the old manuscripts: The Akshara held together by a Rekha can represent more than one word, individual words are the exception.

The vowel symbols for long i, for ai, o and au protrude beyond the top line, as do the secondary vowel symbols for short and long i, for e, ai, o and au. Secondary are those that are before, after, above or below consonant signs. The secondary vowel signs for short and long u are below the associated consonant. An r at the beginning of a consonant cluster is also implemented above the line, in the form of a small tick after the associated consonant symbol or symbols. Finally, the diacritical marks for class nasal and nasalization also appear above the line. Devanagari doesn't distinguish between upper and lower case.



In the Devanagari a distinction is made between isolated and modifying forms of vowels. The Devanagari is a letter writing (more precisely: an Abugida ) in which each basic character represents a consonant with an inherent, short a. If another vowel is to be used instead of this a, this is achieved by modifying diacritical marks. Isolated forms appear at the beginning of the word and after another vowel: की , but कई kaī .

The modifying character for the short i is to the left of (i.e. apparently in front of) the modified syllable character (just like other modifiers are under (u), above (e) or to the right (o)). Nevertheless, the i is pronounced after the corresponding consonant. Modifying vowels are not independent characters, but are added to the basic character. Devanagari is read by syllables, not letters. Some browsers do not support the orientation of the i modifier correctly, so short i are displayed incorrectly.

The following tables show the isolated form of the vowels on the left and the modifying form on the right (using the example of the basic syllable क ka).

In the Devanagari only a, i and u are considered real vowels. They each have a short form (basic level) and a long form (expansion level).

Elementary level Expansion stage
अ a क ka आ ā का kā
इ i कि ki ई ī की kī
उ u कु ku ऊ ū कू kū
Vowel consonants
Elementary level Expansion stage
ऋ ṛ कृ kṛ ॠ ṝ कॄ kṝ
ऌ ḷ कॢ kḷ ॡ ḹ कॣ kḹ

e and o are old diphthongs , where e is to be understood as monophthongized ăi, o, however, as monophthongated ău. This results in a system of a monophthong e or o in the basic level and a diphthong ai or au in the expansion level. All four sounds represent long vowels or diphthongs, but these lengths are usually not noted in the IAST transcription .

e class o class
Elementary level Expansion stage Elementary level Expansion stage
ए e के ke ऐ ai कै kai ओ o को ko औ au कौ chew

Furthermore, there is an open form of the basic diphthongs , which is used for the writing of open vowels in English loanwords and proper names, and a short form for words from Dravidian languages , which differentiate between short and long e and o:

e class o class
open form ऍ ê कॅ kê ऑ ô कॉ kô
short form ऎ ĕ कॆ kĕ ऒ ŏ कॊ kŏ


Palatal sounds are spoken nowadays as affricates , that is, cha, dscha, etc. With retroflexes , the tip of the tongue is bent far back (like the English t in “true”). The dental sounds are articulated a little further ahead than in German, the tip of the tongue is on the lower incisors. The use of aspiration of the sounds is particularly difficult .

Special graphs for sounds, which were mainly taken from Persian or for loan words from other languages ​​(e.g. English ), are identified by basic characters in conjunction with a nuqta ( नुक़ता , nuqtā 'point' <pers. نقطة nuqt̤a). They only appear in modern languages ​​like Hindi; Their pronunciation is standardized, but varies greatly in daily use. Often the basic form is also spoken (for example “philm” instead of “film”), since the lexicographical classification is also made with the basic characters. "Let's make phiphti phiphti" ( fifty-fifty, '50 / 50 ').

Overview of the consonants

( plosives )
( nasals )
( approximants )
ūṣma / saṃghashrī
( fricatives )
Voicing aghoṣa ghoṣa aghoṣa ghoṣa
Aspiration alpaprāṇa mahāprāṇa alpaprāṇa mahāprāṇa alpaprāṇa mahāprāṇa
( guttural )
कण्ठ्य kaṇṭhya
(कण्ठ kaṇṭha = throat, throat)
/ k /
/ kʰ /
/ ɡ /
/ ɡʱ /
/ ŋ /
/ ɦ /
ه ، ح
( palatal )
तालव्य tālavya
(तालु tālu = palate)
/ c, t͡ʃ /
/ cʰ, t͡ʃʰ /
/ ɟ, d͡ʒ /
/ ɟʱ, dʒ /
/ ɲ /
/ j /
/ ɕ, ʃ /
( Retroflexe )
मूर्धन्य mūrdhanya
(मूर्धन् mūrdhan = peak, forehead)
/ ʈ /
/ ʈʰ /
/ ɖ /
/ ɖʱ /
/ ɳ /
/ r /
/ ʂ /
( dental )
दन्त्य dantya
(दन्त danta = tooth)
/ t̪ /
ت ، ط
/ t̪ʰ /
/ d̪ /
/ d̪ʱ /
/ n /
/ l /
/ s /
س ، ص ، ث
( labial )
ओष्ठ्य oṣṭhya
(ओष्ठ oṣṭha = Lippe)
/ p /
/ pʰ /
/ b /
/ bʱ /
/ w, ʋ /


In addition to the symbols shown here, there are numerous ligatures that are mainly used in Sanskrit . They occur when two or more consonants meet directly in a word or sentence, e.g. B. with the word ātman (आत्मन्) the consonants t and m. In this case the character ta loses its vertical line and is added to the ma at the front. So ta (त) and ma (म) merge to tma (त्म).

If the symbol for the first consonant does not contain a vertical line, it remains largely unchanged and the following consonant is placed below (with the loss of its horizontal line), sometimes also added after it. There are some exceptions to these rules, as well as some special spellings with stronger abbreviations. A couple of nice examples can be found in the manual for the TeX package “devanagari”.

Other modifiers

The most important special characters are listed in the table below. There are, especially in Sanskrit, an almost unmanageable number more of them, including pitch accents for recitation, etc. There are also many different transliteration systems . The information below has proven to be particularly useful for Hindi.

क् k Halant / Virama: suppresses the inherent a
कँ / कं Candrabindu / Anunasik: the vowel is nasalized, the second variant is becoming more and more popular in Hindi
कैं ka͠ı Candrabindu / Anunasik: if a vowel mark extends beyond the rekha, only one point is written
हिंदी hindī / hĩndī Anusvar: represents a class nasal before a class consonant
कः kaḥ Visarga: aspiration of the previous vowel


The Devanagari digits and their use in a decimal place value system go back to the same Indian roots as today's digits , known in Europe as "Arabic" .

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

Devanagari in ISO-8859

Efforts were made to standardize Devanagari as ISO 8859-12 . However, the corresponding work was stopped in 1997.

Devanagari in Unicode

The Unicode range for Devanagari is U + 0900 to U + 097F . With the Unicode 4.1.0 standard has been at code point U + 097D introduced a new character. It is called DEVANAGARI LETTER GLOTTAL STOP and is used to write the glottal sound in Limbu .

0 1 2 3 4th 5 6th 7th 8th 9 A. B. C. D. E. F.
093 ि
095 क़ ख़ ग़ ज़ ड़ ढ़ फ़ य़
097 ॿ

See also


  • Elvira Friedrich: Introduction to the Indian Scriptures. Part 1: Devanagari . Buske, Hamburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-87548-462-5 .
  • Harald Haarmann : Universal history of writing . Chapter: The Northern Group of the Indian Scriptures. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt / New York 1990, pages 523 - 542. ISBN 3-593-34346-0 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Devanagari  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Devanagari  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikibooks: Devanagari  - learning and teaching materials


Individual evidence

  1. Dating according to Klaus Mylius: History of ancient Indian literature. Fischer Scherz, Bern 1988, ISBN 3-502-16480-0 , p. 14.
  2. ("divine city writing") according to Monier-Williams: A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Motilal Banarsidass, 2011, ISBN 81-208-3105-5 .
  3. See also Section 7 “Ligatures”.
  4. ^ Anshuman Pandey: Devanāgarī for ΤΕΧ . May 27, 2006 (English, PDF ). PDF ( Memento of the original from February 1, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. ^ Thomas T. Pedersen: Transliteration of Hindi, Marathi & Nepali . July 20, 2005 ( PDF ).
  6. ITSCJ. Processing Society of Japan.  ( Page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF)@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  7. Devanagar ( English , PDF) Unicode, Inc .. Retrieved March 11, 2019.