How Devanagari works

Devanagari (देवनागरी) is a script that is used to write languages like Hindi, Marathi, and Nepali. In modern times, it is the script most commonly used to write Sanskrit.

Devanagari is written from left to right and closely follows how Sanskrit is pronounced. If you hear a Sanskrit word, you will know exactly how to write it in Devanagari. And if you see a word written in Devanagari, you will know exactly how to pronounce it.

In the Latin script, one letter follows right after the other, from left to right. But in Devanagari, symbols are usually grouped into syllables:

  • दे व ना ग री
    de va nā ga rī

  • सं स्कृ त म्
    saṃ skṛ ta m

Each syllable has at most one vowel. And where possible, syllables should not end with consonants.

By default, the symbols for consonants have the vowel sound a pronounced after them:

  • द व न ग र
    da va na ga ra

  • स स्क त म
    sa ska ta ma

So to express the specific sounds we need, we must add extra marks to these consonants:

  • द → दे
    da → de

  • न → ना
    na →

  • र → री
    ra →

  • स → सं
    sa → saṃ

  • स्क → स्कृ
    ska → skṛ

  • म → म्
    ma → m

Also, notice that ska (स्क) is a combination of two other consonant symbols:

  • स् + क → स्क
    s + ka → ska

Sanskrit has many consonant clusters, so when we write Sanskrit in Devanagari, we must use many different consonant combinations. For details, see the lesson on consonant clusters later in this topic.

Finally, the traditional practice when writing Sanskrit texts is to write words continuously, especially if words end with consonants:

  • फलम् इच्छामि → फलमिच्छामि
    phalam icchāmi → phalamicchāmi

This is the basic idea of how Devanagari works.