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.
Here, we introduce the Devanagari script and show how it is used to write Sanskrit. Throughout this page, we also offer some basic tips on how to learn and practice it.
How Devanagari works
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 → nā
र → री
ra → rī
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 section below.
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.
When vowels do not follow consonants, they are written like this:
We include the long vowel ॡ here for the sake of being complete, but it is never used in real Sanskrit.
In general, short and long vowels are written in a similar way: अ and आ, इ and ई, उ and ऊ, ऋ and ॠ, and ऌ and ॡ. This pattern also applies to ए and ऐ, as well as ओ and औ. In each pair, notice that the second symbol adds some mark or extra feature to the first.
When we write Sanskrit in Devanagari, all consonants are pronounced with the vowel a by default. So, the symbol क is always pronounced as ka, never as k.
We also have ḻa, which is used only in Vedic Sanskrit:
Some of these consonants are difficult to tell apart at first. Here are the consonants that are most easily confused:
ट ठ ढ द
ṭa ṭha ḍha da
प फ य ष
pa pha ya ṣa
As you start to learn these symbols, it may help to make mnemonics to keep them distinct in your head. For example:
घ is a “g” sound, and it looks like a gut full of gas.
ङ is a nasal sound, and its dot looks like a nose ring.
च is a “c” sound and looks like a chewing mouth.
ज is a “j” sound and looks like a sharp javelin.
ब and भ are “b” sounds, and they look broken.
Of course, the mnemonics that stick best are the ones you think of yourself.
Vowels after consonants
Vowels that follow consonants are written as small “marks” around the consonant they follow:
Again, we include the long vowel कॣ (kḹ) for the sake of being complete, but it is never used in real Sanskrit.
The important point to remember here is that the vowel a has no special mark. a is present by default. If needed, we can block that default a sound with a mark called the virāma, which we discuss further below.
Most consonants use these marks in a regular way. But perhaps the three combinations below will be surprising:
anusvāra, visarga, candrabindu, and virāma
The anusvāra and visarga are written as follows:
The candrabindu (“moon dot”) shows that a sound is pronounced nasally. It is usually used for nasal vowels:
Finally, the virāma (“cessation”) blocks the default a sound that a consonant would have otherwise:
A consonant cluster is a group of consecutive consonants with no vowel sounds between them. Consonant clusters are common in Sanskrit, so they are common when we write Sanskrit in Devanagari. You can learn to recognize most consonant clusters with some practice.
First, we should note something important. Not all styles of Devanagari will use all of these consonant clusters. And, the clusters you will see online depend greatly on how well your computer supports these clusters.
Now, let's begin. First, here are the two clusters you absolutely must know. Why? It's because these clusters do not resemble their original consonants at all. For that reason, we cannot guess what sounds they represent; we must know ahead of time. Here are the two clusters:
Now, let's consider the other consonant cluster. Notice that most Devanagari consonants have a single vertical line running from top to bottom. Usually, this line is on the right side of the consonant:
In many consonant clusters, the first consonant loses this line and attaches to the consonant that follows it:
If ra is the first consonant, we simply add a small hook to the top of the second:
If ra is second, we add a small tick to the first consonant. For consonants with a “hoop” shape (like ट, ठ, ढ, and द), we use a different symbol instead:
If na is second, we write it in the same way as ra:
If ya or ma is second, it combines like this:
If śa is first, it combines like this:
If ṣa is first, it often stacks vertically on top of the consonants that follow it:
Voiced aspirated consonants that follow da usually “dangle” off the bottom of the da:
ta combines in various ways that are hard to predict:
And if three or more consonants are in a cluster, we sometimes get more complex combinations:
The numerals that we use in the West originate in India. As a result, the numerals we use in Devanagari are quite similar to the ones we use in English:
And they are used just like English numerals:
Modern Sanskrit texts make use of various English punctuation marks, including exclamation points (!), commas (,), and quotation marks (“”).
But traditionally, Devanagari uses only a small set of punctuation marks. You can see all of them below:
The first is called the daṇḍa (“stick”), which marks the end of a sentence or the middle point of a verse:
The second is sometimes called a double daṇḍa, and it marks the end of a paragraph or verse:
रामो लङ्कां गच्छति। रामो रावणं हन्ति॥
rāmo laṅkāṃ gacchati. rāmo rāvaṇaṃ hanti.
Rama goes to Lanka. Rama kills Ravana.
The last is called the avagraha, and it is sometimes used to show that a vowel was removed due to a sound change rule:
श्वेतः अश्वः → श्वेतो ऽश्वः
śvetaḥ aśvaḥ → śveto 'śvaḥ
ते अश्वाः → ते ऽश्वाः
te aśvāḥ → te 'śvāḥ
They are horses.
An avagraha may even be repeated if the vowel removed was long:
सा आस्ते → सा ऽऽस्ते
sā āste → sā ''ste
When we write Vedic Sanskrit in Devanagari, we often use many accent marks to show how a vowel should be pronounced. Most commonly, we see just three accents: udātta, anudātta, and svarita.
In modern recitation, the anudātta is a low tone and the svarita is a high tone, with the udātta being between these two. Below, you can see how anudātta, udātta, and svarita are usually written down:
Note that udātta has no explicit mark and is assumed by default.
Certain Devanagari letters have older versions that are no longer commonly used. You can see these older versions below:
|Old Devanagari||New Devanagari|