Devanagari transliteration

There are several methods of transliteration from Devanāgarī to the Roman script (a process known as romanization) which share similarities, although no single system of transliteration has emerged as the standard.[1]


The International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST) is a subset of the ISO 15919 standard, used for the transliteration of Sanskrit Prakrit and Pāḷi into Roman script with diacritics. IAST is a widely used standard.

Hunterian system

The Hunterian system is the "national system of romanization in India" and the one officially adopted by the Government of India.[2][3][4]

The Hunterian system was developed in the nineteenth century by William Wilson Hunter, then Surveyor General of India.[5] When it was proposed, it immediately met with opposition from supporters of the earlier practiced non-systematic and often distorting "Sir Roger Dowler method" (an early corruption of Siraj ud-Daulah) of phonetic transcription, which climaxed in a dramatic showdown in an India Council meeting on 28 May 1872 where the new Hunterian method carried the day. The Hunterian method was inherently simpler and extensible to several Indic scripts because it systematized grapheme transliteration, and it came to prevail and gain government and academic acceptance.[5] Opponents of the grapheme transliteration model continued to mount unsuccessful attempts at reversing government policy until the turn of the century, with one critic calling appealing to "the Indian Government to give up the whole attempt at scientific (i.e. Hunterian) transliteration, and decide once and for all in favour of a return to the old phonetic spelling."[6]

Over time, the Hunterian method extended in reach to cover several Indic scripts, including Burmese and Tibetan.[7][8] Provisions for schwa deletion in Indo-Aryan languages were also made where applicable, e.g. the Hindi कानपुर is transliterated as kānpur (and not kānapura) but the Sanskrit क्रम is transliterated as krama (and not kram). The system has undergone some evolution over time. For instance, long vowels were marked with an accent diacritic in the original version, but this was later replaced in the 1954 Government of India update with a macron.[9] Thus, जान (life) was previously romanized as ján but began to be romanized as jān. The Hunterian system has faced criticism over the years for not producing phonetically accurate results and being "unashamedly geared towards an English-language receiver audience."[9] Specifically, the lack of differentiation between retroflex and dental consonants (e.g. and are both represented by d) has come in for repeated criticism and inspired several proposed modifications of Hunterian, including using a diacritic below retroflexes (e.g. making =d and =, which is more readable but requires diacritic printing) or capitalizing them (e.g. making =d and =D, which requires no diacritic printing but is less readable because it mixes small and capital letters in words).[10]

Alternative transliteration methods

Schemes with diacritics

National Library at Kolkata romanization

The National Library at Kolkata romanization, intended for the romanization of all Indic scripts, is an extension of IAST. It differs from IAST in the use of the symbols ē and ō for and (e and o are used for the short vowels present in many Indian languages), the use of 'ḷ' for the consonant (in Kannada) , and the absence of symbols for , and .

ISO 15919

Main article: ISO 15919

A standard transliteration convention not just for Devanagari, but for all South-Asian languages was codified in the ISO 15919 standard of 2001, providing the basis for modern digital libraries that conform to International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) norms. ISO 15919 defines the common Unicode basis for Roman transliteration of South-Asian texts in a wide variety of languages/scripts.

ISO 15919 transliterations are platform-independent texts, so that they can be used identically on all modern operating systems and software packages, as long as they comply with ISO norms. This is a prerequisite for all modern platforms, so that ISO 15919 has become the new standard for digital libraries and archives for transliterating all South Asian texts.

ISO 15919 uses diacritics to map the much larger set of Brahmic graphemes to the Latin script. See also Transliteration of Indic scripts: how to use ISO 15919. The Devanagari-specific portion is nearly identical to the academic standard, IAST: "International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration", and to the United States Library of Congress standard, ALA-LC:

ASCII schemes


Main articles: Harvard-Kyoto and ITRANS

Compared to IAST, Harvard-Kyoto looks much simpler. It does not contain any of the diacritic marks that IAST contains. Instead of diacritics, Harvard-Kyoto uses capital letters. The use of capital letters makes typing in Harvard-Kyoto much easier than in IAST but produces words with capital letters inside them.

ITRANS scheme

Main article: ITRANS

ITRANS is an extension of Harvard-Kyoto. Many webpages are written in ITRANS. Many forums are also written in ITRANS.

The ITRANS transliteration scheme was developed for the ITRANS software package, a pre-processor for Indic scripts. The user inputs in Roman letters and the ITRANS preprocessor converts the Roman letters into Devanāgarī (or other Indic scripts). The latest version of ITRANS is version 5.30 released in July, 2001.


Main article: Velthuis

The disadvantage of the above ASCII schemes is case-sensitivity, implying that transliterated names may not be capitalized. This difficulty is avoided with the system developed in 1996 by Frans Velthuis for TeX, loosely based on IAST, in which case is irrelevant.


Main article: SLP1

SLP1 (Sanskrit Library Phonetic) is a case-sensitive scheme initially used by Sankrit Library[11] which was developed by Peter Scharf and (the late) Malcolm Hyman, who first described it in appendix B of their book Linguistic Issues in Encoding Sanskrit.[12] The advantage of SLP1 over other encodings is that a single ASCII character is used for each Devanagari letter, a peculiarity that eases reverse transliteration.[13]


Other less popular ASCII schemes include wx-encoding, Vedatype and the 7-bit ISO 15919. WX-encoding, also called Hyderabad-Tirupati scheme, was used for internal representation by a computer, as described in NLP Panini (Appendix B). It is similar to, but not as versatile as, SLP1, as far as coverage of Sanskrit is concerned. Comparison of WX with other schemes is found in Huet (2009), App A.. Vedatype is another scheme used for encoding Vedic texts at Maharishi University of Management. An online transcoding utility across all these schemes is provided at the Sanskrit Library. ISO 15919 includes a so-called "limited character set" option to replace the diacritics by prefixes, so that it is ASCII-compatible. A pictorial explanation is here from Anthony Stone.

Transliteration comparison

The following is a comparison of the major transliteration methods used for Devanāgarī.


अं MM/.n/.m.mM
अः HH.hH
अँ .N ~


The Devanāgarī consonant letters include an implicit 'a' sound. In all of the transliteration systems, that 'a' sound must be represented explicitly.


Irregular consonant clusters

DevanāgarīISO 15919Harvard-KyotoITRANSVelthuisSLP1
क्षkṣa kSakSa/kSha/xak.sakza
ज्ञjña jJaGYa/j~naj~najYa

Other consonants

DevanāgarīISO 15919ITRANS


Treatment of inherent schwa

Devanāgarī consonants include an "inherent a" sound, called the schwa, that must be explicitly represented with an "a" character in the transliteration. Many words and names transliterated from Devanāgarī end with "a", to indicate the pronunciation in the original Sanskrit. This schwa is obligatorily deleted in several modern Indo-Aryan languages, like Hindi, Punjabi, Marathi and others. This results in differing transliterations for Sanskrit and schwa-deleting languages that retain or eliminate the schwa as appropriate:

Some words may keep the final a, generally because they would be difficult to say without it:

Retroflex consonants

Most Indian languages make a distinction between the retroflex and dental forms of the dental consonants. In formal transliteration schemes, the standard Roman letters are used to indicate the dental form, and the retroflex form is indicated by special marks, or the use of other letters. E.g., in IAST transliteration, the retroflex forms are ṇ, ṭ, ḍ and ṣ.

In most informal transcriptions the distinction between retroflex and dental consonants is not indicated.

Aspirated consonants

Where the letter "h" appears after a plosive consonant in Devanāgarī transliteration, it always indicates aspiration. Thus "ph" is pronounced as the p in "pit" (with a small puff of air released as it is said), never as the ph in "photo" (IPA /f/). (On the other hand, "p" is pronounced as the p in "spit" with no release of air.) Similarly "th" is an aspirated "t", neither the th of "this" (voiced, IPA /ð/) nor the th of "thin" (unvoiced, IPA /θ/).

The aspiration is generally indicated in both formal and informal transliteration systems.

History of Sanskrit transliteration

Early Sanskrit texts were originally transmitted by memorization and repetition. Post-Harappan India had no system for writing Indic languages until the creation (in the 4th-3rd centuries BCE) of the Kharoshti and Brahmi scripts. These writing systems, though adequate for Middle Indic languages, were not well-adapted to writing Sanskrit. However, later descendants of Brahmi were modified so that they could record Sanskrit in exacting phonetic detail. The earliest physical text in Sanskrit is a rock inscription by the Western Kshatrapa ruler Rudradaman, written c. 150 CE in Junagadh, Gujarat. Due to the remarkable proliferation of different varieties of Brahmi in the Middle Ages, there is today no single script used for writing Sanskrit; rather, Sanskrit scholars can write the language in a form of whatever script is used to write their local language. However, since the late Middle Ages, there has been a tendency to use Devanagari for writing Sanskrit texts for a widespread readership.

Western scholars in the 19th century adopted Devanagari for printed editions of Sanskrit texts. The editio princeps of the Rigveda by Max Müller was in Devanagari. Müller's London typesetters competed with their Petersburg peers working on Böhtlingk's and Roth's dictionary in cutting all the required ligature types.

From its beginnings, Western Sanskrit philology also felt the need for a romanized spelling of the language. Franz Bopp in 1816 used a romanization scheme, alongside Devanagari, differing from IAST in expressing vowel length by a circumflex (â, î, û), and aspiration by a spiritus asper (e.g. bʽ for IAST bh). The sibilants IAST ṣ and ś he expressed with spiritus asper and lenis, respectively (sʽ, sʼ). Monier-Williams in his 1899 dictionary used ṡ and sh for IAST ś and ṣ, respectively.

From the late 19th century, Western interest in typesetting Devanagari decreased. Theodor Aufrecht published his 1877 edition of the Rigveda in romanized Sanskrit, and Arthur Macdonell's 1910 Vedic grammar (and 1916 Vedic grammar for students) likewise do without Devanagari (while his introductory Sanskrit grammar for students retains Devanagari alongside romanized Sanskrit). Contemporary Western editions of Sanskrit texts appear mostly in IAST.

See also


  1. Daya Nand Sharma, Transliteration into Roman and Devanāgarī of the languages of the Indian group, Survey of India, 1972, ... With the passage of time there has emerged a practically uniform system of transliteration of Devanagari and allied alphabets. Nevertheless, no single system of Romanization has yet developed ...
  2. United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Technical reference manual for the standardization of geographical names, United Nations Publications, 2007, ISBN 978-92-1-161500-5, ... ISO 15919 ... There is no evidence of the use of the system either in India or in international cartographic products ... The Hunterian system is the actually used national system of romanization in India ...
  3. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Regional Cartographic Conference for Asia and the Far East, Volume 2, United Nations, 1955, ... In India the Hunterian system is used, whereby every sound in the local language is uniformly represented by a certain letter in the Roman alphabet ...
  4. National Library (India), Indian scientific & technical publications, exhibition 1960: a bibliography, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, Government of India, 1960, ... The Hunterian system of transliteration, which has international acceptance, has been used ...
  5. 1 2 Francis Henry Skrine, Sir William Wilson Hunter, Life of Sir William Wilson Hunter, K.C.S.I., M.A., LL.D., a vice-president of the Royal Asiatic society, etc, Longmans, Green, and co., 1901, ... phonetic or 'Sir Roger Dowler method' ... The Secretary of State and the great majority of his councillors gave an unqualified support to the Hunterian system ...
  6. The Fortnightly, Volume 68, Chapman and Hall, 1897, ... the Indian Government to give up the whole attempt at scientific (i.e. Hunterian) transliteration, and decide once and for all in favour of a return to the old phonetic spelling ...
  7. Mînn Latt Yêkháun, Modernization of Burmese, Oriental Institute in Academia, Publishing House of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, 1966, ... There does exist a system df transcribing Burmese words in roman letters, one that is called the 'Government', or the 'Hunterian' method ...
  8. Kunwar Krishan Rampal, Mapping and compilation, Concept Publishing Company, 1993, ISBN 978-81-7022-414-3, ... The Hunterian system has rules for transliteration into English the names form Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Burmese, Chinese and Tibetan origin. These rules are described in Chapter VI, Survey of India, Handbook of Topographical Mapping ...
  9. 1 2 The Romanization of Toponyms in the Countries of South Asia, retrieved 2011-02-27, ... In the late 19th century sources, the system marks long vowels with an acute accent, and renders the letters k and q both as k. However, when the system was again published in 1954, alterations had been made. Long vowels were now marked with a macron4 and the q-k distinction was maintained ...
  10. Institution of Surveyors (India), Indian surveyor, Volumes 33-34, Institution of Surveyors., 1991, ... Suggested by . Mr. GS Oberoi, Director, Survey of India, in lieu of the existing table 'Hunterian System of Transliteration' which does not distinguish between and , and ड़, and ...
  11. "The Sanskrit Library » Tools » Indic Script Comparison Table". Archived from the original on 2014-08-08.
  12. Scharf, Peter M.; Hyman, Malcolm D. (2011). Linguistic Issues in Encoding Sanskrit (PDF).
  13. Morphology Help

External links

Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Devanagari
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Learning Devanagari.
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