Romanization of Sanskrit: Wikis


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This article contains Indic text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks or boxes, misplaced vowels or missing conjuncts instead of Indic text.

There are several methods of transliteration to Devanāgarī from Roman scripts. The most widely used transliteration methods are IAST (for print) and ITRANS (for e-text). However, there are other transliteration options.


Major transliteration methods

The following are the major transliteration methods for Devanāgarī:


Schemes with diacritics


The International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST) is the most popular academic standard for the romanization of Sanskrit. IAST is the de-facto standard used in printed publications, like books and magazines, and with the wider availability of Unicode fonts, it is also increasingly used for electronic texts.

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 ए and ओ (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 ॠ ऌ and ॡ.

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: [1]

ASCII schemes


Compared to IAST, Harvard-Kyoto looks much simpler. It does not contain all the diacritic marks that IAST contains. This makes typing in Harvard-Kyoto much easier than IAST. Harvard-Kyoto uses capital letters that can be difficult to read in the middle of words.

ITRANS scheme

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.


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.

Transliteration Comparison

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


Devanāgarī IAST Harvard-Kyoto ITRANS Velthuis
a a a a
ā A A/aa aa
i i i i
ī I I/ii ii
u u u u
ū U U/uu uu
e e e e
ai ai ai ai
o o o o
au au au au
R RRi/R^i .r
RR RRI/R^I .rr
lR LLi/L^i .l
lRR LLI/L^I .ll
अं M M/.n/.m .m
अः H H .h


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

Devanāgarī IAST Harvard-Kyoto ITRANS Velthuis
ka ka ka ka
kha kha kha kha
ga ga ga ga
gha gha gha gha
ṅa Ga ~Na "na
ca ca cha ca
cha cha Cha cha
ja ja ja ja
jha jha jha jha
ña Ja ~na ~na
ṭa Ta Ta .ta
ṭha Tha Tha .tha
ḍa Da Da .da
ḍha Dha Dha .dha
ṇa Na Na .na
ta ta ta ta
tha tha tha tha
da da da da
dha dha dha dha
na na na na
pa pa pa pa
pha pha pha pha
ba ba ba ba
bha bha bha bha
ma ma ma ma
ya ya ya ya
ra ra ra ra
la la la la
va va va/wa va
śa za sha "sa
ṣa Sa Sha .sa
sa sa sa sa
ha ha ha ha

Irregular Consonant Clusters

Devanāgarī ISO 15919 Harvard-Kyoto ITRANS
क्ष kṣa kSa kSa/kSha/xa
त्र tra tra tra
ज्ञ jña jJa GYa/j~na
श्र śra zra shra

Other Consonants

Devanāgarī ISO 15919 ITRANS
क़ qa qa
ख़ k͟ha Kha
ग़ ġa Ga
ज़ za za
फ़ fa fa
ड़ ṛa .Da/Ra
ढ़ ṛha .Dha/Rha


Pronunciation of the final "a"

Devanāgarī consonants include an 'inherent a' sound 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 final 'inherent a' is often no longer pronounced in some Sanskrit-derived Indian languages, including Hindi. This results in an alternative 'modern' transliteration that omits it.

  • Sanskrit: Mahābhārata, Rāmāyaṇa, Śiva
  • Hindi: Mahābhārat, Rāmāyaṇ, Śiv

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

  • Krishna, vajra, Maurya

Some Indian languages, like Kannada, continue to use the original pronunciation today. Some, like Marathi, have an intermediate pronunciation.

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 .

In most informal transliterations 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/) or 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, a typographical tour de force at the time. 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. for IAST bh). The sibilants IAST and ś he expressed with spiritus asper and lenis, respectively (sʽ, sʼ). Monier-Williams in his 1899 dictionary used and sh for IAST ś and , 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

External links


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