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Learning Sanskrit - Ancient Sanskrit characters
A comparative study of the ancient and new Devanāgarī characters
Hi, Gabriel Pradīpaka again. Devanāgarī is the modern alphabet to write in Sanskrit. By "modern" I mean: since Middle Ages up to date. Remember that Sanskrit is the oldest Indo-European language which is known (read the Linguistic section for more information). Anyway, Sanskrit used other two alphabets in ancient times: Brāhma (also known as "Brāhmī" or "Brāhmīlipi") and Kharoṣṭhī. I will not speak about these two old alphabets, which are not used anymore since long, but if you want to know more about them, go to this site dealing with Indian languages and scripts.
Therefore, Devanāgarī is the current alphabet used to write in Sanskrit since the Middle Ages. As a result, it has also inevitably undergone a process of evolution and modifications. In other words, some characters has been changed. This website uses the Sanskrit 2003 font, which consists of Sanskrit characters drawn in a up to date format. Nonetheless, you might read some books (e.g. dictionaries, grammars, etc.) or visit websites where the ancient characters are used instead, and consequently some confusion will accrue to you. I have been frequently asked via e-mail about how to dissipate this confusion, and in order not to send many individual messages with responses, I decided to write the present document and so respond everybody simultaneously. Oh, I am a clever boy, hehe.
Also, keep in mind that there are two types of Sanskrit: Vedic and Post-vedic (also called Classic). Before the fourth century BC, approximately, Vedic Sanskrit was on its height, but then it was replaced with Classic Sanskrit (the one I teach you in the site). Vedic Sanskrit has some common points with Classic Sanskrit, but there are big differences too. If you want to see an example of Vedic Sanskrit, read my Ṛgveda translation. In turn, if you want to see an example of Classic Sanskrit, read my Spandanirṇaya translation. Vedic Sanskrit is "by far" much more difficult than Classic Sanskrit as far as grammar is concerned. On top of that, it contains plenty of strange written accents you can see on this site. Classic Sanskrit is without any written accent. That is to say, everything is written in Devanāgarī script, both Vedic and Postvedic, but you will not find any of those accents in Classic Sanskrit ever.
Well, let us get down to work!
Firstly, the alphabet in Devanāgarī such as is shown in our website. It contains the modern forms only.
And now the same alphabet but using ancient Sanskrit characters. The characters which have been changed are in violet.
|a||ā||i||ī||u||ū||ṛ||ṝ||ḷ||e||ai||o||au||aṁ 1||aḥ 1|
1 As a matter of fact, Anusvāra (the dot) and Visarga (the two dots) have not been modified at all. Only the "a" vowel accompanying them in the alphabet has been changed.
The ancient numbers apparently remain the same. Anyway, there are several additional variants as regards letters and numbers, which also should be kept in mind, because you will very likely stumble upon them some day. Some of these variants are old while other are modern. Remember that the Conjuncts are agglutinate consonants.
The following table is intended for all users. Of course, I am not going to write every possible variant but the most commonly seen. I will write down the variants I am aware of at this moment. Nonetheless, be warned that this table might be updated with more variants in the future:
|Numbers (variants included)||n/a||n/a||n/a||or||n/a||n/a||or or||n/a|
Some examples now showing modern characters vs. ancient characters.
The following examples do not include the variants, but only the modern and ancient characters defined in the respective tables with the alphabets:
|Using modern characters||अभिनवगुप्त||आनन्द||ऋषि||ॠः||ओदन||और्वर||छन्दस्||झटिति||कृष्ण||शिव|
|Using ancient characters|
|Translation||Ever new and hidden (name of one of the greatest Trika masters)||bliss||sage, seer||a Bhairava or terrible form of Śiva||boiled rice||coming from the earth or ground||meter||instantly||Lord Kṛṣṇa (lit. black)||Lord Śiva (lit. auspicious)|
|Using modern characters||अत्र||आचार्य||ऋत||ॠकार||ओघ||औदर्य||प्रछ्||झगझगाय||दण्ड||शक्ति|
|Using ancient characters|
|Translation||here||a spiritual teacher||right, proper||the letter "ṝ"||flood, stream||being in the stomach or belly||to ask (questions)||to sparkle, flash||a stick||Power|
|Using modern characters||अखिल||आरण्य||ऋच्||ॠस्वर||ओजस्||औष्ठ||इच्छा||झष||कर्ण||कश्मीर|
|Using ancient characters|
|Translation||whole, completely||related to a forest||to praise||the vowel "ṝ"||vigor||lip-shaped||will||a large fish||ear||Kashmir|
And that is it for now!
This document was conceived by Gabriel Pradīpaka, one of the two founders of this site, and spiritual guru conversant with Sanskrit language and Trika philosophy.
For further information about Sanskrit, Yoga and Indian Philosophy; or if you simply want to comment, ask a question or correct a mistake, feel free to contact us: This is our e-mail address.