Eastern Nagari script

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Eastern Nagari
Type Abugida
Languages Assamese
Bishnupriya Manipuri
Time period
c. 1200–present
Parent systems
Child systems
Sister systems
ISO 15924 Beng, 325
Direction Left-to-right
Unicode alias
[a] The Semitic origin of the Brahmic scripts is not universally agreed upon.

The Eastern Nagari script is a historical Abugida system of writing belonging to the Brahmic family of scripts which use is associated with the two main languages Bengali and Assamese.[1][2][3] Beside these three, this system has been used for other languages, such as Maithili, Sanskrit, Bishnupriya Manipuri, Mising and Meitei Manipuri languages. Many other languages like Khasi, Bodo, Karbi etc. were also written in this system in the past.[4]

According to Gaurishankar Hirachand Ojha, this system became prevalent in the regions of Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Nepal and Bihar and sprang up from the Nagari script in the eastern part of India, and thus its name.[5] The scripts of Odisha and others developed independently and branched off. Though this system has been called "Bengali" in the past, this system was not used for the Bengali language alone, and nor did it develop in the Bengal region uninfluenced by developments elsewhere.[6][7] Among the modern scripts, the Assamese, Bengali and Maithili scripts belong to the historical Eastern Nagari script. The Assamese script was closer to the Maithili script, but it began to evolve with the Bengali script from the 19th century with the advent of printing.


Consonants in Mithilakshar
The text says: "Shri Shrimat Siva Singha Maharaja". The "র" is used as "ৱ" in this 18th century manuscript, just as in modern Mithilakshar.
Early 13th century rock inscription from near Guwahati, showing mixed Nagari letters. Note the different forms of 'sh'.

While similar to Nagari, Eastern Nagari (and its child scripts Oriya and Mithilakshar) are less blocky and present a more sinuous shaping. Eastern Nagari, Oriya, and Mithilakshar are all derived from the precursor script Siddham. The modern Eastern Nagari script was formalized in 1778 when it was first typeset by Charles Wilkins. In addition to differences in how the letters are pronounced in the different languages, there are some minor typographical differences between the version of the script used for Assamese and Bishnupriya Manipuri, and that used for Bengali and other languages.

Currently, controversy is ongoing as to the validity of this term in the press media of Assam.[8]

The Eastern Nagari script was originally not associated with any particular regional language, but was prevalent as the main script in the eastern regions of Medieval India. The script was originally used to write Sanskrit, which for centuries was the only written language of the Indian subcontinent. Epics of Hindu scripture, including the Mahabharata or Ramayana, were written in older versions of the Eastern Nagari script in this region. After the medieval period, the use of Sanskrit as the sole written language gave way to Pali, and eventually the vernacular dialects that eventually evolved into Bengali, Assamese, and other related languages. Srimanta Sankardeva used the script in the 15th and 16th centuries to compose his oeuvre in Assamese and Brajavali the language of the Bhakti poets; and before him, Madhava Kandali used it to write the Assamese Ramayana in the 14th century. It was also used by the later Ahom kings to write the Buranjis, the Ahom chronicles, in the Assamese language. There is a rich legacy of East sub-continental literature written in this script, which is still occasionally used to write Sanskrit today.

Clusters of consonants are represented by different and sometimes quite irregular characters; thus, learning to read the script is complicated by the sheer size of the full set of characters and character combinations, numbering about 500. While efforts at standardizing the script for the Bengali language continue in such notable centers as the Bangla Academies (unaffiliated) at Dhaka (Bangladesh) and Kolkata (West Bengal, India), it is still not quite uniform as yet, as many people continue to use various archaic forms of letters, resulting in concurrent forms for the same sounds. Among the various regional variations within this script, only the Assamese and Bengali variations exist today in the formalized system.

It seems likely that the standardization of the script will be greatly influenced by the need to typeset it on computers. Work has been underway since around 2001 to develop Unicode fonts, and it seems likely that it will split into two variants, traditional and modern.


In this and other articles on Wikipedia dealing with the Assamese and Bengali languages, a Romanization scheme used by linguists specializing in Assamese and Bengali phonology is included along with IPA transcription.


The script presently has a total of 11 vowel letters, used to represent the seven vowel sounds of Bengali and eight vowel sounds of Assamese, along with a number of vowel diphthongs. All of these vowel letters are used in both Assamese and Bengali. Some of the vowel letters have different sounds depending on the word, and a number of vowel distinctions preserved in the writing system are not pronounced as such in modern spoken Bengali or Assamese. For example, the script has two symbols for the vowel sound [i] and two symbols for the vowel sound [u]. This redundancy stems from the time when this script was used to write Sanskrit, a language that had a short [i] and a long [iː], and a short [u] and a long [uː]. These letters are preserved in the script with their traditional names of "short i" (Bengali: rhôshsho i, Assamese: hôrswo i) and "long i" (Bengali: dirgho i, Assamese: dirghô i), etc., despite the fact that they are no longer pronounced differently in ordinary speech.

Two additional letters, অ' and অ্যা, are not considered letters of the Eastern Nagari script, but are often used in Assamese and Bengali (respectively) to represent certain vowels when the intended pronunciation would otherwise be ambiguous.

Vowel Table
Symbol Assamese Bengali Bishnupriya
Manipuri [1]
Manipuri [2], [3], [4]
ô/o ô/o a a
a a ā â
i i i i
i i ī î
u u u u
u u ū û
ri ri ri/ŗ  ?
li (no usage)
e/ê e/ê e e
ôi oi ai ei/ai
o/å o o o/ô
ôu ou au ou/au

Vowel signs can be used in conjunction with consonants to modify the pronunciation of the consonant (here exemplified by ক, kô). When no vowel is written, the vowel 'অ' (ô or o) is often assumed. To specifically denote the absence of a vowel, a hôshonto (্) may be written underneath the consonant.

Vowel Signs
Symbol Assamese Bengali Bishnupriya
Manipuri [5]
Manipuri [6], [7], [8]
kô/ko kô/ko ka ka
ক' ko
কা ka ka
কি ki ki ki ki
কী ki ki
কু ku ku ku ku
কূ ku ku
কৃ kri kri kri/kŗ
কে ke/kê ke/kê ke ke
কৈ kôi koi kai kei/kai
কো ko ko ko/kô
কৌ kôu kou kau kou/kau


The names of the consonant letters in Eastern Nagari are typically just the consonant's main pronunciation plus the inherent vowel ô. Since the inherent vowel is assumed and not written, most letters' names look identical to the letter itself (e.g. the name of the letter ঘ is itself ঘ ghô). Some letters that have lost their distinctive pronunciation in Modern Assamese and Bengali are called by a more elaborate name. For example, since the consonant phoneme /n/ can be written ন, ণ, or ঞ (depending on the spelling of the particular word), these letters are not simply called ; instead, they are called "dental n" (Bengali: donto nô, Assamese: dôntyô nô), "cerebral n" (Bengali: murdhonno nô, Assamese: murdhônyô nô), and niô/ingô. Similarly, the phoneme /ʃ/ in Bengali and /x/ in Assamese can be written as "palatal sh/x" শ (Bengali: talobbo shô, Assamese: talôibbô xô), "cerebral sh/x" ষ (Bengali: murdhonno shô, Assamese: murdhônyô xô), or "dental sh/x" স (Bengali: donto shô, Assamese: dôntyô xô), depending on the word.

Consonant Table
Symbol Assamese Bengali Bishnupriya
Manipuri [9]
k k k
kh kh kh
g g g
gh gh gh
ng ng η/ng
s ch c∫/ch
s chh chh
z j j
jh jh jh
y n ñ
t ţ ţ
th ţh ţh
d đ đ
ড় ŗ ŗ ŗ/r
dh đh đh
ঢ় ŗh ŗh ŗh
n n n/ņ
t t t
th th th
d d d
dh dh dh
n n n
p p p
ph ph ph/f
b b b
bh bh b'/bh
m m m
z j j
য় y e/Ø y
r r
r r
l l l
w w/v
x/s sh/s ŝ
x/s sh ş
x/s sh/s s
h h h

Consonant conjuncts[edit]

Up to four consecutive consonants not separated by vowels can be orthographically represented as a "consonant conjunct" (Assamese: যুক্তাক্ষৰ juktakkhor). Typically, the first consonant in the conjunct is shown above and/or to the left of the following consonants. Many consonants appear in an abbreviated or compressed form when serving as part of a conjunct. Others simply take exceptional forms in conjuncts, bearing little or no resemblance to the base character.

Often, consonant conjuncts are not actually pronounced as would be implied by the pronunciation of the individual components. For example, adding ল underneath শ shô in Bengali creates the conjunct শ্ল, which is not pronounced shlô but slô in Bengali. Similarly, adding ত under স in Assamese creates the conjunct স্ত, which is not pronounced xtô but stô in Assamese. Many conjuncts represent Sanskrit sounds that were lost thousands of years before the modern languages were spoken, as in জ্ঞ, which is a combination of জ and ঞ niô, but is not pronounced jnô in any Eastern Indic language. Instead, it is pronounced ggyô in Assamese and ggõ in Bengali. Thus, as conjuncts often represent (combinations of) sounds that cannot be easily understood from the components, the following descriptions are concerned only with the construction of the conjunct, and not the resulting pronunciation. Thus, a variant of the IAST romanization scheme is used instead of the phonemic romanization used in other articles:

Fused forms[edit]

Some consonants fuse in such a way that one stroke of the first consonant serves as the a stroke of the next.

  • The consonants can be placed on top of one another, sharing their vertical line: ক্ক kkô গ্ন gnô গ্ল glô ন্ন nnô প্ন pnô প্প ppô ল্ল llô etc.
  • As the last member of a conjunct, ৱ wô and ব bô can hang on the vertical line under the preceding consonants, taking the shape of ব bô (here referred to as বফলা bôfôla): গ্ব gwô ণ্ব ṇwô দ্ব dwô/dbô ল্ব lwô শ্ব śwô.
  • The consonants can also be placed side-by-side, sharing their vertical line: দ্দ ddô ন্দ ndô ব্দ bdô ব্জ bjô প্ট pṭô শ্চ ścô শ্ছ śchô etc.

Approximated forms[edit]

Some consonants are simply written closer to one another to indicate that they are in a conjunct together.

  • As the last member of a conjunct, গ gô can appear unaltered, with the preceding consonant simply written closer to it: দ্গ dgô.
  • As the last member of a conjunct, ৱ wô and ব bô can appear immediately to the right of the preceding consonant, taking the shape of ব bô (here referred to as বফলা bôfôla): ধ্ব dhwô ব্ব bbô হ্ব hwô.

Compressed forms[edit]

Some consonants are compressed (and often simplified) when appearing as the first member of a conjunct.

  • As the first member of a conjunct, the consonants ঙ ŋô চ cô ড ḍô ব bô are often compressed and placed at the top-left of the following consonant, with little or no change to the basic shape: ঙ্ক্ষ ŋkṣô ঙ্খ ŋkhô ঙ্ঘ ŋghô ঙ্ম ŋmô চ্চ ccô চ্ছ cchô চ্ঞ cñô ড্ড ḍḍô ব্ব bbô.
  • As the first member of a conjunct, ত tô is compressed and placed above the following consonant, with little or no change to the basic shape: ত্ন tnô ত্ম tmô ত্ব twô.
  • As the first member of a conjunct, ম mô is compressed and simplified to a curved shape. It is placed above or to the top-left of the following consonant: ম্ন mnô ম্প mpô ম্ফ mfô ম্ব mbô ম্ভ mbhô ম্ম mmô ম্ল mlô.
  • As the first member of a conjunct, ষ ṣô is compressed and simplified to an oval shape with a diagonal stroke through it. It is placed to the top-left of the following consonants: ষ্ক ṣkô ষ্ট ṣṭô ষ্ঠ ṣṭhô ষ্প ṣpô ষ্ফ ṣfô ষ্ম ṣmô.
  • As the first member of a conjunct, স sô is compressed and simplified to a ribbon shape. It is placed above or to the top-left of the following consonant: স্ক skô স্খ skhô স্ট sṭô স্ত stô স্থ sthô স্ন snô স্প spô স্ফ sfô স্ব swô স্ম smô স্ল slô.

Abbreviated forms[edit]

Some consonants are abbreviated when appearing in conjuncts, losing part of their basic shape.

  • As the first member of a conjunct, জ jô can lose its final downstroke: জ্জ jjô জ্ঞ jñô জ্ব jwô.
  • As the first member of a conjunct, ঞ ñô can lose its bottom half: ঞ্চ ñcô ঞ্ছ ñchô ঞ্জ ñjô ঞ্ঝ ñjhô.
  • As the last member of a conjunct, ঞ ñô can lose its left half (the এ part): জ্ঞ jñô.
  • As the first member of a conjunct, ণ ṇô and প pô can lose their downstroke: ণ্ঠ ṇṭhô ণ্ড ṇḍô প্ত ptô প্স psô.
  • As the first member of a conjunct, ত tô and ভ bhô can lose their final upward tail: ত্ত ttô ত্থ tthô ত্র trô ভ্র bhrô.
  • As the last member of a conjunct, থ thô can lose its final upstroke, taking the form of হ hô instead: ন্থ nthô ম্থ mthô স্থ sthô.
  • As the last member of a conjunct, ম mô can lose its initial downstroke: ক্ম kmô গ্ম gmô ঙ্ম ŋmô ট্ম ṭmô ণ্ম ṇmô ত্ম tmô দ্ম dmô ন্ম nmô ম্ম mmô শ্ম śmô ষ্ম ṣmô স্ম smô.
  • As the last member of a conjunct, স sô can lose its top half: ক্স ksô ন্স nsô.

Variant forms[edit]

Some consonants have forms that are used regularly, but only within conjuncts.

  • As the first member of a conjunct, ঙ ŋô can appear as a loop and curl: ঙ্ক ŋkô ঙ্গ ŋgô.
  • As the last member of a conjunct, the curled top of ধ dhô is replaced by a straight downstroke to the right: গ্ধ gdhô দ্ধ ddhô ন্ধ ndhô ব্ধ bdhô.
  • As the first member of a conjunct, র rô appears as a diagonal stroke (called রেফ ref) above the following member: র্ক rkô র্খ rkhô র্গ rgô র্ঘ rghô etc.
  • As the last member of a conjunct, র rô appears as a wavy horizontal line (called রফলা rôfôla) under the previous member: খ্র khrô গ্র grô ঘ্র ghrô ব্র brô etc.
    • In some fonts, certain conjuncts with রফলা rôfôla appear using the compressed (and often simplified) form of the previous consonant: জ্র jrô ট্র ṭrô ঠ্র ṭhrô ড্র ḍrô ম্র mrô স্র srô.
    • In some fonts, certain conjuncts with রফলা rôfôla appear using the abbreviated form of the previous consonant: ক্র krô ত্র trô ভ্র bhrô
  • As the last member of a conjunct, য yô appears as a wavy vertical line (called যফলা jôfôla) to the right of the previous member: ক্য kyô খ্য khyô গ্য gyô ঘ্য ghyô etc.
    • In some fonts, certain conjuncts with যফলা jôfôla appear using special fused forms: দ্য dyô ন্য nyô শ্য śyô ষ্য ṣyô স্য syô হ্য hyô.


  • When followed by র rô, ক kô takes on the abbreviated form of ত tô with the addition of a curl to the right: ক্র krô.
  • When preceded by the abbreviated form of ঞ ñô, চ cô takes the shape of ব bô: ঞ্চ ñcô
  • When preceded by another ট ṭô, ট ṭô is reduced to a leftward curl: ট্ট ṭṭô.
  • When preceded by ষ ṣô, ণ ṇô appears as two loops to the right: ষ্ণ ṣṇô.
  • As the first member of a conjunct, or when word-final and followed by no vowel, ত tô can appear as ৎ (called খণ্ড-ত khônḍo tô or "broken "): ৎস tsô ৎপ tpô ৎক tkô etc.
  • When preceded by হ hô, ন nô appears as a curl to the right: হ্ন hnô.
  • Certain combinations simply must be memorized: ক্ষ kṣô (considered an independent letter in Assamese) হ্ম hmô.

Exceptional consonant-vowel combinations[edit]

When serving as a vowel sign, উ u, ঊ ū, and ঋ take on many exceptional forms.

  • উ u
    • When following গ gô or শ śô, it takes on a variant form resembling the final tail of ও: গু gu শু śu.
    • When following a ত tô that is already part of a conjunct with ন nô or স sô, it is fused with the ত tô to resemble ও o: ন্তু ntu স্তু stu.
    • When following র rô, and in many fonts also following the variant রফলা rôfôla, it appears as an upward curl to the right of the preceding consonant as opposed to a downward loop below: রু ru গ্রু gru ত্রু tru থ্রু thru দ্রু dru ধ্রু dhru ব্রু bru ভ্রু bhru শ্রু śru.
    • When following হ hô, it appears as an extra curl: হু hu.
  • ঊ ū
    • When following র rô, and in many fonts also following the variant রফলা rôfôla, it appears as a downstroke to the right of the preceding consonant as opposed to a downward hook below: রূ rū গ্রূ grū থ্রূ thrū দ্রূ drū ধ্রূ dhrū ভ্রূ bhrū শ্রূ śrū.
    • When following হ hô, it takes the variant shape of ঊ ū: হৃ hṛ.

Conjuncts of three consonants also exist, and follow the same rules as above. Examples include স sô + ত tô +র rô = স্ত্র strô, ম mô + প pô + র rô = ম্প্র mprô, ঙ ŋô + ক kô + ষ ṣô = ঙ্ক্ষ ŋkṣô, জ jô + জ jô + ৱ wô = জ্জ্ব jjwô, ক kô + ষ ṣô + ম mô = ক্ষ্ম kṣmô. Theoretically, four-consonant conjuncts can also be created, as in র rô + স sô + ট ṭô + র rô = র্স্ট্র rsṭrô, but these are not found in real words.


Western Arabic numerals 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Eastern Nagari numerals
Assamese names xuinnô ek dui tini sari pas sôy xat ath
শূন্য এক দুই তিনি চাৰি পাচ ছয় সাত আঠ
Bengali names shunno êk dui tin char pãch chhôe shat nôe
শূন্য এক দুই তিন চার পাঁচ ছয় সাত আট নয়

Eastern Nagari in Unicode[edit]

The Unicode range for Eastern Nagari is U+0980–U+09FF. Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points.

Unicode.org chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+09Bx ি
1.^ As of Unicode version 6.3

External links[edit]


  1. ^ http://books.google.co.in/books?id=F2SRqDzB50wC&pg=PA522&lpg=PA522&dq=assamese+speakers+around+the+world&source=bl&ots=SPjBw6vHYc&sig=qUd_fxmb2DIrNkZ4d_XENZmeTNU&hl=en&ei=zwmDTr73O86urAe5zuSLDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CFAQ6AEwBQ#v=snippet&q=%22Major%20languages%20in%20the%20eastern%20group%20are%3A%22&f=false
  2. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ISO_639-1_codes
  3. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_first_written_accounts#First_millennium_AD
  4. ^ Prabhakara, M S Scripting a solution, The Hindu, 19 May 2005.
  5. ^ "The Bengali script sprang up from the Nagari script as prevalent in the eastern region of India, that is, around Magadha, the specimens of which are to be found in the numerous rock-inscriptions, land-grants and coins of Bihar, Bengal, Mithila, Nepal, Assam and Orissa." (Ojha 1959, Bharatiya Prachin Lipimala (3ed) p77), in (Bora 1989, p. 4)
  6. ^ "Gaurishankar Hirachand Ojha depends entirely upon the specimens provided by a whole series of Assam inscriptions, such as, of vaidyadeva and of Vallabhendra's land-grants to trace the evolution of the 'Bengali script' in so far as it is reflected in the 12th century writings." (Bora 1989, p. 4)
  7. ^ "In fact, it is the Assam inscriptions, such as, of Nidhanpur and Dubi signed under the seal of Bhaskarvarman, and even of the Kamakhya Hills (Amratakeshwar temple) as given by Pramatha Singha, which enable him (R D Banerji) to trace the continuous process of development of the 'Bengali script'." (Bora 1989, p. 5)
  8. ^ Assamese script controversy and Unicode by Aziz-ul-Haque


  • Bora, Mahendra (1981). The Evolution of Assamese Script. Jorhat, Assam: Assam Sahitya Sabha.