The word Siddhaṃ in the Siddhaṃ script
|Time period||c. 600–c. 1200 in India, and to the present in East Asia|
|Child systems||Assamese script
[a] The Semitic origin of the Brahmic scripts is not universally agreed upon.
Siddhaṃ (Bengali: সিদ্ধং siddhông; Tibetan: སིད་དྷཾ།; Chinese: 悉曇文字; pinyin: Xītán wénzi; Japanese: 梵字, bonji), meaning "accomplished" or "perfected", also known in its later evolved form as Siddhamātṛkā, is the name of a script used for writing Sanskrit during the period ca 600-1200 CE. It is descended from the Brahmi script via the Gupta script, which gave rise to the Assamese script, Bengali script, Tibetan script and also inspired Japanese kana script. There is some confusion over the spelling: Siddhāṃ and Siddhaṃ both common, though Siddhaṃ is preffered correct. The script is a refinement of the script used during the Gupta Empire. The name arose from the practice of writing the word Siddhaṃ, or Siddhaṃ astu (may there be perfection) at the head of documents.
Siddhaṃ is an abugida or alphasyllabary rather than an alphabet because each character indicates a syllable, but it does not include every possible syllable. If no other mark occurs then the short 'a' is assumed. Diacritic marks indicate the other vowels, the pure nasal, and the aspirated vowel. A special mark can be used to indicate that the letter stands alone with no vowel, which sometimes happens at the end of Sanskrit words.
Many of the Buddhist texts which were taken to China along the Silk Road were written using a version of the Siddhaṃ script. This continued to evolve, and minor variations are seen across time, and in different regions. Importantly it was used for transmitting the Buddhist tantra texts. At the time it was considered important to preserve the pronunciation of mantras, and Chinese was not suitable for writing the sounds of Sanskrit. This led to the retention of the Siddhaṃ Script in East Asia. The practice of writing using Siddhaṃ survived in East Asia where Tantric Buddhism persisted.
Kūkai introduced the Siddhaṃ script to Japan when he returned from China in 806, where he studied Sanskrit with Nalanda-trained monks including one known as Prajñā. By the time Kūkai learned this script, the trading and pilgrimage routes over land to India, were closed by the expanding Islamic empire of the Abbasids.
In Japan the writing of mantras and copying of Sutras using the Siddhaṃ script is still practiced in the esoteric Buddhist schools of Shingon and Tendai as well as in the syncretic sect of Shugendō. The characters are known as shittan (悉曇?) or bonji (梵字?, Chinese: Fánzi). The Taisho edition of the Chinese Tripiṭaka preserves the Siddhaṃ characters for most mantras, and Korean Buddhists still write seed syllables in a modified form of Siddhaṃ. A recent innovation is the writing of Japanese language slogans on T-shirts using Bonji. Japanese Siddhaṃ has evolved from the original script used to write sūtras and is now somewhat different from the ancient script.
It is more typical to see Siddhaṃ written with brushes like Chinese writing, and is also written with a bamboo pen; in Japan, a special brush called a bokuhitsu (朴筆?, Chinese: Bóbǐ) is used for formal Siddhaṃ calligraphy.
In the middle of the 9th century, China experienced a series of purges of "foreign religions", thus cutting Japan off from the sources of Siddhaṃ texts. In time, other scripts, particularly Devanagari replaced Siddhaṃ in India and Bengali script replaced Siddhaṃ in Bengal, leaving East Asia as the only region where Siddhaṃ is used.
Independent form Romanized As diacritic with Independent form Romanized As diacritic with a ā i ī u ū e ai o au aṃ aḥ
Stop Approximant Fricative Tenuis Aspirated Voiced Breathy voiced Nasal Glottal h Velar k kh g gh ṅ Palatal c ch j jh ñ y ś Retroflex ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh ṇ r ṣ Dental t th d dh n l s Bilabial p ph b bh m Labiodental v
kkṣ -ya -ra -la -va -ma -na k kya kra kla kva kma kna rk rkya rkra rkla rkva rkma rkna kh total 68 rows.
- ↑ The combinations that contain adjoining duplicate letters should be deleted in this table。
ska skha dga dgha ṅktra vca/bca vcha/bcha vja/bja vjha/bjha jña ṣṭa ṣṭha dḍa dḍha ṣṇa sta stha vda/bda vdha/bdha rtsna spa spha dba dbha rkṣma
- Alternative forms of conjuncts that contain ṇ.
Some sample syllables
rka rkā rki rkī rku rkū rke rkai rko rkau rkaṃ rkaḥ ṅka ṅkā ṅki ṅkī ṅku ṅkū ṅke ṅkai ṅko ṅkau ṅkaṃ ṅkaḥ
Siddhaṃ is still largely a hand written script. Some efforts have been made to create computer fonts though to date none of these are capable of reproducing all of the Siddhaṃ conjunct consonants. Notably the Chinese Buddhist Electronic Texts Association have created a Siddhaṃ font for their electronic version of the Taisho Tripiṭaka, though this does not contain all possible conjuncts. The software Mojikyo also contains fonts for Siddham, but split Siddham in different blocks and needs different fonts to render one document.
A siddhaṃ input system relies on the CBETA font, Siddhamkey 3.0 has been produced.
Siddhaṃ is not yet encoded in the Unicode standard. A proposal to encode the script has been developed by Anshuman Pandey and submitted to the Unicode Technical Committee. The script block is tentatively allocated to the range U+11580-115FF, as showed in the SMP Roadmap.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Siddham script.|
- Siddham alphabet on Omniglot
- Examples of Siddham mantras Chinese language website.
- Visible Mantra an extensive collection of mantras and some sūtras in Siddhaṃ script
- Bonji Siddham Character and Pronunciation
- SiddhamKey Software for inputting Siddham characters
- Bonji Taikan (梵字大鑑). (Tōkyō: Meicho Fukyūkai, 1983)
- Chaudhuri, Saroj Kumar (1998). Siddham in China and Japan, Sino-Platonic papers No. 88
- Stevens, John. Sacred Calligraphy of the East. (Boston: Shambala, 1995).
- Van Gulik, R.H. Siddham : An Essay on the History of Sanskrit Studies in China and Japan (New Delhi, Jayyed Press, 1981).
- Yamasaki, Taikō. Shingon: Japanese Esoteric Buddhism. (Fresno: Shingon Buddhist International Institute, 1988).