Devanagari transliteration

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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[dubious ] 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. It uses diacritics to differentiate between retroflex and dental consonants (e.g. making dental द=d and retroflex ड=ḍ, which is more readable but requires diacritic printing).

Hunterian system[edit]

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[edit]

Schemes with diacritics[edit]

National Library at Kolkata romanization[edit]

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[edit]

A standard transliteration convention not just for Devanagari,[11] 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.[original research?]

ISO 15919[12] uses diacritics to map the much larger set of Brahmic graphemes to the Latin script. The Devanagari-specific portion is nearly identical to the academic standard, IAST: "International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration", and to ALA-LC, the United States Library of Congress standard.[13]

Another standard, United Nations Romanization Systems for Geographical Names (UNRSGN), was developed by the United Nations Group of Experts[14] on Geographical Names (UNGEGN)[15] and covers many Brahmic scripts. There are some differences[16] between ISO 15919 and UNRSGN.

ASCII schemes[edit]


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[edit]

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.


SLP1 (Sanskrit Library Phonetic) is a case-sensitive scheme initially used by Sankrit Library[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]


Other less popular ASCII schemes include WX_notation, Vedatype and the 7-bit ISO 15919. WX_notation is a transliteration scheme for representing Indian languages in ASCII. It originated at IIT Kanpur for computational processing of Indian languages, and is widely used among the natural language processing (NLP) community in India. This scheme is described in NLP Panini (Appendix B). It is similar to, but not as versatile as, SLP1, as far as the coverage of Vedic 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[edit]

The following is a comparison[20] of the major transliteration[21] methods used for Devanāgarī.


Devanāgarī IAST ISO 15919 Harvard-Kyoto ITRANS Velthuis SLP1
a a a a a a
ā ā A A/aa aa A
i i i i i i
ī ī I I/ii ii I
u u u u u u
ū ū U U/uu uu U
e ē e e e e
ai ai ai ai ai E
o ō o o o o
au au au au au O
R RRi/R^i .r f
r̥̄ RR RRI/R^I .rr F
lR LLi/L^i .l x
l̥̄ lRR LLI/L^I .ll X
अं M M/.n/.m .m M
अः H H .h H
अँ .N ~


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

Devanāgarī IAST ISO 15919 Harvard-Kyoto ITRANS Velthuis SLP1
ka ka ka ka ka ka
kha kha kha kha kha Ka
ga ga ga ga ga ga
gha gha gha gha gha Ga
ṅa ṅa Ga ~Na "na Na
ca ca ca cha ca ca
cha cha cha Cha cha Ca
ja ja ja ja ja ja
jha jha jha jha jha Ja
ña ña Ja ~na ~na Ya
ṭa ṭa Ta Ta .ta wa
ṭha ṭha Tha Tha .tha Wa
ḍa ḍa Da Da .da qa
ḍha ḍha Dha Dha .dha Qa
ṇa ṇa Na Na .na Ra
ta ta ta ta ta ta
tha tha tha tha tha Ta
da da da da da da
dha dha dha dha dha Da
na na na na na na
pa pa pa pa pa pa
pha pha pha pha pha Pa
ba ba ba ba ba ba
bha bha bha bha bha Ba
ma ma ma ma ma ma
ya ya ya ya ya ya
ra ra ra ra ra ra
la la la la la la
va va va va/wa va va
śa śa za sha "sa Sa
ṣa ṣa Sa Sha .sa za
sa sa sa sa sa sa
ha ha ha ha ha ha

Irregular consonant clusters[edit]

Devanāgarī ISO 15919 Harvard-Kyoto ITRANS Velthuis SLP1
क्ष kṣa kSa kSa/kSha/xa kza
त्र tra tra tra tra tra
ज्ञ jña jJa GYa/j~na j~na jYa
श्र śra zra shra "sra Sra

Other consonants[edit]

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

Comparison of IAST with ISO 15919[edit]

The table below shows just the differences between ISO 15919 and IAST for Devanagari transliteration.

Devanagari ISO 15919 IAST Comment
ए / े ē e To distinguish between long and short 'e' in Dravidian languages, 'e' now represents ऎ / ॆ (short). Note that the use of ē is considered optional in ISO 15919, and using e for (long) is acceptable for languages that do not distinguish long and short e.
ओ / ो ō o To distinguish between long and short 'o' in Dravidian languages, 'o' now represents ऒ / ॊ (short). Note that the use of ō is considered optional in ISO 15919, and using o for (long) is acceptable for languages that do not distinguish long and short o.
ऋ / ृ In ISO 15919, ṛ is used to represent ड़.
ॠ / ॄ r̥̄ For consistency with r̥
ऌ / ॢ In ISO 15919, ḷ is used to represent .
ॡ / ॣ l̥̄ For consistency with l̥
◌ं ISO 15919 has two options about anusvāra. (1) In the simplified nasalization option, an anusvāra is always transliterated as . (2) In the strict nasalization option, anusvāra before a class consonant is transliterated as the class nasal— before k, kh, g, gh, ṅ; ñ before c, ch, j, jh, ñ; before ṭ, ṭh, ḍ, ḍh, ṇ; n before t, th, d, dh, n; m before p, ph, b, bh, m. is sometimes used to specifically represent Gurmukhi Tippi .
ṅ ñ ṇ n m
◌ँ Vowel nasalization is transliterated as a tilde above the transliterated vowel (over the second vowel in the case of a digraph such as aĩ, aũ), except in Sanskrit.


Treatment of inherent schwa[edit]

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:

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

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

  • Krishna, Vajra, Maurya

Retroflex consonants[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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[edit]


  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. ^ a b Francis Henry Skrine, 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. ^ a b 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. ^ Devanagari comparison: ISO, ALA-LC, Hunterian in 2005 by Thomas T. Pedersen at Eesti Keele Instituut Transliteration of Non-Roman Scripts
  12. ^ Transliteration of Indic scripts: how to use ISO 15919
  13. ^ Hindi romanization LC as pdf by Library of Congress standard,
  14. ^ 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 ... 
  15. ^ "UNGEGN Working Group on Romanization Systems". United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names UNGEGN, .Eesti Keele Instituut. Retrieved 2017-02-14. 
  16. ^ "Differences between ISO 15919 and UNRSGN". Working group on Romanization systems. United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names UNGEGN. .Eesti Keele Instituut. March 2016. Retrieved 13 February 2017. 
  17. ^ "The Sanskrit Library » Tools » Indic Script Comparison Table". Archived from the original on 2014-08-08. 
  18. ^ Scharf, Peter M.; Hyman, Malcolm D. (2011). Linguistic Issues in Encoding Sanskrit (PDF). 
  19. ^ Morphology Help
  20. ^ Mapping table with 7 methods of Harvard-Kyoto, ITRANS, Velthuis, SLP, WX-system and IAST, Devanagari used by ILTP-DC for Sanskrit. Sanskrit transliteration tool. Convert from one scheme to another. Maintained by the 'Indian language technology proliferation and deployment centre' (ILTP-DC) of the government of India. Works with 7 systems: Harvard-Kyoto, ITRANS, Velthuis, SLP, WX-system and IAST, Devanagari.
  21. ^ Chart: difference between IAST and ISO. Aksharamukha transliteration (converter) tool. Akshara Mukha is an Asian script (two way) converter, freeware. It supports 5 major Latin transliteration conventions such as IAST, ISO, Harvard-Kyoto, ITRANS & Velthuis. It can inter-convert, for example from Velthuis to ISO. It also converts between 20 different South Asian & East Asian scripts. You can access the project from here. While using the tool, 'source' can be set to for example: ITRANS or Harvard-Kyoto, and 'target' can be set to a particular script like Devanagari-Hindi. (When you are using a north Indian script, tick the box: Remove ‘a’). It can work in reverse too, for example from Hindi to Latin by ISO transliteration.

External links[edit]