Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Devanagari (i.e. divine writing), the Hindu name of the Sanscrit alphabet, which is now commonly believed to be of Phoenician origin. The oldest extant forms are those occurring on the rock inscriptions of King Asoka about the third century B.C. Since that time the letters have undergone considerable change, still further removing them from their Phoenician prototype, from which the system also differs in that it is written like the European alphabet of the same origin, from left to right, whereas the Phoenician ran from right to left. The complete alphabet consists of 50 letters (16 vowels and 34 consonants), besides a large number of double and even treble forms, somewhat after the manner of our monograms, which, however, are not now much used in printed Sanscrit works. But the vowels, when following the consonants, are combined with them, losing their independent forms, and giving rise to a syllabic system, in which each consonant, combining with the 16 vowels, forms 16 syllables, thus: ka, kâ, ki, kî, ku, kû, etc. In the alphabet the vowels, including two diphthongs, are placed first in a group by themselves. Then follow the consonants in groups of five, arranged on strictly phonetic principles; gutturals, dentals, labials, etc., by themselves, each surd followed by its sonant, and both by their aspirates and corresponding nasals. Thus the surd guttural k yields the series ka, kha, ga, gha, nga; the dental t in the same order yields the series ta, t'ha, da, d'ha, na; and so on. In this respect Devanagari differs altogether from the European alphabets, which still roughly retain the inorganic order of the Cadmean system, though the Indian and Western agree both in writing from left to right (Greek and Italic originally ran from right to left, and then both ways), and in developing true vowels from the Phoenician breathings. With the development of Hindu culture, the Hindu writing system has spread not only throughout India and Ceylon, but also to Tibet, Indo-China, the Eastern Archipelago, and the Philippine Islands. Thus Devanagari, in endlessly modified form, is the parent of all the numerous modern Indian alphabets, both neo-Sanscritic and Dravidian, as well as of the Tibetan, Burmese, Siamese, and Khmer (Cambojan) in Farther India, of the Rejang, Batta and others in Sumatra, of the Kavi and Javanese in Java, of the Bugi and Mangkassara in Celebes, of the Tagala and Bisaya in the Philippines. Doubtless, also, to the same source will ultimately be traced the still undeciphered writings of Easter Island and some other Polynesian islands. Devanagari never penetrated north-westwards into Irania, which was already supplied with scripts derived either from Phoenician or from the Cuneiform systems. For the same reason it was excluded from Central Asia, Mongolia, Manchuria, China, Corea, and Japan, where other cultures prevailed.