Why typing Devanagari Alphabets (Marathi, Sanskrit, Hindi) on a personal computer is so difficult? And why typing Devanagari in Latin is so easy and preferred by many?


Introduction & Background

I was planning to write this blog post for the last many years. I was facing this issue since I had my first Microsoft Windows Operating System-based computer in the year 2002. And after that, it got solved partially on Mac in the year 2008. And I faced the issue of Marathi on the web when I had my website mandarapte.com in the year 2010 and then my community Marathi website chitpavankatta.com in the year 2012.

The idea of writing this blog post or writing documentation about why we face the problem of typing Marathi / Sanskrit / Hindi with Devanagari Script on a computer got more important when some category of journalists or people who started false propaganda to tell the Marathi population at large that Devanagari Script for the Marathi language is no more relevant anymore rather we should abandon Devanagari Script Alphabets and start using Latin Script to write the Marathi Language. An example given by these people was that of the young generation who are writing or chatting or texting on their mobile phone using Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that they use Latin script to write Marathi than using Devanagari Script.

At that time I attended a few lectures on Devanagari Calligraphy and Typography where I met an important person like Mr Mukund Gokhale from Pune who had done extensive work in building Marathi Typewriter with his two-three seniors in his field. He also worked with popular calligraphers, and typographers to bring Devanagari onto the computer i.e. designing popular Devanagari fonts to be used on Computers. At that time I was working at IITB as a web designer. After that, I met Mukund Gokhale at his Pune home to discuss why Marathi Typing is so difficult and why it is targeted by anti-nationals who have no linguistic background to speak about abandoning the Devanagari script itself. We discuss it at length he even showed me software that he has developed with his developer tech support to design Marathi-based digital artworks and designs. It was his initiative to create an alternative solution to Adobe Photoshop / Adobe Illustrator which doesn’t support Devanagari Script in the year 2014/17. And now it’s the year 2021. Because of these long conversations on phone or personally meeting each other and I even developed the Devanagari Learning app for iPhone, iPad and Mac.

When this propaganda was started by abusing the Marathi language and falsely showcasing its irrelevance in today’s world. I talked with popular Hindu Orators who were tirelessly working to stop this propaganda. So people like me were middlemen between people like popular Hindu orators and calligrapher/typographer Mukund Gokhale to share knowledge and know-how between them and connect the dots.

So I am going to write here my observation that I got to learn while talking with Mukund Gokhale and some observations are of my capacity as I am myself a designer and developer too who want to talk and design/develop in Marathi.

Observation 01:

There is always no sync between the time you would take to choose the alphabet on your mobile’s soft keyboard to type and your thoughts which runs further ahead.

Observation 02:

Today’s technology is not advanced is just taking baby steps to support languages like Marathi / Sanskrit which are older than 5,000 years, So it’s a technology problem and no problem with languages. We will learn why it is so…

Observation 03:

Technology is developed using the English language itself. And technology which is a software programme then it is getting converted to a machine-level language called binary which only contains numbers like 0 and 1. i.e. yes or no (in layman’s language). So there is no support for Jodakshars of Marathi, Sanskrit and Hindi Language which is a conjunction of two words and which it creates a third word in the process.

Observation 04:

Today’s computer keyboard has 250 or 300 plastic keys, The way the keyboard is designed they allot two functions for one key i.e. you can toggle the shift key to perform two functions using a single key. But in the Marathi/Sanskrit language there are more than 5,00,000 Alphabets i.e. 12 Swars (Vowels) + Vyanjana (Consonants) 36 + Barakhadi 410 and all these alphabets’ conjunctions create ‘Jodakshar’ which count more than 5,00,000 in numbers. So fitting all 5,00,000 alphabets on plastic keys are impossible.

Observation 05:

So technologists solved typing in Marathi / Sanskrit / Hindi problems by using Unicode (UTF-8). Unicode also supports Emoji and Devanagari Alphabets. But the problem with Unicode is that it is based on assigning a number to the alphabet like numbering them for identity. So it creates a heavy burden on technology to support all this in one go i.e. on the Web, Mobile, Tablet and Computer even the same on HTML, on Apple Mac, iPhone, iPad, Microsoft Windows, and on Android, and Linux. So it is a management problem to be in sync with every technology platform.

Observation 06:

Even popular search engines like Google with their AI (Artificial Intelligence and ML (Machine learning) don’t understand the Marathi language to be able to translate it from Marathi to English or English to Marathi. So it shows the quality that technology lacks even in today’s world where Google can easily translate the German Language to English and English to German without any problem.

Observation 07:

Marathi Typing on a plastic or soft keyboard is very slow because of the Keyboard layout and structure. You have to find every velanti (ascender), and ukar (descender) to type successfully.

Observation 08:

Devanagari is a 5,000-Year-old script and Typing on Computer Mobile made easy by the iPhone Soft Keyboard evolution which happened in the year 2007.

Observation 09:

Words that are typed in Devanagari doesn’t always display right on the Web as every possible user has different text encoding setting for web browser because of his locality and language preference i.e web page text encoding for Marathi / Sanskrit / Hindi should always be Unicode (UTF-8)

Observation 10:

As Mukund Gokhale told me about his experience in developing a Marathi typewriter with his senior colleagues he surveyed and got inspiration from English typewriter keyboard layout i.e. lay-outing alphabets in popular and less popular alphabets structure, then dividing it into vowels, consonants and velanti, matra and ukar separately i.e. frequent words on the first screen and less important words with the second screen with shift key pressed. He told me that his and his team’s assumptions were false that have to be rectified now with modern technologies like software keyboard on iPhone and iPad which has infinite possibilities for custom key layouts.

Observation 11:

If you are an avid Marathi Blogger you may already know that you don’t get digital content ads (advertisements) on AdSense as Google or any other search engine doesn’t understand the meaning of Marathi languages so Marathi Websites can’t monetise so there is no profitable ads base business for Marathi blogs. As mentioned Search Engine can’t understand Marathi or any Indic language because of this you don’t get search traffic and you don’t get a higher search ranking to be on the first page of Google Search Results.

Observation 12:

Apple iPhone Soft Minglish or Hinglish Keyboard or if you use Google’s Transliteration website to type ‘Mama’ you get options to choose Devanagari word or if you press the spacebar it gets converted to popular Marathi Devanagari Text automatically. But this app feature is still based on the right input selection by the user it doesn’t support automatically applying the right hraswa or dirgha velantis or right grammar for the word.

I hope this knowledge helps you to get to the root of the cause and know our Indic / Hindu Languages better.

If you have any questions or suggestions or you have any new input or observations to be added you can let me know in the comment section below.

Thanks & Regards
Mandar Apte

Published by Mandar Apte

Mandar is a Mumbai-based multi-disciplinary designer with UX/UI, Logo, Symbol, and Brand Identity design expertise. He currently runs his Mudrkashar Linguistic Apple iPhone, iPad, and Mac app business in the heart of Mumbai city.

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