Sanskrit was originally an oral language. It began to be written in the Brahmi script and then over time, most of the Brahmi-derived scripts, Gupta, Siddham, Nagari, Devanagari, Purvi Nagari etc. were used to write Sanskrit. But today, Sanskrit seems to be predominantly written in the Devanagari script, for example, Sanskrit textbooks in most Indian schools use it, the official Sanskrit version of Wikipedia uses it etc.

When and how did Devanagari become the dominant script to write Sanskrit?

  • 1
    I'd love to have a dictionary in Brahmi! Commented Apr 2 at 17:34
  • Yes, that would be awesome! Or maybe even a script converter: most Brahmi scripts are near one-to-one mappings of each other. Any site can easily implement a script conversion option imo Commented Apr 30 at 6:20
  • If I were designing Unicode from scratch I'd treat them as fonts; and someone would tell me why that is a stupid idea Commented Apr 30 at 7:05

3 Answers 3


Even up to the 19th century, it was common for Sanskrit manuscripts to be transcribed and published in many writing systems, including the Perso-Arabic script. Devanagari was the first Indic script to have had printing presses developed for it in the West, and coinciding with the political equation of Hinduism and Sanskrit which became popular in the lead up to partition, Devanagari came to dominate printed works in and about Sanskrit.

Reference: Singh, V. (2018). The machine in the colony: technology, politics, and the typography of Devanagari in the early years of mechanization. Philological Encounters, 3(4), 469-495. https://centaur.reading.ac.uk/75684/1/VaibhavSingh_PhilologicalEncounters_Brill.pdf


As for when, Sanskrit was written in various scripts, according to Salomon (Indian epigraphy), and Devanagari was used for Sanskrit since the 7th century, and was only written in inscriptions from 2000 years ago. Devanagari developed from the highly popular Siddham script via the Nagari script devised for writing Sanskrit and Prakrit. which also begat Gujurati and Modi scripts. Insofar as Devanagari has been used for 1500 years to write Sanskrit, "tradition" is the best explanation for why it is still used for that purpose.

The main reason why the ancient scripts are not currently used to write Sanskrit is that those ancient scripts are no longer used at all.

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    this answer addresses why devanagari is used to write Sanskrit, but the question seems just as much to be about why the other scripts historically used to write Sanskrit aren't used any longer, something this answer doesn't seem to address well
    – Tristan
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 15:35
  • Does that satisfy your requirements?
    – user6726
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 15:57
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    Some scripts like Eastern nagari, Odia, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam etc. which were historically used for Sanskrit are still in wide use.... It's just that they are no longer used for Sanskrit (except very occasionally).... My question is, when and why did Devanagari become the "standard"/ most dominant? Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 16:52

There are two reasons. Firstly, the other scripts died out but nagari survived. As to why this happened is worth looking into, and probably has to do with printing.

Secondly, its a North Indian bias. In south, at least in Kannada regions, since earliest inscriptions found, around 350 AD, both Kannada and Sanskrit were written with the contemporary Kannada script. Even to this day Sanskrit books are printed in Kannada, even the ones with mantras and shlokas. However some "hardcore" Sanskritists prefer books printed in Devanagari script, which is quite amusing.

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