A while back, I wrote a small post on how to express Sanskrit and Pali using diacritics in HTML and the Roman alphabet. This is handy for expressing Buddhist terms accurately, since the standard 26 letters of the English alphabet don’t always tell the whole story.
While exploring Sanskrit writing systems recently, I dabbled in using HTML to express the ancient Brahmi script, which was used to write Sanskrit a long time ago, including some Buddhist scriptures, and the writings of Emperor Asoka.
Brahmi script is available through Unicode, like many other obscure symbols. The key is to know how to type a Unicode letter in browser:
& # x(number) ;
The numerical table for each Brahmi script letter is found here and on Wikipedia. The code for “ka” (क in modern Devanagari script) is 11013, so in HTML, it would be & # x 11013 ; without any spaces. This produces 𑀓. So far so good.
But Brahmi, like other similar scripts, is an abugida. The vowels don’t usually stand alone as separate letters. Instead, they modify the base consonant. This is true with modern Devanagari as it is with Brahmi. So, in the example above, “ki” would be “ka” but modified with an “i” extension: कि in Devanagari, or 𑀓𑀺 in Brahmi. For Brahmi, I put & # x 11013 ; without any spaces, then & # x 1103a ; the code for the “i” vowel extension.
One other thing we need to cover is the consonants without a vowel. For example, in the word Buddha (buddho in Pāli language) , it would be split up into three letters “bu” “d” and “dha”. The “d” here normally needs vowel, by default “a”, but if you add a virama mark, then instead of “da”, it gets cut off as “d”. In the Brahmi script, this is a & # x 11046 ; which looks like 𑀓𑁆 (k) which looks like a small line above the letter. Using the example of Buddha above, this would be 𑀩𑀼𑀤𑁆𑀥𑁄 or letters “bu” “d with virama” and “dho”.
As a bonus, the nembutsu in Sanskrit, in its simplest form, is namo’mitābhāya1 which in Brahmi script might be:
Typing each letter by its Unicode HTML number is not a quick and easy process, but if you do it enough, it becomes somewhat easier. Soon, you’ll be typing like Ashoka in no time. 𑁍2
P.S. If you prefer to type in Devanagari, by the way, the simplest approach is to simply use the Hindi keyboard setting if you have one. You won’t need to type each Unicode letter. 😉
1 This may be a Chinese phrase rendered back into Sanskrit, not the other way around, but it does appear in the extant version of the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life, and something called the Dhāraṇīsaṅgraha, a collection of Buddhist dhanaris.
2 The lotus symbol, by the way is & # x 1104d ;.