Stefan Baums baums at U.WASHINGTON.EDU
Fri Nov 12 03:12:54 UTC 2004

Dear Dean,

the Unicode text only specifies the basic letters.  The number of
conjuncts used in displaying the text is entirely up to the font.
The first word, कुरुक्षेत्रे, for example, is encoded as:

   KA + U + RA + U + KA + VIRAMA + SHA + E + TA + VIRAMA + RA + E

The computer then looks at that encoding, recognises the
conjuncts, and if it has a font that provides a proper conjunct
glyph, it will use that, otherwise it will use a construction with
visible virāma.  In a way, this mimics the behaviour of a
traditional typesetting shop that may also not have lead type for
the more exotic conjuncts at all times.

Most of the Unicode Devanagari fonts currently available cater to
the modern languages and lack some of the conjuncts that we would
like to have for Sanskrit.  But the important thing to remember is
that the encoding of your text files will be the same regardless
of which font you use.  So you could for example write a text with
a Hindi‐style Devanagari font that comes with your computer, and
then later switch to a Sanskrit‐style font with many conjuncts
without having to change your text itself.  Also, if your computer
supports Unicode Devanagari at all, then the Devanagari should
always be displayed correctly, even if the currently available
fonts don’t make for the most aesthetic viewing experience.

That’s what we meant by independence of input, encoding and
display in the Unicode model, a significant improvement over the
old days, where all three levels were conflated together and where
one was dependent on the very particular Devanagari font that one
used, making it impossible to exchange texts with colleagues using
a different font.  Now one can easily write a Devanagari text in
one font, later decide to switch to another font, and send the
text to a colleague who uses a third font altogether.

Those who would like to try Unicode Devanagari fonts beyond those
that come with their operating system can have a look here:

But note that most of the fonts described on that page, even if
downloadable free of charge, have somewhat onerous usage
restrictions.  The only truly free Unicode Devanagari font that I
am currently aware of is the Gargi font, also linked to from the
above page.

If you would like more advice or references on how to set things
up (though I am no Mac specialist), then please feel free to
contact me offlist.

Best regards,
Stefan Baums

Stefan Baums
Asian Languages and Literature
University of Washington

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