Gurmukhī alphabet

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Languages Punjabi
Dogri, Persian, Hindustani, Sindhi,[1] Sanskrit
Time period
c. 1539–present
Parent systems
Sister systems
Devanagari, Khojki, Takri
Direction Left-to-right
ISO 15924 Guru, 310
Unicode alias

Gurmukhi (IPA: [ɡʊɾmʊkʰi]) is an alphabetic abugida developed from the Laṇḍā scripts and was standardised during the 16th century by Guru Angad, the second guru of Sikhism. The Old Punjabi word Gurmukhī means "from the mouth of the Guru". The whole of the Guru Granth Sahib is written in this script, and it is the script most commonly used by Sikhs and Hindus for writing the Punjabi language.

Modern Gurmukhi has thirty-eight consonants (vianjan), nine vowel symbols (lāga mātrā), two symbols for nasal sounds (bindī and ṭippī), and one symbol which duplicates the sound of any consonant (addak). In addition, four conjuncts are used: three subjoined forms of the consonants Rara, Haha and Vava, and one half-form of Yayya. Use of the conjunct forms of Vava and Yayya is increasingly scarce in modern contexts.

Gurmukhi is primarily used in the Punjab, India, where it is the sole official script for all official and judicial purposes. The script is also widely used in the Indian states of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and the national capital of Delhi, with Punjabi being one of the official languages in these states. Gurmukhi has been adapted to write other languages, such as Braj Bhasha, Khariboli and other Hindustani language dialects, Sanskrit and Sindhi.[2]


A handwritten Guru Granth Sahib in Gurmukhi

Notable features:

  • This is an abugida in which all consonants have an inherent vowel. Diacritics, which can appear above, below, before or after the consonant they belong to, are used to change the inherent vowel.
  • When they appear at the beginning of a syllable, vowels are written as independent letters.
  • When certain consonants occur together, special conjunct symbols are used which combine the essential parts of each letter.
  • Punjabi is a tonal language with three tones. These are indicated in writing using the voiced aspirates consonants (gh, dh, bh, etc.) and the intervocal h.

There are two major theories on how the Proto-Gurmukhi script emerged in the 15th century. G.B. Singh (1950), while quoting Abu Raihan Al-Biruni's Ta'rikh al-Hind (1030 CE), says that the script evolved from Ardhanagari. Al-Biruni writes that the Ardhanagari script was used in Bathinda and western parts of the Punjab in the 10th century. For some time, Bathinda remained the capital of the kingdom of Bhatti Rajputs of the Pal clan, who ruled North India before the Muslims occupied the country. Because of its connection with the Bhattis, the Ardhanagari script was also called Bhatachhari. According to Al-Biruni, Ardhanagari was a mixture of Nagari, used in Ujjain and Malwa, and Siddha Matrika or the last stage of Siddham script, a variant of the Sharada script used in Kashmir. This theory is confusing as Gurmukhi characters have a very close resemblance with "Siddh Matrika" inscriptions found at some sacred wells in Punjab as G.B Singh notes, one being the hathur inscription dating to just before the brith of Guru Nanak. Siddh Matrika seems to have been the prevalent script for devotional writings in Punjab right up to the founding of Sikh faith, after which its successor Gurmukhi appears.

Pritam Singh (1992) has also traced the origins of Gurmukhi to the Siddha Matrika. "Siddha Matrika" along with its sister script Takri has its origins in the ancient Sharada script of Kashmir.

Tarlochan Singh Bedi (1999) writes that the Gurmukhi script developed in the 10-14th centuries from the Devasesha stage of the Sharada script the intermediate phase being Siddha Matrika, before the final evolution into Gurmukhi. His argument is that from the 10th century, regional differences started to appear between the Sharada script used in Punjab, the Hill States (partly Himachal Pradesh) and Kashmir. The regional Sharada script evolves from this stage till the 14th century, when it starts to appear in the form of Gurmukhi. Indian epigraphists call this stage Devasesha, while Bedi prefers the name Pritham Gurmukhi or Proto-Gurmukhi.

The 10 Sikh Gurus adopted the Proto-Gurmukhi script to write the Guru Granth Sahib, the religious scriptures of the Sikhs. Other contemporary scripts used in the Punjab were Takri and the Laṇḍā alphabets. Also Takri script that developed through the Devasesha stage of the Sharada script, and is found mainly in the Hill States, such as Chamba, where it is called Chambyali and in Jammu, where it is known as Dogri. The local Takri variants got the status of official scripts in some of the Punjab Hill States, and were used for both administrative and literary purposes until the 19th century. After 1948, when Himachal Pradesh was established as an administrative unit, the local Takri variants were replaced by Devanagari.

Meanwhile, the mercantile scripts of Punjab known as the Laṇḍā were normally not used for literary purposes. Landa means alphabet "without tail", implying that the script did not have vowel symbols. In Punjab, there were at least ten different scripts classified as Laṇḍā, Mahajani being the most popular. The Laṇḍā alphabets were used for household and trade purposes. Compared to the Laṇḍā, Sikh Gurus favoured the use of Proto-Gurmukhi, because of the difficulties involved in pronouncing words without vowel signs.

The usage of Gurmukhi letters in Guru Granth Sahib meant that the script developed its own orthographical rules. In the following epochs, Gurmukhi became the prime script applied for literary writings of the Sikhs. Later in the 20th century, the script was given the authority as the official script of the Eastern Punjabi language. Meanwhile, in Western Punjab a form of the Urdu script, known as Shahmukhi is still in use.

Gurmukhi Punjabi

Although the word Gurmukhī has been commonly translated as "from the Mouth of the Guru," the term used for the Punjabi script has somewhat different connotations. The opinion traditional scholars for this is that as the Sikh holy writings, before they were written down, were uttered by the Gurus, they came to be known as Gurmukhi or the "Utterance of the Guru". And consequently, the script that was used for scribing the utterance was also given the same name. The term that would mean "by the Guru's mouth" would be "Gurmū̃hī̃," which sounds considerably different but looks similar in Latin script.

However, the prevalent view among Punjabi linguists is that as in the early stages the Gurmukhī letters were primarily used by Gurmukhs, literally those who follow or face the Guru, the script came to be associated with them. Another view is that as the Gurmukhs, in accordance with the Sikh belief, used to meditate on the letters ਵ, ਹ, ਗ, ਰ which jointly form ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ or Praise of Guru in Sikhism, these letters were called Gurmukhī, or "of the Gurmukhs". Subsequently, the whole script came to be known as Gurmukhī.


Gurmukhi alphabet with names of animals

The Gurmukhi alphabet contains thirty-five letters. The first three are distinct because they form the basis for vowels and are not consonants, and except for æṛa are never used on their own. See the section on vowels for further details.

Name Pron.(IPA) Name Pron.(IPA) Name Pron.(IPA) Name Pron.(IPA) Name Pron.(IPA)
uɽɑ  – æɽɑ ə by itself iɽi  – səsːɑ ɦɑɦɑ ɦə
kəkːɑ kʰəkʰːɑ kʰə gəgːɑ ɡə kə̀gːɑ kə̀ ŋɑŋːɑ̃ ŋə
t͡ʃət͡ʃːɑ t͡ʃə t͡ʃʰət͡ʃʰːɑ t͡ʃʰə d͡ʒəd͡ʒːɑ d͡ʒə t͡ʃə̀d͡ʒːɑ t͡ʃə̀ ɲəɲːɑ̃ ɲə
ʈɛŋkɑ ʈə ʈʰəʈʰːɑ ʈʰə ɖəɖːɑ ɖə ʈə̀ɖːɑ ʈə̀ ɳɑɳɑ ɳə
t̪ət̪ːɑ t̪ə t̪ʰət̪ʰːɑ t̪ʰə d̪əd̪ːɑ d̪ə t̪ə̀d̪ːɑ t̪ə̀ nənːɑ
pəpːɑ pʰəpʰːɑ pʰə bəbːɑ pə̀bːɑ pə̀ məmːɑ
jəjːɑ ɾɑɾɑ ɾə ləlːɑ ʋɑʋːɑ ʋə ɽɑɽɑ ɽə

ਙ |ŋɑŋːɑ̃ | and ਞ |ɲəɲːɑ̃ | are rarely used. They cannot begin a syllable or be placed between two consonants, and occur most often as an allophone of n before specific consonant phonemes.

The pronunciation of ਵ will vary between v and w depending on the word.

  • à – grave accent = tonal consonant.
  • To differentiate between consonants, the Punjabi tonal consonants kà, chà, ṭà, tà, and pà are often transliterated in the way of the Hindi voiced aspirate consonants gha, jha, ḍha, dha, and bha respectively, although Punjabi does not have these sounds.
  • Tones in Punjabi can be either rising or falling; in the pronunciation of Gurmukhi letters they are falling, hence the grave accent as opposed to the acute.

In addition to these, there are six consonants created by placing a dot (bindi) at the foot (pair) of the consonant (these are not present in Sri Guru Granth Sahib). These are used most often for loanwords, though not exclusively:

Name Pron.(IPA)
ਸ਼ səsːɑ pɛɾ bɪnd̪i ʃə
ਖ਼ kʰəkʰːɑ pɛɾ bɪnd̪i
ਗ਼ gəgːɑ pɛɾ bɪnd̪i ɣə
ਜ਼ d͡ʒəd͡ʒːɑ pɛɾ bɪnd̪i
ਫ਼ pʰəpʰːɑ pɛɾ bɪnd̪i
ਲ਼ ləlːɑ pɛɾ bɪnd̪i ɭə

|ləlːɑ pɛɾ bɪnd̪i| was only recently added to the Gurmukhi alphabet. It was not a part of the traditional orthography, the phonological difference between 'l' and 'ɭ' was not reflected in the script. Some sources do not consider it a separate letter.

"Subjoined" letters

Three "subscript" letters are utilised in Gurmukhi: forms of ਹ(h), ਰ(r), and ਵ(v). ਰ(r) and ਵ(v) are used to make consonant clusters and behave similarly; subjoined ਹ(h) raises tone.

  • Subjoined ਰ(r): For example, the letter ਪ(p) with a regular ਰ(r) following it would yield the word ਪਰ pər ("but"), but with a subjoined ਰ would appear as ਪ੍ਰ- (prə-), resulting in a consonant cluster, as in the word ਪ੍ਰਬੰਧ (prəbə́nd̪, "management, government")
  • Subjoined ਵ(v): somewhat less common in modern usage. For example, ਸ followed by a regular ਵ would yield ਸਵ- (səv-) as in the word ਸਵੇਰ (səvēr, "morning"), but with a subjoined ਵ would produce ਸ੍ਵ (svə-) as in the word ਸ੍ਵਰਗ (svərəg, "heaven")
  • Subjoined ਹ(h): behaves the same way as the regular ਹ(h) in non-word-initial positions. The regular ਹ(h) is pronounced at the beginning of words but not in other positions, where it instead raises the tone. The difference in usage is that the regular ਹ is used after vowels and the subscript version when there is no vowel, and is attached to consonants.
    • For example: the regular ਹ is used after vowels as in ਮੀਹ (transliterated as mih, to show tonality, mī́, "rain"). The subjoined ਹ(h) acts the same way but instead is used under consonants: ਚ(ch) followed by ੜ(ṛ) yields ਚੜ (chəṛ), but not until the rising tone is introduced via a subscript ਹ(h) does it properly spell the word ਚੜ੍ਹ (chə́ṛ, "climb").


Gurmukhi is similar to Brahmi scripts in that all consonants are followed by an inherent ‘a’ sound (unless at the end of a word when the ‘a’ is usually dropped). This inherent vowel sound can be changed by using dependent vowel signs which attach to a bearing consonant. In some cases, dependent vowel signs cannot be used – at the beginning of a word or syllable for instance – and so an independent vowel character is used instead.

Independent vowels are constructed using three bearer characters: Ura (ੳ), Aira (ਅ) and Iri (ੲ). With the exception of Aira (which represents the vowel 'a') they are never used without additional vowel signs.

Vowel Transcription IPA Closest English equivalent
Ind. Dep. with /k/ Name Usage
(none) Muktā a [ə] like a in about
ਕਾ Kannā ā [ɑ] , [ä] like a in car
ਿ ਕਿ Sihārī i [ɪ] like i in it
ਕੀ Bihārī ī [i] like i in litre
ਕੁ Onkaṛ u [ʊ] like u in put
ਕੂ Dulankaṛ ū [u] like oo as in food
ਕੇ Lāvā̃ ē [e] like e in Chile
ਕੈ Dulāvā̃ e [ɛ] like e in sell
ਕੋ Hōṛā ō [o] like o in Spanish amor
ਕੌ Kanōṛā o [ɔ] like o in off

Dotted circles represent the bearer consonant. Vowels are always pronounced after the consonant they are attached to. Thus, Sihari is always written to the left, but pronounced after the character on the right.

Vowel examples

Word IPA Meaning
ਆਲੂ [ɑlu] potato
ਦਿਲ [d̪ɪl] heart
ਗਾਂ [gɑ̃] cow

Other signs

Station sign in the Latin and Gurmukhī scripts in Southall, UK

Nasalisation: tippi and bindi

Ṭippi ( ੰ ) and bindi ( ਂ ) are used for producing a nasal phoneme depending on the following obstruent or a nasal vowel at the end of a word. All short vowels utilise ṭippi and all long vowels are paired with bindi except for Dulankar ( ੂ ) which uses ṭippi instead . Older texts may not follow these conventions.

The aforementioned bindi ( ਂ ) is also used for nasalisation.

Gemination: addak

The use of addak ( ੱ ) indicates that the following consonant is geminate. This means that the subsequent consonant is doubled or reinforced.


The halant (੍) character is not used when writing Punjabi in Gurmukhi. However, it may occasionally be used in Sanskritised text or in dictionaries for extra phonetic information. When it is used, it represents the suppression of the inherent vowel.

The effect of this is shown below:

ਕ – kə
ਕ੍ – k


The visarg symbol (ਃ U+0A03) is used very occasionally in Gurmukhi. It can either represent an abbreviation (like period is used in English) or it can act like a Sanskrit Visarga where a voiceless ‘h’ sound is pronounced after the vowel.


The udaat symbol (ੑ U+0A51) occurs in older texts and indicates a high tone.


Gurmukhi has its own set of numerals that behave exactly as the other numerals do in the Hindu-Arabic numeral system do. These are used extensively in older texts. In modern contexts, they have been replaced by standard Hindu-Arabic numerals.

Numeral Name Simple Transliteration Number
ਸਿਫ਼ਰ [sɪfəɾ] sifar zero
ਇੱਕ [ɪkː] ikk one
ਦੋ [d̪oː] do two
ਤਿੰਨ [t̪ɪnː] tinn three
ਚਾਰ [tʃɑːɾ] chār four
ਪੰਜ [pəndʒ] punj five
ਛੇ [tʃʰeː] che six
ਸੱਤ [sət̪ː] satt seven
ਅੱਠ [əʈʰː] aṭh eight
ਨੌਂ [nɔ̃] nauṃ nine
੧੦ ਦਸ [d̪əs] dass ten


Gurmukhī script was added to the Unicode Standard in October, 1991 with the release of version 1.0. Many sites still use proprietary fonts that convert Latin ASCII codes to Gurmukhi glyphs.

The Unicode block for Gurmukhī is U+0A00–U+0A7F:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+0A3x ਿ
1.^ As of Unicode version 8.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Digitisation of Gurmukhi manuscripts

Panjab Digital Library[3] has taken up digitisation of all available manuscripts of Gurmukhi Script. The script is just 500 years old, hence a lot of literature written in all these years is still traceable. Panjab Digital Library has digitised over 5 million pages from different manuscripts and most of them are available online.


  • Following books/articles have been written on the origins of the Gurmukhi script (all in the Punjabi language):
  • Gurbaksh (G.B.) Singh. Gurmukhi Lipi da Janam te Vikas. Chandigarh: Punjab University, 1950.
  • Ishar Singh Tãgh, Dr. Gurmukhi Lipi da Vigyamulak Adhiyan. Patiala: Jodh Singh Karamjit Singh.
  • Kala Singh Bedi, Dr. Lipi da Vikas. Patiala: Punjabi University, 1995.
  • Kartar Singh Dakha. Gurmukhi te Hindi da Takra. 1948.
  • Piara Singh Padam, Prof. Gurmukhi Lipi da Itihas. Patiala: Kalgidhar Kalam Foundation Kalam Mandir, 1953.
  • Prem Parkash Singh, Dr. "Gurmukhi di Utpati." Khoj Patrika, Patiala: Punjabi University.
  • Pritam Singh, Prof. "Gurmukhi Lipi." Khoj Patrika. p. 110, vol.36, 1992. Patiala: Punjabi University.
  • Sohan Singh Galautra. Punjab dian Lipiã.
  • Tarlochan Singh Bedi, Dr. Gurmukhi Lipi da Janam te Vikas. Patiala: Punjabi University, 1999.

See also


  1. "Script".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Panjab Digital Library

External links