Sensitive Role of Modifiers (Matras) in Devnagari Fonts

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Typography, Sensitivity and Fineness’
Sensitive Role of Modifiers (Matras) in Devnagari Fonts
Author: Rajeev Prakash, Art Director, Delhi Press, New Delhi, E-mail: [email protected] Co author: Aarati Prakash Khare, Research Scholar, IIT Delhi, E-mail: [email protected]
Abstract: At present Devnagari texts are written in large volume in different media like newspapers, magazines, office documents, text books, internet, Electronic media and devices like mobile platforms. It is the responsibility of typographers and type designers to provide a perfect readable Devnagari font for this purpose. A perfect readable Devnagari font must have some salient qualities such as beautiful shape, fine joineries, minimum complexity, best possible optical character spacing, beautifully designed conjuncts and punctuation marks.
This paper discusses the sensitive role and importance of Matras or modifiers in Devnagari typeface and complex Devnagari script. It presents the detailed analysis of placement of Matras in various stages of evolution of documentation technology. As a typeface designer, typeface businessman and presently as Art Director in Delhi Press where 39 magazines are being published in 8 vernacular languages, the author has realized that it is not possible to provide the aesthetic text to readers without giving perfect respect to the Matras. The paper also proposes solutions for the problems faced by the type designers, text composers and readers of Devnagari text by suggesting proper placement of certain Matras.

Key words: Devnagari, Typeface design, Modifiers (Matras), Spacing, Aesthetics, Unicode.
1. Introduction Devnagari script is known as complex script in language computing field. Matras play a vital role to make it more complex. But imagine a paragraph of Devnagari text without Matras. It looks like a bride without jewellery. Matras in Devnagari text are like creepers wrapped on the tree. Devnagari has different types of Matras. They are placed before, after, above and below the consonants (कं �क क� कु कू ) and conjuncts (क् िक् क्व द)् . In
some cases multiple Matras are also placed with consonants (कंु क� कँु ), horizontal conjuncts

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(िक् िक्) and vertical conjuncts (िक् िक्). Matras on suitable position can be formed if
type designer has taken proper care of it. The use of Devnagari has changed over the time for documentation purpose as per various means like handwriting, old Manuscripts, hot metal, digital typesetting, DTP, websites, portable devices like tablets to mobile phones. The present paper discusses the importance and sensitive role of matras in Devnagari script. The basics of Matras in Devnagari has been discussed in section2. The analysis of placement and shapes of Matras of Devnagari in different era of documentations has been discussed in detail in sections 3. Section 4 consists of solution and proposed placement of certain Matras in some complex scenarios. 2. Basics of Matras Classification of Devnagari has been done by S V Bhagwat, Bapu Rao Naik and Mahendra Patel. They classified Devnagari keeping in view hand writing, printing and fonts design. They have defined the grid and terminology of Devnagari. See figure 1.[2]

Figure.1 Grid and nomenclature.

Terminology of Devnagari Matras.[2]

Character Sign Nomenclature

◌् Halant

◌ा Kana

ि◌ Short, hrasva velanti

◌ी Long, dirghavelanti

◌ु Short, hrasvaukar

◌ू Long, dirghaukar

◌ृ Single prithvi sign, hrasvaRukar

◌ॄ Double prithvi sign, dirghaRukar

◌ॢ Single klpti sign

◌ॣ Double klpti sign

◌े Single matra

◌ै Double matra

◌ो Kana matra

◌ौ Kana double matra


◌ं Anuswar


◌ः Visarga

◌ँ Anunasika, Chandrabindu

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◌ॅ Chandra


� � Ra-kar (short slanted line)

� Rashtra sign (chevron shaped sign)

पर् द Reph, Rafar

2. Aesthetics in Devnagari Matras Aesthetics in font can be described as the beauty of the fonts. Not only Matras but the curves of letter forms play a vital role to give a good feeling to the reader. Fonts also express the feeling about the written content but solely depending upon the user’s eye and ability to read clearly especially in smaller point size. As per C. Morris’s view on art[3], Art communicates intrinsic value. The artist finds his work as a stimulus pattern that have pleasing effect on nervous system. The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates favored the idea of “beautiful-good”. Plato (in the Statesman) wrote about arts, all arts can be judged against excess and deficit. Aristotle (in the Nicomachean Ethics) cleared the above said point with impeccable conciseness “A masters of any art avoids excess and deficit but seeks the intermediate and chooses this.” [1] It is true and applicable in the field of font design and typography. In font design designers need to balance between the excess and the deficit.

3. Journey of documentation in India The use of Devnagari has changed over the time for documentation purpose as per various means like handwriting, old Manuscripts, hot Metal, digital typesetting, DTP, websites, portable devices like tablets to mobile phones. The analysis of placement of Matras for these is discussed below.

3.1 Handwriting and Calligraphy Era Handwriting has tremendous freedom to express thoughts through letterforms. We form the Matras without any limitations while writing a text. It can be formed in any style and also play a vital role to beautify the text. In one sentence same Matra can be formed in different styles also.

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Figure.1 An example of free use of same Matras.
3.2 Manuscript Era Manuscript era was the classical period of documentation. In old manuscripts Devnagari script has been used beautifully. My analysis of these manuscripts brings out the following points: • Designers have given emphasize on X-height characters in proportion to Ascender and
Descender. • In general, in the first line of the page upper Matras are more visible but in next lines
upper Matras are formed in small size so they are less visible. • Lower Matras are more emphasized than upper Matras. Sometimes lower Matra starts
above the base line and is hardly visible. In this case related consonants are designed in smaller size than the normal consonants. Even though less space has been given to Matras but very beautiful manuscripts have been designed from visual and reading point of view.

Figure.2 An example of importance given to X-height as against Matras

3.3 Hot Metal Era Hot metal era can be termed as an era of exponential growth for font design with very innovative work done in various parts of India. Many publishers including British took keen interest to publish quality printing books. There was a huge market of religious, social, text books and news papers. Besides British many other printers and publishers also

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published good books in Hindi and Marathi languages. Nirnaya Sagar Press and Type foundry has produced very high quality Devnagari fonts for printing purpose. These fonts are being used as reference material for contemporary type designers, researchers and students. Nirnaya Sagar Press has cast amazing Devnagari fonts in various styles for various purposes in different point sizes. These fonts are of very high quality in terms of visibility and readability. In Nirnaya Sagar fonts, Matras have been designed beautifully with typographic tricks. A few examples depicting the beautiful placement of Matras are given below An excellent example of beautifully placed Matra is shown in figure 3 where Ukar Matra is beautifully shifted upward into baseline and it looks as a part of the related consonant. It is an Akhand character.
Figure. 3 An example of beautifully placed Matra in Nirnaya Sagar fonts.[4]
Figure 4 shows and example where Upper Matras are very well placed and have been given proper emphasis in Nirnaya Sagar font

Figure. 4 An example of proper placement of Upper Matras.[4]
Though hand composing had many merits, it had some draw backs also. In some places same Matras are placed in two different styles for of the text. In Figure 5 ◌े Matra on य has appeared two times but both Matras are different. It was the basic problem in hand composing letter press.

Figure.5 An example of non uniformity of matra placement in hand composing.
3.3 Early Typesetting Era Linotype, Monotype, LazerComp and Compset etc. typesetting companies entered in Devnagari text composing field in this era. In digital typesetting era Matras were not taken care of properly by most of the companies but Monotype and Linotype have provided remarkable types and Matras were designed beautifully in their Devnagari typefaces.

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Figure 6 Rare case of chopping a consonant to form ड़
3.4 Desk Top Publishing Around 1984 Desk Top Publishing opened the doors for type designers to show their expertise of type designing. During this time linguistics, type designers and technocrats worked together and understood the intricacies of technology and Devnagari script. Luckily this work was being done in India mostly by Indian companies. In DTP there were lots of advantages but several limitations also. The Main limitation was that of number of codes. There were only 186 usable codes for whole Devnagari script. With this crisis of codes, designers had to accommodate all the consonants, vowels, conjuncts, punctuation marks and Matras. Some of the observed problems of placement of Matras DTP area listed below: (i) In Devnagari, Matras are placed at left, right, top and bottom parts of the
consonants and conjuncts. Devnagari has multiple consonants and conjuncts of different widths. Due to lack of codes in DTP technology designers had to use same Matra in all different width characters. For example in �र �स �झ �क िक् िस्क same Matra was used for different width characters. (ii) For some Indian language DTP providers assigned single Anuswar for multiple Matras and consonants like कं कां क� क� �कं �क� �क� क�ं क� क� क� क� क� क�. This single Anuswar generally overlapped with Matras and it was not comfortable in reading and the visual appearance was also very bad. (iii) Matra ◌ँ and ◌ु is not placed on the center stem of क (fig.7).

Figure 7 (iv) Placement of ◌े Matra in conjunction with ◌ं is overlapped. (v) Single Rakar and Ref were assigned for Multiple Matras and consonants like कृ कंृ क्कृ
मृ कर ् �कर् � क� क� क�क�क�क�क� क� क� क� क�Rakar, Ref and other Matras were also overlapped with each other in Devnagari DTP.

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4. Unicode the Solution for Indian Languages font design Indian Language typeface codes were not standard before incorporating Indian Languages in Unicode. Unicode solved the problem of number of codes. Now in Unicode, type designers can design Matras according to the width of Consonant and Conjuncts. But just having large number of codes is not sufficient for proper font design. Proper emphasis should be given to the placement of Matras while designing the fonts. Matra should be designed in different width and shape. Some of the proposed suggestions for Matras and their combinationsin case of र, क and क् are as following: (i) Kana Matra should appear just after consonant or conjunct. Kana Matra should not
be in the center of two characters. It should be slightly closer to the previous character because it is the part of previous character.
Figure. 8 Placement of Kana Matra. (ii) Width of Anuswar should be slightly more than the thickness of vertical stem of Kana
Figure. 9 Width of Anuswar. (iii) ि◌ Matra should touch the vertical stem of क (fig.10). The placement of ि◌ matra in
right hand side is proper.

Figure.10 ि◌ Matra touching the vertical stem of क.
(iv) ि◌ Matra with conjunct character should touch the vertical stem of main consonant as shown in fig. 11

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Figure.11 ि◌ Matra with conjunct character. (v) Combination of ◌े and ◌ं in क� should be perfect as shown in the right hand side of fig

Figure.12 Right image has perfect placing and combination of क� .
(vi) Extreme right image in following fig 13 is the proper example of ◌ु Matra. Right and left curves of क and ◌ु Matra is shifted upward.

Figure. 13 Placement of ◌ु Matra.
4. Conclusion Font designing for Devnagari font has come a long way from the era of hand writing, calligraphy, hot metal, early typesetting to DTP and finally Unicode technology with its merits and demerits. Though Unicode technology is very helpful but it is very challenging and painful process for type designers. Designers should take full advantage of availably of large number codes and design Matras in different widths and shapes according to the corresponding Consonants and Conjunct. Some placements of Matras in case of र, क and क् have been proposed in this paper. There is further scope of research and design in this direction.
5. References:
1. Berlyne D. E., Aesthetics and psychobiology, University of Toronto, 1971.

2. Dalvi Girish, Anatomy of Devanagari Typefaces, Doctoral thesis, 2008.

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3. Morris .C., Esthetics and the theory of signs. Journal of Unified Science (erkennntnis), 1939, 8, 131-150
4. Shubhashit Ratnabhandagaram from Nirnaya Sagar Press, 1952.

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Sensitive Role of Modifiers (Matras) in Devnagari Fonts