Genesis

Bharati is a script that is developed by Prof. Srinivas Chakravarthy and his team in IIT Madras. He had been researching on developing a software which recognizes the fonts of Indian languages out of handwritten characters. There already existed numerous such software for English and other foreign languages, but none for Indian languages because of the diversity and complexity in Indian scripts. This is when Prof. Chakravarthy decided to create a whole new script that incorporates elements from many Indian languages which could represent the numerous sounds and phonetics of our languages.

This is how Bharati was born.

Major Indian languages lend themselves to natural unification due to their common phonetic structure but only differ in visual appearances. Our languages are arranged in a logical pattern by the 5th-century scholar Panini based on vibrations and sounds from the different parts of the mouth with the distinction of vowels and consonants in an orderly manner, unlike the English alphabets.

The only ambiguity lies in the mismatch of sounds and shapes of the fonts. Bharati not only retains the phonetic privileges of Indian languages but also fill up the small voids of character shape constancy by providing an easy to remember script which one can expert in no more than half an hour.

There are simple rules which use the underlying phonetics and give you the shape of the character. It is designed using simplest shapes, often borrowing simple characters from various Indian languages/scripts.

Notice how Bharati has tried to make characters across a phonetic row more consistent

18 larger shapes and 20 smaller markings called diacritics make Bharati and by combining only these small sets of symbols we can construct any word of any of the Indian language. Notice how the larger shapes draw inspiration from many Indian languages – like the Bharati ‘Ka’ is inspired by Hindi ‘क’, Telugu ‘క’, Odia ‘କ’ and so on.

Bharati enforces tighter character pattern thus making learning the script more intuitive
Bharati enforces tighter character pattern thus making learning the script more intuitive

Bharati team has provided plenty of resources called Primers on their website to learn the script quickly. It should be well understood that Bharati isn’t a new language but only a script.

Screenshots from the Odia Primer and the Telugu Primer (words read 'Kamala' and 'Amma')
Screenshots from the Odia Primer and the Telugu Primer (words read ‘Kamala’ and ‘Amma’)

Though Bharati was originally motivated by the technological needs for easy adoption in the text-centric mechanism, later it was realized that it can be used for regular use as well due to its easy-to-learn nature.

Another effective application of Bharati could be in Optical character recognition (OCR) wherein we have to analyse the character, identify its components and recognise it. But with current Indian scripts being quite complex for OCR, Bharati gives an edge over them in the way it is designed such that its components can be well segregated within the character image to get a higher performance for OCR.

A study by the professor’s student shows that Bharati script saves a lot of ink in comparison to other languages which can be a potential saving for the shopkeepers who’ll print their hoardings and nameplates in Bharati rather than in different languages simultaneously.

Moreover, Bharati proliferates literacy as it takes no greater efforts than learning Candy Crush Saga, professor Srinivas claims. There were huge no. of campaigns, summer camps and classes organised to span Bharati and ironically students test scores in Bharati came out to be higher than that in their native language. The coming generation which is pacing away from the Indian languages who can speak their native language but can’t read or write them partly due to their complex nature can easily adopt Bharati. Bharati instead of complexing with its novelty has proved to be a unifying aid for the country’s immense linguistic culture.

Courtesy: Bharati Summer Camp
Courtesy: Bharati Summer Camp

Courtesy: Bharati Summer Camp
Courtesy: Bharati Summer Camp

Let’s know what the creator of a novel script has to say :

Professor V. Srinivas Chakravarthy introducing Bharati Script to his team members

Can you tell us the story behind your project? How did you come up with the idea of Bharati? What are your inspirations for creativity?

Professor : Our lab has been working on developing algorithms for character recognition in Indian languages for nearly 15 years. Had worked on several Indic scripts. After a lot struggle with many scripts I began to wonder why we must deal with so many scripts in the first place since all the scripts represent nearly the same thing – vowels, consonants, consonant-vowel combinations etc. Phonetically they have nearly identical organization; only in their graphical form they are different. This observation gave rise to two points: there must a single script for the entire country. That script must be designed such that the beautiful phonetical logic of our current scripts, must be manifest by the written form. The resulting script will be delightfully simple. And that script is Bharati. (One pre-existing example for this is Western Europe. There are many languages that share nearly the same script. It makes life easier.)

I have read quite a bit of science history. The patterns of evolution of ideas in science are very interesting. A great inspiration for a long time was Isaac Asimov. A more recent inspiration is Elon Musk!

How long did it take you to make the prototype and how is the typical process like? Was deciding on the characters that make Bharati a tough task?

The very first version was formulated around 2009. Since then there were occasional revisions but the basic principles did not change much. In Bharati, once the basic shapes are chosen, all other shapes are derived by applying a small set of rules strictly. So there was not much of a problem choosing the characters.

How was the process of forming a team to accomplish this project like? Where did you require collaborations with students? How can students who aren’t physically in Chennai contribute to the project?

I had a project on character recognition initially. Some students who were working on that project also contributed to the project. Help is desired in 3 areas.

  • Technological Development: This kind of work is done in-house.
  • Developing content in various languages in Bharati script and hosting it on our Bharati site: This work can be done remotely.
  • Conducting programs in schools all over India: If there are volunteers interested in doing any of the above, we can work with them. I can even take a project associate on a project here. Interns are also welcome.

Check out our blog to explore more about the Bharati Script.

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