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Lesson 3: Reading Vowel Markings




In Lesson 2, examples of words with letters with an “a” sound without any other vowel use were looked at. Just like the Lesson 3 in the Devanagari guide, our literacy for words will increase. The concept of vowel markings is very similar to Devanagari’s, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see rules being familiar.



For the consonants of the Bengali alphabet, each letter is presented as a mix of a consonant with a short “a” sound. However, when the “a” sound is dropped, then all we hear is just the consonant without the vowel sound. For instance, “ka” without the “a” sound = “k.” To cut the vowel sound out of a consonant, a special symbol is added beneath a letter known as a virama (some refer to this as the halant).

Figure 3.1

To stress the importance of the vowel’s presence in the letter, the “a” sound is emphasized. Each consonant of the Bengali alphabet is originally a letter with a virama which “a” added to produce the letter.



All vowels (except “a”) has a representative mark made to add onto consonants. Whenever a consonant makes use of a particular vowel, it adopts the representative mark of the vowel. Figure 3.2 shows the listing of the vowel markings of the vowels.


Figure 3.2

To make practical use of this, Figure 3.3 will show how each consonant has a virama added to it. With the help of the particular vowel, the consonant receives the sound of the vowel added. Looking at the letter “ka,” notice how the vowel addition yields the vowel marking.


Figure 3.3

Remember, it is the consonant with the virama that gets the vowel marking. If you add the actual letter (the letter that ends in short “a”), you do not get a vowel marking, for it is interpreted as two syllables. Figure 3.4 shows this.

Figure 3.4

The process for adding vowel markings applies to all letters. There are a few exceptions which will be discussed later.


Just like the last lesson, we will first learn how to write words. However, since the process is the same as Devanagari words, only one example will be studied.


EXAMPLE 1: “kebala” (only [Bengali]).

STEP 1: Break the word down through its syllables.

There are three syllables in this word: “ke”, “ba”, and “la.”

STEP 2: Find the letters of the word and examine which vowels belong to each letter.

Recall the letters for “ka”, “ba” and “la” on the Bengali alphabet. See which vowel follows the original word. You will see that both “ka” have the vowel “e” following them. Letters “ba” and “la” have no vowel signs (that is “short a”). Place the vowel markings appropriately.

STEP 3: Put the letters with vowel markings in order to form the word

The entire process is shown below in Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5



The steps of transliterating words are exactly the same as the steps shown in Lesson 2 as well as the technique shown in Devanagari.

Therefore, only one example will be examined.


Figure 3.6

Break all letters down. Each letter is one syllable long.

This is done in Figure 3.7.

Figure 3.7

Pay attention to the vowel markings highlighted in orange in Figure 3.7. From the two vowel markings, a long “ā” and a long “ī" is present.

STEP TWO: Identify the letters in order

STEP THREE: Convert them into the transliteration scheme and say the word.


Finally, “” + “dhe” = “radhe.” (Another name of Radha)



Unlike the Devanagari alphabet (there were two exceptions: “ru” and “”), the Bengali alphabet has more exceptions. The “ru” and “” are also exceptions in Bengali. In addition, “gu”, “śu”, “hu”, and “hṛ” are exceptions. Figure 3.8 shows they look like. Some software that function in transliterating Bengali will not have gu, śu and hu in its special and correct forms, because it will be seen that a greater number of characters will be needed to represent Bengali words properly. The “exceptions” can be understood without trouble, but not the other letters.

Figure 3.8

The font change came from Bengali Reading Guide. It is a great guide to look for reference too.



“Since my software can’t produce every letter in Bengali, please forgive me in this shortcoming. To dedicate those six exceptions, try transliterating the ones in the practice.”

When we start consonant clusters, watch me start my flusters!” –Krsna Dhenu 5/27/07



Try spelling these words using Bengali Script:

1. ghṛnā (hate in Bengali)

2. puruṣa (man in Sanskrit)

3. dhānī (Raga Dhani in North Indian music)

4. mākhana-cora (“Butter-Thief”)


Try reading the words from Bengali script.

ANSWERS to Lesson 3

UPDATED: June 16, 2009