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Lesson 5: Consonant Clusters 2 (General Forms)




This is the heart of the Bengali Reading Guide. After completing this chapter, nearly 70% of Bengali words will be readable. Before entering deep into this chapter, it is advisable to review the Devanagari concepts of mixing consonants. For most Devanagari letters that had the stick form, compounding was quite simple. One would remove the “stick” off the first letter, thus producing the half-letter form. Then, one mixes the half-letter form with the full form of the next letter to form the cluster.


In Bengali, there are a few letters which do follow this Devanagari form. For example, the letters “ba” and “ja” in Figure 5.1 forms a cluster which has a “half-form” of ba with the full form of ja.


Figure 5.1



Most consonant clusters are formed by placing the first letter above the second letter. For example, “sa” + “ba” can form “sba” for words like “svāmī” (remember, in Bengali, there is no “v” letter, so “b” will replace all “v” letters in Bengali). Pay attention to the red letter “sa” and green letter “ba” and see how they snap together in Figure 5.2

Figure 5.2


Remember from Lesson 4, the nasal form for the mix between “na” and “ta” to form “nta.” The concept is verily the same.

Figure 5.3


Here is a mix of two “ka” letters.

Figure 5.4


Two “da” mixes like this in Figure 5.5

Figure 5.5



As this process is quite straightforward, there is a catch to this process. With the exception of the letter “ra” and clusters that took different forms in Devanagari, the second letter had always retained its form. In Bengali, that is not the case. In Bengali, there are many letters which are “second-letter” forms. The most common ones will be studied here.


The mix between “ma” and “ya” is an example of a letter that uses a second letter form. Since “ya” is the second letter, by the nature of the letter “ya” uses the second letter form. Figure 5.6 shows this. It almost seems like the second-letter form of “ya” is like a vowel marking. For one who can only read Devanagari, no one would have guessed that the marking to the right of “ma” (which is really an “m”) was a full “ya.” When pronunciation is studied later on, one will see that the mix of any letter with “ya” produced an unusual sound in Bengali.

Figure 5.6


The letter “dha” also has a second-letter form. In the mix of “ga” and “dha”, the letter “dha” adopts a special form that remotely looks like “dha.” For the most part, anytime dha is a second letter, it’ll adopt this form. It’ll cling onto stick or the tail of the first letter. Recall from Lesson 4 on writing the letter “ndha.” Note how “na” retained it full letter form (even though it is theoretically a “n”), but adopted the second-letter form of “dha

Figure 5.7


Letter “ma” has a special second-letter form. Unlike “dha” and “ya”, the second letter form has a look which one can easily tell that it came from the letter “ma.” For example, “sa” + “ma” is “sma” is shown in Figure 5.8. Also, notice the “half-form” of “sa” on top.

Figure 5.8


To conclude this lesson, it is quite useful to talk about the letter “ra.” The letter “ra” has a different half-form and different second-letter form, just like Devanagari. Before discussing it in detail, it is important to look at Figure 5.9.

Figure 5.9

The half-form of “ra” (which looks like an accent mark) is placed on top of the second letter. This is just like the “half-form of ra” rule shown in Devanagari. Note the difference between in the Bengali spelling and transliteration of the word “ācārya.” In Bengali spelling, it is spelled “ācārjya.” Usually, the consonant following half-letter “ra” ends up being doubled. For example, “kirtana” becomes “kirttana”, “dharma” becomes “dharmma", “karma” becomes “karmma" and so on. The detail on why this happens is described in the pronunciation chapter of this guide.


The second-letter form of “ra” is attached to the bottom of the letter, whether it is a letter with a stick or not. Since “ra” is really the full letter, “ru” and “” exceptions mentioned in Lesson 3 apply here. In Figure 5.9, the word “dhruba” has the letter “dha” (technically “dh”) mixed with the second letter form of “ra” to form “dhra.” Since the vowel “u” applied to the “dhra” (with the ra), the special form of “ru” is used.


There are more consonant clusters to discuss, which incredible exceptions that will perplex the inexperienced reader. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative to study this chapter and practice on these exercises.



Try spelling these words using Bengali Script:

1. nitya (eternal in Bengali)

2. tṛpti (satisfaction in Bengali)

3. prabhupāda (lit. Lord’s feet, or name for a spiritual master, or Srila Prabhupada)

4. dugdha (milk in Bengali)

5. śyāmasundara (name for Lord Krsna)

6. viśvambhara (another name of Lord Caitanya)


Try reading the words from Bengali script.

ANSWERS to Lesson 5

UPDATED: June 16, 2009