Modern Gurmukhi has forty-one 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 Eastern Punjab region of India, while the Shahmukhi script is used in the Western Punjab of Pakistan. Gurmukhi has been adapted to write other languages, such as Braj Bhasha, Khariboli (and other Hindustani dialects), Sanskrit and Sindhi.
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 AD), says that the script evolved from Ardhanagari. Al-Biruni writes that the Ardhanagari script was used in Bathinda, including Sindh and western parts of the Punjab in the 10th century. For some time, Bhatinda 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 Siddham script, a variant of the Sharada script used in Kashmir.
Pritam Singh (1992) has also traced the origins of Gurmukhi to the Siddha Matrika.
Tarlochan Singh Bedi (1999) writes that the Gurmukhi script developed in the 10-14th centuries from the Devasesha stage of the Sharada script. 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.
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 was a 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", applying 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.
The word Gurmukhi is commonly translated as "from the Mouth of the Guru". However, the term used for the Punjabi script has somewhat different connotations. The opinion given by traditional scholars is that as the Sikh holy writings, before they were scribed, 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. However, the prevalent view among Punjabi linguists is that as in the early stages the Gurmukhi letters were primarily used by Gurmukhs, or the Sikhs devoted to 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 God in Sikhism, these letters were called Gurmukhi or the "speech of the Gurmukhs". Subsequently, the whole script came to be known as Gurmukhi.
The Gurmukhi alphabet contains thirty-five distinct letters. The first three letters are unique because they form the basis for vowels and are not consonants. Except for Aira, the first three characters are never used on their own. See the section on vowels for further details.
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):
|ਸ਼||Sussay pair bindi||Sha|
|ਖ਼||Khukhay pair bindi||Khha|
|ਗ਼||Guggay pair bindi||Ghha|
|ਜ਼||Jujjay pair bindi||Za|
|ਫ਼||Phuphay pair bindi||Fa|
|ਲ਼||Lallay pair bindi||Lla|
Lallay pair bindi was only recently added to the Gurmukhi alphabet. Some sources may not consider it a separate letter.
Gurmukhi follows similar concepts to other Brahmi scripts and as such, 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.
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.
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 affect of this is shown below:
Gurmukhi has its own set of numerals that behave exactly as Hindu-Arabic numerals do. These are used extensively in older texts. In modern contexts, they are being replaced by standard Latin numerals although they are still in widespread use.
Bindi (ਂ) and Tippi (ੰ) are used for nasalisation (similar to the ‘n’ sound in words ending in ‘ing’). In general, Onkar (ੁ) and Dulankar (ੂ) take Bindi in their initial forms and Tippi when used after a consonant. All other short vowels take Tippi and all other long vowels take Bindi. Older texts may not follow these conventions.
The use of Addak (ੱ) indicates that the following consonant is geminate. This means that the subsequent consonant is doubled or reinforced.
The Unicode range for Gurmukhi is U+0A00–U+0A7F. Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points. Using Unicode for Gurmukhi has only recently started to become widespread. Many sites still use proprietary fonts that convert Latin ASCII codes to Gurmukhi glyphs.
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.