Siddhaṃ script

Siddhaṃ (also Siddhāṃ[8]), also known in its later evolved form as Siddhamātṛkā,[9] is a medieval Brahmic abugida, derived from the Gupta script and ancestral to the Nāgarī, Assamese, Bengali, Tirhuta, Odia and Nepalese scripts.[10]

The word Siddhaṃ in the Siddhaṃ script
Script type
Time period
c. late 6th century[1] – c. 1200 CE [2]
Directionleft-to-right Edit this on Wikidata
Related scripts
Parent systems
Child systems
Sister systems
Śāradā,[3][4][6] Tibetan script[5][6]
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Sidd, 302 Edit this on Wikidata, ​Siddham, Siddhaṃ, Siddhamātṛkā
Unicode alias

Final Accepted Script Proposal

Variant Forms
  1. ^ a b c The Semitic origin of the Brahmic scripts is not universally agreed upon.

The word Siddhaṃ means "accomplished" or "perfected" in Sanskrit. The script received its name from the practice of writing Siddhaṃ, or Siddhaṃ astu (may there be perfection), at the head of documents. Other names for the script include bonji (Japanese: 梵字) lit. "Brahma's characters" and "Sanskrit script" and Chinese: 悉曇文字; pinyin: Xītán wénzi lit. "Siddhaṃ script".

Siddhaṃ is an abugida rather than an alphabet, as each character indicates a syllable, including a consonant and (possibly) a vowel. If the vowel sound is not explicitly indicated, the short 'a' is assumed. Diacritic marks are used to indicate other vowels, as well as the anusvara and visarga. A virama can be used to indicate that the consonant letter stands alone with no vowel, which sometimes happens at the end of Sanskrit words.


Siddhaṃ manuscript of the Heart Sutra. Bibliothèque nationale de France
A reproduction of the palm-leaf manuscript in Siddham script, originally held at Hōryū-ji Temple, Japan; now located in the Tokyo National Museum at the Gallery of Hōryū—ji Treasure. The original copy may be the earliest extant Sanskrit manuscript of the Heart Sutra dated to the 7th–8th century CE. It also contains the Sanskrit text of the Uṣṇīṣa Vijaya Dhāraṇī Sūtra and the final line shows the Siddhaṃ abugida.[11]
Chinese use of the Siddhaṃ script for the Pratisara mantra, from the Later Tang. 927 CE
Chinese use of the Siddhaṃ script for the Mahāpratyaṅgirā mantra. 971 CE
Siddhaṃ Bijakshara A, Daishō-in, Miyajima
Mirror with bijaksharas, Miyajima

The Siddham script evolved from the Gupta Brahmi script in the late 6th century CE.[1]

Many Buddhist texts taken to China along the Silk Road were written using a version of the Siddhaṃ script. This continued to evolve, and minor variations are seen across time, and in different regions. Importantly it was used for transmitting the Buddhist tantra texts. At the time it was considered important to preserve the pronunciation of mantras, and Chinese was not suitable for writing the sounds of Sanskrit. This led to the retention of the Siddhaṃ script in East Asia. The practice of writing using Siddhaṃ survived in East Asia where Tantric Buddhism persisted.

Kūkai introduced the Siddhaṃ script to Japan when he returned from China in 806, where he studied Sanskrit with Nalanda-trained monks including one known as Prajñā (Chinese: 般若三藏; pinyin: Bōrě Sāncáng, 734–c. 810). By the time Kūkai learned this script, the trading and pilgrimage routes over land to India had been closed by the expanding Abbasid Caliphate.[12]

In Japan, the writing of mantras and copying/reading of sutras using the Siddhaṃ script is still practiced in the esoteric schools of Shingon Buddhism and Tendai as well as in the syncretic sect of Shugendō. The characters are known as shittan (悉曇) or bonji (梵字, Chinese: Fànzì). The Taishō Tripiṭaka version of the Chinese Buddhist canon preserves the Siddhaṃ characters for most mantras, and Korean Buddhists still write bījas in a modified form of Siddhaṃ. A recent innovation is the writing of Japanese language slogans on T-shirts using Bonji. Japanese Siddhaṃ has evolved from the original script used to write sūtras and is now somewhat different from the ancient script.[13][14][15]

It is typical to see Siddhaṃ written with a brush, as with Chinese writing; it is also written with a bamboo pen. In Japan, a special brush called a bokuhitsu (朴筆, Cantonese: pokbat) is used for formal Siddhaṃ calligraphy. The informal style is known as "fude" (, Cantonese: "moubat").

In the middle of the 9th century, China experienced a series of purges of "foreign religions", thus cutting Japan off from the sources of Siddhaṃ texts. In time, other scripts, particularly Devanagari, replaced Siddhaṃ in India, while Siddhaṃ's northeastern derivative called Gaudi evolved to become the Assamese, Bengali, Tirhuta, Odia and also the Nepalese scripts in the eastern and northeastern regions of South Asia,[16][17] leaving East Asia as the only region where Siddhaṃ is still used.

There were special forms of Siddhaṃ used in Korea that varied significantly from those used in China and Japan, and there is evidence that Siddhaṃ was written in Central Asia, as well, by the early 7th century.

As was done with Chinese characters, Japanese Buddhist scholars sometimes created multiple characters with the same phonological value to add meaning to Siddhaṃ characters. This practice, in effect, represents a 'blend' of the Chinese style of writing and the Indian style of writing and allows Sanskrit texts in Siddhaṃ to be differentially interpreted as they are read, as was done with Chinese characters that the Japanese had adopted. This led to multiple variants of the same characters.[18]

With regards to directionality, Siddhaṃ texts were usually read from left-to-right then top-to-bottom, as with Indic languages, but occasionally they were written in the traditional Chinese style, from top-to-bottom then right-to-left. Bilingual Siddhaṃ-Japanese texts show the manuscript turned 90 degrees clockwise and the Japanese is written from top-to-bottom, as is typical of Japanese, and then the manuscript is turned back again, and the Siddhaṃ writing is continued from left-to-right (the resulting Japanese characters look sideways).

Over time, additional markings were developed, including punctuation marks, head marks, repetition marks, end marks, special ligatures to combine conjuncts and rarely to combine syllables, and several ornaments of the scribe's choice, which are not currently encoded. The nuqta is also used in some modern Siddhaṃ texts.

The scriptEdit


Independent form Romanized As diacritic with   Independent form Romanized As diacritic with  
  a     ā  
  i     ī  
  u     ū  
  e     ai  
  o     au  
  aṃ     aḥ  
Independent form Romanized As diacritic with   Independent form Romanized As diacritic with  
Alternative forms
  ā   i   i   ī   ī   u   ū   o   au   aṃ


Stop Approximant Fricative
Tenuis Aspirated Voiced Breathy voiced Nasal
Glottal   h
Velar   k   kh   g   gh  
Palatal   c   ch   j   jh   ñ   y   ś
Retroflex     ṭh     ḍh     r  
Dental   t   th   d   dh   n   l   s
Bilabial   p   ph   b   bh   m
Labiodental   v
Conjuncts in alphabet
  kṣ   llaṃ
Alternative forms
  ch   j   ñ     ṭh   ḍh   ḍh       th   th   dh   n   m   ś   ś   v


Siddhaṃ alphabet by Kūkai (774–835)
k kṣ -ya -ra -la -va -ma -na
  k   kya   kra   kla   kva   kma   kna
  rk   rkya   rkra   rkla   rkva   rkma   rkna
     total 68 rows.
  • ↑ The combinations that contain adjoining duplicate letters should be deleted in this table.
  ṅka   ṅkha   ṅga   ṅgha
  ñca   ñcha   ñja   ñjha
  ṇṭa   ṇṭha   ṇḍa   ṇḍha
  nta   ntha   nda   ndha
  mpa   mpha   mba   mbha
  ṅya   ṅra   ṅla   ṅva
  ṅśa   ṅṣa   ṅsa   ṅha   ṅkṣa
  ska   skha   dga   dgha   ṅktra
  vca/bca   vcha/bcha   vja/bja   vjha/bjha   jña
  ṣṭa   ṣṭha   dḍa   dḍha   ṣṇa
  sta   stha   vda/bda   vdha/bdha   rtsna
  spa   spha   dba   dbha   rkṣma
  rkṣvya   rkṣvrya   lta   tkva
  ṭśa   ṭṣa   sha   bkṣa
  pta   ṭka   dsva   ṭṣchra
  jja   ṭṭa   ṇṇa   tta   nna   mma   lla   vva  
Alternative forms of conjuncts that contain .
  ṇṭa   ṇṭha   ṇḍa   ṇḍha

ṛ syllablesEdit

  kṛ   khṛ   gṛ   ghṛ   ṅṛ   cṛ   chṛ   jṛ   jhṛ   ñṛ  

Some sample syllablesEdit

  rka   rkā   rki   rkī   rku   rkū   rke   rkai   rko   rkau   rkaṃ   rkaḥ
  ṅka   ṅkā   ṅki   ṅkī   ṅku   ṅkū   ṅke   ṅkai   ṅko   ṅkau   ṅkaṃ   ṅkaḥ

Siddhaṃ fontsEdit

Siddhaṃ is still largely a hand written script. Some efforts have been made to create computer fonts, though to date none of these are capable of reproducing all of the Siddhaṃ conjunct consonants. Notably, the Chinese Buddhist Electronic Texts Association has created a Siddhaṃ font for their electronic version of the Taisho Tripiṭaka, though this does not contain all possible conjuncts. The software Mojikyo also contains fonts for Siddhaṃ, but split Siddhaṃ in different blocks and requires multiple fonts to render a single document.

A Siddhaṃ input system which relies on the CBETA font Siddhamkey 3.0 has been produced.


Siddhaṃ script was added to the Unicode Standard in June 2014 with the release of version 7.0.

The Unicode block for Siddhaṃ is U+11580–U+115FF:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1158x 𑖀 𑖁 𑖂 𑖃 𑖄 𑖅 𑖆 𑖇 𑖈 𑖉 𑖊 𑖋 𑖌 𑖍 𑖎 𑖏
U+1159x 𑖐 𑖑 𑖒 𑖓 𑖔 𑖕 𑖖 𑖗 𑖘 𑖙 𑖚 𑖛 𑖜 𑖝 𑖞 𑖟
U+115Ax 𑖠 𑖡 𑖢 𑖣 𑖤 𑖥 𑖦 𑖧 𑖨 𑖩 𑖪 𑖫 𑖬 𑖭 𑖮 𑖯
U+115Bx 𑖰 𑖱 𑖲 𑖳 𑖴 𑖵 𑖸 𑖹 𑖺 𑖻 𑖼 𑖽 𑖾 𑖿
U+115Cx 𑗀 𑗁 𑗂 𑗃 𑗄 𑗅 𑗆 𑗇 𑗈 𑗉 𑗊 𑗋 𑗌 𑗍 𑗎 𑗏
U+115Dx 𑗐 𑗑 𑗒 𑗓 𑗔 𑗕 𑗖 𑗗 𑗘 𑗙 𑗚 𑗛 𑗜 𑗝
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points


  1. ^ a b Singh, Upinder (2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Delhi: Pearson. p. 43. ISBN 9788131716779.
  2. ^ Its usage survives into the modern period for liturgical purposes in Japan and Korea.
  3. ^ a b,p39-41
  4. ^ a b Malatesha Joshi, R.; McBride, Catherine (11 June 2019). Handbook of Literacy in Akshara Orthography. ISBN 9783030059774.
  5. ^ a b Daniels, P.T. (January 2008). "Writing systems of major and minor languages". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ a b c d Masica, Colin (1993). The Indo-Aryan languages. p. 143.
  7. ^ Handbook of Literacy in Akshara Orthography, R. Malatesha Joshi, Catherine McBride(2019),p.27
  8. ^ Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, page 1215, col. 1
  9. ^ Rajan, Vinodh; Sharma, Shriramana (2012-06-28). "L2/12-221: Comments on naming the "Siddham" encoding" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-08-19.
  10. ^ "Devanagari: Development, Amplification, and Standardisation". Central Hindi Directorate, Ministry of Education and Social Welfare, Govt. of India. 3 April 1977. Retrieved 3 April 2018 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ e-museum 2018   Ink on pattra (palmyra leaves used for writing upon) ink on paper Heart Sutra: 4.9x28.0 Dharani: 4.9x27.9/10.0x28.3 Late Gupta period/7–8th century Tokyo National Museum N-8.
  12. ^ Pandey, Anshuman (2012-08-01). "N4294: Proposal to Encode the Siddham Script in ISO/IEC 10646" (PDF). Working Group Document, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2.
  13. ^ SM Dine, 2012, Sanskrit Beyond Text: The Use of Bonji (Siddham) in Mandala and Other Imagery in Ancient and Medieval Japan, University of Washington.
  14. ^ Siddhaṃ : the perfect script.
  15. ^ Buddhism guide: Shingon.
  16. ^ Salomon, Richard (1998). Indian Epigraphy.
  17. ^ Handbook of Literacy in Akshara Orthography, R. Malatesha Joshi, Catherine McBride(2019)
  18. ^ Kawabata, Taichi; Suzuki, Toshiya; Nagasaki, Kiyonori; Shimoda, Masahiro (2013-06-11). "N4407R: Proposal to Encode Variants for Siddham Script" (PDF). Working Group Document, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2.


  • Bonji Taikan (梵字大鑑). (Tōkyō: Meicho Fukyūkai, 1983)
  • Chaudhuri, Saroj Kumar (1998). Siddham in China and Japan, Sino-Platonic papers No. 88
  • e-Museum, National Treasures & Important Cultural Properties of National Museums, Japan (2018), "Sanskrit Version of Heart Sutra and Viyaya Dharani", e-Museum
  • Stevens, John. Sacred Calligraphy of the East. (Boston: Shambala, 1995.)
  • Van Gulik, R.H. Siddham: An Essay on the History of Sanskrit Studies in China and Japan (New Delhi, Jayyed Press, 1981).
  • Yamasaki, Taikō. Shingon: Japanese Esoteric Buddhism. (Fresno: Shingon Buddhist International Institute, 1988.)

External linksEdit