Bet­ter Hindi Typ­ing on Win­dows Using De­vana­gari QW­ERTY

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If you want to start using Devanagari QWERTY on your Windows computer right away, visit https://github.com/s3thi/devanagari-qwerty and follow the instructions in the README.

For more context, read on.

My Preferred Keyboard Layout for Typing Devanagari

For nearly a decade, my preferred method for typing Hindi has been a keyboard layout called Devanagari QWERTY. This layout maps each Latin character on a standard QWERTY keyboard to its closest phonetic equivalent in Devanagari.

For example, while using Devanagari QWERTY:

  • Pressing the r key produces a 
  • Pressing the k key produces a 
  • Pressing the m key produces a 

Therefore, if you wish to type the Hindi word रकम, you can press rk, and m in succession to do so.

Since the sounds made by the English letters rk, and m correspond roughly to the sounds made by the Devanagari letters , and , anyone who is bilingual in Hindi and English can guess the series of key presses required to produce रकम without too much trouble.

But that’s not it. Devanagari consists of forty eight letters, whereas the Latin script only consists of twenty six. Since Devanagari doesn’t have letter casing, Devanagari QWERTY makes use of the Shift and Option keys to map a single key to multiple letters. For example:

  • Pressing t produces a 
  • Pressing Shift + t produces a 
  • Pressing Option + t produces a 
  • Pressing Shift + Option + t produces a 

This mapping is designed in such a way that a Hindi speaker can easily guess which letter any given combination of alphabet and modifier keys will produce.

Similar rules exist for typing vowels: diacritics are mapped to un-modified letter keys, and their independent forms can be produced by using Shift and Option in different combinations. A half-letter can be produced by typing the independent form of that letter followed by a halant/virama, which is mapped to the f key.

The scheme is simple, discoverable, and painfully obvious once you’ve seen it in action. If you can type English using a QWERTY keyboard, you’re already halfway to typing Hindi using Devanagari QWERTY.

The Standard Keyboard Layout for Typing Devanagari

Devanagari QWERTY stands in sharp contrast to InScript, the standard keyboard layout for typing Devanagari and eleven other scripts from the Brahmic family. InScript maitains no logial relationship between the English letters printed on the keys of a QWERTY keyboard and the Devanagari letters that they produce.

While using InScript, it’s impossible to guess which letter is mapped to which key. You need to either find a “bilingual” keyboard, put Devanagari stickers on your existing keyboard, or keep a cheat sheet open on your computer at all times. This makes getting started with InScript a slow, frustrating affair.

While designed specifically to make typing Indian languages comfortable and efficient, InScript’s theoretical advantages have failed to translate into real-world usefulness. Despite being around since 1986 and supported by every major operating system, it has barely seen any adoption.

Using Devanagari QWERTY on Windows 11

A few months ago, when I started using Windows 11 on a secondary computer, I discovered that it only ships with two input methods for typing Hindi: InScript, and a transliteration keyboard called Hindi Phonetic.

I made do with Hindi Phonetic for months, but I’ve never been a fan of transliteration keyboards. My irritation with this input method got the better of me last week, and I was compelled to look for something more reasonable. My search led me to the download page for Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator, a creaky old program that lets you customize and create keyboard layouts for Windows. Bingo!

Using MSKLC, I was able to create a keyboard layout for Windows that was identical to the macOS version of Devanagari QWERTY. Creating, testing, and packaging it took me about half a day, a large part of which was spent restarting Windows. When I was done, I put the files on GitHub in the hopes that they might be useful to somebody else.

At the time of writing this entry, I’ve been using my port of Devanagari QWERTY for Windows inside Telegram, Firefox, Evernote, File Explorer, and Microsoft Word for nearly a week. Despite my initial misgivings, it appears to work perfectly across all the apps I use regularly.

You can download Devanagari QWERTY for Windows from its GitHub page here: https://github.com/s3thi/devanagari-qwerty. If you run into bugs, please feel free to open an issue or write me an email. If you enjoy using the layout, I’d love to hear from you over email or Twitter.

हैप्पी टाईपिंग!