The case of लृ lr̥ and ऌ l̥

a note to the fringes of Sanskrit typography

The grapheme vocalic L ऌ l̥ and the grapheme or grapheme combination लृ lr̥ – a combination of the consonant ल l with the vowel ऋ r̥ – have proven to be problematic in the digitisation of Sanskrit dictionaries. Although these two graphemes are clearly distinct entities, they were conflated in the original digitisation of the Cologne Sanskrit Lexicon (CSL). However, a closer look shows that problems of inconsistent treatment of लृ lr̥ and ऌ l̥ has a long and distinguished tradition in Sanskrit lexicography.

The vowel ऌ l̥

The vocalic L ऌ l̥ belongs to a group of controversial graphemes (and ultimately phonemes) of Sanskrit. This group of questionable graphemes in Sanskrit scripts consists of the long vocalic R ॠ r̥̄, the vocalic L ऌ l̥, and in particularly the long vocalic L ॡ l̥̄. Indologists have treated these graphemes with suspicion. Böhtlingk & Roth avoided ऋ r̥, ॠ r̥̄, and ऌ l̥ in verbal forms by replacing them with their guṇa forms ar, ār, and al in the entries of the Großes Petersburger Wörterbuch (Böhtlingk & Roth 1855-1875). Monier-Williams (1872) groups these three graphemes in one section “ॠ ऌ ॡ” and prefixes this section with the following paragraph:

No Sanskṛit word begins with any of these vowels; ṛī [ॠ r̥̄] appears only in the Gen[itive] plur[al] of nouns terminating in ṛi [ऋ r̥], in the the acc[usative] plur[al] of fem[inine] nouns of relationship, and in the nom[inative] and acc[usative] plur[al] of neuter nouns in ṛi. As to the vowel lṛi [ऌ l̥] it occurs only in some forms of the root klṛip [कॢप् kl̥p]. The long lṛī [ॡ l̥̄] is a mere invention of grammarians.

As Monier-Williams states, vocalic L ऌ l̥ is rare in Sanskrit words and and nearly exclusively occurs in forms of the root कॢप् kl̥p ‘to be well ordered’. Other occurrences are doubtful or artificial. The only possible occurrence is in the root कॢब् kl̥b ‘accomplishment’ which is suspiciously close to कॢप् kl̥p. Several dictionaries list the proper name ऌतक l̥taka. However, this form is generally considered to be a mispronunciation of ऋतक r̥taka by these lexicographers. The lemma ऌ l̥ ‘the earth, the mother of the gods’ is secondary lemma from tantric texts derived from the vowel ऌ l̥. Other entries containing ऌ l̥ concern the letter and sound ऌ l̥ itself and derivations of it: ऌकार l̥kāra and ऌवर्ण l̥varṇa both meaning ‘the sound ऌ l̥’.

The combination लृ lr̥

The combination of लृ lr̥ of the consonant ल l with the vowel ऋ r̥ is even less common. The only widespread entires that contain लृ lr̥ are not for lexemes in the strict sense, but for technical terms derived from inflectional affixes. Monier-Williams (1872) gives the following definitions

लृङ् lr̥ṅ ‘a technical term or symbol for the terminations of the Conditional or for that Mood itself.’

लृट् lr̥ṭ ‘a technical term or symbol for the terminations of the Second Future or for that Tense itself.’

The various dictionaries differ slightly in their treatment of these technical terms from Pāṇini. Stchoupak in his Dictionnaire Sanscrit-Français (Stchoupak 1932) has both लृट् lr̥ṭ and लृङ् lr̥ṅ in romanisation and Apte’s Sanskrit English Dictionary (Apte 1890) lists लृट् lr̥ṭ and लृङ् lr̥ṅ in Devanagari. Cappeller (1887, 1891) and Macdonnell (1893) only have an entry for लृट lr̥ṭ. Instead of लृङ् lr̥ṅ , Monier-Williams (1899) gives लृ lr̥ ‘N[ame]. of the terminations of the Conditional Mood or N[ame] of that Mood itself’ as an entry, although he lists लृङ् lr̥ṅ and लृट् lr̥ṭ – not लृ lr̥ – under the entry ल la.

Apte in his Sanskrit English Dictionary (1890) is particularly inconsistent in his treatment of लृ lr̥ and ऌ l̥. In the entry ऌ l̥ he states that “No Sanskrit word begins with l̥ or l̥̄, except some of the technical names of Pâṇini for tenses and moods; e. g. ḷṅ [l̥ṅ] and ḷṭ [l̥ṭ].” However, लृट् lṛṭ and लृङ् lṛṅ are clearly instances of लृ lṛ with a consonantal onset and Apte (1890) himself lists them correctly under the consonant ल l in the same dictionary.

The only proper lexeme reported to contain the combination लृ lr̥ is absent from the major lexicographic works such as the Große Petersburger Wörterbuch (Böhtlingk & Roth 1855-1875) and Monier-Williams (1872, 1899). However, in Wilson (1832), Yates (1846), and the Shabda-Sagara (1900), we find a root लृञ्च lr̥ñc with the meaning ‘to put away’. All three dictionaries give in addition the form लृञ्चति lṛñcati. Neither of these dictionaries give references to occurrences and it is unclear where and in which particular form or forms this lexeme is attested. In particular, whether the lexeme is attested in its base form लृञ्च lr̥ñc or a guṇa form (probably लर्ञ्च larñc) would be relevant. The three entries read as follows:

लृञ्च r. 1st cl. (लृञ्चति ) To put away. [Wilson 1832, p. 722]

लृञ्च लृञ्चति 1. a. To put away. [Yates 1846, p. 646]

लृञ्च r. 1st cl. (लृञ्चति ) To put away. [Shabda-Sagara 1900, p. 619]

Shabda-Sagara (1900) is based on Wilson (1832). So the fact that it occurs in both works with an identical entry is no surpise. Wether Yates has also taken this lemma from Wilson or whether he did verify it independently is unknown. The lack of entries for this lexeme in later works and especially in Böhtlingk & Roth and Monier-Williams is suspicious and suggests that it only occurs in late varieties of Sanskrit, if it is genuine at all.

Mixing up लृ lr̥ and ऌ l̥ in Devanagari

The confusion or conflation of लृ lr̥ and ऌ l̥ occurs through out Sanskrit lexicography and probably beyond that through out the whole philological tradition. The two glyphs लृ and ऌ are very similar in shape in Devanagari script, with ऌ l̥ looking very much like a frozen combination of ल l and ◌ृ, the diacritical form of ऋ r̥. Some cuts of Devanagari typefaces seem to make no distinction in shape between लृ lr̥ and ऌ l̥ or at least the distinction was blurred in the usage of these typefaces. Apte’s discussion of लृट् lṛṭ and लृङ् lṛṅ under ऌ l̥ (see above) is a clear instance of this confusion.

The similarity is shape between लृ lr̥ and ऌ l̥ is particularly striking in Devanagari. Other scripts derived from Brahmi display far less or virtually no likeness between the two graphemes as the following table shows.

Devanagari लृ
Bengali লৃ
Oriya ଲୃ
Telugu లృ

Mixing up लृ lr̥ and ऌ l̥ in Latin script

The ISO standard 15919 clearly distinguishes between the two and transliterates लृ as lr̥ (l for ल and for ऋ) and ऌ as l̥. The romanisation used in Monier-William (1872, 1899) conflates the two. The combination लृ lr̥ is transliterated as lṛi – as a combination of l for ल l and ṛi for ऋ r̥. The vowel ऌ l̥ is represented by the complex sequence lṛi, unfortunately identical to the juxtaposition of l and ṛi.

The Sanskrit Library Phonetic Basic encoding scheme (SLP1) as defined in Scharf & Hyman (2011) treats Sanskrit Sounds – and by that Devanagari characters – very consistently. The combination लृ lr̥ is encoded as lf – as a combination of l for ल l and f for ऋ r̥ – while the simple vowel ऌ l̥ is encoded by the simplex x.

The very popular romanisation system Harvard-Kyoto conflates लृ lr̥ and ऌ l̥. In the Harvard-Kyoto system, लृ lr̥ is transliterated as lR – as a combination of l for ल l and R for ऋ r̥. The vowel ऌ l̥ is represented by the combined lR, unfortunately again identical to the juxtaposition of l and R.

ISO lr̥
MW lṛi lṛi
SLP1 lf x
HK lR lR


The grapheme vocalic L ऌ l̥ and the grapheme or grapheme combination लृ lr̥ are marginal to the Sanskrit language and entries containing the two graphemes are of questionable status. However, both लृ lr̥ and ऌ l̥ are part of Sanskrit or at least of traditional and modern analysis and representation of the Sanskrit language. Lexicographic works that aim at representing the complete lexical knowledge concerning the Sanskrit language have to distinguish the two consistently to be faithful to this tradition.

A newer version can be found here: Rau, Felix. (2017, August 1). ऌ l̥ and लृ lr̥ in Sanskrit Lexicography. Zenodo. doi:10.5281/zenodo.837257

(I wrote this post on 3/24/2015 for an older blog of mine, just putting it here for reference.)