Here’s my first ever attempt at working with a font. I’ve called it Open Sanskrit and you can get it here.
It’s a version of the free Open Sans font, expanded for use with Pali and Sanskrit. I’ve added a number of glyphs, namely ṛḷṭḍḥṣṇṅṁ (and their uppercase variants). The common Pali/Sanskrit glyphs āīūñś are already in Open Sans.
Why have I ventured into modifying fonts? Simply because I couldn’t find any good sans serif font to use in publications that would serve as a partner for my preferred text font, Gentium.
There are only a few free sans fonts that support the diacriticals necessary for Pali and Sanskrit. Most of these I ruled out for aesthetic reasons—they don’t play well with Gentium, and/or they are knock-offs of over-used designs. I wanted a workhorse companion sans that can be used for ‘everything else’, from bits of information to graphic design.
Open Sans is designed by Steve Matteson, type director of Ascender Corp, and so is fully professional in its features. It’s a humanist font, meaning that it uses a less geometric, subtly ‘hand-drawn’ feel, but is still very clean and neutral. It shares a similar design ethos to Gentium, being warm and readable, respectful of traditional design canons but not a copy of anything else.
It’s been released under an Apache 2.0 licence, which means that modifications may be freely made, as long as it is not marketed under the same name. This is why, even though I’ve only cut and pasted a few dots, I had to give the font a new name. And, you know, ‘Open Sanskrit’—cute, no?
Open Sans has almost unrivalled versatility for a free font. It includes 897 glyphs, and comes in 5 weights, each with its own italic, as well as three condensed forms—that’s thirteen variants. I have added the new glyphs to all of these.
I have omitted the ‘m underdot’ ṃ, known colloquially as ‘the Mark of the Beast’. As is well know, this glyph is an abomination, used only by those who are plotting to destroy Buddhism and delete all cute kitten videos from YouTube.
Why? Well, if you look at the glyphs used for Pali/Sanskrit, several of them have a dot underneath, and that dot always means the same thing—retroflex. That means they are pronounced with the tip of the tongue curled so that the back touches the roof of the mouth. Try it (and post the results on YouTube, please. We all need some light relief now that the kitten videos are under attack.) There is also the ‘n overdot’ ṅ, which means ‘nasal’. So when it comes to the other nasal, which sounds identical to ṅ and only formally differs, you’d think it would be logical to preserve the pattern by using ‘m overdot’ ṁ, right? Unfortunately, many Pali/Sanskrit sites and publications don’t think so. They use ṃ, the only justification for which is that they want to create confusion and darkness in the heart. The Mark of the Beast will not disappear until it has accomplished its dark task and the True Dhamma (and kitten videos) are no more.
I have also omitted the rare Sanskrit glyphs ṝ and ḹ, as my Sanskrit needs are limited and I have never used them. It would be good to add these, and possibly other glyphs used in less common Indic dialects. I might get around to this someday, but meanwhile if anyone wants to do it, please feel free. I’ve released the font under the same Apache 2.0 licence as the original, so anyone can make changes. If you just want to make a new variant, that’s fine, but if you’d like to just add some glyphs and keep it as Open Sanskrit, let me know and I’ll consider whether to update Open Sanskrit.
I made the changes using the excellent open source Font Forge. This was my first venture into font making, so I may well have messed something up. No guarantees! Nevertheless, I have been using Open Sanskrit as system font, default web font, and for most applications for several weeks and have had no problems.
There is one minor issue that I haven’t got to the bottom of. Look closely at certain combinations, such as ṇḍ, and in small sizes the underdots look like they’re at different heights. That’s not the case—increase the size or print it out and you’ll see they’re even. Perhaps this is an issue with the hinting.
Anyway, please download and enjoy!