orthography notes

Updated 8 April, 2024

This page brings together basic information about the Malayalam script and its use for the Malayalam language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Malayalam using Unicode.

Referencing this document

Richard Ishida, Malayalam Orthography Notes, 08-Apr-2024,


Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details.
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വകുപ്പ്‌ 1. മനുഷ്യരെല്ലാവരും തുല്യാവകാശങ്ങളോടും അന്തസ്സോടും സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യത്തോടുംകൂടി ജനിച്ചിട്ടുള്ളവരാണ്‌. അന്യോന്യം ഭ്രാതൃഭാവത്തോടെ പെരുമാറുവാനാണ്‌ മനുഷ്യന്നു വിവേകബുദ്ധിയും മനസ്സാക്ഷിയും സിദ്ധമായിരിക്കുന്നത്‌.

വകുപ്പ്‌ 2. ജാതി, മതം, നിറം, ഭാഷ, സ്ത്രീപുരുഷഭേദം, രാഷ്ട്രീയാഭിപ്രായം സ്വത്ത്‌, കുലം എന്നിവയെ കണക്കാക്കാതെ ഈ പ്രഖ്യാപനത്തില്‍ പറയുന്ന അവകാശങ്ങള്‍ക്കും സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യത്തിനും സര്‍വ്വജനങ്ങളും അര്‍ഹരാണ്‌. രാഷ്ട്രീയ സ്ഥിതിയെ അടിസ്ഥാനമാക്കി (സ്വതന്ത്രമോ, പരിമിത ഭരണാധികാരത്തോടു കൂടിയതോ ഏതായാലും വേണ്ടതില്ല) ഈ പ്രഖ്യാപനത്തിലെ അവകാശങ്ങളെ സംബന്ധിച്ചേടത്തോളം യാതൊരു വ്യത്യാസവും യാതൊരാളോടും കാണിക്കാന്‍ പാടുള്ളതല്ല.

Source: Unicode UDHR, articles 1 & 2

Usage & history

Origins of the Malayalam script, 13thC – today.


└ Aramaic

└ Brahmi

└ Tamil-Brahmi

└ Pallava

└ Grantha

└ Malayalam

+ Tigalari

+ Dhives Akuru

+ Saurashtra

Malayalam script is used to write the Malayalam language of Kerala state, and spoken by 35 million people including the diaspora, and the script is used for another 10 minority languages, according to the Ethnologue. It is also widely used for writing Sanskrit texts in Kerala.

മലയാളലിപി mlyāɭlipi mələjɑːɭə lɪpɪ Malayalam script

Originally descended from Bhrami, the Malayalam script is a Vatteluttu alphabet extended with symbols from the Grantha alphabet to represent Indo-Aryan loanwords. Throughout its history, it has absorbed words from Tamil, Sanskrit, Arabic, and English.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Malayalam underwent orthographic reform due to printing difficulties. A significant change involved the introduction of a visible virama (chandrakkala) rather than conjunct forms, and simplification of a number of forms, including consonant plus -u/-uu combinations.

Sources: The Unicode Standard, Wikipedia.

Basic features

The script is an abugida. Consonants carry an inherent vowel which can be modified by appending vowel signs to the consonant. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Malayalam orthography.

The Malayalam script was significantly simplified at the beginning of the 1970s. Prior to the orthographic reform there were many more ligated forms. In particular, the vowels u/ū and r in 2nd position in a consonant were reduced from ligated forms to simple, unchanging glyphs alongside a consonant.

Generally, words are separated by spaces, however the number of characters between spaces can be quite high as sometimes spaces are used to indicate phonological pauses, rather than lexical boundaries.

❯ consonantSummary

Malayalam uses 36 basic consonant letters.

Consonant clusters are typically indicated in modern Malayalam using the visible chandrakkala mark (virama), which indicates that no vowel follows a consonant. Conjunct forms are also expressed using stacked consonants, and conjoined consonants, where the chandrakkala is still used but hidden, and special chillu shapes.

As part of a cluster, RA has special forms. As a medial consonant in the modern orthography it appears as a simple glyph to the left of the letters spoken before it. When initial in the cluster its glyph includes a cillu hook at the top right. There are also special rules involving clusters of multiple RA letters.

Syllable-final consonant sounds may be represented by 2 dedicated combining marks (anusvara & visarga), but are generally ordinary consonants with chandrakkala, or 6 chillu forms. The word-final virama sometimes represents a half-u sound, rather than completely killing the inherent vowel. Because of this, Malayalam uses a set of syllable-final consonants called chillus that have no vowel sound associated with them.

❯ basicV

The Malayalam orthography is an abugida with one inherent vowel. It represents other vowels using 12 vowel signs, all combining marks. Also the word-final half-u sound is written in modern Malayalam using 0D4D (candrakkala).

The orthography includes 3 pre-base vowels and 3 circumgraphs. All circumgraphs can be decomposed, creating multipart vowels. The only multipart vowels are those created by decomposition of the circumgraphs, and involve 2 glyphs, one on each side of the base consonant(s).

Standalone vowel sounds are written using 12 independent vowels, one for each vowel sound, including the inherent vowel.

There is also a set of vocalics.

There is an archaic set of numbers that include digits beyond the normal 0-9 range, and include a number of fractional symbols.

Character index



Basic consonants






Dead consonants


Not used for modern Malayalam


Combining marks









Not used for modern Malayalam



Not used for modern Malayalam








Not used for modern Malayalam



To be investigated

Items to show in lists


These are sounds for the Malayalam language.

Click on the sound groups to see where else in the document each of the sounds are referred to.

Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones. Source Wikipedia.

Vowel sounds

Plain vowels

i ɨ̆ ɨ̆ u e o ə ə a


ai au

Consonant sounds

labial dental alveolar post-
retroflex palatal velar glottal
stops p b t d t   ʈ ɖ   k ɡ  
aspirates     ʈʰ ɖʰ   ɡʰ  
affricates       t͡ʃ d͡ʒ        
aspirates       t͡ʃʰ d͡ʒʰ        
fricatives f   s ɕ ʂ     h
nasals m n   ɳ ɲ ŋ
approximants ʋ   l   ɻ ɭ j  
trills/flaps     ɾ   ɽ


Malayalam is not a tonal language.




Vowel summary table

The following table summarises the main vowel to character assigments.

ⓘ represents the inherent vowel. Diacritics are added to the vowels to indicate nasalisation (not shown here).


For additional details see vowel_mappings.

This is the full set of characters needed to represent the vowels of the Malayalam language.


Inherent vowel


a following a consonant is not written, but is seen as an inherent part of the consonant letter, so ka is written by simply using the consonant letter.

Vowel absence & half-u


Malayalam uses 0D4D (in Malayalam called ചന്ദ്രക്കല cn͓d͓rk͓kl (candrakkala) ʧand̪r̪akkala) to kill the inherent vowel after a consonant, eg. the example just below the section heading explicitly represents just the sound k.

However, in modern text, at the end of a word the combination ക് may also represent the sound kə̆ or kɨ̆ (depending on dialect). The transcription for this is usually ŭ, and it is called half-u.

In older documents the half-u was typically written with a u vowel sign plus chandrakkala, which is not ambiguous. It is unusual for a virama to occur after a vowel sign, like this. പാലു്

The Unicode Standard provides examples of half-u occurring in positions that are not word-final (that is, not immediately before a space), eg.



In another example, the chandrakkala is attached to an independent vowel letter, and overrides the sound of that letter, eg. എ്ന്നാ

The chandrakkala is always written after any vowel sign.

See also clusters, where the chandrakkala can be hidden between consonant clusters, and finals.

Vowels after consonants

Post-consonant vowels are written using 12 vowel signs, all combining marks. Also the word-final half-u sound is written in modern Malayalam using 0D4D.

The orthography includes 3 pre-base vowels and 3 circumgraphs. All circumgraphs can be decomposed, creating multipart vowels. The only multipart vowels are those created by decomposition of the circumgraphs, and involve 2 glyphs, one on each side of the base consonant(s).

Vowel signs


Malayalam uses the following dedicated combining marks for vowels.

ി␣ീ␣ു␣ൂ␣െ␣േ␣ൊ␣ോ␣ാ␣ ␣ൈ␣ൗ␣ൌ

In the older orthography, the u and ū vowel signs, and to some extent the i and ī signs, tend to form ligatures with the base consonant. See uvowels.

Vowel signs may also be attached to digits,u,505 eg. 355ാം

The shape of the u vowel sign has changed recently, to avoid the complications of the older ligated forms. See uvowels.

All of the vowel signs are spacing marks, meaning that they consume horizontal space when added to a base consonant.

All vowel signs are typed and stored after the base consonant, and the glyph rendering system takes care of the positioning at display time.

An orthography that uses vowel signs is different from one that uses simple diacritics or letters for vowels in that the vowel signs are generally rendered relative to an orthographic syllable, rather than just applied to the letter of the immediately preceding consonant. This means that pre-base vowel signs and the left glyph of circumgraphs are rendered before a whole consonant cluster that is rendered as a conjunct (see prebase_vowels).

Multipart vowels

Multipart vowels only occur in decomposed text, where the glyphs in circumgraphs are split into separate code points.


Pre-base vowel signs


Three vowel signs appear to the left of the base consonant letter or cluster.

െ␣േ␣ ␣ൈ
A prebase vowel, pronounced after a consonant, but rendered to the left of that consonant.
show composition


These are combining marks that are always stored after the base consonant. The font places the glyph before the base consonant.

These vowel signs are placed before the start of an orthographic syllable. This means that a word with a consonant cluster at the start separates the pre-base vowel from the position where it is pronounced by more than one consonant character (see fig_prebase).

A prebase vowel, pronounced after a consonant cluster, but rendered to the left of the conjunct.
show composition


However, if the cluster is split by a visible virama, this creates two syllables and the pre-base vowel sign appears after the consonant with the virama. If you click on the example below, you'll see that the characters and code point orders are the same as for the previous example (apart from the addition of the ZWNJ to force the virama to appear), but the location of the pre-base vowel sign is now immediately before the consonant after which it is pronounced.

The same word, but without the conjunct. The vowel is now rendered to the left of the last consonant in the cluster.
show composition




Three vowels are produced by a single combining character with visually separate parts, that appear on opposite sides of the consonant onset.

ൊ␣ോ␣ ␣ൌ
A circumgraph vowel: a single code point with glyphs on both sides of the consonant after which it is pronounced.
show composition


In modern text, 0D57 has become a dominant way to write the vowel au̯, rather than 0D4C, eg. സൗന്ദര്യം

All of these circumgraphs can be written as a single character, or as two. Whichever approach is used, the vowel signs must be typed and stored after the consonant characters they surround, and if the vowel signs are decomposed, they must be typed and stored in left to right order. See encoding_circumgraphs.

Vowel length

Vowel length is indicated by the vowel sign used (see combiningV).

Standalone vowels


Malayalam represents standalone vowels using a set of independent vowel letters. For example:




The set includes a character to represent the inherent vowel sound.

Vowel sounds to characters

This section maps Malayalam vowel sounds to common graphemes in the Malayalam orthography.

The left column contains dependent vowels, and the right column independent vowels.

Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.

Plain vowels



























0D4D at the end of a word.


0D41 0D4D at the end of a word in older texts. 


0D0E 0D4D



Inherent vowel






Diphthongs and other combinations









and 0D43 are most common in the modern orthography.

The items in the list below are rare and used only to write Sanskrit in Malayalam.u,501



Consonant summary table

The following table summarises the main consonant to character assigments.

ച␣ജ␣ ␣ഛ␣ഝ
ൿ␣ ␣ൔ␣ൕ␣ൖ

For additional details see vowel_mappings.

Basic consonants

Whereas the table just above takes you from sounds to letters, the following simply lists the basic consonant letters (however, since the orthography is highly phonetic there is little difference in ordering).

പ␣ബ␣ത␣ദ␣ട␣ഡ␣ക␣ഗ␣ഫ␣ഭ␣ഥ␣ധ␣ഠ␣ഢ␣ഖ␣ഘ␣ ␣ച␣ജ␣ഛ␣ഝ␣ ␣വ␣സ␣ഷ␣ശ␣ഹ␣ ␣മ␣ന␣ണ␣ഞ␣ങ␣ ␣ര␣റ␣ഴ␣ല␣ള␣യ

Other consonants

The conjunct ക്ഷ k͓ʂ is conventionally regarded as an additional letter.d,420

Two other letters, and are historic and used rarely in scholarly texts to represent alveolar sounds. In ordinary texts, and are used



Clusters of consonant letters at the beginning of an orthographic syllable occur in Malayalam, and they are handled as described in the section clusters.

Special behaviours include handling of RA at the beginning of an orthographic syllable (see special_forms).




Words ending with chandrakkala may be pronounced with a half-u sound after. In order to indicate a consonant with no following vowel sound at all the following chillu (or cillakṣaram) characters can be used, eg. വില്ലൻ

ൿ is relatively rare.u,505

Unicode v9 introduced 3 more chillu letters, , , and , which are not included in CLDR.


In older Unicode text the first 5 chillus in the list above were written using the combination consonant+VIRAMA+ZWJ, but since the introduction of the chillu characters in Unicode v5.1 these precomposed characters are recommended.

Anusvara & visarga


Malayalam also uses the anusvara and visarga as syllable-final characters, eg. ദുഃഖം

The anusvara normally represents the sound m, but may be assimilated to another nasal consonant. It can be used multiple times after a vowel,u,504 eg. ഈംംംം ị̄m̽m̽m̽m̽

Consonant clusters

The absence of a vowel sound between two or more consonants is visually indicated in one of the following ways.

  1. A visible chandrakkala character above the top right of the initial consonant.
  2. Conjuncts. There are a number of possibilities here.
    1. Stacked consonants, where the non-initial consonant appears below the initial, usually with a reduced or ligated form.
    2. Conjoined consonants, where consonants sit side-by-side but with some ligation or different forms than usual.
    3. Special 'chillu' shapes for the initial consonant (a special case of conjoined consonants).
    4. Special forms : The letter RA has its own idiosyncratic way of combining with other consonants, whether it precedes or follows them.

See also syllable-final consonants, which may be followed by a regular consonant.

Conjunct formation

See a table of 2-consonant clusters.
The table allows you to test results for various fonts.

In Unicode, the stacking and conjoining behaviour is achieved by adding 0D4D between the consonants. The font hides the glyph automatically.

Traditional fonts have more ligatures than modern ones. There doesn't appear to be much in the way of a systematic approach to shaping. With a few exceptions, the conjuncts are specific to particular pairs of characters.

The link at the beginning of this section shows all combinations of two consonants and allows you to observe the effect of changing the font. Versions of the table with conjuncts highlighted are available for Noto Serif Malayalam and Thoolika Traditional Unicode (part 1), (part 2). The split for the Thoolika font is stacked, etc in part 1, and using chillu shapes in part 2. The number of conjuncts is 135 and 219+156, respectively.

Sequences involving more than two consonants in a cluster can combine a variety of methods. The example in to_india shows 3 conjoined consonants in the middle, and a conjoined cluster stacked below another letter at the end.

The word ഇന്ത്യയ്ക്ക് ịn͓t͓yy͓k͓k͓ to India in the Thoolika Traditional Unicode font.
show composition


Visible chandrakkala

This was promoted as the default by the orthographic reforms of the 1970s. It is also the fallback if the font doesn't contain conjunct forms for a particular cluster of consonants.

Examples include ആഴ്ച ഗുല്ഫം നമസ്തേ


The non-initial consonant is drawn below the initial consonant, and with a slightly different shape.

The following list shows stacked conjuncts in the Noto Serif Malayalam font (unless you changed the font for examples on this page).


Stacks tend to be particularly common for geminated consonants, even when those consonants don't participate in other conjunct pairings. In 3 such cases, the second consonant is often represented by a small triangle.

Otherwise, the subjoined consonant may be a reduced version of the original, or may be ligated. Note that LA has a very different shape from normal when in subjoined position.

Conjoined consonants

Conjuncts where the consonants remain side-by-side typically merge the shapes of the consonants.

The following list shows conjoined conjuncts in the Noto Serif Malayalam font (unless you changed the font for examples on this page). To see the original shapes, click on the conjunct.


Three consonants have very standardised glyphs when they appear in non-initial position, and those glyphs don't merge with the other consonant. They are , , and . The list below shows them combined with the letter KA.


Exceptions to the above are യ്യ y͓y വ്വ ʋ͓ʋ

The isolated, pre-base shape for RA was introduced by the reformed orthography. In the old orthography RA as the second element in a conjunct was represented by a ligated swash below the initial consonant.

ക്ര ഖ്ര ഗ്ര ഘ്ര ങ്ര
Examples of consonant+RA ligatures in the old orthography.

Chillu-style initials

In some fonts the initial consonant in a cluster may take a chillu shape, followed by an ordinary glyph for the second character.

In the Thoolika Traditional Unicode font this applies to the following consonants in initial position.


conjunct_chillus shows the same sequence of characters in the Thoolika Traditional Unicode font. Note how the shape of the second consonant remains the same as normal - there is no ligation or repositioning. The examples in conjunct_chillus all use SHA in the second position. Note that the chillu code points are not used here – this is just font styling on normal consonants.

ക്ശ ണ്ശ ന്ശ ര്ശ ല്ശ ള്ശ
ക്ശ ണ്ശ ന്ശ ര്ശ ല്ശ ള്ശ
Chillu-style initials used in a modern font (top) and traditional font (bottom) for consonant clusters.

Special forms

Cluster-initial RA Cluster-initial is only used before in standard Malayalam.u,505 Since the orthographic reform, this has been written as ർയ r͓y

Before the 1970s, however, a dot or small vertical stroke was used over the following consonant, in a similar way to the repha in other indic scripts, eg. ൎയ The character 0D4E is used to reproduce this.

This character is not a combining character. It is typed and stored in the same place as you would expect to find the RA + VIRAMA, and then the font needs to position the glyph over the following consonant.

Non-initial RA when non-initial in a cluster is displayed to the left of the other consonant(s) in the reformed orthography, eg. ക്ര k͓rThis transposition is done by the font – the typed and stored order remains the same as the spoken order.

When RA follows more than one consonant, it is displayed to the left of the cluster, not just to the left of the preceding consonant, eg. ന്ദ്ര n͓d͓r in ചന്ദ്രക്കല

Clusters with RRA The conjunct റ്റ is always pronounced tta, eg. പാറ്റ

The same word could be spelled പാററ pāṙṙ and until the 1960s, when the stacked version began to appear, it would have been spelled that way, but this would be ambiguous,u,506 cf. ടെംപററി It would be particularly ambiguous when there are more than 2 RRA characters side by side, eg. compare കിലോമീറ്ററുകൾ കിലോമീറററുകൾ kilōmīṙṙṙukɭ̽

If a word with the sound tt is spelled using an unstacked pair of these characters, the pair acts as a single unit with pre-base vowels, eg. മാറെറാലി To achieve the correct positioning of vowel signs here, however, it is necessary to use the decomposed forms of the vowel (see the transcription). Otherwise you would end up with മാററൊലി māṙṙoli where the pre-base part of the vowel is in the wrong place.

Similarly, ൻ്റ n͓̽ṙ is always pronounced nta, eg. ആൻ്റോ

According to the Unicode Standard, an alternative spelling exists without the stack, , but this can also lead to ambiguityu,506, ie. ആൻേറാ ận̽ēṙā aːntoː

Note that again we had to split the vowel.

Consonant length

Gemination and consonant lengthening are handled using the normal approach to consonant clusters (see clusters).

Consonant sounds to characters

This section maps Malayalam consonant sounds to common graphemes in the Malayalam orthography.

The left column contains ordinary consonants, and the right column contains dedicated syllable-final consonants.

Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.














































































Very rare. Used for Sanskrit words.

Very rare. Used for Sanskrit words.













Very rare. Used for Sanskrit words.

Very rare. Used for Sanskrit words.



Encoding choices

This section looks at alternative strategies for typing and storing text in Malayalam, taking into consideration the effects of normalising the text using Unicode Normalisation Form D (NFD), and Normalisation Form C (NFC).

Encoding circumgraphs

The 3 circumgraphs can be written as a single character, or as two characters (in decomposed text).

The single code point per vowel sign is the form preferred by the Unicode Standard and the form in common use for Malayalam. The parts are separated, however, in Unicode Normalisation Form D (NFD), and recomposed in Unicode Normalisation Form C (NFC), so both approaches are canonically equivalent.

Whichever approach is used, the vowel signs must be typed and stored after the consonant characters they surround. In the case of decomposed vowel signs, the order is also important and must be as shown above.

Precomposed Decomposed
0D4A 0D46 0D3E
0D4B 0D47 0D3E
0D4C 0D46 0D57

Inappropriate glyph combinations

In some cases, visually similar or identical glyph patterns can be made from a sequence of code points rather than the single code point that Unicode provides. These are not made the same by normalisation, and they are not semantically equivalent. These inappropriate sequences should be avoided because they will cause the meaning of the text to change; searches, matching and other aspects of the text will fail to be understood by the application or the font. In the table below, the single code point on the left should be used, and not the sequence on the right. In some cases, fonts will indicate that there is a problem by forcing the appearance of a dotted circle or otherwise failing to render the text correctly, but this may not always be the case.

Use Do not use
0D48 0D46 0D46
0D07 0D57
0D09 0D57
0D12 0D3E
0D0E 0D46
0D12 0D57


In older Unicode text chillu letters were written using the combination C+VIRAMA+ZWJ, but since the introduction of the chillu characters in Unicode v5.1 these new atomic characters are recommended. The sequences are not canonically equivalent.

The default Noto font used for this page doesn't render the K glyph sequence in this table the same as the atomic character, but older fonts such as Malayalam MN and ThoolikaTraditionalUnicode do.

Atomic (recommended) Decomposed (do not use)
ൿ 0D15 0D4D 200D
0D23 0D4D 200D
0D28 0D4D 200D
0D30 0D4D 200D
0D32 0D4D 200D
0D33 0D4D 200D

Codepoint order

When 2 vowel signs are used for a circumgraph, the encoded order of the combining marks should match the displayed order, left to right.

Numbers, dates, currency, etc


There is a set of Malayalam digits, but they are not use for modern texts.


Older texts also used the following additional numeric characters.


was used historically to measure rice.

According to the Unicode Standard, Malayalam also used the following characters in the Common Indic Number Forms block.u,507



can be used like the 'th' in English dates, but it use is fading in modern text. u,507

Text direction

Malayalam text runs left to right in horizontal lines.

Show default bidi_class properties for characters in the Malayalam orthography described here.

Glyph shaping & positioning

You can experiment with examples using the Malayalam character app.

Context-based shaping & positioning

Malayalam is not cursive, but display technology needs to provide shaping for conjunct formation.

Display technology must correctly position pre-base vowels to the left of the consonant or consonant cluster, and place the separate glyphs of 2-part vowels around those also.

It must do a similar thing for display of RA using the orthographic reforms.

Vowel ligatures & orthographic reforms

Like Tamil, in the traditional version of the script Malayalam consonants combining with 0D41 and 0D42 tend to produce ligated forms, as shown in fig_u_ligatures.

Ligated forms of consonant plus -u (top) and (bottom). The far left shows ordinary forms.

During orthographic reforms in the 1970s and 1980s a simpler approached was introduced, to make printing easier. Both vowels were represented by an unchanging, post-base vowel sign as shown below. No change is needed to the underlying code points in Unicode, this is purely a font difference.


Explicit shaping controls

Assuming that you have fonts that produce the expected behaviours, the Unicode Standard describes the use of the joiner characters as follows:u,505

Uses of ZWNJ (zero-width non-joiner) in Malayalam.

Typographic units

Word boundaries

Spaces are often used between words, but it is not uncommon for writers to use spacing to indicate phonological pauses, rather than lexical

Sequences of characters between spaces are often quite long in Malayalam, eg. അറിയപ്പെടുന്നുവെങ്കിലുംạ̄ṙiyp͓peʈun͓nuʋeŋ͓kilum̽


In many cases, grapheme clusters can be used to segment Malayalam words, since the virama is often visible and in principle allows for a segment break immediately (like Tamil). However, consonant cluster sequences often form conjuncts which should not be broken during edit operations such as letter-spacing, first-letter highlighting, and in-word line breaking. For the operations mentioned, one needs to segment the text using orthographic syllables.

The choice of visible virama vs. conjunct tends to vary from sequence to sequence and from font to font, but given that there is only one Malayalam virama, the application needs to interpret the virama in two different ways for segmentation: (1) as a simple vowel-killer, and (2) as a conjunct initiator. Choosing the right behaviour requires the application to understand the rendered glyphs, but this is asking a lot of an application.

The Malayalam virama (chandrakkala) is 0D4D, which has an Indic Syllabic Category of Virama.

Grapheme clusters

Base ZW(N)J? Combining_mark* ZW(N)J?

Combining marks may include one of the following types of character.

  1. Dependent vowels [13] (see combiningvowels) There is usually only one vowel sign per base consonant, however in decomposed text circumgraphs are represented by 2 combining characters. Vowel signs may also be attached to numbers (see vowelsigns).
  2. Final consonants [2] (see finals) One of 2 possible combining marks, at the end of a grapheme cluster sequence. May also occur after independent vowels.
  3. Virama (chandrakkala) [1] (see anusvara_visarga and absence) The chandrakkala is used between consonants in a cluster, however sometimes it is simply rendered as a diacritic over the non-final consonant(s) in a cluster, but other times it causes conjunct creation and is invisible (see orthographicS). It is also used (usually at the end of a word) to indicate the half-u vowel sound. In older texts this would follow the U vowel sign. Finally, it may also be used to modify a vowel sound, such as in the 3rd example below.

Placing a ZWNJ before the chandrakkala is supposed to produce the modern 'open' form of the conjunct in fonts that would otherwise produce a traditional conjunct (see joiner). A ZWNJ can also be used after a chandrakkala to prevent the formation of a conjunct form.

ZWJ can be used before the chandrakkala to produce a traditional conjunct form in fonts that produce the open form by default but have the glyphs for the traditional forms too (see joiner).

The following examples show a variety of grapheme clusters, several of which show the virama used in a different way from its use in other words:

Click on the text version of these words to see more detail about the composition.


In many cases a non-final consonant in a cluster is these days rendered using a special chillu codepoint, rather than a consonant with virama. Chillus are also used for word final consonants that are not followed by a vowel. These chillu characters stand alone as grapheme clusters. See the example below, where the 2nd and final graphemes are chillus.


Larger typographic units

(Consonant Chandrakkala)* Grapheme_cluster

Malayalam commonly stacks or conjoins glyphs, to form conjuncts. The conjuncts represent consonant clusters.

Grapheme clusters terminate after a sequence of marks that ends with a chandrakkala, but editorial operations that change the visual appearance of the text, such as letter-spacing, first-letter highlighting, line-breaking, and justification, should never split conjunct forms apart. For this reason, an alternative way of segmenting graphemes is needed. This may not apply, however, for some other operations such as cursor movement or backwards delete.

Where conjuncts appear, a typographic unit contains multiple grapheme clusters. The non-final grapheme clusters all end with 0D4D, and the final grapheme cluster begins with a consonant.

The following are examples.

Click on the text version of these words to see more detail about the composition.


Complicating factors

Malayalam has only one virama code point, but it can be used to indicate a conjunct and disappear, or it may simply be displayed as a diacritic over the non-final consonant(s) in a cluster. Often both approaches will appear in the same cluster. The codepoints in memory give no indication as to which will result – that may also vary by font. There is no additional code point, like in some Southeast Asian scripts, that users can choose to indicate that they want a visible chandrakkala rather than a conjunct.

The problem is that, in principle, you would expect line-breaks, etc. to be allowed after a consonant with a visible chandrakkala, just like in Tamil. But without a way to distinguish how the font is rendering the codepoints, this is not possible. Therefore, applications may keep cluster components together for Malayalam when the chandrakkala is visible.

The following example shows 3 chandrakkala characters that are used in different ways. The first just appears above its base, the second creates a conjunct and disappears, and the third represents a vowel sound (a completely different usage). Note that the app that generated the orthographic syllable keeps everything together as one unbreakable typographic unit.

Click on the text version of this word to see more detail about the composition.

Same word with orthographic syllable rules applied.

Treatment as grapheme clusters rather than conjuncts can also affect vowel sign positioning. An illustration of this can be seen when a consonant cluster is followed (phonetically) by a vowel rendered as a vowel sign glyph that is displayed to the left of the base. For example, observe below how the pre-base vowel 0D47 appears to the left of the tr conjunct, but doesn't get rendered at the beginning of the str cluster.

Click on the text version of this word to see more detail about the composition.

Same word with orthographic syllable rules applied.

Punctuation & inline features

Phrase & section boundaries


Malayalam uses western punctuation.









and are used in older texts to separate phrases.

Bracketed text


Malayalam commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.

  start end



Quotations & citations


Malayalam texts use quotation marks around quotations. Of course, due to keyboard design, quotations may also be surrounded by ASCII double and single quote marks.

  start end

Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

Spaces provide the main line break opportunities, however Malayalam is an agglutinative language and Malayalam words can be long. This can lead to large gaps during justification, and sometimes words that are longer than the available column width, so it is desirable to also hyphenate words.

Line-edge rules

As in almost all writing systems, certain punctuation characters should not appear at the end or the start of a line. The Unicode line-break properties help applications decide whether a character should appear at the start or end of a line.

Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the modern Malayalam orthography.

The following list gives examples of typical behaviours for some of the characters used in modern Malayalam. Context may affect the behaviour of some of these and other characters.

Click/tap on the Malayalam characters to show what they are.

  • “ ‘ (   should not be the last character on a line.
  • ” ’ ) . , ; ! ? । ॥ %   should not begin a new line.
  •   should be kept with any number, even if separated by a space or parenthesis.

In-word line-breaks

Because of the length of Malayalam words, in-word line-breaks are very common and needed during layout, especially in narrow columns, such as newsprint.

The breaks mostly takes place at syllable boundaries, however there are also occasional exceptions and special cases. Usually, no visual marker is associated with the mid-word line

Newspaper clipping

Text from the Malayalam newpaper, Deshabhimani, showing hyphenated words with yellow highlighting.

Baselines, line height, etc.

Malayalam uses the so-called 'alphabetic' baseline, which is the same as for Latin and many other scripts.

Malayalam characters have ascenders and descenders, and combining marks appear above and below the lettters. However, generally speaking the extensions involved don't extend far beyond those of Latin text.

To give an approximate idea, fig_baselines compares Latin and Malayalam glyphs from Noto fonts. The basic height of Malayalam letters is typically around the Latin x-height, however extenders and combining marks reach slightly beyond the Latin ascenders and descenders, creating a need for slightly larger line spacing.

Xhqxളീൻകൂട്ടസ്സട് Xhqxളീൻകൂട്ടസ്സട്
Font metrics for Latin text compared with Malayalam glyphs in the Noto Serif Malayalam (top) and Noto Sans Malayalam (bottom) fonts.

fig_baselines_other shows similar comparisons for the Malayalam MN and Kartika fonts.

Xhqxളീൻകൂട്ടസ്സട് Xhqxളീൻകൂട്ടസ്സട്
Latin font metrics compared with Malayalam glyphs in the Malayalam MN (top) and Kartika (bottom) fonts.

Counters, lists, etc.

You can experiment with counter styles using the Counter styles converter. Patterns for using these styles in CSS can be found in Ready-made Counter Styles, and we use the names of those patterns here to refer to the various styles.

The modern Malayalam orthography uses a native numeric style.


The malayalam numeric style is decimal-based and uses these digits.rmcs




Prefixes and suffixes

Malayalam commonly uses a full stop + space as a suffix.


൧. ൨. ൩. ൪. ൬.
Separator for Malayalam list counters: full stop + space.

Page & book layout