Update: 2017-06-14 06:31 PM -0400


Introduction to Romabama

- a transcription-transliteration system
for BEPS (Burmese-English-Pali-Sanskrit) languages


by U Kyaw Tun, M.S. (I.P.S.T., U.S.A.), Daw Khin Wutyi, B.Sc., and staff of Tun Institute of Learning (TIL). Not for sale. No copyright. Free for everyone. Prepared for students and staff of TIL Research Station, Yangon, MYANMAR :  http://www.tuninst.net , www.romabama.blogspot.com

index.htm | Top

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Basics of Akshara, - Unicode-Ch09.pdf   (link chk 151221)
 Unicode Consortium, Ch 09. South Asian Scripts.
 online: http://www.unicode.org/versions/Unicode6.1.0/ch09.pdf 140529
Devanagari Hand-strokes - Dev-handstrokes.htm  (link chk 151221)
 This page needs to be refreshed to see an inset animation of Skt-Dev
  {ka.} क ka
  - from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Devanagari_stroke_order 150409
  {ka.} क ka, {U.} उ u, / {U} ऊ ū. Note: {U:} is not present in Skt-Dev.
  - from http://nanda.online-dhamma.net/Pali/Devanagari/pali-devanagari-map.htm 150410
Lakkwak for sculpting Myanmar akshara - lakkwak.gif (link chk 161106)
Rules of Romabama - Romabama-rule1-2.htm (link chk 151221)  
 Letters of Latin alphabet used. Use of ASCII characters only.
 Differentiation of capital and small letters .
 Consonants (Plosives-stops, Affricates, Fricatives, Nasals, Approximants).
 Vowels (Close or High, Mid, Open or Low)
 Note on Nwari aka Nepal-Bhasa, and Nepali
Rules of Romabama - Romabama-rule3.htm (link chk 151221)
 Extended Latin alphabet and Digraphs. Silent e and <e> as part of digraph <ei>
Rules of Romabama - Romabama-rule4-9.htm (link chk 151221)
 Killed consonants. Special Conjuncts: {kn~si:} vowel-sign and repha
 Fossilized killed consonants. Non-alphabetic characters: ~ (tilde) for {a.t} and {paaHT-hsing.}
Extension of Myanmar akshara row 2 to accommodate medials and affricates


UKT notes
Comparison of Myanmar, Devanagari, and IPA
Doggie's Tale - copy-paste
Four vowel representation in Myanmar akshara
Mantra, Yantra and Mandala
{weik-hkya.}-{mauk-hkya.} problem
  hkn gu gnau: / dau: pon wa. /
  mauk hkya. r:pa kra.//

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UKT notes

Comparison of Myanmar, Devanagari and IPA systems

- UKT 151221

Transcription, involving sound - not transliteration - between Bur-Myan and English is difficult because we are dealing with two living languages belonging to different language groups, the Tib-Bur (Tibeto-Burman), and IE (Indo-European). The main difficulty is due to English written in Latin script, erroneously known as the English Alphabet. English is notoriously non-phonetic. Pronounce an English word as it is written and you are trouble. In Bur-Myan we are taught to follow the spelling to get at the correct pronunciation:

What is written is permanent and is correct. What is spoken is just sound waves and is transitory: it can be in error.

{r:tau.a.mhn}/ {hpt-tau.a.n}

There is no recourse but to use IPA (English in extended Latin) in BEPS work: in Romabama {ro:ma.ba.ma} 'the backbone of Myanmar script. However, I ran into another difficulty when I tried to incorporate Mon-Myan, because its phonology is quite different from that of Bur-Myan. I have to keep reminded that Romabama transcriptions are good only for Bur-Myan not for Mon-Myan and other Myanmar languages like Karen-Myan, Shan-Myan, etc. However, you get a fair pronunciation of Pali words included in Mon-Myan sentences. It also holds true for Pali in other Myanmar languages.

The consonants

The vowels

Vowels are very tricky, transcriptions of the lower back vowels may have to be changed as I become more familiar with Mon-Myan and Skt-Dev pronunciations. The table presented here is tentative.

Go back Myan-Dev-IPA-note

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Doggie's Tale

Mnemonic The Doggie Tale: 
Little doggie cringe in fear -- ŋ (velar),
  Seeing Ella's flapping ears -- ɲ (palatal)
  And, the Shepard's hanging rear -- ɳ (retroflex).
Doggie so sad he can't get it out
  What's that Kasha क्ष when there's a Kha ख ?
  And when there's Jana ज्ञ what I am to do with Jha झ?

Note to digitizer: you can copy and paste the following:
Ā ā Ē ē Ī ī Ō ō Ū ū
Ḍ ḍ Ḥ ḥ Ḷ ḷ Ḹ ḹ Ṁ ṁ Ṃ ṃ Ṅ ṅ Ṇ ṇ Ṛ ṛ Ṝ ṝ Ś ś Ṣ ṣ Ṭ ṭ ɕ ʂ
Instead of Skt-Dev ः {wic~sa.} use "colon" :
Root sign √
Skt-Deva : श ś [ɕ] /ʃ/; ष ṣ [ʂ] /s/; स s [s] /θ/;
Undertie in Dev transcription: ‿ U203F
IPA symbols: ɑ ɒ ə ɛ ɪ ɯ ʌ ʊ ʃ ʧ ʤ θ ŋ ɲ ɳ ɴ ɔ ɹ ʔ /kʰ/ /ː/
  <church> /ʧɜːʧ/ (DJPD16-097)
  <success> /sək'ses/ (DJPD16-515)
  <thin> /θɪn/ (DJPD16-535), <thorn> /θɔːn/ (DJPD16-535)
  circumflex-acute :
  ấ U+1EA5 , ế U+1EBF
  upsilon-vrachy  ῠ 
  small-u-breve  ῠ u

UKT 130422: Romabama has to use unusual key strokes with the help of Alt key on the computer keyboard, some of which are from:
Alt520 series: ◘ ○ ◙ ♂ ♀ ♪ ♫ ☼ ► ◄
Alt620 series: l m n o p q r s t u
Alt720 series: ╨ ╤ ╥ ╙ ╘ ╒ ╓ ╫ ╪ .
An example for bracket: ◄...► (special series: Alt528 ► Alt529◄ )

Go back Dog-tale-note-b

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Four vowel representation in Myanmar Akshara

- UKT 090618, ..., 150409, 151221

Our task of comparing English to Burmese is not easy because Eng-Lat and Skt-Dev have only two "tones" for vowels the short and the long, whereas Bur-Myan and Mon-Myan taken together four. Since, words like 'short' and 'long' are not quantitative, I am using vowel-duration measured by eye-blinks: 

{a:.} (1/2 blk), {a.} (1 blk), {a} (2 blk), {aa:} (2 blk + emphasis)

- the three-dot representation {:.} has been borrowed from Tamil visarga ஃ (U+0B83)
  {a:.} is found in Mon-Myan.

What I have been calling the Two-three tone problem, is solved when Bur-Myan and Mon-Myan are taken together.

Go back four-vow-Myan-ak-note-b

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Mantra, Yantra and Mandala

- UKT 151221

If improperly employed the Tantric practice would make you the Arigyi of Pagan period - a perfect candidate for King Anawrahta to execute! However, the construction of { n:} or Yan, without sexual-debauchery is still practiced in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmarpr, and Thailand.
See Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yantra_tattooing 151222

From Mantra, Yantra and Mandala, the three tools of Tantra
- http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1991/bmar91/mym.shtml 151221

Much of Tantra is concerned with worship in a ritualistic form, using the three basic tools of mantra, yantra and mandala. This ritual is not based on superstition or blind faith but has been scientifically, systematically and practically designed to direct the whole process of living, towards transcendence. All religions originally used these methods, but now the aim of ritualistic worship has been generally lost sight of and has degenerated into the performance of mere automatic and meaningless actions which are not understood by the practitioner. When this happens no benefit is derived from the ritual.

The modern scientific mind scoffs at rites and rituals as mere superstition because there is no basis for worship in modern scientific thought. However, Tantra utilises systematic ritual with awareness as a means of contacting the things with which science cannot commune, even with its most delicate and complicated instrument. The rites of Tantra do work if performed correctly, and the proof is not to be found in books or theories but in one's own personal experience.

Tantric rites are utilised for involving or tuning in with the different levels of being which are beyond normal perception. They are concerned with worship, set actions, mantras, yantras, mudras end other actions, which make the mind calm, receptive and one-pointed. This is conducive to the experience of meditation which will transform one's understanding and relationship with life, oneself, and other people. Tantra aims at transforming everything in life into a ritual so that the individual performs every action and thought with a feeling of worship and awareness. The action of bathing dressing, sitting for worship, offering various symbolic sacrifices, the union of man and woman, the stages of development from conception, birth, marriage to death, are transformed into worship.

In Tantra one has to be continually aware of every action and thought whether it is a set ceremonial worship or an everyday duty. Each act has to be performed with absolute attention, not mechanically or unconsciously, and this awareness and concentration eventually prepares one for meditation. [UKT ]

UKT 151221: From what I understand of the pre-Anawrahta Pagan Arigyi's practice of Tantric Buddhism, the Arigyi claimed that even sexual intercourse between female and male, if done according to Tantric formula, amounts to liberation of the mind leading to eventual liberation from the sufferings of the Samsara. Such an attitude can be misused leading to erosion of moral and ethical values which King Anawrahta could not tolerate. He executed the leading male-monks and female-monks, and disrobed the followers. But he did not persecute all Arigyi's - those who did not indulged in sexual misconducts, because by that time his own father the ex-king Kun'zaw had become an Ari.

Tantric worship is not confined to the temple. It is done from the moment one gets out of bed in the morning to the moment one returns to bed at night.


Together with yantra and mandala, mantra is the most important aspect of Tantra - its essence. Almost invariably, these three are used in conjunction with each other to form powerful combinations. The mantra is the vehicle of consciousness, while yantra, mandala or devata is the form of consciousness. The mandala, yantra or devata is the manifested form or configuration of Shakti [identified with Mdaw] while the mantra, which is also Shanti, is the link between consciousness and form. This applies to everything in the world around us. The form is the expression; the mantra is the vehicle of expression.

Mantra is the direct link with the 'beyond'. The world we know is materialised and shaped through mantra, through sound at all levels and degrees of subtlety. Mantra originates in the substratum of Shiva [UKT ]

UKT 151221: Shiva was probably a later addition because he was a minor god in the Rig Vda. According to Gautama Buddha the later Rishis had altered the work of the original Rishis. I opine that the original Vda was the work of Tib-Bur speakers, and those who altered the ancient works are the IE speakers.

and can be used to retrace the direction of manifestation so that one again merges with consciousness. A mantra is therefore a means to make a 'U-turn' and retrace one's path back to the source.

Man's 'inner being' is constantly in contact with something much greater than the limitations of individuality, but the average person is not aware of this. Mantra brings about a state of 'resonance' between an individual and the depths of his being. They are the tools through which we can harmonise with the inner cosmic forces.


A yantra is a specific form of mandala consisting of geometrical shapes and figures, and often diagrams of deities (especially in Buddhist Tantra). It is a particularly powerful form of mandala and deep concentration upon it can lead to the realisation of its higher nature. The word 'yantra' means 'instrument, 'machine', 'apparatus', or 'implement'. The yantra is indeed an implement (or tool) because it acts as an instrument for tuning in with consciousness, a spiritual machine for inducing states of meditation.


A mandala is a focus for cosmic powers. During tantric worship and practices the mandala becomes the symbolic centre of the universe. It is laid out according to a fixed plan and its construction is a rite in itself. Everything in the manifested world is a mandala in essence. Each and every object is a focal point of consciousness: every thing is a manifestation of Shakti, an expression of the underlying consciousness. Thus, deep concentration on any form can bring about a realisation of this consciousness.

For this reason, bhakti or devotion is an important part of tantric meditation practices as it supercharges the power of concentration, which becomes more piercing when backed up by the emotion of reverence and love.

Each one of us and our every thought forms a mandala. A man and woman in union [sexual intercourse ?] form a closed unit or circle which can also be a perfect mandala for attaining higher states of consciousness. [UKT ]

UKT 151221: Is the sexual union between the chief guru and his female-disciple? Then the female-disciple as the guru has sexual-union with each of the junior male-disciples to pass on the cosmic powers received from the head-guru. Then each junior male-disciple would have sexual union with their female-disciples. The only requirement seems to be to do the sex-act according to the Tantric-formula! Of course, to enhance the material-body strength each would have to eat meat, eat fish, drink soma, and do yoga - all the five m's
- 1. māṃsa 'meat', 2. matsya 'fish', 3. madya 'wine',
4. mudrā 'yoga', 5. maithuna 'sexual intercourse
See Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panchamakara 151222

The guru is a most powerful mandala as he acts as a magnet to draw down cosmic consciousness. He radiates and glows with the light of this great force. It is through the guru that cosmic powers are unleashed and transmitted to the disciple. This is the grace of the guru mandala.

Go back Mantra-note-b

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{weik-hkya.}-{mauk-hkya.} problem

The {r:hkya.} problem or more accurately / {weik-hkya.}/{mauk-hkya.} problem

-- by UKT 110604, 140601, 150408, 151223, 170611

One of the earliest problem in formulating Romabama is the way to represent the long vowel {aa}/{a} graphically. Bur-Myan uses two vowel-signs to do this: the {weik-hkya.} and the {mauk-hkya.}   . Which sign to use is a problem, particularly for those learning to write Bur-Myan. To explain this we will have to go back at least 75 years from today. [Personal note: As an old man I always enjoy going back to my childhood memories.]

When we were young (I am now 83), we usually preferred the {mauk-hkya.} probably because it looked more grand. But there was a sort of a rule which depends on the way the akshara is written in Bur-Myan. Our akshara is based on circles, and the very first grade a child is put into is known as the {wa.lon: tn:} because the child is being trained to write a perfect circle. Incidentally the circle looks similar to English 'zero', and the {wa.lon: tn:} is jokingly called the Zero-th grade.

UKT 150412: Though English numeral 'zero' and Bur-Myan {wa.} looks similar, yet they became quite distinct if you use different hand-strokes for the two. The stroke for 'zero' is counterclockwise, whereas the {wa.} is clockwise. The English 'zero' is an oval, 0, whereas Bur-Myan is a perfect circle. You start from the top and draw down counterclockwise. For Bur-Myan, you start from the bottom and draw up clockwise. We can say that the English 'zero' is Left-handed, whereas Bur-Myan {wa.} is Right-handed. I have used the words Left-hand and Right-hand to give food for thought to those Bur-Myan who are inclined to Esoteric Buddhism with its Left-hand Path (Black Magic), and Right-hand Path (White Magic). Don't think in terms of Evil & Righteousness. Both are Good if you use them for a good purpose.

And so, the child is put into the Zero-th Grade. We had to practice writing One-circle glyph {wa.}. Then we were promoted to writing and repeating aloud the consonantal aksharas with names {ka.kri:}, {hka.hkw}, {ga.ng}, ... . This included Two-circle glyphs {hta.}.

For the names of the aksharas see Burmese Grammar and Grammatical Analysis 1899 , by A. W. Lonsdale, Rangoon: British Burma Press, 1899 xii, 461, in two parts. and proceed to Part 1 Orthoepy and orthography , Chapter 3, p010-015. The child is then said to be in the "Ka'gyi-Hka'gw" Grade.
Follow the navigation: BurMyan-indx.htm > BG1899-indx.htm > BG1899-1-indx.htm > ch03-2.htm (link chk 151221)

If I remember correctly, the rule for choosing which {r:hkya.} to use was simple: if the akshara is based on one-circle use {mauk-hkya.} - if based on more than one-circle use {weik-hkya.}. According to U Tun Tint of MLC, I must have remembered wrong. There was no such rule. MLC at the present has arbitrarily chosen a rule (which must be learnt by heart: I always forget, and Ko Tun Tint has given me a mnemonic on 6 akshara which must be written with Mauk'cha.) how to choose between the {weik-hkya.} and the {mauk-hkya.}.

hkn gu gnau: / dau: pon wa. /
mauk hkya. r:pa kra.//

It is regrettable that many in Myanmarpr, including the MLC, is fond of remembering things by heart. I believe that it is a disservice to a scientific language like Bur-Myan.

It is generally believed that the way the akshara was based on circles was due to the fact that the original letters were written on palm leaves. This conjecture was (based on my memory) put forward by Taw Sein Kho (7 December 1864 29 May 1930) Burma's first recorded archaeologist.
See Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taw_Sein_Ko 110605

However, I must refute U Taw Sein Kho on two points.

Refutation #1. Scribes had been writing "horizontal" strokes on palm-leaves since ancient times.
See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm-leaf_manuscript 150408 .
The palm used in Myanmarpr is commonly known as the talipot palm {p pn}, with scientific name Corypha umbraculifera - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corypha_umbraculifera 150408
Astrologers-cum-traditional-astronomers in Myanmarpr are still writing on talipot palm leaves.

Refutation #2. The circularly rounded script is common both to Myanmar  script and Georgian script. For instance, the Georgian alphabetic letter Tan თ (U+10D7), and Myanmar akshara (named {ta.wum:pu}) has not only the same shape but sound /t/ as well. There are others. Such a similarity is more than accidental.

Therefore, I would have to put forward my own conjecture (just pure conjecture) is that the idea of "perfection" represented by a full circular was common to the ancients. And that Myanmar akshara was invented by the ancients - probably pre-Asoka - maybe [a very big "maybe"] - to cast magic spells. These runes are known in Bur-Myan as { n:} and in Thailand as Yan (shortened from {y~ta.ra:}).

rune 1 n. 1. a. Any of the characters in several alphabets used by ancient Germanic peoples from the 3rd to the 13th century. b. A similar character in another alphabet, sometimes believed to have magic powers. 2. A poem or an incantation of mysterious significance, especially a magic charm. [Possibly Old Norse or Old English rn] - AHTD

{ n:} 2 n. cabalistic square or sign composed of mystic figures and characters in a grid. -- MED2010-623

Another meaning in Bur-Myan for the word {ing:} is 'a natural pond' whose still waters cover an unknown depth (of meanings). And if you are not careful and without a guide you are bound to get drowned!

Shown in the inset is the Bur-Myan rune known as the {sa.ma.l:lon: n:} aka {sa.Da.ba.wa. n:} written in Myanmar akshara. The handwritten aksharas looks slightly differently, and can be written without lifting the stylus from the medium on which it is being written - a requirement for effective casting. The rune is a logo or an ideograph with a hidden meaning - only known to the master and the student, and is passed down by word of mouth not to be revealed to "unbelieving" folks like you and me.

The {sa.ma.l:lon: n:} is the Mandala which I know how to write. During writing, I must be reciting a Mantra to put "soul" into it. No one has revealed the Mantra to me, so my Mandala or Yan is useless. See
- http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1991/bmar91/mym.shtml 140601
- http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1991/bmar91/mym.shtml 151221

However, the above { n:} gives a message: the message of perfection (revealed to me by an anonymous source).

"Count clockwise. {sa.} means 'the beginning' - you are an imperfection - a circle with an imperfection on the left - an imperfection of "heart", the organ of thinking to the ancients. You must perfect yourself but will not succeed on the first try. {Da.} means the stage after the first try - an imperfection on the bottom - with regards to sexual conduct. Don't despair. Try. {ba.} means the stage after the second try - an imperfection on top. Now the imperfection is in your head - wrong ideas: attachment to material things and ideas. Try. {wa.} means the perfection - a full circle. Now you are perfect."

You may notice that the above { n:} and the right-handed swastika has a strange resemblance. See the swastikas from the Indus-Sarawati civilization shown above. You should note that devices such as { n:} are frowned upon by Theravada Buddhists, but common in Hinduism and other axiomatic religions.

"Yantra , यन्त्र = य न ् त ् र --> {yn~ta.ra:} , is a Skt-Dev word for a mystical diagram, especially diagrams or amulets supposed to possess occult powers in astrological or magical benefits in the Tantric traditions of the Indian religions. Traditionally such symbols are used in Eastern mysticism to balance the mind or focus it on spiritual concepts. The act of wearing, depicting, enacting and/or concentrating on a yantra is held to have spiritual or astrological or magical benefits in the Tantric traditions of the Indian religions "
-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yantra 150408

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End of TIL file