An introduction to the word 'Mahasri'

What does 'Mahasri' mean?

The word 'mahasri' comes from Sanskrit. It is $mah\={a}\'{s}r\={\i}$ in the standard transcription of Sanskrit in the Latin alphabet. (The character 's' with an accent mark denotes a sound like 'sh' in English. Over-bars (macrons) denote long vowels.) Maha means 'great', and sri means 'fortune'.

Why Sanskrit?

I would like to use an Asian word as the name of our Asian project. There is not a single Asian language, however, but a great variety of languages.

Even when we look at scripts, there is a great variety of character sets, but we can recognize four large families of them. They are Indic, Arabic, Chinese and Greek-Latin families (See, for example, the site of GICAS project at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, The Cyrillic script may be considered as a variant of the Greek script. Still, this classification is not exhaustive. A notable exception (though not the only one) is the Korean script (Hangeul) which was deliberately designed with hints from both the Indic and the Chinese traditions.

Each of those traditions of scripts accompanies a lot of texts which can be considered as classics to speakers of various languages. In the case of the Indic family, those texts were in Sanskrit or Pali languages. (Pali is a language in which the classic texts of Theravada Buddhism are written. It was a spoken language at the time when the texts were compiled. It has the same roots as Sanskrit.) Asian languages have borrowed many words from those classics. Thus the languages of classics, namely Arabic, Sanskrit+Pali, Chinese, and Greek+Latin, can be considered as major sources of cosmopolitan words.

It is difficult to choose one family of classical languages among the four. I chose the Indic family, because I think that has relatively the widest influence which has expanded to the areas of radically different native languages. In those South and Southeast Asian countries where the majority are Hindus or Buddhists, rich vocabularies of cultural words --even modern scientific and technical terms-- are derived from Sanskrit or Pali. In East Asian countries, some Sanskrit texts brought by Buddhist scholars are preserved, though they are considered esoteric. In those South and Southeast Asian countries where the majority are Muslims now, elements of cultural heritage of the era of Hindu or Buddhist influence are remembered.

More meaning of Mahasri

Mahasri is a honorific name of the Hindu goddess Laksmi ($lak\'{s}m\={\i}$).

Many Hindu gods have been incorporated in the world view of Buddhism. In Japanese Buddhism they are called by the names ending with ten. Mahasri is known here as word_mahasri_files/ja_kissyooten.png, read Kichijoo-ten or Kisshoo-ten [see note]. One of the most famous picture of Kichijoo-ten in Japan, drawn in the 8th century, is held by Yakushi-ji temple in Nara (see for its image provided by Nara National Museum).

Note: Transcription of Japanese words in the Latin alphabet visible in this text follows the Hepburn system which seems to be the most popular in these days. But, for convenience of having less rendition of texts by images, long 'o', which should be denoted by 'o' with over-bar (macron) in that system, is expressed here as 'oo'. It may be more popular to substitute single 'o' for it.

Appearance of 'Mahasri' in Indic scripts

Sanskrit has been written with various character sets. In the 3rd century Before Christian Era, it was written in the Brahmi ($Br\={a}hm\={\i}$) character set.

During 6th to 10th century in the northern India, it was written in the Siddhamatrika ($Siddham\={a}trik\={a}$; meaning 'with a complete notation of vowels') character set. This character set has been brought to East Asia, and known as Bonji Shittan in Japan. (Bonji probably means the Brahmi script and its variants, and Shittan is Siddhamatrika adapted into Chinese and then Japanese languages.) In Bonji Shittan, 'mahasri' ($mah\={a}\'{s}r\={\i}$) looks like this: word_mahasri_files/sittan_mahaasrii.png. Please do not trust this as authoritative, however, since this is my drawing and I am not educated in this tradition of calligraphy but just imitating examples found in some books.

In the Devanagari ($Devan\={a}gar\={\i}$) character set which is used to write modern Hindi, Nepali and several other languages, it looks like word_mahasri_files/devanagari.gif. (This image was obtained from the on-line script rendition system Mojiyaki developed by Dr Kiyonori Nagasaki at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies ( which was active in 2005) by putting 'mahaaSrii' to its input box for Devanagari.)

In the Tibetan character set, I have got word_mahasri_files/tibetan.gif from Mojiyaki, but I am afraid it might not be correct.

This is what I got by putting 'mahaashrii' in the Tibetan box of Mojiyaki, but 'mahaashri' with a single 'i' gives the same. I do not know whether the distinction between long and short 'i' has been lost in the Tibetan script, or just it is not represented by the software of Mojiyaki.

In the Thai character set, it looks like word_mahasri_files/thai.gif (In Mojiyaki, 'mhaaXrii' in the Thai box). In Thai it is pronounced like 'mahaa sii'.

9 November 2005; revised 3 August 2006; revised 2 May 2016