Genesis and Rationale

The idea of using the traditional script in Malayalam computing drew enough focus when ‘Rachana Akshara Vedi’ was founded under the leadership of R. Chitrajakumar in 1999. A version of Rachana font based on the definitive character set of Malayalam with ASCII encoding was released in the same year.

The Unicode version of Rachana font was designed in 2005 and its distribution and maintenance became the flagship product of Swathanthra Malayalam Computing (SMC) for many years. Other Unicode fonts, namely, Meera, Keraleeyam and Uroob were also maintained by SMC.

Since shaping engines (Harfbuzz and Uniscribe) matured around 2015, errors in character combinations were more prominently noticed in Rachana and Meera. The font featuring demanded further scrutiny and modifications. The ever increasing demand of ornamental fonts from typesetters had also to be addressed. Additionally, the maintainers of Rachana began to release and maintain fonts of reformed script that clearly deviated from our commitment to the traditional script upheld by Rachana Aksharavedi. As such, there appeared a vacuum of an organized forum for traditional script to carry forward its cause and to act as a steaming fulcrum of advocacy for traditional script and typography based on it. At this point in time, Rachana Institute of Typography (RIT) assumed a natural choice for font developers and typographers and was thus set up.

Rachana Institute of Typography released its first font Sundar in 2018. TNJoy font was designed for Janayugom Scribus project and was released in 2019. However, the most important font release is what we are going to do now — the release of RIT Rachana.

RIT Rachana is different from SMC Rachana mainly in the following aspects:

  1. RIT Rachana fully respects its historical role played by the Rachana movement in resurrecting the original script of Malayalam. It completely adheres to the definitive character set devised by R. Chitrajakumar.
  2. The font featuring (GSUB) of Rachana is completely revamped holding the right spirit of definitive character set which replaced all previous modifications
  3. All the glyphs in Rachana have been redesigned.
  4. Rachana Italic, Bold and BoldItalic were also freshly designed and generated respective font variants.

The main objective of RIT Rachana is to make typesetting of Malayalam documents error free, which, in recent years, has faced much criticism while using the previous versions of Rachana. All the erratic combinations of characters found have now been revised and made perfect. The error-free featuring applied in RIT Rachana is open and can be used for all Unicode Malayalam fonts if the developers so wanted. All future fonts released by RIT will strictly follow RIT Rachana. The significance of new featuring is that it can be used without any modifications for lesser number of character based fonts like Sunder. The requirement of separate featuring for different character sets is completely done away with.

The best part of new shaping rules is that when the text contains a combination of characters for which the conjunct glyph is not available in the font, correct substitution of glyphs adhering to traditional orthography will berendered. For e.g. സ്ക്രൂ -> സ്‌ക്രൂ (with conjoined ‘uu’kar). This kind of substitutions are problematic in SMCRachana and the substitutions are often made following reformed (new) script, i.e., with detached ‘uu’-kar.

With the release of the new font, namely, ‘Ezhuthu’ drawn by renowned calligrapher, Narayana Bhattathiri, on November 1, 2020, RIT is entering into a new era of font design and making.

We hope future conservation of Malayalam documents will be based on the conjunct formulations perfected by RIT Rachana. RIT is vowed to follow Rachana’s definitive character set religiously which determined the direction of Malayalam language technology twenty years ago.