Gather around, children, because we are going to talk about the Devanagari alphabet today. We are interested in the consonants, not the vowels. So, here are the consonants:
क ख ग घ ङ
च छ ज झ ञ
ट ठ ड ढ ण
त थ द ध न
प फ ब भ म
य र ल व
श ष स ह
I’ve intentionally dropped the ळ क्ष ज्ञ because anyway they are poor cousins that we don’t want to throw out on the streets.
Anyway, have you ever wondered why the alphabet is always written out as a 2-dimensional table like this? Compare that with the English alphabet which is pretty much a one-dimensional sequence of alphabets without any organizational structure. There are obviously strong reasons why the devanagari alphabet is arranged in a table like this.
To get a hint, focus on the first 5 rows above. First, say aloud the letters in any one of the horizontal rows (top 5 only). Notice any similarities? Now say aloud the letters in any vertical column (just the first 5 rows). Again, notice any similarities?
Before I give the answer, here is a full table, organized according to phonetics, taken from the Wikipedia page on Devanagari
If you read any row horizontally, you’ll notice that your lip position and tongue position remains the same, and only the method of expelling air from your voice box, nose and mouth changes. It remains exactly the same for the first 5 columns (until the nasals), and then changes slightly for the last row (the aproximant or the fricative).
If you read any column vertically, you’ll notice that the way air comes out of our mouth/nose/voicebox remains the same and only the tongue/lip position changes.
Also, I’m sure, this is the first time many of you have figured out how to correctly pronounce ङ and ञ. (Actually, my Hindi teacher in primary school taught us that ञ is the sound made by a small child crying, and ङ is an even smaller child crying. So, obviously, none of us had any clue how exactly one is supposed to pronounce those letters.) And, also, I’m sure there are many who have now figured out the difference between श and ष for the first time. (“They are ‘same’,” is what I believed for many years due to the same Hindi teacher…)