In case you’ve ever wondered whether the Unicode standard will ever be “complete”, the answer is probably not. This was highlighted by the fact that India adopted a new rupee currency symbol just last month (July 2010).

Indian_Rupee_symbol, front part of capital R with 2 horizontal bars near top

Winning design by Shri D Udaya Kumar. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Actually, the government of India sponsored a contest and got some interesting entries which you can see in the linked slideshow.

Design History

Actually, there had been a rupee symbol already () and it was in Unicode at codepoint U+20A8, but if you see the character, you’ll see that it’s a rather boring ligature of Western Capital R plus s. The new symbol melds Western R and Devanagari (“Ra”) and adds a currency bar to boot – very clever.

Actually the rupee story gets more complex because there are “rupee” signs for different scripts/countries.

Rupee Other Scripts for Bangali, Tamil, Gujarati

The “Bengali” rupee is actually the “Taka” sign of Bangladesh, but I am perplexed by the Tamil and Gujarati versions since they would be regions of India and/or Sri Lanka. I am guessing that they are regional “informal” characters, but enough in use to be included in Unicode.

What Now

Even though the Government of India has signed off on the symbol, there’s a long road ahead. There are fonts to be retooled, but the rupee sign won’t be in its Unicode code point…because one hasn’t been assigned to it (although they’re working on it…). That means that even though this sign was born in the era of Unicode, a “legacy” pre-Unicode system will be in place which will have to be corrected later. Ah well.

Other systems that will have to be retrofitted include currency databases, Excel formatting options, and probably cash registers (at least what prints out on the receipt). And that’s no doubt the tip of the iceburg. Interestingly, there are no plans to put the symbol on bills and coins, but as this Times of India piece article notes, most bills/coins don’t have a currency symbol. Americans can pull out a dollar bill to check – no $ in sight.

A final comment is how speakers in non-Devanagari areas will react. The crossed bar shape actually works for many Northern Indian scripts such as Devanagari () and Gujarati but R looks very different in a lot of scripts including Tamil (Tamil R with 2 vertical lines and 1 horizontal) and others. I occasionally run into comments from Tamil writers about not assuming that Devanagari is a universal script in India. I wonder what the impact here will be.

Pictures instead of Text?

Some of you may be interested to note that the Tamil/Gujarati/Bengali text are actually images. For some reason the MT CSS is insisting on font selections and I haven’t been able to override it yet, not even with !important!. Not sure how to troubleshoot, but this does not happen to me in Web 1.0…

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