Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts

Was Ancient India Literate ? : Super Human Memory Myth

western scholars of Indology said:
"Entire absense of writing, reading, paper, or pen in vedas, or during Brahamana period and complete silence in Sutra period(When art of writing was beginning to be known), the whole Literature of India was preserved in oral tradition only"

Weber who wants to bring all history to later than Biblical period admits:
"Europe has 10,000 sanskrit texts and considering that we have tens of thousands which the parsimony of karma has hithherto withheld form Museums and libraries of Europe, what a memory must have been their!."

Indian super Memory

The Immemorial practice with students of sanskrit literature has been to commit to memory the various subjects of their study and this practice of oral tradition has preserved the ancient Vedic texts. This fact has led Western Indology scholars to surmise that writing was unknown in the earliest period of Indian Civilization and that the later forms of the alphabet were not of pure Indian growth.

So According to these Western Indology Scholars, Indians have Super Human Memory. By Which they can not only memorize scores of documents, but they can also transmit through generations. Wow!, Who said science fiction is 20th century Stuff.

We are looking at this question. Did writing existed prior to Mauryas?

Panini is best known grammarian of India. Muller says that there is no single term in the panini terminology which presupposes the existence of writing. So we go to find out.

Panini almost singlehandendly brought together the classical sanskrit grammer. He mentions Grantha the equivalent for written or bound book in the later days in India. For Max Muller Granta mean simply a composition, which is handed down the generation by oral tradition. In short Panini is illiterate and somehow he produced one of the most eloborate and scientific set grammer ever known to mankind till today.Remember Panini has given 3996 rules for Classical Sanskrit Grammar.

Writing in Literature
Classical Sanskrit Literature

The direct reference to writing classical sanskrit according to Indologists in literature are found to be in the Dharmasutra of Vasistha, which Dr.Buhler thinks, was composed around 8th century BC. Some scholars will assign this work 4th century BC as well.Astadhyayi of panini contains such compounds as Lipikara and Libikara, which evidently mean writer. The date of panini is not fixed, prof.Goldstucker puts him 8th century BC, others put him in 4 the century BC. The Vedic works contain technical terms like aksara, kanda, patala, grantha and the like, which is clear indication of writing. Of course Indology scholars wont accept them.

Buddhist age

There are quite a large number of passages in the SriLanka's Tipitaka, which bear witness to an acquaintance with writing and to its extensive use.

At the time when Buddhist cannons were composed. Lekha and Lekhaka are mentioned in the Bhikkhu pacittiya and Bhikkhuni pacittiya.

In the Jatakaas, constant meniton is made of letters being written. The Jatakas know of proclamations.

We are also told of a game aksarika in which the Buddhist monk is forbidden to participate. This game is guessing of letters.

In the rules of vinaya, it has been laid down that a criminal, whose name has been written up in the kings porch, must not be recieved into the monastic order. In the same work, writing is mentioned as a Lucrative profession.

Mahavagga bear witness to the existence of elementary schools where the manner of teaching was the same as in the Indigenous schools of Modern India. All these references prove the existence of the art of writing in pre buddhist days.

Epic Age
Epics contains archaic expressions such as likh, Lekha, Lakhaka, Lekhana but not lipi, which some scholars think is foriegn orgin. So Writing was known in Epic Age.

Vedic Literature
We find clear evidence in wide spread use of writing in the vedic period. Written documents are mentioned as legal documents.


The earliest surviving written record other than Indus script is Piprawa vase inscription discovered by Colonel Claxton peppe. This Inscription is a prakrit before the prakrits of magadhi or sourasheni developed, so differently interpreted. This is dated to early part of 5th century BC.

Next comes Sohaura Copper plate , which Dr.Smith puts before Ashoka by 50 years.

The Inscriptions of Ashoka is all over India. This shows that Writing was well used in Royal courts and the writting was well understood by common people.

Dr.Weber came with view that Brahmi is borrowed from South Arab tribe. But this has been dismissed by Dr. Buhler.

Buhler Identified certain Brahmi letters were identical to 9th-7th BC century Inscriptions found in Assyria. One third of 23 Alphabets are identical to Brahmi letters. This Indologists suggestions that the Brahmi letters were derived from these letters from all Indology scholars including Buhler. But we have to note that the tribes in question are belonging belonging to Indian Tribe. This script traveled from India to Middle east.

Jain Stupa unearthed at the Kankali Tila site of Mathura regarded by Vincent Simith as the oldest known stupa then (Before Indus valley sites were discovered). Smith dated it to be 600 BC for erection. Dr.Fuhrer who supervised the excavation found out that it contained a inscription Deva Stupa in a script, so old that it was forgotten.

Indus Script
Indus Script has 250-500 characters. Some of the Seals seems to be Bilingual with Indus script next to the symbols. Seeming symbols to be for traders from other languages. So Indus valley is literate culture.

Sir Alexander Cunningham had wanted to derive each letter from the indigenous Hieroglyphic, but then no hieroglyphic was found in India. But today we have Indus valley Hieroglyphic and many are working towards deriving brahmi from them.

Writing Material
Materials used for writing in India were Birch-bark(Bhurja-patra), Palm Leaves (tala-patra), paper, Cotton Cloth, wooden board (phalaka),leather, Stone, brick and metal. Manuscripts of books were generally written in the above leaves, paper and cotton cloth while for land-grants, certain charms etc, metals was used. Wooden boards appear to have been used as slates in schools and for the purpose of writing plaints with chalk in court-rooms. Documents in connection with loans also used to be written on boards. Works appear to have been carved on wooden boards; Some manuscripts , engraved on wooden boards, still exist.

From Brahminical and Buddhist literature, leather also appears, however rarely, to have been used as writing material as it was animal skin and they are perishable in nature.

Royal edicts were engraved on rocks, pillars and caves.

Agreements , donations,grants etc were also sometimes written on stone. Some Literary and religious works were written on this material. Bricks were also rarely used. Some bricks, with one or few letters inscribed, have been found in walls, temple-niches or pedestals of images.

Writing materials have been of perishable nature, Indian Manuscripts, relly belonging to an ancient age, are rare. In fact, the manuscripts discovered in central asia , are the oldest of the manuscripts available so far.

According to Nearchos, who accompanied Alexander (327BC), paper was manufactured in India out of Cotton. The earliest paper-MSS written in Gupta Script were discovered at Kashgar and Kugier in Central Asia.

The earliest bramhi script is on a vase dated to 5 th century BC

Writing medium
The Writing medium in cases of paper, cloth and leaves was ink or masi. The word masi is derived from root mas denoting himsa or crushing, destroying it. therefore seems that ink was produced by pounding certain ingredients. In some parts of India, the word for ink is mela, probably derived from root mel (to mix). ink thus appears to have been admixture of certain substances. The use of ink in India is atlesat 4th century BC, is vouchsafed by Nearchos and Curtius.

The Common color of ink is black. Red and Yellow inks were also used. For ordinary purposes, washable or delible ink was used. For writing documents, however indelible ink appears to have been in use.

Writing Apparatus
The Writing Apparatus (Lekhani, varnaka,varnavartika, salaka, Kathini etc) consists of bamboo pieces with sharp ends, quills etc. Compases and rulers also appear to have been use for special purposes.

Alberuni believes Indian Alphabet originated with the begining of Kali Age (3102BC).

Hiuen Tsang speaks of high Antiquity of Indian writing system. Brahmi is stated, in the Chinese Encyclopedia Fa-Wan-Shu-Lin, to be the best of scripts.

Some Greeks mention about Writing materials in India. Megasthanes mentions Milestones, Almanancs, Horoscopes, etc.- which indicate prevalance of writing. The evidence suggest that writing was in Vogue in India in the period of 6th century to 4 century BC as a legacy of earlier times, far from being novelty , it was a continuity and continuity of time immemorial.

Mauryan edicts reveal that Writting in Brahmi and kharosthi was written and understood by everyone including comman man.

Jains Works Pnnavana-sutra and the Samavayanga-sutra contains names of Eighteen scripts(lipi) including Brahmi and Kharosthi.

The Buddhist Sanskrit work Lalitavistara gives formidable list of 64 Scripts out of which Brahmi and Kharosthi is included. 64 scripts are divided into several groups . Eg. Provincial,Tribal, Sectrian etc. Some Foreign scripts were also known to Indians.

Ramayana, Mahabharata, Arthasastra, Sutra literature (8th to 2nd century BC), Yaska (pre-panian writer), Astadhyayi (5th century BC) and some early Sanskrit works throw light on a culture of writing.

Indus valley scripts shows that Writing existed prior to 4th millienum BC as well.

Rig Veda exists from time immemorial, but writing definitely existed when it was organised into samhitas.

The Indus valley findings made Indologists acknowledge that writing existed prior to Mauryan writing. Though it has not been deciphered , it clearly shows writing existed in India before atlest 5-2 milliena before christ. Some Indology scholars have tried to show Indus script is derived from script from another civilization. But all these theories have fallen flat. Hrozny tried to derive Indus script from Hittite, Diringer is convinced that no script existed prior to Indus script from which Indus scirpt can be derived. Hunter and Langdon regard Indus script as prototype of Brahmi. The Vedic Scholars believed that Brahmi is from Brahma. It is mentioned in Narada Smriti that if Brahma has not created the art of writing or given excellant eye in the shape of script, the future would not have been deprived of obtaining bright future.

The Absence of inscriptions since Indus valley is due to widespread use of Paper and Cloth, which are perishable in nature.

The Indian Civilization is a very advance civilization. There was a high development of trade and monetary transactions, and they carried on minute researches in grammar, phonetics and lexicography. These facts support the knowledge and widespread use of writing among ancient Indians. So the Super Human Memory is a Myth.

A Concise History Of Classical Sanskrit Literature By Gaurinath Shastri, Bhattacharyya Shastri Gaurinath
The rise, decline and renewals of sramanic religious traditions within indic civilisation with particular reference to the evolution of jain sramanic culture and its impact on the indic civilization by Bal patil
Students' Britannica India, Volumes 1-5 By Indu Ramchandani
A Companion to Sanskrit Literature: Spanning a Period of Over Three Thousand ... By Sures Chandra Banerji
On the origin Indian Brahma Alphabet Georg Buhler
Was Writing Know Before Panini by A Chela
Agama Aura Tripitaka, Eka Anusilana: Language and Literature By Nagraj (Muni.)

University of Washington Libraries

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Myth of Tamil Brahmi

Myth of Tamil Brahmi and script.
There is Ashokan Brahmi standardised by Ashoka found all over India. And there is tamil Brahmi. Let us see the genesis of Tamil Brahmi.
Tamil Brahmi Genesis
The early Brahmi inscriptions posed a greater challenge on account of their archaic characters and orthographic conventions, which were different from the original Brahmi used for Prakrit. The challenge seemed insuperable even to the most competent among the pioneering epigraphists. The major breakthrough in the decipherment of the cave inscriptions of Tamil Nadu came with K.V. Subrahmanya Aiyer (1924). He was the first to recognise that these are inscribed in Brahmi, but with certain peculiarities and new forms of letters, due to its adaptation for the Tamil language which has sounds (phonetic values) not known to the Prakrit (Indo-Aryan) language and northern Brahmi script. Yet, this lead was not seriously followed and was soon forgotten. Even Subrahmanya Aiyer did not pursue his line of enquiry to its logical conclusion. Other scholars like V. Venkayya and H. Krishna Sastri were constrained by the assumption that all Brahmi inscriptions were invariably in Prakrit or Pali, as Brahmi was used predominantly for Prakrit in all other regions of India from the Mauryan (Asokan) period. Their readings failed to convey any meaning.

Irvatham Mahadevan
Now enter the picture Irvatham Mahadevan an administrator-turned scholar, we have tamil Brahmi. By reviving Subrahmanya Aiyer's early decipherment and reading and at the same time more systematically studying these inscriptions in all their aspects, including palaeography, orthography and grammar, and seeking corroboration from the Sangam Literature and Tolkappiyam, the basic work on Tamil grammar. Mahadevan has virtually re-deciphered these inscriptions and shown them to be inscribed in Tamil. Hence the name "Tamil-Brahmi," one variety of the Brahmi script.

Characteristics of Tamil Brahmi
1.Brahmi script was adapted and modified to suit the Tamil phonetic system.
2.Palaeographic changes were made to suit the Tamil language, with the omission of letters for sounds not present in the Tamil language and by additions to represent sounds in Tamil that are not available in Brahmi.
3.All but four of the 26 letters are derived from Brahmi and have the same phonemic values.
4.Even these four - i.e., l,l, r, n - are adapted from the letters with the nearest phonetic values in (Asokan-) Brahmi, i.e., d, l, r, n.
5.Letters were also modified with a special diacritic mark, viz., the pulli (dot). These are reflected in the development of the Tamil-Brahmi in three stages (TB I, II and III):
Stage I
1. Inherent a (short-medial vowel) was absent in the consonants
2. strokes (vowel notations) were used for both the short and long medial a, and hence the need for the reading of consonants with reference to context and position;
Stage II
when the stroke for medial a marked only the long a;
Stage III
1. when the use of diacritics like the pulli was introduced for basic consonants and for avoiding ligatures for consonant clusters (as in Simhala-Brahmi).
2.The pulli was used also for distinguishing the short e and o from the long vowels, for the shortened - i and -u (kurriyalikaram and kurriyalukaram)
3.The pulli used for the unique sound in Tamil called aytam, all of which are unknown to the Indo-Aryan ( Prakrit and Sanskrit).

It is the recognition of the absence of the inherent vowel a (short) in the early phases, e.g. ma, ka, na with strokes or medial vowel notations, which are actually to be read as ma, ka, n (the inverted J symbol for the nominal suffix `an' characteristic of Tamil), and the addition of the pulli as a diacritic, that provided the key to the whole re-decipherment. Herein lies the basic contribution of Mahadevan to the study of the script and alphabet. That these findings are corroborated by the phonetic rules of the Tolkappiyam.

Above passages gives the Genesis and Characteristics of Tamil Brahmi
Where are these Incriptions

1.Pottery inscription in Tamil-Brahmi giving the name Catan. 1st century A.D. Found at Quseir-al-Qadim on the Red Sea coast of Egypt.

2.Rock-cavern inscription in Jambai 2nd Century AD.

Let us see what spoils such a great discovery
  1. Pulli TheoryScholars have observed two notational systems of Brahmi for writing Tamil. The first system is older than the second and the latter is very close to the Asokan Brahmi system. In the first system the short medial, a, is marked by a short horizontal stroke. In the second system the same mark indicates a long medial a. For example, scholars once used to read a certain word as maakaana following the second system. It did not make much sense. When the first system was used to read the inscription, the meaning became clear. The same word was read as makan, a common Tamil word for son. These two systems of Brahmi are different from the Tamil Pulli system described in Tholkappiam. The earliest stone inscription in the Tamil script is found at Vallam near Chinglepet and it belongs to the early seventh century A.D.There the dot over the pure consonants can be clearly seen. In the numerous inscriptions found on rock-shelters on hillocks near Madurai, scholars have failed to observe the Pulli in any of the inscriptions. The occurrence of the Pulli is closely linked with the date of Tholkappiam believed to be the oldest Tamil work. The late occurrence of the Pulli in Tamil inscriptions will indicate either the late date for the tholkappiam or prove Tamil Brahmi theory as false.
  2. Lack InscriptionsFor all the theories about inscriptions , we find only two or three inscriptions in the period mentioned 300BC to 500AD. Almost all the inscriptions are some grafitti. If the sangam literature and Tholkappiam if assumed are from this period then there should be flurry of inscriptions the absence show that written culture was not widespread.
  3. Inconsistencies of two Tamil brahmi and Tamil Pulli systems.The second system is closer to Ashoka Brahmi then the first one. And pulli does not show up until 7th century AD. Some scholars have even argued that Ashoka brahmi came from Tamil Brahmi, but that is not a creditable argument. Only few inscription sometimes only one inscription have been cited to show they are different. Anyone can see there will be some changes even if same person writes and the script surviving great distances with only few variations is itself miracle. So these differences are just few errors crept into the writing not a seprate script.
  4. Citing evidences where tamil was not present
    Mahadevan has been citing the southern Brahmi script found in Karnataka and Andhra to prove his theory especially Bottiporulu inscription. Which cannot be considered in the context of tamil. Many of the inscriptions dates not verified by competing authority. many references have been heresay and preliminary data on the first sighting. Many of the inscriptions are handcopied which again can introduce errors.
  5. Regional variations not surprising
    There are number of regional variations in Brahmi itself. Northern brahmi, southern brahmi , sinhala brahmi and others. In southern brahmi itself in bottiporulu inscription simultaneouly different variations have been found.
  6. Sinhala Brahmi
    Tamil brahmi is very similar to Sinhala brahmi. Here Mahadevan will claim sinhala brahni came from tamil brahmi, but evidence shows otherwise. Until 3nd century AD the tamil brahmi and srilankan brahmi are carbon copy of each other. only with advent of pallavas the script went in different ways.
  7. Scientific evolution of Brahmi
    Brahmi's limitation in phonetics in each region of India was overcome by adding megalithic symbols over the brahmi script that is why we have so many scripts in India. These are called vowel markers. This nothing new.
  8. Literary works at later period
    The written literture comes from later period of 8th century AD , it reaches a peak in 12-13th century AD. Writting seems to have started around 6th century AD during Pallava region.
So a normal evolution of scripts are taken in the arguement and has been cited reason for uniqueness of the script. Same type of evoluation has taken in other parts of India is downplayed and the arguement is made that only tamil has them is false. In short the Tamil Brahmi is an attempt to stretch the antiquity of tamil and also

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