• A script is also known as writing system or orthography. It is a standard for representing the parts of a spoken language by making specific marks on a medium (Paper, rocks, birchbark, etc). The two ancient scripts in India comprise Brahmi script and Kharosthi script.
  • Most of the ancient and modern scripts in India are developed from Brahmi script be it Devanagari, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Odia, Assamese/Bengali, etc. Hence, it can very much be maintained that Brahmi is the mother of scripts.
  • However, Urdu is written in a script derived from Arabic, and a few minor languages such as Santhali use independent scripts.
  • The undeciphered script of Indus Valley Civilization constitutes one of the oldest writings of the sub-continent.
  • Many examples of vedic literature along with various advanced states of Ganga valley existed before the Mauryan period.
  • Brahmi script was found in the inscriptions of the Ashoka, the Mauryan emperor.
  • Kharosthi script from northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan was derived from Aramaic script.
  • The Aramic script usage is credited to Persians who ruled some parts of the Indus Valley.

Origin and Evolution

  • Due to differences in cultures, regions’ Brahmi script was evolved into different types depending on the region.
  • Due to greater emphasis on quicker approach rather than use of monumental inscriptions led to emergence of cursive styles that formed India’s modern script.
  • Scripts in south India became rounded due to writing on palm leaves.
  • Whereas in North India use of cloth and birch bark resulted in angular lines.
  • Urdu is written in an Arabic-derived script, and a few minor languages, such as Santhali, use independent scripts.

Types of Scripts

Indus Script

  • The Indus script is a symbol corpus created by the Indus Valley Civilization.
  • The majority of inscriptions are extremely brief(short).
  • It is unclear whether these symbols are part of a script used to record a language.

Brahmi Script

  • Brahmi is one of the oldest writing systems, having been used in the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia during the final centuries BCE and the early centuries CE.
  • Some believe that Brahmi was derived from the modern Semitic script, while others believe it was Indus script.
  • The Brahmi is the ancestor of all surviving Indic scripts in South East Asia.
  • It is mostly written from left to right. It’s each unit is based on a consonant.
  • The best-known Brahmi inscriptions are the rock-cut edicts of Ashoka in North-Central India, dated 250–232 BC. The script was deciphered in 1837 by James Prinsep.
  • Descendents of Brahmi Script are as follows-
Brahmi Script

Gupta Script

  • It was used to write Sanskrit and belonged to the Gupta Empire.
  • The Nagari, Sharada, and Siddham scripts all descended from the Gupta script, which descended from Brahmi.
  • These scripts gave rise to many of India’s most important scripts, including Devanagari, Gurmukhi script for Punjabi, Assamese script, Bengali script, and Tibetan script.
  • All of these descendants of the Brahmi script are referred to as Brahmic scripts.

Kharosthi Script

  • The Kharosthi script (3rd Century BC – 3rd Century AD) is an ancient script used to write Gandhari Prakrit and Sanskrit in ancient Gandhara (present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan).
  • It is a sister script to Brahmi and was deciphered by James Princep.
  • It includes numbers similar to Roman numerals.
  • It is mostly written from right to left. Kharosthi is also an abugida like Brahmi.

Vatteluttu Script

  • The Vatteluttu alphabet is a South Indian abugida writing system.
  • Vatteluttu is one of the three main alphabet systems developed by Tamil people to write the Granthi or Pallava alphabet and the Tamil script.
  • It is derived from Tamil-Brahmi.

Kadamba Script

  • The Kadamba script heralds the birth of a dedicated Kannada script.
  • It, too, is a descendant of the Brahmi script and was developed during the reign of the Kadamba dynasty in the 4th-6th centuries.
  • This script was later adapted into Kannada-Telegu script.

Grantha Script

  • Between the sixth and twentieth centuries, Tamil speakers in South India, particularly in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, used the Grantha script to write Sanskrit and the classical language Manipravalam.
  • It is still used in traditional Vedic schools.
  • It is a Brahmic script that evolved from the Tamil Nadu Brahmi script.
  • The Malayalam script, like the Tigalari and Sinhala alphabets, is a direct descendant of Grantha.

Sarada Script

  • The Sarada or Sharada script is an abugida writing system of the Brahmic family of scripts that emerged around the eighth century.
  • It was employed in the writing of Sanskrit and Kashmiri.
  • Its use was once more widespread, but it was later restricted to Kashmir, and it is now rarely used except by the Kashmiri Pandit community for religious purposes.

Gurmukhi Script

  • Gurmukhi evolved from the Sarada script and was standardised by Guru Angad in the 16th century.
  • This script is used to write the entire Guru Granth Sahib and is the script most commonly used by Sikhs and Hindus to write Punjabi.

Devanagari Script

  • Devanagari is an abugida alphabet that is used in India and Nepal.
  • It’s written from left to right.
  • The Devanagari script is used for over 120 languages and dialects, including Hindi, Marathi, Nepali, Pali, Konkani, Bodo, Sindhi, and Maithili, making it one of the most widely used and adopted writing systems in the world.
  • Classical Sanskrit texts are also written in Devanagari.

Modi Script

  • Modi is a script that is used to write Marathi language.
  • Modi was the official Marathi script until the twentieth century, when the Balbodh style of the Devanagari script was promoted as the standard Marathi writing system.
  • Although Modi was primarily used to write Marathi, it is also known to have been used to write Urdu, Kannada, Gujarati, Hindi, and Tamil.
  • Modi script is also an abugida.

Urdu Script

  • The Urdu alphabet is the Urdu language’s right-to-left alphabet.
  • It is a modification of the Persian alphabet, which is derived from the Arabic alphabet and dates back to the 13th century.
  • It is linked to the evolution of the Nastaliq style of Perso-Arabic script.
  • In its extended form, Urdu script is known as Shahmukhi script, and it is used to write other Indo-Aryan languages of the North Indian subcontinent, such as Punjabi and Saraiki.

Thus, we see that Indian literary styles have undergone considerable changes over a long period of time. Spread of Buddhism from India to various countries has influenced their scripts also, especially Sri Lanka, Tibet and South-East Asia. The advent of Islam in India also caused a change in the Indian writing tradition. However, it remains to be seen how the scripts and languages of a country survive and evolve in the era of globalisation where English has become a lingua franca.

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