Indian Script

Indian Script

 

an extensive group of writing systems in Southeast Asia that have a common origin and a single principle of alphabet structure (see Table 1). In addition to the territories of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, varieties of Indian script are used more or less widely in the neighboring regions: to the north, in Tibet and Central Asia up to Mongolia, and in the south, in Burma, on the Indochinese Peninsula, and in Indonesia. The penetration of the Indian script to these regions was associated with the spread of Buddhist religion and literature (mainly during the first millennium A.D.). There are several dozen varieties of Indian script, although only the most important are mentioned below.

In India itself, the oldest type of writing system is represented by the hieroglyphic inscriptions on seals dating from 3000-2000 B.C. from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, which has not yet been deciphered. The earliest written records that have been read (third century B.C.) were executed in the Brahmi syllabic writing system, which was the forerunner of the later Indian writing systems and which, like them, was written from left to right. The Kharoshthi alphabet, which was written from right to left and was gradually supplanted by the Brahmi alphabet, coexisted with Brahmi in India from the third century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. Even in early records, the Brahmi script had become differentiated into local varieties, which later were the basis for the three main branches of the Indian script: northern, southern, and southeastern.

The northern branch includes the following: (1) Gupta, which was used from the sixth century to the tenth in Central Asia for writing texts in Sanskrit, Sakian, Kutcha, and other languages; (2) Tibetan, used in several varieties since the seventh century; (3) Nagari, formed in the seventh and eighth centuries and attested in manuscripts of the tenth and 11th centuries (its latest form, Devanagari, occupies a central position among the alphabets

of northern India, where it is used for Hindi, Marathi, and the transcription of Sanskrit texts); (4) Sarada, which began to be used in the eighth century in Kashmir; (5) Newari, a Nepalese variety (beginning in the 12th century) that is now giving way to Devanagari; (6) Bengali (for Bengali and Assamese, as well as Sanskrit), which took shape in the 15th century (it has been attested since the 11th century in early Proto-Bengali forms); (7) Oriya; (8) Gujarati; (9) Gurmukhi, a Punjabi alphabet introduced by the Sikhs in the 16th century. In addition, there exists a large number of cursive forms, which are used in correspondence and in commercial and official records; Kaithi script (used in the area where Hindi is widespread); Mahajani (in Rajasthan); Lahnda (in Sind and Punjab); and Modi (in Maharashtra).

The southern branch, which is characterized by rounded letters, is represented by the Grantha alphabet (developed in the fifth and sixth centuries but attested only in manuscripts from the 14th century), which was used for recording Sanskrit texts, and by the alphabets of four modern literary languages in southern India: Kannada and Telugu (attested in inscriptions from the fifth century), Malayalam (from the eighth and ninth centuries), and Tamil (from the seventh century).

The southeastern branch includes the writing systems that developed outside India, mainly on the basis of the ancient Pali script: Sinhalese, Burmese, Khmer, Lao, Thai, and the old writing systems of Indochina and Indonesia.

G. A. ZOGRAF

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