Sunday, August 31, 2014

Brahmi Script – Modern Name to Oldest Writing

Brahmi Script
Brahmi is a modern name which is given to one of the oldest writing that had been used in the Indian subcontinent as well as in Asia at the time of the last centuries BCE and the early centuries CE. It represented some of the earliest post Indus corpus of texts together with some of the early historical inscriptions which were found in India and was the ancestor to many of the scripts which were found in South, Southeast and East Asia.

Tamil Script
Some of the best known Brahmi inscriptions are the rock cut edicts of Ashoka found in north central India which dates back to 250 – 232 BCE deciphered by archaeologist, philologist and official of the East India Company, James Prinsep, in 1837. Much debate has been going on about the origin of the script with current Western academic opinion generally agreeing that the Brahmi was the result from or at least influenced by one or several contemporary Semitic scripts though current opinion in India preferred the idea that it was connected to the older and yet to be deciphered Indus script.

The script appeared by the 5th century BCE in India and several local variants in the early texts indicated that its origin was way back in time and that there were several theories based on the origin of the Brahmi script.

Different Theories on Brahmi

Brahmi Script
The first theory was that Brahmi has a West Semitic origin and the symbol for ‘a’for instance resembles Semitic letter `alif’. So also `dha, tha, la’ and `ra’ also appear more or less close to their Semitic counterparts.

Another theory proposes a Southern Semitic origin and the third theory holds that the Brahmi script was from Indus script.The 5th century of the Gupta script is at times called `late Brahmi’, which is diversified into various local variants and have been classified as the Brahmic scripts. Several of the modern scripts that have been used across South Asia have come from Brahmi which has made it one of the world’s influential traditions in writing.

 Some of the earliest Ashoka inscriptions were found all over India besides the Kharoshti writing in northwest which are highly uniform. Regional variants had begun to develop towards the late 3rd century because of the difference in the material used for writing as well as to the structures of the language that was used. 

Brahmi Written from Left to Right

Tamil Script
In South India, the earliest evidence of Brahmi script is from Bhattiprolu in Andhra Pradhes which was written on an urn containing Buddhist relics probably in Prakrit and old Telegu where twenty three letters were identified.

While letters like ga and sa seems same to Mauryan Brahmi, bha and da resemble the modern Telugu script. It is observed that Brahmi is written from left to right and is an abugida which means that each of the letters represents a consonant and the vowels are often written with obligatory diacritics known as matras in Sanskrit except whenever the vowel begins with a word.

 Whenever no vowel is written the /a/ vowel is understood and this default short a” is a characteristic which is shared with Kharoshthi though the vowels may differ in other respects. Vowels which follow a consonant are written or are inherent by diacritics though initial vowels tend to have dedicated letters. The three vowels in Brahmi are /a/, /i/, /u/ and long vowels come from the letters for short vowels though there are only five vowels diacritics as short /a/ is comprehended if no vowel is written.

Special Conjunct Consonants Used

Indus Script
Special conjunct consonants are also used to write consonant clusters like /pr/ or /rv/ and in modern Devanagari, the components of a conjunct is written from left to right whenever possible, while in Brahmi, the characters seems to be joined vertically downwards.It has been observed that the basic system of vowels are common to Brahmi and Kharosthi wherein every consonant is understood, followed by a vowel and this was well suited to Prakrit though Brahmi adapted other languages, a special notation known as the `virama’ was introduced to mark the omission of the final vowel.

During the early Brahmi period, the punctuation marks was not very popular and letter had to be written independently with some space between edicts and words at times. During the middle era, the system seemed to be progressing and the use of a dash together with a curved horizontal line was found while a flower mark was considered to mark the end and a circular mark indicated a full stop with varieties of full stop.

Towards the later period, the system of inter-punctuation marks got somewhat complicated, where for instance, there are four types of vertically slanted double dashes which resemble `//’ to mark the end of the composition. The signs remain a bit simple in the inscription inspite of all the decorative signs which were available at the time of the late period.

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