script, used for writing Sanskrit and other Indian languages had evolved
over a period of more than two thousand years. The true origin of writing
in India has not been ascertained with any certainty though scholars believe
that the starting point was the Brahmi script used in the inscriptions
of emperor Asoka (300 BCE). It is however known that reference to writing
is seen in the ancient scriptures of India, which have also defied proper
Under the circumstances,
it is pointless to discuss the origin of writing in India. We therefore
provide the development of the script based on records available in India
in various forms.
The Brahmi script
confirms to the syllabic writing system and was used more for writing Prakrit,
the language spoken by ordinary people. All the aksharas (vowels and consonants)
of Sanskrit find a representation in Brahmi along with forms for medial
vowels. The inscriptions of Asoka, seen in many places in India,though
spread over several centuries, are all in Brahmi, suggesting that the script
had been evolving. When new additions to existing structures were built
(such as the Stupas and special Pillars), it was usual practice to record
the names of the donors.
The Brahmi script underwent
changes and noticeable differences (compared to the Brahmi of 300 BCE)
and the writing became more ornamental with curves. The Brahmi of 200 CE
shows these differences clearly. Yet, the set of aksharas remained the
same, catering to the basic vowels and consonants of Sanskrit.
Conjunct letter formation
is already seen in early Brahmi but the rules were not strictly adhered
to in many cases. It is believed that the job of carving the text or inscribing
the same was given to a specialist but the text itself provided by a scholar.
Consequently, the variations seen in the rendering of conjunct aksharas
have been attributed to errors introduced by the scribes. In some inscriptions,
the rule of writing one consonant below the other was followed but the
consonants themselves were reversed for the same syllable (conjunct) in
From about 200 CE,
India was ruled by different Hindu Kings and information dissemination
continued through inscriptions in stone. In most cases, the text inscribed
was Sanskrit and not Prakrit, thus giving credence to the fact that Hinduism
was getting reestablished.
of the script from the early Brahmi to the modern day Devanagari is indicated
below. The credit for creating the awareness that rock inscriptions provided
the most important clues to the development of writing in India, goes to
western scholars. Brahmi was deciphered by James Prinsep in 1838. The methods
used by Prinsep were somewhat similar to those that led to the successful
decipherment of Hyeroglyphics a little earlier. Prinsep had the first clue
from a Bilingual coin as well as repeated occurrence of the same syllable
in several inscriptions at Sanchi where the oldest of the known Stupas
from Ashoka's time is situated. Subsequent contributions from other scholars
specifically, Georg Buhler established firmly the links between the language
and the script.
The monuments and
rock edicts where the Brahmi script was seen, had remained either totally
unexplored or in very dilapidated conditions and India owes a debt of gratitude
to these scholars for the wealth of information that followed.
The development of
the script is outlined below. The image following the table illustrates
the stages in the evolution of the script.