origin of Brahmi Script

Brahmi Script
In the last centuries BC the script was divided into 3 varieties: northern, eastern, and southern. Dialectal differences consisted of the shape of the symbols, though the system remained the same. First separate branches emerged in the 5th century AD. The Brahmi script is the ancestor of all modern Indian writing systems, there are about 40 varieties of them nowadays, including Tibetan, Sinhalese, Sharada, Newari, Bengali, Oriya, Gujarati,Gurmukhi, , Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Burmese, Khmer, Lao, Thai, Devanagari. In addition, many other Asian scripts, even Japanese to a very small extent (vowel order), were also derived from Indian script. Languages which used Brahmi as their script: Indo-Aryan (Vedic, Sanskrit, Prakrits, Pali), Dravidian, Iranian (Sacian), Tocharic.

Brahmi origin
Brahmi origin has been controversial. one of the reason is the sudden appearance of fully developed script in the inscriptions during Ashokan period and l absence of inscriptions between Indus valley and Ashokan period(gap of 1500 years). Opinions of Brahmi is divided to into two camps Foreign origin by Foreigners and Indigenous independent development by Indians. Let us see the opinions behind claims.

Foreign origin
Foreign origin or derived script theory is based on the following theories
  • Failure to find and identify actual specimens of between indus valley and pre-Ashokan writing.
  • The testimony of Greek author Megasthenes to the absence of writing in India in the early Mauryan period
  • The evident influence of Indian phonetic and grammatical theory on the structure of the early scripts
  • Uniform appearance of Ashokan Brâhmî all over India.
Aramic origin
It is thought that the brāhmī drift of a Semitic writing like the imperial Aramean alphabet, as it is the case for the alphabet gāndhārī(khartoshi) which appeared at the same time in Northwest India, under the control of the empire of the Achéménides. Rhys Davids thinks that this writing could be introduced in India of the the Middle East by the merchants.The similarities between the scripts are just what one would expect from such an adaptation. For example, Aramaic did not distinguish dental from retroflex stops; in Brāhmī the dental and retroflex series are graphically very similar, as if both had been derived from a single prototype. Aramaic did not have Brāhmī’s aspirated consonants (k, t), whereas Brāhmī did not have Aramaic's emphatic consonants (q, ṭ, ṣ); and it appears that these emphatic letters were used for Brāhmī's aspirates: Aramaic q for Brāhmī kh, Aramaic (Θ) for Brāhmī th (ʘ). And just where Aramaic did not have a corresponding emphatic stop, p, Brāhmī seems to have doubled up for its aspirate: Brāhmī p and ph are graphically very similar, as if taken from the same source in Aramaic p. The first letters of the alphabets also match: Brāhmī a, which resembled a reversed κ, looks a lot like Aramaic alef, which resembled Hebrew .
Southern Semitic origin.
Brahmi is a syllabary, it consists of syllables only, if we state that single vowels are also syllables. Each character carries a consonant followed by the vowel "a", much like Old Persian or Meroïtic. However, unlike these two systems, Brahmi indicates the same consonant with a different vowel with extra strokes attached to the character. Brahmi is written from the left to the right. However in few coins right to left Brahmi is also found.

Phoenician Origin
Phoenician origin is based on the following points.
  • Writing from left to right unlike aramic which is right to left.
  • Striking similarity between theta and Brâhmî tha
Emphasising this two points to Brahmi phoenicaian origin is theory far fetched. Maybe there is influence but no such a thing as origin from Greek alphabet.

Greek and Brahmi
That the basic system of indication of post-consonantal vowels by diacritic marking was originally developed in and adapted from Khartoshi seems well established. But Falk's suggestion that the introduction into Brâhmî of distinct diacritics for short and long vowels was influenced by the model of Greek script is doubtful, since the notation of vowel quantity in Greek operates on entirely different principles. Whereas Greek uses distinct alphabetic characters, mostly derived from Semitic consonants, to represent, incompletely and inconsistently, short and long vowel pairs, Brâhmî has a complete and regular set of matched short/long pairs of post-consonantal diacritic signs.

Brahmi Numerals
Numerical notation system of Brâhmî. Because the use of distinct signs in Brâhmî for each of the digits (1 to 9) and the decades (10 to 90) a similar system used in early Chinese numerals. Also not only in system but also in the actual form of several of the numerical signs, between Brâhmî and heiratic and demotic Egyptian. we dont know which side influenced the other or Independent.

Indigenous origin

Independent origin
script appeared in India most certainly by the 6th century BC, but the fact it had many local variants, which suggests that its origin lies further back in time. The earliest inscription written in Brahmi date back to the 6th century BC in srilanka, and by 2nd century BC already there existed several varieties of it. Brahmi quickly became the official script of religious texts and cults, and therefore spread over all India.
Writting in Pre Ashokan Era
  • J.D.M. Derrett argues Megasthanese talks only about written Legal document not generally writting in India.
  • Nearchos, quoted by Strabo, to the Indians' practice of writing letters on cloth
  • Panini mentions Lipi (Writting)
  • Pali cannon makes reference to likhitako coro,lekha.m chindati (writting) in Vinaya-pi.taka
Ashoka Invention
Harry Falks believes as for him that the brāhmī was created under the Empire maurya. One often admits that it was an invention planned under the reign of Ashoka, necessary to the drafting of his edicts, case similar to that of the Hangul(Korean).

Indus origin
Brahmi script came from the Indus Valley Script. However, the lack of any inscription evidence between the end of the Harappan period at around 1900 BC and the first Brahmi and Kharosthi inscriptions at roughtly 500 BC makes the Indus origin of Brahmi highly questionable. However recent claims of deciphering the Indus script has strengthened this theory. Indus script have been found around 1500BC in Vaishai, bihar. And the theory derives the evidence from similarities as other theories. You can see in the picture .

Khartosi-Brahmi
Now the theory by western scholars is Khartoshi predated Brahmi and it was loose adoptation of Aramic. Khartoshi from Aramic is also not a good argument simply because several cases Khartoshi characters have different phonetic values from the Aramaic letters that they most closely resemble in shape. wide usage of Aramaicin the Ashokan Aramaic inscriptions, in the eastern regions of the Achaemenian empire.another theory is Brahmi is derived from Khartoshi. But this can be disproved on following points. Brâhmî ¤ ha , which can reasonably be derived from an Aramaic * he , but hardly from Khartoshi * ha , and * ta from Aramaic * taw ,
but not Khartoshi ¤ ta

Conclusion
We have to see that each theory putsforward the similarities and keeps silence on the other points. Brahmi is superior script all the others compared. And there is no easier explanation for the development of same.

Related Posts
Was Ancient India Literate
Indus Script Myths
Tamil Brahmi
Pallava Granta Script

5 comments:

  1. Dear Friend,
    The article written is partcularly good and interesting.

    Would you please tell me who has created the table of frequency study comaprison of Brahmi and Harappan-Indus script. It is difficult to this kind of frequency analysis- shape based analysis would have been more accuarte than the uncertain phonetic value analysis.

    Regards,
    KPRao

    ReplyDelete
  2. I too strongly believe that Brahmi script was discovered by Ashokan scholars to spread Buddhism across the world through edicts.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sullivan
    These are just Speculative theories. None have solved the puzzle

    ReplyDelete
  4. There is a striking similarity between the Indus valley script and Brahmi. Based on the picture you have shown, there appears to be no doubt that Brahmi is a derivative of the Indus valley.

    There is no relation between Brahmi and Aramaic - it's quite clear that Brahmi uses a left to right writing system. Also, Aramaic is newer than Brahmi.

    The reason is that Brahmi alphabet is simpler than Aramaic and looks like a stick drawing.

    As the alphabet becomes more complex and hence newer, it's character evolves. For example, modern Devanagri has highly complex shapes.

    Similarly, modern Hebrew which is clearly derived from Aramaic is more complex.

    The relationship between Phoenician and Brahmi is closer than Aramaic which may suggest some borrowing. This is possible because during Hellenism, we know that there was a mixture of Greek and Indian culture. So some of the Greek symbols and writings would have been known to scholars of India.

    What I believe is that when the Indus valley civilization declined there was a dark age.

    However, the script and language continued to exist in pockets through trade or migration particularly in South India.

    That's why there is a 6th century BC example of Brahmi on pottery from South India which predates Ashoka and even Alexander.

    When Ashoka became ruler, he would have been concerned with standardization. So this script which may have been only obscurely used with many non-standard versions was popularized and the alphabet was made regular for administrative purposes. This is why there is a sudden re-emergence during his reign.

    He would have relied on scholars that may have also known Greek, so the Greek Tau and Brahmi Tha are similar, as a consequence of the standardization where some letters were borrowed or changed.

    So rather than relating to Phoenician directly, it's more likely that Ashokan Brahmi added Greek letters to already existing Indus valley script.

    However, I don't think Ashoka invented the language from scratch.

    When we say there is no surviving examples of Indus valley script for 1500 BCE to 800 BCE years - that just means those examples have been eroded or lost and were used less frequently.

    Examples from Ashoka's reign are more prolific because they became more common and are newer.

    It doesn't mean they ceased to exist - in fact that's highly doubtful.

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