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Antiquity of writing in India

Epigraphical Studies in India

Epigraphical Studies in India – Sanskrit and Dravidian

Antiquity of writing in India, The early scripts and Pioneers of Indian Epigraphy

Antiquity of writing in India

The earliest known system of writing is found on the seals and sealings used by the people of Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan Civilization dating to about circa 2600 – 1900 B.C. However, this script is not yet deciphered and hence the contents of these inscriptions are unknown.For the period between the fall of the Harappan Civilization and advent of the Mauryan Emperor Asoka (3rd century B.C.), nothing is known about the system of writing, but for the references to writing in ancient literatures like Vedas, Puranas, Brahmanas and Upanishads. Further, the knowledge of Brahmi script at least among the elites over a considerable period of time prior to the appearance of Asokan edicts cannot be denied as when these edicts were engraved everywhere, there were meant to be read, understood and conveyed to everybody.

The early scripts

Asokan edicts (3rd century B.C.) are the earliest decipherable inscriptions, so far available in India. Brahmi script is the precursor to all the later period scripts written in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Dravidian languages found in different parts of India today.Another ancient script, which was predominantly used in the north-west of India is Kharoshthi. Kharoshthi is a modification of Aramaic scrip and it is written from right to left. It was used to write the Prakrit inscriptions of Asokan rock edicts found at Mansehra and Shahbazgarhi (both in Pakistan now) in the north-western part of the Asokan empire. After Asoka, the use of Kharoshthi script spread to Mathura region and was prevalent in the ancient province of Gandhara up to 2nd century A.D.

Pioneers of Indian Epigraphy

A host of scholars like William Jones, C. Lassen and others made successive efforts for the decipherment of Brahmi script. It was James Princep in the year 1837 who unravelled the mystery of Brahmi script. However, the credit of preparing a complete and scientific table of the Brahmi characters goes to Buhler. Similarly the efforts of C. Masson, C. Lassen, A. Cunningham and others are laudable in the decipherment of Kharoshthi script. Further, the great contributions made by A.C. Burnell, George Buhler, Kielhorn, Heinrich Luders, R.G. Bhandrkar and other in the field of epigraphy are noteworthy.

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