About Languages and Scripts|
(with special reference to Sharda script)
- Prof. K.L. Kalla
THE primitive man in
different parts of the world invented symbols to communicate his ideas and
feelings to his fellow bretheren. Of course, this happened with the evolution of
civilization. The earliest known symbols of this type are the Hieroglyphics of
Egypt. By and by, alphabets having different sounds came into use; when these
alphabets were joined words were formed. As epochs passed, different languages
originated in different parts of the world.
There are different languages spoken in different
parts of the world. In broad terms, languages may be divided into different
families: Aryan, Semitic, Teutonic, etc. According to J.L. Nehru:
"We shall find if we study these languages
that although they are so many the parent languages are few. For instance,
wherever Aryans went the language belonged to the Aryan family. Sanskrit and
Latin and Greek, Italian and some other languages are all cousins belonging to
the Aryan family. Many of our Indian languages are all children of Sanskrit and
so they also belong to the Aryan family."
"Another big language family is the Chinese.
This has Chinese, Burmese, Tibetan and Siamese A third group is the Semitic
which includes Arabic and Hebrew. Some of the languages of South India, like
Tamil and Telugu and Malayalam and Canarese do not belong to these groups. These
four are of the Dravidian family and are very old."1
A language is something spoken; it has a number
of sounds. Rightly considered a language is an organised set of sounds. These
sounds convey a meaning from the mind of the speaker to the mind of the hearer,
and thus connect man with man. It must have taken the primitive man thousands of
years to invent a mode of writing a language upon paper; or to represent sounds
by signs These are called letters, or alphabets. In Greek language the first two
letters are 'Alpha', 'Beta'; in English 'a', 'b', 'c', etc; in Hindi
""., .E, ?, ?U""; in Urdu There are some languages that have
never been put upon paper at all; the African language, many in the South Sea
Islands and other parts of the globe.
A language is like an Organism, and it grows and
dies like any living thing. "As it grows it loses something and it gains
something else. It changes its appearance until at length its appearance in an
age is something almost entirely different from what it was in the early youth.
The oldest English which is usually called Anglo Saxon, is as different from our
modern English as if they were two distinct languages; and yet are not two
languages, but one and the same."2
Although the various language families seem to be
different there are many common words and similarities. "In Hindi and
Sanskrit the words are 'Pita ALGAE", and 'Mate EAE"; in Latin they are
'Pater' and 'Mater'; in Greek 'Pater' and 'Meter'; in German 'dater' end
'Mutter', and so on in many other languages. Do they not all seem to be very
Every spoken language has a script peculiar to it
in which it is written. In ancient Egypt 'Hieroglyphics' were written in the
form of shapes of birds Unlike other Indian languages, the Kashmiri language has
no script of its own. Regarding the 'Kashmir) Alphabet', Prof. J.L. Koul
observes: "Do we have a Kashmiri alphabet? It is wrong to say that SHARDA
was our script for Kashmiri that it expressed more or less adequately, all the
sounds of the Kashmiri alphabet. Sharda was our script for writing Sanskrit,
which we, now, very rightly translate in the Nagri script. Nor was The Persian
or Arabic script ever adaped to Kashmiri so as to enable it to express more or
less adequately, the sounds peculiar to our language. Kashmiri shared the
handicap of not having its own alphabet with several other languages which, not
long ago, lead no alphabet of their own."
Lalla-Vakhs in Sharda Script (old MS.)
Courtesy: Bhaskar Razdan
"Kashmir is, what may rightly be called a
vowel language; it has not only many vowels but its vowel system is intricate.
It is semi-vowels and shades of vowel sounds; and it differs from other Indian
languages in having silent or nearly silent vowels (called 'matras', by Hindu
Grammarian). In his "Dictionary of the Kashmiri Language." Sir George
Grierson lists as many as thirty vowels, quite a few of which are only medial,
never initial. In framing a practical Kashmiri alphabet we can leave some of
these subtleties to the context. Nevertheless, Kashmiri has an intricate vowel
system and it cannot afford drop or omit vowel marks as is very easily done in
Persian Arabic characters."4
Now, about the SHARDA script that was much in use
not only in Kashmir, but also in North Western India (Gilgit etc.), the Punjab
and Himachal Pradesh and even in Central Asia. This script enjoys a foremost
position among all the ancient Indian scripts. It was evolved from the Western
branch of Brahmi nearly 1200 years ago. It is an excellent ancient alphabet of
Kashmir. Almost all the ancient Sanskrit literature of Kashmir is written in
A number of foreign scholars have done
considerable work on SHARDA script: (1) George Buhler in his memorable work,
"Indian Palaeography", (pp. 76/77, (2) Leeche in his "Grammar of
the Cashmere Language", (Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1894,
pp. 399 95), (3) Sir George Grierson in his paper in the "Journal of the
Royal Asiatic Society" (1916, pp 677 95), and also in his note in the
"Linguistic Survey of India", (Vol viii, p. 254). Credit should go to
Dr. J. Ph. Vogel for discussing the development of the SHARDA script in detail
in his famous wrok, "Antiquities of Chamba State", (Part I) Gauri
Shankar Hira Chand Ojha has also briefly discussed the SHARDA script in his,
"Bharatiya Prachina Lipimala", which is based on Vogel's work.
According to Dr. B.L. Dembi: "In the second
half of the 8th century we find in the Brahmi alphabet of North Western India a
distinct development of a new alphabet which though agreeing in many respects
with that used in the epigraphic and literary records of the 6th and 7th
centuries, including the famous Gilgit manuscript, shows several essential
differences in the forms of several characters. This alphabet is known the
SHARDA alphabet. Though an alphabet of Kashmir, par excellences, the Sharda has
remained for several centuries a popular script of an extensive area of North
West India including Ladakh, Jammu, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Delhi'. This
much is certain that it must have originated in Kashmir which from the earliest
times has been the principal seat of SHARDA, or the Goddess of learning."5
The earliest Sharda inscription on a stone slab,
dating back to 774 A.D., was discovered at the village Hund at Attock in West
Pakistan. "There successive stages of development of the Sharda alphabet
can easily be dicerned. The earliest phase is represented by the inscriptions
and the coins of the 8th to 10th centuries; the second by those of the 11th to
14th centuries; and the third and final by the epigraphic and literary record of
the 14th and the subsequent centuries."6
The most early Indian stone inscription is of the
time of the Maurya King, Asoka; this is called the Mauryan alphabet. Later, in
the records of the 6th and the 7th centuries A.D., found in the North Western
India, there is another alphabet, called as the Western Gupta alphabet. This
alphabet finally led to the SHARDA alphabets in the 8th and the 9th centuries.
Later, the coins of the rulers of the Utpala dynasty of Kashmir (2nd half of the
9th and the early I 0th centuries A.D.) also bear engravings in Sharda. After
the 13th century, this alphabet underwent a development in the records of Chamba
and the surrounding areas. According to Pt. Anand Koul Bamzai, Sharda alphabets
were used in stone inscriptions even up to the 18th century; this is
corroborated by his discovery of a Sharda inscription dated Vikram 1846 (1789
A.D.) The Sharda script is said to have reached perfection by the middle of the
I 5th and the 1 6th centuries. However, the epigraphists Kielhorn and Hoernle
hold the view that Sharda alphabet is a very conservative alphabet, as it
changed very little across the centuries.
The author is a former Professor of English
and has published a number of books on Kashmiriology. Ed.
1. Nehru, J.L. "About Language Families"
(Chapter in Letters from a father to his daughter).
2. Meikhlejohn, M.D.: "The English Language (Its
Grammar, History, Literature)." Pubd. by Meikhlejohn and Holder, London
3. Nehru, J.L. Sec no. ( I ) above.
4. Koul, J.L. "Studies in Kashmir" (Chapter
"The Kashmiri alphabet").
5. Dembi, Dr. B.L. "Corpus of Sharda Inscriptions
of Kashmir" (P3).
6. Dembi, Dr. B.L. "Corpus of Sharda Inscriptions
of Kashmir" (P3).