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Kashmiri Pandit Network

Kashmiri Music

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."

 Big Language 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 much alike?"3

 Sharda Script

 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.)
 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 this script.

 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 (1970).
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).

Source: Koshur Samachar


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