Sarada and Takari Alphabets (Origin and Development)

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Item Code: IDK827
Author: Bhushan Kumar Kaul Deambi
Publisher: Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts and D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788124604120
Pages: 200
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.6" X 8.9"
Weight 1 kg
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Book Description

From The Jacket

Among the Indian script the Sarada script has a pride of place. Though an alphabet of Kashmir par excellence it remained for several centuries a popular script of an extensive area of north-western India including Afghanistan, Gandhara or north-western Pakistan, the Darad territories of Gilgit, Chilas and Chitral, Ladakh, Jammu, Diarchal Pradesh and Delhi. The epigraphic and literary records written in the Sarada script that have surfaced in these regions have thrown welcome light on many facets of the history and culture of the are of their provenance. Nearly the entire extant manuscripts of Sanskrit works including those on science, mathematic and erotics besides some old Kashmiri texts are written in this script.

The Sarada alphabet was replaced in the 13th century by its descendant, the Devasesa, which in turn gave rise to the modern alphabet of Takari. The epigraphic, literary and other valuable documents of Himachal Pradesh available are mostly written in Devasesa and Takari. But it is sad that the number of scholars having a sound knowledge of the Sarada and Takari script is extremely small. There is every apprehension of the complete loss of these two scripts unless serious measures are taken to disseminate the epigraphy stalwart to our younger generation of scholars.

The entire study of the present work is based on original records and is comprehensively illustrated by palaeographic tables and charts prepared from published facsimilies, photographs, and original inscriptions and manuscripts. To give an idea of the records written in these two scripts, printed photographs of the inscriptions, manuscripts, documents, etc. have been give at the end of the book.

It is hoped that the book would serve as a guide and an aid for the scholars interested in the study of the important and valuable records written in Sarada and Takari scripts which are otherwise preserved in museums and libraries in India and abroad.

Dr. B.K. Kaul Deambi born on 1st February 1937 in Srinagar, obtained his Master degrees with distinction in Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archeology; and also in Sanskrit from Panjab University. He further completed his PhD from there under the able guidance of the epigraphy stalwart of northern India Prof. Jagan Nath Agrawal. He worked as Professor of Sanskrit and Hindi in Gandhi Memorial College, Srinagar, rose to become Readers and then Director of the Centre of Centre Asian Studies, Kashmir University. He was finally Visiting Faculty member in the Department of History, Kumaun University. He works include Corpus of the Sarada Inscriptions of Kashmir; History and Culture of Ancient Gandhara and Western Himalayas, both of which were awarded by the Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, Jammu & Kashmir State. He was awarded Senior Fellowship in Epigraph by the Department of Culture, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Govt. of India for writing the current work. His ensuing publications include Studies in Indian Epigraphy containing author's selected papers on Indian epigraphy published in reputed journals and books; and Catalogue (Vol. I) of the Sanskrit manuscripts preserved in the Manuscripts Library of the Directorate of Libraries, Museums and Archaeology, Jammu & Kashmir, Srinagar.



It was not until George Buhler's groundbreaking "Report of a Tour in Search of Sanskrit MSS made in Kashmir, Rajputana, and Central India" had appeared in 1877 that the attention of scholars was directed towards the treasure of manuscripts preserved in Kashmir and to the local script in which the majority of these had been written, going by the name of "Sarada." Well versed in epigraphy, palaeography and manuscripts, Buhler was in a position to judge the situation right. On the spot in Kashmir, he immediately recognized the importance of the Kashmir manuscripts in terms of textual criticism and – to the best of his abilities – took measures to preserve them. Wherever physical preservation seemed to be a hopeless enterprise, he arranged for apographs prepared from the manuscripts on-site. Buhler's pioneering activities were supported and continued by the eminent archaeologist and Sanskrit scholar Sir Marcus Aurel Stein, who himself utilized a unique Sarada manuscript for his unsurpassed edition of Kalhana's Rajatarangini. Moreover, Stein not only catalogued an enormous number of Sanskrit (Sarada) manuscripts belonging to the Jammu Raghunatha Temple Library (1894), but also purchased manuscripts of Kashmir origin and entrusted them to the care of distinguished libraries in Budapest, Oxford, Paris and Vienna. The accessibility of these manuscripts ensured, they soon attracted Indologists, whose research benefited greatly from consulting fresh and unexpectedly weighty source material. On account of the increased interest scholars were taking in these manuscripts, the Sarada scripts as such also received attention to a greater extent. As early as 1884 Karl Burkhard reproduced the first charts ever of Sarada characters (Vienna). He had prepared them from a manuscript transmitting the Kashmir Sakuntala recension. A few years later (1901), a high-quality, extraordinarily costly Sarada facsimile edition in three volumes of the Tubingen Kashmir (Paippalada) Atharva Veda, which is the only one of its kind, saw the light of its publication. Despite its undisputed importance for historical research, the drawing up of Sarada training aids seems to have been considered dispensable. In consequence thereof each scholar wishing to consult Sarada manuscripts was bound to acquaint himself anew with the script all by himself. What holds true for diachronic – and in the strict sense palaeographic – explorations of the historic development of Kashmiri local handwriting. A number of Sarada characters were published by jean Philippe Vogel in 1911, but he dealt with inscriptional forms of the alphabet only. And although George Grierson's laudable article "On the Sarada alphabet" (1961) was indeed of help, it had its limits, too: the characters reproduced there represent the late 19th century mode of writing.

We may mark up as a considerable improvement on the unsatisfactory situation the appearance of Lore Sander's palaeographic investigation into Central Asian (Turfan) Sanskrit manuscripts, which resulted in a classification of proto-Sarada characters and in the derivation of the fully-Developed Sarada script from what she had determined as "Gilgit-Bamiyan-Type II." A subsequent, unquestionable milestone in the history of Sarada-related studies was Dr. Deambi's well-known Corpus of Sarada Inscription of Kashmir (Delhi 1982), giving particular emphasis to their palaeographic stratification. Equipped with exhaustive tables, his book has served Indologists extremely well over the years. Among those benefiting from Dr. Deambi's thorough study is also the writer of this foreword, who – in utilizing one of the Kashmir manuscripts Stein had bought in 1894 and presented to the Viennese Imperial Library – published a Sarada Primer in German. To two papers of Michael Wetzel (1994) we owe penetrating insights into the essentials of Kashmir manuscript culture. Another important reproducing-cum-transliteration edition was brought to the public in 1995. This famous mathematical treatise, known as the "Bakhshali Manuscript," is considered the oldest extant manuscript written in Sarada characters.

The past decades have seen a gigantic progress in the cataloguing and microfilming of Sanskrit manuscripts, of which the early pioneers in Indology could not even have dreamt. Mention must be made of the microfilming and cataloguing campaigns of the IGNCA, a vibrant, highly esteemed centre for manuscript research, and of the reputed Nepal-German Manuscript Preservation (and Cataloguing) Project (NGMP[/C]P), another inexhaustible mine of manuscripts. Under such favourable circumstances of easily accessible materials it was inevitable that the study of the wide range of the different script in use in South Asia had also made significant steps forward. The year 2005 saw the launch of a German Internet palaeography (IndoSkript). As a database containing hundreds of thousand of single characters drawn from inscriptions and manuscripts, it can also be used as an electronic tool for analyzing their palaeography.

From the above, the importance of Dr. Deambi's present publication will easily be gauged. The author has made every effort to select all the data relevant for carrying out a comprehensive study of a separable palaeographic subject, definable as the Sarada and Takari spheres of writing. To be sure, their historical "cultural boundaries" extended far beyond the political borders and administrative districts of today. As a result of Dr. Deambi's endeavours, scholars can now conveniently utilize the vast material he has collected and which he present in a meticulous historico-systematic arrangement. The first chapters of his book treat the Sarada alphabets arranged according to their developmental stages with special attention not only to their epigraphic and manuscript varieties, but also to the manner of writing numerals. It must be emphasized that Dr. Deambi has also thoroughly treated the much neglected Takari alphabets, as they are the results of a transition from the Sarada scripts to its descendent known as Devasesa, to which the subsequent chapters are devoted. On this meritorious achievement Dr. Deambi deserves to be congratulated in particular. It is for the first time that scholars will gain easy access to reading and interpreting numberless Takari inscribed artifacts and paintings, mainly from the region of Himachal Pradesh. It is the first comprehensive Takari study of its kind.

From the palaeographic point of view, Dr. Deambi has manifestly recorded the Sarada letters and their changes, and thus has rendered developments in the mode of their writing comprehensible. The exhaustive charts included in his book with carefully drawn aksaras involve another, evidently practical, purpose: scholar consulting Sarada and Takari documents cannot but welcome these tables as reliable guides and perfect reference points for decoding the characters of their sources.

In the realms of basic research in the humanities, the 16th century humanists' Latin motto ad fonts ("To the sources!") will ever retain its justification. There can be no knowledge without sources of knowledge. There can be no knowledge of the past without sources of knowledge of the past. The ultimate precondition for working with sources of the past handed down in writing is, incontrovertibly, a correct interpretation of their letters. Is there anything better one can say of Dr. Deambi's ambitious book than that he has given scholars direct access to primary sources of knowledge as are the preserved treasures of Kashmir Sanskrit culture?

May this successful study of Dr. Deambi, doyen of Sarada palaeographers, receive a warm and friendly reception.



The value of the epigraphic records as the most authentic and dependable source of history and culture in India has long been recognized. Ancient India did not produce any Herodotus, Strabo or Pliny, and in the absence of genuine and authentic written records of history, epigraphic records from the chief original source for the study of the history and culture of India's glorious past. Their value was recognized long ago by the sole historian, worth the name Kalhana, of ancient India, who for writing his history of Kashmir consulted the extant epigraphic records of all types and was thus able "to overcome many errors" arising from other sources.

The study of the Indian epigraphic records presupposes the knowledge of the Indian scripts in which they are written. These scripts have been a subject of study of scholars now for more than a hundred years and many a mystery associated with their decipherment has been unraveled. However, some important regional scripts have not received the attention they deserve. Among these many be cited the examples of Sarada and Takari scripts.

The Sarada script has a pride of place among the Indian scripts. Though evolved from Western Brahmi about a millennium ago in the 9th century, it continues to be in use even today thought its use is confined to the older generation of the Pandit community of Kashmir. Though an alphabet of Kashmir par excellence, it remained for several centuries a popular script in an extensive area of north-western India including Afghanistan, Gandhara or north-western Pakistan, the Dared territories of Gilgit, Chilas and Chitral, Ladakh, Jammu, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Delhi. The epigraphic records written in Sarada script that have surfaced in these regions have thrown welcome light on many facets of the history and culture of the area of their provenance. Nearly the entire extant manuscripts of Sanskrit and old Kashmir text and historical works of Kashmir are written in this script, which in fact considerably enhances the value of the study of this important alphabet for the critical study and analysis of these priceless manuscripts.

The Sarada alphabet continued to be used in Himachal Pradesh up to the 13th century when it was replaced by its descendant the Devasesa which in turn gave rise to the modern alphabet of Takari.

The extant epigraphic records of Himachal Pradesh numbering over several hundred are written in Devasesa and Takari, and only a part of these have been edited so far. Besides, the captions of majority of paintings belonging to the famous schools of Basohli, Kangra and Chamba have been written in Takari. There is hardly any image of immense artistic value enshrined in any temple of Himachal Pradesh which does not contain an inscription in Takari. Thus, the importance of the study of Takari for the decipherment and critical analysis of early medieval records, painting and art pieces of Himachal Pradesh can hardly be exaggerated.

The Sarada and the Takari though very important regional scripts have not been taken up so for critical study and analysis. A very brief account of Sarada alphabet has been given by George Buhler in his Indian Palaeography (English edn. p.78 f.); by George Grierson in the Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, (p. 1916, p.677 ff.); and a somewhat detailed treatment, but based only on the inscriptions of Chamba, has been given by J. Ph. Vogel in his Antiquities of Chamba State, Part I. More comprehensive study of the script has been attempted by the present investigator in Section I of his Corpus of the Sarada Inscriptions of Kashmir. Since the publication of the latter work in 1982, lot more epigraphic records and manuscripts written in this script have come to light which have necessitated the revised treatment of the subject in a more comprehensive and detailed manner.

As far as Takari is concerned, first noteworthy study of the script is available in the introduction of the Antiquities of Chamba State, Part II, by B. Ch. Chabra.

The present work aims at fulfilling this desideratum. Besides, a detailed and scientific study of the origin and development of the Sarada script, a systematic account of the evolution of the Takari scripts and its relationship with the Sarada alphabet has been attempted. There is ample scope for further research on the Takari script provided one is well conversant with Chamiali and allied hill dialects.

As pointed out above, while almost all subject pertaining to Indian history and culture have received comprehensive treatment at the hands of the scholars and palaeographers, the scientific study of the Indian script have remained neglected subjects. The result has been that the knowledge of ancient and medieval regional scripts of India has been consigned to oblivion. The Sarada and Takari scripts are no exception. The number of scholar having a sound knowledge of these scripts is extremely small. There is every apprehension of the complete annihilation of the scripts unless timely measures are taken to disseminate the knowledge of the two scripts among the younger generation of the scholars. The knowledge of the Sarada scripts is all the more necessary since a number of important and valuable manuscripts on medicine, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, linguistics, grammar, philosophy, etc. written in this script and preserved in the important museums and libraries in India and abroad, are in long wait for publication by the experts.

Though Takari is the alphabet of Himachal Pradesh par excellence, there are very few scholars in the state possessing a sound knowledge of the script and ability to decipher and analyse the records written in this script. Of late my enterprising student Dr. Rita Devi Sharma, presently Curator, epigraphy Section, National Museum, New Delhi has evinced some interest in the subject and has published Primer Part I and II of Modern Takari.

The present writer has been approached a number of times by scholars in India and abroad who are interested in the study of unpublished texts of Kashmir on scientific subject written in the Sarada script and in the study of medieval culture, arts and of Sarada and Takari be prepared so that the same would serve as a guide and a valuable aid in their respective fields of Study.

The entire study presented here is based on original records and is comprehensively illustrated by palaeographic tables and charts prepared from published facsimilies, photographs and original inscriptions and manuscripts.

The writer is profoundly grateful to the Department of Culture, Ministry of Art, Culture and Tourism, Government of India, for awarding him a senior fellowship to complete the project. He is equally grateful to the indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, specially to its Member Secretary Dr. K.K. Chakravarty and Professor G.C. Tripathi, Head of the Kalakosa Division for considering the publication of the completed project. Last but not the least he is thankful to his student Dr. Mrs Advaitavadini Kaul, Editor, Kalakosa, IGNCA for editing and supervising the printing of this book.

The writer would be failing in his duty if he does not express his profound gratitude to all those epigraphic stalwarts whose most valuable works, plates and facsimilies he has ulitized in writing this monograph. But for these (cited in reference in this work) and other eminent scholars, the study of Indian Epigraphy and Palaeography would have never received the attention it deserved. He is also highly grateful to Pro. Walter Slaje, Professor of Indology, Martin-Luther-University, Halle – Wittenberg, for the highly learned forward he has written for publication.




  Foreword vii
  Preface xi
  List of Tables xvii
  List of Plates xix
  Key to Transliteration xxiii
1. Origin of Sarada Script 1
2. The Sarada Alphabet 17
3. Development of the Sarada Alphabet (11th-13th Centuries) 35
4. Development of the Sarada Alphabet (14th-16th Centuries) 43
5. Sarada Alphabet in Manuscripts 51
6. Numerals of the Sarada Alphabet 67
7. Takari Alphabet – Origin and Development (14th- 16 Centuries) 69
8. Takari Alphabet (17th and 18th Centuries) 77
  Tables 81
  Plates 137
  Bibliography 169
  Index 173

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