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Origin of Brahmi Script (The Beginning of Alphabet In India) (An Old and Rare Book )

Origin of Brahmi Script (The Beginning of Alphabet In India) (An Old and Rare Book )
Item Code: NAE546
Author: Naresh Prasad Rastogi
Publisher: Chowkhamba Saraswati Bhawan
Language: English
Edition: 1980
Pages: 198
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.0 inch X 5.5 inch
About The Book

Earliest written records of India in the historical period, Asokan inscriptions hold the key to the story of writing in this country. These epigraphs have been written in Greek, Aramaic, Kharosthi, and Brahmi. Among these the Origins of the first three scripts are not disputed but the beginnings of Brãhmi elude the grasp of historians. Majority of western scholars derive Brahmi’s origin from one of these scripts—Hieratic, cuneiform, Phoenician, Aramaic and Kharosthi, A few foreign scholars and most of the Indian scholars believe in its indigenous origin.

The author of the present work has critically reviewed and scrutinised the existing views and shown convincingly a correlation between the preexisting geometrical forms and later signs of the Brãhmi script. He has illustrated with charts that most of the letters of Brahmi alphabet betray very close resemblance with geometrical forms such as semi-circle, circle, ellipse, cycloid, triangle, angle and quadrangle etc. Each letter of the Brahmi script has been discussed here in greater detail than ever before and its origin from geometrical signs clearly demonstrated. Besides, the author has brought out for the first time numerous new forms of Asokan letters originating from geometrical signs, which were hitherto unknown or unnoticed. The work on the whole is marked out for originality, clarity, sound scholarship and critical acumen of the author. The book is bound to benefit the general readers as well as researchers in the field.


About The Author

Naresh Prasad Rastogi (b. 1942) has a brilliant academic career and is widely travelled in India and abroad. Dr. Rastogi is keenly devoted to the study of Indian palaeography.

Besides the present work, he has also written a book on the inscriptions of Asoka consisting of two parts. In the first part which has been printed out, the author has not only included all the Asokan inscriptions discovered to date but also amended and revised large number of readings of the previous stalwarts. The second part of the book comprising plates is in the press. Thus Dr. Rastogi’s above mentioned work is the second comprehensive and critical corpus of Asokan inscriptions after Hultzsch, His another work entitled Mauryan palaeography which is under publication, is an intensive study of the origin and development of the Mauryan Brãhmi letters. In this book the author has also made a comparative study of Asokan inscriptions on one hand and that of later Indian and south Asian epigraphs on the other.

Dr. Rastogi has evinced keen interest in Indian palaeography and has made his mark in the field. He has been teaching in the Department of Ancient Indian History & Archaeology, Lucknow University, Lucknow since 1969. Much more work is expected from the pen of this brilliant young scholar.



Dr. N. P. Rastogi’s work deals with some of the most important and controversial problems of Indian history. There are many difficulties in their solution, and that is why they have attracted the attention of numerous investigators. The nature of the controversies is also of exceptional interest.

There is a group of scholars who read Old Tamil in the legends of the Indus Valley or Harappan seals; but some great linguisticians are definitely against this view because, in their opinion, the Tamil words read on the seals can hardly be assigned to dates much earlier than the middle of the first millennium A. D. It has sometimes been supposed that the language of the Harappan seal legends may be some non-Dravidian aboriginal speech of India like Burushaski while on one occasion we tried to put up the case of Mundari in this connection. However, it is impossible to be sure about the reading and the language of the legends before the discovery of any biscriptal and bilingual record, of which one part would be written in the Harappan characters and the other in a known script and language.

Another group of scholars read (not quite satisfactorily) some kind of Sanskritic language in the seal legends; but archaeologists point out that the Aryans entered the Indian subcontinent about the middle of the second millennium B. C. after the flourishing period of the civilization of the people who produced the seals. A few other questions also arise out of this approach. There is probably no satisfactory proof to show that the Aryans entered this country with the knowledge of writing acquired from outside. In the absence of any such proof, we have possibly to think that they learnt the art of writing in this country either from the indigenous people or from their contact with some foreigners or that they developed the knowledge here by themselves. However, on their advent, the Aryans apparently came in contact with the Harappan people who knew the art and appear to have formed a section of the non-Aryans whose blood and culture were soon mixed with their own. If we believe that the Aryans in India did not learn the art of writing from their non-Aryan neighbors, we have probably to think of some cogent reason for that. As the Indians are found to use the Harappan script as late as the early half of the second millennium B. C. and the Brãhmi alphabet in the Maurya age, it is natural to expect some sort of relationship between the two forms of writing, and some time ago we considered it possible that the said alphabet was made from the selection of a group of signs out of the large number of them in a later modified form of the Harappan writing just as the Japanese alphabet is known to have been created out of some of the many signs of Chinese writing.Unfortunately, there has as yet been no discovery of any document of the intervening period of more than a millennium, which could have offered us a clue to the possible relationship, and with no such light, the problem stands where it was.

Dr. Rastogi is welcome to the field of controversy, his theory regarding the origin of the Brãhmi letters from geometrical designs being an ingenious attempt to solve one of the main problems.



The issue of the origin of Brãhmi has been a long debated question ever since the decipherment of Brahmi script in 1837 by James Prinsep. Most of the western scholars believe in a foreign origin of Brãhmi while the Indian scholars mostly believe in an indigenous origin. Our work begins with an Introduction exhaustively outlining the details of the terms of reference and the scope of enquiry that we have laid down for ourselves. In our present monograph we have first discussed the Harappan script in the second chapter which marks the beginning of writing in ancient India. In the third chapter we have analysed the characteristic features of Brahmi script. The fourth chapter deals with the views of those western scholars who advocate that the art of writing came to India from the Middle-East from North or South Semitic scripts. The review of the leading opinions of western scholars shows that they turn to the Hieratic, Cuneiform, Phoenician, Himyaritic, Sabaean, Aramaic and Kharosthi in search of the origins of Brahmi. Rhys Davids hopes to discover some unknown presemitic script to prove an external origin. This irreconcilable divergence of opinions serves to show that any similarity of the Brãhmi with any of the aforesaid scripts is more speculative than real. The absence of unanimity among those who addressed themselves to this research is a patent proof of their indecisive efforts and tentative conclusions based on inadequate evidences or prejudices or predispositions. Their assertiveness not infrequently smacks of dogmatic fanaticism, which is not exactly in conformity with the requirements of dispassionate scholarship.

In the fifth chapter we have dwelt at length on the views expressing Indian origin of the Brãhmi script. Prominent proponents of the indigenous origin are M. M. G. H. Ojha, D. R. Bhandarkar, R. Shamasastry, Cunningham, Edward Thomas, John Dowson, A. C. Das, Raj Bali Pandey, K. N. Dikshit, D. C. Sircar, Rai Bahadur Bishun Svarup, Atul K. Sur, Langdon and Hunter. In the sixth chapter we have critically examined the relationship of Brãhmi with the Harappan script.

In the year 1975, I had shown my work with illustrations to Prof. Lallanji Gopal of Benaras Hindu University before it was submitted as a part of my doctoral thesis. I am happy to learn that Prof. Gopal, like several other scholars, has agreed to my Geometric Signs theory which is apparent from his views expressed in an article contained in the book entitled, The Origin of Brãhmi Script, edited by S. P. Gupta and K. S. Ramchandran, 1979.

We have critically reviewed all the earlier researches relating to the origin of Brãhmi, and have arrived at our own conclusions presented in their proper context. We strongly sense a correlation between pre-existing geometrical forms and later signs of the Bramhi script. Our geometric signs theory of the origin of Brähmi script has been discussed in detail in the last chapter which forms the conclusion of the present work.



Brãhmi script makes its maiden appearance and bursts into full youth in the celebrated inscriptions of the Maurya emperor Moka. Earliest written records in India in the historical period, these inscriptions hold the key to a proper understanding of the subject in this part of the world. Asoka used the Kharosthi, Aramaic and Greek scripts hi the north-west where they were common; everywhere else throughout the country he used Brahmi which was thus carried to the four corners his far flung empire. The Kharosthi and the Greek scripts were kept alive for some time after Asoka during the brief spell of foreign rule in ancient India. With the decadence of the Kusãnas, however, these scripts gradually disappeared from India leaving no vestiges behind. Thus Kharosthi, Greek and Aramaic scripts could not take roots on Indian soil, while Brähmi which outmatched all other scripts in accuracy and perfection, became popular throughout this sub-continent. Not only that, it became the progenitor of most of modern Indian scripts and also those of South-east Asia. While there is no dispute about the origin of Greek, Aramaic or Kharosthi, the beginnings of Brãhmi elude the grasp of historian. Most of the western scholars hastened to the conclusion that Brãhmi came to India from the Middle East, from the North or South Semitic scripts. Prominent proponents of a Semitic origin were Sir William Jones, Kopp, Lepsius, Stephenson, Geisler, Weber, Benfey, Pott, ‘Westergaard, Max Muller, Friedrich Muller, Whitney, Henry Kern, Paul Goldschmidt, Senart, Burnell, Bühler, M. Lenormant, G. V. Bobrinskoy, Sayce, Don Martino De Zilva Wickremsinghe, Barnett, Rapson, Amelja Hertz, and K. Groenbech, besides Deecke, Isaac Taylor, R.N. Gust, Diringer and Dani. James Prinsep and Autfried Muller, M. Joseph Halévy and Wilson attributed the peculiarities of Brãhmi alphabet to Greek influences.

There were many western scholars, however, who thought otherwise, and attributed the origin of Brãhmi to indigenous ingenuity. They include Lassen, John Dowson, Sir Alexander Cunningham, Edward Thomas, Langdon and G. R. Hunter.

G. H. Ojha gave incontrovertible arguments to question Buhler’s derivation of Brãhmi from the North Semitic. His views are reinforced by D. R. Bhandarkar, R. Shamasastry and others who advocate an Indian origin of the Brãhmi. The internal evidence of the Vedic literature marshalled by Ojha with unerring insight akin to forensic acumen demonstrates the inevitability of writing in the Vedic period. What was the nature and form of is Vedic writing? These are questions yet awaiting a definitive answer in the absence of written or epigraphic material that could survive e ravages of time. The perishable quality of written documents quickened by the Indian climate may probably account for the loss of written evidence. The paucity of evidence decries caution defies dogmatism in the formulation of any conclusions.

The other extreme is represented by Abinash Chandra Das and Raj Bali Pandey who regard phoenicians to be the descendants of the Panis of the Rgveda. According to them, the Phoenicians originally belonged to India and carried the alpha: m here to western Asia. This theory is not supported by any convincing proof and remains a mere matter of subjective speculation, which may be interesting, but by no means credible.

The discovery of the Harappan script has changed the whole complexion of the question of Brãhmi’s origin. Langdon and Hunter tried to establish some connection between the Asokan Brãhmi and the Harappan script. We may only visualise possibilities and probabilities in this regard until a final verdict is pronounced after a successful decoding of the mystery of the Harappan letters.

We visualise the possibility of a correlation between pre-existing geometrical forms and later signs of the Brãhmi script. The knowledge of geometrical symbols in ancient India is proved both by the Harappan and early Vedic evidences. Geometry as a science was first invented in India by the Aryans for framing the rules for the construction of sacrificial altars. From the application of mathematical knowledge to the exigencies of religious life, sacrifices, rituals, construction of altars etc., and in the realm of art, it is more than clear that the Rgvedic Aryans not only knew geometry but applied it in many fields including art. No wonder, therefore, if these geometric signs, already prevalent before the emergence of Brãhmi, may have given birth to the letters of alphabet. A scrutiny of the Brahmi would reveal how closely these letters are related to the forms of the circle, ellipse, angle, triangle and the square quadrangle. Therefore, the derivation of the former from the latter is by no means beyond the realm of possibility. The evolution of the Brãhmi script from the geometrical figures is demonstrated our Tables. We have tried to explain at length origin of every letter from geometric signs and its illustration in the Tables serves better than any verbal description. Some of the letters have been grouped together on the basis of their common .

The letters of Brãhmi are fully classified and cope splendidly with the requirements of language they are meant to serve. Thus, on account of the universal appeal and paramount importance of Brahmi and the controversies involved in. its origin we have sought to present a detailed study of the of Brãhmi script.

.We have taken stock of all the work that has been done before more or less in a chronological sequence and have pointed out the pitfalls that prevent conviction. Even here we have some thing new to say, which is quite plausible, if not quite definitive We hope in all humility that our will be deemed worthwhile by those whose words weigh in the scales of scholarship.




  Foreword v
  Preface ix
  Acknowledgements xi
  Abbreviations xv
  Table of Transliteration xix
  List of Illustrations xxi
1 Introduction 1
2 Harappan Script: The Earlist Evidence of Writing in India 6
3 Appearance of the Brahmi Script: its Characteristics Features 14
4 Theories on the Foreign Origin of Bhrami Script and their Evaluation 18
5 Theories on the Indigenous Origin of Brahmi 48
6 The Harappan Script and the Brahmi 88
7 The Origin of Brahmi Script from the Geometric Signs 99
8 Appendix I 126
9 Appendix II 129
10 Bibliography 141
11 Index 163

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