The Origins of Scripts

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Origins of Scripts
Across the world, since the early history of writing, scribes and writers have been part of an elite school. Writing was also an important measure of self-worth and social standing. As George Jean writes in Writing: The Story of Alphabets and Script, “Knowing how to write was already a source of considerable power. This knowledge was to remain a privilege”. The Akshara project of Crafting Indian Scripts revives and reinvents artistic applications of writing in earlier times.

Lacquered wooden book stand decorated with floral design.

The description written in the form of an abstract design on the outside of the main text is called the Hashia (Border).

Handi – cooking vessel, a copper vessel for cooking rice and dal. The outer top part in nickeling and the bottom part in copper has Islamic calligraphy.

Brass vessel.

Horoscope in a scroll form. Cloth, decorated with colourful designs, symbols and numerical motifs.

Hanuman Pataka inscribed all over with mantras.

Horoscope in the form of a book with illustrations.

Lacquered wood with Jain nagri – alphabets.

Alam, Muslim standards(brass).
Bismillah hi Rahman hi Raheem,Allahumma yaa zal – arshil azeeme w yaa khairan nasiireen w yaa mursi laryiyahi w yaa naafizal arwahi w yaa zal – zaudi wal karami
I will start by the name of the Almighty Allah; most beneficial, most merciful. Oh Almighty Allah who owns a huge Arsh and who is the best helper and who is the sender of winds and who reveals the dawn and who bestows soul to the body and who bestows generously and who is all about eternal bounty.

Part of a brocade fabric for jacket.

Many manuscripts were written on palm leaves, even after Indian languages were put on paper in the 13th century. Both sides of the leaves were used for writing. Long rectangular strips were gathered on top of one another, holes were drilled through all the leaves, and the book was held together by string. The palm leaf was an excellent surface for writing with a brass stylus, making possible the delicate lettering used in many of the scripts of southern Asia. Whether the script became angular (as in Devanagari, Bengali or Assamese) or rounded (as in Telugu, Malayalam or Kannada) depended on the original materials and instruments used by scribes and artisans in each region of India.

Tibetan prayer stone plaque.

Islamic yantra on copper plate.

The Middle Prakrit existed in many regional varieties, which eventually developed literatures of their own. Pali, the language of the Buddhist canonical writings, is the oldest literary Prakrit. It is supposed to be the language spoken by the Buddha but scholars believe that it was more likely he spoke a form of Magadhi, from eastern Bihar. It remains in liturgical use in Sri Lanka, Burma, now renamed Myanmar, and in sacred scripts used by Tibetans. Indian scripts travelled to Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Burma although, as happened within India, each region evolved them further according to the writing materials they used. Bodhi, read and spoken by Buddhists of India, Tibet and Nepal can be seen as another offshoot of Sanskrit. Pali and many other variants took different paths, creating the multi-script and multi-lingual nature of India’s linguistic heritage.

Copper plates were used as a base for early inscriptions. In north India, birch bark was used as a writing surface as early as the 2nd century. Many manuscripts were written on palm leaves, even after Indian languages were put on paper in the 13th century. Both sides of the leaves were used for writing.

Ganesha, Janampatri (paper scroll).

Nastaliq is a style of calligraphy style. Urdu is conventionally written in the Nastaliq calligraphy style of the Perso-Arabic script and draws its vocabulary from Persian, Arabic, Turkish and local languages.

Archival document on cloth scroll. Devanagiri script.

Dastarkhaan - Block printed cloth in Persian.

Yeh dastarkhaan pe nehamat Hai,m kya dost to kya dushman - His merciful treasure is laid out on the dastarkhaan, then who is a friend and who is an enemy

Jab sakhawat ka dastarkhaan bicch jta hai, o murg kaf me roji khata hai - When the dastarkhaan of enormous endowment is spread out, everyone consumes their daily meals

Nehamat ki naashukru karnese, nehamat haath se chali jaati hai - When the merciful treasure is misued, one be bereaved the possession of this treasure

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