review article

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at
Sat Aug 24 02:20:46 UTC 1996

While it may be possible that the Brahmi script was completely invented 
in Asoka's time, shouldn't one expect some record of such invention 
somewhere? Surely, the introduction of a script and its widespread use 
(with regional variations) over vast regions in Asoka's empire must have 
meant a significant change in the culture of a people who had absolutely 
no writing prior to the event. Didn't a king who meticulously recorded 
the missions of various dhamma-mahamatras feel the need to record so 
significant a change as introducing writing in a preliterate society?   

I am not asking this question lightly. The absence of evidence of writing 
prior to Asoka's time is interpreted as evidence of absence of writing. 
Similarly, does not Asoka's silence on the issue qualify as evidence 
that the Brahmi script was not invented by him? 

My point is that nowhere does absence of evidence imply evidence of absence. 
Just as arguments for the existence of a script prior to Asoka are weak, so 
also is the argument that Asoka (or a team of scholars sponsored by him, or 
by some other Mauryan king, for that matter) invented the script. Given that 
the radiocarbon dating from the recent finds from Sri Lanka have been doubted,
all that can be legitimately said is that the earliest evidence of the Brahmi 
script is in Asoka's inscriptions, which is nothing more than a statement of 

S. Vidyasankar

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