review article

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at
Mon Aug 26 23:02:05 UTC 1996

On Mon, 26 Aug 1996, Harry Falk wrote:

> For scientists believing is methodologically unsound, but nonetheless
> attractive. Particularly in those cases when it comes to decide
> how to interpret "absence of evidence", which may be understood as
> "evidence of absence" or not. We need other arguments, of a different
> nature, to decide the case.  

That is exactly my point. However, the other arguments had better be of a 
conclusive nature if the case is to be decided. We come across such 
situations in the physical sciences and engineering almost everyday. 

> > 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 
> > fact. 
> No, we can say much more, but not by departing from what we have not but
> from positive evidence. I mean the development of style, orthography,
> text arrangement etc. evident when comparing his earliest with his
> latest texts. See my article "The art of writing at the time of the
> Pillar Edicts of Asoka" in Berliner Indologische Studien 7,1993, 79-102.
> In a nutshell: within 16 years Ashoka learned eminently. His texts go
> from chaos to perfection. If there would have been the ominous "long
> tradition of writing" he, or better his scribes, would not have had to
> depart from chaos. 

I am not saying that there was a "long tradition of writing" prior to 
Asoka. As I said in the earlier mail, the evidence for such a position is 
very weak, to say the least. 

I trust that the doubts over which are Asoka's earliest and which are his 
latest inscriptions have been resolved completely unambiguously. I seem to 
remember reading somewhere that what has been taken to represent the age 
of an inscription is actually no more than an indication of geographical 
variation. If the case for time dependence (as opposed to regional 
variation) is iron-clad, that strengthens the argument that Asoka's scribes 
invented Brahmi. Not otherwise. 


S. Vidyasankar

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