Well, mzybe not so cool: Sanskrit script?

Dipak Bhattacharya dbhattacharya2004 at YAHOO.CO.IN
Tue Jan 5 05:05:28 UTC 2010

'Whenever a member of the public says anything that implies that Sanskrit as a language is linked to a particular writing system'
This is the layman's ie not so knowledgeable non-specialists' position in India. I did not know about any confusion in the West before the current correspondences started. But specialists I ever met were very clear in their conception of the distinction between the script and the language. There might have been a bit of  innocent over-statement by Allen.
As for the acceptance of the Nagari script as the standard script for Sanskrit the names of Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, the great nineteenth century reformer who fought for women's rights since the 1840s and published his editions in Devnagari, and that of Bhudev Mukhopadhyay who worked for the propagation of Hindi  -- both were Bengali and stationed at Calcutta --  may be mentioned. 
As the matter stands the facts are recorded in Bengali. Sukumar Sen (Bharatkosh 4, 1970, Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, Calcutta) does not speak of any special movement for accepting the Nagai script for Sanskrit but emphasizes the currency of the practice as the standard one since the nineteenth century. 
The facts about Vidyasagar and Bhudev Mukhopadhyay will be found recorded in the relevant volumes of the Sahitya Sadhak Charitamala, Brajendranath Bandyopadhyay, Bangiya Sahitya Parishat.
The earliest publications (Upanishads: Ram Mohan Roy, 1817) were in the Bengali script. In the sixties Satyavrata Samasrami brought out his edition of the Samaveda in Nagari. So did Ānandachandra Vedāntavagīśa for the Lātyāyāna-Śrautasūtra (1870). A brief history may be found in a forthcoming volume (in English) on Bengal’s contribution to Vedic text-criticism, RBU, Kolkata. 
Maxmuller’s contribution (RV ed.) and that of the Asiatic Society count heavily.
Enough I think.   Thanks and best wishes

--- On Tue, 5/1/10, Allen W Thrasher <athr at LOC.GOV> wrote:

From: Allen W Thrasher <athr at LOC.GOV>
Subject: Re: Well, mzybe not so cool: Sanskrit script?
To: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
Date: Tuesday, 5 January, 2010, 3:43 AM

"Did Sanskrit ever have a 'dedicated' script in the North? Grantha belongs to the South. A few other dedicated scripts eg., Nadinagari, were developed in the Decaan. But none became popular in the nineteenth century. Oriya has ever been as good for Oriya as for Sanskrit. So is Devnagari for Hindi and Sanskrit, Count Bengali, Telugu and Malayalam and Kannad too among others. And Gujarati, Newari, the Brahmi and post-Brahmi script and others I miss.  Similar to Latin, French, English,post-Kemal Turkish and post-war German? A situation ripe for Lewis Carroll. 

I have always wondered if anyone has done a study of the progress of the use of Devanagari for Sanskrit.  Is it a result of the development of a mass (pan-Indian, plus Western scholarly) market for printed Sanskrit?  After what date would a South Indian or Bengali pundit or purohit be more likely than not to know Nagari in addition to his regional script?

I have a vague memory that at some stage the Government of British India decided it would not subsidize any Sanskrit publications that weren't in Nagari, but can't for the life of me recall where I read or heard this. Has anyone heard of anything of the sort? Are there counter-examples?

Whenever a member of the public says anything that implies that Sanskrit as a language is linked to a particular writing system, I emphatically state that it is a language, something spoken, and that any script can be used for it, and that the same is true for Pali.  It is interesting, indeed, that Sanskrit and Pali are the only languagesthat come to mind that are used across a large area, with a sacral aspect although also used (in the case of Sanskrit) for many diverse secular purposes, which are not linked with a single script.  How different from Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Chinese, Arabic, Persian, and Church Slavonic.  It seems that with them the script enters into the sociolinguistic definition of the language in a way it doesn't in Sanskrit and Pali.

Happy New Year to everyone.


Allen W. Thrasher, Ph.D.
Senior Reference Librarian
Team Coordinator
South Asia Team, Asian Division
Library of Congress, Jefferson Building 150
101 Independence Ave., S.E.
Washington, DC 20540-4810
tel. 202-707-3732; fax 202-707-1724; athr at loc.gov
The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Library of Congress.

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