Well, mzybe not so cool: Sanskrit script?

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at UNI-MUENCHEN.DE
Tue Jan 5 15:07:41 UTC 2010

Op 05.01.10 08:45 schreef Walter Slaje:

>> > "Did Sanskrit ever have a 'dedicated' script in the North?
> à propos "North": Devanagari was not used in Kashmir until it was 
> established under Hindu (Dogra) rule (second half of the nineteenth 
> century). Previously, Sanskrit was written exclusively in 
> (Proto-)Sarada characters. The Pandits, being unaccustomed to it, 
> adopted Nagari only hesitantly and not without reservation. [...]

The standardized use of Nagari for Sanskrit should be seen in the wider 
context of linguistic innovation in the nineteenth century. One 
significant detail is found in the valuable book by Suniti Kumar 
Chatterji, _Indo-Aryan & Hindi_. Calcutta: K.L. Mukhopadhyay, 1969 
(repr.). The book consists of lectures given in Ahmedabad in 1940. 
Writing about the propagation of so-called 'High-Hindi', he says:

"The great recommendation of High-Hindi (or Nāgarī-Hindi) for its Hindu 
supporters lies in its Nāgarī alphabet (which under British rule has 
become the accepted all-India script for Sanskrit: being used for the 
Deva-bhāṣā or 'the language of the Gods', it acquired in recent times 
the honoured name Deva-nāgarī, and this added to its prestige, a good 
many people imagining that it was the Original Alphabet of Sanskrit): in 
other words, because it reflects in two vital matters - script and 
vocabulary - the Language of the Gods - the Deva-bhāṣā - as we use it in 
India now." (p. 165)

I dimly recall (perhaps this too is found somewhere in this book) that 
the British decided to use Nagari as the standard script for Sanskrit 
after the founding of the universities in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, 
so that graduates from those three institutions needed to master only 
one script to read whatever was printed in those three universities; 
Grantha script was too complex, and Bengali script was elegant but not 
so easy to learn as the more clunky Nagari that was used in the Bombay 
area. (The universities were founded in 1857, so that fits the present 
discussion excellently.) I suspect that Grierson's _Linguistic Survey of 
India_ will provide more information.

South India confirms that Sanskrit was (and still is, to a large extent) 
written in whatever script is being used for the modern language in the 

As for the matter of "Hindi script" (cf. Dipak Bhattacharya, Jan. 1), 
see Christopher King's book _One Language, Two Scripts_ (Oxford 
University Press, 1999), about the largely artificial breaking away of 
'Hindi' from Urdu.

Prof. Dr. Robert J. Zydenbos
Department fuer Asienstudien - Institut fuer Indologie und Tibetologie
Universitaet Muenchen
Tel. (+49-89-) 2180-5782
Fax  (+49-89-) 2180-5827

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