Well, mzybe not so cool: Sanskrit script?

Ashok Aklujkar ashok.aklujkar at UBC.CA
Tue Jan 12 05:11:08 UTC 2010

Dr. Dominic Goodall's excellent posting, "script and Sanskrit," reminded me
that I had forgotten to finalize and mail a text I had drafted on 11
January. DG  has made my first point in a much better way -- with precise
evidence and mention of a rewarding connection with the conflation
phenomenon noticed in mss.

My text ran thus:

I have benefited considerably from the discussion that has so far taken
place. I wish to add five points to it.

1. While concluding that the association of Sanskrit with Devanagari has
grown over the latter half of the 19th century and most of the 20th century
and that historically Skt did not have exclusive association with any
particular script, we should not overlook the fact that there was a wide
enough basis in manuscripts for Skt to make its association with Nagari
stronger and stronger. From Varanasi to Lahore and from Delhi to Ahmedabad
(if not beyond these geographical specifications which I have chosen
somewhat arbitrarily), even pre-British mss of Skt (and Prakrit) works  are
written in forms of Nagari that differ only in limited and relatively minor
ways from Devanagari. Just as Hindi with its various dialects had a natural
advantage when an official language was to be decided for independent India,
Nagari in its several mutually close forms had a natural advantage when
printing technology was to be used. The spread and growing acceptance of
Devanagari should, therefore, not be viewed as primarily coming from some
kind of British policy. Rather, at an earlier time, the policy is more
likely to have been shaped by the ground realities, although in a later time
it could have affected the ground reality.

2. When we come to the late 19th and early 20th century, the point that was
made in an earlier posting regarding the absence of ;Saaradaa printing fonts
should be taken seriously. See p. 9 fn 12 of Kaul, Mrinal; Aklujkar, Ashok.
2008.  (eds) Linguistic Traditions of Kashmir. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

3. In just about the same period, the publications of the Nirnaya Sagar
Press and the Venkatesh Steam Press seem to have made a great contribution
to the spread of Devanagari and to strengthening its association with Skt.
The inexpensive, accurate and attractively printed  publications of these
presses were very popular (I intend "attractively printed" as applicable
only to the NSP). I have heard it from a teacher of mine that Suniti Kumar
Chatterjee used to express this view in his lectures. Jivananda Vidyasagara
also must have made a similar contribution in an earlier period when
editions were not copyrighted; cf. pp. 167-168 of Aklujkar, Ashok. 2008.
"What more can the editors of Sanskrit texts do?" in Tattvabodha, vol. II,
(ed) Chakravarty, Kalyan Kumar. New Delhi: National Mission for Manuscripts,
pp. 165-189. 

4. It is my impression that Devanagari was generally referred to as "Hindi
script" in South India in the first three decades after India's
independence. Its identification as "Skt script" is relatively later.
However, my impression may be based on very limited experience or faulty

5. Some reflection of what the situation could have been like when
government policy began to promote Nagari can be seen in the current state
of Gujarati. Publications in Gujarati language, especially the ones
concerning Skt, Prakrit, Jainism etc., that is, concerning topics of
potentially pan-Indian interest, frequently use Nagari instead of or in
addition to the traditional Gujarati script. (Marathi has gone beyond this
stage. It has completely given up its Mo.dii script, a cousin of the
traditional Gujarati script.)

Ashok Aklujkar


We should note that "mzybe" in the title of this discussion thread is a typo
for "maybe". Otherwise, a hundred years down the road, some historical
linguist will use "mzybe" to build an elaborate theory about the kind of
English we spoke in our time! 

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