scripts and Sanskrit

Dominic Goodall dominic.goodall at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 12 03:58:09 UTC 2010

In the discussion about scripts used for Sanskrit over the last few  
days, the widespread use of Devanāgarī (outside its "native" area)  
well before print seems to have been somewhat overlooked.

S.A. Srinivasan's discussion of contamination has some interesting  
remarks on the relationship between Devanāgarī and other scripts on  
pp.4--5 of his edition of the Tattvakaumudī.
(Vācaspatimiśras Tattvakaumudī. Ein Beitrag zur Textkritik bei  
kontaminierter Überlieferung.
Srinavasa Ayya Srinivasan. Hamburg, 1967.)

Srinivasan is, as he explains, echoing Sukthankar's prolegomena to the  
Ādiparvan of the Mahābhārata, on p.LXII of which, for instance, we  
may read:

"The Devanāgarī script plays in the Mahābhārata textual tradition  
the important rôle of being the commonest medium of the contamination  
of different Mahābhārata versions.  A Devanāgarī manuscript of the  
Mahābhārata may, in fact, contain practically any version or  
combination of versions."

Geographical location no doubt goes a long way to explain the  
dominance of Devanāgarī.  Presumably centres such as Benares, a  
pilgrimage site and therefore a place at which many texts must have  
been copied by people from many regions, had a role to play.

And long before Devanāgarī, there is evidence of the use, in certain  
contexts, of a North-Indian standard (a proto-Nāgarī) well beyond  
North Indian boundaries: digraphic inscriptions (using both a South  
Indian and a North Indian script type) are found on Pallava monuments  
of the early C8th, for instance, and somewhat later in Cambodia.

One wonders, by the way, what centres (and what other factors) created  
the South Indian and South East Asian script-standard of the 5th to  
8th centuries.

As for script-names, these are notoriously uncertain. Is it known when  
the Kashmirian script became known as Śāradā ?  And is there any old  
name at all known for the South Indian script-type so very widely used  
in the 5th to 8th centuries ?  South-East-Asianists today, of course,  
call it "Pallava Grantha"; but presumably this wasn't how it was known  
in C6th Karnataka or C6th Orissa or C6th Cambodia.

Dominic Goodall

Pondicherry Centre,
Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient

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