Well, may be not so cool: Sanskrit script?

Dipak Bhattacharya dbhattacharya2004 at YAHOO.CO.IN
Tue Jan 12 12:26:59 UTC 2010

Dear Scholars,
As to the meaning of the term śāradā the following excerpt from Roth’s Der Atharvaveda in Kaschmir (13-14) may be of interest 
“Herr T.H.thornton schreibt unter dem 23. Mai: … 
…I have had an opportunity while at Srinagar of seeing a Ms. 
written in the Sharda character, which appears to me to so closely 
resemble the ordinary written Nagri that there would be no difficulty 
to a Sanskrit Scholar interpreting it. … --I may mention that the Sharda 
character is the character in which the Kashmir Sanskrit Manuscripts 
are ordinarily written. The name is said to be derived from Sardah
a village in the vicinity of Chilas.”
Roth comments 
“Gegen diese kaschmirische Etymologie besten einige Bedenken. Das Wort ist
Wohl arabischen Ursprungs und bedeutet Urkundenschrift…” 
In his support Roth cites shurṯah, shurṯī and sharṯ meaning ‘writer’, ‘notary’ and ‘contract’.
Best wishes

--- On Tue, 12/1/10, Mrinal Kaul <mrinalkaul81 at GMAIL.COM> wrote:

From: Mrinal Kaul <mrinalkaul81 at GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: Well, mzybe not so cool: Sanskrit script?
To: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
Date: Tuesday, 12 January, 2010, 12:16 PM

Dear Indologists, 

I think scholars like Professor Walter Slaje and others have made almost all important points and that leaves nothing much for me to say. We know that Śāradā has been in use in Kashmir since 9th CE. The Brahmī script used in the North-western part of Ancient India underwent a change circa 9th CE and the proto-Śāradā script was created. In the regions like Himachal Pradesh and Jammu the common script used was Ṭākarī. But this script remained popular only from 9th to 14th cen. CE. Today, even the local people of Jammu or Himachal do not know that the script of their language was Ṭākarī. They commonly use the Devanagari script now.

We do not have any strong evidence to show why the script in Kashmir is called Śāradā (apart from the reasons cited by Prof Slaje). We usually allude to the local heresy. As for the Kashmiri language, I do not think that there is much literature available that is written in Śāradā script. The oldest being the Bāṇāsukathā, the Sukhadukhacarita, and the Mahānayaprakāśa. Later we do find the Vāks of Lal Ded (14th CE) and Rūpa Bhavanī (17th CE) also written in Śāradā. Of course with the advent Islamic rule the use of Persio-Arbic script was also introduced that continues till date. The peculiar phenomenon with Kashmir was that one could find pandits well versed both in Sanskrit and Persian languages. A well know example of this was Pandit Ishvar Kaul (1833-1893 CE) besides many others. This feature made many pandits use Nastalique for writing Sanskrit. I knew some people who could only read Sanskrit in Nastalique. There is still a good
 collection of Sanskrit Mss preserved in the Oriental Research Library and the Sri Pratap Museum Library in Srinagar those are written in the Nastalique script. In fact when I used to share this with my other non-Kashmiri Sanskritists, they were always astonished. 

Grierson has tried to use both the Devanagari and the Nastalique in his Kashmiri manual, dictionary etc. Some earlier pandits like Srinath Tickoo and others have tried to employ a peculiar quality of Śāradā script to produce the typical sounds of Kashmiri language, but, in my opinion, they have failed. The same scheme is also employed by Mukundram Shastri in the Kashmiri story that he writes in the second part of the eighth volume of the "Linguistic Survey of India". Today the majority of pandits use Devanagari for writing Kashmiri. They also justify that the Devanagari is the one and only script in which Kashmiri can be best expressed. On the other hand the Nastalique is the script recognized by the Indian constitution and all the books published in Kashmiri language by the Sahitya Academy or the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages are printed in the Nastalique script. I guess Nastalique is also very popular among the Kashmiri
 Musalmans and Devanagari amongst the Kashmiri pandits. The use of Nastalique for writing Kashmiri language is also based only on the usage of 'zer', 'zabar' and 'pesh', those, I am told, do not convey the best sounds of Kashmiri language. The Śāradā was mostly used for writing Sanskrit alone. The Śāradā script never had a printing press. This also played a major role in the extinction of the script in the valley besides many others. The first book to be printed in the Śāradā script was a Kashmiri translation of the Bible (I do not have the reference with me right now). All I can recall is that it was printed outside of Kashmir valley using big full page blocks engraved on metallic surfaces. 

The Jammu and Kashmir Research and Publication Department that was launched by Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1900 CE used to loan Śāradā Mss from the local pandits and transcribed them into the Devanagari script to make a press copy of the text. These press copies were sent either to Bombay, Pune or Allahabad for printing. I guess there was no Devanagari printing press in Kashmir that point of time. I can also recall that Pandit Keshav Bhatta Jyotshi who was a famous priest and a religious activist in Kashmir had got many of the Karma-kāṇda books printed from Mumbai on his own expenses. I think, later he also owned a press in Srinagar. I think the Devanagari was revived in Kashmir by Keshava Bhatta even though the use of Persio-Arabic script is still continued by the local priests. Some priests, as I have witnessed, are more comfortable with the Persio-Arabic script than the Devanagari. They can read Sanskrit faster in Nastalique than Devanagari. Most
 of the Karma-kāṇda books are published in both the scripts for the convenience of the readers. The Kashmiri almanac is also published in both the script every year till date that contains all sort of Sanskrit prayers in both the scripts besides the yearly calendar. 

Maharaja Ranbir Singh (1830-1885 CE) was a great patron of Sanskrit and Persian. He established a big translation department in Jammu where he employed pandits from Kashmir to transcribe the Śāradā Mss into the Devanagari. Eventually all these Mss today form a part of the Ranbir Sanskrit Research Library (formerly Raghunath Temple Library). The Devanagari written by these Pandits came to be known as Kashmirian Devanagari. I also hear that Pandits were some times demanded by the Kings of Varanasi and there was a small translation department there. I think there was more of transcribing going on in this translation department.

As far as I recall having heard from the Sanskrit pandits of Kashmir, they said that their forefathers used to sit back home in winters and copy the Bhagavad Gita, the Puranas, the Mahabharata etc. and then go to the plains of Indian subcontinent to sell their Mss. I presume these Mss should have been in Devanagari because not many people outside of Kashmir would know Śāradā. This suggests a probability that pandits were not completely alien to Devanagari. Of course crossing the huge mountain ranges to visit the plains of Indian subcontinent and then coming back would have been a strong challenge in those days.


Yours sincerely,

Mrinal Kaul

Mrinal Kaul 
(Doctoral Fellow)
Concordia University
Department of Religion, FA-101
1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd West
Montreal, Quebec
Cell: +1-514-8028228
e-mail: mrinal.kaul at stx.oxon.org 

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