About the Book
The study of Indian palaeography grew out of the necessity for deciphering the large number of inscriptions found in the sub-continent. A further development came through the need to use the changing forms of letters as an aid to determining the dates of some inscriptions. For this latter purpose we now have a large number of charts at our disposal. Yet an absolute chronology has not been possible. The present work is intended to explain the difficulty, to redefine palaeography in the context of our technological advances and to seek, through its study, a better understanding of the civilization of south Asia. The book covers a wide field and deals with written materials from the earliest period to the eighth century AD found all over this far-flung area, and it explains, with the help of figures and charts, the interrelation of the cultures to the various zones.
This second edition carries a new Preface with a section of Indian Numerals.
About the Author
Dr A.H. Dani, the Professor Emeritus at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan, has been founder General Secretary of Asiatic Society, Dhaka, where he started Journal of Asiatic Society; in 1962 he founded the Department of Archaeology, University of Peshawar, and introduced the annual bulletin, Ancient Pakistan to make the new archaeological discoveries known to scholars; in 1972 he organised the Faculty of Social Sciences as its Dean in Islamabad and was instrumental in initiating the Islamabad University Press with his own book on Alberuni as its first publication; since the foundation of International Association for the Study of Cultures of Central Asia in 1973 he has been its Vice-President and publishing the biannual Journal of Central Asia on its behalf; presently engaged in exploring and deciphering the inscriptions along the Karakorum highway, his latest book is a new study on the Historic City of Taxila (1984).
The study of Indian palaeography began nearly 180 years ago with the interpretation of a number of medieval inscriptions by members of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. During the last century knowledge of ancient Indian scripts progressed rapidly, until practically all the epigraphs of the sub-continent were intelligible. About sixty years ago the accumulated knowledge of over 100 years was consolidated in Buhler's Indische Palaographie, which became the standard textbook on the subject. Since its appearance the only similar work of major importance to be published was Professor G. S. Ojha's Bharatiya Lipimala (1918) in Hindi. In the last forty years many new inscriptions have been published, and the technique of the palaeographer has much advanced; hence both books are now out of date in many respects. Moreover, both have long been out of print, and the ·student of Indian palaeography has been much hampered by the impossibility of obtaining a suitable manual for use outside the library reading-room.
My friend Dr. A. H. Dani has rendered a great service to Indology in producing this detailed study. Taking into account the many epigraphs not available to Buhler and Ojha, he has given a more complete survey of the evolution of the Indian scripts than any earlier scholar, and has brought the study of Indian palaeography to a degree of precision well beyond that reached by his two predecessors. His charts show many forms not recorded in those of the earlier scholars, and his text is the result of much original thought and study.
Our knowledge of early Indian history depends very much on epigraphs, many of them undated. Thus this work is of great importance to the historian, and will long remain an essential companion to his studies. It is to be hoped that Dr. Dani will continue his researches and produce a second volume, covering the medieval period, and providing a complete survey of Indian scripts down to recent times.
It is particularly gratifying that this is the work of a Muslim scholar. Many Hindus have in the past studied the 'Muslim Period' of Indian history, and have produced works of major importance on it, but hitherto no Muslim has made a major contribution to the study of the history of the subcontinent before the coming of Islam. It is to be hoped that other Muslims will be encouraged by this work to take up the study of ancient Indian history, and of the culture of the people who were their own ancestors, as they were the ancestors of the Hindus. This may well be the first of many studies of early India from Muslim scholars, and a token of developing friendship and cultural collaboration between India and Pakistan.
The following pages attempt to trace the evolution of the scripts originating from the Indian Brahmi and Kharoshthi, As these styles of writing spread beyond the subcontinent of India and Pakistan, the scope of the book has been expanded so as to trace the development of these scripts in Central and South-east Asia. We have tried to link this development with the expansion of the civilization of the subcontinent into the neighbouring areas.
Palaeography is not confined to the study of the shapes of letters in the abstract. I have endeavoured to go beyond the mere shapes and search for the different traditions which govern a type following a set pattern on account of particular techniques. Writing is .thus treated as an art, resulting from a given culture. The different styles are only different traits in a cultural complex, and their analysis not only veriables us to fix the type of writing that was prevalent at a particular period and in a particular place, but also provides a clue to the understanding of the culture within which the writing operated, It is only in the background of the cultural evolution that the writing styles can be properly followed and changes in them adequately explained. In the absence of this under- standing the letters become mere shapes produced whimsically at random, but that is hardly true of any system of writing. The letter-forms are a part of culture, and palaeography defines them within that culture. In the following pages this concept is for the first time applied to the study of Indian palaeography.
In the past Indian palaeography has been studied mainly in order to provide a chronometer to date otherwise undated monuments or events of history on the basis of the shapes of letters which were reduced to chronological tables. But this method can never supply infallible dates. It is vain to treat the writing styles as an indicator of time any more accurate than any other particular trait in a given culture. The styles are to be understood in a particular context and are an effective means of dating within that context, but outside this sphere they are to be treated as falling within the compass of influence and counter-influence. On this hypothesis it is possible to establish a succession within a given culture and also to relate the different cultures in time. But the link is only cultural. It is not possible to provide a mathematically precise table of dates. However, the following pages will show the value of these links, not only in understanding historical events, but also in tracing the origin of different local cultures.
The scope of the present book is limited to the eighth century A.D., when the writing had developed into proto-regional scripts. The later growth of the regional scripts is linked up with the evolution of the provincial languages, when particular scripts became identified with the latter. Their development requires a volume by itself. A chapter on the Indus Script and the later symbols has, however, been added here in order to familiarize readers with these systems. A glossary of terms is given at the end of the book, which will enable the readers to follow the definitions given in the text.
Finally, it is my pleasant duty to thank all those who have helped me in one way or the other in the writing of this book. I am much beholden to all my predecessors in the field whose works I have consulted with great profit, and it is on their foundation that I have built up the present edifice. I am indebted to the authorities of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, who were good enough to offer me a research associateship, financed by the Rockefeller Foundation, which enabled me to work in London and complete this book. To Professor A. L. Basham I can hardly repay my debt. He not only suggested to In" that I should undertake this work but encouraged' me throughout by his friendly advice and criticism. He found time to read through the manuscript line by line with me and suggest many corrections, and finally agreed to write the foreword. I am obliged to him that he has allowed me to include, his name on the dedication page. It is most tragic that, just when the text had been retyped, I heard the sad news of the death of my revered teacher, Professor A. S. Altekar, who was mainly responsible for creating in me an interest in Indological studies. It is from him that I first learned Indian palaeography, when I was a student in Banaras Hindu University. I am also obliged to Mr. A. H. Christie, who not only helped me in preparing the bibliography for South-east Asia, but also managed to obtain for me a further grant to prolong my stay in London and work on the palaeography of this region. Besides these, I had the benefit of consulting a number of persons at the School of Oriental and African Studies, who ungrudgingly spared time to solve my difficulties. Among these I must mention myoid teacher, Professor K. de B. Codrington, who went through my chapter on the Asokan Brahmi ; Professor J. Brough, with whom I discussed the problem of the origin of the script; Professor C. J. Gadd, with whom I talked on the Indus Script; Dr. F. R. Allchin, who went through most of the chapters and favoured me with his criticism; Mr. Douglas Barrett, who read through my chapter on the Provincial Brahmi: Dr. C. S. Upasak, whom I consulted on the Asokan Brahmi; and Dr. David Diringer, who was good enough to show me his collection on the alphabets. I am also obliged to the staff of the library at the School of Oriental and African Studies and the librarian, Royal Asiatic Society, London, for all the help that they kindly gave. In conclusion, I must record the name of Professor C. H. Phi lips, Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies, who not only obtained leave for me from the University of Dacca, but also took a keen interest in my work during my stay in London .
Preface to the second edition
Preface to the first edition
List of Plates
The Indus Script
Origin of Brahmi
The Provincial Brahmi Script to the Middle of the first Century
Brahmi Writing Styles between the First and the Fourth centuries A.D.
The Proto-Regional Script
The Kharoshthi Script
Appendix Glossary of Terms
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