Friday, July 6, 2012

Was Tamil script derived from Brahmi? – Some thoughts on Dr Nagaswamy’s book “Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit”.


The following article from The Hindu on a discussion with Dr Nagaswamy on his latest book "Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit" contains many break- through ideas which are likely to stay on in the coming decades, as independent studies on a variety of branches of analysis of the past history and culture of India have already started showing similar results. I for one, am doing an analysis from different angles which are recorded in my Tamil blog ( ), showing similar singular or unitary past for all the people of India. The one place where I differ from Dr Nagaswamy is in his belief (as with every archaeologist or linguist of today) that Tamil script was derived from Brahmi!

I have not read his book - but wish to read it soon, and so do not know exactly what he has said on Brahmi connection. But from what he has said in this interview, the Tamil-Sanskrit connection does not go with the claim that Tamil script was derived from Brahmi. Does it mean that Brahmi was also in existence when Sanskrit was there? In that case it would mean Tamil, Brahmi and Sanskrit had coexisted and developed together.

If Tamil has derived most of its grammar from Sanskrit, it would mean that a written script was already there or formed when grammar was developed. But Brahmi had a very later development, say as late as 3rd century BC only. The available inscriptions on Brahmi show an already developed Tamil. Of peculiar nature is the use of ALapedai – the extended letter which is used in poetry to conform with grammar. But this is found in proper nouns in the inscriptions. This can happen only when the writer does not exactly know how Tamil is written and where and how to apply grammar.  At some places the Brahmi letters are written upside down or in mirror view showing that the sculptor did not know the script but only tried to reproduce the shape from a source leaf in which it was first written.

Tamil Brahmi so far found in Tamilnadu does not have all the 12 Uyir ezuththu (soul –letters or vowels) of Tamil. Only 8 letters are available whereas the Tholkaapppiyam Grammar says in very certain terms that 12 letters are there. This could not have been told without 12 letters already given shape. For example the letter 'Ai' () has not been found in Brahmi inscriptions as a letter. The sound is adopted but the letter is written as a-iy (ய்). What we see in Brahmi inscriptions is the use of Brahmi to write the already developed Tamil. Why it could not write all the 12 letters if Tamil derived its letters from Brahmi?

The fact was when Brahmi entered Tamil lands, Tamil was already a developed language with its own script whose progenitor was Agasthya. Brahmi came to Tamilnadu with the Jains who spread their theology. They were opposed to the use of Sanskrit and hence formed their own script which in my opinion was derived from the pre-existing script in the Northwest regions of Indian sub continent among the artisans (perhaps the Indus script). To support this, we find Brahmi in potsherds excavated in Tamil lands that were occupied by VeLirs and the migrant people from Dwaraka (Indus civilisation). The Brahmi inscriptions are found only in Jain dwellings thereby showing that Jains taught or spread Brahmi writing. When they came to Tamilnadu, Tamil was already in popular use with a well developed grammar. They did not contribute anything to Tamil language but only wrote Tamil in Brahmi script. The use of (zha / )  is a case in point.

This letter zha is unique for Tamil. This letter is found in Tamil Brahmi inscriptions found in Tamilnadu. The interesting feature is that it is written in the same way as it is written even now. In other words, this is the only letter of Tamil Brahmi that has not changed over time and still remains now. What does this imply?  

It implies that the Brahmi writers (Jains) have adopted zha in its pre existing form. They did not attempt to change it. This letter is not there any other language. It was not there in Asokan Brahmi. When the Jains came to Tamil lands, they found this letter as new to them. They  thought it wise to use the pre-existing letter because they could not split the letter and write as they did for "ai" (- ய்), nor  could employ any new means to convey the sound. It was copied from the pre-existing Tamil and was used in the inscriptions in Tamil Brahmi. If it is said that the form of this letter originated  Brahmi and was not a pre existing Tamil letter, why this letter alone had survived in the same form, whereas none of the other letters of Brahmi  had continued in written Tamil till today?  In contrast check the Tamil Grantha, it has more Tamil letters intact ( as we use today).

(I will write a separate post one each and every letter of Tamil Grantha letter to show how most of them were the same as today's Tamil which means that the Tamil as we write today had come down almost without much change from pre Brahmi days. Tamil Grantha was a developed script which could not have been done without the knowledge of both Tamil and Sanskrit. The Tamil Grantha was developed to identify the correct sound for the Tamil consonants that make no differentiation as in Ka-varga etc of Sanskrit. Only a non Tamil speaking person will have troubles in speaking Tamil consonants correctly – say for example   Kandam or Gandam  where the same Tamil letter is used for both ka and ga. The Palllavas were new to Tamil and hence had trouble in using the right sound for the consonants. They must have asked for creation of a script with which they can understand the correct pronunciation. This could have been done only by Brahmins who were knowledgeable in both Sanskrit and Tamil. Even Tamil grammar was refined by Brahmins as we find Tholkaappiyam telling the reader to refer to Vedas of Brahmins to determine the maatra and intonation of a Tamil letter.  

"எல்லா எழுத்தும் வெளிப்படக் கிளந்து

சொல்லிய பள்ளி யெழுதரு வளியின்

பிறப்பொடு விடுவழி உழற்ச்சி வாரத்

தகத்தெழு வளியிசை யரில்தப நாடி

அளபிற் கோடல் அந்தணர் மறைத்தே"

(பிறப்பியல் – 20) )


If Grantha was a developed / derived script, Brahmi was just a script which was used to write Tamil. Since it was found engraved in stone for the first time, it is not right to say that it was the earliest script. Stone cutting and engraving on stones came into existence only 2000 years ago. Stone cutting is a part of construction activity. They were the Kammaalars or Vishwa karmas, or kammas or kammiyars etc. The earliest evidence of use of stone is found in Kancheepuram.

(  )  Even Karikal Chizan went to Kancheepuram to procure the stone cutting instrument called chendu to be taken on his Himalayan expedition for the purpose of chiselling his emblem on the Himalayas. Kancheepuram was occupied by "Aruvalar" the sect who migrated from  Dwaraka as per Nacchianrkkiniyar's commentary to Tholkaappiyam. The term Aruvalar also signifies the aruval, sickle or an instrument. The Aruvalars were thrown out of Kancheepuram by Karikal Cholan but was brought back by Athondai, the founder of Thondai nadu. Thus we find the presence of stone workers in Kancheepuram as early as 2000 years ago. The Pallavas made use of them in building temples – a culture which was continued by the Cholas of middle age. Before the Pallavas, the Jains made use of them in getting the donations engraved on stone. The Jains must have handed out to them the script in Brahmi to be engraved. That is why we find presence of Brahmi only in Jain dwellings.

Before this, the practice of stone cutting was almost nil in Tamilanadu as there was no expertise in this field. So all the documents of the previous period must have been written on palm leaves. Therefore the absence of stone inscriptions prior to this period must not be construed as absence of written Tamil.

-          Jayasree



The cultural connection.

Dr. R. Nagaswamy's 'Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit'

- Kausalya Santhanam



July 5, 2012
The cultural connection