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


Dr. R. Nagaswamy, Former Director, Dept. of Archaeology, Govt. of Tamil Nadu. Photo: Archives

R. Nagaswamy's latest book, 'Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit,' shows the reciprocal relationship shared by Tamil-Sanskrit traditions.

"At no point was there an isolated development of Tamil culture," states R. Nagaswamy, former Director of Archaeology, Government of Tamil Nadu. "At no point of time was any part of the world isolated from its neighbourhood. The impact of the North Indian tradition on various spheres in the Tamil region cannot be denied. We are able to trace this tradition up to the Vedas."

Nagaswamy's latest book, 'Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit,' is an integrated study that shows the impact of Vedic tradition and Sanskrit on Tamil life - its literature, art, music, dance, legal system and social customs. In the book, he gives examples from inscriptions, historical records, Tamil literature, social life, civil administration, the judicial and legal fields.

The book is a chronological evaluation of the progress of Tamil culture. The archaeologist talks to this correspondent on certain aspects of his work. Excerpts:

Sanskrit and Vedic traditions; Brahmi

This book establishes for the first time that Tamil attained classical status by adopting Vedic and Sanskrit traditions, especially with the help of Brahmins in the formative stages. The Tamil script is derived from Brahmi, which was invented by the Brahmins or the Brahmanas when Emperor Asoka wanted to propagate his message through his edicts. The earliest known written records in Tamil are assigned to 2nd century BCE and are in the Brahmi script.

Asoka embraced Buddhism no doubt. But nowhere does he mention that he is spreading Buddha Dharma. His edicts are about how a civilised society should be - he is emphasising righteous conduct. What the emperor says is not new; he is propagating the ancient code ofconduct. "I want to enforce what kings have tried to enforce earlier but have failed to do," says Asoka. All that he propagated was derived from the age-old teachings enshrined in the Upanishads, especially Taittriya Upanishad. Also, Asoka is not anti-Brahminical as is believed by some. Repeatedly he emphasises in his edicts that Brahmins must be accorded respect.

Legal terminology

You find the legal terminology employed in Sanskrit legal texts applied in early Sangam, Pallava, Chola and Pandya times. The terminology found in the Dharma Sastras is employed in all these administrative systems based on the general code of conduct formulated during the Vedic period.


The earliest Tamil grammar available today is Tolkappiyam. By the time of Tolkappiyar and the Sangam poets, Tamil had been so integrated with Prakrit and Sanskrit tradition that it is impossible to isolate it from Sanskrit tradition. Tolkappiyar deals with both Tamil and Sanskrit grammatical structures… he exhibits it in many sutras in his work. The Sastraic tradition is reflected in Agattinai.

Tolkappiyam shows that many of the concepts followed in Tamil Nadu were found in the northern tradition, something that has been denied in the past 50 years.

The Tamil poetics as prescribed in Tolkappiyam was adopted from Sanskrit sources as for example phonetics and alankaras such as Upama.

I'm looking at Tolkappiyam from two angles in the book. The division of the land was into five groups. This is stated by Bharata in his Natya Sastra when he talks of how the images of these various divisions should be created on the stage so that the audience experiences the feeling of being transported there. The people of these five divisions in Tolkappiyam had their own gods and they were all Vedic gods such as Indra, Varuna, Siva, Vishnu, Kumara (Muruga)…

I have also dealt with the social aspect. There were the Brahmanas, then the Kshatriyas, the Vanigars, and the Vellalars, the last named were divided into two groups - all of them were eligible for Moksha which is also mentioned in Sanskrit literature. If you go deeper, the customs such as registration of marriage were also introduced by Brahmins. The whole of Porul Adhikaram of Tolkappiyar is based on Sanskrit literature.


Silappadikaram is only a Nadaga Kavya, not an epic as it is made out to be. It is purely creative poetry for the purpose of dance. "I'm using it to mirror society," says the author Ilango Adigal. Silappadikaram consists of three cantos. Each end-poem describes what is contained in the canto. And that is based on the particular virutti. This is the Sanskrit influence for it is present in Natya Sastra.

The Vedic mode of worship was followed in the time of Silappadikaram. Natya Sastra was the basis of aesthetics of music, dance and literature. In turn, Tamil Kavyas were translated into Sanskrit - it was a two-way or reciprocal relationship.

Sangam Literature

I have said that these poems are not folk poems but poetically embellished works. They are not narrative poems and they are not history. It is said that the old Sangam poets were relegated to the background. But I have pointed out how century after century, the rulers studied Sangam poets and how Brahmins have not suppressed Tamil. There was no antagonism to Tamil anywhere and both Sanskrit and Tamil have prospered.

There is no iron curtain - Tamil culture is part of the total Indian culture. The whole of India was called "Navalar Theevu," the Tamil equivalent of Jambudvipa, and it was ruled by different dynasties in different regions. But the outlook of the people was the same and the culture was one.

Response to the book

The book has already generated a positive response from a few scholars abroad. If scholars or others here want to refute anything I have pointed out, they are welcome. But their arguments should be based on facts and evidence and not on emotional response.


jayasree said...

From: BR Haran
Date: Fri, Jul 6, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Subject: Re: Non-random-Thoughts:Was Tamil script derived from Brahmi? – Some thoughts on Dr Nagaswamy’s book “Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit”.
To: jayasree

Interesting Jayasreeji. I am sending this to Dr.Nagaswamy. Let us see what he says.

jayasree said...

Thank you. I also sent the link to him and Dr Iravadam as well.

jayasree said...

From: mkrishnaswamy
Date: Sat, Jul 7, 2012 at 7:13 AM
Subject: Re: Non-random-Thoughts:Was Tamil script derived from Brahmi? – Some thoughts on Dr Nagaswamy’s book “Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit”.
To: jayasree

I am surprised that the art of stone-cutting became known to the Tamils only 2000 years ago, not earlier and that initially it was primarily a construction activity:

//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. //

It is a remarkable achievement that within the next 600-800 years, massive Gopurams and other structures in stone requiring fine sculpting & structural engineering skills/knowledge came into existence in the South.

Awaiting your article in the Hindu expounding your contrary view on the Brahmi/Tamil connection.
I am concerned about possible mis-use of a by-product of this research: namely, that Tamil script/language/civilization developed independently, etc.


jayasree said...

Yes, stone engravings are seen only from 300 BC onwards. The earliest ones are Brahmi engravings found in Jain dwellings. These places are found along side the Highways or isolated hillocks or outside the cities like Madurai which the Jain monks preferred for staying. The same description for Jain dwellings is found in Silappadhikaram also. The earlist stone works were stone beds carved for the Jain monks inside the caves. The stone work got a fillip in Pallava period from 3rd AD onwards when they started building temples on stone. Until then temples were built on
'sudumanal' bricks - a reference to this is there in Silappadhikaram. By 9th - 10th century stone made temples had come to stay in full swing.It is around this time we come across inscriptions on kings giving many civil rights to Kammalas (pancha kammalas) who were engaged in a variety of construction activities of which stone work is one. Why should they be given such rights unless they were immigrants or people who have been called to work? But this has been twisted by Dravidian chauvinists as suppression or struggle of deprived classes against Brahmin domination.

Coming to the issue under discussion, these artisans were there in the Indus region and contributed to its growth as early as 5000 years ago. The similarity in construction model (eg - pyramid shaped gopurams) is seen throughout the world - constructed in the first millennium of the current era. This is regarded as Mayan style by western researchers. Please refer to this site on 'Voyage of pyramid builders'. It shows a world map where similar Mayan architecture is seen. The architecture and the artisans have spread throughout the world.


jayasree said...

The Mayan scale and method of construction is identical in all these structures, whose origin can be traced to Indus constructions. The originator of this style of construction was indeed Maya danava who was rescued from forest fire at Gandava vana by Krishna and Arjuna. In return for that, Maya constructed Maya sabha and a palace for the Pandavas at Gandavaprastha in which he constructed the water pool inside the palace. Those trained under him spread his concepts initially at Indus regions which sprang up after the Mahabharata war ended. The Great bath at Mohanjadaro has all the features of Maya's water tank built at Panadava's palace.

In fact the Mahabharata war had a hidden agenda to control trade routes to the west (silk route) and southern route (dakshina pada). Gujarat was a nodal point for these two routes. By defeating Kauravas, the Pandavas took control over Gandhara through which they wrested control over the main road links to Middle east and central Europe. The trade interests of the Pandyan and Cheran kings were also served by bringing the Dakshina pada under their control. If not for this trade / economic reason, the Pandyan king Sarangadwaja would not have fought for the Pandavas. He had a personal grouse against Krishna who killed his father in a battle. But he was cajoled to set aside the grouse and fight alongside Krishna. You will find these information in Mahabharata. What could have softened this king unless there was a greater good - on economic lines for fighting this war and along with Krishna and Pandavas?

There was a heightened economic activity post Mahabharata war - for which Indus region became the nodal point. The vast construction activities gave room for specialization of artisan groups. 18 such groups migrated to Tamil lands along the eastern part of the western ghats upto Palani when the Indus regions experienced downfall due to natural calamities, Nacchinaarkkiniyar speaks of a flood in Dwaraka and a shift of 18 groups of artisans including Aruvalars to Tamil lands along with others that included Royal class. The Arulavars had settled in Kancheepuram. This shift happened around 1500 BC when Byt Dwaraka was flooded. The presence of stone works in Sriperumpudur as early as 1500 BC and the subsequent historical info on Karikala and Pallavas show that they were experts in stone works, They had this expertise even before they came to Kancheepuram. With them a fresh chapter in stone works was started in Tamilnadu. It is not surprising that they gave some of the finest structures for temples as they were already sufficiently trained in building works.

//I am concerned about possible mis-use of a by-product of this research: namely, that Tamil script/language/civilization developed independently, etc//

They can't do that as this sequence shows that these artisans were immigrants!! The so called backward classes identified by Maraimalai adigal were artisans who migrated from Dwaraka. The regions where they initially settled are caste sensitive due to the historical struggle of non-acceptance by the locals. Their previous ancestry goes to Ganges regions from where they accompanied Krishna to Dwaraka. Dwaraka was built with their help!!

- Jayasree

Anonymous said...

where can i buy this book, google is not helping me..

நான் தமிழன் said...

absolute non sense, brahmanical hypocrisy. The two great lineages "sun dynasty - chozha; moon dynasty - pandya" and their cultural spread in many civilizations cant be paralleled by any particularly the so called vedic kings

Tejaswininimburia said...

I have great regard for Dr. Nagaswamy for his holistic approach to history. I want to raise certain issues through this forum. Too much reliance on Alexander's invasion, the commencing of Kaliyuga taking Aihole inscription at 3102BC puranic accounts Alberuni's SHAHNAMA. It is a puzzling fact that the word Tamil is not at all referred in any Sanskrit Literature. While Valmiki Ramayana does not refer Dravida Mahabharata distinctly refers Dravida and Three Tamil kings. While Manu refers Dravidas as degraded kings he does not mention Tamil Kings. None of the great poets like Kalidasa and Alberuni refers Cholas though mention is made about Pandiyas and Keralas. It is even more puzzling that the terms referred in Asokanedicts as Koda, Pada and Kethala which is taken as Chola Pandya and Kerala. I doubt whether North Indians like contemporary times is not aware of Tamil itself. While Chola inscriptions minutely refers even to Gahadwalas how is that there is no mention about Cholas even by Kalhana the successor of Bilhana. Thus there is distinctions between Tamil sources even from Sangam period which refers to north India like hidden wealth of Nandas, Sonabhadra etc., Thus reliability of Sanskrit sources to history of Tamilnadu is neither here nor there. However there is plenty of marital tie between Srilanka with north India and even with Middle East. The date of relating Lord Krishna to 3102BC may not be correct in the absence of any reference to India in Egypt being the reign of Menus of Third Dynasty and Lord Krishna's period is much much older may be around 10000BC. FURTHER why are the historians shy away from taking Buddhist or Jain literature as the starting point instead of taking Vedas as compiled by Sayana as starting point. For a while let us forget Vedas. There will not be much difference since the epics and Hindu Gods are available but with variation. Through Jain or Buddhism myths how do you account for Aryo-Dravida or Aryo Dasa war? While there are innumerable minute references to Yagyas why was it completely absent in Sanskrit literature prior to Bhasa. The concept of proto Dravidians is mere a humbug since upto the borders of South Maharashtra there are innumerable Tamil terms and there is puzzling similarities between the terms used as ayirathu nooruvar munnoorruvar and rattabadi ezharaiilakkam banavasi panneeraiyram etc., Incidentally all the gruhyasutras like Bodhayana, Apasthamba, Katyayana etc., belong to Godavari basin. These facts refer to close connection between Tamil and Deccan. Lastly Tamil literature always hold Himalayas as the foremost place and there is no even a bit of reference to Sindhu. Tejaswini Vemburia

jayasree said...

@ Tejaswini,

Sorry to say that most of what is written in your comment is absurd and can be refuted. The refutation will run into several articles and that is why I think it is better to ask you read my Tamil series on Thamizhan Dravidana which is still continuing. The link is

If you cant read Tamil read the article given in the link below for a brief idea and search my blog for other articles.

Some info that I have not yet written in English blog but in Tamil blog is that Tamil was the spoken language of all Bharatheeyas in the past. There is a Tamil proverb in Valmiki Ramayana. Apabhramsa from which Hindi and most North Indian languages came up had many Tamil words showing that it was "kodum Thamizh" mentioned by Tholkaappiyam commentators.

Another info is on Egypt. The Karnak temple and Egyptian sun culture was introduced by Karna's son Vrushaketu who left Bharat and settled in Egypt after Mahabharata war. More can be read in my Tamil blog.

Tejaswininimburia said...

The first individual effort on the study of India was undertaken by William Jones and first study of South India was undertaken by Ellis. But their analyses were suppressed and Maxmuler's and followed by Dr.Caldwell's theories were given prominence. This is what I say is absurdity. If one closely follow Indian history it is portrayed as events of regularity. For fixing continuity historians jump from one mythology to another mythology. For fixing vedic period from 2300BC to 800BC they will dump Jain/Buddhistic genealogy. From 800BC to 600BC they will jump to Iranian sources and say Kuru is Cyrus Turvasu is Darius. From 600BC to 200BC they will jump to Puranas and so on. Indian history is based not on logic and corroborative evidence but more on principle of continuity. If Cyrus and Darius represent Vedic names then there can only be two explanations: either they should belong to 1700BC OR the date of Vedic hymns referring Turvasu and Kuru should belong to 700BC. The irony is that after Turvasu there was no king so named and it is puzzling to note that Acchemenian kings waited for one thousand years to name after Vedic kings. In order to substantiate the concept of Janapadas which they took from Jain/Buddhistic sources they will be misinterpreting Vedic hymns. Further while dealing with North Indian history we never hear folklore stories of commonfolk. Thus as on today North Indian history of yore represented only those classes who had trade contact and not the commonfolk as depicted in Tamil literature. The variation between Tamil and North India has to be accepted as a reality. For example the story of Kanthaman the Chola king anointing his illegitimate son fearing Parasurama's wrath his bringing of Cauvery with the help of sage Agasthya Ravana's defeat in the hands of Sage Agasthya Puhar known as Champapathi honouring Sampathi and Jatayu's home as Pulirukkuvelur Lord Rama conducting counselling at Kodiakarai Sita throwing Jewels and monkeys wearing them Lord Parasurama giving blood oblation at Sellur are not recorded in the epics. I still reiterate just as North Indians today are disinterested in knowing about Tamilnadu unlike Tamilians even during the earlier times North did not acquaint itself with Tamilnadu and references are only with regard to information gathered during trade. Hence tracing history of Tamilnadu as Dravidians through North Indian sources without corroborative evidence in Tamil but bending Tamil to suit North Indian sources like coining of terms- ProtoDravidianism is not pure research but simplification of history.

jayasree said...

Thanks Tejaswini, at last you have come to my point of view. Reading your comment looked like re-reading what I had written in many articles mostly in my Tamil blog and to some extent in this English blog.

Arun Kumar said...

In ancient times the Hindu practices were entirely different from what we follow now. The word Brahmin came into existence with the introduction of four varnas. Prior to that there were only 3, the religious/priestly, warriors and the remaining population. In a later stage all the educated were called as Brahmans and not based on the birth to a Brahman father, example Valmiki. Later the puranas and Upanishads were written in way it benefit the Brahmin community(the educated) and their offspring be called as Brahmin by birth. But it's foolish to say that a language was invented by Brahmins because when scripting was not invented there was no proper education system and hence no Brahmans. Your theory is flawed.

jayasree said...

@ Arun Kumar.

Your comment does not merit a reply.