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III.—The Antiquity of Writing in India.*
By Rai Bahadur Bishun Svarup,
The alphabet contained in the grammar of Páṇini consists of fourteen groups of letters arranged in a way that facilitates the rules of his grammar. Letters which undergo similar changes in grammatical constructions are put together. This enables the grammarian to include a lot of matter in short rules. The story about the origin of these fourteen Sabdas or groups of letters is that they emanated from God Śiva's Damroo, which indicates that Śiva was their originator. We know on the authority of Nagoji Bhatta and mention in Kátyáyana's Vártika that Pánini's grammar is mainly based on Siva Sútras. These grammatical sútras of Śiva do not exist now probably as absorbed in Páṇini's grammar, which fact has caused his grammar to be regarded as a Vedánga. In the list of grammarians that preceded him Pánini does not however mention the name of Śiva. The reason for this is obvious as Śiva was considered a god and not an ordinary man.
We thus see that Pánini's alphabet (by which term I mean the arrangement of the fourteen groups) was originally contained in Śiva Sútras, and was therefore much older, and this was, after all, not the original alphabet, but taken from it and rearranged in order to facilitate the rules of grammar. The original was the same alphabet as we possess now, as can be seen from a comparison of the two, and deduced from certain rules in Páṇini's grammar.
The arrangement of the existing Indian alphabet is as follows:
Vowels-a, á, i, í, u, ú, ri, rí, li, e, ai, o, au.
Continned from the J. B. O. R, S., March 1922, page 64.
Gutterals-k (hard), kh (hard aspirate), g (soft), gh (soft
aspirate), n (nasal).
Palat.ls-ch (hard), chh (hard aspirate), j (soft), jh (soft aspirate), n (nasal).
Linguals-t (hard), th (hard aspirate), ḍ (soft), ḍh (soft aspirate), n (nasal).
Dentals-t (hard), th (hard aspirate), d (soft), dh (soft aspirate), n (nasal).
Labials-p (hard), ph (hard aspirate), b (soft), bh (soft aspirate), m (nasal).
Semi-vowels-y, r, 1, v.
Sibilants- (palatal), $ (lingual), s (dental).
The arrangement of the Pánini's alphabet in the fourteen of letters is as follows:
1. a, i, u 2. ri, li,
3. e, o, 4. ai, au
5. h, y, v, r-aspirate and semi-vowels.
7. n (palatal), m (labial), n (gutteral), n (lingual), n (dental) nasals.
8. jh, bh
9. gb, dh, dh} soft aspirates, five classes.
10. j. b, g, d, d, soft, five classes.
11. kh, ph, chh, țh, th, ch, t, thard aspirates and hard
12. k, p
letters of five classes.
13. s (palatal), ș (lingual), s (dental)-sibilants.
14. h, aspirate again.
From a perusal of the two sets it is not difficult to be convinced that the fourteen Sabdas were derived by a rearrangement from the alphabet as existing at present. Further, Pápini when meaning to express all the 1 tters of one class, gutterals, pal tals, etc., what we now call " Vargas "adds a "u" to the first letter of the particular " Varga " ; for instance, "ku” means k,
kh, g, gh and gutteral n;" pu" means p, ph, b, bh and m (vide Rule 8-4-1 and 2 about the change of dental n into lingual n after r, 1, etc., even if "ku" or "pu" intervene, or the rule 8-4-59 about "tu" changing into "1" before a "1"). This clearly shows that the arrangement of the letters as we now possess was fully in vogue before the grammar was written. Such a scientific alphabet existing at so early an age as that when Siva Sutras were compiled, takes the Indian phonetic writing to a much earlier period than can be assigned to any of the other alphabets.
To say, therefore, as almost all the European scholars are inclined to, that India derived its alphabet either from the Phoenician or the Sabæan alphabet is utterly unfounded. Similarity of letters, which is the only ground on which the conjectures are based, does not prove anything. Phoenician and Sabæan letters could as well be taken as copied from the Indian alphabet the Bráhmí. It will be shown later that this was actually the case, the Indian alphabetical symbols having been designed on a scientific principle.
It is difficult to find when the change into the scientific stage, i. e. the phonetic arrangement of the letters, and adoption of symbols based on a fixed principle, took place. Both these changes might easily be taken as having occurred simultaneously, as the idea of the one naturally brings to mind the idea of the other. The story about the first writing of the Mahabhara'a mentioned in Chapter III, which garb can now be taken as not altogether without foundation, may give some clue of when the change took place. Vyāsa, the author of the Mahabharata wanted, the story says, a scribe who could write his book to dictation. None could undertake
although in a mythological
to do so, except Gaṇeśa, who however imposed a condition that he should not be made to wait.
It appears probable that Vyasa wanted his book to be written in the new script, which could be written much swifter than the old script, but which he himself was not versed in, and which many scribes did not know at the time. Ganesa,
the son of Śiva the author of the new system, was surely the person best suited for the purpose. It may not be out of place to mention that the elephant head which Ganesha is said, in Hindu mythology, to possess is considered by some as nothing but the sacred Om the best of the letters, showing thereby that he was the author of phonetic writing and god of learning.
It may thus be safely concluded that the new alphabet with its new symbols was started in India a little before the great epic Mahabharata, was written. Circa 1700 B c. or 200 years after the great war was fought may be taken as an approxi ate date.
VI.-Origin of the Phoenician alphabet.
The manner in which and the source from which the Phoenicians derived their alphabet is a matter much discussed but not yet sati factorily settled. The first theory started by Mr. V. E. de Rouge is that the Phoenician alphabet was adopted from the Hieratic Egyptian. This is based on the similarity of certain characters in the Phoenician with those in the Egyptian hieratic. The latter being cursive in form have however been stretched to a certain extent to show the similarity which is therefore not convincing. Besides, Egyptian has letters with more than one sound, as also more letters for one sound, and to take only those sounds or letters which suit the similarity does not give much weight to the theory.
The other theory started by W. Deccke is that it was derived from the Afsyrian cuniform. This is chiefly based on the fact that the oldest Phoenician inscriptions have been found in Assyria. The theory supposes the derivation of certain letters of the Phoenician from certain syllables in the Assyrian writing, which again are supposed to be abbreviations of certain words expressing the idea represented by the particular symbols. To give an instance in English, it may be taken that the letter w' was derived from the syllable wa', which was represented by the same symbol as water, the form of this symbol being determined from the idea of ripples in water. But all is not so