IIAS Lunch Lecture

Mercantile scripts in ancient and pre-modern India: their importance for the history of writing

Lunch Lecture by Saraju Rath, IIAS affiliated fellow.

Lunch will be provided. registration required.

Thanks to the work of G.H. Ojha (1894, 1918), G. Bühler (1895, 1904), and J.Ph. Vogel (1911), the large outlines of the development of inscriptional scripts such as Nāgarī and Śāradā is quite well established. J.Ph. Vogel, of the opinion that “a close examination of the characters will [...] enable us to fix the approximate date of any undated Śāradā record” in pre-Islamic north-west India, established a number of objective criteria to determine the chronology of Śāradā in epigraphic records.

Inscriptional writing is evidently adapted both to its material basis, mostly stone, coins and copper plates, and to its monumental purpose. The chronology of the development of the corresponding literary scripts, that is, scripts used for religious, philosophical, literary and scientific texts in manuscripts, can be expected to be largely parallel when the periods considered are sufficiently large.

An innovation in the development of a script may, however, start in the literary form of the script and predate a similar characteristic in the inscriptional form where it is subsequently adopted, and vice versa. The writing employed in manuscripts can moreover be expected to be more open to the influence of the cursive style of scripts, used in mercantile context for commercial and related purposes.

In order to establish a reliable history of these scripts, it is therefore necessary to take into account the large number of mercantile scripts which can be assumed to have been in use since the time there were scripts (alphabetic, near-alphabetic or syllabically organized alphabetic), and there were merchants in India.

For this purpose, we will review in this presentation some of the available evidence in the form of the characters used in various mercantile scripts, and those used in the better-known scripts such as Nāgarī and Śāradā.

Saraju Rath PhD (Pune University) is a research fellow at IIAS with extensive research experience in Indian manuscripts. She teaches and lectures on manuscriptology and on the history and development of ancient Indian scripts in India and Europe.



Registration (required)

If you would like to attend this lecture, Please register via the webform provided below, and by Friday 21 September 15:00 hrs if you would like IIAS to provide lunch.

About IIAS Lunch Lectures

Every month, one of the IIAS affiliated fellows will give an informal presentation about his/her work-in-progress for colleagues and others interested. Lunch lectures are sometimes also organised for visiting scholars.

IIAS organises these lectures to provide the research community with an opportunity to freely discuss ongoing research and exchange thoughts and ideas. Anyone with an interest in the subject matter at hand is welcome to attend and join the discussion.