Contents‎ > ‎CHAPTERS‎ > ‎I. ALPHABET‎ > ‎

2. Much that relates to the history

Much that relates to the history of the Indian alphabets is still obscure. The earliest written monuments of known date in the country are the inscriptions containing the edicts of Açoka or Piyadasi, of about the middle of the third century B.C. They are in two different systems of characters, of which one shows distinct signs of derivation from a Semitic source, while the other is also probably, though much less evidently, of the same origin. From the latter, the Laṭh, or Southern Açoka character (of Girnar), come the later Indian alphabets, both those of the northern Aryan languages and those of the southern Dravidian languages. The nāgarī, devanāgarī, Bengālī, Guzerātī, and others, are varieties of its northern derivatives; and with them are related some of the alphabets of peoples outside of India — as in Tibet and Farther India — who have adopted Hindu culture or religion.

a. There is reason to believe that writing was first employed in India for practical purposes — for correspondence and business and the like — and only by degrees came to be applied to literary use. The literature, to a great extent, and the most fully in proportion to its claimed sanctity and authority, ignores all written record, and assumes to be kept in existence by oral tradition alone.