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Early Tamil Epigraphy From the Earliest Times to the 6 th Century AD By Iravatham Mahadevan --- An Overview by S. Swaminathan. Early Tamil Epigraphy From the Earliest Times to the 6 th Century AD By Iravatham Mahadevan --- Published by Cre-A, India & Harvard University, USA 2003.

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slide1

Early Tamil Epigraphy

From the Earliest Times to the 6th Century AD

By

Iravatham Mahadevan

---

An Overview by

S. Swaminathan

slide2

Early Tamil Epigraphy

From the Earliest Times to the 6th Century AD

By

Iravatham Mahadevan

---

Published by

Cre-A, India

&

Harvard University, USA

2003

slide3

The book deals with

development of two scripts of Tamil:

Tamil-Brahmi and Early VaTTezhuttu

covering a period from

the 3rd century BC till the 6th century AD.

slide4

First, let me provide

some background information regarding the scripts discussed in the book

in order to follow

‘My Overview’

slide5

We would come across with five scripts in the book:

Brahmi,

Tamil Brahmi,

VaTTezhuttu,

Tamil and

Grantha

Short description of these scripts follows.

slide6

Brahmi

Brahmi

is an ancient script of India.

The earliest writing in Brahmi is found

in the edicts of Asoka dated to the 3rd century BC.

Brahmi is a general term and

there existed a number of regional variations,

like Southern Brahmi, Sinhala-Brahmi etc.

slide7

Brahmi

Mother script of Indian Languages

Brahmi

is the script from which

all other native Indian scripts,

except the Harappan,

are derived.

slide8

Development of

the letter N (ண)

in all Indian languages

starting from Brahmi,

It may be noted

how the characters change drastically over the centuries!

slide9

Development of latter k (க) in

Devanagari, Tamil and other south Indian Scripts

BC-AD

slide10

Development

of vowels

of Tamil

from

Early Tamil-Brahmi

slide11

Development

of consonants

of Tamil

from

Early Tamil-Brahmi

slide12

Brahmi

Mother script of many Asian Languages

Pallava Grantha, a derivative of Brahmi,

a script developed to write

Sanskrit in the Tamil country

was the inspiration to

most of the Asian scripts.

This happened through

the political and the cultural conquest

by the Indian rulers

starting from the Pallava-s

slide13

Development of

letter k (க)

for the languages of

Java,

Sumatra

Borneo,

Thai,

Laos,

Khmer,

Combodia,

Vietnam, etc

from

the Grantha script

slide14

Tamil-Brahmi

Tamil-Brahmi

is the name of the script

in which the earliest inscriptions

in Tamil are found.

Let us see how Tamil-Brahmi looks like

slide15

Tamil-Brahmi inscription

Kudumiyanmalai, 3rd century AD

நா ழ û கொ ü ற ó த ö ப [ளி] ö

The hermitage (is the gift) of koRRantai of nAzhaL

slide16

VaTTezhuttu

VaTTezhuttu,

a cursive style,

was derived from Tamil-Brahmi, and

was current all over the Tamil country

from the 5th century AD.

slide17

VaTTezhuttu

Tamil script that came into use from the 7th century displaced VaTTezhuttu.

With the ascendancy of the Chozhas, and

the displacement was total by 13th century.

However the script lingered on till the 19th century

in Kerala for writing Malayalam.

slide18

VaTTezhuttu

The Pulankurichchi inscriptions (5th century)

are the earliest.

A number of hero-stones in the Dharmapuri district

have been found inscribed

in Early VaTTezhuttu.

Let us see a specimen of VaTTEzhttu

slide19

Vattezhuttu inscription

Thirunatharkunru, 6th century AD

ஐ ம் ப த் தே ழ ன

ai m pa t tE zha na

ச ன ந் நோ ற் ற

ca na n nO R Ra

ச ந் தி ர ந ந் தி ஆ

ca na ti ra na n ti A

சி ரி க ரு நி சீ தி கை

ci ri ka ru ni cI ti kai

ஐம்பத்தேழு நாட்கள் உண்ணா §¿¡ýÒ நோற்ற

சந்திரநந்தி ஆசிரிகரு தவம் செய்த இடம்

The seat of penance of chantiramanti Acirikaru,

who observed the fast (unto death) for fifty-seven days

slide20

Tamil Script

The Pallava rulers created the Tamil script

out of the Grantha script by the 7th century,

adding necessary additional letters

from VaTTezhuttu.

This is the view of Mahadevan,

and is not shared by some.

slide21

Tamil Script

There are (according to Mahadevan)

no inscriptions in the Tamil script

before Mahendra Pallavan I (7th century AD).

slide22

Tamil Script

There was a steep increase in inscriptions in Tamil

from the 9th century onwards.

The classical phase of Tamil script starts

with the ascendancy of the Chozha-s

from the middle of the 9th century.

From the 11th century onwards

this became the main script for Tamil

throughout the Tamil country.

Here is an example of Tamil script in the early stages

slide23

Tamil inscription

Parantaka Chozha, 10th century AD

ŠவŠதி‚ கோôபரகேசரி ப÷ம

svatiShrI kOpparakEsari parma

÷Ì யாñÎ 34 இவாñÎ கான

Rku yANdu 34 ivANDu kAna

நாðÎ Óனியóதைì ÌளòÐ

nATTu muniyantaik kuLattu

ìÌ மóதிரி ஆîசý ã÷òதி அðÊ

Kku manthiri Accan mUrti aTTi

ன காÍ 2 இரñÎ காசா ஒÕ காசாø

Na kAcu 2 iraNDu kAcA oru kAcAl

In the 34th year of Parantaka Chozha, Achchan mUrti, a minister,

has given 2 kasu-s for the renovation of the lake

slide24

Grantha Script

Grantha,

was derived from the Southern Brahmi script

of Prakrit characters

by the Pallava-s (6th century AD)

to write Sanskrit in the Tamil country.

Let us see how Grantha script then looked like.

slide25

Grantha inscription

Mahendra Pallava, 7th century AD

²¾¾3É¢‰¼Áò3ÕÁÁ§Ä¡

EtadanishTamadrumamalO

†Á…¤¾4õ Å¢º¢òú¢ò§¾¿

Hamasudham vicitracittEna

¿¢÷Á¡À¢¾óÕ§À½ô3˧Á

nirmApitanRpRNabrahmE

‰ÅÃÅ¢‰ÏÄì„¢¾¡Â¾¿õ

ShvaravishNulakshitAyatanam

The (cave) temple dedicated to Brahma, Siva and Vishnu

was excavated by Vichitrachitta (Mahendra Pallava)

without using brick, timber, metal and mortar.

slide27

Discovery

Till the end of the 19th century

only two scripts were known:

VaTTezhuttuof the Pandiya-s

belonging to 8th century and

Tamilof the Pallava-s

dated the 7th century

It was wondered why there should be

two scripts for one language.

But their descent from Brahmi was inferred.

slide28

Discovery

The complete absence of written record of

a great literary civilization of 2000 years vintage

was a puzzle.

slide29

Discovery

This was solved when cave inscriptions,

resembling closely the script of Asokan edicts,

were found in Tamilnadu

around the end of the 19th century.

slide30

Discovery

The earliest finding of cave inscription is of Mangulam

by Robert Sewell in 1882.

This is not only oldest finding,

it is oldest lithic record in Tamilnadu and

it is also of great historical significance.

And a host of discoveries followed.

slide31

Discovery

Until middle of the last century

cave inscriptions were the only source

of early Tamil writing.

Then it was presumed that Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions were

caused to be inscribed by Jaina and Buddhist monks

who were not conversant with Tamil, and

that these inscriptions did not represent

language of the day.

slide32

Discovery

With the finding of inscribed pottery

in Arikkamedu during 1941-44 and

later from many other sites

the view has changed.

slide33

Discovery

The pottery inscriptions made it possible

to date inscriptions more accurately.

It looks that inscribing on pottery was given up

after the 3rd century AD.

slide35

DecipheringDifficulties

Deciphering cave inscriptions posed a number of problems:

Most of the inscriptions were in inaccessible locations

Inscriptions were not bold and clear

Language was mistaken for Prakrit

Clues to a correct understanding of the script

were not found.

slide36

DecipheringMilestones

1906: Venkayya identified the script to be Brahmi.

But he thought that the language was Pali.

He read a line in Mettuppatti as anatai ariya,

attempted to seek Vedic roots

for the words.

1914: Krishna Sastri attempted to read

the bold Sittannavasal inscription.

slide37

DecipheringMilestones

  • 1919: Krishna Sastri first noted
  • purely southern charactaristics, like
  • the occurrences of letter L [ள]
  • which was identified earlier in Simhala-Brahmi.
  • He also identified the presence of
  • three unusual characters,
  • later identified as zh [ழ], R [ற] and n [ன].
    • He was the first to feel that some of the consonants
    • must bebasic (ெமö).
slide38

DecipheringMilestones

1924: KV Subramania Iyer pointed out

the powerful misguiding factor

that

what was written in Brahmi must be in Prakrit.

slide39

DecipheringMilestones

  • 1924: KV Subramania Iyerfound:
  • - Soft consonants (ग ज ड द ब)were absent
      • - sa (ஸ, स)was occasionally used;
      • but Sh (º, श) and sh (ஷ, ष) were absent.
      • - All vowels except
      • ai , au, Ri (ऋ), Lr (ऌ), M (अं) and H (अः)
      • were used
      • - Conjunct consonants (ÜðெடØòÐ)
      • were absent completely
slide40

DecipheringMilestones

1924: KV Subramania Iyer ruled out

Indo-European language

and proved it is Tamil.

He demonstrated convincingly presence of

Tamil grammatical elements

likepAkan (À¡¸ý), vaNikan (Ž¢¸ý), etc

slide41

DecipheringMilestones

1924: KV Subramania Iyer could not still read correctly

because of his incorrect orthography (spelling),

his overestimation of the Prakrit elements, etc

slide42

DecipheringMilestones

1938-9: Narayana Rao tried to put the clock back.

He felt that the language was Prakrit,

and actually read the inscriptions fully!

slide43

DecipheringMilestones

1961: KG Krishnan identified pulli (ÒûÇி),

a device introduced ‘later’ to mark

the basic consonants (ெமö ±ØòÐ) and

the short e (±)and o (´) vowels.

Later pulli was also identified

in the 2nd century AD silver coin

of Satakarni.

slide44

DecipheringMilestones

1964: Kamil Zwelebil published

the first formal study of cave inscriptions.

1967: TV Mahalingam published the first book-length

study of cave inscriptions.

slide45

DecipheringMahadevan’s attempts

1961: Mahadevan took up study of inscriptions

1962-66: First round of visits to the caves

1966: Corpus of 74 Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions and

2 Early VaTTezhuttu inscriptions

from 21 sites published

1987: Mahadevan proposed a tentative model

1991-96: Second field expedition

2003: Publication of ‘Early Tamil Epigraphy’

slide46

DecipheringMahadevan’s attempts

Mahadevan made field visits to the sites and

prepared tracings direct from stones and

made use of computer enhancement of photos.

He made chronological classification.

slide48

Mangulam inscription

Mangulam inscription was discovered

by Robert Sewell in 1882,

and was rediscovered

by KV Subramania Iyer in 1906

slide49

Mangulam inscription

This Tamil-Brahmi inscription is important, because

this is the earliest inscription to be found and

in this inscription Nedunchezhiyan,

a Sangam king, is mentioned.

slide51

Mangulam inscription

The inscription is in Tamil-Brahmi and

is dated to the 2nd century BC

slide52

Mangulam inscription

A line from the inscription is given

to compare the Tamil script 2000 years ago

with the present day script.

க ணி ய் ந ந் த அ ஸி ரி ய் இ

ka Ni y na n ta a si ri y i

It may be noted that a non-Tamil letter s (ஸ) is used

slide53

Mangulam inscription

The text of the inscription is given along

with meaning in present day Tamil

கணிய் நந்தஅஸிரிய்இ குவ்அன்கே த3ம்மம் இத்தாஅ நெடுஞ்சழியன்

kaNiy nanta’asiriy’I kuv’ankE dammam ittA’a neTuncazhiyan

பணஅன் கடல்அன் வழுத்திய் கொட்டுபித்தஅ பளிஇய்

paNa’an kaDal’an vazhuttiy koTuppitta’a paLiy

குரு நந்தஸிரி குவனுக்கு தர்மம் இது; நெடுஞ்செழியனின்

பணியாள் கடலன் வழுதி செய்தளிக்கப்பட்ட படுக்கை

This is the charity to nanta-siri kuvan, the kaNi; the bed was caused to be carved by kaTalan vazhuti, the servant of neTunchezhian.

slide54

Edakkal inscription

Inscription in Edakkal, Kerala

was discovered by Fawcett in 1894.

He made careful drawing and took photos and

submitted to Hultzsch.

Hultzsch took estampages and

published a brief note to Fawcett.

Fawcett published a paper in 1901.

Hultzsch made an attempt to decipher,

but could not.

For a century no further was action taken

slide55

Edakkal inscription

Mahadevan made two expeditions in 1995 and 1996.

Unfortunately, these Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions

have been obliterated

due to graffiti by tourists

slide56

Edakkal inscription

During the 1996 expedition, Mahadevan found

two other Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions

dated to the 3rd century AD.

In one of them there was a mention of

kaTummiputa chEra,a ChEra king.

This is also another important inscription

for it belongs to the age of a Sangam king

slide57

Pugalur inscription

In Pugalur, near Karur, the ancient Chera capital

a number of inscriptions were discovered.

One of them is important for

it is a record of a Chera king of the Irumporai line

which ruled from Karur in the Sangam age.

slide58

Pugalur inscription

The text of the inscription

Óதா அமñணý யாüê÷ செíகாயபý உறைö

mutA amaNNan yARRUr senkAyapan uRaiy

கோ ஆதý செøலிÕõபொறை மகý

kO Atan cellirumpoRai makan

பெÕíகÎíகோý மகý{இ}ளí

perunkaTunkOn makan (i)Lan

கÎíகோ{இ}ளíகோ ஆக அÚòத கø

kaTunkO(i)LankO Aka aRutta kal

slide59

Pugalur inscription

The meaning of the inscription

The abode of the senior Jaina monk, senkAyapan of yARRUr.

The rock (shelter) was carved

when (i)LankaTunkO,

the son of perunkaTunkOn,

the son of King Atan sel irumpoRai,

became the heir apparent.

slide60

Jamabai inscription

Inscription in Jambai, in Villuppuram district,

is one among the most outstanding discoveries.

Dated to the 1st century AD

the inscription records the grant of a cave shelter

by atiyan neTumAn anchi,

identified as the famous chieftain of Takatur

(modern Dharmapuri),

celebrated in Purananuru.

slide61

Jamabai inscription

The text of the inscription is given along

with its meaning

ஸதியÒதோ அதியó நெÎமாó அïசி ஈòத பÇி

satiyaputO atiyan neTumAn anci Itta paLi

The hermitage was given by

atiyamaAn neTumAn añchi, the satiyaputta

slide62

Jamabai inscription

Atiyan neTumAn anchi,

has the title of satiyapitO;

a title found in the Second Rock edict of Asoka

along with Cheras, Chozhas and Pandyas,

thus establishing conclusively Asoka’s connection

with the Tamil country.

slide63

Jamabai inscription

The identification of Satiyaputo

with with Atiyaman was

on the linguistic grounds

by Sesha Iyer and

improved upon by Burrow.

slide64

Jamabai inscription

According to Burrow the developments are:

satiya [ஸதிய] to atiya [அதிய]

(with the loss of the initial consonant), and

putO [Òதோ] meaning ‘son’ [makan, மகý]

thenmakan [மகý] to mAn [மாý]

likechEramAn [ேºÃÁாý]

corresponding to kEraLaputO [ேகÃÇÒேதா].

slide66

Mahadevan’s Book

  • Mahadevan’s book deals with
  • Early Tamil-Brahmi
  • (2nd century BC to 1st century AD)
    • Late Tamil Brahmi
    • (2nd to 4th centuries AD)
    • Early Vattezhuththu
    • (5th & 6th centuries AD)
  • and does not include
  • Later Vattezhuththu and Tamil
  • (both from 7th century AD)
slide67

Mahadevan’s BookContents

Part One: Early Tamil Inscriptions

Part Two: Studies in Early Tamil Epigraphy

Part Three: Corpus of Early Tamil Inscriptions

slide68

Part One

Early Tamil Inscriptions

slide69

Chapter 1Discovery

Discovering cave inscriptions have been uneven and

the book discusses important discoveries.

The contemporary inscriptions on

potteries, coins, seals and rings

are included in the appendix to this chapter.

slide70

Chapter 2Decipherment

The exciting story of deciphering is a very important chapter.

The early attempts like the path-breaking paper by

KV Subramania Iyer in 1924,

and the discovery of pulli, and

important researches from 1970,

including Mahadevan’s work, and

finally, a chronology of Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions

that includes pottery and other inscriptions.

slide71

Chapter 3Language

This chapter discusses the unsolved problem of

the language of the cave inscriptions:

how much and what kind of Tamil,

explains the Dravidian and Indo-Aryan elements

slide72

Chapter 4Polity

The chapter shows how cave inscriptions

portray life in early Tamil society:

state and administration;

religion, particularly Jainism;

society – agriculture, trade, professions,

social organisations, personal names,

place names, flora & fauna and culture

slide73

Chapter 5 Palaeography (Study of ancient writing)

Review of earlier theories,

listing evidences to support his theory of

origin of Tamil-Brahmi from Brahmi

supported by 8 palaeographic Charts

Brief discussion on other Brahmi variants.

slide74

Chapter 5Palaeography (Study of ancient writing)

Detailed discussion on palaeography of

Tamil-Brahmi and early VaTTezhuttu:

vowels, consonants, the pulli, numerals

punctuation, symbols used in caves

Short discussion on evolution of VaTTezhuttu

Notes on emergence of Tamil script

slide75

Chapter 6Orthography (Study of spelling)

The most important chapter.

Different orthographic models studied,

especially for denoting medial vowels,

which among other things,

provides insight

into the relationship of

Tamil-Brahmi and other Brahmi variants and

their relative chronology

slide76

Chapter 6Orthography (Study of spelling)

Orthographic peculiarities of inscriptions

Evolution of alternate models:

Tamil-Brahmi I, II and III

Medial vowel notations

in cave and pottery inscriptions

Assimilation of loan-words

Voicing of consonants

slide77

Chapter 7Grammar

Phonology (study of sounds) with detailed inventory of

vowels, consonants and consonant-vowels

and sound variations,

Morphophonemics, study of changes

that occur, during Sandhi etc,

Morphology (study of forms of changes of words)

in early Tamil and

Syntax (arrangement of words in a sentence)

slide79

Corpus of Early Tamil InscriptionsContents

Inscriptions

Early and late Tamil-Brahmi

Early vattazhuttu

Tracings and estampages

Commentary

slide80

Corpus of Early Tamil InscriptionsInscriptions

110 inscriptions from 52 sites

arranged chronologically,

with text containing

Literal transcript as engraved on stone,

Text organised into words,

Translation into English,

Essential data specific to individual inscriptions,

Date,

Publication and most importantly,

Notes

This is an authoritative Corpus for researchers.

slide82

Commentary on Inscriptions

A detailed word-by-word study of inscriptions,

with a view to situate them

in the main stream of Indian epigraphy:

deals with

Meaning, literal and interpretation

Grammatical notes

Citations from literary and inscriptional parallels

Loan words

Contents, relating to the development of

Tamil language and society

slide84

Different Requirements of Prakrit and Tamil

  • Many Asokan edicts are in Prakrit
  • and the script is Brahmi.
  • This Brahmi script cannot be used
  • directly for Tamil,
  • because there are no symbols
      • to represent basic consonants and
      • short e and o
slide85

Attempts to adapt Brahmi for Tamil

At least three different methods

Tamil-Brahmi I, II and III were tried

for medial vowel notation, that is,

to represent

basic consonants like (ì),

consonants with medial –a, like (¸)

and –A, like (¸ா).

slide86

Pulli in Tamil-Brahmi

  • Pulli came to be used in Tamil-Brahmi later
  • as a negative vowel marker
  • to provide what the parent Brahmi script lacked.
      • to represent basic consonants (ì), and
      • to represent short e (±) and o (´).
slide87

Pulli in Tamil-Brahmi

Pulli occurs only from the 2nd century AD onwards

But it is seldom found in the pottery inscriptions.

Even later, it was avoided in palm leaf writing

slide89

Mahadevan’s findingsStages of Development

According to Mahadevan

there were three stages of

development of medial vowel notation

Tamil-Brahmi I - 2nd century BC to 1st century BC

Tamil-Brahmi II - 1st century BC to 5th century AD

Tamil-Brahmi III - 2nd century AD to 6th century AD

slide90

Mahadevan’s findingsStages of Development

The figure that follows attempts to show,

through an example,

the basic consonants and medial vowel notations

as depicted in these stages.

Possible ambiguity is indicated by

pointing out alternate readings.

slide91

Mahadevan’s findingsStages of Development

ºாதந

cannot write சாதó

சாதó

Alternate

readings

சாòந

சாòó

சாதந

சாதó

Alternate

readings

சதó

சாதó

சதாó

சாதாó

சாதó

No

alternate

reading

slide92

Mahadevan’s findingsStages of Development

In the light of finding TB-II style of writing

in the Arikamedu potteries dated to 2nd century BC,

Mahadevan is expresses his inability

to explain how

‘two parallel, mutually exclusive, competing systems’

appear at the same time, and

within a small, homogenous linguistic community’.

slide93

Mahadevan’s findingsStages of Development

Since most of the Early Brahmi inscriptions are

found near Madurai,

Tamil-Brahmi script must have been created

in the Pandya kingdom

around the end of 3rd century BC,

and then spread to other parts of the Tamil country

slide94

Mahadevan’s findingsLanguage

The language is Old Tamil,

not materially different from

the language of later Tamil inscriptions or

even literary texts,

in its basic phonological,

morphological and syntactical features.

slide95

Mahadevan’s findingsLanguage

  • All loan-words are nouns.
  • Most of the loan-words are adapted
  • to the Tamil phonetic pattern:
      • gaNaka to kaNaka
      • gOpa to kOpan
      • rAjA to irAsar
      • dAnam to tAnam
      • adhiTThAna to atiTTAnam
slide96

Mahadevan’s findingsComparison with Situation in Upper South India

The earliest Tamil inscriptions are from 3rd century BC,

whereas of Kannada-Telugu appear 8 centuries later.

Sangam literature is dated to the beginning of Christian era

while literature of Kannada and Telugu

appear a millennium later.

slide97

Mahadevan’s findingsComparison with Situation in Upper South India

The earliest inscriptions in the Tamil country are

almost exclusively in Tamil.

In contrast, for the same period, inscriptions

in stone, seals, pottery etc,

in the Upper South India are

exclusively in Prakrit.

slide98

Mahadevan’s findingsWidespread literacy in Tamilnadu

Literacy in the Tamil country

when compared with the situation

in contemporary Upper South India,

commenced much earlier.

Tamil, the local language, was used

for all purposes from the beginning;

democratic character in society existed.

slide99

Mahadevan’s findingsWidespread literacy in Tamilnadu

Literacy in the Tamil Country

seems to have been widespread

in all the regions in the Tamil country,

both in urban and rural areas,

in all strata of Tamil society.

Primary evidence for this comes from

inscribed pottery.

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Mahadevan’s findingsWidespread literacy in Tamilnadu

A number of reasons are contributed to this:

In Upper South India the spoken languages

were Kannada and Telugu,

but Prakrit was the language of the rulers.

But the Tamil country was

politically independent and

the rulers were Tamils.

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Mahadevan’s findingsWidespread literacy in Tamilnadu

It had the presence of a strong bardic tradition

Priestly hierarchy that could have vested interest

in maintaining oral tradition or

discouraging writing after its advent

was not present

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Mahadevan’s findingsWidespread literacy in Tamilnadu

A strong tradition of local autonomy,

through self-governing villages councils and

merchant guilds.

The spread of Jainism and Buddhism and

extensive foreign trade.

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Mahadevan’s findingsOrigin of Tamil-Brahmi

Tamil-Brahmi was derived from Brahmi:

All but 4 of the 26 letters in Tamil-Brahmi are

identical or nearly so with the corresponding

Brahmi letter and

have the same phonetic value.

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Vowels

Brahmi

Tamil-Brahmi

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Consonants

Brahmi

Tamil-Brahmi

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Medial vowel signs

Medial vowel signs are identical

along with phonetic values.

Brahmi

Tamil-Brahmi

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Development of additional letters

The additional letters,

zh, ழ

L, ள

Rறand

nன

were adapted from letters

with the nearest phonetic value

in Brahmi.

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Development of additional letters

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Mahadevan’s findingsEvolution and Chronology of South Indian Scripts

3rd century BC

2nd century BC

1st century BC

5th century AD

6th century AD

7th century AD

14th century AD

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Mahadevan’s findingsOrigin of Tamil-Brahmi

Tolkappiyam places

the four letterszh [ழ], L [ள],R [ற]and n [ன]

at the end of the series of stops, nasals and liquids.

This arrangement deviates from the order

based on articulatory phonetics.

This small, but significant detail, indicates that

the four special letters were originally regarded

as additions to the alphabet taken from Brahmi.

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IssuesWhich came first – Brahmi or Tamil-Brahmi?

Mu Va (1972) says that

the Tamils used a script of their own, and

Tamil-Brahmi has developed

under the influence of VaTTezhuttu.

TN Subramanian (1957), KG Krishnan (1981)

and a few others argue

that Brahmi was a Tamil creation, and

came to be adapted all over India

with regional modifications.

Mahadevan says Tamil-Brahmi is a derivative of Brahmi.

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Issues Was there a script for Tamil before?

Mayilai Seeni Venkatasamy (1981) says that

there was one

in which classical works were written and

was supplanted by Tamil-Brahmi.

Mahadevan says that Tamil was not written before.

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Issues What kind of Tamil?

Mayilai Seeni Venkatasamy (1981) says

the inscriptions are full of errors engraved

by people with inadequate knowledge of Tamil.

Mahadevan says it is Old Tamil,

not very different from contemporary literary Tamil.

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Issues Dating Tolkappiyam

  • Mahadevan says that
    • Tolkappiyam must have been composed
    • not earlier than 2nd century AD
    • for it describes the use of puLLi
    • to denote basic consonants, and
    • to denote short vowels e and o
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Issues Voicing in Tamil

Today we write murukan and read it as murugan

k is called unvoiced and g as voiced.

The present use follows

Caldwell law of convertibility:

It is K in the beginning (KaN) and

when doubled (makkaL), and

it is G when it occurs in the middle (murugan) or

follows the nasal consonant (mangai)

There has been controversy whether

in the past also it was so in the past too.

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Issues Voicing in Tamil

One view is:

Voicing existed from the beginning

from the pre-Tamil stage.

It is present in all Dravidian languages.

Hence must have existed in early Tamil also

but not provided for in the spelling.

Originators were aware

of the principle of phoneme, and

did not feel necessary to borrow

voiced consonants from Brahmi.

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Issues Voicing in Tamil

Mahadevan says

There was no voicing in Tamil, in early Tamil.

If voicing was present the adaptors of the script

for Tamil from Brahmi

would have borrowed the corresponding letter.

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Issues Voicing in Tamil

Mahadevan continues:

Even in the loanwords from Prakrit

voicing has been systematically replaced

by the corresponding unvoiced consonants like,

kaNi (PKT: gani), utayana (PKT: udayana),

nanta (PKT: nanda),

kiTumpikan (PKT: kuTumbika) etc.

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Issues Voicing in Tamil

Mahadevan continues:

There is negative evidence in Tolkappiyam,

which devotes a whole chapter to

articulatory phonetics

(±Øòதததிகாரõ - பிறôபியø)

would have dealt with voicing

if the feature was present in the language.

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Mahadevan does not discuss

The origin of Brahmi.

His research on the Indus script and

the possibility of Brahmi originating from it.

Effect of writing medium and tools

on the development of scripts.

Reason for the disappearance of VaTTezhuttu.

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Now the stage is set for a serious study

of the development of Tamil scripts.

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Thank you

S. Swaminathan

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