WRITING IN ANCIENT INDIA – LITERARY EVIDENCES IN VEDAS AND VEDĀṄGAS

          There are two faces of tracking the history of each and everything in the world. One is to analyze the facts and evidences and place the things in order according to the them and the other one is following the traditional legends and stories that are available in literature and amongst the people. To have an equidistance from the two is essential for all the researchers of history. We have to extract the facts even from the legends that are logical. Thus, literary evidences play a vital role in building the history of traditional fields.

          When man lived in natural caves, his intelligence made to document his experiences like hunting, doing ventures and other lifestyles. Since he had no knowledge of writing, he drew paintings in his residential caves. When language took shape in its primary shape, his drawing skill has improved and he implemented his new knowledge in developing a documenting style. Thus writing was started with its flourishing styles.

cave paintings

cave paintings

          In India, the earliest phase of writing can be evidenced from the Indus valley seals after the cave paintings. The seals are dated as 2nd – 3rd millennium BCE. Researches continue even today to decipher the pictorial script in the seals. The language, mode of writing and the message embedded are disputed even today by the scholars.

          After them, a perfect writing that was deciphered successfully is the documents in Brāhmi written as early as 4th – 5th BCE. The intermediate signs from Dvārakā that are discovered by Sri. S.R.Rao will be dealt in another post. Though they are dated as 4th to 5th BCE, there are so many other views regarding the date. The golden era of writing can be ascertained to the period of Samrāṭ Aśoka during 3rd BCE. His records are found wide the length and breadth of the country. Still there are some records that are assigned to Pre-Aśoka period by some scholars. They are

  • Two coins, one from Eran, Jabalpur district and Takṣaśilā coin are dated to 4th
  • The Piprahwah vase inscription discovered from Basti district is dated as 5th
Piprahwa vase inscription

Piprahwa vase inscription

  • The Baṭṭiprolu relic casket inscription is dated to 4th
Battiprolu inscription

Battiprolu inscription

  • The Mahāsthāna stone inscription from Bogra, Bangladesh is dated to Pre-Aśokan period.
Mahasthan stone inscription

Mahasthan stone inscription

  • Badli inscription from Ajmir is dated to 483 BCE.
  • The earliest copper plate of India, the Sohgaura copper plate is dated as 4th
sohgaura copper plate

sohgaura copper plate

  • Some pottery inscription from Tamilnadu and Śrīlaṅkā are dated Pre-Aśokan period.

Though these are dated to Pre-Aśokan period, there are still so many other views regarding their date particularly about the Bhaṭṭiprolu, Sohgaura and Mahāthāna inscriptions.

Still we can believe that the perfect writing in ancient India started during 5th BCE. But the question is “the Vedas are dated as the ancient literature of the country. The modern dating led them to 2nd-3rd millennium BCE and equal to the Indus seals. Hence there should be a valid evidence from Vedas regarding the signs are writing in ancient period. Where are the evidences?”

The answer is Vedas were believed to not to be written in any document form. The term “Śruti” implies that the same was not written and was passed from ears to ears. Still there are some evidences that are quoted by the scholars regarding writing in ancient India.

Ṛgveda

          This veda is considered to be the earliest living literature of the world. There are some quotes from this Veda were quoted by many scholars to ascertain the ancientness of writing. The first one is from the 10th Maṇḍala of Ṛgveda which reads thus.

सहस्रं मे ददतोष्टकर्ण्यः शरवो देवेष्वक्रत। (10.62.14)

sahasraṁ me dadatoṣṭakarṇyaḥ śaravo deveṣvakrata| (10.62.14) 

       This hymn tells that thousand cows with “Aṣṭakarṇīs” were bestowed. Here the word “Aṣṭa karṇī” is defined in two ways viz cows with ears where the number “8” is written or the cows whose ears are look like the number”8”. This is taken as the evidence to claim that the number “8” was in use in written form. But I think that this evidence is disputable since the meaning given by “Sāyaṇācārya” doesn’t match. He interprets the word “Aṣṭa” as long and the “Aṣṭakarṇī” as cows with long ears. Hence we have to move to other evidences.

          The other instances have implied meanings which act as the evidences. The words in saṃhitās viz Paṅkti, Dvipadī and Tripadā in connection with the metres suggest that the written text was before them.

          Some hymns in Ṛgveda are spoken of being fashioned as one would fashion a chariot. (इमां ते वाचं वसूयन्त आयवो रथं न धीरः स्वपा अतक्षिषुः 1.130.6)

Yajurveda

          The numbers from fraction to the very high numbers suggest that corresponding signs might be used without which the better understanding could not been happened. In Taittarīya saṃhitā, the numbers are counted in geometrical progression in terms of tens, the highest figure reached being 1000000000000 called Parārdha. The lesser figures given there are Daśa (10), śata (100), sahasra (1000), ayuta (10000), niyuta(100000), prayuta (1000000), arbuda (10000000), nyarbuda(100000000), samudra (1000000000), Madhya (10000000000) and ananta (100000000000). In another context, we have multiples of twelve. Like this, we have the terms like “ardha” (½), Pāda (¼), śapha (⅛) and Kalā (1/16). These intricacies could not have been arrived at without having some corresponding written symbols.

Atharvaveda

          In this veda, we can find the direct reference to writing for the first time. The seventh kāṇḍa of this veda has the following hymn which directly points out the written symbol.

अजैषं त्वा संलिखितम् अजैषम् उत संरुधम्। (7.50.5)

ajaiṣaṁ tvā saṁlikhitam ajaiṣam uta saṁrudham| (7.50.5) 

          The above hymn is related with the conversation of the gamblers. One tells the other that I can win you by the symbols written. The word “Saṃlikhitam” is met for the first time in the sense of writing. This is the earliest direct evidence of writing from the Vedas.

Śikṣās

          Śikṣās are the limbs of Vedas. They possess the pronunciations of the Vedic hymns. They too have the evidences of writing. The Pāṇinīya śikṣā quotes the following verse while listing the qualities of a worst Vedic reciter.

गीती शीघ्री शिरःकम्पी तथा लिखितपाठकः।

अनर्थश्चाल्पकण्ठश्च षडेते पाठकाधमाः।। 32

gītī śīghrī śiraḥkampī tathā likhitapāṭhakaḥ|

anarthaścālpakaṇṭhaśca ṣaḍete pāṭhakādhamāḥ|| 32

       Yājñavalkya śikṣā too has the same lines except a different reading “Yathālikhita-Pāṭhakaḥ”.

          The qualities listed here are one who recites Veda as a song, in hurry, with the shaking of head, reading the written one, without knowing the meaning and with a low voice, is a worst reciter.

          Thus writing is included though in a negative way, adding to our evidence list.

          Pāraskara gṛhya sūtra too has the line as “Tathā adhipate pralikhasva” which can be counted in this topic.

Pictures : From NET

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