WRITING IN ANCIENT INDIA – LITERARY EVIDENCES IN ITIHĀSAS AND PURĀṆAS

We have already seen the literary evidences in Vedas and Vedāṅgas for the writing in ancient India. Now we can proceed to the Itihāsas and Purāṇas the religious scriptures of India. Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata are the two important epics of India. The two epics have important evidences that can be quoted to claim the ancientness of writing in India.

  1. Itihāsas

1.1. Rāmāyaṇa

          This old epic considered as ādi kāvya, have the terms “likha”, “Lekhaka” and “Lekhana”. These terms are the derivatives of the root verb “Likha – to write”. An interesting quote from this epic acts as a clear evidence for writing. In Sundara Kāṇḍa, Hanumān shows the ring to Sītā asking her to see the name of Rāma engraved on it.

रामनामाङ्कितं चैव पश्य देवि अङ्गुलीयकम् (सुन्दरकाण्डम् – 36.2)

rāmanāmāṅkitaṁ caiva paśya devi aṅgulīyakam (sundarakāṇḍam – 36.2)

          This verse is often quoted by the scholars to claim that writing was in practice during the composition of the epic Rāmāyaṇa.

1.2. Mahābhārata

          This epic too has the above said terms relating with the root verb “Likh – to write”. In the beginning of the epic i.e in ādiparva, the writing of the whole epic by Gaṇeśa is well depicted.

              श्रुत्वैतत् प्राह विघ्नेशो यदि मे लेखनं क्षणम्।

              लिखतो वावतिष्ठेत तथास्यां लेखको ह्यहम्।।

              व्यासोप्युवाच तं देवं अबुद्ध्वा मा लिख क्वचित्।

              ओमित्युक्त्वा गणेशोपि बभूव किल लेखकः।।

śrutvaitat prāha vighneśo yadi me lekhanaṁ kṣaṇam|

likhato vāvatiṣṭheta tathāsyāṁ lekhako hyaham||

vyāsopyuvāca taṁ devaṁ abuddhvā mā likha kvacit|

omityuktvā gaṇeśopi babhūva kila lekhakaḥ||

       After hearing his words, Gaṇeśa said that If my writing is not stopped for even a moment then I will write this. Vyāsa told him that Don’t write without knowing the meaning of the verse. Gaṇeśa said Om and became the writer of the epic Mahābhārata.

  1. Purāṇas

          Purāṇas also provide so many evidences for writing in ancient India. Viṣṇu purāṇa describes the procedure to write the details of donation in copper plate.

Matsya Purāṇa, gives the qualification of a scribe as follows.

          सर्वदेशाक्षराभिज्ञः सर्वशास्त्रविशारदः।

       लेखकः कथितो राज्ञः सर्वाधिकरणेषु वै।।

       शीर्षोपेतान् सुसम्पूर्णान् समश्रेणिगतान् समान्।

       अक्षरान् वै लिखेद्यस्तु लेखकः स वरः स्मृतः।।

       उपायवाक्यकुशलः सर्वशास्त्रविशारदः।

       बह्वर्थवक्ता च अल्पेन लेखकः स्याद् भृगूत्तम।।

       वाक्याभिप्रायतत्त्वज्ञः देशकालविभागवित्।।

       अनाहार्यो नृपे भक्तः लेखकः स्याद् भृगूत्तम।

sarvadeśākṣarābhijñaḥ sarvaśāstraviśāradaḥ|

lekhakaḥ kathito rājñaḥ sarvādhikaraṇeṣu vai||

śīrṣopetān susampūrṇān samaśreṇigatān samān|

akṣarān vai likhedyastu lekhakaḥ sa varaḥ smṛtaḥ||

upāyavākyakuśalaḥ sarvaśāstraviśāradaḥ|

bahvarthavaktā ca alpena lekhakaḥ syād bhṛgūttama||

He is called as the Royal preceptor who knows the letters of all countries, expert in all scriptures and he can be appointed in all portfolios. One who writes the letters with clear top parts, fully and in line will be a better writer. One who knows the ways of writing and a better orator, expert in all scriptures and can explain a lot with small part of scripture will be a good writer. One who knows the exact meaning of the sentences and the divisions of regions and time one cannot be beaten by others and a real patriot will be a better writer.

These are the qualifications explained in Matsya Purāṇa.

          Devīpurāṇa too add protection of palm leaf manuscript with the following verse.

सुताडपत्रके शस्ते समे पत्रसञ्चिते।

विचित्रकञ्चिकापार्श्वे चर्मणा सम्पुटीकृते।।

देवीपुराणम्

sutāḍapatrake śaste same patrasañcite|

vicitrakañcikāpārśve carmaṇā sampuṭīkṛte||

devīpurāṇam

          Written in a well prepared manuscript and covered with a leather coverage, thus says Devīpurāṇa about the protection of manuscripts. These are the evidences from epics and purāṇas of India which have clear indications of writing in ancient India.

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