WRITING IN ANCIENT INDIA – EVIDENCES FROM ARTHA, KĀMA AND NĀṬYA ŚĀSTRAS

          The word Artha means the resource. The resources of life viz earth, wealth, cereals and cattle are called as Artha. The science by which these are earned is called  Arthaśāstra. According to tradition, Artha śāstras were written by my Father, Bṛhaspati, śukrācārya, Nārada and others. But the Artha śāstra written by Cāṇakya is fully available today. In this text he refers ten predecessors in this field. Apart from this, Cāṇakya saṅgraha ascribed to Cāṇakya and śukranītisāra are giving so many details of Dharma and Arthaśāstra concepts. These texts too have so many references regarding writing in ancient India.

Vinayādhikārika, the first chapter of Arthaśāstra, quotes the following line.

लिपिं सङ्ख्यानञ्चोपयुञ्जीत।

lipiṁ saṅkhyānañcopayuñjīta|

          The prince should be taught scripts and numbers at his fourth age. This directly refers to the usage of script and numbers during the period of Arthaśāstra. The text also quotes the store house of documents.

प्राङ्मुखम् उदङ्मुखं वा विभक्तोपस्थानं निबन्धपुस्तकस्थानं कारयेत्। तत्र अधिकारिणा सङ्ख्यानिबन्धपुस्तकं कारयेत्।

prāṅmukham udaṅmukhaṁ vā vibhaktopasthānaṁ nibandhapustakasthānaṁ kārayet| tatra adhikāriṇā saṅkhyānibandhapustakaṁ kārayet|

The store house of documents should be placed facing east of north. The number of official should be recorded separately. Thus quotes the Arthaśāstra. Hence it is very clear that store house of documents and records was available during the period of Arthaśāstra. Apart from this, the text further quotes the materials for documents.

ताडताडीभूर्जानां पत्रम्।

tāḍatāḍībhūrjānāṁ patram|

The leaves of Tāḍa, Tāḍi and Bhūrja should be maintained for the document store. Further, the definition of a good scribe too explained in the text.

अमात्यसम्पदोपेतः सर्वसमयवित् आशुग्रन्थः चार्वक्षरः लेखनवाचनसमर्थः लेखकः स्यात्।

amātyasampadopetaḥ sarvasamayavit āśugranthaḥ cārvakṣaraḥ lekhanavācanasamarthaḥ lekhakaḥ syāt|

The scribed should be a possessor of qualities mentioned for a minister, knower of all principles, a quick catcher of meanings, one who has good hand writing and expert in writing and reading.

लेखकश्चेत् उक्तं न लिखति, अनुक्तं लिखति दुरुक्तम् उपलिखति, सूक्तं उल्लिखति, अर्थोत्पत्तिं वा विकल्पयति।

lekhakaścet uktaṁ na likhati, anuktaṁ likhati duruktam upalikhati, sūktaṁ ullikhati, arthotpattiṁ vā vikalpayati|

Thus the text defines a bad scribe. A bad scribe won’t write what was told to him. He writes of his own, Quotes other text and will change the meaning.

Cāṇakya saṅgraha too quotes the definition of a good scribe.

सकृदुक्तगृहीतार्थो लघुहस्तो जिताक्षरः।

सर्वशास्त्रसमालोकी प्रकृष्टो नाम लेखकः।।

sakṛduktagṛhītārtho laghuhasto jitākṣaraḥ|

sarvaśāstrasamālokī prakṛṣṭo nāma lekhakaḥ||

A Best writer would understand the meaning of a text even it is quoted once, write speed, well versed in writing and a analyzer of all śāstras.

Apart from this, Arthaśāstra gives secret writing by name “Saṃjñā lipi” to exchange the matter without the knowledge of others. The same matter is quoted in Kāmandakīya Nītisāra too. Exchanging the matter through the secret script on pots is too mentioned in the text.

Writing on the wall of a temple and songs for exchange of secret matter is also mentioned in the text. The royal seals are also mentioned in Arthaśāstra.

Akṣarakalā is explained as one of the 64 kalās in Kāmaśāstras. The Jayamaṅgala commentary mentions the above version.

Nātyaśāstra mentions that the points of success of a drama should be written with the help of scribe and clerk.

लेखकगणकसहायैः सिद्धेः घाताः समभिलेखयेत्। 27.23

lekhakagaṇakasahāyaiḥ siddheḥ ghātāḥ samabhilekhayet| 27.23

Thus the Artha, Kāma and Nāṭya śāstras give the references for writing in ancient India.

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