WRITING IN ANCIENT INDIA – LITERARY EVIDENCES FROM DHARMA ŚĀSTRA

          Smṛtis are the ancient law texts of India. There are more than twenty such texts are available today. These texts too have so many references which enact as the evidences for writing in ancient India. Nārada smṛti gives an important note on writing.

          नाकरिष्यद्यदि ब्रह्मा लिखितं चक्षुरुत्तमम्।

      तत्रेयमस्य लोकस्य नाभविष्यच्छुभा गतिः।। नारदस्मृतिः, 4.70

nākariṣyadyadi brahmā likhitaṁ cakṣuruttamam|

          tatreyamasya lokasya nābhaviṣyacchubhā gatiḥ|| nāradasmṛtiḥ, 4.70

      If Brahmā weren’t create the beautiful letters, then the working style of the world would not be smooth.

          Thus the smṛti claims that the letters were created by Brahmā. Some scholars associated the Brāhmī lipi with this incident and claimed that the Brāhmī lipi was created by Brahmā. This will be dealt in the post related to Brāhmī script.

          Vyavahāra Prakāśikā, too gives the same reference.

          षाण्मासिके तु समये भ्रान्तिः सञ्जायते यतः।

      धात्राक्षराणि सृष्टानि पत्रारूढान्यतः पुरा।।

ṣāṇmāsike tu samaye bhrāntiḥ sañjāyate yataḥ|

          dhātrākṣarāṇi sṛṣṭāni patrārūḍhānyataḥ purā||

      Since in six months, men got confused, Dhāta – Brahmā, created the script and the same was written on leaves.

          The same thought is found in śukranīti also.

          भ्रान्तेः पुरुषधर्मत्वात् लेख्यं निर्णायकं परम्।

      अनुभूतस्य स्मृत्यर्थं लिखितं निर्मितं पुरा।।

      यत्नाच्च ब्रह्मणा वाचा वर्णस्वरचिह्नितम्।

bhrānteḥ puruṣadharmatvāt lekhyaṁ nirṇāyakaṁ param|

          anubhūtasya smṛtyarthaṁ likhitaṁ nirmitaṁ purā||

          yatnācca brahmaṇā vācā varṇasvaracihnitam|

      Since confusion is the nature of men, the written document was made as the authentic proof. The same was made mandatory to remember the things experienced in the past by Brahmā with effort and with letters and svaras.

          Thus the creation of the script is connected with Brahmā, the god of creation. Other Dharmaśāstra texts too give the importance of written document in legal procedures.  Vasiṣṭha dharma sūtra advices the three fold evidences as

          लिखितं साक्षिणो भुक्तिः प्रमाणं त्रिविधं स्मृतम्।

likhitaṁ sākṣiṇo bhuktiḥ pramāṇaṁ trividhaṁ smṛtam|

      Written document, witnesses and the divine evidences are to be considered in a legal procedure.

The same is quoted in Yājñavalkya smṛti too. The Vyavahārādhyāya of the same smṛti gives more details about writing.

यः कश्चिदर्थो निष्णातो स्वरुच्या तु परस्परम्।

विलेख्यं त्ववश्यं कार्यं तस्मिन् धनिकपूर्वकम्।।

yaḥ kaścidartho niṣṇāto svarucyā tu parasparam|

vilekhyaṁ tvavaśyaṁ kāryaṁ tasmin dhanikapūrvakam||

Between the two, the borrower and the taker of the debt, a written document should be written before a rich man.

The smṛti also gives the reference of writing in cloth and copper plate.

पटे वा ताम्रपटे वा स्वमुद्रोपचिह्नितम्।

paṭe vā tāmrapaṭe vā svamudropacihnitam|

The Lekhya prakaraṇa gives so many references regarding the written documents.

Kātyāyana smṛti also gives an important note on writing on a leave.

पाण्डुलेखेन फलके ततः पत्रं विशोधयेत्।

pāṇḍulekhena phalake tataḥ patraṁ viśodhayet|

The matter should be written on a board with a chalk piece and after correction the same can be copied in the “Patra”.

Some scholars opined that, the word “Patra” refers to paper since it was rare during the ancient times and hence it was used after making correction. This is often quoted by so many scholars to claim that paper was in India even before it was introduced by mugals. Vyāsasmṛti too have the same type of reference.

पाण्डुलेखेन फलके भूमौ वा प्रथमं लिखेत्।

 न्यूनाधिकं तु संशोध्य पश्चात्पत्रे निवेशयेत्।।

pāṇḍulekhena phalake bhūmau vā prathamaṁ likhet|

nyūnādhikaṁ tu saṁśodhya paścātpatre niveśayet||

Thus Dharmaśāstras give so many references on writing in ancient India.

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One thought on “WRITING IN ANCIENT INDIA – LITERARY EVIDENCES FROM DHARMA ŚĀSTRA

  1. Dear Shri Shankara Narayanan,

    You are doing very great job to share such important information.Many thanks for the same . I request you to send copy of the above article on my e-mail.

    Shrish Deshmukh
    Nagpur

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