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Notes on Telugu Script contd..

 

Telugu Scribes

 

As is the case with most of North India, the earliest inscriptions found in the present day telugu naaDu are dated from the Mauryan times. Almost coincidentally, two separate schools of Indian sculpture also arose. The northern "gaandhaara" tradition directly inspired by Greek, Phoenician and middle-eastern sculpture had many sub schools and is found from Afghanistan to Bengal. As opposed to it, the Andhra tradition led by Buddhist and Jain monasteries in the Telugu country developed a totally indigenous sculptural style. At present, examples of this style are found mainly in Andhra Pradesh and parts of Maharashtra. This style seems to have eventually led to the manifold flowering of the south Indian temple sculptures. The main locations for this style include the many great Buddhist centers along the Krishna and Godavari river-valleys and north-eastern Andhra Pradesh (what was then known as the Kalinga country) and several very influential Jain centers in the Cuddapah-Anantapur-Nandyala area. Both the northern and Andhra sculptural traditions have contributed immensely to our understanding of Indian scripts. Many rock edicts of Emperor Asoka had been found throughout India. The earliest portrayal of an Indian scribe (lEKhaka) is found in the ruins of Nagarjuna Konda (Guntur-Nalgonda Districts of Andhra Pradesh). The figure here shows the court of King Suddhodana, the father of Gautama Buddha. The courtiers are discussing the dream of Suddhodana's wife that foretold the birth of an illustrious son. In the bottom tier is a scribe sitting cross-legged and recording the proceedings. This style of scribes remained unchanged for almost two thousand years in the southern parts of India. In fact many of these scribes, (along with jewellers) developed in to separate sub-castes (e.g., kaMsaali). All copper (and other metal) inscriptions are still carried out by them. These days, such inscriptions are mainly used for religious purposes, e.g., taayettulu, yantraalu, etc. These scribes played a significant role in defining the shape of character graphs for Telugu and Kannada.

 

 

Over the centuries, the scribes were responsible for the original character graphs acquiring a pronounced rounded-ness as opposed to the straight line like strokes of early braahmee. Until the eighteenth century, Telugu was generally written on specially cured palm leaf pieces (taaLa patraalu). The surface of the palm leaf is usually brittle and all the grains are arranged in one direction. Royal communiqués were recorded some times on silk cloth. Permanent records of edicts, awards and proclamations of acts of religious merit were recorded on copper plates for individual or limited circulation. Public proclamations were recorded on stone etchings. It was very rare to employ clay tablets, leather and other writing materials that were commonly used elsewhere. Paper was not used in any appreciable manner until the arrival of Vasco da Gama at the Malabar coast. The preferred instrument of writing was GhanTaM, a bell shaped iron/brass/bronze pen with a sharp center point (stylus). It was held in the fist, dipped in ink and was used to write on cloth or palm leaf held by the left hand. India ink (which is extremely hard to wash off) made from a variety of nutmeg (karakkaaya - myrobalan or chebulic myrobalan) and other organic products was the most common. They moved the GhanTaM in a smooth circular motion with the wrist as the pivot point, unlike the movement of fingers in case of modern pens. Because of the special nature of writing with a sharp metal point on brittle palm leaf surface with unidirectional grains, the scribes found it advantageous to have rounded characters. It would minimize the damage to the leaf surface and the stress on the scribe's wrist. Hence, we do not see many square corners or long lines in the characters. This practical need resulted in the development of a very beloved script that looks like strings of horizontal pearls. Although illuminating a written document has not been a tradition in telugu nADu, the simple script itself has been variously praised for its beauty. Many Telugu people took pride in their script. tenAli rAmakRShNa (16th Cent.) described some of the likeable characteristics of the script as an example of the handwriting of his patron virUri vEdAdri mantri [pAnDuranga mAhAtmyamu, First Canto-71]. Sree nAtha (15th Cent.) too made similar remarks about the handwriting of his friend and patron, avaci tippaya SrEShThi.

Kings, most affluent people and poets used to employ scribes. These patrons of the scribes were not accustomed to writing and most often were "illiterate" in the strict sense of the word (although they were highly educated and could compose fine poetry themselves). The early scribe was viewed more often than not as a technician. The scribes themselves were not often well read. This was one of the reasons for the mistakes the scribes made in transcribing the words although they strove to maintain the beauty of the letters. There are several inscriptions with such mistakes. Over the centuries, these scribes acquired good education and great respect from the general population. They are still referred to as aacaaris (synonym for teacher/priest in many areas). From amongst their ranks came the prophetic visionary pOtuloori veera brahmam (17th-18th Cent.), who is still one of the most influential metaphysical thinkers in Telugu land.

 


The picture of the scribe was taken from an old Central Sahitya Academy printed copy. Hopefully they don't mind!

 

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