The Indus Script and the Brahmi Script

The Indus Script and the Brahmi Script

Q: What do you think the relationship is between the Indus script and the Brahmi script, since you know both of them?

A: Several scholars have said that there is a relationship between the two, that the Indus script survived and slowly became linear and ultimately lead to the Brahmi script. I do not at all believe in this theory. The Indus script was in existence not later than at the most about 1500 B.C. The earliest undisputed examples of the Brahmi script are only from the days of Ashoka, around 300 B.C. One might take the origin of the Brahmi script still farther, to the beginnings of the Indo-Gangetic, Iron Age civilization, in the middle of the first millennia B.C., since Ashoka does not claim to have invented the Brahmi script, it is not unlikely that the Brahmi script was known before his times, and perhaps used by the merchants commercially as the Allchins have suggested in their recent book. The absence of such inscriptions by Chandragupta, the illustrious grandfather of Ashoka could be explained by saying that stone inscriptions were not in the Indian tradition and they came to us along with the Persian tradition. This is not unlikely, but even so there is at least a gap of 1,000 years before the introduction of the Brahmi script and the complete collapse of the Indus script.

The Linear B Script

There is a parallel in the history of writing elsewhere in the history of the world. Mycenian Linear B script was written in syllabic script in about the 14th or 15th century B.C. and that has nothing to do with the later script of the Greeks, which was taken over from the Phoenicians. There again was a gap of one thousand years. Personally, I believe that the Indus script was too closely tied up with the Indus language, whatever it was, and when that language ceased to be spoken and became dead, the incoming Aryans could not use that script. Now that again has a parallel in the Egyptian script which was too closely tied up in the Egyptian language and could not survive it. The cuneiform scripts were much more adaptable to a wide variety of languages. So perhaps the logographic Indus script had a one-to-one relation with the words of the Indus language and could not be used in another language. What has survived of the Indus script may be symbols of various kinds, totem signs, royal signs and insignia on punch marked coins and flags and traditions in our mythology of gods, attributes, weapons and so on but not as a writing system.

The Semitic Script

There is another reason to say that the Brahmi script is not related to the Indus script is that the connection between Brahmi and some form of Semitic script is too strong. Buehler pointed out the relation between Alif and A, B and Bay, Gameen and Ga, and so on. At least I can see about 10 of the 22 Semitic characters very closely resemble Brahmi both in form and sound. Statistically, such a resemblance is impossible except when there is genetic relationship. I do not say that Brahmi script itself came from the Semitic script, but some elements of the Semitic were taken over, others were locally added, improvements were made, the order of the sounds were changed, the diacritical marks were locally invented, the aspirates were invented, the additional vowels were joined, so that Brahmi is a much developed and transformed script. But the idea of the Brahmi script comes from the alphabetic, Semitic script and I believe in Buehler's theory. For these two reasons I do not agree with the scholars, most of them Indian, who believe that the Brahmi script is a remote descendant of the Indus script.