Origin and Evolution of Tamil Script
An Archaeological Perspective
Dr K. Rajan
Professor, Department of History
Tamil Session - 2PM - 4PM, 14 April 2017
English Session - 11AM - 1PM, 15 April 2017
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The scripts encountered in Indus Valley Civilization finds and the graffiti marks subsequently unearthed in Chalcolithic and Iron Age have not been deciphered inspite of scholarly attempts. Due to non-decipherment of the scripts, the salient features of various languages and their scripts that existed in India between 3000 BCE and 500 BCE have not been brought out extensively. However, the satisfactory decipherment of the Brahmi script employed in Asokan edicts helped date the Brahmi script to 3rd century BCE.
Scholars still argued about dating the Asokan-Brahmi and Tamil-Brahmi scripts irrespective of their complete decipherment. Archaeologists dated the Brahmi script based on archaeological stratigraphy observed in excavated trenches, epigraphists dated the script based on palaeography and linguistics dated the script based on language structures and their features. The independent multi-disciplinary approaches followed by various scholars failed to yield any desirable results with regard to the date of Brahmi script. However, the Brahmi inscribed potsherds unearthed in Anurathapura (Sri Lanka) excavations, the Sangam Age memorial stones engraved with Tamil-Brahmi scripts found at Pulimankombai and Thathappatti in Tamil Nadu and the large number of Tamil-Brahmi inscribed potsherds unearthed in the archaeological excavations conducted at Porunthal and Kodumanal forced a review of the views held so far.
The dates suggested for more than one hundred Tamil-Brahmi cave inscriptions; the memorial stone inscriptions discovered at Pulimankombai and Thathappatti; and the scientific dates obtained for more than 800 inscribed potsherds unearthed in the archaeological excavations conducted at Kodumanal, Uraiyur, Korkai, Karur, Kiladi Porunthal, etc., clearly establish the fact that the Tamil society was a literate society well before 2500 years. The Damili (Tamil-Brahmi) script that came into existence well before 6th century BCE, started taking a round shape around 2nd-3rd century CE. This change led to the emergence of vatteluttu script around 5th century CE. This ancient script joining with Grantha script that was introduced in Tamil Nadu later evolved as the present Tamil script around 7th-8th century CE. Thus, the Tamil language and Tamil script have undergone a change through the years by absorbing the contemporary socio-cultural transformation.