Tamil Brahmi Script Part – 1 History of Writing

The opening verse of the holy Kural puts across a thought to think: “As all scripts have the letter ‘A’ for their first, so do the world has the eternal primordial god for its first.”

A, as its first of letters, every speech maintains;
The “Primal Deity” is first through all the world’s domains. ( Kural, 1 )

Why would Thiruvalluvar compare the letter “A” with the primordial god? The answer lies in verse 392 which says,”Letters and numbers are the two eyes of mankind.”

The twain that lore of numbers and of letters give
Are eyes, the wise declare, to all on earth that live.( kural, 392 )

Probably that emphasizes the importance revered to writing by the ancient Indians of Tamilnadu. It is needless to say that someone that can read and write has better opportunities that an illiterate.

That said, Socrates complained that writing is only a static simulation of life. Socrates expresses this in his story of the Egyptian god Thoth, the inventor of writing. Thoth comes to see the king Amon seeking royal blessing on his enlightening invention. The king tells Thoth, “You, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess… you have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant.”

But, writing is perhaps the greatest invention of mankind. Without writing there would be no history. How this writing did came into about? How did the ancient people learn to symbolize their speech and thought? What did they use writing for?

Many scholars believe that writing began with accountancy. During the 4th millennium BC, the complexity of trade and administration in Mesopotamia reached a point at which it outstripped the power of memory of the governing elite. To record transactions in a dependable, permanent form became essential. Besides, writing was used for political purposes, funerary inscriptions, predict future, record grants and at times served as a property marker.

For example, the inscriptions of Hammurabi are none different from modern time dictators. Hammurabi, calls himself as ‘mighty King, King of Babylon, King of the whole country of Amururu, King of Sumer and Akkad, King of the Four Quarters of the World; and he promised that if his laws were obeyed, then all his people would benefit.’ The seals of the Indus valley were probably worn on a cord and used as a personal signature to indicate a person’s office or the social or professional group to which he or she belonged. In China, during the Bronze age Shang dynasty, questions about the future were written on turtle shells and ox bones. The bone was heated until it cracked. The meaning of the shape of the crack was divined and the answer to the question was inscribed. The Tamil Brahmi Mangulam Pandian Netunceliyan inscription of the 2nd Cent BC records the grant to kani Nanta.

The Theni hero stones of the 3rd Cent BC were scribed in memory of war lords in Tamil Brahmi script: http://www.hindu.com/2006/04/05/stories/2006040518340600.htm

In Andipatti a broken pot with the Tamil Brahmi inscription was found. The inscription probably served as a property marker :


Well, the first written symbols are generally thought to have been pictograms or pictoral representations of concrete objects. Some scholars believe that writing was the result of a conscious search by an unknown Sumerian individual in the city of Uruk in about 3300BC. Others believe it was a group work. Still others think that it was not an invention at all, but an accidental discovery. Many regard it as the result of evolution over a long period. One theory holds that writing grew out of a long standing counting system of clay tokens in the Middle East.

The following table illustrates the chronicle of writing:

Period	            Writing
Ice Age             ( after 25000 BC)	Proto Writing, i.e., Pictographic communication
8000BC	            Clay tokens in use as counters in Middle East
3300BC	            Sumerian Clay tablets with writing in Uruk
3100BC	            Cuneiform inscriptions in Mesopatomia
3100BC to 3000BC	   Hieroglyphic inscriptions begin in Egypt
2500BC	            Indus script begins in Indus valley
1800BC	            Cretan Linear-A script
1792BC – 1750BC	    Code of Hammurabi
1500BC	            Decline of the Indus Valley civilization
1450BC	            Cretan Linear-B script
1400BC	            Alphabetic cuneiform inscriptions in Syria
1200BC	            Oracle bones of China
1000BC	            Phoenician alphabets in Mediterranean area
730BC	            Greek Alphabets
700BC	            Etruscan Alphabets
650BC	            Demotic inscriptions derived from hieroglyphic inscriptions in Egypt
600BC	            Glyphic inscriptions in Mesoamerica
400BC	            Ionian alphabet becomes standard Greek Alphabet
300BC to 200BC	    Kharosthi script of North India is evolved.
                    Rock edicts of Asoka in Asokan Brahmi script.
                    Evolution of Tamil Brahmi script.
221BC	            Qin Dynasty reforms Chinese character spelling
200BC to 100BC	    Mangulam inscription mentioning Pandian Netunceliyan in Tamil Brahmi
1Cent AD	        Dead Sea Scrolls
1Cent AD	        Atiyan Netuman Anci inscription at Jambi in Tamil Brahmi
75AD	            Last inscription of Cuneiform
2Cent AD	        Runic Inscriptions in Northern Europe
394AD	            Last inscription in Egyptian Hieroglyphs
9Cent AD	        Cyrillic alphabet invented in Russia
1418-1450	        Hangul Alphabet in Korea
1823	            Champollion deciphers Egyptian Heiroglyphs
1924	            Decipherment of Tamil Brahmi script by K V Subrahmanya Aiyer
1953	            Linear B deciphered by Ventris
1950s	            Mayan Glyphs deciphered
2003	            Iravatham Mahadevan publishes the magnum opus 
                    “Early Tamil Epigraphy From the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D.”