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.”