Kashmiri professionals take to e-platform to revive ancient Sharda script
Jammu: A few years ago, some professionals from diverse fields came together on an e-platform to revive, learn and teach the most ancient and near-extinct “Sharda” script of Kashmir, a cursive script formerly used for writing Sanskrit and Kashmiri languages, thereby paving the way for the creation of a corps of 3,000 learned script-writers.
Dating back to the eighth century, the Sharda script is a writing system based on the Brahmic family of scripts and was well flourished even in Himachal Pradesh and Punjab in the 13th century AD. Sharda texts have been widely found in Afghanistan.
Under the banner of the “Core Sharda Team” (CST), these young Kashmiri professionals, mostly based in Pune, took “a small step and a big leap of faith” when they started their journey of the revival of the Sharda script, which is incidentally the mother script of a lot of north Indian scripts and which has long been forgotten, through a WhatsApp group initiative.
No school was set up, neither any classroom lesson was given to learn and teach one of the oldest scripts of the country.
“A small step and a big leap of faith is what the Core Sharda Team had taken when it started its journey of the revival of the Sharda script. All it had was faith and some basic knowledge of the script as there were not many teachers or any teaching material,” CST member Nidhi Bhat said.
She said the script is the key to understand the glorious past of the land of sages and mystics like Acharya Abhinavagupta and Saint Lalleshwari and a lot of missing links of this history were hidden in manuscripts lying in museums, libraries and in the custody of individuals, which were waiting to be read.
“The CST is a bunch of enthusiastic people who have taken upon a mammoth task of the revival of the Sharda script, the forgotten script of the valley of Vitasta. It is important to bring to light the team’s efforts to revive the script,” Bhat said.
The team started with small WhatsApp groups to teach the script, picking one letter at a time, and it now organises live webinars with 500-700 participants, she said, adding that it has come a long way but a lot still has to be done.
The team believes in teaching the teachers’ concept and hence, everyone is advised to take up fresh batches to propagate the script further. A number of those who learnt the script from the CST are taking up classes individually as also with the team.
“We have got an enthusiastic response from both Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris. Currently, the team is working at many levels and has diversified its approach towards its goal,” Bhat said.
The CST has dedicated teams working on manuscript-reading, content creation, software development and teaching and propagation.
“We recently concluded a week-long lineup of live sessions by scholars on the subject, the journey of the team members and even little children sharing their passion about the script,” Bhat said.
The team has introduced the “Sharda Lipi” to 3,000 students so far through the core Sharda platform and an equal number of students through personal classes held by its graduates, she added.
“As many as 400 students are part of the core team now who have gained expertise as Sharda teachers. The team conducts a regular webinar to teach the script to 700 Sanskrit scholars, most of whom are part of the team and working on the transcription of important manuscripts,” Bhat said.
The team runs six WhatsApp groups, which work on the transcription of the manuscripts on a daily basis. The team provides free resources and training materials to all the aspirants who are willing to learn the “Sharda Lipi”.
Bhat said over 120 Sanskrit and manuscript scholars are part of the team today and online training materials in the form of YouTube videos are regularly published.
“The efforts of the team bore fruit when the Sharda Lipi was used to write a Kashmiri couplet written by Professor D N Koul Nadim, which was published in the Union Budget 2020,” she added.
On the technological front, the team has been able to create the Sharda keyboard, which is available on both Android and iOS 14 platforms. It has also developed an Android mobile application to facilitate Sharda learning.
“Sharda texts have been widely found in Afghanistan. One was engraved on a marble statue of the Indian elephant god, Ganesha, that was found near Gardez. Another was inscribed on the large Uma Maheshwara from Tepe Skandar, north of Kabul. The Sharda inscriptions all seem to date to the eighth century CE,” academician A K Bhat said.
Kashmir, the land of Sharda, considered as “Sarvajna Peetha” (the seat of all knowledge), has always been the land of great scholars, he added.
“It has been noted by Hieun Tsang during his visit in the seventh century AD that Sanskrit is spoken very fluently even by the women and children of Kashmir like their native language. People used Sharda as the main script to write Sanskrit,” he said.
Historian and academician Lalit Gupta said Sharda, in turn, grew into several variants in a few centuries.
“By the 10th century, the first variant, the Landa script, had appeared in Punjab and would eventually be transformed into the Gurmukhi script. By the 14th century, other variants such as Takri and Kashmiri also appeared in the Jammu and Kashmir regions respectively. In fact, Takri descended from Sharda through an intermediate form known as Devashesha, which emerged in the 14th century,” he said.
Gupta said the ‘Devashesha’ script was used for religious and official purposes, while its popular form, ‘Takri’, was used for commercial and informal purposes. ‘Takri’ became differentiated from ‘Devashesha’ in the 16th century and served as the official script of several princely states of northern and north-western India from the 17th century until the middle of the 20th century.