ANCIENT INDIAN SCRIPT
by Dr. Gautam
commonly believed that Pali and Tibetan language are the only vehicle of
Buddhist textual traditions. But thats not a fact! As in Sanskrit language
in eight ancient scripts much of the Buddhist thoughts are encoded and most
of it are yet to be deciphered! Dr. Satkari Mukhopadhyay a
traditional Sanskrit scholar, a historian and a linguist who knows some
thirteen languages and thirty-seven scripts of the World explains the
nuances of those scripts and manuscripts in an exclusive interview to Dr.Gautam
Chatterjee. Pt. Mukhopadhyay,who has delved deep into study of
Grammer, Vedas, Indian Philosophical Schools and Buddhism explains the
growth of Buddhism in India and opens up new frontier to rediscover some of
the lost heritage.
will you kindly elaborate the textual tradition of Buddhism!
SM: Common belief is that all
Buddhist works are in Pali. Thats untrue! Pali language
originated as the language of Theravada School which encompasses
Scripts of Sinhalise, Cambodian, Burmese etc. Ninty-nine percent of Pali
literature is published. On the other hand in North India Sanskrit
remained the initial linguistic vehicle where in Buddhism travelled very
deep at the conceptual level, of it much is unpublished. Since the Gupta
period of 1st century B.C. to mediaeval era Sanskrit remained the main
language which even spreaded upto Central Asia. Sanskrit not only catered
to the development of Buddhist thought but later became vehicle for
Buddhist cultural exposition.
much of Sanskrit textual tradition survive today ?
SM: Not really, during the Muslim
invasion much of the Monastries got destroyed and especially of Nalanda,
Vikramshila etc. The repositeries of documents got destroyed so we have
lost much of them. Still there were monks who escaped and carried some
Nepal and Tibet in order to save those
invaluable treasures. The Sanskrit Manuscript which went to Tibet remained
unnoticed until in this century Rahul Sankrityayan could lay his hand and
photographed them. Those texts are in Newari Script and Old Bengali script
i.e Gaudi. Those rare manuscript photograps are available at B.R. Research
Society, Bihar. Though today out of them 28 Buddhist texts are available
in print but much is yet to be deciphered. For example in Newari Script
the Buddhist Mahayan text
Satasahasrika Prajnaparamita, which runs
into 1 lakh verses like the Mahabharata, is yet to be deciphered and
Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, has undertaken this task to
edit this massive work.
will you tell us about the ancient scripts of Sanskrit and Pali Languages
which carried the Buddhist traditons down the ages?
Yes, so far Buddhist texts are concerned Sanskrit language there are seven
principal scripts namely Gupta Brahmi Scripts, Kharosti, Later Gupta
Brahmi , Siddhamatrika, Central Asian Brahmi with its several variations,
Newari and Old Bengali or Gaudi . And in Pali language we have Sinhalise,
Burmese, Thai, Cambodian, Tuatham of Laos. Pali manuscripts in these
scripts are found on palmleaves.
Its important to know that except the
Kharosti script all the scripts be it of Sanskrit or Pali evolved out of
Brahmi script which we find in Asoka Edicts.
remains a vehicle for religio cultural expansion of Buddhism in the South
East Asia, how do you look at as a linguist.
This is a vital question! We see that from 3rd century B.C. Buddhist
socio-religious culture spreaded from Turfan to Indonesia. Historically
speaking if culture or philosophy is not retained by people at large there
cannot be any growth of any given philosophy or thought. Before the advent
of Buddhism be it in Central Asia or in Burma to Indonesia there were no
script available to record the Buddhist thought. Thus, for the retention
of thoughts scripts were coined and thoughts, commentaries were further
written to expand the literature of those places. Thus Buddhism has
actually revolutionised the spirit of oral tradition into a vibrating
For example uptil 7th century A.D. Tibetans
had no script of their own. Initially, oral tradition continued and in 7th
century Thumi Sambhota with his team came to Northern India to develop their
own scripts out of Brahmi script with the help of Indian pundits. Thus came
Tibetan script wherein grammar was developed later became a meditating point
for further development of Buddhist textual tradition.
Similarly, from 3th to 1st Century B.C.
Buddhist oral traditon reached and thrived in Sri Lanka . The Buddhist Canon
Tripitaka ,was written down in Sri Lanka, in Brahmi only in 1st century.
From 6th /7th century A.D. South Indian variety of Brahmi went to Cambodia
where it developed into Khmer script from which Burmese, Thai, Lao and
Indonesian scripts were evolved. These scripts were used to be written in
Pali as well as the regional languages thereby became a powerful vehicle for
the spread and retaintion of Buddhist religion and culture in those regions.
Thus Buddhism, vertually brought literacy to these regions in the field of
literature, art and socio-religious cultural explosion in this region.
you cite some landmark of Buddhist textual traditions?
In Kharosti script we get the 2nd Century A.D. Ms. known as Gandhari
Dharmapada. In 4th century Kalpanamanditika in Brahmi Script is another
landmark work. From 1st century B.C.we find Buddhist canonical texts of
Northern India in Later Brahmi script Aureal Stein found this immensely
valuable manuscripts known as Gilgit collection. The other important mss.
are the Turfan which dates from 4th to 7th century A.D. It is in Gupta
Brahmi Script and its variations of Central Asian type. It contains
Buddhist Canonnical texts,Jatakas,Asadanas.
Two important works are of ASVAGHOSA which
were found in Nepal in Newari script. It contains 2nd century work like
Buddhacaita, Saundaran. Mss. of later period was found in Nepal.
Satasahashrika Prajnaparamita about which I have already told you.
Another important Ms. discovered in Tibet is
Pramanavartika, a work on Buddhist Logic which was written in 7th century
but this Ms. was of 13/14 century A.D
a Historian of religion , you have read Buddhist texts in various
perspective, can you compare Buddhism with Hinduism. I mean it is for quite
some time we have been told that Lord Buddha was a critic of Vedas and his
religious movement was a rebellion against Vedic religion. Do you subscribe
to this theory.
SM:In a nutshell Buddhism and
Hinduism are no separate two creeds as Islam and Christanity. They drew
from a common heritage like different branches of a Banyan tree.So both
share point of agreements with some disagreements. As Hinduism we find the
importance of Gods at spiritual and cosmological levels. However, in
Buddhism the God element is missing both at cosmological level and
spiritual level and God is replaced with Buddha’s personality which has
touched the heart of all enveloping even the common people. Thus later,
Buddha himself became an icon in later years. Actually Gautam Buddha
revived the older Vedic values and opened the path to Moksha even for a
common man. On the otherhand Hinduism talked about the four-fold
Purashartha namely Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Buddhism indicated
towards moksha only and it was a monastic religion.
was Gautam Buddha an atheist or Nastika?
the Buddha was Nastika is basically a wrong notion! As Buddha Sankhaya and
Mimansik philosophy underplayed the God, then why don’t you call them
Nastika. I tell you actually the English word ‘Atheist’ and the
Sanskrit ‘Nastika’ carry different
meanings. Let us look into etymologically and
trace the meaning of Nastika from Panini’s perspective. It says’ He who
believes in life after death(Paraloka) is Astika. Buddha believed in
incarnations and rebirths so he was Astika so how can we say Gautam Buddha
was a Nastika!
Buddha believed in rebirths but does the Buddhist tradition subscribe to
Avatarabada or incarnation theory?
Yes! As you know from common inheritance Hinduism and Buddhism believed
that there is propagation of Dharma at first level then at second it
flourishes and deviation follows so there are falls and falacies creeping
in. To revive the Dharma and correct its stand a superman appears. In
Hinduism Vishnu incarnates and in Buddhism Samyaksambudha comes to set the
world order in correct direction. It is said before the appearance of
Gautama Buddha there were 25 earlier Buddhas and the process is on. In
Hinduism we find the trancendental Hiranyagarbha who is omnipotent and
cause and restult of all but himself above from the cosmic lila. Likewise
in Buddhism talked about Adi Buddha who is similarly trancendental.
about Buddha is being aVeda Nindaka or a critic of Veda ?
Its true Buddha criticised Veda but only on the score of animal sacrifice.
Jayadeva, the Brahmin author of the Gitagovinda, says that the Buddha
criticized only those portions of the Vedas which prescribe animal
sacrifice and that he did out of compassion. Ramachandra Kavi-bharati, a
Buddhist poet who lived in Sri Lanka in the fourteenth century, echoed the
same view and vehemently refuted the allegation of Veda-nindaka on the
part of the Buddha.
Even Buddha himself supported panthinsm and
talked about worshipping some deities to get certain results. He praised
Vedic scholars so he actually praised Vedas alongwith his scholars.
Will you throw some light on the pantheon angles and rituals thereof?
S.M.: In Rig Veda we find that there
were 33 gods which later it is said become the 33 crores! Since the
earliest days of Buddhist tradition gods like Indra, Varuna, Ishana,Yama
etc were accepted in Buddhism. In Hinduism Vishnu, Saraswati, Shiva, Maha
Shakti came up. In Buddhism down the ages similar things happened as
pantheons with its incorportated philosophy changed its iconographic
appearnce but remained almost the same. On the score of rituals and
Mantras Hinduism and Buddhism have similar records and perhaps some of the
rituals were borrowed by Hinduism from the Buddhist traditions.
You have traced the
cosmology,spiritual perspective but what about life for the common man
that is Sanatan Dharma at the social level!
S.M.: If one embraces Buddhism, he
is not cut off from the social structure,the essence remains and strata
and life course continues as usual however there are elements of
dichotomy. In Hindu way of life the four tier system of social order was
out of Guna and Karma and the heriditary trait continues. In Buddhism, the
Kshatriyas are very proud of their genealogical lineage as Gautama Buddha
was from a family of the Kshatriyas. And you will be surprised to know
that both in Sanskrit and Pali literature I have discovered that in the
Buddha tradition of reincarnations it is said the in future Buddha would
take birth in Kshatriya or Brahmin kula or family and no where else. Thus
you see that Sanatan Dharma remains so in the belief system wherever
Really I am enriched with this multi-tier knowldege systems available in
various scripts and languages about Buddhism. But today the knowledge of
scripts are passing into oblivion and direct access to the source material
is becoming difficult for modern scholars. How do you see this situation.
For Indological studies and Buddhist studies access to original records is
very important but it is true day by day scholars are forgetting about the
knowledge of those scripts. In India around 90 per cent of Indologists do
not know various scripts so interpretation becomes difficult. On the
otherhand Western scholars are working very hard but with the scripts and
original sources they are delivering goods in better way!
In the third quarter of 19th century
knowledge of scripts was greater amongst Indians. In our days those who have
studied Pali knew various scripts. But today, modern scholars only know the
regional and Devnagiri scripts.The study of Palaeography has declined
steadly. Among modern Indian University students of Pali study Devnagari and
Roman scripts with diacrtical marks. We are trying at our level to equip
scholars with the knowledge of scripts. For Example IGNCA in collaboration
with other Universities and academic institutions are holding workshops to
teach those scripts in Palaeographic perspective.But much is yet to be done.