Revive Takri, Himachal’s Lost Screenplay: The Tribune India

Sarika sharma

WHAT is an almost extinct script used for? Ask a gallery owner in the US or UK, and you will know. Over the years, as the art world has become in awe of the Pahari painters, led by Nainsukh of Guler from the ancient hills of Punjab, a forgotten script has become a definitive tool to mark works of art like Pahari. Once the script of royal courts and the business community, Takri (also known as Tankari) fell out of favor with the increased use of Devanagari and Urdu, and simply passed out.

A manuscript from the collection of the late Purohit Chandrashekhar ‘Bebas’ of Kullu. Courtesy: Yatin Pandit

Decades later, efforts are being made to salvage all that remains of the script that once defined what the various languages ​​of today’s Himachal Pradesh expressed – from Lahaul-Spiti to Kullu, from Mandi to Kangra. , from Sirmaur to Chamba, and beyond.

Derived from the Sharda script of Kashmir, Takri arrived in the hills of Punjab in the 13th century. To a layman, the inscriptions on the temples dotting the hills would be the most obvious testimony to the lost language. But researchers often find themselves scrutinizing temple accounts books, land income registers, royal correspondence, some translation work, pahari paintings… The loss of the script also resulted in the loss of knowledge of the system of medicine. native, literature and philosophy.

But this was not the case until a hundred years ago, when Takri was one of the main scripts, as confirmed by Sir George Abraham Grierson in his Linguistic Survey of India of 1916: “Everywhere in Western Pahari region, the written character is some form of the Takri alphabet, but the Nagari and Persian characters are also used by educated people.

The attempts to integrate the country before Independence (by the British) and after Independence, in a way, sounded the death knell for the scenario. Increased correspondence with the outside world meant increased use of Urdu and Devanagari, which were already teaching materials in schools.

After the creation of Himachal in 1971, little was done to introduce it into the school curriculum or give it the status of a state writing, unlike Gurmukhi in neighboring Punjab or Dogri in Jammu (both derived from by Sharda). Linguist Ganesh Devy says writing technology changed around this time. “Unlike Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Maharashtra and Gujarat, Himachal was not entirely created as a linguistic state. It had other complex characteristics – ecological, sociological, historical. And, therefore, unsurprisingly, the “script” was not the primary focus of the government of the day. “

Takri quickly became a script for elders, some of whom used it until the 1970s, according to Mandi academic Jagdish Kapoor. He remembers the people who signed Takri when he joined the banking service in the 1970s, but eventually saw him disappear. His interest in the script was aroused when he found his grandfather’s ledger in Takri and began to learn the script.

Over the past few years, Yatin Pandit, a researcher from Kullu, has translated several local temple account books. “Some as recent as the 1930s and 1940s,” he says. A history buff, the 39-year-old stumbled upon several references to the script in books by British scholars and in 2016 began to learn Takri. He learned to use the font developed by Sambh, a Kangra-based organization that works to preserve Himachali heritage. Over the past few years he has been teaching Takri classes and working on the development of an alphabet book for Kullui Takri, as well as the forms the alphabets have taken, while also researching the reasons why this must have happened. .

From Padma Shri Prize winner painter Vijay Sharma, 60, to Parul Arora, 36, Takri has found his avid fans trying to learn the alphabet and share their knowledge. While Sharma teaches at the Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba and helps international museums such as the Metropolitan Museum in the United States and auction houses like Sotheby’s decipher the Takri inscriptions on Pahari paintings, Arora runs a small school of Takri sponsored by the Himachal Pradesh Academy of Arts. , Culture and Languages ​​in Mandi. His five students come from a variety of backgrounds. One is an author, the other a journalist; there is a teacher, a private sector employee and a social worker. Arora says he was drawn to the full-fledged script after losing his job during the lockdown. Saddened to see his Takri de Mandi-loving companion, Jagdish Kapoor, not receiving his due for all the effort put into the script, he arranged to set up a stand for his book at Mandi Shivratri earlier this year, where more than 100 copies were sold.

A major discovery in his journey to discover Takri was a book, “Varnmala Takri”, by Bakshi Ram, written during the reign of Raja Vijaysen de Mandi in the 19th century. “The book is the best you could ask for for learning a script. It contains swar, vyanjan, matrayein, framing phrases, writing letters, and even takri tables. This book is a testament to the fact that it was a full-fledged script, the multiplication tables indicate that it may have been taught in schools too. We have found a base to work on!

While many young scholars give Takri the much-needed boost, he has survived the test of time thanks to Jagdish Kapoor, the poet Harikrishan Murari of Kangra, the late Dr Rita Sharma of Chamba and the late Khubram Khushdil from Kullu. . While Murari has trained most of the young Takri enthusiasts in the state and elsewhere, Khushdil, a 90-year-old who died last year, is hailed as the man who has collected the most Takri documents in the past century. Historian Tobdan says it is to Khushdil’s credit for working to preserve a scenario from which the state and the people had turned away. All his life he collected and translated Takri documents from Mandi, Kullu and Lahaul, among which a huge pile discovered under a statue at the Murlidhar temple near the historic Chehni Kothi in Banjar tehsil of the Kullu district.

“The problem with Takri’s survival is that the majority of the available material deals with topics (tantra-mantra, income statements, etc.) that are of little interest to serious researchers,” says Tobdan. However, he believes that Khushdil’s vast collection should be preserved and shared with scholars.

Himal Nachiketa Das, a documentary filmmaker, described Khushdil towards the end of his life in his film “Tankari”. He says there are thousands of documents in Khushdil’s house and he would be likely to preserve them before they deteriorate over time. He also photocopied about 5,000 for the Bhasha Academy. A museum at Dev Sadan in Kullu has a handful on display.

Arvind Sharma, head of Sambh, says what worked in Gurmukhi’s favor was that Guru Granth Sahib was written there. Eventually this was followed by various literary writings. Devy says that couldn’t have happened with Takri as this script served a different purpose.

“When you look at the writing systems in India in the 13th and 14th centuries, you have to remember that the paper trade arrived in India around this time and was flourishing. It is important to note that the paper was used for writing related to “record keeping”. As a result, various abbreviated writing systems have evolved around this phase in various parts of the country. For example, the script “Modi” in Western India was used in areas that are now known as Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka, ”Devy explains.

These were not entirely new scripts, but new formulations of existing scripts, in which joining letters or switching from one character to another was relatively easy. Takri, the script that replaced Sharda, was one of them. “Given the nature of its use, it has spread over vast areas through networks of“ stock exchange corporations ”(traders for example). Sharda, the earlier writing, was, unlike Takri, used to write genealogies, poetry, and philosophical treatises. It was a script mainly used by the ‘literary’ class. Over the following centuries, Takri found a place among the Little Hill Kingdoms as it could be easily understood by the ruling elite. And since they had accepted the Takri, the literary class also adopted it. The fortunes of scripts such as Takri declined with the introduction of printing technology for Indian languages, ”says Devy.

But hope floats among those who strive to learn and teach the script: at Yatin Pandit, who runs a staple store by day and is passionate about history by night; to Parul Arora, who found new meaning in her life after losing her job during the pandemic; to Harikrishan Murari, who is now attempting a literary work in takri. Maybe together they could get back what is not quite lost yet.

Emergence of a separate script

It is believed that when the Kashmiri pundits arrived in the hills of Punjab with the traders, they brought with them the Sharda script – a writing system for the Kashmiri language, originating in the 8th century and used in Kashmir until 13th century. Over time it took on various forms and became Kullui, Mandeali, Sirmauri, Chambeali, Jaunsari, each slightly different from each other. According to Omniglot, an online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages, takri emerged as a separate script during the 16th century. “Takri was an official script in parts of northern and northwestern India from the 17th century until the middle of the 20th century. At Chamba, as Grierson noted, the script had been “brought up to the dignity of the printing press, and the type of an improved Takri was cast.”

Sir George Abraham Grierson on Takri

“The alphabet name Takri is most likely derived from Takka, the name of a powerful tribe that once ruled this part of the country, and whose capital was the famous Sakala, recently identified by Dr Fleet with modern Sialkot. . The Takri or Takkari alphabet is closely related to the Sarada alphabet of Kashmir, and to the Landa, or ‘clipped’ alphabet, common in Punjab and Sindh. It is built on the same lines as Nagari, but the vowel representation is … most imperfect. Short middle vowels are frequently omitted, and long middle vowels are often used in their original form.

Source: Linguistic Survey of India, 1916

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