Posts tagged ‘indic languages’

August 30, 2009

modI script and mAravADI accounting

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

During our short sojourn to vraja this janmAShTamI last weekend, our companion was a retired and elderly mAravADI businessman from utkala country, from whom we got to learn about many subjects, besides being fed the delights of the mAravADI kitchen of his hosts, option of pardoning ourselves from which was denied.

Our companion was at one point nostalgically relating the things of gone-by yesteryears, and was narrating the reminiscences of those days when he was a boy being initiated in his father’s business (of metals and minerals).

One of those things that he said he still missed sorely, was the tradition of book keeping in modI script.  While submitting that none competes with devanAgarI in perfectness, completeness and aesthetics of writing, he demonstrated how modI was an improvised shorthand that afforded more advantages for an accountant than nAgarI character set.  It allowed dual benefits: a quicker entry of journals, and an inbuilt encoder.

First, the script was designed in a way that it did not demand lifting of the pen from the ledger book, except for dipping it in the ink pot, which in itself was a huge advantage for the accountants who had to process a large amount of transactions during an average day. 

This was done by making the standard nAgarI characters cursive where possible, and replacing those characters altogether which either had ‘corners’ demanding deceleration of the nib, or had features which demanded either the lifting of the pen, or repeating a line over itself, such as the ‘Sha’ (which was by the way always the funniest ‘fellow’ on the varNamAlA to us when our mAtAshrI used to teach us our first lessons – we somehow visualized ‘him’ as an arrogant bully with a ‘cut over his stomach’, or as an impostor-dvija with yaj~nopavIta hanging over the wrong shoulder posing to stand in the vR^ikShAsana on one-leg!).

Anyways, the modI script then did away with the necessity of the horizontal bar, that integral datum of nAgarI which otherwise wonderfully enforces a clear and aesthetic alignment of the character-string, but which required the pen to move back and forth, slowing down an accounting clerk!

Finally, the most important deviation: the mAravADI shorthand eliminated all the mAtrA-s from the table, meaning that, for example, all the members of ka-kA–ki-kI-ku-kU etc group were only written as ‘ka’. In this aspect, mAravADI shorthand deviated even from the southern modI tradition of maharaTTI-s since they still keep the mAtrA-s. (A web-developer could call it modI-on-rails, in fashion of the current day de-facto standard of web development: Ruby on Rails!)

This elimination of mAtrA-s while complicated the matter for a layman, for a trained accountant it not only accelerated journal writing, but also afforded a wonderful system of encoding information.  Only someone who knew the context of a particular transaction and was familiar with the agreed parlance and terminology of that business, would be able to understand the content of that journal entry, and with a little practice it was a wonderful way of encoding financial data!


(above is the maharaTTI variety of modI, not mAravADI. Thanks to this blog )

To demonstrate his point he narrated a funny anecdote from those days when he was then undergoing apprenticeship under the dIvAna of a branch of his father’s business. The days were when the hindU nation had moved on from the tyranny of the mlechcHa to the tyranny of the native socialists, and the corruption was already rampant.  Long story short, once this dIvAna had to affect a payment of some trivial sum for chai-pAnI to the income tax officials, simply to avoid the wastage of time in full scan audit.  The payment was also carefully entered in the general ledger, and the entry was made with journal description reading as “i-na-ka-ma-Ta-ka-sa-va-la-ka-da-la-va-ya”.  With intended mAtrA-s added, this meant “income tax vAlo ko dilavAyA” (‘made a payment to income tax fellows’).  But it seems income tax department did still have the books to be submitted for an audit, and as the fate would have it, the auditors asked dIvAnajI to explain this entry.

At this point our fellow traveler burst into a round of laughter before he managed to complete the narrative.

dIvAnajI did not lose much time in employing to his advantage the intuitive flexibility of modI script and interpreted the journal description as follows. “inakI mA (ne) Taxi vAlo ko dilavAyA”, meaning “His mom (referring to our companion’s mother) had us make payments for Taxi services”.

Then with twinkles in his eyes, he said that now in the days of digitized accounting, when all business was running on ERPs, he was manually passing the first journal of the new open ledger every year only in modI script on the day of lakShamIpUjana, to keep intact the memory of the tradition.

He then narrated another funny anecdote of days when his father had instructed his accountants to get trained in English language, and the initial outcome was no less funny.  He was once sent to Mumbai by his father for some business, for the first time alone on such a journey.  As was done those days, upon reaching there he sent a telegram for back home in churU, in imperfect English: “Reached Bombay stop staying with safely stop”, of course a literal translation from the common hindI phrase of its meaning.  Upon receiving the telegram, dIvAnajI promptly informed his father that kuMvara sahib had reached Bombay. But alarmed by the last half of the telegram, he quickly added his concern that it was probably time they looked for matrimonial alliance for the young fellow, since it seemed he now took interest in female company and had taken with him some lass with a fashionable name like ‘shefAlI’, likely an Anglo-Indian rUpajIvI!

Another hilarious outburst of laughter.

August 11, 2009

Jaina footprints on kannaDa; motivation for jaina vernacular scholarship

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

It is a fact that chandragupta the mauryan, the most genius military leader recorded by the Indian History, had conquered all of dakShiNApatha including whole of karNATaka, the testimony of which is furnished by the bilingual saMskR^ita-prAkR^ita mauryan inscriptions from the region. This is also of considerable credence that he had, along with a large population from his capital, of which jaina-s were a part, taken a lengthy retreat in this province at some point in time, faced with a prolonged draught in North.  It is by this means that the region seems to have come in close contact with jaina-s, if not introduced altogether for the first time to the jinadharma.

By this time, the language of kannaDa, along with its numerous dialects, must have already emerged with a distinct identity, from the household of the draviDan grand-aunt, although we know little of her older forms except for through the much later inscriptions. (Still the data is much clearer in this case than we get to see about the past of the most North Indian vernaculars).

In later centuries, many kannaDa works were produced including its grammar, especially during the ga~NgA period, although except for the names and themes of some of these early works, the manuscripts themselves have not been found.

This is where, to our rescue, enter the jaina-s, and it is interesting to note that the oldest work of kannaDa available so far to us, comes from nobody but a jaina scholar.

Many sources mention the 10th century pampA as the oldest kannaDa poet, the Adikavi, and his translation of the great bhArata, titled samastabhArata, as the oldest kannaDa poetry, besides AdipurANa the kannaDa narrative about the founder of jina-mata.   However pampA’s being first in the field of kannaDa will only be accurate so far as we speak of mahAkAvya.

One full century before the times of pampA, was written kavirAjamArga, which in reality is the oldest extant work in kannaDa that is available. kavirAjamArga, a handbook of poetics, was a contribution of another jaina scholar, under patronage of king nR^ipatu~Nga. Impressed by the stalwarts of saMskR^ita poetics, daNDI and bhAmaha, it lays down, using as a template the famed kAvyadarsha of the former, all the fine points about producing poetry in kannaDa vernacular.   (Interestingly, while paying tributes to saMskR^ita giants, it forbids the aspiring kannaDa poets from mixing the words of saMskR^ita and kannaDa, warning them that it would be akin to ‘mixing buttermilk with boiling milk’!)

Even before this time, we read that another jaina scholar tumbulUrAchArya wrote in the 7th century, a kannaDa work named chUDAmaNi, while during the same period prAbhR^ita was produced by another jaina scholar by name shyAmakuNDAchArya. Unfortunately neither of these works is available.

Produced a little later but still of quite antiquity is yet another old kannaDa work of jaina origin, vaDDArAdhane, which is a collection of nineteen jaina tales, quite of the nature of what we find produced at the same time in prAkR^ita and apabhaMsha from the jaina pens in the north, like entertaining kuvalayamAlA. ‘vaDDA’ in the title of this work even comes from apabhraMsha, and quite corresponds with its modern daughter, Hindi, in ‘baDA’, meaning ‘big’.

So, jaina contribution to kannaDa is in line with their contribution to many vernacular languages of many parts of India, be it gujerAtI, maharaTTI or maithilI. They were very particular about not only mastering the vernaculars but standardizing their literature, codifying the grammars, producing dictionaries, and preparing the manuals of poetics. Indeed most of the prAkR^ita and apabhraMsha grammars and dictionaries come to us intact, written by jaina AchArya-s and carefully preserved in jaina bhaNDAra-s.

Having acknowledged jaina contribution to Indic languages, we were curious about what could have motivated them to go out of the way and master so many vernaculars beyond prAkR^ita and apabhraMsha, their chosen languages of knowledge.

We got the answer, internally from within the jaina literature, that too, no less than from the celebrated jaina master AchArya kunda kunda the ShreShTha.

In his great treatise of philosophy, samayasAra, which is held in a comparable esteem by jainAvalambins, as the bhagavad-gItA is by the Astika-s, AchArya kunda kunda hands us this lead in chaste prAkR^ita: “jaha Navi sakkamaDajjo aNajjabhAbhAsaM viNA u gAheduM… (samayasAra 1.8)” It’s saMskR^ita rendering would be “yathA na shakyatonAryyo anAryabhAShA vina tu grAhayitum…”, meaning, ‘(like) anArya-s can not be taught unless non-AryabhAShA-s are employed…’.

Which quite explains what might have motivated jaina scholarship in mastering different vernaculars: they were, unlike Astika-s, quite active in propagation of their mata, and mastering the vernaculars was a natural and essential pre-requisite for it.

Just one last comment about valluvar being claimed as jaina. Anyone with familiarity to both kuraL and jaina texts, wouldn’t claim this, besides we have yet to come across any jaina treatise of note that ever remembers valluvar as jaina, and jaina chroniclers are extremely particular about mentioning their masters. When some jaina hagiographies go so far as to claim kuTilya and rAmachandra as jaina-s, why would they leave out valluvar is hard to explain.

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