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Devnagari Script for Kashmiri:
A Study in its Necessity, Feasibility and Practicality
- Dr. R. L. Shant

Kshir Bhawani Times
Kashmiri Pandit Sabha, Jammu
August 1997

1. Kashmiri Language and Scripts Used
1.1 Background
Kashmiri is an Indo-Aryan language. Even the opponents of this linguistic classification of this language, grouped it with Dardi, Shrinya, Khowar dialects, which are spoken in the areas adjacent to the valley in its north and north- west. Language historians and linguists have often, however, concurred on the theory that the above-mentioned dialects fall in the category of languages that bear resemblance to the Indo-Aryan as well as to the Indo-Iranian languages.

Philologists believe that like the earliest Naga inhabitants of the mountains of Kashmir having been cut off from the mainstream Aryans like their counterparts (viz. the Ghandarvas, the Yakshas, the Kinnaras etc.), their language took time to accept influences and merge with the main Aryan languages. The Naga language developed of its own and underwent changes natural to any language. All the same it maintained its peculiar vowel system and when it surfaced in the 8th-9th century AD, it had passed through all the stages of the Prakrits and Apabhramshas like other modern Indian languages, the earliest available evidence of the Kashmiri language belongs to this period.

1.2 Sharada script and the Kashmiri Pandits
The earliest available Kashmiri scripts (MSS) are written in the Sharada script, Sharada is an indigenous writing system that evolved from the original Brahmi in the same chronological order and around the same time as the Nagari, Gurumukhi and other North Indian scripts did. This script was widely used by scholars, rulers, common people of all religious denominations (including the Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists alike). Among Hindus it was used for transcribing Sanskrit texts as well as compositions in Kashmiri. MSS of the compositions of Kashmiri poets, Lal Dyad, Nund Reshi, Roopa Bhawani and a host of other Bhakti poets was in Sharada and are preserved in individual collections and libraries till date. (Many have definitely been destroyed by the militants or other anti-social elements during the last six years of Kashmiri Pandits' forced exodus, when they left their treasures of books behind.) With the valley going Muslim over the last six centuries, the Persian script imported by Muslim rulers both local and foreign, replaced the Sharada in official and private use. The shrinking number of Kashmiri Hindus (those who care to be called Pandits, for their Brahmanic connections alone survived, the rest having been converted), nevertheless mastered Persian (and Arabic) languages and script and used it widely in official and private communication. This relegated Sharada to the background, being limited to religious and devotional texts. For the practicing Brahmins, Sharada continued to be the script for writing and calculating astrological and ritual formulations. Today this group (now depleting fast) alone preserves it religiously. For the rest learning the script or using it is of no practical utility.

1.3 Persian and Roman Scripts
As Persian gained status in the Muslim courts followed by English/Dogra Durbar, KP officials (the clerk, mudarris, revenue official, the serf or the landlord) did not lag behind anyone. They mastered the Roman script and the English language too, with exemplary wisdom. One can say without fear of contradiction that KP functionaries must have played a pivotal role in moulding the Persian script to suit Kashmiri language in a similar manner as they adopted the Roman script for Kashmiri texts in the fourth and fifth decades of twentieth century.

2. Nagari and the Intercultural Connection
The history of the adoption and modification of the Nagari script for Kashmiri has not been documented authentically. But the very fact that the script was used freely by eminent western linguists like Grierson and Temple in their profound works and treatises on Kashmiri language and literature is ample proof of its having been standardized over the decades in the 19th century. Kashmiri Pandits maintained live contact with the North-Indian cultural epicenter, i.e. the Indo-Gangetic plains, which incidentally is the Hindi heartland too. Devanagari had assumed prime importance in the areas of inter- cultural and inter-lingual communication in north-western and eastern Indian states. This universally acceptable writing system came handy to the intelligent and descerning community of Kashmiri Pandits, for whom the Indian connection has always been primary. Benefiting from the experience of this enlightened community, the western research scholars like Grierson, Buhlar, Temple, Stein etc. associated renowned scholars of their time like Mukund Ram Shastri and Ishwar Koul with their work and modified the Devanagari of Kashmiri, as against the Persian script, even though the latter had a wider appeal and acceptability. The qualities of better phonetic representation inherent in the Nagari seems to have weighed more with these discerning scholars.

3. The Imperfect Persian Script
Urdu became the official and court language in the Dogra rule and this strengthened the Persio-Arabic base for Kashmiri script. The Nagari-knowing sections did not stay away in isolation. They studied the method used by the Persian knowing scholars and found them incomplete and imperfect. In fact no organized attempt to use some diacritical mark in the Persian script was made. Only the HAMZA mark was placed arbitrarily over the letters, without following a uniform pattern. It betrayed the cavalier attitude of the concerned writers on the one hand and showed the popularity of the script on the other, that made diacritical mark redundant. The readers read the text by making their own guess.

4. The Modified 'Nagari Kashmiri'
During the first decades of the 20th century, KPs using Nagari for their private use, never discontinued the practice even when there seemed to be no public recognition coming from any quarters. It is a tribute to the far-sightedness of such people who continued with literary endeavour and preserved their cultural treasures in Nagari manuscripts in the face of, not only official negligence and slander but also the contempt and frown of those of their own community who enjoyed official patronage and took ostensible pride in jettisoning links with their own cultural traditions. Against this background, the endeavour of scholars like Pt. Durga Prasad Kachru, Pt. Jia Lal Kaul Jalali, Professor S. K. Toshkhani, Professor P. N. Pushp, to name a few, towards modifying sets of distinct marks for distinct phonetic representation, deserves special mention. Some Hindi journals, published in pre-independence days, carried sizeable matter in 'Nagari Kashmiri', which proves the point beyond doubt.

5. Official Discrimination
After the establishment of the first popular government in the state, the Arabic script was officially sought to be used for Kashmiri, to be followed by the Persian script in its present form. The reasons for the latter are not far to seek. Popularity of the script made it acceptable to all. Kashmiri Pandits, writers and intellectuals, welcomed the step without reservations. But there was an underlying dissatisfaction among them over the fact that while the Persian script had been allowed to be used alternatively for the Dogri, Nagari was not given the alternative status for Kashmiri. There was many times more Kashmiri literature preserved in the Nagari than the Dogri preserved in the Persian script. It was a clear communal discrimination against the KPs as against the special consideration shown to the minorities in the Dogri speaking areas. While prominent Kashmiri Pandit scholars worked on the Persian- script committees and others owned it without reservation, they were dubbed communal if they talked of the Pan-Indian utility of the Nagari script. However, the tradition of using marks devised by linguists and Nagari protagonists in the pre-independent days continued unabated.

6. Genuine urge for Nagari
During the four decades prior to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley, dozens of books and anthologies were published and circulated by individual poets and religious organizations in which the Nagari script was used. The publications had a ready market among the devoted. The trend continues till today, even when the organizations, ashrams and peeths have recognized themselves in Jammu, Delhi and other centres of India, wherefrom their publications keep coming out. Genuine urge helps overcome difficulties in the process of learning. The users' urge to use Nagari did not take much cognizance of their ignorance of the phonetic properties of Hindi or the correspondence between the phonemes and their respective graphemes. Literature was prolifically produced.

7. Trans-State Experimentation
At the trans-state level Kashmiri sections of community magazines at Jammu, Delhi, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Mumbai, Lucknow, Calcutta, etc. used some or the other diacritical marks to indicate vowels peculiar to the language. This presents a variegated picture, for such efforts were independent and undertaken without any co-ordination. The Koshur Samachar (KS) of Delhi assumed central importance. It voiced the concerns of the displaced people and also the cultural longings of those settled in the Indian cities over the centuries of continuous exodus from Kashmir. Those Kashmiri writers who till now were not quite interested in Kashmiri literature published in the KS in the Nagari script joined hands with others of the ilk and made valuable contribution to the, now known as the, "literature of displacement" or the "literature in exile". The KS used a set of diacritical marks, albeit not with morphophonemic precision, in the absence of a well laid out policy. The two symbols used were the ardhachandra and the apostrophe. Both of these were modifiers and not independent symbols for Kashmiri vowels.

8. Deliberation over the Nagari and the Kashyap Samachar
In October 1994, the Kashyap Samachar (Kp.S) Jammu was revived and published with fervent enthusiasm on monthly basis. The editors used only one modifier (viz. the apostrophe) placed on different short and long Hindi matras to indicate short and long Kashmiri sounds. For some time this proved to be a successful venture as Kashmiri writers, by and large, picked up the script and used it in transcribing or even direct composition of their ideas. Jammu having emerged as the biggest settlement of the displaced KPs, the circulation of the Kp.S showed encouraging signs. But the editors declared from time to time that they were open on the question of striking uniformity between the marks used in the two premier magazines (viz. the Kp.S and the KS) of the Kashmiri speaking people outside the valley. A discussion ensued in both the journals and many a specialist on scriptology participated in it. The intention was clear. All desired that uniformity in the marks used be evolved and accepted by all concerned.

9. The Committee Accord
In December 1995 a committee consisting of the two aforesaid editors, the Hindi editor of the KS and the secretary of the Vikalp Delhi, met and after discussions agreed on adopting these symbols i.e. ardhachandra, apostrophe (') and avagraha (s) for three pairs of Kashmiri vowels, in the following fashion:

(Editor's note: Modified text due to unavailability of Nagari script)
avagraha (s): eye, half, log, tail, mouth, eight, safety
ardhachandra: and, cooked rice, kicks, eighth, cold, how many
apostrophe ('): to me, to you, eat, flame, half, fat, handle/tail
Obviously these marks are but modifiers of the Hindi vowels and the Hindi long matras have been used to lengthen the Kashmiri sounds. Hence these symbols also cannot be termed as the best or the most suited for Kashmiri. The happiest situation would be that where all the vowel sounds are represented by independent easy to use and better known diacritical marks. That is why the best available marks (on the computer and the laser printer) having been identified as these above mentioned symbols do not solve the issue permanently. There are still voices of dissent among some notable scriptologists, which cannot be rejected outright. However, these three symbols are quite sufficient and phonetically sound for the Kashmiri script for the present and a lot of literature has already come out in it.

10. Need for a Fresh and Final Initiative
It would be in the best interest of those Kashmiri speaking people outside the Valley of Kashmir, who are all for the Nagari script that a fresh attempt be made to involve more scholars and a set of six symbols be agreed upon. As of now, not more than the above mentioned three are available. Hence any additional attempt can bear fruit only when changes in the typewriter, the manual rotary press, the computer and the laser printer are possible to be effected. This would require some investment too. But the investment will be rewarding subsequently. The undermentioned publications need to be taken up immediately:

1. A primer/reader for new learners. The book shall have to be distributed all over the country and in some centres overseas, free of cost.

2. A book for developing the skills of understanding Kashmiri texts, evolved solely for advanced learners, who wish to read more to establish linguistic rapport with the native speakers.

3. Series of introductory monographs on

a. Shaiva strain in Kashmiri life and letters
b. Laleshwari, the yogini
c. Nund Reshi, the synthesizer
d. Love lyricists and folk traditions
e. Bhakti poets (at least five) and the essential Kashmiri phenomenon
f. Modern Kashmiri writers (at least 10) and the search for the moorings, alongwith annexures containing selected writings of the writers included
11. Nagari, the Cultural Identifier
There is a craving in the minds of Kashmiris, whose children no longer speak or use their father-language, to keep abreast with the cultural development of their compatriots back home. Those who live abroad are in no worse situation than those who are scattered all over India for the last hundreds of years. They would like to identify with their roots which have been pulled out many a time to render them non-entities. They would like to know of their distinct literary and cultural traditions which bear the stamps of admiration and esteem given by discerning and accomplished men of eminence all over the world. They desire to know the versatility of their ancestral language that carries the history and culture of the last five thousand years of their forefathers. They would like to disseminate the pride and consciousness of their great past and their ethnic uniqueness to their children. In short they would like to stay alive like proud Kashmiris, anywhere in the world. While Hindi helps them mantain contact with India in general, Kashmiri will inculcate in them sense of belonging to their fatherland. With Nagari their wishes are realizable.

 

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