Encoding Grantha (Indic) script in Unicode

From: N. Ganesan (naa.ganesan@gmail.com)
Date: Sat Apr 09 2005 - 08:26:29 CST

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    Encoding Grantha (Indic) script in Unicode

    Thoughts about a working group
    to encode the Grantha script in Unicode.

    The Grantha script is used
    in South India (eg., in modern Tamil Nadu and Kerala
    states of India, Tamil speaking regions of
    Sri Lanka) to write Sanskrit
    language on epigraphs in the walls
    of the grand temples of southern
    India, copper plate inscriptions,
    palm leaves and printed publications.
    The widely used grantha script
    was formed by the Pallava dynasty
    who ruled from the city, Kanchi some
    1500 years ago. Vedic texts, Kavyas,
    grammar, logic works of Sanskrit have
    been preserved in the Grantha script.
    As a matter of fact, the first European
    grammar on Sanskrit was printed in
    the Grantha script (Ref. 4). Vedas with
    the correct svara notation is easily
    done only in the Grantha script,
    and not in the Devanagari script.
    While Devanagari is just now trying
    to incorporate the Vedic svaras,
    Grantha script has used correct accentsfor ages.
    The Pallava Grantha script is the root
    script for all South East Asian native scripts
     including Sinhala script (Note 1). Even now,
    the Sanskrit aagama books of
    Saiva and Vaishnava traditions, the
    Manipravala commentaries on Tamil
    Alvars's Nalayira Divya Prabandham,
    puranas such as Bhagavatam, shlokas
    to various Indic deities, etc., are
    printed in books using the Grantha script.
    Grantha script is a very distinct
    Indic script, but is related to Tamil
    and Malayalam scripts. However, the
    differences between Malayalam or Tamil
    with the Grantha are many and they are
    indeed quite significant.

    Some primary references that can be
    used in encoding the Grantha script in Unicode.

    (1) K. Venugopalan, A Primer in Grantha Characters,
    Conveniently available on the web:

    (published in 1983 by James H. Nye (bibliographer of
    the Southern Asian Collection of the Univ. of Chicago
    Library. We can ask Jim to participate in encoding
    Grantha script in Unicode. I know him for decades).

    (2) The grantha script / P Visalakshy
    2003, 320 p. Thiruvananthapuram : Dravidian Linguistics Association
    ISBN: 8185691118

    (3) Reinhold Grünendahl: South Indian Scripts in Sanskrit
     Manuscripts and Prints Grantha Tamil - Malayalam -
    Telugu - Kannada - Nandinagari
    Wiesbaden : Harrassowitz Verlag 2001. - xxii, 224 pp., 6 tables
    ISBN 3-447-04504-3

    It contains c. 5,200 basic characters, ligatures
    (i.e., vocalizations), conjuncts / consonant clusters,
    numerals, abbreviations etc. Special care has been taken to
    map out the complexity of Grantha Tamil in a system
    of graphic classification.
    The material surveyed comprises Sanskrit manuscripts as
    well as the Southern tradition of Sanskrit printing, and
    books in Dravidian languages.

    (4) The first Western grammar of Sanskrit was done
    in Grantha characters:
    Paulinus a S. Bartholomaeo, Dissertation on the Sanskrit
    language. A reprint of the original Latin text of 1790,
    together with an introductory article, a complete English
    translation, and an index of sources by Ludo Rocher.
    Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of
    Linguistic Science. Series III - Studies in the History
    of Linguistics. Volume 12. (Amsterdam: John Benjamins B.V., 1977)

    (5) First western book on Grantha script:
    Alphabetum Grandonico-Malabaricum (on Grantha script).
    Propaganda Press, Rome, 1772

    (6) A.C. Burnell, G. Buhler's 19th century books
    contain lot of info on Grantha script.

    A start can be made to write a proposal
    to encode the Pallava Grantha script in
    Unicode used in publishing Sanskrit, one of the
    twin classical languages of India the
    other being Tamil, language books.

    We can start a working group in Googlegroups
    facility. Googlegroups supports unicode fonts
    well, search capability is excellent,
    we can store attachments such as scanned
    copies of punlished books for usage samples, possible
    code chart for Grantha script (the Grantha code points
    will correspond with the Devanagari), Grantha section
    in the Unicode std., (conjuncts, Vedic accents, ...)etc.,
    The storage limit is huge in googlegroups.

     Invitations can be sent to Sanskritists
    in prestigious universities and Chennai, ...
    who will be more than willing to encode Pallava
    Grantha in Unicode. Then we can add a section
    on the Pallava Grantha script in the Unicode
    standard. Some font developers in Chennai
    are willing to supply the Grantha font in
    whatever location for Grantha script code
    points are allocated. The ligatures, conjuncts
    of Grantha are little complex, but can be handled
    by the newer font technologies effectively.
    We can give start with some fonts with near
    complete conjuncts, but cannot be 100%
    as the Grantha unicode font usage matures,
    they will be perfected over time. Have plans to give
    some 5+ Grantha fonts for free download in the web once the
    proposal gets accepted. Then, also transliterators
    between Hindi, Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil etc.,
    and the Grantha script for webpages, word docmnts are
    Thanks to Unicode encoding, going from one Indic script
    to another is real easy. In the future, those
    used to reading Sanskrit in the Grantha script
    on the web will find it a easy to read inscriptions
    on the temple walls of Madurai, Srirangam or Mysore in
    south India or Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

    Inviting suggestions and working members for
    encoding the Grantha script. Mike Eveson,
    Michael Kaplan, Umamaheswaran, and other members
    of this list can help in this Grantha project.
    We can also make professors and grad students
    of Sanskrit willing to help with info, usage samples,
    explanations, fonts, etc.,

    Please make the Grantha font in Uncode a reality.
    Your valuable comments are very welcome, and
    much appreciated. Please let me know if you
    have interest in encoding the beautiful, ancient
    and living Grantha script.

    Kind Regards
    N. Ganesan


    Note 1: A. L. Basham, "The Tamils... evolved an angular
    script known as Grantha...It was from India, especially
    from the south, that the people of South-East Asia
    learnt the art of writing. The earliest surviving
    South-East Asian inscriptions, found in Borneo and
    Malaya, and dating from the 4th or 5th centuries,
    are in fairly correct Sanskrit, and in a script
    resembling that of the early Pallavas." (The Wonder
    that Was India, p. 398).

    B. Ch. Chhabra, in Expansion of Indo-Aryan Culture, p. 72
    says, "Still it is a very remarkable fact that the earliest
     known inscriptions found in those countries of the
    Far East are all composed in Sanskrit, all belong
    approximately to the same period, viz. the fifth century,
    and are written in a script which in every respect
    is identical with the Grantha character used at that
    time on the coast of Coromandel. This is all the more
    noteworthy if we remember that not a single inscription
     in earlier Indian writing has come to light in those
    countries and islands. Neither the Brahmi of the Maurya
     period nor that of the Imperial Guptas is represented
    in any of the records found there.. Even more significant
    is the phenomenon that for several centuries the
     Pallava-Grantha has remained the only script in vogue
     both in Further India and in Indonesia (if at least we
    are to judge from the evidence of the inscriptions) and
    that during this period it exhibits a development
    running parallel with that which we notice in the
    contemporaneous records of Coromandel...The culture
     of these countries during this period thus bears an
     unmistakable stamp of Pallava influence."

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