Document the undocumented Sharda epigraphs

Iqbal Ahmad
In this ultra modern computer and internet age, sometimes it looks odd even to me to speak about those ancient scripts and writings which have already turned quite outdated and there is no purpose of discussing them. In this information technological era, when keys of the computer have already replaced pen and paper, we cannot think of reviving the outdated scripts.
And no one would advocate such things, but the epigraphs and documents written in the classical alphabets shall not be ignored and forgotten. These should be preserved for the forth coming generations so that they may also explore their this heritage and try to understand the rich traditions of olden writings.
Keeping in view the evolution and development of the human intellect, it gives one certain intellectual taste to explore the ancient and forgotten palaeographic and epigraphic heritage of this land and its people. It is just an attempt to understand the process, how our ancestors had evolved various alphabets and learnt various scripts to record events and prepare documents. In the scheme of things followed here, let us today explore the sharda alphabet, which is said TO have been the most popular alphabet of the medieval period. Scores of manuscripts, epigraphs and historical documents written in this word have been preserved in official and non official collections while several of the epigraphs are scattered in distant places, facing defacement by uncontrolled human vandalism and weathering
Tracing the history of this alphabet, it is believed that this script had evolved from the Gupta Brahmi in about 7th century AD. It is also written from left to right. It is an excellent ancient alphabet which has remained more popular in Kashmir during early medieval times. It served the basic alphabet for writing of Sanskrit from Karkota era up to sultanate period for about seven hundred years. Later on, during sultanate period when Sanskrit was taken over by Persian and Arabic language, sharda was also replaced by Persian alphabet. However, it was not totally discounted . The sharda script and Sanskrit survived till nineteenth century, but it lost its official patronage. Kashmiri pandit scholars cultivated it in their individuals literary workshops and produced brilliant manuscripts and epigraphs.
Hundreds of sharda epigraphs have been discovered over years from various parts of Jammu and Kashmir, mostly prominently in Kashmir valley , Chamba valley and in Chenab valley.
Unlike Kharoshti and Brahmi, sharda served as the indigenous script of Kashmir. Almost all the ancient Sanskrit literature of Kashmir has been written in this script. The earliest sharda epigraphs are known of Lahoura era while later ones belong to 18th century. The entire copper coinages of Lahoura, Utpala, Yassikara and later rajas of Kashmir are inscribed in sharda characters. The coins of Didda Rani, Harsha, Kalsa , Ananta, Sangramdeva and other rulars of 10th , 11th,12th,13th and early 14th century carried legends in sharda characters.
Dr. B.K Koul Dembi a Kashmiri pandit scholar in his monumental book, tilted ‘Corpus of Sharda inscriptions of Kashmir” has documented almost all the sharda inscription found in, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh up to early twentieth century. He has documented thirty two such inscriptions from Kashmir valley, six from Jammu proviance and three from Ladakh. These included the edited and unedited epigraphs. His documentation of the inscriptions includes their identification and deciphering. He has given the elaborative description and transliteration of most of these inscriptions. Several of his documented inscriptions are still very much extant at their respective places while number of such epigraphs have defaced due to weathering and human vandalism.
While tracing the origin of this script, Dr. B K Koul Dembi writes “In the second half of the 8th century we find in the Brahmi alphabet of North Western India a distinct development of a new alphabet which though agreeing in many respects with that used in the epigraphic and literary records of the 6th and 7th centuries, including the famous Gilgit manuscript, shows several essential differences in the forms of several characters. This alphabet is known as the Sharda alphabet. Sharda has remained for several centuries a popular script of an extensive area of North West India including Ladakh, Jammu, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Delhi’. This much is certain that it must have originated in Kashmir which from the earliest times has been the principal seat of Sharda, or the Goddess of learning.’
Alberuni records the prevalence of Sharda in the Northern and Nort-western India and has recorded that it was also known by the names of Sidham or Sidha-matrika.
The earliest phase is represented by the inscriptions and the coins of the 8th to 10th centuries; the second by those of the 11th to 14th centuries; and the third and final by the epigraphic and literary record of the 14th and the subsequent centuries.”
Jammu and Kashmir museums house scores of sharda inscriptions which have been found from time to time in Kashmir. Besides a number of manuscripts written in sharda are also preserved in the manuscript collections of museums and research libraries. In the National Museum Delhi is preserved the earliest manuscript in Sharda, which belongs to the 9th century A.D. Dealing with astrology and written in Sharda script of Kashmir on the birch-bark in Sanskrit, it is a rare specimen of the art of writing. The Museum also has the Manuscript of Mammata’s Kavya-prakash (12th Century) written in Sharda along with illustrations. Mammat’s ‘Kavya Prakash’ still remains the most authentic and authoritative work on poetics in the whole gamut of Sanskrit literature. The SPS museum at Srinagar also houses a number of manuscripts and epigraphs in sharda alphabets, while in its numismatic collections hundreds coins of Hindu rajas inscribed in sharda letters are also preserved.
Several sharda inscriptions are also scattered in different sites of the valley, one of sharda inscriptions is found on a rock in Khonmoh area of Srinager district.
One of the historic and more significant trilingual inscriptions, in Sharda, Persian and Arabic characters of early Sultanate period is found at the tomb stone of one Sayyied khan. It is in Mazari Sulateen of Hazrat Bahu Ud Din Ganjbakash ( RA) dated to AH 789 (1387) mentioning his martyrdom on the slopes of Kohi Suliman in the year AH 789.
This inscription is very much significant in the epigraphic history of Kashmir as it symbolizes the composite epigraphic heritage of this land; such composite epigraphs are rarely found anywhere in Jammu and Kashmir.
One another sultanate period sharda inscription has been recorded by Prof SL Shali in his book, “Kashmir history and archaeology through the ages”. It is a stone sculpture inscription found in a temple at Ganpathyar old Srinagar. The sharda inscription reads, Sri Sikindra sa ha Reoya Sangapaty Rahulya Kastvehkene ——-, in explaining this inscription the expert writes that this stone sculpture has been laid here in the reign of sultan Sikander on the date given in the inscription.
Although most of manuscripts and epigraphs written in Sharda, Persian and Arabic alphabet are preserved in various museums, archives, repositories and research libraries, but there are still several epigraphs scattered on distant places facing human vandalism and weathering. These inscriptions either in sharda, Persian or Arabic characters needs to be identified and documented and also be conserved. The Sanskrit and Persian departments of Jammu and Kashmir universities should come forward and document these hitherto undocumented inscriptions,
(The author is senior archaelogist)

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