Kharoshthi script

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Script example
2nd to 5th Century BC BC, Yingpan, Eastern Tarim Basin , Xinjiang Museum.
Inscription from Loulan in Xinjiang

The Kharoshthi script ( Kharoṣṭhī ), also Gandhari script , is a writing system of ancient India and, along with the Brahmi script used at the same time, is one of the oldest Indian alphabet scripts ( 3rd century BC ). In contrast to Brahmi, the Kharoshthi was only a regional script and died out in antiquity without any descendants. Their distribution area extended essentially to areas in northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan as well as the adjacent areas of today's India. There are also sites in the Tarim Basin of Xinjiang , for example in the Lop Nor desert in Loulan and Yingpan. The professional world now divides into a type A and a type B, which is clockwise and reproduces the Central Indian language. From accounting texts to Buddhist teachings, there are documents, some as marginal notes to other texts.


Kharoshthi is an abugida and uses the principle of the inherent vowel ( a ). It was written from right to left (in type B also clockwise).


  a  ? i  ? u  ? e  ? o  ? ṛ
? k ? kh ? g ? gh
? c ? ch ? j ? ñ
? ṭ ? ṭh ? ḍ ? ḍh ? ṇ
? t ? th ? d ? ie ? n
? p ? ph ? b ? bh ? m
? y ? r ? l ? v
? ś ? ṣ ? s ? h
? ḱ ? ṭ́h
A board that contains almost all alphabet characters and digits


Kharoṣṭhī numbers
? ? ? ? ?? ?? ?? ?? ???
1 2 3 4th 5 6th 7th 8th 9
? ? ?? ?? ??? ??? ????  
10 20th 30th 40 50 60 70  
?? ??  
100 200  

The Kharoṣṭhī writing system contains a series of numerals that are reminiscent of the Roman numerical system . The symbols were ? (similar to an I) for the first unit, ? (similar to an X) for four (perhaps as an expression of four lines or directions), ? for ten (similar to one? Without a point), then ten for the number twenty doubles ? (similar to a 3) and ? (similar to a T inclined to the left) for a hundred. The system is based on an additive and a multiplicative principle, but not on a subtractive rule as used in the Roman number system. (Numerical symbols shown in the English Wikipedia page)

1000 ? 100 ? 20 ? 10 ? 4 ? 3 ? 2 ? 1 ?

Note that the table is read from right to left, just like the Kharoṣṭhī itself.


Kharosthi was added to the Unicode standard in March 2005 ; here as version 4.1.

The Kharoshthi unicode block is U + 10A00 – U + 10A5F.

Origin and age of the Kharoṣṭhī

Although there has been much discussion about the origins of the Kharo vielhī, Georg Bühler's theory, published as early as 1895, of a script that can be traced back to the Aramaic alphabet is now considered largely secure. Bühler's thesis, however, that the Kharoṣṭhī also made use of some of the achievements of the Brāhmī and was thus younger, has meanwhile been rejected. The Kharoṣṭhī is now generally considered to be the older script. However, an exact date for the hour of birth has not yet been determined. Bühler assumed a time of origin around 500 BC. In the Gandhāra was a satrapy of the Persian Achaemenid Empire (559–336 BC). Others, such as Harry Falk, set a date after the Greek invasion under Alexander, i.e. after 327 BC. Chr., At. He assumes that the development of the Kharoṣṭhī must have taken place at a time of the decline of the Achaemenids, since

“[We] e [...] face the phenomenon that the developer of the Kharoṣṭhī certainly knew the Aramaic script, on the other hand he behaved in a way that an Aramaic scribe would never have behaved by giving old signs new sound values. This apparent contradiction is resolved on the assumption that someone developed the Kharoṣṭhī, to whom the functionality and the sound values ​​of the Aramaic signs had been explained, but who only partially correctly memorized the explanations and therefore later reassessed some signs and reevaluated others designed. Only a developer without profound knowledge of the Aramaic script would be so generous with the model. "

Falk therefore assumes a spontaneous development, in contrast to a model of centuries of development, which has also been discussed (e.g. Salomon 1995). However, no intermediate forms of a transition period are documented. The oldest datable finds show the Kharoṣṭhī already in their fully developed form. These are the inscriptions of Aśoka in Shāhbāzgaṛhī and Mānsehrā from the middle of the 3rd century BC. Chr.

About the name of the Kharoṣṭhī

In the 19th century many names were still in use for the Kharoṣṭhī: l'alphabet du nord-ouest, Arian Pâli, Arian alphabet, Bactrian alphabet, Baktro-Arian, Cabulese, Gandharian, Kabulian, Kapur-di-giri alphabet and North Aśoka alphabet. This fact was preparing Albert Etienne Jean Baptiste Terrien de Lacouperie (1845-1894) to an end. For his proposed name he consulted the encyclopedia Fǎyuàn zhūlín (668 AD) and a Chinese translation of the Lalitavistara , which knew a left-hand script called K '(i) a-lu-she-t'o. This corresponds to the Sanskrit khara-oṣṭha, which means donkey lip. In 1895, Bühler finally set the current standard as the standard among some variants of the spelling such as kharoṣṭī, khaloṣṭī, karottī, kharostī, kharāstrī, kharoṭṭhī and kharoṭṭhiyā.

The distribution area

The Kharosthi is inseparable from the language that the heyday of Gandhara was spoken in this region, the Gandhari. Both have as their heartland that area in the northwest of today's Pakistan, in the area of ​​the rivers Indus, Swāt and Kabul. Nevertheless, there are also finds from areas that today belong to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, as well as from China as far as Lou-Lan. Examples of the Kharoṣṭhī can be found on very different materials. Aśoka, for example, chiseled his edicts in stone, while we usually come across inscriptions on metal plates, vases, coins and gems. Last but not least, there is a considerable number of manuscripts in the Gandhārī language , mainly on birch bark, but also on wood, leather and paper.

On the fate of the Kharoṣṭhī

In India the Kharoṣṭhī went out of use around 450 AD. Here it is the inscriptions that arose under the late Kuṣāṇa kings that are to be regarded as the final evidence of the existence of the Kharoṣṭhī in this area. In Central Asia, on the other hand, the writing system lasted until the 7th century AD. After that, knowledge of this writing was so forgotten that it had to be completely re-deciphered in the 19th century. Masson was able to achieve first successes in this direction in 1835 by comparing bilingual coins of the Indo-Greeks . When he sent his results to James Prinsep , he was able to make further progress in several steps.

"The big breakthrough came Edwin Norris (1795-1872) when he in 1846 copies and squeezes out Shāhbazgarhī [...] tried to decipher. [...] With his discovery, he turned to John Dowson , who identified the examined text as the 7th Aśoka's Edict of the Rocks . "

See also


  • Ahmad Hassan Dani: Kharoshthi Primer. Museum, Lahore 1979 ( Lahore Museum Publication Series 16, ZDB -ID 2531267-4 ).
  • Georg Bühler: The Origin of the Karoṣṭhī Alphabet. In: Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 9: 44–67, 1895.
  • Harry Falk: Scripture in ancient India. A research report with annotations. Gunter Narr, Tübingen 1993, ISBN 3-8233-4271-1 .
  • Gérard Fussman: Les premiers systèmes d'écriture en Inde. In: Annuaire du Collège de France. 1988-1989, ISSN  0069-5580 , pp. 507-514.
  • Glass, Andrew: A Preliminary Study of Kharoṣṭhī Manuscript Paleography. University of Washington, 2000. p.
  • Oskar von Hinüber: The Beginning of Writing and Early Writing in India. Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 1990, ISBN 3-515-05627-0 .
  • Indian writings. In: Helmuth Glück (Hrsg.): Metzler Lexikon Sprache. JB Metzler, Stuttgart a. a. 1993, ISBN 3-476-00937-8 (2nd revised and expanded edition, ibid. 2000, ISBN 3-476-01519-X ).
  • Kenneth R. Norman: The Development of Writing in India and its Effect upon the Pâli Canon. In: Viennese magazine for customers from South Asia. 36, 1992, ISSN  0084-0084 , pp. 239-249.
  • Richard Salomon: Indian Epigraphy. A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the Other Indo ‐ Aryan Languages. Oxford University Press, New York 1998, pp. 42-55.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Graham Flegg, Numbers: Their History and Meaning. Courier Dover Publications, 2002, ISBN 978-0-486-42165-0 , pp. 67 f.
  2. Harry Falk: Writing in ancient India. A research report with annotations . 1993, p. 103
  3. ^ Richard Salomon: On the Origin of the Early Indian Scripts . In: Journal of the American Oriental Society , 115, 1995, pp. 271-279.
  4. Albert Etienne Terrien de La Couperie: Did Cyrus Introduce Writing in India? In: Babylonian and Oriental Record , 1, 1886/1887, pp. 58-64.
  5. ^ Richard Salomon: Indian Epigraphy . 1998, p. 50
  6. Harry Falk: Writing in ancient India. A research report with annotations . 1993, p. 100