The Bold Voice of J&K

Reviving Ancestoral heritage-Jammu Dogri Takri

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Shikha Magotra

Takri is known for its complexity and chaos in writing forms available all over the regions of J&K, H.P. and Uttarakhand. Even though it ceased to exist in the 20th century, its remnants are too numerous and dispersed for locals to actually lose or forget about it. Every stone, copper plate, utensil, political letter, book, and historical document found in north-western India speaks volumes about the use of the Takri during the periods before the country’s independence.
It is the only regional script of India known to have the largest number of variations or, forms- 13, used for writing numerous languages spoken all over the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and UT of J&K till 20th century. With Chambeali and Dogri Takri as the most commonly recognised and privileged forms, Takri script has around 11 more forms namely Jaunsari, Sirmauri, Kochi, Kulvi, Mandeali, Kashtwari, Kangri, Gaddi, Garhi, Bhatteali and Kinnauri. Each and every form has its own alphabet but share same orthographic structure and thus, belong to a single script- Takri Script. It comprises enormous rich heritage of whole North-west India.
Just as a river, when spreads over a larger wider area, forms tributaries; and as the enormous spread of knowledge in one person, formed ten heads. Similarly, Takri script with the aim to reach wide masses living in a wide North West region of India with high range of altitude variation too naturally got diversified into 13 forms/ heads. Eventually, Takri became a class of scripts, with one of its class/ form/ head as the script of our Dogri language. Let’s dive a little deeper into the origin of the script- Namay Dogra Akkhar/ Dvigrit Akkhar, with Namay Akkhar as its indigenous name.
Sharada was the most refined and complete script, used for writing the language of Kashmir- paradise on earth, in 16th century. The script at that time, was not only confined to the present Kashmir province but the whole North-west India which include present J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab. The script Sharada remained intact for a long time because its usage was limited to the most literate men of those times only. The earliest inscription of Sharada is ‘Saharan Prashasti’ from Himachal Pradesh, still preserved in Bhuri Singh Museum, Chamba. With time, Sharada descended as Devashesha with transformation in some alphabets, to be used in the mountainous regions and Gurmukhi to be used in the plains of Punjab. But, Devashesha also called later Sharada, was confined for religious purposes only. So, to be used for writing by the common people of the states too, Devashesha was again transformed and named Takri in 18th century. The new name was given to differentiate its usage from religious men (Purohits/temple pundits) of the state who considered themselves higher from the folks. So, it is known to have originated from Sharada family of Brahmi scripts through an intermediate form – Devashesha.
Takri had simpler akshar/ alphabets formation and thus was easier to learn and remember by the common folk. But, as the region where it was used for writing was quite widely spread from present J&K to Himachal Pradesh to Uttarakhand further and was also highly mountainous, Takri could not retain single form of writing. Moreover, that time, the North-west India was divided into smaller territories, governed by petty rajas and thus, there was little communication amongst the people belonging to different territory. By the time, Takri reached each and every common man of the area, it evolved into multiple forms. So, in total, Takri has 13 forms now, each having its own alphabet but all of them share single basic orthographic structure or style of writing.
Jammu Dogri Takri Genarations
Basically, the form of Takri used for writing Dogri in Jammu has two generations:
4Before 1857
4After 1857
One of the 13 forms of Takri was- Ganmat/ Old Dogri alphabet, used for writing Dogri language in J&K since 18th century. Sadly, at that time, the people in J&K who were literate enough to write it were the rich land owners of the state. So, the authority went to them and they kept the script Ganmat highly confusing and ambiguous- without using matras, using same alphabet to denote multiple phonemes. Then, in 1857, when Maharaja Ranbir Singh reign started in J&K, he noticed the exploitation of farmers by the land owners. He started working in education field. For this, he along with Jyothi Vishweshwar, the principal of Ranbir pathshala of that time, reframed the script Ganmat and the improvised form was named “Namay Dogra Akkhar”.
He declared the script- Namay Dogra Akkhar as the official script of the state, along with Urdu. The constitution of the state (Ranbir Penal Code/ Ranbir And Bidhi) and other political orders, manuscripts were printed in both Namay Dogra Akkhar and Urdu, bilingual. Even the royal postage stamps of the state and the coins too had Namay Dogra Akkhar engraved on it, besides Urdu and Devanagari. The script was used for writing petitions that are read before Maharaja and for this purpose, it had replaced Urdu too. Knowledge of the script was compulsory at that time. No official not having knowledge of the script could be recruited in the state. Maharaja himself signed in Namay Dogra Akkhar on local official papers. A newspaper “Dogra Mittar” was known to be published in Namay Dogra Akkhar in 1889 by Pt. Durga Prasad Mishra as editor.
The period of existence of the script was short-lived, till 1960 approx. The decline period of the script started in 1910 during the rule of Maharaja Pratap Singh, and by 1940, it had almost lost its existence and got confined to home writing only. Some of the Dogri poets wrote in the script but none of the book got published. Finally, a small tributary of the river of knowledge- Sharada, dried completely, when the state adopted Devanagari script for writing Dogri language after independence.
If we compare Namay Akkhar to other Indian scripts, its alphabets/ characters resembles most closely to the Gurmukhi and Devanagari scripts. Eight of its characters are similar to Gurmukhi and seven are similar to Devanagari script. Namay Akkhar does not make use of shirorekha to form words. A shirorekha is a horizontal line that is drawn over the characters to join them to form words while writing. This is the peculiarity of the script that besides being similar to the shirorekha scripts, it is itself written without shirorekha. Also, the script has a very unique way of writing half characters. If we look at its characters, they are very beautifully and artistically designed which makes it easier to write and remember.
Namay Akkhar Character Set
Amidst all the difficulties, the script’s revival work has begun all over the state. Many organisations within the state and even outside it have started working on it from past few years and they have taken a considerable step forward too. The manuscripts printed during Maharaja Ranbir Singh’s rule preserved in Raghunath Library, situated at the backside of Raghunath temple, Jammu are digitized and available online by eGangotri.
An organisation outside J&K, named Aksharaya has also supported our script’s revival work. They surveyed our state’s archives in 2019 and developed translation tool for translating dogri written in Devanagari to Namay Akhaar script. They also developed digital font for the visualisation of dogri written in Namay Akkhar script, on our own computers.
Recently, in July 2023, a calligraphy worshop was organized by J&K Arts and Cultural academy in collaboration with The Calligraphy Foundation to bridge the gap between Dogri written in Devanagari and its original script- Namay Akkhar. Students from all over the state participated & learned basic calligraphy skills for writing Devanagari script and they wrote Namay Akkhar characters (Jammu Dogri Takri script) too using calligraphy. Along with it, an independent initiative to revive the writing system of Jammu Dogri Takri has begun in the state through Dogra Mittar course since August 2023. The course is designed to learn the namay akkhar and revive the art of writing in the original script of Dogri language, including basic characters, half forms, ligatures, word and sentence formation. This script is being specifically taught to all, irrespective of any educational background. This initiative has been started by the author herself and is imparting script’s knowledge to the second batch now, from 29th September, 2023.
(The author is Ph.D. in Takri Script, SMVDU).

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