THE MADRAS UNIVERSITY AND THE SANSKRIT ALPHABET.
The Madras University following the example of the other Indian Universities has adopted Devanagiri alphabet for Sanskrit and insists upon Sanskrit being brought up in that alphabet, which however prevails only in the other Presidencies. But from time immemorial that alphabet has been unknown to Southern India where the language has even been studied in the various vernacular alphabets current in the South. The Telugu, Canarese and Malayalam sections have been studying Sanskrit in their respective alphabets and another alphabet called Nagari seems also to be current in Mysore. The Dravidian alphabets have been so modified as to suit Sanskrit as well. The re-modelling of the Dravidian alphabets to suit also Sanskrit seems to have taken place at a very early period and there appear no traces of any other alphabet having been ever in use in the South for study of Sanskrit. The only language that has ever persistently refused to modify its alphabet on the Sanskrit model is Tamil and its Dravidian alphabet which is unsuited to Sanskrit is the ancient alphabet which has come down to us from the time of Agastya. Tamil therefore without interfering with its ancient alphabet framed another alphabet called the Grantha characters for the exclusive purpose of reading and writing Sanskrit. This is the only alphabet in which the Tamilians have ever been known to study Sanskrit.
This persistent adherence to its ancient alphabet even at the sacrifice of much convenience and elegance is quite characteristic of the Tamil population who have with equal tenacity refused to borrow the Sanskrit metrical formulae for the purpose of explaining the Sanskrit metres which appear to be current in Tamil literature from a very ancient period. But with regard to the latter, there might well be a question even at the end of the Nineteenth century whether there are any Sanskrit metres at all in Tamil as there admittedly are in the three other Dravidian languages: though the author of Virasoshyam which seems to be a very ancient book has made a futile attempt to introduce the eight Sanskrit formula into the language under however names differing from those prevailing in Sanskrit which attempt has proved totally unsuccessful as those formulae are unknown to the Tamil grammarian. But as no attempt has even been made to explain, or scan, or classify or even name the countless Vrittahs which, on a careful investigation, appear to be divisible not only into ancient and modern Vrittahs but also with regard to their origin, into Tamil, Dravidian and Sanskrit, there might be some excuse for adhering to the ancient method formulae without borrowing from Sanskrit or altering them in conformity with its sister languages. But the introduction of Sanskrit words into the language is openly acknowledge by all and has never been an open question as Sanskrit metres in Tamil might prove to be whenever an investigation is started into their structure and origin; and various are the artifices resorted to by the Tamil writers and sanctioned by the grammarian in expressing Sanskrit words in the language. It rather preferred mutilating, distorting and otherwise changing the Sanskrit words in their passage to Tamil and laying down hard and fast rules as to the forms that Sanskrit words must assume in the inadequate Tamil alphabet, to re-modelling its alphabet on the Sanskrit as its sister languages have done.
Sanskrit as studied in the North in Devanagiri seems to have attracted the attention of European scholars who began originally to study the language in that alphabet and their influence in the Madras University very probably accounts for the unmerited preference shown to it over the local alphabets of the South. We don't know what proofs there exist for supposing that Rama and Krishna wrote and studied in that alphabet; beyond the fact that this alphabet has prevailed in the North, the prior abode of the Aryans. Devanagiri seems to bear a close resemblance to the local alphabets of the North just as the Grantha characters resemble Tamil.
Very strong proofs alone that Devanagiri is the ancient alphabet can justify the University in rejecting the time honored local alphabets and introducing a foreign alphabet unknown to the Pandits of Southern India. If Devanagiri were the ancient alphabet, no people would be more likely to appreciate, no people would be more likely to appreciate, adopt and perpetuate it on the ground of its venerable antiquity than the people of the South and yet they are never known to have recognized it, but on the other hand the different sections of Southern India have unanimously ignored it with all their reverence for antiquity and adopted their own and the Tamilians even went the length of framing a new alphabet when they found their own inadequate for Sanskrit. It is not a question of blind custom which can be replaced but the local alphabets have become too deeply associated with the language to be easily interfered with. These are significant facts and require careful consideration in determining the question of the superiority of Devanagiri. None of us ever aspire to become sounder scholars, or achieve greater fame, or exert more enduring influence over Southern India than Sankara, Ramanuja, Nilakanta, Appaya and others and are there proofs that these men ever read or taught Sanskrit in Devanagiri? Have they ever attempted to revive in the South the ancient alphabet prevailing in the North as they have revived their respective Siddhanti Schools of Philosophy? If these learned men have not thought fit to introduce the Northern alphabet, why should the University force it upon the unwilling students of the South. Bombay and other Universities adopt it because it is their alphabet and why should Madras follow it for the sake of mere uniformity if it is not the alphabet prevailing within its jurisdiction. A local Pandit commences to read this alphabet only on his appointment to a School or a College as a Pandit. The difficulties of a grey haired Pandit in learning to read and write an unwieldy foreign alphabet must be great and perhaps for years together he is unable to write even after learning to read. These drawbacks are not exposed as the Sanskrit students are not tested by Government Inspectors and Assistant Inspectors who do not generally know Sanskrit.
Professor Monier Williams in the introduction to his Dictionary observes as follows with regard to Sanskrit alphabet. "It is certainly remarkable that the whole Vyakaranam of Panini unlike Greek Grammar appears to ignore written symbols as if Sanskrit was never intended to have any peculiar graphic system of its own. In South India, Sanskrit is written in different characters and the first inscriptions found on rocks are in Pali and Prakrit, not in Sanskrit. They are referred to Buddhist sovereigns who possessed political power in India about 3rd century B. C. The present form of Nagari is thought to be little older than tenth or eleventh century of our era, the power of ancient and sacred association cannot certainly be pleaded for the maintenance of the present form of Nagari."
At first sight the question may seem to be of small moment but judged from the history of the University Sanskrit education in the past, the consequences are far reaching. School and College students have to import books from Bombay and Calcutta and sometimes have to wait for weeks together before they could find out the names of the book-sellers and write to them, while very cheap books in the local alphabets are procurable next doors and perhaps some of them annotated in vernaculars just as they are taught by their Pandits.
If local Sanskrit editions with commentaries are purchased by Sanskrit students, Pandits may come forward and bring out school editions of the books with vernacular annotations excellently suited to students. Not only would Sanskrit Pandits be thereby indirectly patronized but an impetus to Sanskrit study would be given by offering facilities to amateur readers. But as matters now stand, there seems be no touch whatever between the University students and the local Pandits. There are two points standing and the local Pandits. There are two points standing in the way of the local Pandits helping the Sanskrit students. The 1st is the alphabet which is unknown to the local Pandits and the 2nd is the study of Sanskrit under English annotations. Upon merits we don't object to the latter method as English bears a closer resemblance to the structure of Sanskrit than the vernaculars. But a study of Sanskrit under vernacular annotations is for all practical purposes preferable as such a course would help the student in his after study. But perhaps the method of questioning and answering the Sanskrit papers in English cannot be given up at present though we don't see how the difficulty is insuperable if only proper books by local Pandits are placed in the hands of students from the very beginning instead of Grammars written and Text books annotated in English. But whatever may be said on that point, it is feasible to bring the local Pandits into closer touch with the students by encouraging the latter to purchase local books with local vernacular notes. It is the Sanskrit Pandits that are the least favored of the vernacular Pandits. We do not mean to impose upon the University the duty of patronizing the Sanskrit Pandits but we only desire to afford greater facilities to Sanskrit students and by inducing a larger publication of cheap vernacular editions of classical Sanskrit works, to promote a study of Sanskrit by amateur readers. That the University does exercise some sort of influence over the revival of vernacular study may be seen from the fact that in Tamil several ancient classics quite unconnected with Theology the sole study of the modern Pandit and reader have been lately published under the indirect auspices of the University who prescribe portions therefrom for examinations. No such influence is traceable to Sanskrit literature of the South. Its influence if any passes over the other Presidencies and local literature and local Pandits have not in the least felt the influence of the University. Sanskrit Pandits derive no sort of support from the University not only because their books are not purchased but they are not in a position to annotate the University Text books which are brought out by men of University education who cannot lay claim to as much proficiency in Sanskrit as those who have exclusively denoted their time to it. The Sanskrit alphabet therefore requires the reconsideration of the Senate and unless conclusive proofs are forthcoming, the local alphabets must be restored by the University but if it does not see its way to the abandonment of its favorite alphabet altogether then it might require every student at the Matriculation to know Devanagiri as well. Each student may be required to bring up his own alphabet and as is very likely the case, if Devanagiri is not brought up then he may tested in that alphabet at the entrance examination.
A Tamil Sanskrit graduate may have the richest legacy of Sanskrit classics in Grantha characters but if he does not know the alphabet they will be of no use to him and may fail to create in him that taste for study which the possession of a good library must induce in a graduate. Theological treatises in Tamil abound with Sanskrit quotations and these are of course printed in Grantha characters and a Sanskrit graduate reading such works will find the quotations unreadable though in his own language. Perhaps all Sanskrit works are procurable in Devanagiri in the other Presidencies but how can we get out Bombay and Calcutta friends to bring out editions of Tamil works with the Sanskrit quotations in Devanagiri? The Sanskrit graduate therefore unless he takes special care outside his college to read the Grantha alphabet can derive no help from the local books nor help his own men with his own productions if any. The new University alphabet is therefore attended with a good many serious consequences as judged from the history of the past and it is doubtful whether at the time of its introduction very serious consideration has been bestowed on the subject and now that the question of the oriental side is under consideration it will not attended with the full measure of success unless this little change is made in the University Sanskrit.
T. VIRABADRA MUDALIAR, B.A., B.L.