Brahmic scripts

The Brahmic scripts, also known as Indic scripts, are a family of abugida writing systems. They are used throughout the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and parts of East Asia, including Japan in the form of Siddhaṃ. They have descended from the Brahmi script of ancient India and are used by various languages in several language families in South, East and Southeast Asia: Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman, Mongolic, Austroasiatic, Austronesian and Tai. They were also the source of the dictionary order (gojūon) of Japanese kana.[1]

Brahmic scripts descended from the Brahmi script. Brahmi is clearly attested from the 3rd century BC during the reign of Ashoka, who used the script for imperial edicts, but there are some claims of earlier epigraphy found on pottery in South India and Sri Lanka. The most reliable of these were short Brahmi inscriptions dated to the 4th century BC and published by Coningham et al. (1996).[2] Northern Brahmi gave rise to the Gupta script during the Gupta period, which in turn diversified into a number of cursives during the medieval period. Notable examples of such medieval scripts, developed by the 7th or 8th century, include Nagari, Siddham and Sharada.

The Siddhaṃ script was especially important in Buddhism, as many sutras were written in it. The art of Siddham calligraphy survives today in Japan. The syllabic nature and dictionary order of the modern kana system of Japanese writing is believed to be descended from the Indic scripts, most likely through the spread of Buddhism.[3]

Southern Brahmi evolved into the Kadamba, Pallava and Vatteluttu scripts, which in turn diversified into other scripts of South India and Southeast Asia. Brahmic scripts spread in a peaceful manner, Indianization, or the spread of Indian learning. The scripts spread naturally to Southeast Asia, at ports on trading routes.[4] At these trading posts, ancient inscriptions have been found in Sanskrit, using scripts that originated in India. At first, inscriptions were made in Indian languages, but later the scripts were used to write the local Southeast Asian languages. Hereafter, local varieties of the scripts were developed. By the 8th century, the scripts had diverged and separated into regional scripts.[5]

Some characteristics, which are present in most but not all the scripts, are:

Below are comparison charts of several of the major Indic scripts, organised on the principle that glyphs in the same column all derive from the same Brahmi glyph. Accordingly:

Vowels are presented in their independent form on the left of each column, and in their corresponding dependent form (vowel sign) combined with the consonant k on the right. A glyph for ka is an independent consonant letter itself without any vowel sign, where the vowel a is inherent.

A map of Indo-Aryan languages using their respective Brahmic family scripts (except dark blue- colored Khowar, Pashai, Kohistani, and Urdu- not marked here, which use Arabic derived scripts).
A map of Dravidian languages using their respective Brahmic family scripts (except Brahui which uses Arabic derived script).

The Brahmi script was already divided into regional variants at the time of the earliest surviving epigraphy around the 3rd century BC. Cursives of the Brahmi script began to diversify further from around the 5th century AD and continued to give rise to new scripts throughout the Middle Ages.

The main division in antiquity was between northern and southern Brahmi. In the northern group, the Gupta script was very influential, and in the southern group the Vatteluttu and Kadamba/Pallava scripts with the spread of Buddhism sent Brahmic scripts throughout Southeast Asia.

As of Unicode version 13.0, the following Brahmic scripts have been encoded: