|The Brahmic script and its descendants|
The Bhattiprolu script is a variant of the Brahmi script which has been found in old inscriptions at Bhattiprolu, a small village in Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh, South India. It is located in the fertile Krishna river delta and the estuary region where the river meets the Bay of Bengal.
Bhattiprolu differs from Ashokan Brahmi in two significant ways. First, the letters gh, j, m, l, s are "radically different": m is upside-down compared to Brahmi, while gh appears to derive from g rather than from Semitic heth. Secondly, the inherent vowel has been discarded: A consonant written without diacritics represents the consonant alone. This is unique to Bhattiprolu and Tamil Brahmi among the early Indian scripts.4
Excavations that started in the year 1870 by Boswell, Sir Walter Elliot, Robert Sewell, Alexander Rea, Buhler and continued in 1969 by R. Subrahmanyam revealed a complex of Buddhist stupas (an area of 1700 square yards, drum diameter of 148 feet, dome diameter of 132 feet, height of 40 feet and a circumambulatory path of 8 feet). Bricks of 45 x 30 x 8 cm dimensions were used for the construction.5
The most significant discovery is the crystal relic casket of sārira-dhātu of the Buddha from the central mass of the stupas. The Mahachaitya (great stupa) remains of a large pillared hall, a large group of ruined votive stupas with several images of Buddha, a stone receptacle containing copper vessel, which in turn, contained two more, a silver casket and within it, a gold casket enclosing beads of bone and crystal were found.8
The script was written on the urn containing Buddha's relics. Linguists surmise that the Mauryan Brahmi evolved in the 3rd century BCE and travelled soon after to Bhattiprolu. Twenty three symbols were identified in Bhattiprolu script. The symbols for 'ga' and 'sa' are similar to Mauryan Brahmi.
There are a total of nine inscriptions, all dated to the 2nd century BCE or possibly earlier (a tenth inscription is in a script much closer to standard Brahmi), written in Prakrit.
The Bhattiprolu inscription also shows systemic but not paleographic similarity to Tamil Brahmi.9 According to Richard Salmon, the Bhattiprolu script was originally invented to write a Dravidian language but was reapplied to inscribe in an Indo-Aryan Prakrit. Hence both the Bhattiprolu and Tamil Brahmi share common modifications to represent Dravidian languages.10Bhattiprolu script is also considered the Rosetta Stone of Tamil Brahmi decipherment.11
- Salomon (1998), p. 34f. cites one estimate of "not later than 200 BC", and of "about the end of the 2nd century B.C."
- The Bhattiprolu Inscriptions, G. Buhler, 1894, Epigraphica Indica, Vol.2
- Buddhist Inscriptions of Andhradesa, Dr. B.S.L Hanumantha Rao, 1998, Ananda Buddha Vihara Trust, Secunderabad
- Richard Salomon (1998) Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the other Indo-Aryan Languages
- Bhattiprolu Stupa, Its Vastu and Inscriptions, Dr I. K. Sarma
- The Bhattiprolu Stupa, A. Rea, 1892, South Indian Buddhist Antiquities, Vol 4
- The Buddhist Architecture in Andhra, Dr D. J. Das, 1993, Books and Books, New Delhi
- Buddhist Relic Caskets in Andhradesa, Dr B. Subrahmanyam, 1999, Ananda Buddha Vihara Trust, Secunderabad
- Salmon 1999, p. 35
- Salmon 1999, p. 36
- Champahalakshmi, R. "A magnum opus on Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions". Frontline (The Hindu). Retrieved 7 October 2011.
- The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems by Florian Coulmas, p. 228; Salomon (1998), p. 40.
- Salomon, Richard (1999), Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the other Indo-Aryan Languages, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195099842, OCLC 473618522