India Interior

Breathing new life into forgotten scripts

Sarita Brara | Updated on July 26, 2019

Himachal Pradesh attempts to revive its ancient scripts, like the Tankri lipi

A piece of land titled ‘Thakur Dwara’ was allotted, in Samvat 1737, to the Goswami family of Swarghat village in Himachal Pradesh’s Bilaspur district, by Raja Vijay Chandra. But when Chandermani Goswami wanted to build his house on this land, the villagers did not allow him to do so. The document of land allotment was in Tankri lipi (script) that was in use in several parts of Himachal Pradesh at that time.

The translation of the document from Tankri to Devanagari by Harikrishan Murari came to Goswami’s rescue. The court vacated the stay on the basis of the translated version. This is not the only instance, there were several such cases before the Chamba district and sessions court where the copper plates or documents issued were in Tankri and not many people could decipher the script.

The Tankri script, also known as the Mahajani script, was in use in several parts of the State in the past. But this, along with some other local scripts, , is today vanishing. It is not just the land revenue or the temple records or the bahi khatas (account ledgers) used by the business community that were in Tankri lipi but a large number of manuscripts of great cultural and heritage value, as well. For instance, Khoob Ram’s family in Kullu has 200 to 250 manuscripts in Tankri lipi, including a version of the Ramayana. There may be many more people in possession of manuscripts in the script. The Himachal Pradesh State Museum also has manuscripts in Tankri as well as a few other lipis that were in use in the State.

Workshops

Harikrishan Murari, a writer from Rait village of Shahpur Block of Kangra district, learnt the Tankri lipi during a workshop way back in 1986. This was perhaps the first step to acquaint the new generation with this script. Years later, in 2007, he was roped in by the Himachal Pradesh Academy of Arts, Culture and Language to teach Tankri in order to revive it. He taught the script to 12 students at a workshop held in Nagrota in 2009. Since then, he has been teaching Tankri to scholars at workshops organised by either the State government or the Centre. The last such workshop was held in 2017 at Balhar, in Kangra, where Murari taught several students to read and write in this ancient script.

In fact, training camps have been held from time to time on eight ancient scripts of the State. These eight are being promoted by the State government under its ‘guru-shishya tradition’ scheme.

According to Dev Raj Sharma of the HP Academy, five students are allotted to each teacher for training. The Academy has also brought out a booklet on the eight lipis under an umbrella programme Aaj Purani Raho Se aimed at promoting the cultural heritage of Himachal Pradesh and creating livelihood options through them. Sharma says a separate booklet on Tankri lipi will be brought out soon. The booklet also contains Devanagari to Tankri exercises, the national anthem in Tankri and a 100-year-old manuscript contributed by Jagdish Kapoor of Mandi who learnt the script from his parents.

Other ways to kindle interest

Other steps to revive Tankri are also being taken. For instance, during the annual art festival organised by the State museum at the Ridge maidan in Shimla last year, students were asked to write their names in the Tankri script from posters with Tankri letters of the alphabet and their Devanagari version. Production of souvenirs with imprints of the vanishing ancient scripts is also under way. “The whole idea behind this is it to arouse curiosity about these ancient scripts and get people interested in the rich cultural heritage of the hill State,” says Purnima Chauhan, Secretary (Languages and Culture), HP government.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

Published on July 26, 2019

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