writing in the Vedic literature. The earliest literary evidence for writing is
in Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, where the words lipi and libi (‘script’) occur.
Although Panini is supposed to have written his work in the fourth century
BC, there is no certainty about his date. Further, he might have used the
word lipi for the Aramaic script, which must have been known about
fourth century bc to people in Gandhara, his native region. Mention of
writing in early Pali literature is also of little relevance, since it is usually
held on various grounds that much of it was compiled long after the
Buddha, in Mauryan times or even later.
The Greek sources mostly give us the impression that there was no
writing in India in the time of Alexander and Chandragupta Maurya.
Strabo says that, while “other writers say that they (the Indians) make no
use of written characters”, only Alexander’s admiral Nearchus recorded
that they wrote on closely woven cloth. Nearchus’s statement could, like
Panini’s, be treated as a reference to the use of the Aramaic script in the
northwest. Strabo himself elsewhere quotes Megasthenes to the effect that
Indians used only unwritten laws, for they were ignorant of writing and
relied in all matters on memory. Since Megasthenes stayed at Mauryan
capital and was more acquainted with India than any other Greek writer,
his evidence should be given greater weight.
The issue of the beginning of writing in India is usually linked with
that of the origin of the Brahmi script. Majority of those holding the view
that writing existed in India in pre-Mauryan times are inclined to argue
that the Brahmi script evolved in northern India out of a process of
internal development from marks and symbols. Some see even a link with
the Indus script. However, if the Brahmi characters could have originated
from something so dissimilar to them as the Indus ideographs or
pictographs, they might conceivably have originated from almost anything
with any kind of form. On the other hand, the origin of the Kharoshthi
script, employed to represent Ashokan Prakrit along with the Brahmi, is
fairly well established. Many characters of Kharoshthi exhibit distinct
resemblances to Aramaic characters bearing identical phonetic values.
Both are written from right to left, and both are found in Gandhara.
Further, Kharoshthi shares with Aramaic the difficulty in expressing
vowels suffixed to consonants. This feature is also shared by Brahmi. But