The Brahmi writing system is the modern name given to the oldest script used in India, during the final centuries BCE and the early centuries CE. Like its contemporary in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan, Kharosthi, Brahmi was an abugida.
The best-known Brahmi inscriptions are the rock-cut edicts of Ashoka in north-central India, dated to the 3rd century BCE. Inscriptions in Tamil-Brahmi, a Southern Brahmic alphabet found on pottery in South India and Sri Lanka, may even predate the Ashoka edicts.
The Gupta script of the 5th century is sometimes called "Late Brahmi". From the 6th century onward, the Brahmi script diversified into numerous local variants, grouped as the Brahmic family of scripts.
The script was deciphered in 1837 by James Prinsep, an archaeologist, philologist, and official of the British East India Company.
Scholars, such as F. Raymond Allchin, take Brahmi as a purely indigenous development, perhaps with the Bronze Age Indus script as its predecessor.
G. R. Hunter in his book "The Script of Harappa and Mohenjodaro and Its Connection with Other Scripts (1934) details out the derivation of the Brahmi alphabets from the Indus Script, the match being considerably higher than that of Aramaic. Even though there is a lack of intervening evidence for writing during the millennium and a half between the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization ca. 1900 BCE and the first appearance of Brahmi in the mid-4th century BCE, the Indus hypothesis is slowly gaining momentum because of the sheer differences between how Semitic alphabets work and how Brahmi works for an Indo-Aryan language.
While the contemporary and perhaps somewhat older Kharosthi script is speculated to be a derivation of the Aramaic script, the genesis of the Brahmi script is less straightforward. An origin in the Imperial Aramaic script has nevertheless been proposed by most scholars since the publications by Albrecht Weber (1856) and Georg Buhler's On the origin of the Indian Brahma alphabet (1895).
Like Kharosthi, Brahmi was used to write the early dialects of Prakrit. Surviving records of the script are mostly restricted to inscriptions on buildings and graves as well as liturgical texts. Sanskrit was not written until many centuries later, and as a result, Brahmi is not a perfect match for Sanskrit; several Sanskrit sounds cannot be written in Brahmi.
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