Reviving a script and trying to decode manuscripts

Over a thousand languages are teetering on the brink of extinction, and we may lose more than just words if we allow them to die.

Published: 19th March 2017 02:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th March 2017 05:36 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Over a thousand languages are teetering on the brink of extinction, and we may lose more than just words if we allow them to die. A recent report by UNESCO claims that of the 6,000 languages, now used across the world, up to half could be gone in the next fifty years. Rapid decline in the number of users, a small geographical range and brisk economic growth are blamed for this. Tigalari, a southern Brahmic script used in the Coastal and Malnad regions of Karnataka, is on the verge of extinction. The major language of Tigalari manuscript is Sanskrit and some of the key works include Veda, Jyotisha and epics.

palm leaf manuscripts at the foundation
| sridevi s

But all is not lost. Bengaluru-based BM Sri Smaraka Pratishtana, a foundation that works and supports research in the field of Kannada language and literature, is mulling over the revival and digitalisation of the script. One of them is to train people in Tigalari and build a team to analyse the manuscripts.
The initiative is the brainchild of Prof Sheshagiri Rao, a retired principal, who is now actively involved with the BM Sri Foundation to digitalise the manuscripts. A few like-minded people, along with Rao, are working on this project.

“Tigalari script was used during the 12th and 13th centuries by Brahmins for documentation purpose. Back then manuscripts were the only way for documentation. To maintain secrecy and to disseminate information discreetly, they would come up with a new script, which would be taught only to a few in the family, which reduced the chances of information leakage. Tigalari is one such language,” Rao said.
“Today, more than 5,000 Tigalari manuscripts are available in the state and only countable number of people can read it. And if this generation ignores this, the script may die a silent death,” Prof Rao lamented.

“We are launching a six-month course on Tigalari.  We are aiming to teach not only the script, but also help them analyse the manuscript. This might pave way for unlocking a new treasure trove of information,” he said.
“Also, this script was meant to serve as a part of secure communication.  Unfortunately, valuable knowledge resources were hidden cryptically in this script. By teaching this to everyone, we are making our honest attempt to unleash the fund of knowledge to all. That means we are using technology to democratise the knowledge resource, once hidden from the vast majority,” Rao added.

Learning Tigalari is no cakewalk and a knowledge of Sanskrit language is a must. “We will begin everything from the start -right from the alphabet, vowels, consonants and then reading a word, coming up with the sentence.  After they master all these basic skills, we will hand them a manuscript to translate it into Kannada language. It might look simple, but it is a very tedious and time-consuming project. A small error while translating might change the meaning of the sentence. Hence, we have to work on delivering error-free digitalised copies, which can be used by the next generation,” Rao added.
However, what has been achieved so far is very little. The organisation is still fairly small and lack of promotion and financial support is quite evident.

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