Brahmi – Rediscovering the Lost Script by Ankita Roy & Malay Mandal

Brahmi – Rediscovering the Lost Script by Ankita Roy & Malay Mandal
Brahmi – Rediscovering the Lost Script by Ankita Roy & Malay Mandal

Brahmi – the mother script of most Indian and Asian scripts, to a large extent its journey and its transformation remains a mystery. We have some old edicts, most of them dating to the period of Emperor Ashoka.

Authors Ankita Roy & Malay Mandal have tried to trace the journey of Brahmi from the times of Indus Valley Civilization to its current day descendants. This is an illustrated book – which means it is not just text and some images. There are lots of design elements included in the book. These elements visually communicate the story to you. The fact that the script itself is a visual representation of the language adds to the aura of this book.

Indus Valley Civilization

The book starts with the undecipherable script of Indus Valley Civilization. The authors tell us interesting facts like the script has 417 distinct characters. Average characters used in seals is 5. The longest use of characters discovered so far has 14 characters. There are lots of images of Harappa seals and the famous artifacts of the era like the dancing girl, the patterns on potteries and the bust of priest-king. They have used the timelines to show the changes over ages. The sepia pages that wore the shades of age, play their own role in taking you back in time.

Post the Indus valley civilization, the scene moves to the Buddhist times of Ashoka. Incidentally, Ashoka is the only one who left the non-perishable writing for us. Epigraphy experts have spent their careers in discovering, deciphering & analyzing Ashoka’s rock edicts and pillar edicts. The book goes into the details of each of his edicts we have. They talk about the discovery of edict, the man who discovered including the circumstances of discovery, the peculiarities of the edict and its location. The book ends as soon as all these edicts are spoken about. I would have wanted some more analysis of the transition of Brahmi to some of the existing languages. I wanted some more information about the scripts used in ancient Jain and Buddha manuscripts.

Illustrated Books Concept

What I liked about the book is the concept of illustrated books. Books like this can make a lot of dull subjects look very inviting. They also convey the mundane information in a much more comprehensible way. Visually appealing books can make history more interesting to read. It is easy to absorb the information being presented. Visually, they are a delight to use. I only wish they could be a bit lighter in weight – it takes a bit of effort to hold the book while reading.

I also think that with the advent of e-books, the paper books will have to come up with innovations like these. These books will make you want to pick up the book, read it and then proudly showcase it in your collection. Check out the publisher’s website.

Font size

As much as I liked the design of the book, I wondered what made the designers put such a small font. There were a couple of Hindi parts and I had to use a magnifying glass to read them. Similarly, the Appendix that lists the inscriptions on edicts has such a small font that you do not feel like reading them. The size of images and size of text are totally out of sync. And I also expected them to use a better readable font.

I want the content with some more depth on the subject of Brahmi. I want a bigger font for text, but I welcome this books with a big applause. And I hope they usher in an era of affordable illustrated books on the subjects that we have ignored so far in the popular literature.

Language is simple, a matter of fact most of the times. There is a tendency to go the British way, talking more about the dates & names rather than the actual discovery. You spend more time admiring the excellent images and photographs. I have been to most of the places mentioned in the book and can say with authority that the authors do justice to them.

Read it.

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  1. Sounds fascinating indeed! It was high time that someone had analyzed for the general public our own historical, societal and linguistic mysteries that we ought to know about but don’t.
    There is another book on a similar yet quite different topic that I would strongly recommend, “The Keys of Egypt: The Race to Crack the Hieroglyph Code”, by Lesley Adkins & Roy Adkins. Beautifully written– informative, yet lucid and quite a page turner. It’s unreasonably expensive on the Indian Amazon– I can lend it to you next time you’re in Bangalore.


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