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Ancient script of Indian mountains fights for survival

People in India's northern Kullu are going back to school in an attempt to learn ancient script Tankri.

Kullu, Feb 16: People in India's northern Kullu are going back to
school in an attempt to learn ancient script Tankri.

They listen in rapt attention as their teacher tells them
about the neglected script, which once held sway in the
mountains, but is now choking.

The 10-day workshop aims to acquaint one with the Tankri
script and a look at the ancient manuscripts, which use the

Tankri was once a full-fledged script of the Pahari (the
language of the mountain folks) language.

Pahari, the extensively spoken language of Himachal
Pradesh, especially in Kullu, Lahaul, Spiti, and Kangra,
is a language of Sanskrit origin. Research has revealed
that in earlier days Pahari used Tankri or Thakari, but
later during the Muslim period the Persian script came into
acceptance. It was much later that these dialects adopted
the Devanagari script.

Local scholars are trying to revive the script and also
salvage whatever they can of the ancient manuscripts.

"This Tankri script has suffered due to the language policy
of the British according the status of official script and
language to Urdu in their official administration. This
made everyone clamour for the Urdu script schools and that
was justified then as learning in Urdu language and script
meant an assurance of a job. Soon after the introduction of
Urdu in 1846 policy of the British, the Tankri script using
schools wrapped up business and people forgot this script.
Far back then Tankri was an official script of instruction
in schools in Kullu and Nagar," said Khub Ram Khushdil, a
teacher at the workshop.

Linguists also say that during the feudal times, Kullu
literature was written in Tankri script and reached its
peak in the17th century.

Khushdil also claims that in the pre-British times when the
valley was still under princely rule, Tankri was the script
of the royal courts. Tankri inscriptions are also found
on slabs, temples and sculptures.

One of the students has delved deep into the history of the
script and also has a roadmap for its recovery.

"From the old course we have books and records which are
related to the Ayurveda, herbs and medicines apart from
many other things. Lots of these books are scripted in
Tankri and so that makes the preservation and revival of
this script so essential. We are planning to approach the
Government of India's Mission Pandulipi (manuscript)
project with our resources and for further promotion we
shall adopt the Guru-Shishya (the ancient Teacher-Disciple
equation) parampara (method)," said Shashi Sharma after the
class wrapped up for the day.

Deepak Sharma, a young man attending the classes felt that
in the 10 days the batch had learnt a lot about the ancient

"I am so impressed that I promise myself that I shall peel
every crust of disuse that has accumulated on this heritage
script of ours and will try to regain and retain its
glory," said Deepak Sharma.

There are 400 registered languages in India but Hindi in
the Devanagari script is the official language. The
Constitution also recognizes 17 regional languages, of
which the most widely spoken are Bengali, Gujarati,
Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. English is widely used for administrative purposes.

Bureau Report