About Gurumukhi Script

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Old 04-Feb-2013
About Gurumukhi Script

Gurmukhi is the name of the script used
in writing primarily Punjabi and,
secondarily, Sindhi language. The word
gurmukhi seems to have gained currency
from the use of these letters to record
the sayings coming from the much (lit.
mouth or lips) of the (Sikh) Gurus. The
letters no doubt existed before the time
of Guru Angad (even of Guru Nanak) as
they had their origin in the Brahmi, but
the origin of the script is attributed to
Guru Angad. He not only modified and
rearranged certain letters but also shaped
them into a script. He gave new shape
and new order to the alphabet and made
it precise and accurate. He fixed one
letter for each of the Punjabi phonemes;
use of vowel-symbols was made
obligatory, the letters meant for conjuncts
were not adopted and only those letters
were retained which depicted sounds of
the then spoken language . There was
some rearrangement of the letters also.
It is commonly accepted that Gurmukht is
a member of the Brahmi family. Brahml is
an Aryan script which was developed by
the Aryans and adapted to local needs.
According to an opinion, the Brahmi script
was introduced between the 8th and the
6th centnries BC. It does not concern us
here whether the script was foreign or
local, but it has now heen established, on
the basis of internal evidence, that
whatever be its name, the Aryans did
have a system of writing which must have
been borrowed freely from local scripts.
The Iranians ruled in the Punjab in the
3rd and 4th centuries BC. They brought
with them Aramaic script, which helped in
the growth of Kharosthi largely used in
the Punjab, Gandhar and Sindh between
300 BC and 3rd century AD. But even
then Brahmi, which in its development in
the Punjab had undergone several
changes, was commonly used along with
Kharosthi . There are coins of the Bactrian
kings and inscriptions of the Kushan rulers
having both scripts on them. Brahmi was,
of course, more popular on account of its
simple curves alternated with straight
strokes. Hence, in due course, it replaced
Kharosthi and became the single script
with composite features effected by
various local and neighbourly influences.
With the growth of literary and cultural
activity during the Gupta period (4th and
5th century AD), the Brahmi script
improved further and became more
expansive and common.
Immediately later, it developed,
especially in northern India, fine curves
and embellished flourishes with a small
headline over each letter, and became
rather ornamental. This stage of Indian
script was called Kutil, meaning curved.
From Kutil evolved the Siddhamatrika
which had the widest use in northern
India. Some scholars think that these two
scripts existed simultaneously. From the
sixth century to the ninth, Siddhamatrika
had a very wide use from Kashmir to
Varanasi. With the rise of regional
languages taking the place of Sanskrit and
Prakrit, regional scripts grew in numnber.
Ardhanagari (west), Sharda (Kashmir) and
Nagari (beyond Delhi) came into use, and
later both Sharda and Devanagari, an
offshort of Nagari, started their inroads
into the land of the five rivers. This is
evident from the coins of the Ghaznavids
and Goris minted at Lahore and Delhi. It
is also known that the common (non-
Brahman and non-official) people used a
number of scripts for their temporal and
commercial requirements. Of these
Lande and Takre characters were most
prevalent.It is on account of these
currents that scholars have tried to
establish relationships of Gurmukhi with
Devanagri (G.H. Ojha), Ardhanagan (C.B.
Singh), Siddhamatrika (Pritam Singh),
Sharda Diringer) and Brahmi (generally) .
Some ascribe it to lande and some others
to Takn, a branch of Sharda used in
Chamba and Kaligra. The fact is that it is
dervied from or at least allied to all these
and others mentioned above in their
historical perspective. Regionally and
contemporarily compared, Gurmukhi
characters have direct similarities with
Gujrati, Lande, Nagan, Sharda and Takn:
they are either exactly the same or
essentially alike.Internally, aara, haha,
chacha, naana, dadda, nanna, naa, lalla
letters of Gurmukhi had undergone some
minor orthographical changes before AD
Further changes came in the forms of
aaraa, haaha, and lalla in the first half of
the nineteenth century. The manuscripts
belonging to the eighteenth century have
slightly different forms of these letters.
But the modern as well as old forms of
these letters are found in the
orthography of the same writers in
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Another reform carried out is the
separation of lexical units of the sentence
which previously formed one jumbled
unit; lately punctuation marks borrowed
from English have been incorporated
besides the full stop (|) which existed
The Gurmukhi script is semi-syllabic in the
sense that 'a' is included in the consonant
signs in some situations. This 'a' is not
pronounced at the end of the syllable.
Thus, kl (in punjabi) is kal, and RAM in
punjabi is Ram, that is, k in (kal )
represents k+a, while l represents only l.
Other vowels after consonants are shown
by vowel symbols which also happen to
be the first three letters of the Gurmukhl
alphabet Of these, the first and the third
are not used independently. They always
have a diacritic attached to them. the
second letter is used without diacritics
also, and in that case it is equivalent to 'a'
as in English 'about'. With diacritics a total
of ten vowels are formed, viz., u, u, o, a,
a, ai, au, i, l and e. Of these vocalic
diacritics, 'i' occurs before a consonant
(although pronounced after it), u and u
are written below; a and l after a
consonant; and e, ai, o and au over a
consonant. Similarly, the nasalization sign
is also used over a consonant though in
fact it nasalizes the vowel. Of all the
vowel-marks, called lagari in Punjabi, a is
the oldest, though initially just a dot was
used for it. The vowel-marks l and u are
found in Asokan edicts and later
All Gurmukhi letters have uniform height
and can be written between two parallel
horizontal lines, with the only exception
of e (the first letter of the alphabet) the
top curve of which extends beyond the
upper line. From left to right, too, they
have almost uniform length, only of ( aira)
and us (ghaggrha) may be slightly longer
than the rest. However, the placing of
vowel-symbols under and over the
letters, a characteristic of all Indian
scripts, creates some problems in printing
and typing. No change is effected in the
form of the letter when a vowel-symbol
or diacritic is attached to it, the only
exception being e to which an additional
curve is added which represents two
syllables. This is the only example of a
single graphic form representing multiple
sounds (and this form has a theological
background); otherwise there is no
Gurmukhl letter representing more than
one phoneme, and there are no digraphs.
Gurmukhi has played a significant role in
Sikh faith and tradition. It was originally
employed for the Sikh scriptures. The
script spread widely under Maharaja Ranjit
Singh and after him under the Punjab Sikh
chiefs, for administrative purposes. It
played a great part in consolidating and
standardizing the Punjabi language. For
centuries it has been the main medium of
literacy in the Punjab and its adjoining
areas where earliest schools were
attached to gurdwaras. Now it is used in
all spheres of culture, arts, education and
administration. It is the state script of the
Punjab and as such its common and
secular character has been firmly
The alphabet has also crossed the
frontiers of its homeland. Sikhs have
settled in all parts of the world and
Gurmukhi has accompanied them
everywhere. It has a brighter fixture,
incleed, in and outside the land of its
birth. Till recently, Persian script was
largely used for Punjabi and there was
initially a considerable amount of writing
in this script, but it is becoming dated
now. However, in the Pakistan Punjab
Punjabi is still studied, at postgraduate
level, in Persian script now called

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