Kohi Script From Gandhara by Nasim Khan, m

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  • 7/30/2019 Kohi Script From Gandhara by Nasim Khan, m


    Gandhran Studies, Vol.1 89

    Kohi Script from Gandhra

    Discovery of Another Ancient Indian Writing SystemM. Nasim Khan

    While looking for ancient documents to establish

    the missing links between the Middle Indo Aryan

    and the Dardic languages of northern Pakistan,

    different sorts of epigraphical specimens were

    documented during the process of screening the

    three main valleys of northern Pakistan, Dir, Swat

    and the Upper Indus, including the discovery of

    dozens of ancient Indian inscriptions. All but one

    group of these are written in already familiarscripts and somewhat known languages. The

    aberrant script was mainly found in Dir, Swat,

    Buner and in the Peshawar valley and since its

    discovery it has remained a puzzling job for the

    epigraphist to determine the nature of its writing

    and its language.

    In 1999 a person from Swat informed one of my

    students, who was working on Chail dialect of

    Swat Kohistani, that a strange script is to be seen

    engraved on the surface of a rock close toBahrain, Swat. After getting this information we

    visited the area to see the inscription, but

    unfortunately we were not able to find it in the

    absence of the person who had brought it to our

    attention, instead we were compensated by

    discovering another such inscription, which was

    lying in a private collection in Manglawar, Swat1.

    Since this discovery the author has been trying to

    document all such inscriptions situated in situ or

    lying in different museums and private

    collections. These inscriptions, written in astrange script hereafter called Kohi Script2, areengraved mostly on stone slabs of different types:

    schist, granite, marble, etc.

    It seems that reference to this strange script was

    first made by M. Senart and Sir Thomas Holdich

    in 1910 while referring to a large number of such


    Thanks to its owner I could study the inscription on thespot.2

    Due to discovery of these inscriptions in the mountainous

    regions of northern Pakistaqn, the name Kohi Script ishere purely geographical rather than associated with any

    historical accounts.

    strange inscriptions collected by Col. Deane in the

    area of Swat. Sir Thomas Holdich writes:

    But along with these Buddhist relics there have

    been lately unearthed certain strange

    inscriptions, which have been submitted by their

    discoverer, Major Deane, to a congress of

    Orientalists, who can only pronounce them to be

    in an unknown tongue. They have been found in

    the Indus valley east of Swat, most of them beingengraved on stone slabs which have been built

    into towers, now in ruins. The towers are

    comparatively modern, but it by no means

    follows that these inscriptions are so. It is the

    common practice of Pathan builders to preserve

    any engraved or sculptured relic that they may

    find, by utilizing them as ornamental features in

    their buildings. It has probably been a custom

    from time immemorial. In 1895 I observed

    evidences of this propensity in the graveyard at

    Chagan Sarai, in the Kunar valley, where many

    elaborately carved Buddhist fragments were leftinto the sides of their roughly built chabutras,or sepulchres, with the obvious purpose of

    gaining effect thereby. No one would say where

    those Buddhist fragments came from. The

    Kunnar valley appears at first sight to be

    absolutely free from Buddhist remains, although

    it would naturally be selected as a most likely

    field for research. These undeciphered

    inscriptions may possibly be found to be vastly

    more ancient than the towers they adorned. It is,

    at any rate, a notable fact about them that some

    of them recall a Greek alphabet of archaic

    type. So great an authority as M. Senart inclinesto the opinion that their authors must be referred

    to the Skythic or Mongolian invaders of India;

    but he refers at the same time to a sculptured and

    inscribed monument in the Louvre, of unknown

    origin, the characters on which resemble those of

    the new script. (Colonel, Sir Thomas Holdich:

    1910: 129-129-130)

    As a result of my first communiqu with scholars

    in the relevant field, I had the impression that

    these inscriptions were forgeries. The controversy

    of the fake nature of these inscriptions has

    continued for a long period with a sole argument

    being that there is no parallel for such

    inscriptions. Moreover Col. Deane, a British army

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    Gandhran Studies, Vol.1 90

    officer during the 1880s, was collecting and

    buying inscriptions in Swat and Buner areas and

    it is generally believed that people from the

    region were making fake inscriptions for him.

    But these arguments did not convince me and Ihad to look for parallels by visiting different

    collections, museums, societies in Pakistan and

    abroad, especially the British Museum and the

    Royal Asiatic Society. I could not find any

    parallel in the mentioned institutions except for

    the Lahore Museum, where quite a good number

    of inscriptions are stored in the reserve and one is

    on display. Those in the reserve collection are

    mostly published in the Royal Asiatic Society

    Journal but they are very fragmentary and keep

    very little similarity with the Kohi Script. But the

    efforts continued that resulted in the discovery of

    some more slabs which are lying in different

    private collections coming from different parts of

    the region. At least one slab is confirmed coming

    from Dir and one from Hund, Gandhara. The rest

    supposedly come from Swat.

    When I was on an academic visit to the Institute

    of Sanskrit and Indian Philology, Freie

    University, Prof. Harry Falk drew my attention tothe publication on inscribed or painted potsherds

    found during excavation at Kara Tepe,

    Khalchayan, etc. After a close examination it was

    found that these different signs of an

    undeciphered script fall under the same category

    as the Kohi script.

    In the area of Dasht-e-Nawar in Afghanistan, a

    boulder was discovered having Kharoshthi

    inscriptions that were published by Prof. G.

    Fussman (Fussman 1974). However on the sameboulder another inscription is engraved having the

    same characteristic as the Kohi scripts.

    Similarly some other inscriptions were discovered

    during excavations in Afghanistan and in Central

    Asian, while others are engraved on vessels of

    different kinds (Akishev 1978: 71; Bernard, P.

    1992: 140. Harmatta 1999: 417).

    Although the number of inscriptions discovered

    during the last few years is quite impressive, the

    present study is based on selected inscriptions

    found in northern Pakistan. Detailed study and

    analysis is under progress and the results will

    hopefully be available soon. The present paper

    mainly deals with the paleography of the selected

    inscriptions and comparison is made with thosefound in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

    Granite Slab InscriptionMaterial: Granite

    Condition: Complete (line no 4 is partially


    Size: 24x15 (max)

    22x14 (min)

    The slab is rectangular in shape and has two small

    holes one on its left and the other on its right side.

    These holes might have been used for fixing the

    slab on to a wall with the help of nails and rust of

    an iron object is still discernible

    inside the holes. The reverse side of the slab is


    It is engraved with four lines inscriptionaccommodating in total 42 signs covering an area

    of 22x12 cm. Each of these signs is unique in this

    slab except for one which occurs twice.

    Schist Slab Inscription from GandharaMaterial: schist

    Condition: complete

    Size: 23x9.5

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    Gandhran Studies, Vol.1 91

    The slab is rectangular in shape with two holes on

    the right side. These holes might indicate the

    same function as it is the case with the granite

    slab inscription. The slab was basically square in

    shape but half of it is lost. It is engraved with a

    nine line inscription. These lines contain in total

    78 signs that are arranged in 45 different groups.

    The inscription is engraved within a frame with

    flowers and birds figures. To the right and left

    part of the inscription are the floral designs whilethe upper part shows twenty-two squares arrange

    in two rows with a bird figure, one in each square.

    The reverse side of the slab is partially broken

    and flaked off; it contains some geometrical

    designs covering an area of about 23x7.9 cm. The

    designs on the back are composed of different

    circles executed with dotted techniques. Each

    circle having a dot in its centre.

    Schist Slab Inscription from SwatMaterial: Schist

    Condition: Partially broken from theright

    Size: Not available

    The slab is rectangular in shape but it is broken

    on its top or its right side. The surface of the slab

    is properly dressed and divided into two

    main areas by two parallel lines. The upper or

    right part is further divided by a single line into

    two parts. Apart from the inscriptions to be found

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    Gandhran St