Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

A Note on the Khudawadi: A Vanishing Script of Sindh

Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

A Note on the Khudawadi: A Vanishing Script of Sindh

Article excerpt

This brief paper intends to present a forgotten script used in Sindh. Known under different names, sometimes confused with other scripts such as the Khojkî, the Khudâwâdî was associated with the merchant caste of the Lohänäs.1 Like the Khojki, the script was probably a secret alphabet used for the traders' accounts not to be read by 'strangers'. Nevertheless, while the Khojki became at some point, and for a short time, the official literary script of a community, the Ismâ'îlî Khojas, the Khudâwâdî was hardly recognized as a literary script despite the attempt implemented by the British with the help of a number of Sindhî literati.

The first part of the paper will discuss how the British officers addressed the issue of the Khudâwâdî script. The second part will be devoted to the origin of the Khudâwâdî. It will be followed by a brief outline of its spread as an alternative of Arabic-Sindhi and Devanâgarî in the late 19th Century. The final part will be a tentative introduction to the main corpus of Khudâwâdî in Sindh: the corpus of inscriptions as preserved in present-day Sindh. It should be noted that the first and thus limited aim of this paper is to present a synthesis of the state of knowledge about the Khudâwâdî.

Stack's Catalogue of Scripts

The first mention of Khudâwâdî is probably to be found in Lieutenant Postans's book published in 1843. He wrote that the Sindhî language is written "in a peculiar character, called the Khudä Wâdî, and the Hindus keep all their own accounts and correspondence in it" (Postans, 1843:73). After six years in 1849, Captain George Stack published one of the first grammars of Sindhî. He started with a chapter devoted to what he called "the letters", following a four-page chart presenting seventeen alphabets used for writing the Sindhi language in a script which was the Khudâwâdî.

The first Britishers who came to know the Khudâwâdî usually claimed that it came from Devanâgarî or Sanskrit. But before examining the issue of its origin, it is necessary to understand how Stack identified a certain script. The point is to be raised since at the first glance of the chart, one observes that some alphabets are very close to each other. Through naming them, how did Stack identify a script? There are three types of identifications, plus one which is a variable (Stack, 1849:3-6).

Stack's chart is handwritten: obviously there was no press for all these scripts. It means that they could only be found in manuscript form, and may be on inscriptions. A number of Stack's naming them can not be understood. The first characters are from well-known alphabets, which are occasionally used according to Stack. For the others, he states that "Different localities and various classes of people favour distinct styles" (Stack, 1849:7). Indeed, locality and caste are the two relevant processes for distinguishing the alphabets. Knowing these are the two main categories of distinction, how did he select them? Unfortunately, Stack didn't provide any clue about the issue. Notwithstanding, one can note there are two Muslim traders castes, the Khojas and the Memons, the latter using two different scripts according to the locality. As one can surmise, they are almost identical.

Stack's chart provides a number of information although many questions remain. In a same city, two Hindu merchant castes can use two different alphabets. Such a situation is an argument in favour of the theory of a secret script protecting the accounts and trade strategy from competition. A Muslim traders' caste, the Memons, face another situation: they use two different alphabets according to the city where they live. This point is intriguing because the first thinking is that since they belong to the same caste, they should work together hand in hand. In fact, the only convincing explanation is that there was competition between them too, especially between different lineages inside the caste. It is well known that these specialized groups promote competition among its lineages to the extent that the very existence of the caste may not be threatened. …

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