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Script type
Time period
4th century BCE – 3rd century CE
DirectionRight-to-left script Edit this on Wikidata
Related scripts
Parent systems
Sister systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Khar (305), ​Kharoshthi
Unicode alias
Kharosthi is widely held to be a derivation of Aramaic, whereas the Semitic origins of the Brahmic scripts are not universally agreed upon.[1][2][3][4][5]
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.
Kharoshthi letters.

The Kharoṣṭhī script (Sanskrit: खरोष्ठीलिपिः), also known as the Gāndhārī script,[6] was an ancient Indic script used by various peoples from the north-western outskirts of the Indian subcontinent (present-day Pakistan) to Central Asia via Afghanistan.[1] An abugida, it was introduced at least by the middle of the 3rd century BCE, possibly during the 4th century BCE,[7] and remained in use until it died out in its homeland around the 3rd century CE.[1]

It was also in use in Bactria, the Kushan Empire, Sogdia, and along the Silk Road. There is some evidence it may have survived until the 7th century in Khotan and Niya, both cities in East Turkestan.


Routes of ancient scripts of the subcontinent traveling to other parts of Asia (Kharosthi shown in blue)

The name Kharosthi may derive from the Hebrew kharosheth, a Semitic word for writing,[8] or from Old Iranian *xšaθra-pištra, which means "royal writing".[9] The script was earlier also known as "Indo-Bactrian script", "Kabul script" and "Arian-Pali".[10][11]

Scholars are not in agreement as to whether the Kharosthi script evolved gradually, or was the deliberate work of a single inventor. An analysis of the script forms shows a clear dependency on the Aramaic alphabet but with extensive modifications. Kharosthi seems to be derived from a form of Aramaic used in administrative work during the reign of Darius the Great, rather than the monumental cuneiform used for public inscriptions.[8] One theory suggests that the Aramaic script arrived with the Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley in 500 BCE and evolved over the next 200+ years to reach its final form by the 3rd century BCE where it appears in some of the Edicts of Ashoka. However, no intermediate forms have yet been found to confirm this evolutionary model, and rock and coin inscriptions from the 3rd century BCE onward show a unified and standard form. An inscription in Aramaic dating back to the 4th century BCE was found in Sirkap, testifying to the presence of the Aramaic script in present-day Pakistan. According to Sir John Marshall, this seems to confirm that Kharoshthi was later developed from Aramaic.[12]

While the Brahmi script remained in use for centuries, Kharosthi seems to have been abandoned after the 2nd–3rd century AD. Because of the substantial differences between the Semitic-derived Kharosthi script and its successors, knowledge of Kharosthi may have declined rapidly once the script was supplanted by Brahmi-derived scripts, until its re-discovery by Western scholars in the 19th century.[8]

The Kharosthi script was deciphered separately almost concomitantly by James Prinsep (in 1835, published in the Journal of the Asiatic society of Bengal, India)[13] and by Carl Ludwig Grotefend (in 1836, published in Blätter für Münzkunde, Germany),[14] with Grotefend "evidently not aware" of Prinsep's article, followed by Christian Lassen (1838).[15] They all used the bilingual coins of the Indo-Greek Kingdom (obverse in Greek, reverse in Pali, using the Kharosthi script). This in turn led to the reading of the Edicts of Ashoka, some of which were written in the Kharosthi script (the Major Rock Edicts at Mansehra and Shahbazgarhi).[8]

The study of the Kharosthi script was recently invigorated by the discovery of the Gandhāran Buddhist texts, a set of birch bark manuscripts written in Kharosthi, discovered near the Afghan city of Hadda just west of the Khyber Pass in Pakistan. The manuscripts were donated to the British Library in 1994. The entire set of British Library manuscripts are dated to the 1st century CE, although other collections from different institutions contain Kharosthi manuscripts from 1st century BCE to 3rd century CE,[16][17] making them the oldest Buddhist manuscripts yet discovered.


The words "Dhrama-Dipi" ("Inscription of the Dharma") in Kharosthi, in Edict No.1 of the Shahbazgarhi Major Rock Edict of Ashoka (circa 250 BCE).[18]
Kharoshthi on a coin of Indo-Greek king Artemidoros Aniketos, reading "Rajatirajasa Moasa Putasa cha Artemidorasa".

Kharosthi (𐨑𐨪𐨆𐨮𐨿𐨛𐨁𐨌, from right to left Kha-ro-ṣṭhī) is mostly written right to left (type A).

Each syllable includes the short /a/ sound by default[citation needed], with other vowels being indicated by diacritic marks. Recent epigraphic evidence[citation needed] has shown that the order of letters in the Kharosthi script follows what has become known as the Arapacana alphabet. As preserved in Sanskrit documents, the alphabet runs:[citation needed]

a ra pa ca na la da ba ḍa ṣa va ta ya ṣṭa ka sa ma ga stha ja śva dha śa kha kṣa sta jñā rtha (or ha) bha cha sma hva tsa gha ṭha ṇa pha ska ysa śca ṭa ḍha

Some variations in both the number and order of syllables occur in extant texts.[citation needed]

Kharosthi includes only one standalone vowel character, which is used for initial vowels in words.[citation needed] Other initial vowels use the a character modified by diacritics. Using epigraphic evidence, Salomon has established that the vowel order is /a e i o u/, akin to Semitic scripts, rather than the usual vowel order for Indic scripts /a i u e o/. Also, there is no differentiation between long and short vowels in Kharosthi. Both are marked using the same vowel markers.

The alphabet was used in Gandharan Buddhism as a mnemonic for remembering a series of verses on the nature of phenomena. In Tantric Buddhism, the list was incorporated into ritual practices and later became enshrined in mantras.


Initial Diacritic
Image Text Trans. IPA Image Text With 'k'
Unrounded low central 𐨀 a /ə/ 𐨐 ka
high front 𐨀𐨁 i /i/ 𐨁 𐨐𐨁 ki
Rounded high back 𐨀𐨂 u /u/ 𐨂 𐨐𐨂 ku
Syllabic vibrant 𐨃 𐨐𐨃 kr̥
Mid front unrounded 𐨀𐨅 e /e/ 𐨅 𐨐𐨅 ke
back rounded 𐨀𐨆 o /o/ 𐨆 𐨐𐨆 ko
Vowel diacritic placement[20]
Vowel Position Example Applies to
-i horizontal 𐨀 + 𐨁 → ‎𐨀𐨁 a, n, h
diagonal 𐨐 + 𐨁 → ‎𐨐𐨁 k, ḱ, kh, g, gh, c, ch, j, ñ, ṭ, ṭh, ṭ́h, ḍ, ḍh, ṇ, t, d, dh, b, bh, y, r, v, ṣ, s, z
vertical 𐨠 + 𐨁 → ‎𐨠𐨁 th, p, ph, m, l, ś
-u attached 𐨀 + 𐨂 → ‎𐨀𐨂 a, k, ḱ, kh, g, gh, c, ch, j, ñ, ṭ, ṭh, ṭ́h, ḍ, ḍh, ṇ, t, th, d, dh, n, p, ph, b, bh, y, r, l, v, ś, ṣ, s, z
independent 𐨱 + 𐨂 → ‎𐨱𐨂 ṭ, h
ligatured 𐨨 + 𐨂 → ‎𐨨𐨂 m
-r̥ attached 𐨀 + 𐨃 → ‎𐨀𐨃 a, k, ḱ, kh, g, gh, c, ch, j, t, d, dh, n, p, ph, b, bh, v, ś, s
independent 𐨨 + 𐨃 → ‎𐨨𐨃 m, h
-e horizontal 𐨀 + 𐨅 → ‎𐨀𐨅 a, n, h
diagonal 𐨐 + 𐨅 → ‎𐨐𐨅 k, ḱ, kh, g, gh, c, ch, j, ñ, ṭ, ṭh, ṭ́h, ḍ, ḍh, ṇ, t, dh, b, bh, y, r, v, ṣ, s, z
vertical 𐨠 + 𐨅 → ‎𐨠𐨅 th, p, ph, l, ś
ligatured 𐨡 + 𐨅 → ‎𐨡𐨅 d, m
-o diagonal 𐨀 + 𐨆 → ‎𐨀𐨆 a, k, ḱ, kh, g, gh, c, ch, j, ñ, ṭ, ṭh, ṭ́h, ḍ, ḍh, ṇ, t, th, d, dh, n, b, bh, m, r, l, v, ṣ, s, z, h
vertical 𐨤 + 𐨆 → ‎𐨤𐨆 p, ph, y, ś


Voiceless Plosives Voiced Plosives Nasals
Unaspirated Aspirated Unaspirated Aspirated
Image Text Trans. IPA Image Text Trans. Image Text Trans. IPA Image Text Trans. Image Text Trans. IPA
Velar 𐨐 k /k/ 𐨑 kh 𐨒 g /ɡ/ 𐨓 gh
Palatal 𐨕 c /c/ 𐨖 ch 𐨗 j /ɟ/ 𐨙 ñ /ɲ/
Retroflex 𐨚 /ʈ/ 𐨛 ṭh 𐨜 /ɖ/ 𐨝 ḍh 𐨞 /ɳ/
Dental 𐨟 t /t/ 𐨠 th 𐨡 d /d/ 𐨢 dh 𐨣 n /n/
Labial 𐨤 p /p/ 𐨥 ph 𐨦 b /b/ 𐨧 bh 𐨨 m /m/

There are two special modified forms of these consonants:[20]

Image Text Trans. Image Text Trans.
Modified form 𐨲 𐨳 ṭ́h
Original form 𐨐 k 𐨛 ṭh
Sonorants and fricatives[19]
Palatal Retroflex Dental Labial
Image Text Trans. IPA Image Text Trans. IPA Image Text Trans. IPA Image Text Trans. IPA
Sonorants 𐨩 y /j/ 𐨪 r /r/ 𐨫 l /l/ 𐨬 v /ʋ/
Sibilants 𐨭 ś /ɕ/ 𐨮 /ʂ/ 𐨯 s /s/
𐨰 z ?
𐨱 h /h/

Additional marks[edit]

Various additional marks are used to modify vowels and consonants:[20]

Mark Trans. Example Description
𐨌 ◌̄ 𐨨 + 𐨌 → ‎𐨨𐨌 The vowel length mark may be used with -a, -i, -u, and -r̥ to indicate the equivalent long vowel (-ā, -ī, -ū, and r̥̄ respectively). When used with -e it indicates the diphthong -ai. When used with -o it indicates the diphthong -au.
𐨍 ◌͚ 𐨯 + 𐨍 → ‎𐨯𐨍 The vowel modifier double ring below appears in some Central Asian documents with vowels -a and -u.[21] Its precise phonetic function is unknown.
𐨎 𐨀 + 𐨎 → ‎𐨀𐨎 An anusvara indicates nasalization of the vowel or a nasal segment following the vowel. It can be used with -a, -i, -u, -r̥, -e, and -o.
𐨏 𐨐 + 𐨏 → ‎𐨐𐨏 A visarga indicates the unvoiced syllable-final /h/. It can also be used as a vowel length marker. Visarga is used with -a, -i, -u, -r̥, -e, and -o.
𐨸 ◌̄ 𐨗 + 𐨸 → ‎𐨗𐨸 A bar above a consonant can be used to indicate various modified pronunciations depending on the consonant, such as nasalization or aspiration. It is used with k, ṣ, g, c, j, n, m, ś, ṣ, s, and h.
𐨹 ◌́ or ◌̱ 𐨒 + 𐨹 → ‎𐨒𐨹 The cauda changes how consonants are pronounced in various ways, particularly fricativization. It is used with g, j, ḍ, t, d, p, y, v, ś, and s.
𐨺 ◌̣ 𐨨 + 𐨺 → ‎𐨨𐨺 The precise phonetic function of the dot below is unknown. It is used with m and h.
𐨿 (n/a) A virama is used to suppress the inherent vowel that otherwise occurs with every consonant letter. Its effect varies based on situation:
𐨢 + ‎𐨁 + ‎𐨐 + ‎𐨿 → ‎𐨢𐨁𐨐𐨿 When not followed by a consonant the virama causes the preceding consonant to be written as a subscript to the left of the letter before that consonant.
𐨐 + ‎𐨿 + ‎𐨮 → ‎𐨐𐨿𐨮 When the virama is followed by another consonant, it will trigger a combined form consisting of two or more consonants.
This may be a ligature, a special combining form, or a combining full form depending on the consonants involved.
The result takes into account any other combining marks.
𐨯 + ‎𐨿 + ‎𐨩 → ‎𐨯𐨿𐨩
𐨐 + ‎𐨿 + ‎𐨟 → ‎𐨐𐨿𐨟


Nine Kharosthi punctuation marks have been identified:[20]

Sign Description Sign Description Sign Description
𐩐 dot 𐩓 crescent bar 𐩖 danda
𐩑 small circle 𐩔 mangalam 𐩗 double danda
𐩒 circle 𐩕 lotus 𐩘 lines


Kharosthi included a set of numerals that are reminiscent of Roman numerals.[citation needed] The system is based on an additive and a multiplicative principle, but does not have the subtractive feature used in the Roman numeral system.[22]

Value 1 2 3 4 10 20 100 1000
Text 𐩀 𐩁 𐩂 𐩃 𐩄 𐩅 𐩆 𐩇

The numerals, like the letters, are written from right to left. There is no zero and no separate signs for the digits 5–9. Numbers in Kharosthi use an additive system. For example, the number 1996 would be written as 1000 4 4 1 100 20 20 20 20 10 4 2 (image: , text: 𐩇𐩃𐩃𐩀𐩆𐩅𐩅𐩅𐩅𐩄𐩃𐩁).


Kharosthi was added to the Unicode Standard in March, 2005 with the release of version 4.1.

The Unicode block for Kharosthi is U+10A00–U+10A5F:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+10A0x 𐨀  𐨁  𐨂  𐨃  𐨅  𐨆  𐨌  𐨍  𐨎  𐨏
U+10A1x 𐨐 𐨑 𐨒 𐨓 𐨕 𐨖 𐨗 𐨙 𐨚 𐨛 𐨜 𐨝 𐨞 𐨟
U+10A2x 𐨠 𐨡 𐨢 𐨣 𐨤 𐨥 𐨦 𐨧 𐨨 𐨩 𐨪 𐨫 𐨬 𐨭 𐨮 𐨯
U+10A3x 𐨰 𐨱 𐨲 𐨳 𐨴 𐨵  𐨸  𐨹  𐨺  𐨿 
U+10A4x 𐩀 𐩁 𐩂 𐩃 𐩄 𐩅 𐩆 𐩇 𐩈
U+10A5x 𐩐 𐩑 𐩒 𐩓 𐩔 𐩕 𐩖 𐩗 𐩘
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b c R. D. Banerji (April 1920). "The Kharosthi Alphabet". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. 52 (2): 193–219. doi:10.1017/S0035869X0014794X. JSTOR 25209596. S2CID 162688271.
  2. ^ Bühler, Georg (1895). "The Origin of the Kharoṣṭhī Alphabet". Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes. 9: 44–66. JSTOR 23860352.
  3. ^ "Kharosthi Script". World History Encyclopedia.
  4. ^ "Kharoshti: writing system". Britannica.
  5. ^ Salomon 1998, p. 20.
  6. ^ Leitich, Keith A. (2017). "Kharoṣṭhī Script". Buddhism and Jainism. Encyclopedia of Indian Religions. Springer Netherlands. pp. 660–662. doi:10.1007/978-94-024-0852-2_238. ISBN 978-94-024-0851-5.
  7. ^ Salomon 1998, pp. 11–13.
  8. ^ a b c d Dias, Malini; Miriyagalla, Das (2007). "Brahmi Script in Relation to Mesopotamian Cuneiform". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka. 53: 91–108. JSTOR 23731201.
  9. ^ Bailey, H. W. (1972). "A Half-Century of Irano-Indian Studies". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. 104 (2): 99–110. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00157466. JSTOR 25203366. S2CID 163349913.
  10. ^ "When these alphabets were first deciphered, scholars gave them different names such as 'Indian-Pali' for Brahmi and 'Arian-Pali' for Kharosthi, but these terms are no longer in use." in Upāsaka, Sī Esa; Mahāvihāra, Nava Nālandā (2002). History of palæography of Mauryan Brāhmī script. Nava Nālanda Mahāvihāra. p. 6. ISBN 9788188242047.
  11. ^ Kharosthi. Great Russian Encyclopedia.
  12. ^ A Guide to Taxila, John Marshall, 1918
  13. ^ Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal Vol IV 1835. pp. 327–348.
  14. ^ Grote, Hermann (1836). Blätter für Münzkunde. Hannoversche numismatische Zeitschrift. Hrsg. von H. Grote (in German). Hahn. pp. 309–314.
  15. ^ Salomon 1998, pp. 210–212.
  16. ^ Richard, Salomon (2018). Buddhist Literature of Ancient Gandhara: An Introduction with Selected Translations. Simon and Schuster. p. 1. ISBN 978-1-61429-185-5. …Subsequent studies have confirmed that these and other similar materials that were discovered in the following years date from between the first century BCE and the third century CE…
  17. ^ University of Washington. "The Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project": "...These manuscripts date from the first century BCE to the third century CE, and as such are the oldest surviving Buddhist manuscripts as well as the oldest manuscripts from South Asia..." Retrieved 18 September 2021.
  18. ^ Inscriptions of Asoka. New Edition by E. Hultzsch (in Sanskrit). 1925. pp. 56–57.
  19. ^ a b c Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William, eds. (1996). The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press, Inc. pp. 373–383. ISBN 978-0195079937.
  20. ^ a b c d e Glass, Andrew; Baums, Stefan; Salomon, Richard (2003-09-18). "L2/03-314R2: Proposal to Encode Kharoshthi in Plane 1 of ISO/IEC 10646" (PDF).
  21. ^ Glass, Andrew; Baums, Stefan; Salomon, Richard (2003-09-29). "L2/02-364: Proposal to add one combining diacritic to the UCS" (PDF).
  22. ^ Graham Flegg, Numbers: Their History and Meaning, Courier Dover Publications, 2002, ISBN 978-0-486-42165-0, p. 67f.
Icon for Wikipedia links to pages in the Prakrit Languages

Further reading[edit]

  • Dani, Ahmad Hassan (1979). Kharoshthi Primer. Lahore Museum Publication Series. Vol. 16. Lahore Museum. OCLC 10695864.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Falk, Harry (1993). Schrift im alten Indien: Ein Forschungsbericht mit Anmerkungen. Script Oralia (in German). Vol. 56. Tübingen: Gunter Narr. ISBN 978-3-8233-4271-7.
  • Fussman, Gérard. "Les premiers systèmes d'écriture en Inde". Annuaire du Collège de France 1988–1989 (in French). pp. 507–514.
  • von Hinüber, Oscar (1990). Der Beginn der Schrift und frühe Schriftlichkeit in Indien (in German). Franz Steiner. ISBN 978-3-515-05627-4.
  • Nasim Khan, M., ed. (2009). Kharoshthi Manuscripts from Gandhara (2nd ed.). Higher Education Commission of Pakistan.
  • Nasim Khan, M. (2004). "Kharoshthi Manuscripts from Gandhara". Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. XII (1–2): 9–15.
  • Nasim Khan, M. (July 1999). "Two Dated Kharoshthi Inscriptions from Gandhara". Journal of Asian Civilizations. XXII (1): 99–103.
  • Nasim Khan, M. (September 1997). "Kharoshthi Inscription from Swabi – Gandhara". The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. V (2): 49–52.
  • Nasim Khan, M. (March 1997). "An Inscribed Relic-Casket from Dir". The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. V (1): 21–33.
  • Nasim Khan, M (1997). "Ashokan Inscriptions: A Palaeographical Study". Atthariyyat. Vol. I. Peshawar. pp. 131–150.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Norman, Kenneth R. (1992). "The development of writing in India and its effect upon the Pāli canon". Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens. 36: 239–249. JSTOR 24010823.
  • Salomon, Richard (1990). "New Evidence for a Gāndhārī Origin of the Arapacana Syllabary". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 110 (2): 255–273. doi:10.2307/604529. JSTOR 604529.
  • Salomon, Richard (1 April 1993). "An additional note on Aracapana". The Journal of the American Oriental Society. 113 (2): 275–277. doi:10.2307/603034. JSTOR 603034. Gale A14474853.
  • Salomon, Richard (1998). Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the other Indo-Aryan Languages. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-535666-3.
  • Salomon, Richard (2006). "Kharoṣṭhī syllables used as location markers in Gāndhāran stūpa architecture". In Faccenna, Domenico (ed.). Architetti, Capomastri, Artigiani: L'organizzazione Dei Cantieri E Della Produzione Artistica Nell'Asia Ellenistica : Studi Offerti a Domenico Faccenna Nel Suo Ottantesimo Compleanno. Istituto italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente. pp. 181–224. ISBN 978-88-85320-36-9.
  • Salomon, Richard (1995). "On the Origin of the Early Indian Scripts". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 115 (2): 271–279. doi:10.2307/604670. JSTOR 604670. ProQuest 217141859.

External links[edit]