Vatteluttu (Tamil: வட்டெழுத்து, Vaṭṭeḻuttu; Malayalam: വട്ടെഴുത്ത്, Vaṭṭeḻuttŭ; Mozhi: Vattezhuthu) was a abugida of southern India (Tamil Nadu and Kerala) and Sri Lanka used for writing Tamil and Malayalam languages.
The earliest forms of Vatteluttu, probably in the process of evolving from Tamil Brahmi, are traceable on memorial stone inscriptions of the 4th-century AD. It probably developed from the Tami Brahmi around 4th-5th century AD. Vatteluttu is distinctly attested in a number of inscriptions in Tamil Nadu from the 6th century AD.
The Vatteluttu characters are marked by more cursive appearance than the modern Tamil script. They are written left to right, as with almost all other Indian scripts. Like the Tamil script from the 11th and later centuries, the script omits the virama V muting device.
Vatteluttu was the common script for writing Tamil in the Tamil Nadu and Kerala till c. 9th century AD. The replacement of Tamil script with the Vatteluttu for writing Tamil language in what is now Tamil Nadu is dated to c. 9th-10th century AD. Vatteluttu use is also attested in north-eastern Sri Lanka rock inscriptions, such as in the area near Trincomalee, between c. 5th and 8th centuries AD.
Three possible hypotheses for the etymology of the term 'Vatteluttu' are commonly accepted. Eluttu/ezhuthu is lit. 'written form' in this context; and affixed here it means 'writing system' or 'script'. The three hypothesised meanings for the name are:
- Vatte + eluttu; 'rounded script'
- Vata + eluttu; 'northern script'
- Vette + eluttu; 'chiseled script'
Vatteluttu in Kerala
In what is now Kerala, Vatteluttu continued for a much longer period than in Tamil Nadu (by incorporating characters from Grantha/Southern Pallava Grantha script to represent Indo-Aryan or Sanskrit words in early Malayalam).
Early Malayalam inscriptions related to the Chera Perumals, kings of Kerala between c. 9th and 12th century AD, are composed mostly in Vatteluttu. The script went on evolving during this period (in such a way that the date of a record may be fixed approximately by reference to the script alone) and in the post-Chera Perumal period (c. 12th century onwards).
The political importance of the use of a uniform script (Vatteluttu) and language (early forms of Malayalam) has not been adequately recognized at least in the context of the history of Kēraḷa. Script, unless used for purposes of trade, can be one of those engines used by a political agency (the Chera Perumal king) to impose its authority over large areas in pre-modern time when the use of literacy for purposes of communication was limited.— Veluthat Kesavan (historian), History and Historiography in Constituting a Region: The Case of Kerala (2018)
The modern Malayalam script, a modified form of the Grantha/Southern Pallava Grantha script, gradually replaced Vatteluttu for writing Malayalam in Kerala. It gradually developed into a script known as "Koleluttu" in Kerala (and continued in use among certain Kerala communities, especially Muslims and Christians, even after 16th century and up to the 19th century AD).
Evolution of the Tamil and the Vatteluttu scripts
The image shows the divergent evolution of the Tamil and the Vatteluttu scripts. The Vatteluttu script is shown on the left column, Tamil Brahmi in the middle column, and the Tamil script is shown on the right column. The earlier is near the centre and that later is towards the sides.
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