The Tulu Script

Dr. K Padmanabha Kekunnaya/
Dr. M.Prabhakara Joshy           

In a casual or serious discussion on Tulu language, a question often crops up, right from the experts to laymen. That is whether Tulu has a script ? If 'yes' whether it is a form of Malayalam script?

The reasons for such a question are:

    1. Tulu literature written in Tulu was, for long, not available (now Tulu classics in Tulu Script are discovered)

    2. Tulu script was mainly used by Brahmins for writing Mantras. So others were not exposed to the script.

    3. Tulu was not a medium or subject of formal school education. So Tulu script did not figure in school curriculum.

    4. The similarity between Tulu and Malayalam scripts.

    5. And, mainly because of the use of Kannada script for Tulu by German missionaries during the early stages of printing of Tulu works.


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Language and Script

Language and Script are two different entities. The relation between a language and a script is neither 'original' nor 'fixed'. Any language can be written in any script. That is how, there are about twenty scripts in the world for thousands of languages. Having or not having 'own script' is neither a status nor any impediment for a language. One of the prime language of today, English doesn't have its own script. It uses the Roman script. So called 'Divine language ' (Devabhasha) Sanskrit is written in Nagari script. Nagari is employed by Marathi, Hindi etc. English or Sanskrit can be written in Nagari or Kannada scripts. Name boards, letterheads etc use this type of writings. The words like English, railway, bus, paper, engineer are English words  written in various scripts. "I speak English" can be written in many scripts and the meaning is same. So also, sentences of any language in any script. Language and Script are not inseparable. Script is like mirror. It can reflect any image.

A script called Tulu is used in Tulunadu for centuries. All Tulu classics discovered recently are in Tulu script, and som in other scripts. This Tulu script was being used by Brahmins. Till recently they were using it for writing Mantras, for accounts etc. Since hundreds of years, Tulu Brahmins were going to Kerala Temples for priestly work (called 'Shanti' Services). They took the Tulu writing with them to Kerala thus they carried the Tulu script to Kerala. Malayalam had not developed a script of its own by that time. The upper castes and classes of Keralites started close contacts with the Tulu Brahmins and hence they adopted the Tulu script, and later adopted it to what is now called the Malayalam script. (This has been proved in detail by Vidwan P V Puninchathaya in 'Tulu -Nadu-Nudi').

Tulu as a language branched off from Dravidian (Mula Dravida), language, at least a thousand years earlier to Malayalam. So it is unlikely that a language much younger gave a script to an older language. Actually, probably Malayalam as an independent language was yet to be evolved, when Tulu had its own classical literature. So Tulu could not borrow a Malayalm script, simply because it did not exist. What existed was a Tulu Script, later taken by Malayalam. Another important proof of its antiquity is that the pundits ('mathadhipatis') use only Tulu for their signature since the begining of Matha tradition, despite the high status of Sanskrit in Mutts. Neither Sanskrit nor Kannada, but Tulu script is the official script of the Mutts in Tulunadu. Hence, it is a script evolved in Tulu area, that was later adopted for Malayalam. Hence it is Tulu script, and not Malayalam script nor Tulu-Malayalam script. To call Tulu script as Malayalam is both wrong and unfortunate.

Tulu is now disappearing in Tulu country and has established itself in Kerala. This, like many, is a paradox. So Tulu script has become a daughter of the in laws, and in-law of the motherland. The use of Kannada for Tulu is the reason for this pecular situation. The modern Tulu writings are using Kannada script. So it is natural that Tulu script is not likely to be revived for writing Tulu.

Summary

It is proved beyond doubt that Tulu had a script of its own. Tulu has given a script to Malayalam. Because of the use of Kannada for Tulu by German missionaries, the use of Tulu script declined. Most Tuluvar know Kannada. So they can easily use kannada script for Tulu.  Script and language are adoptable to each other. So with a few modifications, Kannada can be used for Tulu also. Any language can use any script. It is in question of usage and practices. However we should not forget that Tulu had its own script, and should at least know about it. 

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Last updated on : 09 May 2000 .
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