Tamil-Brahmi is the earliest script used to write Old Tamil. Tamil language has since then been written in wide range of continuum of scripts. Tamil-Brahmi is in principle an adaptation of the Brahmi script with several additional features being added to cater the idiosyncrasies of the Tamil language.
The earliest inscriptional evidences for Old Tamil occur in Tamil-Brahmi. The conventional consensus for the upper bound dating for Tamil-Brahmi is 3rd Century BCE. Though there have been recent contending evidences for pushing the dates further back as far as 5th Century BCE, they do not have mainstream acceptance. Tamil-Brahmi had been in vogue for several centuries since it adaptation until it morphed itself into the more cursive Vaṭṭeḻuttu around 5th Century CE.
The present Tamil script is not a descendant of Tamil-Brahmi. The precursor to the present Tamil script originated around 7th century CE as a derivative of Pallava Grantha with hybrid elements of Vaṭṭeḻuttu. Vaṭṭeḻuttu itself was in vogue in Tamil Nadu until 11th century CE, until it was completely usurped by the then more prevalent Pallava-derived Tamil script.
The Character set of Tamil-Brahmi is as follows:
The Independant vowel /ai/, /au/ and /o/ have been reconstructed
/ja/, /śa/ are reconstructions
Dependant vowel signs /e/, /au/ are reconstructions.
Features of Tamil-Brahmi
Characteristic Tamil Consonants
Tamil-Brahmi was in most part visually identical with Brahmi with minor differences (such as the shape of /ma/), but suitably adapted to represent Old Tamil. Tamil-Brahmi retained the voiceless unaspirated plosives, but had done away with the other plosives which were voiced, aspirated or both except for /dha/. /dha/ was retained on religious grounds to correctly spell the Jaina Prakrit word dhamma (< dharma). Tamil-Brahmi also used the letters for the fricatives /sa/, /śa/, /ha/ which occur in various inscriptions.
The most important feature of the Tamil-Brahmi script was the presence of the characteristic Tamil consonants – ழ /ḻa/ ள /ḷa/ ற /ṟa/ ன /ṉa/. They were all systematically derived from the other consonants of the nearest phonetic value – /ḻa/ was derived from /ḍa/, /ḷa/ from /la/, /ṟa/ from /ṭa/ and /ṉa/ from /na/.
Vowel Notation System
The other important differentiating feature was the vowel notation systems used to represent the vowel-less consonants. Unlike the Prakrit languages which had no word-final consonants, most of the Tamil words had them. Hence it was necessary to come with a vowel notation system to denote word final consonants and which could also avoid the cumbersome and complex conjunct formations.
As a result Tamil-Brahmi had evolved three different types of notation systems.
Consider the word – ஸாலகன் sālakaṉ
Tamil Brahmi I
Tamil Brahmi II
Tamil Brahmi III
Variants of Tamil-Brahmi
For proper display of Tamil-Brahmi, a Unicode Brahmi is required. Download Adinatha Tamil Brahmi font .
Internet Explorer (and other windows applications) under Windows 7 SP1 displays Unicode Brahmi text properly. For older versions of Windows, please Update the USP10.dll in Windows/System32 folder to the version: 1.626.7601.17514
Firefox 11 displays the Brahmi Unicode text properly.
Chome does not display Brahmi properly. The combining signs do not fuse with the base consonant, and are displayed as stand-alone. Please switch to Firefox or IE for proper display.