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

ஸாலாகான /sā/lā/kā/ṉa/ 


The consonant didn’t have the inherent /a/. /ā/ vowel sign also denoted /a/. The ambiguity rested in reading the vowel sign either as /a/ or /ā/. The absence of any vowel sign denoted the pure consonant.

Tamil Brahmi II

ஸாலகன /sā/la/ka/ṉa/
The consonant assumed the inherent vowel /a/. However the absence of it was unmarked and had to be deduced through context. Vowel sign /ā/ was unambiguous.

Tamil Brahmi III

ஸாலகன் /sā/la/ka/ṉ/


The absence of inherent vowel was clearly marked using a dot, which later on became the distinguishing character for Tamil (at least theoretically). Once the dot Virāma was developed it went on to be used to represent short /e/ and short /o/.
The converter follows the TB III convention during transliteration.

Variants of Tamil-Brahmi

Tamil-Brahmi has two distinct phases of development:

Early Tamil-Brahmi


This lasted from 3rd Century BCE to 1st Century CE. Two different vowel notational systems TB I and TB II were in use.

Late Tamil-Brahmi


The phase from 2nd Century CE to 4th Century CE is Late Tamil-Brahmi. The shapes of the characters progressively became more cursive giving rise to the early Vaṭṭeḻuttu characters. The systems TB II and TB III were in use.


Apart from the above there are other peculiarities which are discussed in detail in the “Orthography” & “Paleography” chapters by Iravatham Mahadevan in his “Early Tamil Epigraphy”.



For proper display of Tamil-Brahmi, a Unicode Brahmi is required.  Download Adinatha Tamil Brahmi font .

Browser Rendering

Internet Explorer

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.

Sample Text

ஆதிநா ளரசர் தங்க ளருங்குல மைந்து மாக்கி
ஓதநீ ருலகின் மிக்க வொழுக்கமுந் தொழிலுந் தோற்றித்
தீதுதீர்ந் திருந்த பெம்மான் திருவடி சாரச் சென்று
நீதி நூற்றுலகம் காத்து நிலந்திரு மலர நின்றார்


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