Friday, April 6, 2007

13. The Tulu Script: Origin and Revival

Hosabettu Viswanath, a resident of Pune and a well wisher impressed with my fathers book, ‘Tulu Patero’, has kindly sent me a copy of the article written by Ramchander Baikampadi published in ‘Mogaveera’, a Kannada monthly published from Mumbai.
The Kannada article entitled “Malayalam bhashege lipi neeDidavaru naavu tuluvaru” (=Script to Malayalam language was given by we Tuluvas) discusses the adoption of the Tulu script by the Raja of Travancore (Kerala), for writing in Malayalam during 12th century AD.
For a long time during the last century, our people lamented that Tulu did not had any script. But later a large number of taalegari - palmyra leaf- manuscripts written in Tulu script were unraveled and presently more than 2000 of these are in the collection of Dharmasthala Cultural Research Trust. Many of these are reported to be about 800 year old. Venkataraja Punimchattaya (2001) brought out a booklet on Tulu script. Karnataka Tulu Sahitya Academy is at present popularizing the Tulu script. Neria Harish Hebbar (2003) has published the details of the Tulu script in his internet articles in
Mayura Sharma, during 5th century AD, revolted against the Pallava kings and established the earliest known Kannada kingdom of Kadamba dynasty with capital at Banavasi (now in Uttara Kannada district). It appears that Tulunad and parts of Kerala which were ruled by smaller chieftains was under the suzerainty of the Kannada king Mayura Varma (Mayura Sharma became Mayura Varma after assuming the title of kingship).
The southern India was under the strong influence of Shaivism, with several Shiva temples built in various parts of Tamilnadu. Mayura Varma and his lieutenants installed new Shiva temples in Tulunad. Mayura Varma brought Brahmins from Ahichatra (a place on the banks of River Godavari), to conduct rituals (Puja ceremonies) in the temples of his territory as per the records in the epigraphs of his time. It appears he also sent some Brahmins to Kerala for conducting the temple rituals.
The relationship between Tulunad and Kerala was harmonious even in those time and Tulu Brahmins were traveling to Kerala for further studies in agama shastras or for conducting rituals in temples. The Tulu Brahmins used to write down the slokas on palmyra leaves (taalegari), which were used then for writing, in a curvy, floral style of script. Earlier it was considered as a variant of Malayalam script. But recent studies showed that this was the script used by the Brahmin scholars and later was adopted by the Kerala kings in their land.
It is well known that Malayalam had no independent script till 12th century AD. The present Malayalam script came into usage only after the 12th century. Thus the Tulu script used by the Tulu scholars for writing in Kerala at that time evolved into the present Malayalam script. Additional new information provided by Ramachander Baikampadi that Tulu script was adopted by the King of Travancore during the 12th century AD, for writing in Malayalam, further asserts the antiquity of the Tulu script.
Origin of Tulu script
Now, where did the Tulu scholars found the script? The Tulu script was not a newly invented script. It was adapted from the alphabets that were in usage in that region at that time in the history. Variants of Brahmi and Grantha scripts were in usage in southern India at that time. It is said that Mayura Sharma himself went to Kanchi for education.It is possible that Mayura Sharma was using a version of Grantha script that was prevalent in southern India.
Since Kadamba period Kannada script was gradually evolving. It was developed based on earlier scripts like brahmi. We call the Kannada of that early period as Hale-Kannada (=Old Kannada). But then the Old Kannada apparently was not standardized yet. Halmidi epigraph (5th century AD) is the oldest Kannada inscription found so far.
The Tulu scholars had knowledge of Devanagari as well as the state language (old) Kannada. I use the term State language because Tulu people were under the rule of Kannada kings, like Kadambas and Chalukyas, even in those times.
Thus Tulu scholars were using scripts which were mixtures of Devanagari and early Kannada. Besides, the Tulu and the old Kannada were quite similar languages, more like the dialectical variants of the same language at that time. (Kannada language evolved differently during the subsequent historical period.)
Thus the Tulu script has some of the alphabets comparable  to that of Sanskrit and others are analogous to the Old Kannada and Grantha alphabets prevalent that time. The initial ‘ah’ and ‘aah’ alphabets of the Tulu script are distinctly the smoothened, curvy variants of the Sanskrit ‘ah’ and ‘aah’. The ‘cha’ ,‘zha’, ‘jna’, ‘ya’, ‘la’ are similar to that of the old Kannada script. Several other Tulu alphabets are similar to those of Grantha script.
Thus, clearly the Tulu script was the general script used by scholars at that time, in Tulunad region, say between 5th and 12th century AD. It is possible that at that time there might have been local variations in Kannada script within various parts of the Kannada state mainly because of absence of standardization and paucity of scholars.
Thus, in view of the importance of study of the historical evolution of Kannada and Tulu scripts, it is necessary that the original taalegari Tulu scripts should be thoroughly studied evaluated scientifically. First, these palmyra leaves can be carbon dated to ascertain their age. Secondly, the variants in the script should be critically analysed with reference to the epigraphs of different times and regions and the chronological evolution of the script in Tulunad can be delineated. These studies are likely to have far-reaching bearing on the evolution of not only Tulu, but other south Indian scripts like Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam.
It is pertinent to mention here that the Telugu script was developed based on the Kannada script of the Chalukya period of 7th to 8th century AD. During that period, the Chalukya kings ruled part of Andhra Pradesh and they introduced the Old Kannada script for writing in Telugu.
Now, we are witnessing a general awareness regarding towards revival of the old Tulu script. I use the term old Tulu script, just to signify that the Tulu language has also grown and evolved with time. We are already using the modern Kannada script for writing in Tulu. Our old Tulu script was based on old Kannada; similarly it is but natural that modern Tulu script should be based on modern Kannada script. After all, all languages have grown by borrowing from other neighboring languages and we should not feel embarrassed about using modern Kannada script.
Instead of enforcing the forgotten old script afresh on old and new learners of the language alike, is it not wise that we should continue to adapt the modern Kannada script for Tulu? We can modify the modern Kannada script to suit and accommodate the special nuances of the Tulu language.


  1. There is no need of changing the kannada script.It is very beautiful.Use it as it is.THE BEAUTIFUL SCRIPT FOR SWEET LANGUAGE(TULU).

  2. I would like to know if there are any scholars who have studied Tulu Script in Particular. Please let me know if you know any, my mail ID is

  3. Venkataraja Punimchattaya is the expert you are looking for. He has studied Tulu Palmyra scripts and has published several books/booklets on Tulu script.

  4. I have been a huge fan of tulu language.. I am particularly fond of tulu language.. and my opinion is that, its best to standardise the language first to its original form and then use/implement it; which would be great.

  5. I don't agree with the statement " Tulu took old halegannada script". Plz refer to Wikipedia or Encyclopedia, you can clearly see that tulu even evolved as an independent language before Tamil.
    Tulu Script evolved earlier than tamil from granthi.
    Tulu is the first language evolved from the proto-dravidian language class.
    Proto-dravidian civilisation flourished all over india and east of india.
    Harrppa mohenjdaro civilization is dravidian civilisation.
    Scripts of srilanka, thailand even japanese are originated from granthi.
    .....Pradeep Kumar

    1. I agree with you completely. 90% of of the data here is absolutely wrong. The script has evolved from Chola Grantha and has nothing to do with Devanagari or Kannada scripts. The language also developed independently from Kannada. It's not good to publish articles like this. It's very confusing and baseless.

    2. Wikipedia/Encyclopedia articles are also written by a set of individuals.Individual/prevailing opinions (hypothesis), including those expressed here need to be attested further to become theories.Ultimately there can be only one truth for each set of beliefs that are floating around us! Our aim should be to understand the real fact or truth.
      There is no doubt that the Tulu is one of the oldest Dravidian language in southern India. However you need to provide further evidences to establish some of the euphoria that is purely emotional in nature.Emotional outbursts are fine but you have to gather evidences in favor of the beliefs you profess.

    3. Dear Anonymous
      Here I quote wikipedia to reduce your confusion:

      ‘Grantha script evolved from the ancient Brāhmī script and is therefore classified under the Brahmic family of scripts... The Ancient Pallava Variant has been used as far as South East Asia, giving rise to the various South-East Asian script’.
      Grantha, is developed from the Southern Variant of Brahmi in Tamil Nadu. ..
      Tulu Script and Sinhala Script were probably influenced by Grantha Script.’

  6. "I don't agree with the statement.. "
    Pradeep, Fine! (You may kindly provide evidences in favor of your views).
    My statement on Tulu borrowing script from 'Old Kannada'(script) was based on logical deductions on following hints:
    1. Early Tulu Kings- Alupas did not use the script or erected any epigraphs.
    2. Earliest known 'Kannada' epigraph of Halmidi is traced to Kadamba kings.
    3.Early Kadamba kings imported Sanskrit scholars(=Brahmins)to manage Kannada and Tulu temples.
    4. These scholars soon merged with Tulu natives and became Tuluvas.
    5. These scholars employed a script to note down Sanskrit verses in their Tulu language.
    6.It is therefore deduced that the Tulu scholars made use of the 'script' prevalent in their part of south India at that time.
    7. Above all, the differences between 'Old Tulu' and 'Old Kannada' at that point of time was narrow.They were more like regional variants of a single language.
    8. Therefore, in real sense, it is pointless to state that Tulu 'borrowed' script from Old 'Kannada'. In fact, Old Tulu scholars made use of the version of the Brahmi script available (that was prevalent) at that time in that(Kadamba-Tulu) region.
    9.The versions of Tulu script available/preserved in palmyra leaf manuscripts should better be used for studying the stages in the evolution of south Indian scripts, rather than arguing on who borrowed from whom.
    10. There is no doubt that Tulu is one of the oldest Dravidian languages that has preserved many of the early and original traits of Dravidian while other 'literate' sister languages have enormously evolved over the time span and in the process have lost many of the pristine features.

  7. It's good some research is done on Tulu, which is our mother tongue.

    We are getting a chance to learn and let us not leave this opportunity to bring back a forgotten script.

    We all know Kannada, however it will be fantastic if we could implement Tulu in magazines and banners so that our lost traditional glory is brought back.

    I am telling this because i love Tulu and anything that strengthens it should be brought into force.

    Trivikrama Pollolittaya

  8. people in tulunad have no interest in learning there own script they all are brainwashed for kannada. when I told that malayalam borrowed its script from tulu .People in tulunad are basically implementing kannada and they have no interest in protecting there language. Its waste to argue regarding it. Tulu people usually hide there identity. Look at malyalis how after copying tulu script they have progessed lanuage wise nice sahitya and have a state where you can speak in malayalam with everyone. here in tulunad people study kannada and implement it in admin wer is tulu? they even write tulu books in kannada when we have own script. We are the first people to do all these. I anyways have stopped speaking with tuluvas as they make it point to speak kannada in front of me.... so irritating tulu guys are.. I know chaste kannada.....

  9. I agree with you. Now tuluva's speaking kannada at home with their children, shame on you. Salute to Bhants(Shetty) community who loves tulu..

  10. i am looking someone to teach me the tulu and i want discuss the languages origin. as im based in Australia and im into the language research and its its my hobby too. but i feel tulu is one of the forgotton language in the world. and need to be discovered more on it.
    so please contact me on or

  11. I just want to know how old tulu langaufe exactly is?

  12. It is difficult to declare how old the Tulu language is since it is difficult at present to trace the exact time of origin of Tulu language in Tulunadu. However,circumstantial evidences suggest that Tulu language is about 2500 to 2000 years old.
    A pending post is under preparation on the early status of Tulu language.


Blog Archive

Books for Reference

  • A Comparative Study of Tulu Dialects By Dr. Padmanabha Kekunnaya. Govinda Pai Reserach Centre, UDupi. 1994
  • Koti Chennaya: Janapadiya Adhyayana. By Dr. Vamana Nandavar. Hemanshu Prakashana ,Mangalore.2001.
  • Male kudiyaru. Dr B. A.Viveka Rai and D.Yadupathi Gowda, Mangalore University,1996.
  • Mogaveera Samskriti By Venkataraja Punimchattaya. Karnataka Sahitya Academy.1993.
  • Mugeraru:Jananga Janapada Adhyayana. By Dr Abhaya Kumar Kaukradi.Kannada & Culture Directorate,Bangalore & Karnataka Tulu Academy, Mangalore,1997.
  • Puttubalakeya Pad-danagalu. Ed: Dr B.A.Viveka Rai,Yadupati Gowda and Rajashri, Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheswara Tulu Peeta. Mangalore University.2004
  • Se'erige. Ed:Dr K.Chinnapa Gowda.Madipu Prakashana,Mangalagangotri,2000.
  • Studies in Tuluva History and Dr P Gururaja Bhat (1975).Milagres College,Kallinapur,Udupi.
  • Taulava Sanskriti by Dr.B.A.Viveka Rai, Sahyadri Prakashana,Mysore 1977
  • TuLu naaDu-nuDi By Dr.PalthaDi Ramakrishna Achar, Puttur.
  • TuLu NighanTu. (Editor in Chief: Dr U.P.Upadhyaya, Govinda Pai Research Centre,Udupi. Six volumes. 1988 to 1997
  • Tulu Patero-A Philology & Grammar of Tulu Language by Budhananda Shivalli.2004.Mandira Prakashana Mangalore. p.317. (The book is in Tulu Language using Kannada script)
  • TuLunadina ShasanagaLa Sanskritika Adhyayana. By Shaila T. Verma (2002) Jnanodaya Prakashana,Bangalore, p.304.(Kannada)
  • Tuluvala Baliyendre. Compiled by N.A.Sheenappa Hegde,Polali,Sri Devi Prakashana,Parkala,1929/1999

A Coastal estuary

A Coastal estuary
Holegadde near Honavar,Uttara Kannada dist, Karnataka

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