Reviving forgotten ‘Dogra Akkhar – Takri’

Rajan Gandhi
Languages are a fundamental right and the cornerstone of humanity’s diverse cultural identity. Speaking or writing a dominant language does not mean communities have to give up their right to maintain and promote their ancestral language locally and globally. Around the world, indigenous languages are experiencing revivals. More and more children are being raised as native speakers of Euskara in Spain, Mori in New Zealand. We live in a pivotal time for language revitalization. More than half the world’s languages are in danger of being swallowed up by dominant languages within this century. United Nations named 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages and has now approved a draft resolution declaring 2022-2032 the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. A growing movement of language activists, cultural stakeholders, and scholars are finding new ways to foster generations of speakers through everything from digital dictionaries to social media and what not. These programs are elevating the status of heritage languages in the public eye, providing opportunities for people to connect and helping marginalized communities address longstanding discrimination. But turning the tide of language extinction is no easy feat as many languages being revived are still considered threatened.
Our Jammu and Kashmir is no exception as with the passing of the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill 2020, Dogri also becomes official language along with Kashmiri, Hindi, English and Urdu. However, problem doesn’t end here as Dogri earlier used Takri as writing script but now Devanagari is used as medium of writing. Being multicultural and multi-linguistic, Jammu and Kashmir used to have a lot of scripts in the past. But unfortunately Urdu just overshadowed all the ancient scripts and languages. Sharda, in fact, mother of many scripts in India namely Gurmukhi (for Punjabi), Sanskrit and of course Takri also lost in oblivion as even Kashmiri is written in Nastaliq form of Perso-Arabic. Several inscriptions are incised on the metal and stone sculptures of Kashmir, besides manuscripts in Sharda so much so that Kashmir was known as Sharda Pradesh. Later, ‘Takri’ became the popular script in the north-western Himalayan region. Takri inscriptions are written on the borders or the back of Pahari miniature paintings, many such beautiful Basohli Paintings are available at Dogra Art Museum, Jammu. It was most prevalent script for business and revenue records. The Takri alphabets are Brahmic alphabet descended from the Devasesa alphabet, which itself developed from the Sharada alphabet in the 14th century. The Takri alphabet emerged as a distinct script during the 16th century. Takri was as an official script in parts of north and northwest India from the 17th century until the mid-20th century. A version of Takri was the official script of Chamba State, which is now part of Himachal Pradesh, known as Chambeali Takri.
The version of Takri script used in Jammu region was popularly known as Dogra Akkhar ( Akkhar meaning alphabets used by Dogras). Most of the temple inscriptions, old bahi khatas (ledgers) and Basohli paintings used Jammu’s Takri. Takri writing in Jammu can be categorized into two forms, old Dogri/Ganmat and new Dogri/ Namay Akkhar/Dvigrit Akkhar. Before Maharaja Ranbir Singh period, Takri used in Jammu was imperfect. There were no matras used. As recorded in writings on copper plates and inscriptions of Jammu, vowel combinations were absent. Besides being officially used by petty rajas, it was a script of low class and semi-literate urban population and rural business class who maintained their self readable business accounts and money transactions. It was during the rule of Maharaja Ranbir Singh that Takri was standardized and reformed to be used and read by all. Maharaja Ranbir Singh introduced Namay Akkhar developed under guidance of Vishweshwar Jyotshi, Principal of Ranbir Pathshala of that time. In this period, various books were translated into Dogri Takri and published by Vidya Vilas Press established by Maharaja Ranbir Singh like Ranbir Chikitsa, Vyavhar Gita, Lilavati, Qanoon zabta Dewan, Niyam Sena Vibhag, Ranbir Dand Vidhi, Pravesika. In fact, Takri was engraved even on coins between 1870-85 used in Jammu and Kashmir and was declared as court language along with Persian and Bhasha (contemporary Hindi). Namay Akkhar was used for petitions that were read in Maharaja’s court replacing Persian. Knowledge of Takri was made compulsory. No official not knowing Takri could be recruited. Maharaja himself signed in Takri on local official papers. However, after 1885, by the end of Maharaja Ranbir Singh’s rule, Urdu replaced Dogri as official script and ultimately both Sharda and Takri just vanished from the scene under influence of Urdu. Several poets were known to be creatively active in Dogri form of Takri even after 1910, but none of them published a book. These poems remained partly oral, partly in the manuscript. A Dogri newspaper ”Dogra Mittar” also got published in 1889 by Pt. Durga Prasad Mishra as editor. In the early 20th century, Missionary of Scotland published a book Mangal Samachar in Takri script, however, in the course of time Takri got lost in oblivion. It was confined to home writing only and finally the script is not in use today. Only a few people exist who can still read the script. No literacy of script is there but piles of material still exist. Until late 19th century, ‘Takri’ was used concurrently with ‘Devanagari’, but it was gradually replaced by Urdu. The Dogri ‘Takri’ finally lost its socio-cultural status on a decision in 1944 by the Dogri Sanstha to use Devanagari as the official script for the Dogri language.
Evolved around 13th century or before, remained in use till 19th century, Takri in general contains 12 vowels and 37 consonants. In our neighbouring state HP, Takri was taught in State high school Chamba in primary classes and permanent teacher was employed to teach Takri up to 1930. During this time, various primers, multiplication tables were edited in Takri and printed by Late Sh. Bakshi Ram Malhotra. Later this script lost usage after independence. Rare manuscripts, documents, records are lying in state of neglect as these cannot be deciphered or read. It remained in day to day use in Chamba till 1947. An official patwari was employed by the revenue department in Chamba to decipher/ read records and old revenue papers in Takri until 2006. Even now, some Takri knowing persons are employed for reading such records in Chamba. Various revival programs of Takri were initiated in Chamba, in January 2009, the government of HP conducted a workshop for teaching Takri in collaboration with IGNOU based on National Manuscript Mission. Further, almost on verge of extinction, ‘Takri’ has a ray of hope as in neighbouring Himachal Pardesh as a team of heritage enthusiasts from two generations has developed fonts for the ancient Takri. The idea was envisaged by younger generation, ultimately teamed to work for preservation of heritage and floated a forum “Sambh” (meaning taking care of in Takri) at Dharamsala. After an extensive research spanning two years, the team has come out with the standardised fonts for the script of Chambeali Takri. Meanwhile, the Sambh team now intends to develop separate fonts for Takri used in Kangra and also in Kullu. The Takri script has also been used in cinema as the first film in Himachali dialects of Western Pahari called Saanjh directed by Ajay Saklani released in April 2017 used Takri script in its title and beginning credits. Workshops on Takri are being conducted in small scale in the state of Himachal Pradesh, in districts like Chamba and Kullu, Kangra and Shimla.
But efforts in Jammu are dismissal, one can say non starter as huge pile of manuscripts are still lying unattended in stores of Ranbir Sanskrit Library, Government Research Library, both at Jammu and Srinagar. Every effort has been made to just wipe out Dogra impression and Takri is one of them. With Dogri now being written in Hindi the originality has been lost and despite so many literary personalities involved no platform is there to revive ‘Dogra Akhaar’. What can be more pathetic than the official notification of vacancies for new subjects in Education Department which mainly promotes Urdu, Islamic Studies, Arabic and practically not a single vacancy for Takri. As in Himachal, no such forum is there to put collective efforts though some individuals are trying to revive Takri through social media platform but that is not enough as consistent efforts on large scale are required which require massive funds. For revival various steps are involved like acquisition of the language by adults, who in effect act as language apprentices. In areas where oral competence in the language has been achieved in all age groups, encourage literacy in the language and here the state education system comes into picture. Where the state permits it and where numbers warrant, encourage the use of the language in compulsory state education. With enough number of persons getting literate in Takri encouragement should be there to use the language in the workplace, local government services and mass media. Activists can make street signs, public maps, news programs, films, publications, websites and music in various heritage languages. Jammu University and SMVDU can play an important role. Government of India through UGC can provide research projects. Like French and German language courses, our Jammu based universities should immediately take up Takri courses as well as a challenge. Online recognised certificate courses are the easiest way out to promote Takri. Local Doordarshan channel plays an even more important role with wide viewership. UT administration can rope in locals who are literate in Takri and organise frequent Webinars. It’s time to restore Dogra culture in originality. Every effort, however small it may be, is important and appreciable. Although late but revival of Takri, the original Dogri script, must be done as a tribute to ‘Great Dogra Maharajas’.