The Kharosthi script, also spelled Kharoshthi or Kharoṣṭhī (Kharosthi: 𐨑𐨪𐨆𐨯𐨠𐨁) was an ancient Indian script used in Gandhara (now Pakistan and north-eastern Afghanistan) to write Gandhari Prakrit and Sanskrit. It was used in Central Asia as well. An abugida, it was introduced at least by the middle of the 3rd century BCE, possibly during the 4th century BCE, and remained in use until it died out in its homeland around the 3rd century CE. It was also in use in Bactria, the Kushan Empire, Sogdia, and along the Silk Road. There is some evidence it may have survived until the 7th century in Khotan and Niya, both cities in Xinjiang.


Kharosthi (𐨑𐨪𐨆𐨮𐨿𐨛𐨁𐨌, from right to left ''Kha-ro-ṣṭhī'') is mostly written right to left (type A), but some inscriptions (type B) already show the left to right direction that was to become universal for the later South Asian scripts. Each syllable includes the short /a/ sound by default, with other vowels being indicated by diacritic marks. Recent epigraphic evidence has shown that the order of letters in the Kharosthi script follows what has become known as the Arapacana alphabet. As preserved in Sanskrit documents, the alphabet runs: :''a ra pa ca na la da ba ḍa ṣa va ta ya ṣṭa ka sa ma ga stha ja śva dha śa kha kṣa sta jñā rtha (''or'' ha) bha cha sma hva tsa gha ṭha ṇa pha ska ysa śca ṭa ḍha'' Some variations in both the number and order of syllables occur in extant texts. Kharosthi includes only one standalone vowel which is used for initial vowels in words. Other initial vowels use the a character modified by diacritics. Using epigraphic evidence, Salomon has established that the vowel order is /a e i o u/, akin to Semitic scripts, rather than the usual vowel order for Indic scripts /a i u e o/. Also, there is no differentiation between long and short vowels in Kharosthi. Both are marked using the same vowel markers. The alphabet was used in Gandharan Buddhism as a mnemonic for remembering a series of verses on the nature of phenomena. In Tantric Buddhism, the list was incorporated into ritual practices and later became enshrined in mantras.



There are two special modified forms of these consonants:

Additional marks

Various additional marks are used to modify vowels and consonants:


Nine Kharosthi punctuation marks have been identified:


Kharosthi included a set of numerals that are reminiscent of Roman numerals. The system is based on an additive and a multiplicative principle, but does not have the subtractive feature used in the Roman numeral system. The numerals, like the letters, are written from right to left. There is no zero and no separate signs for the digits 5–9. Numbers in Kharosthi use an additive system. For example, the number 1996 would be written as 1000 4 4 1 100 20 20 20 20 10 4 2 (image: text: ).


Scholars are not in agreement as to whether the Kharosthi script evolved gradually, or was the deliberate work of a single inventor. An analysis of the script forms shows a clear dependency on the Aramaic alphabet but with extensive modifications to support the sounds found in Indic languages. Kharosthi seems to be derived from a form of Aramaic used in administrative work during the reign of Darius the Great, rather than the monumental cuneiform used for public inscriptions. The name Kharosthi may derive from the Hebrew ''kharosheth'', a Semitic word for writing, or from Old Iranian ''*xšaθra-pištra'', which means "royal writing". One model is that the Aramaic script arrived with the Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley in 500 BCE and evolved over the next 200+ years to reach its final form by the 3rd century BCE where it appears in some of the Edicts of Ashoka found in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. However, no intermediate forms have yet been found to confirm this evolutionary model, and rock and coin inscriptions from the 3rd century BCE onward show a unified and standard form. An inscription in Aramaic dating back to the 4th century BCE was found in Sirkap, testifying to the presence of the Aramaic script in northwestern India at that period. According to Sir John Marshall, this seems to confirm that Kharoshthi was later developed from Aramaic. The study of the Kharosthi script was recently invigorated by the discovery of the Gandhāran Buddhist texts, a set of birch bark manuscripts written in Kharosthi, discovered near the Afghan city of Hadda just west of the Khyber Pass in Pakistan. The manuscripts were donated to the British Library in 1994. The entire set of manuscripts are dated to the 1st century CE, making them the oldest Buddhist manuscripts yet discovered. While the derived Brahmi scripts remained in use for centuries, Kharosthi seems to have been abandoned after the 2nd-3rd Century AD. Because of the substantial differences between the Semitic-derived Kharosthi script and its successors, knowledge of Kharosthi may have declined rapidly once the script was supplanted by Brahmi-derived scripts, until its re-discovery by Western scholars in the 19th Century. The Kharosthi script was deciphered separately almost concomitantly by James Prinsep (in 1835, published in the ''Journal of the Asiatic society of Bengal'', India) and by Carl Ludwig Grotefend (in 1836, published in ''Blatter fur Munzkunde'', Germany), with Grotenfend "evidently not aware" of Prinsep's article, followed by Christian Lassen (1838). They all used the bilingual coins of the Indo-Greek Kingdom (obverse in Greek, reverse in Pali, using the Kharosthi script). This in turn led to the reading of the Edicts of Ashoka, some of which, from the northwest of the Indian subcontinent, were written in the Kharosthi script (the Major Rock Edicts at Mansehra and Shahbazgarhi).Dias, Malini, and Das Miriyagalla. "BRAHMI SCRIPT IN RELATION TO MESOPOTAMIAN CUNEIFORM." Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka, vol. 53, 2007, pp. 91–108. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23731201.


Kharosthi was added to the Unicode Standard in March, 2005 with the release of version 4.1. The Unicode block for Kharosthi is U+10A00–U+10A5F:


File:Kharoshti script on a wooden plate, National Museum, New Delhi.jpg|Kharoshti script on a wooden plate in the National Museum of India in New Delhi File:Kharoshti script on a wooden plate, National Museum, New Delhi 01.jpg|Kharoshti script on a wooden plate in the National Museum of India in New Delhi File:Kharoshti script on a wooden plate, National Museum, New Delhi 02.jpg|Kharoshti script on a wooden plate in the National Museum of India in New Delhi File:Kharosthi_script_on_wood,_Niya,_3rd_century_AD_-_National_Musem,_New_Delhi_-_IMG_2216.JPG|Kharoshti script on wood from Niya, 3rd century CE File:Niya BLH170 OR821114231424 W.jpg|Double-wedged wooden tablet in Gandhari written in Kharosthi script, 2nd to 4th century CE File:佉卢文木牍.jpg|Wooden tablet inscribed with Kharosthi characters (2nd–3rd century CE). Excavated at the Niya ruins in Xinjiang, China. Collection of the Xinjiang Museum. File:Loulan kharosthi document.jpg|Wooden Kharosthi document found at Loulan, China by Aurel Stein File:Fragmentary Buddhist text - Gandhara birchbark scrolls (1st C), part 31 - BL Or. 14915.jpg|Fragmentary Kharosthi Buddhist text on birchbark (Part of a group of early manuscripts from Gandhara), first half of 1st century CE. Collection of the British Library in London File:MenanderCoin.jpg|Silver bilingual tetradrachm of Menander I (155-130 BCE). ''Obverse:'' Greek legend, ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ ΜΕΝΑΝΔΡΟΥ (BASILEOS SOTEROS MENANDROU), literally, "Of Saviour King Menander". ''Reverse:'' Kharosthi legend: MAHARAJA TRATARASA MENADRASA "Saviour King Menander". Athena advancing right, with thunderbolt and shield. Taxila mint mark. File:KingGurgamoyaKhotan1stCenturyCE.jpg|Coin of King Gurgamoya of Khotan (1st century CE). ''Obverse'': Kharoshthi legend "Of the great king of kings, king of Khotan, Gurgamoya. ''Reverse'': Chinese legend: "Twenty-four grain copper coin". File:Coin of Menander Dikaiou.jpg|Coin of Menander II Dikaiou ''Obverse'': Menander wearing a diadem. Greek legend: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΥ ΜΕΝΑΝΔΡΟΥ "King Menander the Just". ''Reverse'': Winged figure bearing diadem and palm, with halo, probably Nike. The Kharoshthi legend reads MAHARAJASA DHARMIKASA MENADRASA "Great King, Menander, follower of the Dharma, Menander". File:Hashtnagar Pedestal Rajar Bodhisattva Gandhara 384 exhib British Museum.jpg|The Indo-Greek Hashtnagar Pedestal symbolizes bodhisattva and ancient Kharosthi script. Found near Rajar in Gandhara, Pakistan. Exhibited at the British Museum in London. File:Mathura Lion Capital Detail.jpg|Mathura lion capital with addorsed lions and Prakrit inscriptions in Kharoshthi script File:Han dynasty Kharoshthi inscription.jpg|Fragments of stone well railings with a Buddhist inscription written in Kharoshthi script (late Han period to the Three Kingdoms era). Discovered at Luoyang, China in 1924. File:Ashoka edict shahbaz-garhi1.png|Portion of Emperor Ashoka's Rock Edicts at Shahbaz Garhi File:Ashoka edict shahbaz-garhi2.png|Portion of Emperor Ashoka's Rock Edicts at Shahbaz Garhi

See also

*Brahmi *History of Afghanistan *History of Pakistan *Pre-Islamic scripts in Afghanistan

Further reading

Kaschgar und die Kharoṣṭhī (1903)


*Dani, Ahmad Hassan. ''Kharoshthi Primer'', Lahore Museum Publication Series - 16, Lahore, 1979 *Falk, Harry. ''Schrift im alten Indien: Ein Forschungsbericht mit Anmerkungen'', Gunter Narr Verlag, 1993 (in German) *Fussman's, Gérard. ''Les premiers systèmes d'écriture en Inde'', in Annuaire du Collège de France 1988-1989 (in French) *Hinüber, Oscar von. ''Der Beginn der Schrift und frühe Schriftlichkeit in Indien'', Franz Steiner Verlag, 1990 (in German) *Nasim Khan, M.(1997). Ashokan Inscriptions: A Palaeographical Study. Atthariyyat (Archaeology), Vol. I, pp. 131–150. Peshawar *Nasim Khan, M.(1999). Two Dated Kharoshthi Inscriptions from Gandhara. Journal of Asian Civilizations (Journal of Central Asia), Vol. XXII, No.1, July 1999: 99-103. *Nasim Khan, M.(2000). An Inscribed Relic-Casket from Dir. The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol. V, No. 1, March 1997: 21-33. Peshawar *Nasim Khan, M.(2000). Kharoshthi Inscription from Swabi - Gandhara. The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol. V, No. 2. September 1997: 49-52. Peshawar. *Nasim Khan, M.(2004). Kharoshthi Manuscripts from Gandhara. Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. Vol. XII, Nos. 1 & 2 (2004): 9-15. Peshawar *Nasim Khan, M.(2009). Kharoshthi Manuscripts from Gandhara (2nd ed.. First published in 2008. *Norman, Kenneth R. ''The Development of Writing in India and its Effect upon the Pâli Canon'', in Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens (36), 1993 *Salomon, Richard. New evidence for a Gāndhārī origin of the arapacana syllabary. ''Journal of the American Oriental Society''. Apr-Jun 1990, Vol.110 (2), p. 255-273. *Salomon, Richard. An additional note on arapacana. ''Journal of the American Oriental Society''. 1993, Vol.113 (2), p. 275-6. * *Salomon, Richard. Kharoṣṭhī syllables used as location markers in Gāndhāran stūpa architecture. Pierfrancesco Callieri, ed., '. (Serie Orientale Rome 100; Rome: Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente, 2006), pp. 181–224.

External links

Catalog and Corpus of all known Kharoṣṭhī (Gāndhārī) texts
Indoskript 2.0
a paleographic database of Brahmi and Kharosthi
A Preliminary Study of Kharoṣṭhī Manuscript Paleography
by Andrew Glass, University of Washington (2000)

by Richard Salomon, University of Washington (via archive.org) {{Authority control Category:Ancient history of Afghanistan Category:Obsolete writing systems Category:Ancient history of Pakistan Category:Abugida writing systems Category:Right-to-left writing systems