Grantha script explained

Languages:Sanskrit, Manipravalam
Time:6th Century CE to 16th Century CE[1]
Fam2:Southern Brahmi
Children:Malayalam script, Sinhala script, Tulu Script, Tamil script
Caption:Verse from Kalidasa's Kumarasambhavam

Grantha script (Tamil: கிரந்த ௭ழுத்து, Malayalam: Malayalam: ഗ്രന്ഥലിപി, Sanskrit: ग्रन्थ grantha meaning "book" or "manuscript") is an ancient script that was prevalent in South India. It is generally supposed to have evolved from Brahmi, another ancient Indic script. It has influenced the Malayalam, Tulu and Sinhala scripts. A variant of this script used by Pallavas is called Pallava Grantha, which is also known as Pallava script. Several South-East Asian scripts, like the Mon script in Burma, the Javanese script in Indonesia and the Khmer script in Cambodia, developed from this variant.

Sanskrit and Grantha

Although Sanskrit is now almost exclusively written in the Devanagari script, the Grantha script was used to write Sanskrit in the Tamil-speaking parts of South Asia until the 19th century. Scholars believe that the Grantha script was used to write the first Vedic books in the 5th century[2] . In the early 20th century, it began to be replaced by the Devanagari script in religious and scholarly texts, and the normal Tamil script (with the use of diacritics) in popular texts.

The Grantha script was also historically used for writing Tamil-Sanskrit Manipravalam, a blend of Tamil and Sanskrit which was used in the exegesis of Sanskrit texts. This evolved into a fairly complex writing system which required that Tamil words be written in the Tamil vatteluthu and Sanskrit words be written in the Grantha script. By the 15th century, this had evolved to the point that both scripts would be used within the same word - if the root was derived from Sanskrit it would be written in the Grantha script, but any Tamil suffixes which were added to it would be written using the Tamil vatteluthu. This system of writing went out of use when Manipravalam declined in popularity, but it was customary to use the same convention in printed editions of texts originally written in Manipravalam until the middle of the 20th century.

In modern times, the Grantha script is used in certain religious contexts by orthodox Tamil-speaking Hindus. Most notably, they use the script to write a child's name for the first time during the naming ceremony, and to write the Sanskrit portion of wedding invitations and announcements of a person's last rites. It is also used in many religious almanacs to print traditional formulaic summaries of the coming year.

Erstwhile Tulu script, was called Grantha Lipi.

Dhives and Grantha

Dhives Akuru which was used to write the Divehi language from 12th to 17thAD has strong connections with the Grantha script.

Tulu-Malayalam script

The Tulu-Malayalam script is called Transitional Grantha; from about 1300 AD on, the modern script has been in use. Currently two varieties are used: Brahmanic, or square, and Jain, or round. The Tulu-Malayalam script is a variety of Grantha dating from the 8th or 9th century AD. The modern Tamil script may also be derived from Grantha, but this is not certain.

Malayalam and Grantha

The origin of Malayalam script can be traced back to Grantha script. Malayalam scripts possess much resemblance with Grantha scripts. When Grantha letters were implemented to write Sanskrit letters, it was called Kolezhuttu (rod script).[3]

Tamil and Grantha

It is suggested that Tamil was also written using the Grantha script at some point in time, but currently Tamil has its own script system.

The current Tamil scripts and the Grantha script have commonness, with the signs for voiceless aspirated (such as /kh/), voiced (/g/), and voiced aspirated stops (/gh/) left out.

See also: Tamil alphabet

Types of Grantha

Grantha script may be classified as follows[4] :

Pallava Grantha

Archaic and Ornamental variety of Grantha constitute what is referred as Pallava Grantha. They were used by the Pallava in their Inscriptions. The Ornamental variety was too complex and ornate, hence this form could not have been possibly used in day to day writing and may have used only for Inscriptions. Mamallapuram Inscriptions, Tiruchirapalli Rock Cut Cave Inscriptions, Kailasantha Inscription come under this type.

Transitional Grantha

This type of Grantha was used by Cholas approximately from 650 CE to 950 CE. Inscription of later Pallavas and Pandiyan Nedunchezhiyan are also examples for this variety of Grantha Script.

Medieval Grantha

Inscriptions of the Imperial Thanjavur Cholas are an example for Medieval Grantha. This variety was in Vogue from 950 CE to 1250 CE.

Modern Grantha

Grantha in the present form descended from later Pandyas and the Vijayanagara rulers. The Modern form of Grantha is very similar to the Modern Tamil Script.

Grantha Alphabet

A Unicode encoding for Grantha does not yet exist. The font used in the following tables is e-Grantamil taken from INDOLIPI.

The below glyps denote the late form of Grantha Script, which can be noticed by its similarity with the Modern Tamil Script


As with other Abugida scripts Grantha consonant signs have the inherent vowel /a/. Its absence is marked with Virāma:

For other vowels diacritics are used:

Sometimes ligatures of consonants with vowel diacritics may be found, e.g.:

There are also a few special consonant forms with Virāma:

Consonant Ligatures

Grantha has two types of consonant ligatures. The "northern" type is formed by fusion of two ore more consonants as in northern scripts like Devanāgarī (but also in some instances in the Malayāḷam script in the south). With the "southern" type consonants are stacked one above the other as in the southern scripts used for Kannaḍa and Telugu (and to some extent also for Malayāḷam and Oṛiya scripts).

Northern type ligatures

Southern type ligatures

Their components are easy to recognize. Therefore only a few examples are given here:

Special forms:

‹ya› and ‹ra› as noninitial components of a ligature become and respectively.

‹ra› as initial component of a ligature becomes (called Reph as in other Indic scripts) and is shifted to the end of the ligature.

Grantha Numbers

Text Samples

The Grantha text of each sample is followed by a transliteration into Latin (ISO 15919) and Devanāgarī scripts.

Example 1: Taken from Kālidāsa's Kumārasambhavam

astyuttarasyāṁ diśi devatātmā himālayo nāma nagādhirājaḥ.

pūrvāparau toyanidhī vagāhya sthitaḥ pr̥thivyā iva mānadaṇḍaḥ.

अस्त्युत्तरस्यां दिशि देवतात्मा हिमालयो नाम नगाधिराजः।

पूर्वापरौ तोयनिधी वगाह्य स्थितः पृथिव्या इव मानदण्डः॥

Example 2: St. John 3:16

Rendering of the facsimile given on top of this page. By comparing the old print from 1886 with the modern version given below one may see the difficulties the typesetter had with Grantha.

yata īśvaro jagatītthaṁ prema cakāra yannijamekajātaṁ

putraṁ dadau tasmin viśvāsī sarvamanuṣyo yathā

na vinaśyānantaṁ jīvanaṁ lapsyate.

यत ईश्वरो जगतीत्थं प्रेम चकार यन्निजमेकजातं

पुत्रं ददौ तस्मिन् विश्वासी सर्वमनुष्यो यथा

न विनश्यानन्तं जीवनं लप्स्यते।

Comparison of Grantha with other Cognate Scripts

Vowel signs

Note: As in Devanāgarī ‹e› and ‹o› in Grantha stand for [eː] and [oː]. Originally also Malayāḷam and Tamiḻ scripts did not distinguish long and short ‹e› and ‹o›, though both languages have the phonemes /e/ /eː/ and /o/ /oː/. The addition of extra signs for /eː/ and /oː/ is attributed to the Italian missionary Constanzo Beschi (1680 - 1774).

Consonant signs

The Tamiḻ letters ஜ ஶ ஷ ஸ ஹ and the ligature க்ஷ ‹kṣa› are also called "Grantha letters", as they were introduced from Grantha into the Tamiḻ script to render Sanskrit words. The letters ழ ற ன and the corresponding sounds occur only in Dravidian languages.


  2. Sanskrit

Reinhold Grünendahl: South Indian Scripts in Sanskrit Manuscripts and Prints, Wiesbaden (Germany) 2001, ISBN 3-447-04504-3

K. Venugopalan: A Primer in Grantha Characters.

External links