|4th century BCE - 3rd century CE|
|ISO 15924||Khar, 305|
The Kharosthi script, also spelled Kharoshthi or Kharoh? (Kharosthi: )  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.
Kharosthi is encoded in the Unicode range U+10A00-U+10A5F, from version 4.1.
Kharosthi (, from right to left Kha-ro-h?) 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:
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.
|-i||horizontal||? + ? -> ||a, n, h|
|diagonal||? + ? -> ||k, ?, kh, g, gh, c, ch, j, ñ, ?, ?h, h, ?, ?h, ?, t, d, dh, b, bh, y, r, v, ?, s, z|
|vertical||? + ? -> ||th, p, ph, m, l, ?|
|-u||attached||? + ? -> ||a, k, ?, kh, g, gh, c, ch, j, ñ, ?, ?h, h, ?, ?h, ?, t, th, d, dh, n, p, ph, b, bh, y, r, l, v, ?, ?, s, z|
|independent||? + ? -> ||?, h|
|ligatured||? + ? -> ||m|
|-r?||attached||? + ? -> ||a, k, ?, kh, g, gh, c, ch, j, t, d, dh, n, p, ph, b, bh, v, ?, s|
|independent||? + ? -> ||m, h|
|-e||horizontal||? + ? -> ||a, n, h|
|diagonal||? + ? -> ||k, ?, kh, g, gh, c, ch, j, ñ, ?, ?h, h, ?, ?h, ?, t, dh, b, bh, y, r, v, ?, s, z|
|vertical||? + ? -> ||th, p, ph, l, ?|
|ligatured||? + ? -> ||d, m|
|-o||horizontal||? + ? -> ||a, k, ?, kh, g, gh, c, ch, j, ñ, ?, ?h, h, ?, ?h, ?, t, th, d, dh, n, b, bh, m, r, l, v, ?, s, z, h|
|diagonal||? + ? -> ||p, ph, y, ?|
|VOICELESS PLOSIVES||VOICED PLOSIVES||NASALS|
There are two special modified forms of these consonants:
Various additional marks are used to modify vowels and consonants:
|?||? + ? -> ||The vowel length mark may be used with -a, -i, -u, and -r? to indicate the equivalent long vowel (-?, -?, -?, and r respectively). When used with -e it indicates the diphthong -ai. When used with -o it indicates the diphthong -au.|
|?||? + ? -> ||The vowel modifier double ring below appears in some Central Asian documents with vowels -a and -u. Its precise phonetic function is unknown.|
|?||?||? + ? -> ||An anusvara indicates nasalization of the vowel or a nasal segment following the vowel. It can be used with -a, -i, -u, -r?, -e, and -o.|
|?||?||? + ? -> ||A visarga indicates the unvoiced syllable-final /h/. It can also be used as a vowel length marker. Visarga is used with -a, -i, -u, -r?, -e, and -o.|
|?||? + ? -> ||A bar above a consonant can be used to indicate various modified pronunciations depending on the consonant, such as nasalization or aspiration. It is used with k, ?, g, c, j, n, m, ?, ?, s, and h.|
|?||? + ? -> ||The cauda changes how consonants are pronounced in various ways, particularly fricativization. It is used with g, j, ?, t, d, p, y, v, ?, and s.|
|?||? + ? -> ||The precise phonetic function of the dot below is unknown. It is used with m and h.|
|?||(n/a)||A virama is used to suppress the inherent vowel that otherwise occurs with every consonant letter. Its effect varies based on situation:|
When not followed by a consonant the virama causes the preceding consonant to be written as a subscript to the left of the letter before that consonant.
When the virama is followed by another consonant, it will trigger a combined form consisting of two or more consonants. This may be a ligature, a special combining form, or a combining full form depending on the consonants involved.
The result takes into account any other combining marks.
|? + ? + ? -> |
|? + ? + ? -> |
|? + ? + ? -> |
Nine Kharosthi punctuation marks have been identified:
|?||small circle||?||mangalam||?||double danda|
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.
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 Gandh?ran 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).
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:
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
Kharoshti script on a wooden plate in the National Museum of India in New Delhi
Kharoshti script on wood from Niya, 3rd century CE
Double-wedged wooden tablet in Gandhari written in Kharosthi script, 2nd to 4th century CE
Silver bilingual tetradrachm of Menander I (155-130 BCE). Obverse: Greek legend, ? (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.