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|c. late 6th century – c. 1200 CE |
Siddha? (also Siddh), also known in its later evolved form as Siddham?t?k?, is a medieval Brahmic abugida, derived from the Gupta script and ancestral to the Assamese alphabets, Bengali alphabet, Maithili alphabet, and the Tibetan alphabet.
The word Siddha? means "accomplished" or "perfected" in Sanskrit. The script received its name from the practice of writing Siddha?, or Siddha? astu (may there be perfection), at the head of documents. Other names for the script include bonji (Japanese: ) lit. "Brahma's characters" and "Sanskrit script" and Chinese: ?; pinyin: lit. "Siddha? script".
Siddha? is an abugida rather than an alphabet, as each character indicates a syllable, including a consonant and (possibly) a vowel. If the vowel sound is not explicitly indicated, the short 'a' is assumed. Diacritic marks are used to indicate other vowels, as well as the anusvara and visarga. A virama can be used to indicate that the consonant letter stands alone with no vowel, which sometimes happens at the end of Sanskrit words.
The Siddham script evolved from the Gupta Brahmi script in the late 6th century CE.
Many Buddhist texts taken to China along the Silk Road were written using a version of the Siddha? script. This continued to evolve, and minor variations are seen across time, and in different regions. Importantly it was used for transmitting the Buddhist tantra texts. At the time it was considered important to preserve the pronunciation of mantras, and Chinese was not suitable for writing the sounds of Sanskrit. This led to the retention of the Siddha? script in East Asia. The practice of writing using Siddha? survived in East Asia where Tantric Buddhism persisted.
K?kai introduced the Siddha? script to Japan when he returned from China in 806, where he studied Sanskrit with Nalanda-trained monks including one known as Prajñ? (Chinese: ?; pinyin: , 734-c. 810). By the time K?kai learned this script, the trading and pilgrimage routes over land to India had been closed by the expanding Abbasid Caliphate.
In Japan, the writing of mantras and copying/reading of sutras using the Siddha? script is still practiced in the esoteric schools of Shingon Buddhism and Tendai as well as in the syncretic sect of Shugend?. The characters are known as shittan () or bonji (, Chinese: Fànzì). The Taish? Tripi?aka version of the Chinese Buddhist canon preserves the Siddha? characters for most mantras, and Korean Buddhists still write b?jas in a modified form of Siddha?. A recent innovation is the writing of Japanese language slogans on T-shirts using Bonji. Japanese Siddha? has evolved from the original script used to write s?tras and is now somewhat different from the ancient script.
It is typical to see Siddha? written with a brush, as with Chinese writing; it is also written with a bamboo pen. In Japan, a special brush called a bokuhitsu (, Cantonese: pokbat) is used for formal Siddha? calligraphy. The informal style is known as "fude" (?, Cantonese: "moubat").
In the middle of the 9th century, China experienced a series of purges of "foreign religions", thus cutting Japan off from the sources of Siddha? texts. In time, other scripts, particularly Devanagari, replaced Siddha? in India, while in Eastern South Asia (including Assam, Bengal, Bihar etc), Siddha? evolved to become the Bengali script, Tirhuta script and Anga script, leaving East Asia as the only region where Siddha? is still used.
There were special forms of Siddha? used in Korea that varied significantly from those used in China and Japan, and there is evidence that Siddha? was written in Central Asia, as well, by the early 7th century.
As was done with Chinese characters, Japanese Buddhist scholars sometimes created multiple characters with the same phonological value to add meaning to Siddha? characters. This practice, in effect, represents a 'blend' of the Chinese style of writing and the Indian style of writing and allows Sanskrit texts in Siddha? to be differentially interpreted as they are read, as was done with Chinese characters that the Japanese had adopted. This led to multiple variants of the same characters.
With regards to directionality, Siddha? texts were usually read from left-to-right then top-to-bottom, as with Indic languages, but occasionally they were written in the traditional Chinese style, from top-to-bottom then right-to-left. Bilingual Siddha?-Japanese texts show the manuscript turned 90 degrees clockwise and the Japanese is written from top-to-bottom, as is typical of Japanese, and then the manuscript is turned back again, and the Siddha? writing is continued from left-to-right (the resulting Japanese characters look sideways).
Over time, additional markings were developed, including punctuation marks, head marks, repetition marks, end marks, special ligatures to combine conjuncts and rarely to combine syllables, and several ornaments of the scribe's choice, which are not currently encoded. The nuqta is also used in some modern Siddha? texts.
Siddha? is still largely a hand written script. Some efforts have been made to create computer fonts, though to date none of these are capable of reproducing all of the Siddha? conjunct consonants. Notably, the Chinese Buddhist Electronic Texts Association has created a Siddha? font for their electronic version of the Taisho Tripi?aka, though this does not contain all possible conjuncts. The software Mojikyo also contains fonts for Siddha?, but split Siddha? in different blocks and requires multiple fonts to render a single document.
A Siddha? input system which relies on the CBETA font Siddhamkey 3.0 has been produced.
Siddha? script was added to the Unicode Standard in June 2014 with the release of version 7.0.
The Unicode block for Siddha? is U+11580–U+115FF:
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)