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Vatteluttu script

9th to 10th century Vatteluttu script, Kochi land grant copper plate inscription to Jewish immigrants Israelites by King Sthanu Ravi Varma.jpg
A Vatteluttu script inscription on copper plate. Issued by the Tamil Chera King Sthanu Ravi Varma, it grants land to Jewish settlers in Kerala.[1]
LanguagesVarious forms of Tamil and Malayalam
Parent systems
Sister systems
Malayalam, Grantha, Kolezhuthu, Malayanma
[a] The Semitic origin of the Brahmic scripts is not universally agreed upon.

Vaṭṭeḻuttu, also spelled Vattezhutthu (literally "Round Script", Tamil: வட்டெழுத்து, vaṭṭeḻuttu; Malayalam: വട്ടെഴുത്ത് vaṭṭeḻuttŭ) was an abugida writing system in South India and Sri Lanka that emerged from the Tamil Brahmi script. It is marked by rounded alphabet letters and cursive appearance,[2] and the earliest forms of this script are traceable on memorial stone inscriptions of the 4th-century CE.[3] The script had fully developed and was in broader use to write the Tamil language by about the 6th-century.[2] By about the 7th- and 8th-century, under the Pallava rulers, a more developed and distintive Tamil script replaced it in what is now Tamil Nadu.[4][5][6] Vatteluttu continued to be used in region that is now Kerala till about the 14th-century, and over time it contributed to the evolution of the Grantha script into the modern Malayalam script.[4][7][8]

The 19th-century language scholar Arthur Coke Burnell, relying on two Vatteluttu script inscriptions, had proposed that Vatteluttu did not originate from Tamil Brahmi, and was possibly borrowed by Tamils from another foreign land. As numerous more inscriptions and manuscripts in Kerala and Tamil Nadu were discovered, scholars such as Iravatham Mahadevan have proven the Burnell hypothesis to be incorrect, and shown how Vatteluttu emerged and evolved from Tamil Brahmi.[9][10]

Vatteluttu script is read left to right, as with almost all Indic scripts.[2] Like the Tamil script, it omits the virama muting device.[2] Vatteluttu was particularly prominent during the Kodungallur Cheras rule (from 9th century) and their successor-states in Kerala. Chera era copper plate grants, stone inscriptions and memorial epigraphy are composed mostly in Vatteluttu. After the Kodungallur Chera period (12th century) the Vatteluttu went on evolving and gradually developed into Kolezhuthu in Kerala, according to Burnell.[11] Some of the historic immigration rights and land grants to Syrian Christians and Jewish traders by Hindu kings of Chera dynasty were recorded in Vatteluttu script on copper plates.[1][12]

Vatteluttu use is also attested in northeastern Sri Lanka rock inscriptions, such as in the area near Trincomalee, between the 5th and 8th centuries CE.[13]


8th Century Velvikudi Grant written in Grantha and Vatteluttu scripts, Sanskrit and Tamil respectively.
Tharisapalli copper plate inscription (c. 849 CE) granting land for a Church in Vatteluttu script

The following image shows the divergent evolution of the Tamil script and the Vatteluttu script. The Vatteluttu script is shown on the left, and the Tamil script is shown on the right.

Divergent evolution of Tamil script and Vatteluttu script. (The earlier is near the centre and that later is towards the sides.) Tamil Brahmi is in the central column, Vatteluttu is on the left and Tamil script is on the right.

Here are the characters used in Vatteluttu:

Vatteluttu script sample

See also


  • Sivaramamurti, C, Indian Epigraphy and South Indian Scripts. Bulletin of the Madras Government Museum. Chennai 1999


  1. ^ a b Nathan Katz; Ellen S. Goldberg (1993). The last Jews of Cochin: Jewish identity in Hindu India. University of South Carolina Press. pp. 41–45. ISBN 978-0-87249-847-1.
  2. ^ a b c d Coulmas, Florian (1999). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems. p. 542. ISBN 9780631214816.
  3. ^ K. Rajan (2001). "Territorial Division as Gleaned from Memorial Stones". East and West. 51 (3/4): 359–367. JSTOR 29757518.
  4. ^ a b Bhadriraju Krishnamurti (2003). The Dravidian Languages. Cambridge University Press. pp. 84–85. ISBN 978-1-139-43533-8.
  5. ^ Sastri, K. A. Nilakanta The Colas, (Madras, 1935 & 1937. Revised 2nd ed. 1955) p.7
  6. ^ I. Mahadevan, 'Corpus of Tamil Brahmi Inscriptions', Seminar on Inscriptions, (Madras, 1968), pp. 57-78
  7. ^ Richard Salomon (1998). Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the other Indo-Aryan Languages. Oxford University Press. pp. 40–42. ISBN 978-0-19-535666-3.
  8. ^ Agesthialingom, S. & S.V. Shanmugam (1970). The Language of Tamil Inscriptions. Annamalainagar, India: Annamalai University.
  9. ^ Iravatham Mahadevan (2003). Early Tamil Epigraphy. Cre-A. pp. 210–213. ISBN 978-0-674-01227-1.
  10. ^ Richard Salomon (2004), Review: Early Tamil Epigraphy: From the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D. By IRAVATHAM MAHADEVAN. Harvard Oriental Series Volume 62, The Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 124, Issue 3, pp. 565-569, doi:10.2307/4132283
  11. ^ A. C. Burnell, Elements of South Indian Palaeography, pp. 48-49
  12. ^ Stephen Neill (2004). A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707. Cambridge University Press. pp. 45–48. ISBN 978-0-521-54885-4.
  13. ^ Manogaran. The Untold Story of Ancient Tamils in Sri Lanka. p. 31.