Pallava grantha

Bṛhadīśvara Temple, India
Type Abugida
Languages Tamil, Manipravalam, Sanskrit
Time period 6th Century CE to 19th Century CE[1]
Parent systems
  • Southern Brahmi
    • Pallava
      • Grantha
Child systems Tulu Script, Malayalam script
Sister systems Vatteluttu
ISO 15924 ,
Unicode alias
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Grantha script (Tamil: கிரந்த ௭ழுத்து - giranda eḻuttu) was widely used between the 6th century and the 19th century CE by Tamil speakers in Southern India, particularly in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, to write Sanskrit and classical Manipravalam, and is still in restricted use in traditional vedic schools (veda pāṭhaśālā).[1] It evolved from the ancient Brāhmī script and is therefore classified under the Brahmic family of scripts.

Grantha is developed from the Southern Variant of Brahmi in Tamil Nadu. Malayalam Script is a direct descendant of Grantha Script. Tulu Script and Sinhala script were probably influenced by Grantha Script.

The rising popularity of the Devanagari script for Sanskrit, and the political pressure created by the Tanittamil Iyakkam[2] for its complete replacement by the modern Tamil script led to its gradual disuse and abandonment in Tamil Nadu in the early 20th century.


In Sanskrit, grantha literally 'a knot'.[3] is a word that was used for books, and the script used to write them. This stems from the practice of binding inscribed palm leaves using a length of thread held by knots. Although Sanskrit is now mostly written in the Devanagari script, the Grantha script was widely used to write Sanskrit in the Tamil-speaking parts of South Asia until the 19th century. Scholars believe that the Grantha script was used when the Vedas were first put into writing around the 5th century CE.[4] 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 Manipravalam, a blend of Tamil and Sanskrit which was used in the exegesis of Manipravalam 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 nāmakaraṇa 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.

Types of Grantha

Grantha script may be classified as follows:[5]

Pallava Grantha

An archaic and ornamental variety of Grantha is sometimes referred to as Pallava Grantha. They were used by the Pallava in some inscriptions. Mamallapuram Inscriptions, Tiruchirapalli Rock Cut Cave Inscriptions, Kailasantha Inscription come under this type.

The Pallavas also produced a distinctive script separate from the Grantha family.

Transitional Grantha

The Tulu-Malayalam script is called Transitional Grantha. 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 is also derived from Grantha.[6]

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 Malayalam alphabet and the Modern Tamil Script.

Grantha encoding


The glyphs below 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 clusters

Grantha has two ways of representing consonant clusters. Sometimes, consonants in a cluster may form ligatures.


Ligatures are normally preferred whenever they exist. If no ligatures exist, "stacked" forms of consonants are written, just as in Kannada and Telugu, with the lowest member of the stack being the only "live" consonant and the other members all being vowelless. Note that ligatures may be used as members of stacks also.


Special forms:

respectively. These are often called "ya-phalaa" and "ra-vattu" in other Indic scripts.


(called Reph as in other Indic scripts) and is shifted to the end of the cluster but placed before any "ya-phalaa".


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

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 with other 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 Tamil letters ஜ ஶ ஷ ஸ ஹ and the ligature க்ஷ ⟨kṣa⟩ are called "Grantha letters" and not Tamil, as they were introduced from Grantha into the Tamil script to render non-Tamil words (Sanskrit, Pali in early days now it is used to many other languages). The letters ழ ற ன and the corresponding sounds occur only in Dravidian languages.




  1. Reinhold Grünendahl: South Indian Scripts in Sanskrit Manuscripts and Prints, Wiesbaden (Germany) 2001, ISBN 3-447-04504-3
  2. K. Venugopalan: A Primer in Grantha Characters.
  3. Tamil script Tamil script

External links

  • Quick facts about Grantha at
  • Article at Omniglot
  • Tamil Nadu Archeological Department – Grantha Webpage
  • more about
  • Digitized Grantha Books
  • Software package with Grantha OpenType font and typewriter for Grantha and Manipravalam for Win XP, Vista, Win 7
  • Online Tutorial for Grantha Script

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