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Models of Written Documents

A.N.D. Haksar

By Pushpa Prasad
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 245, Rs. 595.00


In its time, Sanskrit occupied in South Asia a position similar in some respects to that of English today. It was the language of authority and culture, of higher learning and academic research, and of elite intercourse across linguistic and regional divides. Some recent scholars have described it as the ‘trans-local’ and ‘trans-ethnic’ language of pre-modern India.   Unlike English, however, Sanskrit can be seen with many faces in its long history of at least 3000 years. It was the language of sacred rituals and worship, of philosophical speculation and disputation, of scientific investigation and creative literature as well as that of law and order, government decrees and official records.   In present popular perception, Sanskrit is best known as the language of religion and philosophy. Any talk of it today first brings to mind works like the Vedas and the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the two ancient epics. Some also remember it as the language of Kalidasa and Bhasa, of the Artha Shastra, the Kama Sutra and the Panchatantra, but they are a comparatively small minority.   There are historical reasons for the predominance of the scriptural dimension. But there is also a need to recognize that it has largely relegated other aspects of this magnificent language into the shadows. The secular face of Sanskrit deserves greater exposure to the public gaze of modern times.   It is in this wider context that the book reviewed here is particularly welcome, though notably its primary audience is the learned community of historians and other specialists. It is an English translation of a remarkable collection of Sanskrit documents from ancient and early medieval Gujarat. This collection, the Lekhapaddhati or ‘models of written documents’, comprises ‘numerous specimens of letters and documents of various kinds’, royal decrees, land grants, treaties, judgements, administrative rules and model drafts of private letters. According to the author, herself an academic historian, the original collection ‘was presumably written as a guide for official draftsmen or scribes and professional letter-writers’. It is preserved in four manuscripts dating from the 14th to the 16th centuries ad. Some of the documents included in it bear dates ranging from 744–5 ad to 1475–6 ad. They touch upon many aspects of life, from rights and obligations of land grantees to sales and purchases of various kinds. The model letters are addressed to teachers and friends, parents, spouses and in-laws on a variety of subjects.   The dated documents were presumably included ...

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