• Sony Salma Priyadarshini

Saura Script and People.

Saura Script inscription on rock at Marichaguda, Rayagada district. It contains 24 letters and 10 digits.
Ancient Saura inscription, Marichaguda - Courtesy: Rajesh Patnaik


Limsi! This is Namaste in another tribal language – “Saura”.

What does our land not have! Rolling blue mountains, enchanting streams, beautiful people who dance to the beats of thunder, who sing the gurgling of the rivers, children who are free to walk, wind that carries the fragrance of the marigold. What does our land not have?

Where skies are free, where colors dance to the turns of the changing day, where birds fly freely, where no river or lake is caged by a wall.

And how can one bound water! How can one bound forest! Aren’t we all free people?

When I was in Bangalore, it used to really ache my heart to see a lake being bounded by walls, with a chowkidar (a watchman) guarding it, with timings set to inside the lake, where we can’t even touch the water, just watch it from distance. No one in our villages will believe if I tell them these stories of Bangalore.

We all need to stop for a moment and think where are we heading? What is truly the most compassionate way for all of us to move forward? What is truly development? What is freedom? What is the cost we pay in exchange of this lucrative thing we call ‘development’?

Let me take you through a small journey of what I experienced in the little time I got to spend in a lovely village-Marichaguda.

Marichaguda is a Saura (tribe’s name) village nestled between the mountains. Marichaguda is in Rayagada district in Odisha. Marichaguda is the epicenter of a movement that had started around 1936. Most tribal languages don’t have a script. We usually use the script of that of the dominant language of the state we reside in. Saura phonetics are very very different than other Indian languages. No amount of diacritics can capture the nuance of the Saura Language.

Let me give you an example. In Odia (which is the dominant language of Odisha) we have a word ‘ଜଳ’ which means water. In English I would write it as ‘Jala’. Now how does one pronounce this word? We have another word in Odia “ମେଣ୍ଡା” which means sheep. In English I would write it as “Mendha”. Only Odias or people who know Odia will understand how to pronounce it, rest (I am sure of this) will not get it right.

Even though diacritics exist, it really doesn’t capture the nuances, the sweetness of the language. Script is not just a tool/ a dry technical medium to take speech forward. The script, language becomes the identity of a community. People who have their scripts should preserve, read, write and promote their scripts.

The Saura worship their script. They believe in knowledge that takes the form of speech, thought and script. All these Saura people – young, old, men, women were coming back after offering from their shrine dedicated to their script. Their shrine is the abode where the script was first found – a stone inscription where there are 24 letters and 10 digits. Every Saura village has a shrine dedicated to their script.

Yesterday, people sang and danced. They prayed that their script remains forever. These small babies held my hand and told that they wanted to sing.

This small girl is carrying the script god on her head. She took it to every house in the village. In every house her feet is washed, flowers are offered, incense sticks are lit and prayers are offered to the script god. While the script god is carried around, people gather, do kirtan (chanting of prayers, singing songs, dancing) and go behind the kids. Every Thursday, every Saura village does this beautiful ritual – offer prayers, reverence, sing songs, dance, and remind every Saura what their script means to them.

More power to kids who want to take their communities forward. More power to people who make art, music, dance, tell stories, write poems. More strength to every little child, more strength to friendship between all of us. More strength to the youth and the old. More strength to people to be together in happiness and more together in difficult times. More strength to people who work together. More strengths to our mothers, our fathers. When people stand together, there is no force on earth that would not align.

Saura’s culture will live through our bodies, our speech, our thoughts, our script.

This is a force that will not be bound. Limsi, Limtaam!

Sony Salma Priyadarshini UX/UI Designer, Almuni IIT Bombay

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