Extract: This unique manuscript provides a list of ‘Names of Buddhist Monasteries situated within the domain of Nepal’, as its title states. Eighty-five sites are documented, written in Devanagari script in three columns: Sanskrit name – identity of main image – Newar name. […] The manuscript was written for Sylvain Lévi by the Newar Buddhist pundit Siddhiharṣa Vajrācārya (1879–1952), according to its colophon. Most likely it was produced in 1922, a year when Lévi mentions meeting with Siddhiharṣa [1929:37] as he gathered manuscripts and visited monasteries on his second trip to Nepal. […]
On April 25, 2015, just before midday local time, the Nepalese Himalayas was struck by an earthquake of magnitude ≥ 7.8. Its epicentral region was located about 80km west of Kathmandu, but the many aftershocks have been clustered around the Valley, shifting an entire region. At least ten thousand lives were lost or injured as a result. This horrific calamity was not caused by divine retribution, but rather by collisions occurring, with some predictability, between the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates. Several M ≥ 5 aftershocks are expected, with a greater than 50% chance of an M ≥ 6 aftershock, in the coming months (Source: USGS).
Such widely felt effects, together with the increasing pervasion of social media, are generating an unprecedented flow of data. Making sense of it is difficult for people in the midst of the crisis, let alone those on the outside — though there are some worthy efforts (*). Many call for more aid, but some say there is too much. On live television, it seems to be business as usual in the Kathmandu Valley. However, the normality orchestrated on TV reveals nothing of the disruptions likely to come: critical shortages of manpower, water, fuel and electricity, failures of agriculture and transport, debilitated families, missionary predation, ever-growing dependence on foreigners.
The situation in the Valley — since it’s what I know, it’s the part I can assess — now seems to be as follows. In the Durbar Square of Lalitpur, the Jagannarayan and Hari Shankar temples have fully collapsed. Hiraṇyavarṇa-mahāvihāra, the Golden Temple, is undamaged. There is widespread damage in Bungamati, with Amarāvati-mahāvihāra mandir laid waste. The chariot of Karuṇāmaya (‘Macchendranath’), now on its twelve-year yātrā, has been hit. In Kathmandu Durbar square, Kasthamandap, Maju Dega, Kam Dev temple and Trailokya Mohan Narayan temple were destroyed; the Kumari House stands unaffected. Kalmochan temple at Thapathali and Bhimsen Tower, a.k.a. Dharahara, have fallen down. The Swayambhu caitya has not been obviously affected, though some surrounding buildings, including the Pratappur temple, are shattered. Although a hairline crack has appeared in the Bodhnath stūpa it remains intact, apart from a collapsed stūpa on its periphery (misleadingly photographed in front of the main structure).
Today nobody knows how much is being stolen from heritage sites. While UNESCO has funds to hire security, and jurisdiction over the entire Valley, the Kathmandu office says it can only work on its database. Fortunately, the job is somehow getting done. The false opposition ‘protect lives, not buildings’ is also getting a lot of airtime. Buildings are there to improve lives (unless built in a failing state). That’s why the displaced people who shivered under tarpaulins for a while have gone back to their homes as fast as they can, in spite of the risks.
The proposition that traditional spaces merely “serve as an anchor for aspiration and memory” and have nothing to do with livelihoods, shelter, storage, commerce, discourse, traffic, and the experience of pleasure and meaning is very mistaken. This damning with faint praise is no ordinary lapse of judgment; the Newars’ spaces seem to incite real unease among those who don’t belong there. This shows that they work as intended, and that their value comprises far more than the sum of their parts. Even in times of weakness, the Kathmandu Valley’s precious urban landscape can resist the neuroses projected onto it from outside. Nonetheless,this priceless quality won’t continue of its own accord. It needs intelligence, attention and work. That is how lives are renewed.
High-quality Devanāgarī fonts suitable for professional typesetting are still hard to come by. One foundry producing fonts to something like the required standard is Pune-based Modular Infotech. They offer true bold faces and true italics. Refer to their specimen (published 2004, but apparently still current):
Since I haven’t used any of Modular Infotech’s fonts at the time of writing – they don’t come cheap – this is not yet a recommendation. Meanwhile, it’s possible to do some limited testing at fonts.com by clicking ‘TRY IT’ and typing a Unicode Devanāgarī string.
Refer to: Anshuman Pandey, ‘N4184 Proposal to Encode the Newar Script in ISO/IEC 10646’, February 29, 2012 [PDF]. Previous discussion: here.
0. On the Name ‘Newar’
The name ‘Newar’ is preferable simply because most other options can be ruled out. ‘Nepalese’ is untenable, because it falsely implies a one-to-one relationship with the present-day nation-state, even though it is accurate within a certain (historically earlier) context. ‘Newari’ is a (now deprecated) name for the language – not the script, nor anything else; ‘Nevārī’ is quite meaningless, except to some Indologists.
The proposal, as I understand it, indeed deals with the Pracalita script, but has enough hooks to allow unification with proposals for other Newar scripts, such as Bhujiṅmola – hence ‘Newar’. (NB: It is not yet clear whether unification with Rañjanā – which is, strictly speaking, Indo-Nepalese, and which has a user base that includes many non-Newars, such as Tibetans – is feasible. In any case, much of the present and previous discussion about the Pracalita script is also applicable to Rañjanā.)
1. Additional Information On Glyph Names
11442 NEWAR FINAL ANUSVARA: Although this mark originates with the m-virāma mark used by East Indian scribes, in Nepal it has multivalent significance and in many contexts has nothing to do with nasalization (often being interchangeable with 1144B NEWAR GAP FILLER). Recommendation: Minimise phonetic/semantic description in favour of graphic description – maybe NEWAR SEMICOLON for want of a better term. Classify under Punctuation or Various Signs.
11443 NEWAR SIDDHI = शुभचिं (Shrestha NS 1132:21). There is no uniform name for this mark in Newar (esp. not the neologism bhiṃciṃ), nor is siddhi/añji recommended (not just because this designation is unknown in Nepal, but because usage may also vary; confusion with NEWAR OM is common). Recommendation: NEWAR AUSPICIOUSNESS MARK or similar.
11449 NEWAR DOUBLE COMMA: I now think this mark can be represented with two adjacent NEWAR COMMAs. Its usual behaviour of stacking diagonally (see Fig.3) rather than horizontally should however be specified. Recommendation: Remove from the repertoire.
1144B NEWAR HIGH SPACING DOT = अल्पविराम (ibid.).
1144C NEWAR ABBREVIATION SIGN CIRCLE = संक्षेपीकरण यानाः च्वयातःगु थासय् थुगु चिं (ibid.).
1145C NEWAR PLACEHOLDER MARK is the line-width equivalent of the NEWAR GAP FILLER (see below). Recommendation: Change name to NEWAR LINE FILLER MARK.
2. Morphology of the Gap Filler Mark
Following comments on earlier drafts of N4184, especially those of Kashinath Tamot, it should be clarified that the primary function of 1144B NEWAR GAP FILLER is not that of indicating a break in a word (as per the previous name SANDHI MARK), but rather of filling space up to the end of a line margin. (A hyphen indeed performs a space-filling operation as well as functioning as a word-breaking mark. However, I suggest that ‘hyphenation’ be dropped from the formal description of this mark to avoid confusion.)
The purpose of this mark has been obvious enough to specialists – recently see, e.g. Ishida (2011:ix), where it is called a ‘line-filler character’, Zeilenfüllzeichen. (In fact, this mark does not fill a line – this is the function of 1145C NEWAR PLACEHOLDER MARK; rather, it fills a space of less than one full glyph-width at the end of a margin, not necessarily the end of a line.) Nonetheless, it is easily seen that the mark could be confused with, e.g., a visarga, daṇḍa or similar. In earlier discussion on the proposal, its purpose has remained unclear to the user community, perhaps due to its unstable shape. Significantly, the NEWAR GAP FILLER MARK changes according to the width of the glyph. Its behaviour may be represented as follows:
Variations in this mark may therefore be regarded as contextual alternatives, rather than separate code points. I suggest, as per the diagram, that no more than three variants need be represented; although the glyph could conceivably incorporate four or more variations (e.g., five vertically stacked dots, at 20% character width), this is probably excessive.
Recommendation: It may be implemented as one code point with contextual alternates, or 3 or more code points corresponding to each quantum of width.
3. Swash Forms
Several glyphs may be alternatively represented with swash forms, created by extending elements of the glyph into surrounding white space. These forms do not require dedicated representation in an encoded repertoire; however, they should be included in any full description of Indo-Newar scribal culture, and font designers might want to incorporate them. Swash forms are often contextually invoked: they are used at the top line of a block of text (upward extension), but may also be seen on the bottom line (downward extension), and even more rarely at the right and left margins, and within interlinear white space. An example:
Characters routinely represented as swash forms include:
11402 NEWAR LETTER I, 11403 NEWAR LETTER II, (subscribed) 11417 NEWAR LETTER NYA, 1141D NEWAR LETTER TA, 11423 NEWAR LETTER PHA, 11425 NEWAR LETTER BHA, 11429 NEWAR LETTER LA, 1142D NEWAR LETTER SA, 1142E NEWAR LETTER HA, 1143C NEWAR SIGN VIRAMA – downward extension.
4. Revisions To Standard Forms
The following changes to standard forms are recommended – see glyphs highlighted in Fig.3, in which all glyphs have been redrawn from scratch to accord with common scribal practice. The most widespread change is that the headstroke no longer extends past the right descender (which is inconsistent with almost all scribal practice). Standard forms for VOCALIC R, VOCALIC RR, GA, SHA, dependent VOWEL SIGN II, VOCALIC R, VOCALIC RR as well as *VOCALIC L, VOCALIC LL (these should certainly be specified and named) should be altered accordingly. DIGIT ONE should also be changed in order to avoid confusion with SIDDHI.
5. Some Remaining Questions
5.2 Letter-Numerals: “There are at least 27 such Newar ‘letter numerals’… It may be possible to unify Newar letter-numbers with corresponding Brahmi characters.” The issue here, as far as I can see, is: which letter-numeral conjuncts differ from non-numeral conjuncts of the same letters (all differences should be specified). To put it another way: which letter-numeral conjuncts uniquely signify letter numerals, if any? Perhaps our European colleagues, with their extensive access to funding, institutional support and manuscript sources, could clarify the matter. (Don’t worry, we won’t hold our breath.)
5.3 “Should editorial marks be encoded on a per script basis or would be it reasonable to unify such marks in a pan-Indic block?” (Pandey 2012:13). Out of our hands, but if they aren’t unified, they should be included in the Newar block.
Recent discussion on the proposed Newar Unicode codeblock has been met with silence (signifying disinterest, ignorance, or unqualified approval – or all three, one must assume). Those who did more than glance at the discussion would have been aware that that several areas of the Unicode codespace are expanding rapidly, many of which are going to infringe upon a far wider chunk of Asianists’ and philologists’ territories. In an age of character-constrained discourse, when just a few letters can reveal something important about you – OMG!* – and a picture tells the thousand words you don’t have the time to text, demand for emoticons, emoji and pictographs soars.
The Asian Classics Input Project recently announced the “complete distribution of the long awaited Kangyur (བཀའ་འགྱུར་) and Tengyur (བསྟན་འགྱུར་) etext collections in Tibetan unicode script”. Big up to the ACIP: this is quite an achievement. It’s old news for some, but when I recently asked some colleagues about this, none had any inkling that etexts of the full bKa’ ’gyur were available.
Using the ACIP etexts requires working in Tibetan script and registration — the latter possibly encouraging lying (it’s doubtful that most registrants will have anything like formal permission to read the entire tantric corpus).
However, there is alternative online access to the same body of scripture — though not necessarily the same electronic corpus (THL’s bKa’ ’gyur is specified as sDe dge, rather than ACIP’s Lha sa) — at the Tibetan and Himalayan Library: http://www.thlib.org/encyclopedias/literary/canons/kt/catalog.php#cat=d/k. Type Wylie or Tibetan Unicode text in the search box and you’re away. (Thanks to J.)
Your comments are invited on a proposal to encode the script ‘prevalent’/’in vogue’ (pracalita) in Nepal since the late fourteenth century, and which since the Shah period has continued in use in the scribal and print culture of the Newars. The proposal under discussion was submitted a month ago by Anshuman Pandey to the international standards body for character sets, WG2 under JTC1 of the ISO. Download it here:
Anshuman Pandey. ‘Proposal to Encode the Newar Script in ISO/IEC 10646’. ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 proposal N4184 [PDF]. January 5, 2012. [Supersedes N4038, ‘Preliminary Proposal to Encode the Prachalit Nepal Script’]
Anyone can submit a proposal for consideration by WG2. However, this is not a trivial process; documents need to comply with the group’s requirements, and if I observe correctly, there are very few competing complete proposals for historic scripts. No proposal has come from the Nepalese government, Newar culture having little, if any, official status in the Shah and post-Shah nation-state. The proposal under discussion (hereafter “N4184”) is that of a private individual, in collaboration with the Script Encoding Initiative at Berkeley. Mr. Pandey has graciously agreed to consider informed feedback on his proposal, which I hope will be incorporated into future documents submitted to WG2. It is in this constructive spirit that your feedback is requested; anyone may add comments via the form the end of this post.
1. Intended scope of these comments: focus on repertoire
The present discussion should focus on the completeness and accuracy of the glyph repertoire represented in the present proposal. Matters such as the proposed name and classification of the script, the description of interaction between glyphs (e.g. conjunct formation, §4.8.1), issues related to other Nepalese or Indic scripts (except where strictly relevant) and so on should notbe discussed here. If there is sufficient interest, these matters can be addressed in separate posting(s). Here I will offer some of my own preliminary, informal feedback on the proposal, on which comments are also welcome.
N4184 aims to “encode a core set of Newar characters” (p.17). This invites the question of how “core” should be defined. I will not discuss this in depth, other to say that the standard should include those characters which are most common and most useful in this form of writing. Specifically, I propose that the characters depicted in Figs.6 and 7 below should be part of the standard. This is the repertoire proposed in N4184: