Institute of Ismaili Studies, UK
From manuscripts to printed texts: the evolution of Khojki script and literary production
Khojki is the name employed for a script that was long in use among the Khojas (and other affiliated groups) of South Asia to disseminate their religious and literary works in written form. Originally a shorthand mercantile script, connected to a larger group of proto-Nagari scripts prevalent in north-western India, its adoption by the Khojas for the purpose of literary expression forms a fascinating chapter in the history of how ‘caste’ based scripts were developed to suit the literary, religious and other needs of a particular religious tradition. The history of literary production in Khojki script (based on known evidence) spans a period from early eighteenth century to the second half of the twentieth century. However, there is substantial circumstantial evidence to suggest that the script had been in use long before early eighteenth century. During this period, literary and religious works in Khojki were transmitted through manuscripts, lithography and printed texts in languages as diverse as Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, Sindhi, Arabic and Persian. Despite this rich and multi-layered history of textual production in Khojki, there have been hardly any systematic attempts to understand the nature of Khojki literary materials transmitted through these modes of dissemination. This paper will examine and compare the stylistic, linguistic, and aesthetic features of Khojki literary production transmitted through manuscripts, lithography, and print forms. It will discuss how the scribes, editors, and printers dealt with the issues of transcription, phonetics, and aesthetic rendition of textual material composed in diverse languages, and the challenges they faced in this process. The paper will also discuss some potential reasons behind the eventual disappearance of literary production in Khojki script.
Wafi Momin holds a doctorate in South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. His doctoral dissertation examined the formation of the Satpanth Ismaili tradition in South Asia. He is Head of Ismaili Special Collections Unit at the Institute of Ismaili Studies, and in this role he has the overall responsibility for the Institute’s collections of special materials, their development, preservation, as well as to conceptualize and oversee research projects and educational activities pertaining to these materials.