Modi Script: The oldest surviving Cursive Script

Modi and Balbodh (Devanagari) are the two scripts used to write the Marathi language. Among these two Modi scripts is the oldest and was prevalent until 20th century. It is a cursive script and designed for minimizing the lifting of pen from paper while writing.

There are many theories about the origin of Modi script and one of them is 13th century administration of Yadva Dynasty. From the 13th century to until 20th century Modi script was widely used.

Hemadri Pandit was the prime minister (1259 to 1274 C.E) in the empire of Seuna Yadav Dynasty of Devagiri. He is credited with inventing the Modi script for use in administrative work. Another theory suggests that Hemadri Pandit brought the Modi script from Sri Lanka to India and started its use in administration. The use of Modi has decreased since the independence of India, now the Balbodh style of Devanagari is the primary script used to write Marathi.

The shapes of some consonants, vowels, and vowel signs are similar to Balbodh script (ex. भ, घ, त,क्ष) Modi script differs considerably from Balbodh in terms of letterforms, rendering behaviors, and orthography. One characteristic feature of Modi script is its cursive nature. There are few fonts available for typing in Modi Script. Most documents in Modi script are handwritten and oldest of them are preserved at Bharat Itihas Sanshodhan Mandal (BISM) Pune.

In recent days local government bodies in Maharashtra had some difficulty in interpretation of old land records in Modi language. In British India, the printing machines were developed in large scale. The typesetting for Modi script was difficult so the printing in Devnagri script was done on a large scale which was easy for typesetting. Because of this printing revolution, the use of Modi script was discouraged and gradually it became out of use. During the rule of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the Modi script was used mainly for commercial documents.

The largest numbers of old documents in Modi script are at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Maharashtra government has assigned the task of developing the Modi script to C-DAC. The monthly Pune-based newspaper Vasundhara Vrutta is the only newspaper published in Modi script.

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