At the Great Wall and other monuments, an enduring testimony that Nepal’s Ranjana alphabet spread to China with Buddhism
At the base of the Great Wall is an arch built in 1345 and inscribed with Buddhist sutras in six languages: Mandarin, Tibetan, Uyghur, Mongolian, Tangut and Sanskrit. Kublai Khan and his descendants had to pass under the script of the Buddhist scriptures when they visited nearby temples.
What is surprising is that the Sanskrit lines inside the arch are not in the usual Devanagari letters, but in the Ranjana script that originated in Kathmandu Valley.
Ranjana is called ‘Landzha’ in Mandarin, and can be found in religious monuments across Tibet and China, having travelled with the spread of Mahayana Buddhism, whose main texts including the Pragya Paramita are written in Ranjana.
Many sects of Buddhism had already spread to China through Central and South Asia more than 2,000 years ago, but they were overlaid by Mahayana Buddhism after Princess Bhrikuti took the sect to Tibet in the 7th century from Kathmandu Valley.
The Ranjana alphabet was derived from the Brahmi script and originally developed in Nepal in the 11th century, which is why some say it should be called the ‘Nepali script’.
“In Nepal the Brahmi developed into the Lichhavi script, which further was transformed to Ranjana,” says Devdas Manandhar, a forceful proponent for the preservation of Ranjana. “The Lichhavi script was uniquely Nepali and has a very distinctive way of writing the vowel ‘ae’ which carried over to Ranjana.”