By: Ibrahim

Khojki, Khwaja Sindhi, Chali Akhari or Khwajki Sindhi Surat Khat is a traditional script of the Ismailis of Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. It was originated most probably in Sind, then it spread in other parts of India. It is also said that it was an earliest script for writing Sindhi. The Indian tradition has it that it was invented by Pir Sadruddin (1300-1416), who mostly converted the Hindu Lohana caste.

Dr. F. A. Khan excavated some potsherds in 1958 at Bhambhore, about 40 miles east of Karachi, which contain inscriptions of proto-Nagari of 8th century. These inscriptions are very akin to the Khojki script. The origin of the Sindhi dialect appears to be lost in the obscurity of antiquity, but there are ample reasons to believe that it is an oldest tongue of Indo-Pakistan. The Arab travellers have mentioned that the inhabitants of Sind had different scripts for writing. Ibn Nadim (d. 385/995) in Kitaba al-Fihrist gives a report of 100 different scripts employed in the region. Al-Biruni (973-1048) visited Sind and Hind in 1017 and 1030, and describes in his Kitab al-Hind that there were 11 scripts in India, out of which there were three scripts prevalent in Sind, namely Ardhanagri, Sindhu and Malwari. Ibn Hawqal of 10th century also writes in Kitab Surat al-Arad that the languages spoken in Sind were Arabic and Sindhi, but it is not known in which script the Sindhi was written. Through a substantial portion of history the Sindhi was an oral in character. For writing the Sindhi, the Muslims employed a modification of the Perso-Arabic alphabets, while the Hindu employed the Landa or clipped alphabet. Landa was also known as Baniya or Waniko, i.e. mercantile in Sind. Richard F. Burton writes in his Sindh and the Races that inhabit the Valley of the Indus (Karachi, 1975, p. 152) that, "Characters in which the Sindhi tongue is written are very numerous. Besides the Moslem varieties of the Semitic alphabet, there are no less than eight different alphabets." Among the various alphabets in use for Sindhi, he mentioned their names including the alphabet of Khwajah tribe (or Khojki). Captain George Stack in his Grammar of the Sindhi Language (Bombay, 1850) tabulated 14 scripts, including Khojki, which were in use for writing Sindhi. In sum, Khojki represents an earliest form of written Sindhi.

The models of proto-Nagari script unearthed in Bhambhore also bear considerable resemblance with the Lohanki script, which was used for the purpose of commerce by the Hindu Lohana. Lohanki was also known as Wannaki and Thakuri. Lari was one another script in usage in lower Sind having resemblance of the Lohanki.

When the Hindu Lohana became Muslims by the Ismaili preachers, the religious literature or the ginans were written in Lohanki. Henceforward, the Hindu Lohanki became known as the Khojki. It seems that the form of the old Lohanki script was altered when it became Khojki among the Khoja Ismailis. On the other hand, the Hindu Lohanas, known as Thakur or Thakkar, who were not converted, retained their old Lohanki or the Thakuri script with them. The script of the converted Lohanas or the Khoja Ismailis later became known as the Khojki in another refined form. Edward Balfour also admits the invention of this written character among the Khoja Ismailis.

The term Khojki does not occur in the ginans, which implies that its coinage came in later time. The term Khawajgi however is found in the beginning of the 12th century from a Persian poetry of Anwari (d. 1189) in the meaning of a trader or merchant.

The original homeland of Khojki was Sind. It exercised a role of keeping the religious literature in secret and was available only within the circle of adherents. We have little textual and historical evidence of its evolution. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were special important in the history of Khojki with the advent of the printing press, such as Ghulam-i Hussain Chhapakhana at Kandi Molla, Bombay started printing in 1886. Later, Mukhi Laljibhai Devraj (d. 1930) introduced the Khoja Sindhi Press in Bombay in 1910. He had gone to Germany for preparing the letters of Khojki. It was the first official press for Khojki, in which a large number of texts, mostly ginans and farmans were printed.

Khojki was regularly taught in the religious school, known as the Sindhi Schools in Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. It had been removed from the religious centers in 1975. The scholars working on the ginans however learn Khojki privately to study the old manuscripts of the ginans.

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Mumtaz Ali Tajddin S. Ali is an popular Ismaili Scholar, He has written many articles on Ismaili Imam, Ismailism, and Khojki from Ismaili Blog.

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