A script called Tulu is used in Tulunadu for centuries. All Tulu classics discovered recently are in Tulu script, and some in other scripts. This Tulu script was being used by Brahmins. Till recently they were using it for writing Mantras, for accounts etc. Since hundreds of years, Tulu Brahmins were going to Kerala Temples for Agama Sastra rituals. They took the Tulu writing with them to Kerala, thus they carried the Tulu script to Kerala. Malayalam had not developed a script of its own by that time. The upper castes and classes of Keralites started close contacts with the Tulu Brahmins and hence they adopted the Tulu script, and later adopted it to what is now called the Malayalam script. (Reference: 'Tulu -Nadu-Nudi' by P.V. Puninchathaya).
As researches indicate, Tulu as a language branched off from Dravidian language, at least a thousand years earlier to Malayalam. So it is unlikely that a language much younger gave a script to an older language. Actually, probably Malayalam as an independent language was yet to be evolved, when Tulu had its own classical literature. So Tulu could not borrow a Malayalm script, simply because it did not exist. What existed was a Tulu Script, later taken by Malayalam. Another important proof of its antiquity is that the pundits (‘Mattadipatis') use only Tulu for their signature since the beginning of Matta tradition, despite the high status of Sanskrit in Mutts. Neither Sanskrit nor Kannada, but Tulu script is the official script of the Mattas in Tulunadu. Hence, it is a script evolved in Tulu area that was later adopted for Malayalam. Hence it is Tulu script, and not Malayalam script nor Tulu-Malayalam script. To call Tulu script as Malayalam is both wrong and unfortunate.
In the first half of 19th century the German missionaries undertook a renaissance of the language. Unfortunately, they published Tulu literature and materials related to Christianity in the Kannada script as they had established printing presses in that language in Mangalore. In addition the German missionaries also produced Tulu lexicon and Tulu-English dictionary. They are also credited with transcription of Tulu folklore, Tulu proverbs and works on spirit worship in Tulu Nadu. Printing material in the Kannada script led to further disuse of the original Tulu script. By late 19th century Tulu script became remote and was endangered. Today there are no books or literature in the Tulu script and there are only a handful of Tuluvas who can read the script.
The earliest piece of literature, Tulu Mahabharata is from the 15th century written in Tulu script. Another manuscript that was discovered Tulu Devimahatme, a prose work like the Mahabharata, is also from the 15th century. Two epic poems written in 17th century namely Sri Bhagavata and Kaveri has also been found. Madhvacharya’s eight Muttas established in Udupi in the 13th century were centres of Tulu literature during his lifetime and thereafter. However, very little of this has survived. So it is not inconceivable (as it is claimed) that Madhvacharya himself did all his writings in the Tulu script.
The Tulu Dialects
All the classic literatures discovered thus far are written only in one of the four dialects of the language,
- The Brahmin dialect, the dialect spoken by Brahmins in the southern part of Tulu Nadu and is used in these manuscripts. The priests belonged to a sect of Tuluva Brahmins called the Shivalli Brahmins. Tulu script was used by these Brahmins to write mantras. The Brahmin dialect also has imported many Sanskrit words into its dialect and lexicon.
- The Common dialect, which is spoken by the non-Brahmin class, was not used in writings of Tulu. However, the Common dialect is used in many of the folk songs, proverbs and riddles. The folk songs called the Paaddanas are treasures reflective of the rich culture of Tulu Nadu. They also allow a glimpse into the society of Tuluva people. These were never written down and have been passed on through generations as oral traditional songs.
- Jain dialect, Spoken by the Jains in the northern part of Tulu Nadu.
- Tribal dialect, Spoken by tribal people; closely resembles the Common dialect
Research in Tulu language and script has been sorely lacking. In 1856 Robert Caldwell undertook a systematic study of the Tulu language with his monumental work, “A Comparative Grammar of Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages.” Caldwell called Tulu one of the most developed Dravidian languages. In 1872 J. Bigel wrote, “Grammar of The Tulu Language.” Then in the 20th century S. U. Panniyadi and L.V. Ramaswamy Iyer published more books about its grammar. These authors contended that the language was well developed, and was one of the earliest off-shoots of proto-South Dravidian language, with many dialectal variations. Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada also were derived from it, whereas Telugu was derived from proto-Central Dravidian. There is renewed interest in the language as evidenced by the fact that many universities both in India and abroad are promoting more research of Tulu language. Rashtrakavi Govinda Pai Research Center in Udupi has encouraged such research. Dr. D.N. Shankar Bhat and Dr. Padmanabha Kekunnaya have been doing commendable, ongoing research in the field.
Tulu is now disappearing in Tulu country and has established itself in Kerala. This, like many, is a paradox. So Tulu script has become a daughter of the in laws, and in-law of the motherland. The use of Kannada for Tulu is the reason for this peculiar situation. The modern Tulu writings are using Kannada script. So it is natural that Tulu script is not likely to be revived for writing Tulu.
After all people from somewhere else came here and did study of Tulu Language and culture, and got doctorate for their findings and studies and some of our people also have contributed a lot. So being from Tulunadu one should at least know about their language, its history and who and all have contributed to its study and growth. This is my little effort in that direction. Many books and web resources have been referred for writing this article, hope this gives you a detailed picture of Tulu language, if so my effort is worth.
• The Tulu Script
• Tulu Language: Its Script and Dialects
• Recognition for Tulu