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Shankhalipi – Conch-shaped script – Not Deciphered

Shankhalipi is a script with conch-shaped characters. The script is yet to be deciphered. The name Shankhalipi is attributed to the script; the characters used in the inscriptions bear apparent similarity to the shape of a Shankh or conch shell.

Generally, the script has been used along with Brahmi script. It seems that Shankhalipi originated from Brahmi script.

Shankhalipi First Discovered in 1836 on a Trident

The script was discovered in 1836 on a brass trident by James Prinsep. The script was etched on the stem of a brass trident at Barahat in Uttarakhand. The trident also bore a Brahmi inscription of 7th century AD. In 1837, he came across two more similar script at Nagarjuna group of caves in the Barabar Hills near Gaya in southern Bihar.

Shankhalipi Found In These Places

The Allahabad pillar which contains the famous eulogy of Samudragupta, also has some similar letters.

A good number of inscriptions in Shankha script have been found at Akhnoor (Jammu and Kashmir), Sandur (Karnataka), Susunia (West Bengal), and Junagarh (Gujarat).

Three Shankha inscriptions have been found in Java and one in Borneo in Indonesia. An epigraph in the script was found on a boulder together with a Sanskrit inscription referring to two foot prints of King Purnawarman, engraved near the actual representation of the two feet, and has been discovered in the river bed of Ci-Aruton at a place known as Tjampa in Java. This has also not been deciphered.

Etched on

Shankhalipi has been used on stone surfaces, rocks in caves, structural walls, pillars, columns, staircases, sculptures, and terracotta seals, besides on the brass trident referred to above.


The size of the characters in some of the inscriptions is large and occasionally even enormous.


The inscriptions using the script are generally small and consist of four to nine signs, though epigraphs of one to three characters have also been noticed. They may be proper names, religious or ethical formulae or short records.

The script is characterized by a high degree of calligraphic ornamentation.

Certain studies have noticed that shell inscriptions display a great variety:
  • In the degree of ornamentation and flourishes attached to the characters
  • Careful execution of the inscriptions
  • Conch-like shapes and forms of the characters themselves.
Shell inscriptions appear on a number of pillars which bear Ashokan edicts. But since several of these pillars often contain inscriptions of much later dates also, the contemporaneity of the shell inscriptions with Ashokan edicts cannot be vouched for. The same may be said about the shell characters in the Nagarjuna Caves, the walls of which bear not only inscription of the Mauryan King Dasalatha (Dasaratha) but epigraphs of various periods.

By a comparison of the ages of the sites at which the Shankhalipi inscriptions occur, and by their patterns of co-occurrence with the Brahmi inscriptions, it has been ascertained that the period of the use of Shell script as ranging from 350 BC (as per Salomon). Indian scholars like B.N.Mukherjee feels inclined to regard a possible earlier origin for the beginning of this script.

Scholars have tried to decipher shell script. But have not been successful.

In recent years, B.N.Mukherjee has deciphered a shell inscription on the back of a stone horse which had been dug up more than a hundred years ago near an ancient fort of Khairagarh in Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh (now kept in Lucknow Museum).

Source - 

  • Notes taken from Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume IX (IHRF). (page 214 to 215)
  • Mukherjee, B.N. 1981. "The So-called Shell Script - A Note On Its Decipherment'. In Indian Museum Bulletin. Kolkata: Indian Museum