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A number of inscriptions found in India, as well as in Java and Borneo, are referred to as being in the Sankhalipi "shell script", so called because of the use of ornamental spiral flourishes resembling a conch shell (shankha).

These are all short inscriptions and hence the decipherment has been an enigma. This script is assumed to be a Brahmi derivative, and a few claims to its decipherment have been made. Salomon observed that if it is Brahmi-derived, it has diverged so far from the normal pattern as to be effectively a new script family.[1]

Prof. B.N. Mukherjee proposed his decipherment based on a few key inscriptions, and has suggested that the ornamental characters are often rotated.[2] The volume edited by Dr. R.K. Sharma includes a number of inscriptions that have been deciphered using B.N. Mukherjee's approach. Most of the Sankhalipi inscriptions are from the Gupta Empire period and are names of individuals, akin to ornamental signatures, although some predate the Gupta period.

Richard Salomon had been initially critical of B.N. Mukherjee's decipherment.[3]

In Candi of Indonesia, Shell script or sankhalipi show the relationship of the transmission of Tantra, Vajrayana and Ganachakra to Java.

The ornamental version of Arabic, termed Thuluth, originating in 11th century, incorporates similar features of ornamental flourishes and overlapping letters.


  1. [1]
  2. Dr. R.K. Sharma. (1990). Studies in Shell Script (Ed.) (Delhi, 1990)
  3. A Recent Claim to Decipherment of the "Shell Script", Richard Salomon Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 107, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1987), pp. 313-315, American Oriental Society, Stable URL: