Ol Onal [NEW]

New scripts tend to be the work of individuals, often working alone. Consequently, inventing the script is one challenge; getting it approved and adopted by the language community may be an entirely different matter.

The Ol Onal script for writing the Bhumji language (spoken primarily in the states of Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Assam) circumvented this problem in an unusual, almost unique way: it won a competition.

In 1992, a Bhumij community organization based in Odisha, Adim Bhumij Samaj, held a contest for a new script to be used for writing the Bhumij language. Three different scripts were developed, and eventually the organization approved Ol Onal script by Mahendra Nath Sardar from Mahadevdihi (who was born 1956 and had already been working on the script for some eleven years), and adopted it as an official script for the Bhumij language.

To make matters even more unusual, the script was originally two. In its initial stage, Ol Onal was a casing alphabetical script–that is, it consisted of capital letters called Ol Onal and lowercase letters are known as Galang Onal. Cases turned out to be both unpopular and unnecessary: all the resulting teaching and printed materials in Bhumij were produced using Ol Onal, and over time  Galang Onal fell out of use.

Ol Onal–ol means to draw and onal means a shape or diagram–is also known as Bhumij Lipi or Bhumij Onal. The word Bhumij means “one who is born from the soil.”

Teaching the script–always a significant challenge–has been taken on by a range of agencies, organizations and individuals. The All India Bhumij Education, Social & Cultural Council organizes teaching Ol Onal in schools and runs workshops throughout nearly all Bhumij inhabited districts of Odisha, West Bengal, Assam and Jharkhand.

The Tata Tisco foundation sponsors various Ol Onal learning centres, and the first Bhumij-Ol Onal school opened in Rouanshi, Mayurbhanj, Odisha in 1998. Some of the Bhumij elementary schools in Odisha are run by the state government, and some primary educational materials for teaching Bhumij and Ol Onal are published by various Bhumij associations and individuals.

Ol Onal is used in various religious or ritual purposes of the Bhumij community; various Bhumij associations produce and distribute Ol Onal banners and pamphlets; and Ol Onal is used in inscriptions, wedding invitation cards, and wall paintings.


Gravestone in Odisha. Photo courtesy of Unicode.org.


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