Ol Chiki is alphabetic, and does not share any of the syllabic properties of the other Indic scripts. It contains 30 letters and five basic diacritics. It has 6 basic vowels and additional three vowels are generated using Gahla Tudag. On commenting about Ol Chiki, Norman Zide (1996) observes, “One ingenous – ‘scientific’ and unique feature of Ol Cemet’(Ol Chiki) that certainly increases the efficiency of writing Santali is the deglottalizing ohot’(Ahad). This neatly preserves the morphophonemic relationship between the glottalized and the voiced equivalent:…”
The meaning of “Ol Chiki” is “writing script” for the Santali language. It becomes necessary here to introduce Santal people to know more about their language “Santali” and its script “Ol Chiki”. Santals are peace loving, sons of the soil of India. They belong to the Pre-Aryan community and the descendants of the great heroes of India like Baba Tilka Majhi, Sido, Kanhu, Chand, Bhairab and others who gallantly fought against the mighty British ruler to get themselves rid of the shackles of exploitation, tyranny, deprivation and oppression. Santal people identify and introduce themselves as Hor (Human Beings) which amply testifies their broad world view. They are the largest linguistic tribal community of India. According to various available sources, their total population is roughly about one crore (ten million). The districts having Santal population are Dhanbad, Dumka, Giridih, Godda, Hazaribagh, Kodarma, Paschim Singhbhum, Purbi Singhbhum and Sahibganj in Jharkhand; Katihar and Purnia in Bihar; Balasore, Bhadrak, Cuttack, Dhenkanal, Keonjhar, Khurda and Mayurbhanj in Orissa; and Bankura, Bardhaman, Birbhum, West Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Malda, Medinipur and Purulia in West Bengal. Besides, Santals are also found in the States of Assam, Tripura and across the border in Bangladesh and Nepal. Literacy among Santals is very low and it varies from State to State. Santals wherever they are either in India or abroad speak a uniform language called “Santali”. The Santali language belongs to the Austric family of the category of Indian languages. Before the invention of the script, the people were using the other scripts viz. Devnagari, Bengali, Oriya, Roman and Assamese depending upon their place of domicile or influence. However, by using these scripts also, they were finding it difficult to express the words correctly while writing as these scripts were inadequate to support the right expression of Santali words. As is being rightly said necessity is the mother of invention, they thoroughly endeavored for better manifestation and their zest for excellence paved the way for the evolution of their own script known as “OL CHIKI”. This historic path breaking invention gave them confidence and also facilitated proper expression of their words while writing. And, Ol Chiki emerged as a beckon of light to inspire and instill a sense of confidence, pride, rejuvenation and solidarity among Santals.
Pandit Raghunath Murmu is the inventor of the “Ol Chiki Script”. On the day of Baishakh Kunami (Purnima) a boy was born in a small village called Dandbose of erstwhile Mayurbhanj princely State (now it is in the Bamanghati sub-division of Mayurbhanj District in Orissa State of India). The boy born on 5th May 1905 was Pandit Raghunath Murmu. Upon completion of his High School education from Baripada High School, he joined as an apprentice in Baripada power house. After completing apprenticeship, he engaged himself in carpet weaving. His novel method of twisting threads and quality of carpets drew visitors. Dr. P. K. Sen, the Dewan of Mayurbhanj State once visited him and persuaded him to pursue further industrial training. He was then sent to Kolkata, Serampore and Goshaba for acquiring technical know how. On return from Kolkata after getting technical training, he was made the advisor of Purna Chandra Industrial Institute at Baripada (Head quarters of Mayurbhanj). Due to increasing family burden after the death of his father Shri Nandlal, he had to proceed to his native place and took charge as the Head Master of “Badam Talia” model School. During this period he wanted to do something for the development of the society and started planning to create the letters for the use of Santali language. After prolonged perseverance and hard work “Ol Chiki” could saw the light of the day during 1935-36. He developed a hand press in order to disseminate and popularize Ol Chiki. Superintendent of Education was impressed by the new invention and on his insistence hand press was displayed in the State Exhibition in February, 1939. His Majesty Purna Chandra Bhanj Deo, the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj was immensely impressed by this invention and permitted him to propagate the use of this script. In 1946 he relinquished the job and dedicated himself for the overall development of the Santal community. He inspired the hitherto million illiterates through his writings. He has to his credit around 157 numbers of manuscripts in the form of novels, drama, poetry, story, grammar and syllabus in Ol Chiki. Some of them have already been published. Widely acclaimed Drama books are “Bidu Chandan” and “Kherwal Bir”. Kherwal Jarpa Samiti, Jamshedpur provided him all kinds of support to get Ol Script in the shape of modern types suitable for use in Printing Press. He got the types cast from Kolkata Swadeshi Type Foundry. Pandit Murmu left for his heavenly abode on 1st day of February, 1982 thus ended a glorious innings of a great thinker, poet, philosopher, writer and social worker. He is remembered as “Guru Gomke” – Revered Teacher among the Adivasis.