The Sharada script evolved from Gupta Brahmi in the 9th century AD. In its earlier forms it was widespread over the northwest parts of the Indian subcontinent and was the progenitor of the Gurmukhi script, but later it became restricted to Kashmir, where it was the principal means of writing until the 20th century.
There were two main stages in the development of the script; prior to the 13th century an inscriptional form was used, often referred to as 'Sharada proper', which developed into a handwritten form often called 'modern Sharada'. This form was widely used for writing Vedic texts. In the 19th century, a New Testament was printed in the script, however, by the 20th century George Grierson reported that the punches used for producing the font had been sold for waste metal. In the 1950s a Perso-Arabic script was made the official script of Kashmir. Sharada is now only used by Kashmiri Pandits - a Hindu, ethnically Aryan group who inhabited the Kashmiri valley until they were exiled in the 1990s - for religious and ceremonial purposes.
The Sharada script is an abugida written from left to right. There are thirty-four consonant letters, all of which carry the inherent vowel sound [a]. This vowel can be overridden by attaching one of thirteen vowel diacritics to the consonant letter. It can also be suppressed entirely by writing a virama sign to the right of a letter, to represent a word-final consonant or the first consonant in a cluster. Consonant clusters can also be written by stacking letters in a conjunct. Word-initial vowels, which cannot be written attached to a preceding consonant, are written using one of fourteen independent vowel letters.
Visually, the script resembles the Devanagari script, both in the shapes of some letters and in the use of the vertical headstroke which is characteristic of many Brahmi-derived scripts. There are no rules governing the use of the headstroke; some scribes write each letter separately, others use the headstroke to connect some letters, apparently arbitrarily, to those on either side, and others connect all the letters, even across words.
There are a number of non-alphabetic signs which are employed by the Sharada script. Avagraha is used to indicate the omission of a word-final [a]. The Devanagari signs candrabindu and anusvara are used with vowels to represent nasalization, as in many other Indic scripts. Visarga is also used. Decorative marks are sometimes used in handwritten texts to mark the end of a verse or section. There are also two editorial marks resembling a plus sign (+) and a caret ( ) which are used for making annotations, but the exact function of each has not been determined.
Four punctuation signs are used; danda and double danda are used as in Devanagari to indicate pauses in the text, and there are script-specific signs to indicate abbreviation and word boundaries where inter-word spacing is not used. Sharada employs a set of digits 0-9; the set is unusual in that a circle, which represents zero in many decimal number systems, represents one in Sharada.