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Message with Long Life: Indian Inscriptions

by Dr. Jyotsna Kamat 
First Online: December 14, 2004
Page Last Updated: January 04, 2018

Inscriptions or ancient writing inscribed on stone, bricks or different metals like gold, silver and copper, form important source of history in India. All these were used to convey an event of a charitable grant by kings and nobles through centuries. Naturally, writings on rocks has survived withstanding vagaries of nature besides some copperplates which were royal grants.

The oldest inscriptions are those of Ashoka Mourya (274-232 B.C) which are scattered throughout the subcontinent and Afghanistan. These (nearly one hundred and sixty of them) convey the message of love, religious tolerance, universal brotherhood etc, the ideals the emperor stood for. His message of dharmavijaya or the conquest through 'virtuous path' avoiding bloody battles was written on huge rocks, pillars and caves on highways, frequented by masses. It also records many philanthropic deeds he performed. The language is Pali and Prakrit and script happen to be regional variation of Brahmi. Those in Afghanistan are in Indo-Aramic script.

Through centuries, many rulers continued to inscribe royal grants and achievements which form landmarks. Allahabad pillar inscription of Samudragupta (340-380 A.D.) gives a long list of kings and their territories he conquered. It gives ancient geographical divisions and localities and dynastic names. Junagadh Rock inscription of the same Gupta times, gives a splendid picture of corporate activities and mobility of guilds (of silk weavers) and their affluence. They undertook the repairs and maintenance of a very ancient big lake.

Kudumiyamalai inscription of Pallava times (7th – 8th century A.D.) contains groups of musical notations for stringed musical instruments, arranged as lessons for students. It was erected by a musician-king who was a pupil of some Rudracharya. The king (name not given) was a devotee of Siva, and wanted to immortalize his Guru, besides providing help to music students.

Some inscriptions corroborate details left by other sources. Aihole inscription of Badami Chalukyan King Pulikeshi II (610-642 A.D.) lists his achievements, besides stating that he defeated king Harshavardhana. Huein Tsang, the Chinese scholar and pilgrim, was Harshavardhana's protégé. But even he could not help mentioning that, though powerful, he could not defeat this king of 'konkanpur' i.e., Pulikeshi II.

Sravanabelgola inscription (1368 A.D.) of king Bukka of Vijayanagar details the religious toleration, the ruler promoted by attending personally to a religious discord. A bitter dispute was going on between the Shrivaishnavas and Jainas for a long time. The king took lead in settling it and issued a proclamation that there was no difference between the two faiths. He put the hands of Jaina leaders and placed them in the hands of Shrivaishnava gurus and made them take oath for protection of both the faiths mutually which was to last 'with sun and moon'.

An inscription of Uttaramerur (Tamilnadu) of Chola times gives details of democratic election of members to village assemblies. The great Brihadishwara temple of Tanjore is provided with numerous inscriptions which gives details of endowments, gifts and temple administration along with the emoluments to staff. The staff numbered thousands.

There are inscriptions big and small. Tens and thousands of them. These help fixing of dates and dynasties. There is a particular order in inscribing a grant. First there is invocation, then comes achievement of rulers, thirdly description of the donor which forms the important historical part. Then comes description of the receiver, individual or institution. This is followed by the details of the gift, land, money, orchard, taxes etc. Finally imprecation for maintenance of the charity-deed is stated.

Copper-plate inscriptions at times turn out to be spurious, because they deal with grant of land. Great care is exercised by epigraphists, to sort out authentic information.

Every now and then, a slab-inscription makes its appearance, especially in South India, while digging a field or renovating an old temple, tank or monument. There are instances of slabs with inscriptions being used for a well or as a washing stone. Credit goes to some archaeologists and epigraphists of bygone days, who have salvaged them for posterity.

Karnataka Itihasa Academy founded in 1986 with Late Prof. G.S. Dikshit as Founder-President, makes positive efforts by conducting seminars, arranging speeches and camps to create awareness about historical importance of these inscriptions and other monuments among the commoners. All the districts of Karnataka have local teachers and volunteers. Examinations are conducted and prizes distributed during a campaign every year under 'Save our Heritage' (Aitihasika Parampare Ulisi).

See Also:

Epigraphic Inscriptions from India
Epigraphic Inscriptions

Illustrated Kannada InscriptionInscription in Kannada Describing a Temple GrantKannada Inscription of BanavasiKannada Copper Inscription
Shasana (Edict) of AmritapurCopper Plates of the Mahale FamilyCopper Plates of the Mahale FamilyCopper Plates of the Mahale Family
Abandoned InscriptionAn Inscription from Shravanabelagola


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