Archaeology and Vaishnava Tradition, Part Eleven


Red Sandstone, Mathura, 5th c.

Jan 03, 2011 — CANADA (SUN) — Part Eleven of a monograph by Ramaprasad Chanda, published by the Archaeological Survey of India, 1998.


Our last document throwing light on another phase of the early history of Vaishnavism is a fragmentary stone inscription of the time of the Mahakshatrapa Sodasa that relates to the great place (Mahastana) of Bhagavat Vasudeva, evidently at Mathura. It is incised on the side of a carved door jamb of red sandstone now in the Mathura Museum of Archeology (8' by 8" by 1' 3").

The inscription probably consisted of twelve lines, of which the first 5 lines containing the name of the donor are defaced; and each line consisted of 9 to 11 aksharas (letters) of which four to five aksharas are missing.

From a close examination of the stone it appears to me that the epigraph was originally incised on a square pillar each side of which measured about 1' 4" and which was afterwards cut lengthwise through the inscribed side into two halves and turned into carved door jambs. For there is no other way of explaining the occurrence of this fragmentary inscription on that side of a door jamb that is built up with the wall.

Doorjamb inscription recording the erection of Vasudeva's temple at Mathura

According to Rai Bahadur Pandit Radha Krishna, Honorary Curator of the Mathura Museum of Archaeology, this stone was dug out of an old well in the Mathura (Muttra) Cantonments in 1913. The inscription is briefly noticed in the Annual Progress Report of the Superintendent, Hindu and Buddhist Monuments, Northern Circle, for the year ending 31st March, 1917, p. 10. I am now able to edit it through the kindness of Dr. D.B. Spooner, Officiating Director-General of Archaeology in India, and Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sabni, Officiating Superintendent of Hindu and Buddhist Monuments, Northern Circle.

The characters of this fragment resemble the characters of the other known inscriptions of the time of the great Satrap Sodasa the Mora inscription (Luders' List, No. 14), the Mathura Jaina inscription on sculptured stone-slab of the year 72 (Luders' List, No. 59), and the Mathura Jail mound stone inscription (Ep. Ind., Vol. IX, p. 247).

The test letters ya consisting of nearly a semicircle bisected by a short vertical line and na with straight base-line indicate that the inscriptions of the time of Sodasa must be assigned to an earlier age than those of the time of Kanishka. Though scholars differ widely relating to the date of Kanishka, no one has assigned Sodasa to a later epoch than the first quarter of the first century A.D. [1] The language of our fragment resembles the sort of Sanskrit used in the Mathura Jail mount stone inscription.


    6. vasuna Bhagava ...
    7. vasya Mahasthana ...
    8. lam toranam ve .
    9. shthapito prito[bha]
    10. devah svami[sya]
    11. pasya Soda[sa]
    12. samyartayatam.


In line 10 svamisya is quite clear and so is Sodasa in line 11. From the published Mathura inscriptions of the time of Sodasa referred to above we know that the word that must have intervened between svamisya and Sodasa[sya] is mahakshatrapasya of which -pasya occurs in the beginning of line 11. So Mahakshatra should be restored at the end of line 10. This indicates that 4 to 5 letters occurred in each line of the missing portion of the inscription, and the restoration of these missing letters of the other lines may also be attempted.

The sya of vasya in the beginning of line 7 is evidently the genetive termination of the name of a deity qualified by bhagava so to should be restored after bhagava.

The va of vasya indicates that the name of the deity must have ended in deva and so by restoring de at the end of line 7 we obtain bhagavato devasya with in intervening space for two aksharas belonging to the name of the deity. The two aksharas that fit in here best are va su and we may restore the name as (*Vasude)vasya.

Va su should also be restored before devah with which the following line opens, for in line 9 prito was evidently followed by bhavatu, the first akshara of which word, bha, is still discernible on the stone.

The find place of the stone (Mathura) renders the restoration of the name of the Bhagavat of the inscription as Vasudeva unavoidable.

If it may be assumed that the monument to which this inscribed red sandstone pillar originally belonged stood at Mathura and the occurrence of the name of the Mahakshatrapa Sodasa strengthens this assumption the Bhagavat whose 'mahasthana' is at Mathura can be no other than Vasudeva.


[1] Memoirs A.S.I., No. I


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