Managing India's Sanskrit and Dravidian Epigraphs



Inscription, Thanjavur temple, Tamil Nadu

Dec 06, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) —

Archaeological Survey of India's Epigraphy Branch

In 1861, the Archaeological Survey of India was established by the Government of India to survey, study and help protect ancient monuments. Over the years, the Sampradaya Sun has featured many stories and news reports about the ASI's activities, and we are always appreciative of the focus ASI efforts bring to the importance of preserving Vaisnava shrines.

One key area of the ASI's work is the field of epigraphical research and preservation. Epigraphs are inscribed into countless thousands of temples and monument ruins across India, with passages that memorialize their construction and renovation dates, financial donors, presiding deities and the devotees who served them, and bequests to and from the temple and deities, brahmanas and local citizens.

As the ASI's Epigraphy Branch describes their mandate, "The Government felt that in order to properly reconstruct the Indian History, which depended for its major part on the Epigraphs engraved in different parts of the country, a separate wing for Epigraphical research was necessary. Thus in the year 1886, Office of the Epigraphist to the Government, Archaeological Survey of India, came into existence in Bangalore with Dr. E. Hultzsch as the head of this office. Subsequently the office was shifted to Ootacamund in the year 1903. It was redesignated as the Office of the Chief Epigraphist in 1963. Later on, in the year 1966 the office was shifted from Ooty to Mysore. Presently this office is known as Office of the Director (Epigraphy).

In the year 1990, two zonal offices were established, one at Jhansi (which is now functioning from Lucknow) and another at Chennai in order to undertake a systematic survey of the inscriptions. The Directorate of Epigraphy with its headquarters at Mysore has been coordinating the work of collection of inscriptions and their listing for the Annual Reports on Indian Epigraphy in respect of all the three offices.

9th Century Kannada Inscription
Navalinga Temple - Kuknur, Karnataka

Activities of the Epigraphy Branch

The Epigraphy Branch of the A.S.I. is primarily engaged in visiting different parts of the country, copying inscriptions, deciphering, transcribing and listing them in the Annual Report on Indian Epigraphy. Some important inscriptions from the collection are critically edited in another publication of the Branch called Epigraphia Indica. Inscriptions copied from South India have been edited in the South Indian Inscriptions volumes. Inscriptions of particular dynasties are edited in the Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum volumes. These publications mainly constitute the source material for the reconstruction of our history.

Technical staff of this branch are also engaged in delivering lectures to the students of the Institute of Archaeology, ASI, New Delhi and other academic organizations. They regularly attend the seminars and conferences on Epigraphy and allied subjects and present valuable research papers. They also contribute research articles to various journals, felicitation/commemoration volumes. They also help the research scholars visiting this office in their academic work. Photographs of the published inscriptions and copies of transcripts are provided to the scholars on request. This office houses a rich library containing rare and old books on Indology in general and Epigraphy in particular. Several scholars from India and abroad make use of this library for their research work. Publications of this Branch are made available for sale in this office.

Of late, under the Cultural Awareness Programme of the Govt. of India, this office is organizing Epigraphical Photo-Exhibition at different places to create awareness among the general public and the student community about the rich cultural heritage of our country. These programmes have been very successful and our office is receiving very good response from the general public and the educational institutions as well."

Epigraphical Discoveries

In recent years, there have been a great many important discoveries uncovered during the ASI's epigraphical surveys, and these help us to understand the socio-economic, political and religious aspects of India's history. Just a few interesting examples follow:


This pillar inscription in Prakrit language and Brahmi characters of the 2nd-3rd century A.D., brought to light during the excavation by the State Department of Archaeology and Museums, is now preserved in their store-house at Phanigiri. It records the installation of a chakra (dharmachakra) at Sadhivihra monastery and registers a number of gifts in the form of land, cows, etc., by Vinayadhara Dhammashna along with his elder brothers, Budhisiri and Dhammasiri, certain other members of the family, friends and relatives. Further, it records the gift of 4 kahapana (gold coins) probably for a perpetual lamp by monks (bhikhusagha). And it also refers to a mahnavakamika (chief superintendent of works), a mahadanan'yaka and an achariya (sculptor).


This pillar inscription in Sanskrit and Prakrit languages and Brahmi characters of the 4th century A.D. is now preserved in the storehouse at Phanigiri. It belongs to the Ikshvaku king Rudrapurushadatta and was issued in his 18th regnal year. The inscription contains four verses in adoration of lord Buddha. The discovery of this inscription is important for the history of the Ikshvaku dynasty, as the regnal year mentioned in this inscription extends the reigning period of the king by seven years, i.e. from 11th to 18th year. This inscription records the erection of a pillar containing the dharmachakra by the Chief Physician (aggrabhishaj) of the king.


This inscription is fixed on the gateway of the Hayagriva-Madhava temple in Hajo. The record is executed in Řaka 1602 (1780 A.D.) and is written in Assamese characters and language. It states that one Ramjay Rajkhow', the son of Paniphukan and grandson of Phul-Barua dedicated the services of three persons, achara, sonphuli and medhacharan to the temple of Madhava after making payment of Rupees sixty per each person.


This Kannada inscription engraved on a stone kept by the side of the Hanuman temple belongs to the reign of Vdra-Ball. Dated in Řaka 1254 (1332 A.D.), it registers the grant of lands for the food-offerings to god Somanathadeva by the mahajanas.


This copper-plate inscription in Sanskrit language and Nandi Nagari characters was found inside a well. It belongs to the reign of the Vijayanagara king Krishnadvaraya and dated in Řaka 1450 (1528 A.D.). It records the gift of land to the brahmanas belonging to different gotras by the king. The villages Somanathapura, Hanumanahali, Bommanahali and Hosahali formed the boundaries (chatussam) of the gift-land.


This set of three copper plates, now preserved at Orissa State Archaeology Musuem in Bhubaneswar, is in Sanskrit language and Southern characters. It belongs to the Avotaka Ganga king Anantavarman (c. 8th century A.D.). It was issued from the capital town of Avotaka. It records the gift of four plots of land together with homestead lands situated in the northwest of the village Bhullavanika in the Hevakamanamva-vishaya to four brahmanas, Vinayakasvami, Narayanasvami, Dugurllasvami and Sarvvasvami, belonging to different gotras.


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