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Early South Indian Palaeography

Early South Indian Palaeography
Item Code: NAJ409
Author: T.V. Mahalingam
Publisher: University of Madras
Language: English
Edition: 2011
Pages: 366
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 9.5 inch X 6.0 inch
weight of the book: 440 gms

This book on early South Indian Palaeography written by Dr. T. V. Mahalingam, Professor of Ancient History and Archaeology in the University of Madras is a definite contribution to the study of original scripts in South India. The book presents in, an interesting form the evolution of early Indian scripts more Particularly of the Tamil country. Strangely enough we owe the beginnings of the scientific study of Indian scripts to European authors, who by their knowledge of India linguistics and palaeography have contributed largely to the understanding of Indian Epigraphy and given an impetus to a study of this subject, In the few centuries before and after the Christian era the Brahmi script was extensively used in inscriptions on rocks, caves, earthenware and coins. Such inscriptions have been found in different places in India and it is only with their actual decipherment that a comparative study of the epigraphs and their languages has become possible. The script on the seals from Mohenjodaro and Harappahas been interpreted in different ways and the great savant Father Heras has sought to read old Tamil in the seals. We have now advanced very much from the days of pictography to the modern alphabets of different languages. I must congratulate Dr. Mahalingam on an exceedingly useful and scientifically accurate publication on Early South Indian Palaeography that he has brought out. He has placed all students of Palaeography under a debt of gratitude.



The history of the study of Indian Palaeograplry is nearly two centuries old, and its commencement synchronised with the foundation of the Asiatic Society in Calcutta by Sir William Jones in 1784. South Indian Palaeography, however, did not receive any attention till the days of Colonel Colin Mackenzie, the Surveyor-General of the British East India Company in South India during the first two decades of the last century and Babington (1828) who prepared a table of letters based on the Sanskrit and Tamil inscriptions at Mamallapuram. In. 1833 Sir Walter Elliot prepared an elaborate table of the earlier forms of the Kannada alphabet, while four years later captain H. Harkness compiled his Ancient and Modem Alphabets of the popular Hindu Languages of the Southern Peninsula of India. But the first systematic work on South Indian Palaeography was done by A. C. Burnell who produced in 1874 a valuable book on the subject Elements of South Indian Palaeography (from 'he 4th to the 14th century A .D.), being an introduction to the study of South Indian inscriptions and manuscripts. In 1896 John George Buhler brought out a monumental work on Iadian Epigraphy called Indische Palaeographie which even now serves as a standard work on the subject. Originally written in German, it was translated into English in Volume XXXIII of the Indian Antiquary J. F. Fleet. He made a comparative study of the different forms which the scripts assumed with the progress of time and was able to "illustrate most of the Indian alphabets by cuttings from facsimiles, instead of hand-drawn signs." He has given in his work considerable apace to the early South Indian scripts and pointed out some of the main differences between the North Indian and South Indian ones. G. H. Ojha's book in Hindi called Bharatiya Praana Lipimala (the Palaeography of Ancient India), published in 1918, contains a short account of the evolution of the South Indian scripts also. Ahmad Hasan Dani's Indian Palaeography (1963) is the latest general book on the subject and deals with the Palaeography of South India also, D. C. Sircar's book, Indian Epigraphy (1964), which is a comprehensive treatment of the subject does not deal with Palaeography which he has promised to bring out in a separate volume. Raj Bali Pandey's Indian Palaeography (1952) which is a general and useful book on the subject does not deal with South Indian Palaeography or Epigraphy.

In 1914 T. A. Gopinatha Rao discussed in the first Volume of the Travancore Archaeological Series the evolution of Palaeography in South India. Later T. N. Subramanyan brought out in Tamil a book (1931) on ancient Tamil scripts ' under the title Pandaittamil E!14ttukka/. C. Sivaramamurti examines in his book Indian Palaeography and South Indian Scripts (1954) the development of each letter with particular reference to its changing shapes. Kannaiyan's South Indian Scripts (1956) is a general work on the evolution of South Indian scripts.

So early as 1883 Burgess wrote: II As applied to Indian inscriptions, comparative palaeography has as yet made little progress towards scientific accuracy, and much has still to be done before we can use the characters of different inscriptions with full confidence as a safe guide to chronology." This observation is still true, though some work on the South Indian inscriptions and their palaeography has been done so far. For such study actual impressions and facsimiles of inscriptions are needed; and the publication of photo copies of some of the South Indian inscriptions in the volumes of the Epigraphia Indica and S0f4th Indian In8criptions has helped to a great extent the study of the evolution of writing in South India.

There have been found so far some sixty label inscriptions in Brahmi characters of the Dravidi type in the districts of Tirunelveli, Madurai, Ramanathapuram, Tiruccirappalli, Coimbatore and North Arcot in the Madras state and Nellore in Andhra Pradesh. They constitute the basic material for a study of South Indian Palaeography in its earliest phases. The first attempt at a study of these inscriptions was made by Venkayya who thought that the natural caverns in which the few inscriptions known then were found were Buddhist and that the language of the inscriptions was Pali. It was between 1907 and 19l8 that more inscriptions of the kind were discovered in different• places in the southern districts of the Madras State by scholars like V. Venkayya, H. Krishna Sastri, K. V. Subramanya Ayyar and Radhakrishna Ayyar. A number of these inscriptions "Were published by H. Krishna Sastri in the Proceedings of the First Oriental Conference (Poona 1919). But a more scientific .and detailed study of the inscriptions was made by K. V. Subramanya Ayyar in the Proceeding' of the Third All- India Oriental Conference (Madras, 1923). Krishna Sastri felt -that the' language of the records was •• early Tamil." After these, a few more inscriptions were discovered and all of them 'Were studied by C. Narayana Rao, who concluded that the language of the records was Paisaci Prakrt.

Casual studies of these inscriptions were made later by 'T. N. Subramanyan in his Pandai Tamil Eluttukkal (1931) and. South Indian Temple Inscriptions-Volume III, pt. II (1957). K. K. Pillay in Tamil Culture (1958), and IKamil Zvelabil in the Archiv Orientalni (1964). But no systematic attempt has been made so far to study all the Brahmi inscriptions in the Tamil country from the point of view of their authors, language, grammar, palaeography and contents. The script of these inscriptions which differs from the Asokan Brahmi in some respects to serve the needs of the language in which the records were -written formed the basis for the development of later South Indian scripts.

Since the main body of the book was printed Sri Iravatham Mahadevan, I. A. S., who has made an independent study of the Brihml inscriptions in the Tamil country, has made available his readings and interpretations of them. But I have not been able to consider them in the present Volume.

The figures given in the book have been taken from Mason's A History of the Art of writing and Diringer's The Alphabet.

I am under obligation to the Archaeological Survey of India for supplying me photographs of the Brahmi inscriptions dealt with in this book and of which they have the copy right. Mr. T. N. Subrahmanyan gave me valuable suggestions and help in my study of the Brahmi inscriptions for which I am very much beholden to him. Dr. N. Subrahmanyam, Reader in Indian History went through a few chapters in the manuscript .and gave me some useful suggestions for which am thankful to him. I am indebted to Sri S, Gurumurthy, M.A., Research Assistant and Sri Y. Subbarayalu, M.A., Research Fellow in the Department for helping me in seeing the work through the Press. Sri Gurumurthy and Sri G. Ramamurthy, M.A., Technical Assistant in the Department, prepared the index for the book for which my thanks are due to them.

Dr. Sir A. L. Mudaliar, Vice-Chancellor of the University was good enough to contribute a foreword for the book for which I am very much beholden to him.

I am grateful to the Vice-Chancellor and Syndicate of the University of Madras for sanctioning the publication of the work as the first one in the Madras University Archaeological Series.




  Foreword v
  Preface vi
  Abbreviations xvi
Chapter I Introductory 1
Appendix Rock Paintings and Engravings in India 40
Chapter II Origin of Writing in India 43
Appendix The Indus Script 87
Chapter III A. Antiquity of Writing in India 97
  B. Antiquity of Writing in South India 110
Chapter IV The Language of the Brahmi Inscriptions 127
Chapter V The Authors of the Inscriptions 161
  Date of Inscriptions 193
Chapter VI The Brahmi Inscriptions in the Tamil Country--  
1 Arittapatti 201
2 Karungalakkudi 212
3 Kilavalavu 214
4 Marugaltalai 219
5 Kongarpuliyankujam 225
6 Vikkiramangalam 232
7 Alagarmalai 236
8 Sittannavasal 245
9 Tirupparankunram 251
10 Siddharmalai 258
11 Muttupatti 267
12 Varicciyur 271
13 Anaimalai 274
14 Pugalur 279
15 Kunnakkudi 285
16 Mamandur 288
17 Araccalur 290
Appendix I Some Inscriptions of the Early Centuries of the Christian Era 299
AppendixII The Brahmi Inscriptions at Malakonda 308
AppendixIII Inscribed Potsherds from Alagarai and Uraiyur 310
AppendixIV List of Tamil Brahmi Inscriptions 312
  Bibliography 315
  Index 325

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