INSCRIPTIONS OF KARNATAKA
Inscriptions constitute an important source for the reconstruction of the political, social, cultural and linguistic history of a geographical region. They need to be interpreted properly, bearing in mind the fact that they represent the dictums of the royalty. They have been used for other purposes such as propagation of a religion, celebration of an event or an individual, commemoration of the heroic deeds of a warrior or the ‘sacrifice’ made by a woman or a loyal servant.
happens to be one of the most abundant sources of inscriptions in the country.
More than 25000 inscriptions are unearthed so far and the process of discovery
is still on. Kannada, Sanskrit and Prakrit are the three main languages in
which the inscriptions of Karnataka are composed. Other languages are used in
bi-lingual and tri-lingual regions. Kannada inscriptions are found also in
other states of
Epigraphy has had a long and illustrious career in Karnataka. Many scholars trained in this state have achieved national and international reputation.
Col. Colin McKenzi is the first scholar who collected and made a systematic study of Kannada inscriptions during the later part of the eighteenth century. His pioneering work was followed by Walter Elliot, L.D. Barnett, A.C. Burnell, J.F.Fleet, B.L.Rice and Theodre Hope. Indian scholars entered into the fray later and the contributions of scholars such as R.Narasimhachar, M.H. Krishna, N. Lakshminarayana Rao, K.G.Kundanagar, P.B. Desai, B.A. Saletore, G.S. Gai, R.S. Panchamukhi, B.R. Gopal, S. Ritti, K.V. Ramesh and A.V. Narasimhamurthy have worked hard in the task of finding, deciphering, publishing and analyzing the inscriptions of Karnataka. The contribution of M.Chidanada Murthy to the field of cultural analysis of inscriptions is tremendous. Later day scholars like M.M. Kalburgi, R.Sheshashastry, Devarakonda Reddy, Basavaraja Kalgudi, Chennakka Eligar and others have done yeoman work in studying, classifying and analyzing different varieties of inscriptions. Twelve volumes of Epigraphia Carnatica edited by B.L.Rice, (Later editions by the University of Mysore) the volumes of South Indian Inscriptions published by the Archaeological Survey of India, six volumes of Karnataka Inscriptions published by the Kannada Research Institute and the Karnataka University and the nine volumes containing the inscriptions of North Karnataka and Andhrapradesh published by the Kannada University are some of the highly laudable institutional efforts.
The inscriptions of Karnataka are classified on the basis of criteria such as period, region, royal dynasty, language, script and theme. The thematic classification leads to categories such as Gift deed Inscriptions (dAnashAsana), hero stone, (vIragallu) sati stone (mAsti kallu) and nisidige stone.
inscriptional heritage of Karnataka starts with the Rock Edicts of Ashoka
belonging to the 3rd century B.C. These inscriptions composed in the
Prakrit language and written in the Brahmi script are found in various places
of Karnataka such as Brahmagiri,
Siddapura and Jatinga Rameshvara in Chitradurga district, Koppala-Gavimatha in
Koppala district, Udeogolam and Nittur in
The inscriptions found till the 7th century A.D. are few and far between. They belong to the dynasties of sAtavAhana, cuTu, kadamba and ganga. In addition to these, quite a few religious inscriptions are found at Shravanabelagola. Any way, the total number does not exceed 150. ‘Halmidi Inscription’ is the most important in this lot. The inscriptions found at Chandravalli, Malavalli, Banavaasi, Gudnaapura, myAkadONi and the Bhadrabahu inscription at Shravanabelagola are very important, even though they are either bilingual or composed in Sanskrit.
The next stage in the history of Kannada inscriptions is dominated by bAdAmi cAlukya, ganga and Kadamba dynasties. Prakrit had to make way for Sanskrit during this period. Many inscriptions are bilingual and Kannada is used sparingly to document certain details. Particularly, the details relating to land grants are given in Kannada. It is interesting to note that most of the copper plate inscriptions use high flowing Sanskrit and the stone inscriptions have a leaning for Kannada. The Sanskrit inscriptions are much more elaborate when compared to the Kannada ones which are sketchy and confine themselves to minimum information.
Rashtrakuta dynasty has created a number of inscriptions which revel in preponderance of Kannada and a penchant for literary style. Extensive experimentation in conjunction with an open frame of mind has resulted in a variety of inscriptions. mAvaLi inscription by Govinda, shirUru inscription by Amoghavarsha Nrupatunga, Jinavallabha Inscription of Gangadharam, AtakUru inscription, shishuvinahaLLi and kaLasa inscriptions are the better known among them and they have served as models during the days that ensued.
The inscriptions of ‘kalyANi cAlukyas’ flourished between 950 A.D. and 1150 A.D. (Approx.) This dynasty has produced a small number of copper plate inscriptions in Sanskrit and a huge number of stone inscriptions in Kannada. The Kannada inscriptions are much more elaborate, “......giving a wealth of information on various matters such as the royal household, officialdom, religious and other bodies, social, political and economic affairs.” (K.V. Ramesh, Avalokana, 1985) In view this inordinate length, these inscriptions are written in a combination of prose and poetry. (campU) It is surprising that the varieties of prosodic forms found in literary texts are conspicuous by their absence in inscriptions. They are slightly stereotyped.
The Hoysala dynasty was successful in making its inscriptions more decorative by using soap stone known for its pliable nature. Consequently they have played a crucial role in the development of the Kannada script. The letters became more rounded and decorative during this period.
The inscriptions installed during the regime of Vijayanagara monarchs are multilingual because their empire comprised of regions that harboured Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Urdu and Tamil speakers. The literary quality of the inscriptions dwindled with the passage of time and the inscriptions became mere purveyors of royal dictums.
There was sharp decline in the installation of the inscriptions after the seventeenth century. They became few and far between. They lacked in variety and were very matter of fact in nature. This can be attributed to the invention of other modes of writing, documentation and preservation.
The thematic treatment of the inscriptions is dealt with in another entry: Hero Stones, Sati Stones and nisidige Stones.
Some important inscriptions of Karnataka are presented as separate entries in the section on inscriptions.
Further Readings and Links:
1. ‘Inscriptions of the western Gangas’, by KV Ramesh - Indian Council of Historical Research
2. ‘Jainism in South India and some Jaina epigraphs’ by P.B. Desai, 1957, published by Gulabchand Hirach and Doshi
3. ‘The Chalukyas of Kalyana and the Kalachuris’ by B.R.Gopal, 1981, Karnatak University, Dharwada.
4. ‘The Indian Temples in
Karnataka Inscriptions and Architecture’ by M.A. Dhaky, 1977,
5. ‘Karnatak Inscriptions’ by R.S. Panchamukhi and E.E. Annigeri, 1941, Kannada Research Institute, Dharwar
6. ‘Karnatak Inscriptions’ by B.R. Gopal, 1977, Kannada research Institute, Dharwar.
7. ‘Descriptive Catalogue of Kannada Inscriptions in Maharashtra’ by G.N. Upadhyaya, 2005, Abhijit Prakashana
8. ‘Shasana Vyasanga: ‘Samadhi, Balidana, Veeramarana Smarakagalu’ By M.M. Kalburgi, 1980, Dharwar
9. ‘Mastikallugalu-ondu adhyayana’ By Basavaraja Kalgudi, Bangalore University, Bangalore.
10. ‘Karnatakada Veeragallugalu’ By
R.Sheshashastry, Kannada Sahitya Parishattu,
11. “Kannada Shasanagala Samskritika Adhyayana’ By M. Chidananda Murthy, University of Mysore, Mysore.
12. ‘Memorial Stones: a study of their origin, significance and variety’ Editors: Settar S., Sontheimer Gunther Dietz, 1982, Institute of Indian Art History, Karnataka University, South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, Germany (Dharwar, New Delhi)