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(Prof.) Dr. Uday Pratap Singh


Deeksha Malik
2013 B.A.LL.B.(Hons.) 40

Firstly, I would like to express gratitude to my teacher, Prof. (Dr.) Uday Pratap Singh, as well
as our Director, Mr. S.S. Singh, who gave me the golden opportunity to do this wonderful
project on the topic, Inscriptions of Ancient India, which also helped me in doing a lot of
research and I came to know about so many new things. Secondly, I would also like to thank
my parents and friends who helped me a lot in finishing this project within the limited time.

The inscriptions, defined in a general sense, are notifications, very frequently of an official
character, and generally more or less of a public nature, which recite facts, simple or
complex, with or without dates, and were intended to be lasting records of the matters to
which they refer. They are in almost all cases found engraved, not written. They were motly
engraved upon monuments in the shape of great monolithic columns; as, for instance, in the
case of some of the moral and religious edicts of Ashoka, and the panegyric on the two
columns of victory at Mandasor, in Malwa, which recites the conquests of king
Yashodharman. Mostly, however, they are found engraved on metal plates, on stone tablets,
on rocks, on walls and pillars and other parts of caves or of temples and other buildings, on
pedestals of images and statues, and on relic-caskets. But they are occasionally found painted,
and in a few instances written with ink. And some are found stamped on clay and bricks.
Inscriptions are greatly valued as a source of history. Dr. R. C. Majumdar said, "The
inscriptions, being contemporary records of a reliable character, have helped us most. They
have furnished us with the names of kings, sometimes together with their dates and other
necessary particulars and have recorded many important events of history". These
inscriptions corroborate information from other sources, give the dates and locations of
significant events, trace detailed royal genealogies, and provide an insight into early Indian
political structure, legal codes, and religious practices. They also document the development
and use of written languages in India.
Having discussed in brief about the meaning of inscriptions and their value, we come now to
the consideration of the nature of them, from two points of view; as regards the materials on
which they have been recorded, and as regards the topics of them. It will be convenient to
take first the materials on which the inscriptions have been recorded. These divide themselves
into two leading categories; of metals, and of other substances than metal.


A. Metals
1. Iron
Amongst the inscriptions on metal, there is one that stands out by itself, in respect of the
peculiarity of having been incised on iron. It is the short poem, constituting the epitaph of the
Gupta king Chandragupta II, which was composed in or about A.D. 415, and was placed on
record on the iron column, measuring 23 ft.8 inches in height, and estimated to weigh more
than six tons, which stands at Meharauli near Delhi.
The iron pillar itself is not unique. There is another, in fragments, which was apparently
nearly twice the height of the Meharauli column, at Dhar in Central India. But, while the
Dhar column bears a Persian inscription of Akbar, incised in A.D. 1591-92, and a few names
and letters in Nagari as well as Persian characters, there is no original record on it, placed
there when it was set up.
2. Gold and Silver
On gold, we have a short Buddhist votive inscription from one of the stupas or relic-mounds
at Gangu near Sir-Sukh in the Punjab. On silver, we have a short record, not yet deciphered,
from the stupa at Bhattiprolu in the Kistna District of Madra; and another, apparently
dedicatory, on a small disc which was found in a stupa at Manikiala in the Rawalpindi district
of the Punjab.
3. Brass
Records on brass are more numerous. Amongst them, are the following:

From a stupa at Wardak in Afghanistan, we have a brass relic-vase with an inscription

the date of which falls in 6 B.C.

From Kosam near Allahabad, we have an inscribed brass seal-ring, apparently of the

Gupta period.
From somewhere near Gaya, we have a brass image of Buddha, bearing on its
pedestal an inscription which, marking the image as a votive gift, is also of special
interest in presenting a specimen of the nail-headed alphabet.

And from the Chamba state there have been obtained some brass images, bearing
inscriptions which give the names both of the king who caused them to be made and
of the workmen who made them.

4. Bronze
On bronze, we have some interesting stamps for making seals; and one of them is of
particular interest in presenting its legend in three classes of characters, Brahmi, Kharoshthi
and Greek.
We also have a bronze head, obtained at Peshawar, bearing round the base of it an
inscription, which cannot be deciphered fully from the illustration of it, but seems to mark it
as a votive offering.
5. Copper
For the most part, however, the known inscriptions on metal were placed on sheets of copper,
ranging in size from about 2 1\2 inches by 1 7/8 inches in the case of a small and very early
record obtained at Sohgaura in the Gorakhpur District, United Provinces of Agra and Oudh,to
as much as about 2 ft.6 inches square in the case of a record of 46 B.C. obtained at Sue-Vihar
in the neighbourhood of Bahawalpur in the Punjab.
Some of these records on copper were commemorative and dedicatory, and were deposited
inside the erections to which they belonged. The usual copper record, however, was a
donative charter, in fact a title-deed, and passed, as soon as it was issued, into private
personal custody. It is, therefore, in private hands that we must still look to find the majority
of those that remain extant but unknown. But others have been found buried in fields, and
hidden in the walls and foundations of buildings. And the decay of old erections, and the
excavation of ancient sites, may at any time yield a rich harvest in this direction. A point that
must always be borne in mind in connection with these donative records on copper is that
many of them have, in the course of time, passed from hand to hand and place to place, so as
to have been discovered, like coins, inscribed gems, seals, seal-stamps, images, and other
portable articles, in localities far distant from those to which they really belong.

B. Other Substances than Metal

The inscriptions on other substances than metal are found on crystal; on clay, sometimes left
to harden naturally, sometimes apparently hardened by some artificial means, and sometimes
baked into terra-cotta or burnt into brick; on earthenware; and on stone in various forms.
Inscribed wooden tablets and strips of leather secured by day seals have been obtained in
Central Asia; but it is not known that any such have been as yet found in India.
For the most part, the records of this class were executed by engraving, though there are a
few written with ink on earthenware, such as those found in Bhojpur, Sanchi and Andher in
Central India; or in Charsada in the North-West, or in Hidda in Afghnistan.
In the case of votive tablets made of clay, the custom was to use incised stamps, prepared of
course in reverse; with the result that, on the tablets on which the stamps were impressed the
inscriptions, as well as any devices accompanying them, stand out in relief. And the results
are the same in the case of clay seals, made from reversed metal dies or from anything in the
shape of a stone matrix.
The inscriptions on brick were either incised with a stilus, or stamped with a die, before the
clay was burnt into brick.
In the case of inscriptions on stone, the devices and symbols, dynastic, religious, and of other
kinds, which accompany some of them in Northern India and a large number of them in
Southern India, were in the earliest instances incised in outline; but they were nearly always
sculptured in relief from the time, the seventh century, when the use of them began to be
frequent, and the nature of them became more or less elaborate.
Amongst the records on stone, some of the edicts of Ashoka style themselves as dhamma-lipi,
a writing of religion. Various other records mention themselves by such names as sils-sasana,
a stone charter; sila-lekha, a stone writing; and prasasti, a eulogy. Amongst the inscriptions on
rocks, the most famous ones are those at Shahbazgarhi in the Yusufzai country, at Mansehra
in the Hazara district, North-West Frontier Province, at Kalsi in the Dehra Dun district of the
United Provinces, at Girnar (Junagarh) in Kathiawar, at Dhauli in the Cuttack district of
Orissa, and at Jaugada in the Ganjam district of the Madras Presidency, which present, more
or less completely, and in different recensions, one series of the edicts of Ashoka, the fourteen rock-edicts, as distinguished from the pillar-edicts. In these inscriptions of both series we
have proclamations on the subject of religion and morality, issued by Ashoka for the guidance
of his subjects, and placed on record in conspicuous positions in or near towns, or close to

highways frequented by travellers and traders, or in the neighbourhood of sacred places

visited by pilgrims. The idea of publishing some of them on rocks was certainly suggested by
a reminiscence of the proclamations issued in the same way by the great Persian king Darius.
The most notable inscribed rock is probably that at Girnar, which contains, in addition to the
edicts of Ashoka, a record, with a date in A.D. 150, of the Mahakshatrapa Rudradaman.
Amongst other noteworthy inscriptions on rocks, we have the record of Ashoka at Sahasram,
Rupnath, and Bairat in Northern India, which is dated 256 years after the death of Buddha in
482 B.C., and somewhat more than thirty-eight years after the anointment of Ashoka to the
sovereignty in 264 B.C., and was framed when, having abdicated, he was living in religious
retirement, as a fully admitted member of the Buddhist order, at Suvarnagiri, Songir, one of
the hills surrounding the ancient city Girivraja, in Magadha. On columns we have the famous
seven pillar-edicts of Ashoka, at Allahabad, at Delhi, and at Radhia, Mathia and Rampurwa in
the Champaran district, Bengal.
The most notable inscribed column is probably that at Allahabad, which bears, in addition to
Nos. 1 to 6 of the pillar-edicts, two short Ashoka records which are known as the Queen's
edict and the Kosambi edict, and also the record of Samudragupta incised at some time about
A.D. 375. A few other noteworthy inscriptions on columns and pillars are the following. At
Eran in the Sagar district, Central Provinces, we have the record of Budhagupta of A.D. 484,
invaluable because the full details of the date presented in it helped to enable us to determine
the exact commencement of the Gupta era. At Mandasor in Malwa we have on two battlecolumns or columns of victory the record of Yashodharman, who conquered the great foreign
invader Mihirakula, and swept away the last remnant of the Gupta sovereign. At Talgund in
Mysore, we have the record that recites the rise of the Kadamba dynasty of Western India.
Amongst the inscriptions on facades, walls, and other parts of caves, we have at the Barabar
and Nagarjuni Hills in the Gaya district, Bengal, other records of Ashoka, and some of a king
Dasaratha who according to the Vishnu-Purana was a grandson of Ashoka. From the
Hathigumpha cave near Cuttack in Orissa, we have the record of king Kharavela of Kalinga.
And from caves at Nasik, Junnar, and Karle, we have the valuable records of the Kshaharata
king Nahapana and his son-in-law Ushavadata, and of Gotamiputa-Satakani and his son
Vasithiputa-Pulumayi, which throw much light on the history of Western India in the first and
second centuries A.D.


We have considered the inscriptions according to the substances on which they were
recorded. We have now to examine the nature of them according to the purport of their
contents; especially with the object of showing precisely why they are of such importance
from the historical and chronological point of view.

A. Plain Statement of Events

In classifying the inscriptions for this purpose, we may take those of them which are plain
statements of events, sometimes perhaps containing allusions to religion and to donations, but
not specially directed to any such ends. In this class one of the best instances of purely
historical narrative is the Hathigumpha cave-inscription, already referred to above, which
summarizes the career of Kharavela of Kalinga as far as the thirteenth year of his reign, and
presents to us a chapter, or the beginning of a chapter, of a dynastic chronicle. Another is the
eulogy of Samudragupta on the Ashoka column at Allahabad, which recites his pedigree,
describes his conquests in Northern India, mentions some of the foreign tribes with which he
had relations, and gives us a considerable insight into the political divisions of Southern
India. A third is the short poem, in grand diction, given in duplicate on the two columns of
victory at Mandasor, which describes the triumphs of Yashoodharman, including the
humbling of the great foreign invader Mihirakula who had never before that bowed his head
in obeisance to any save the god Siva.
To the same class we may refer some of the records of the carrying out of public works. Here
we have the two fine rock inscriptions at Junagadh, which record the repairing of the
embankment of the great lake Sudarsana in the time of Rudradaman, and again in the time of
Skandagupta; the former of them reciting, also, how the lake was originally made by a
governor of the great Maurya king Chandragupta, and had been embellished by a governor of
Ashoka. And here we have also the Talgund inscription, which, directed primarily to
recording the construction of a great tank, recites, by way of introduction, the origin and rise
to power of the early Kadamba dynasty of Banawasi.
To the same class belong some of the epitaphs: for instance, the charming short poem on the
iron pillar at Mehrauli, which preserves the memory of the great Gupta king Chandragupta II;

the panegyric of the great Western Ganga prince Nolambantaka-Marasimha at SravanaBelagola; and the epitaphs of the Jain teachers Prabhachandra and Mallishena at the same

B. Records due to Religious Motives

Perhaps the inscriptions that first come to our mind in this regard are those of Ashoka. Early
studies of Ashoka drew on the evidence from the Buddhist chronicles of Sri Lanka in
conjunction with the kings own edicts. Ashoka, it would seem, made a distinction between
his personal life in and support for Buddhism and his obligation as a king and a statesman to
insist that all religions must be respected. His inscriptions are therefore of two kinds. The
smaller group consists of declarations of the king as a Buddhist ad his relationship with the
Sangha. Here the voice is that of a confirmed believer with some degree of intolerance of
differing opinion, as for instance in a passage where in proclaims in no uncertain terms that
dissident monks and nuns should be expelled from the Sangha. Far more important, however,
is the larger group of inscriptions on rock surfaces known as the Major and Minor Rock
Edicts, and the Pillar Edicts inscribed on specially erected pillars, all of which were located in
places where people were likely to gather. These define what he understands by dhamma. He
did not see dhamma as piety, resulting from good deeds that were inspired by formal religious
beliefs, but as conformity to a social ethic. These ideas were not confined to those of
Buddhism. He appears to have been concerned with using a broader ethic to explore ways of
governance and to reduce social conflict and intolerance.
To religious motives alone, in the form of the desire to honour the memory of saints and
teachers by enshrining relics of them, we owe the records on relic-caskets of Kotiputta
Kassapagotta and Kodiniputta-Majjhima and Gotiputta-Dundubhissara, from Sanchi and
Sonari, which confirm in so important a manner the account given in the Dipavamsa of the
missions that were sent out by the great priest Moggaliputta-Tissa, in the time of Ashoka, to
establish the Buddhist faith in the border-lands.
Similarly, to the desire to honour in another way the memory of a dead teacher we owe the
Rummindei pillar inscription of Ashoka, which is of such interest because it localizes the
Lumbinivana garden, the place of Buddha's birth. The record, framed when Ashoka was
twenty years-anointed, and before his conversion to Buddhism, tells us that he did the place

the great honour of visiting it in person, evidently in the course of some tour of inspection or
state-progress through the north-eastern parts of his dominions.
Besides, religious inscriptions have played a major role in locating kings and dynasties in the
historical time frame. It is to the restoration of a temple that we are indebted for the important
Mandasor inscription, which gave us what had so long been wanted, namely, a date for one of
the early Gupta kings, recorded in an era, capable of identification, other than that which was
specially used by them in their own records. To the installation of an image of the Jain
saintVardhamana, we owe the Muttra inscription which gives us a date in the year 5, falling in
53 B.C., for Kanishka. Such instances abound.

C. Records of Religious Endowments

We come next to those inscriptions of which the object was to register donations and
endowments made to gods, to priests on behalf of temples and charitable institutions, and to
religious communities.
The inscriptions of Ashoka, and of a king Dasaratha mentioned above were engraved to
record the presentation of the caves to a community of Ajivika ascetics.
The Nasik inscription of Ushavadata, dated in the year 42, in A.D. 120, was engraved to
register the presentation of the cave, with endowments in money and the gift of a coconut tree
plantation, to a community of Buddhist monks.
The object of the Bhitari pillar-inscription of Skandagupta and of the Kuram grant of
Paramesvaravarman I, was to register grants of villages to gods like Vishnu and Siva
Some of the charters of the early Kadamba kings of Banawasi were issued to convey lands
and villages to the god Jinendra, and to members of various Jain sects for the maintenance of
the worship of that god.
And so on with innumerable other instances, in which history has been recorded only as an
incidental matter, in connection with the primary topic of religious benefactions.

D. Records of Secular Donations

Finally, we have the inscriptions which register secular grants, not in any way connected with
the religion, to private individuals.
The Halsi record of the Kadamba king Kakusthavarman registers the grant of a field, as a
reward for saving his life, to a Senapati or general named Srutakirti.
On the other hand, in recognition of an equally useful but less laudable service, the
supplementary inscription on the Atakur stone of A.D. 949-50 records that the Rashtrakuta
king Krishna III gave to the Western Ganga prince Butuga II, certain provinces as a reward
for treacherously slaying the Chola king Rajaditya in the act of embracing him in pretended
The Malavalli pillar-inscription of king Haritiputta, of the Vinhukaddachutu line of the
Satakani kings, was published to register the grant of a group of villages to a Brahman. And
the record of the Kadamba king Siva-Skandavarman, on the same pillar, was published to
renew that grant, and to confirm the enjoyment of it by a descendant of the original grantee.
The Madhuban record of A.D. 630-31, of Harshavardhana of Thanesar and Kanauj, was
issued to cancel the tenure of a certain village under a forged charter, and to authoritatively
assign the same village to two other Brahmans.

Thus, a great deal has already been done in the department of political history. Of course,
many details still remain to be filled in from future exploration and research. But we have
now a very fair knowledge of the ancient past of India from 58 B.C. to A.D. 320, and a
comparatively copious knowledge of it from the latter time onwards. And we are indebted for
this almost entirely to the inscriptions.
For the earlier period, inscriptions before A.D. 320, when the great Gupta dynasty of
Northern India rose to power, we are looking forward to the results of excavations, still to be
made, which should, and undoubtedly will, enable us to get at many an important record now
hidden from sight. For the period onwards from that date, we have still to trace many

additional copper plate records, not yet brought to notice, which unquestionably exist in
private hands; and from the enormous number of stone records we have to select those which
will best repay the trouble of editing them in full; dealing with the others by means of
abstracts that shall bring forward every pointing them that can be turned to practical account.
As regards the earlier period, reaching back to the time of Buddha, we have one record, the
inscription on the Piprahwa vase, the oldest known Indian record, which may possibly date
from within a century after the death of Buddha. We have a certain amount of epigraphic
material of the time of Ashoka. We have some such material for the interval from his time to
58 B.C. We have a very appreciable amount of such material for the interval from that date to
A.D. 320. And indications are not wanting that systematic exploration of judiciously selected
sites, as well as chance discoveries, will greatly and quickly increase the number of
instructive inscriptional records available for the whole period: we may point, for instance, to
the results of the excavations recently made under the supervision of the Director-General of
Archaeology at Sarnath, Kasia, and Basarh, which have well illustrated what important
epigraphic remains may be found lying even close at hand within quite easy reach. Still, for
the present, we are greatly dependent for our knowledge of that period upon coins, and upon
tradition as preserved in literary works; both of these being sources of information which
must be used with extreme care and discrimination. The explorations and the chance
discoveries shave still to be made, and the results of them have to be examined and weighed
as they may come to light.
In the second place, we must before long make a start towards bringing the records together,
in chronological order, in volumes according to the dynasties and periods to which they
belong, on lines such as those adopted in the volume of Gupta Inscriptions, prepared by the
writer of the present account as the third volume of the intended Corpus Inscriptionum
Indicarum which, however, has not as yet gone beyond that volume, by General Sir
Alexander Cunningham, which gave the first collective treatment of the records of the
Ashoka period.

Through this project work, we delved deep into the meaning and nature of inscriptions, the
substances used to record them, and the great value they possess by giving us insights into the
early India. Indeed, there is still a lot of research left in the area, and it is hoped that such
research would contribute further in understanding our past.

THAPAR, ROMILA: History of Early India from the Origins to AD 1300. (Penguin India,
New Delhi, 2003).
HUNTER, WILLIAM: The Imperial Gazetteer of India, The Indian Empire, Vol. 2. (Trubner
& Co., London).
http://www.indianetzone.com/24/inscriptional_source_ancient_indian_history.htm last
accessed on 7.12.2014 at 7 PM.