Quellenkunde zur indischen Geschichte bis 1858

3. Inschriften

4. Indian Inscriptions / by John Faithful Fleet (1910)

Herausgegeben von: Alois Payer


Zitierweise / cite as:

Fleet, J. F. (John Faithful) <1847-1917>: Indian Inscriptions (1910). -- (Quellenkunde zur indischen Geschichte bis 1858 / Alois Payer ; 3. Inschriften, 4.). -- Fassung vom 2008-03-07. -- http://www.payer.de/quellenkunde/quellen034.htm            

Erstmals publiziert: in: Encyclopaedia Britannica. -- 11. ed. -- Vol 14. -- 1910. -- S. 621 - 626. -- Original online: http://www.archive.org/details/encyclopaediabri14chisrich. -- Zugriff am 2008-03-07 

Erstmals hier publiziert: 2008-03-07


Anlass: Lehrveranstaltung FS 2008

©opyright: Public Domain

Dieser Text ist Teil der Abteilung Sanskrit  von Tüpfli's Global Village Library

Falls Sie die diakritischen Zeichen nicht dargestellt bekommen, installieren Sie eine Schrift mit Diakritika wie z.B. Tahoma.

John Faithful Fleet <1847 - 1917> war von 1891 - 1897 Commissioner of Central and Southern Divisions of Bombay. Er ist ein Pionier der indischen Epigraphie.


Materials on which the inscriptions were recorded.

The inscriptions of India are extremely numerous, and are found, on stone and other substances, in a great variety of circumstances. They were mostly recorded by incision. But we have a few, referable to the 2nd or 3rd century B.C., which were written with ink on earthenware, and some others, of later times, recorded by paint, one on a rock, the others on the walls of Buddhist cave-temples. Those, however, were exceptional methods; and equally so was the process of casting, with the result of bringing the letters out in relief, of which we know at present only one instance, the Sohgaurā plate, mentioned again below. The Mussulman inscriptions on stone were, it is believed, nearly always carved in relief ; and various Hindu inscriptions were done in the same way in the Mussulman period: but only one instance of a stone record prepared in that manner can as yet be cited for the earlier period; it is an inscription on the pedestal of an image of Buddha, of the Gupta period, found in excavations made not long ago at Sārnāth.

Abb.: Inschrift auf der Eisensäule, Qutb-Komplex (क़ुतुब; قطب ), Delhi
[Bildquelle: Wikipedia, Public domain]

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 in. in height, and estimated to weigh more than six tons, which stands at Meharaulī near Delhi. We have a very small number of short Buddhist votive inscriptions on gold and silver, a larger number of records of various kinds on brass, and a larger number still on bronze. The last-mentioned consist chiefly of seals and stamps for making seals. And one of these seal-stamps, belonging to about the commencement of the Christian era, is of particular interest in presenting its legend in Greek characters as well as in the two Indian alphabets which were then in use. For the period, indeed, to which it belongs, there is nothing peculiar in the use of the Greek characters; those characters were freely used on the coins of India and adjacent territories, sometimes along with the native characters, sometimes alone, from about 325 B.C. to the first quarter of the 2nd century A.D.: but this seal-stamp and the coins of the Kshaharāta king Nahapāna (A.D. 78 to about 125), furnish the only citable good instances of the use of the three alphabets all together. For the most part, however the known inscriptions on metal were placed on sheets of copper ranging in size from about 2½ in. by 1 7/8 in. in the case of the Sohgaurā plate to as much as about 2 ft. 6 in. square in the case of a record of 46 B.C. obtained at Sue-Vihār in the neighbour hood of Bahāwalpūr in the Punjāb. Some of these records on copper were commemorative and dedicatory, and were deposited inside the erections relic-mounds, and, in the case of the Sue Vihār plate, a tower 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; and many of the known records of this class have come to notice through being produced by the modern possessors of them before official authorities, in the expectation of establishing privileges which (it is hardly necessary to say) have long since eased to exist through the lapse of time, the dying out of families of original holders, rights of conquest, and the many changes of government that have taken place: but others have been found buried in fields, and hidden in the walls and foundations of buildings. The plates on which these inscriptions were incised vary greatly in the number of the leaves, in the size and shape of them, and in the arrangement of the records on them; partly, of course, according to the lengths of individual records, but also according to particular customs and fashions prevalent in different parts of the country and in different periods of time. In some cases a single plate was used; and it was inscribed sometimes on only one side of it, sometimes on both. More often, however, more plates than one were used, and were connected together by soldered rings; and the number ranges up to as many as thirty-one in the case of a charter issued by the Choḷa king Rājendra Choḷa I. in the period A.D. 1011 to 1037. It was customary that such of the records on copper as were donative charters should be authenticated. This was sometimes done by incising on the plates what purports to be more or less an autograph signature of the king or prince from whom a charter emanated. More usually, however, it was effected by attaching a copper or bronze reproduction of the royal seal to the ring or to one of the rings on which the plates were strung; and this practice has given us another large and highly interesting series of Indian seals, some of them of an extremely elaborate nature. In this class of records we have a real curiosity in a charter issued in A.D. 1272 by Rāmachandra, one of the Yādava kings of Devagiri: this record is on three plates, each measuring about 1 ft. 3 in. in width by 1 ft. 85 in. in height, which are so massive as to weigh 59 lb. 2 oz.; and the weight of the ring on which they were strung, and of an image of Garuḍa which was secured to it by another ring, is 11 lb. 12 oz.: thus, the total weight of this title-deed, which conveyed a village to fifty-seven Brahmans, is no less than 70 lb. 14 oz. ; appreciably more than half a hundredweight.

Amongst substances other than metal we can cite only one instance in which crystal was used; this material was evidently found too hard for any general use in the inscriptional line: the solitary instance is the case of a short record found in the remains of a Buddhist stūpa or relic-mound at Bhaṭṭiprolu in the Kistna district, Madras. In various parts of India there are found in large numbers small tablets of clay prepared from stamps, sometimes baked into terra-cotta, sometimes left to harden naturally. Objects of this class were largely used as votive tablets, especially by the Buddhists; and their tablets usually present the so-called Buddhist formula or creed: "Of those conditions which spring from a cause, Tathāgata (Buddha) has declared the cause and the suppression of them; it is of such matters that he, the great ascetic, discourses": but others, from Sunet in the Ludhiāna district, Punjab, show by the legends on them that the Śaivas and Vaishṇavas also habitually made pious offerings of this kind on occasions of visiting sacred places. Recent explorations, however, in the Gorakhpūr and Muzaffarpūr districts have resulted in the discovery, in this class of records, of great numbers of clay seals bearing various inscriptions, which had been attached to documents sent to and fro between administrative offices, both royal and municipal, between religious establishments, and between private individuals: and amongst these we have seals of the monastery at Kusinārā, one of the places at which the eight original portions of the corporeal relics of Buddha were enshrined in relic-mounds, and also a seal-stamp used for making seals of the monastery at Veṭhadīpa, another of those places. And from Kāṭhiāwār we have a similar seal-stamp which describes itself as the property "of the prince and commander-in-chief Pushyeṇa, son of the illustrious prince Ahivarman, whose royal pedigree extends back unbroken to Jayadratha." There are no indications that the use of brick for inscriptional purposes was ever at all general in India, as it was in some other eastern lands: but there have been found in the Ghāzīpūr district numerous bricks bearing the inscription "the glorious Kumāragupta," with reference to either the first or the second Gupta king of that name, of the 5th century A.D.; in the Gorakhpūr district there have been found brick tablets bearing Buddhist texts, one of which is a version in Sanskrit of a short sermon preached by Buddha; and from the Jaunpūr district we have a brick tablet bearing an inscription which registers a mortgage, made in A.D. 1217, of some lands a security for a loan. Inscribed earthenware relic-receptacles have been found in the Bhopāl state: donative earthenware jars, bearing inscriptions, have been obtained near Chārsadda in the North-West Frontier province: and from Kāṭhiāwār we have a piece of earthenware, apparently a fragment of a huge pot, bearing an inscription which presents a date in A.D. 566-67 and the name of "the glorious Guhasena," one of the Maitraka princes of Valabhī. For the great bulk of the inscriptions, however, stone was used: but limitation of space prevents us from entering into any details here, and only permits us to say that in this class the records are found all over India on rocks, on isolated monolith columns and pillars, of which some were erected simply to bear the records that were published on them, others were placed in front of temples as flagstaffs of the gods, and others were set up as pillars of victory in battle; on relic-receptacles hidden away in the interiors of Buddhist stūpas; on external structural parts of stūpas; on facades, walls, and other parts of caves; on pedestals and other parts of images and statues, sometimes of colossal size; on moulds for making seals; on walls, beams, pillars, pilasters, and other parts of temples; and on specially prepared slabs and tablets, sometimes built into the walls of temples and other erections, sometimes set up inside temples or in the courtyards of them, or in conspicuous places in village-sites and fields, where they have occasionally in the course of time become buried.

Reasons why the inscriptions are so valuable.

The inscriptional records of India which have thus come down to us do not, as far as they are known at present, pretend to the antiquity of the Greek inscriptions of the Hellenic world; much less to that of the inscriptions of Egypt and Assyria. But they are no less important ; since we are dependent on them for almost all our knowledge of the ancient history of the country. The primary reason for this is that the ancient Hindus, though by no means altogether destitute of the historical instinct, were not writers of historical books. In some of the Purāṇas, indeed, they have given us chapters which purport to present the succession of their kings from the commencement of the present age, the Kaliyuga, in 3102 B.C.: but the chronological details of those chapters disclose the fault of treating contemporaneous dynasties, belonging to different parts of India, as successive dynasties ruling over one and the same territory; with the result that they would place more than three centuries in the future from the present time the great Gupta kings who reigned in Northern India from A.D. 320 to about 530. They have given us, for Kashmīr the Rājataraṃgiṇī, the first eight cantos of which, written by Kalhaṇa in A.D. 1148-49, purport to present the general history of that country, with occasional items relating to India itself, from 2448 B.C., and to give the exact length, even to months and days, of the reign of each king of Kashmīr from 1182 B.C.: but, while we may accept Kalhaṇa as fairly correct for his own time and for the preceding century or so, an examination of the details of his work quickly exposes its imaginative character and its unreliability for any earlier period: notably, he places towards the close of the period 2448 to 1182 B.C. the great Maurya king Aśoka, whose real initial date was 264 B.C.; and he was obliged to allot to one king, Raṇāditya I., a reign of three centuries (A.D. 222 to 522, as placed by him) simply in order to save his own chronology. They have given us historical romances, such as the Harshacharita of Bāṇa, written in the 7th century, the Vikramaṅkadevacharita of Bilhaṇa, written about the beginning of the 12th century, and the Tamil poems, the Kaḷavaḷi, the Kaliṅgaltu-Paraṇi, and the Vikrama-Cholan-Ulā, the first of which may be of somewhat earlier date than Bāṇa's work, while the second and third are of much the same time with Bilhaṇa's: but, while these present some charming reading in the poetical line, with much of interest, and certainly a fair amount of important matter, they give us no dates, and so no means without extraneous help of applying the information that is deducible from them. Again, they have given us, especially in Southern India, a certain amount of historical details in the introductions and colophons of their literary works; and here they have often furnished dates which give a practical shape to their statements: but we quickly find that the historical matter is introduced quite incidentally, to magnify the importance of the authors themselves rather than to teach us anything about their patrons, and is not handled with any particular care and fulness; and it would be but a sketchy and imperfect history, and one relating to only a limited and comparatively late period, that we could piece together even from these more precise sources. The ancient Hindus, in short, have not bequeathed to us anything that, can in any way compare with the historical writings of their Greek and Roman contemporaries. They have not even given us anything like the Dīpavaṃsa of Ceylon, which, while it contains a certain amount of fabulous matter, can be recognized as presenting a real and reliable historical account of that island, taken from records written up during the progress to the events themselves, from at any rate the time of Aśoka to about A.D. 350; or like the Mahāvaṃsa, which, commenting on and amplifying the details of the Dīpavaṃsa, takes up a similar account from the end of the period covered by that work. Even the Greek notices of India, commencing with the accounts of the Asiatic campaign of Alexander the Great, have told us more about its political history and geography during the earlier times than have the Hindus themselves: and in fact, in mentioning Sandrokottos, i.e. Chandragupta, the grandfather of Aśoka, and in furnishing details which fix his initial date closely about 320 B.C., the Greeks gave us the first means of making a start towards arranging the chronology of India on accurate lines. It is in these circumstances, in the absence of any indigenous historical writings of a plain, straightforward, and authentic nature, that the inscriptions of India are of such great value. They are supplemented and to an important extent for at any rate the period from the end of Aśoka's reign in 227 B.C. to the commencement of the reign of Kaṇishka in 58 B.C., and again from about a century later to the rise of the Gupta dynasty in A.D. 320 by the numismatic remains. But the coins of India present no dates until nearly the end of the 2nd century A.D.; the case of Parthia, which has yielded dated coins from only 38 B.C., illustrates well the difficulty of arranging undated coins in chronological order even when the assistance of historical books is available; and what we may deduce from the coins of India is still to be put into a final shape in accordance with what we can determine from the inscriptions. In short, the inscriptions of India are the only sure grounds of historical results in every line of research connected with its ancient past; they regulate everything that we can learn from coins, architecture, art, literature, tradition, or any other source.

That is one reason why the inscriptions of India are so valuable; they fill the void caused by the absence of historical books. Another reason is found in the great number of them and the wide area that is covered by them. They come from all parts of the country: from Shāhbāzgarhī in the north, in the Yūsufzai subdivision of the Peshāwar district, to the ancient Pāṇḍya territory in the extreme south of the peninsula; and from Assam in the east to Kāṭhiāwār in the west. For the time anterior to about A.D. 400, we already have available in published form, more or less complete, the contents of between 1100 and 1200 records, large and small; and the explorations of the Archaeological Department are constantly bringing to light, particularly from underground sites, more materials for that period. For the time onwards from that point, we have similarly available the contents of some 10,000 or 11,000 records of Southern India, and of at any rate between 700 and 800 records of Northern India where racial antagonism came more into play and worked more destruction of Hindu remains than in the south.

Another reason is found in the fact that from the first century B.C. the inscriptions are for the most part specifically dated: some in various eras the nature and application of which are now thoroughly well understood, often with also a mention of the year of the twelve-years or of the sixty-years cycle of the planet Jupiter; others in the regnal years of kings whose periods are now well fixed. And, in addition to usually stating the month and the day along with the year, the inscriptions sometimes give, under the influence of Hindu astrology, other details so exact that we can determine, even to the actual hour, the occurrence of the event registered by a particular record.

A final reason is found in the precise nature of the inscriptions. A certain proportion of them consists of plain statements of events, recitals of the pedigrees and achievements of kings, records of the carrying out of public works, epitaphs of kings, heroes, and saints, compacts of political alliance, and so on; and some of these present, in fact, short historical compositions which illustrate well what the ancient Hindus might have done if they had felt any special call to write plain and veracious chronicles on matter-of-fact lines. But we are indebted for the great bulk of the inscriptions, not to any historical instinct, but to the religious side of the Hindu character, and to the constant desire of the Hindus to make donations on every possible occasion. The inscriptions devoted simply to the propagation of morality and religion are not very numerous: the most notable ones in this class are the edicts of Aśoka, which we shall notice again farther on. The general object of the inscriptions was to register gifts and endowments, made sometimes to private individuals, but more usually to gods, to priests on behalf of temples and charitable institutions, and to religious communities. And, as the result of this, in the vast majority of the inscriptional remains we have a mass of title-deeds of real property, and of certificates of the right to duties, taxes, fees, perquisites, and other privileges. Now, the essential part of the records was of course the specification of the details of the donor, of the donee, and of the donation. And we have to bear in mind that not only are the donative records by far the most abundant of all, but also, among them, by far the most numerous are those which we may call the records of royal donations; by which we mean grants that were made either by the kings themselves, or by the great feudatory nobles, or by provincial governors and other high officials who had the royal authority to alienate state lands and to assign allotments from the state revenues: also, that many of them register, not simply the gift of small holdings, but grants of entire villages, and large and permanent assignments from the public revenues. It is to these facts that we are indebted for the great value of the records from the historical point of view. The donor of state lands or of an assignment from the public revenues must show his authority for his acts. A provincial governor or other high official must specify his own rank and territorial jurisdiction, and name the king under whom he holds office. A great feudatory noble will often give a similar reference to his paramount sovereign, in addition to making his own position clear. And it is neither inconsistent with the dignity of a king, nor unusual, for something to be stated about his pedigree in charters and patents issued by him or in his name. The records give from very early times a certain amount of genealogical information. More and more information of that kind was added as time went on. The recital of events was introduced, to magnify the glory and importance of the donors, and sometimes to commemorate the achievements of recipients. And it was thus, not with the express object of recording history, but in order to intensify the importance of everything connected with religion and to secure grantees in the possession of properties conveyed to them, that there was gradually accumulated almost the whole of the great mass of inscriptional records upon which we are so dependent for our knowledge of the ancient history of India in all its branches.

Survey of the inscriptions.

Coming now to a survey of the inscriptions themselves, we must premise that India is divided, from the historical point of view, though not so markedly in some other respects, into two well-defined parts, Northern and Southern. A classical name of Northern India is Āryavarta, "the abode of the Āryas, the excellent or noble people." Another name, which figures both in literature and in the inscriptions, is Uttarāpatha, "the path of the north, the northern road." And, as a classical name of Southern India answering to that we have Dakshiṇāpatha, "the path of the south, the southern road," from the first component of which name comes our modern term Deccan, Dekkan, or Dekhaṇ. Sanskrit literature names as the dividing-line between Āryavarta or the Uttarāpatha and the Dakshiṇāpatha, i.e. between Northern and Southern India, sometimes the Vindhya mountains, sometimes the river Nerbudda (Narmadā, Narbadā) which, flowing close along the south of the Vindhya range, empties itself into the gulf of Cambay near Broach, in Gujarāt, Bombay. The river seems, on the whole, to furnish the better dividing-line of the two. But it does not reach, any more than the range exactly extends, right across India from sea to sea. And, to complete the dividing-line beyond the sources of the Narbadā, which are in the Māikal range and close to the Amarkaṇṭak hill in the Rewā State, Baghelkhaṇḍ, we have to follow some such course as first the Maniārī river, from its sources, which are in that same neighbourhood but on the south of the Māikal range, to the point where, after it has joined the Seonāth, the united rivers flow into the Mahānadī, near Seorī-Nārāyan in the Bilāspūr district, Central Provinces, and then the Mahānadī itself, which flows into the bay of Bengal near Cuttack in Orissa. Even so, however, we have only a somewhat rough dividing-line between the historical Northern and Southern India; and the distinction must not be understood too strictly in connexion with the territories lying close on the north and the south of the line sketched above. In Western India, Kāṭhiāwār and all the portions of Gujarāt above Broach lie to the north of the Narbadā; but from the palaeographic point of view, if not so much from the historical, they belong essentially to Southern India. Our modern Central India lies entirely in Northern India, but has various palaeographic connexions with Southern India. Our Central Provinces extend in the Saugar district into Northern India; and that portion of them presents in ancient times both northern and southern characteristics. Eastern India may be defined as consisting of Bengal, with Orissa and Assam: it belongs to Northern India.

The inscriptional remains of India, as known at present, practically begin with the records of Aśoka, the great Maurya king of Northern India, grandson of that king Chandragupta whose name was written by the Greeks as Sandrokottos, who reigned 264 to 227 B.C. The state of the alphabets, indeed, in the time of Aśoka renders it certain that the art of writing must have been practised in India for a long while before his period; and it gives us every reason to hope that systematic exploration, especially of buried sites, will eventually result in the discovery of records framed by some of his predecessors or by their subjects. But those discoveries have still to be made; and matters stand just now as follows. From before the time of Aśoka we have an inscription on a relic-vase from a stūpa or relic-mound at Piprahwa in the north-east corner of the Bastī district, United Provinces, which preserves the memory of the slaughtered kinsmen of Buddha, the Śākyas of Kapilavastu according to the subsequent traditional nomenclature. We may perhaps place before his time the record on the Sohgaurā plate, from the Gorakhpūr district, United Provinces, which notifies the establishment of two public storehouses at a junction of three great highways of vehicular traffic to meet any emergent needs of persons using these roads. And we may possibly decide hereafter to refer to the same period a few other records which are not at present regarded as being quite so early. But, practically, the known inscriptions of India begin with the records of that king who calls himself in them "the king Devānāṃpiya-Piyadassi, the Beloved of the Gods, He of Gracious Mien," but who is best known as Aśoka by the name given to him in the literature of India and Ceylon and in an inscription of A.D. 150 at Junāgaḍh (Junagarh) in Kāṭhiāwār. From his time onwards we have records from all parts in constantly increasing numbers, particularly during the earlier periods, from caves, rock-cut temples, and Buddhist stūpas. Many of them, however, are of only a dedicatory nature, and, valuable as they are for purposes of religion, geography, and other miscellaneous lines of research, are not very helpful in the historical line. We are interested here chiefly in the historical records; and we can notice only the most prominent ones even among them.

Of this king Aśoka we have now thirty-five different records, some of them in various recensions. Amongst them, the most famous ones are the seven pillar-edicts and the fourteen rock-edicts, found in various versions, and in a more or less complete state, at different places from Shāhbāzgarhī in the Yūsufzai country in the extreme north-west, to Radhia, Mathia, and Rāmpūrwa in the Champaran district, Bengal, at Dhauli in the Cuttack district of Orissa, at Jaugada in the Gañjām district, Madras, at Girnār (Junāgaḍh) in Kāhiāwār, and even at Sopāra in the Ṭhāna district, Bombay. These edicts were thus published 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, so that they might be freely seen and perused. And the object of them was to proclaim the firm determination of Aśoka to govern his realm righteously and kindly in accordance with the duty of pious kings, and with considerateness for even religious beliefs other than the Brahmanical faith which he himself at first professed, and to acquaint his subjects with certain measures that he had taken to that end, and to explain to them how they might co-operate with him in his objects. But, in addition to mentioning certain contemporaneous foreign kings, Antiochus II. (Theos) of Syria, Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt, Antigonus Gonatas of Macedonia, Magas of Cyrene, and Alexander II. of Epirus, they yield items of internal history, in detailing some of Asoka's administrative arrangements; in locating the capital of his empire at Pāṭaliputra (Patna), and seats of viceroys at Ujjeni (Ujjain) and Takhasilā (Taxila); in giving the names of some of the leading peoples of India, particularly the Choḷas, the Pāṇḍyas, and the Andhras; and in recording the memorable conquest of the Kaliṅga country, the attendant miseries of which first directed the thoughts of the king to religion and to solicitude for the welfare of all his subjects. Another noteworthy record of Aśoka is that notification, containing his Last Edict, his dying speech, issued by local officials just after his death, which is extant in various recensions at Sahasrām, Rūpnāth, and Bairāt in Northern India, and at Brahmagiri, Siddāpura, and Jatiṅga-Rāmeśvara in Mysore. Some three years before the end of his long reign of thirty-seven years, Aśoka became a convert to Buddhism, and was admitted as an Upāsaka or lay-worshipper. Eventually, he formally joined the Buddhist order; and, following a not infrequent custom of ancient Indian kings, he abdicated, took the vows of a monk, and withdrew to spend his remaining days in religious retirement in a cave-dwelling on Suvarṇagiri (Songīr), one of the hills surrounding the ancient city of Girivraja, below Rājagṛiha (Rājgīr), in the Patna district in Behār. And there, about a year later, in his last moments, he delivered the address incorporated in this notification, proclaiming as the only true religion that which had been promulgated by Buddha, and expanding the topic of the last words of that great teacher: "Work out your salvation by diligence!" This record, it may be added, is also of interest because, whereas such of the other known records of Aśoka as are dated at all are dated according to the number of years elapsed after his anointment to the sovereignty, it is dated 256 years after the death of Buddha, which event took place in 483 B.C.

For the two centuries or nearly so next after the end of the reign of Aśoka, we have chiefly a large number of short inscriptions which are of much value in miscellaneous lines of research palaeography, geography, religion, and so on. But historical records are by no means wanting; and we may mention in particular the following. From the caves in the Nāgārjunī Hills in the Gayā district, Bengal, we have (along with three of the inscriptions of Aśoka himself) three records of a king Daśaratha who, according to the Vishṇu-Purāṇa, was a grandson of Aśoka. From the stūpa at Bharaut in the Nāgod state, Central India, we have a record which proves the existence of the dynasty of the Śuṅga kings, for whom the Purāṇas, placing them next after the line of Chandragupta and Aśoka, indicate the period 183 to 71 B.C. Two of the records from the stūpa at Bhaṭṭiprolu in the Kistna district, Madras, give us a king of those parts, reigning about 200 B.C., whose name appears both as Kubiraka and as Khubiraka. From Besnagar in the Gwālior state we have an inscription, referable to the period 175 to 135 B.C., which mentions a king of Central India, by name Bhāgabhadra, and also mentions, as his contemporary, one of the Greek kings of the Punjab, Antalkidas, whose name is familiar from his coins in the form Antialkidas. From the Hāthigumpha cave near Cuttack, in Orissa, we have a record, to be placed about 140 B.C., of king Khāravela, a member of a dynasty which reigned in that part of India. From a cave at Pabhosā in the Allahabad district, United Provinces, we have two records which make known to us a short succession of kings of Adhichatrā, otherwise known as Ahichchhattra. From a cave at the Nānāghāt Pass in the Poona district, Bombay, we have a record of queen Nāyanikā, wife of one of the great Śātavāhana-Sātakarṇi kings of the Deccan. And from the stūpa No.1 at Sāñchi in the Bhopāl state, Central India, we have a record of a king Śrī-Sātakarṇi, belonging to perhaps another branch of the same great stock.

The historical records become more numerous from the time of the Kushan king Kaṇishka or Kāṇishka, who began to reign in 58 B.C., and founded the so-called Vikrama era, the great historical era of Northern India, beginning in that year.1 For the period of him and his immediate successors, Vāsishka, Huvishka and Vāsudeva, we have now between seventy and eighty inscriptions, ranging from 54 B.C. to A.D. 42, and disclosing a sway which reached at its height from Bengal to Kābul: we are indebted for some of these to the Buddhists, in connexion with whose faith the memory of Kaṇishka was preserved by tradition, but for most of them to the Jains, who seem to have been at that time the more numerous sect in the central part of his dominions.

1 It may be remarked that there are about twelve different views regarding the date of Kaṇishka and the origin of the Vikrama era. Some writers hold that Kaṇishka began to reign in A.D. 78: one writer would place his initial date about A.D. 123: others would place it in A.D. 278. The view maintained by the present writer was held at one time by Sir A. Cunningham; and, as some others have already begun to recognize, evidence is now steadily accumulating in support of the correctness of it.

The dynasty of Kaṇishka was succeeded by another foreign ruler, Gondophernes, popularly known as Gondophares, whose coins indicate that, in addition to a large part of north-western India and Sind, his dominions included Kābul, Kandahār, and Seistān. This king is well  known to Christian tradition, in connexion with the mission of St Thomas the Apostle to the East. And the tradition is substantially supported by an inscription from Takht-i-Bahaī in the Yūsufzai country on the north-west frontier, which, like some of his coins, mentions him as Guduphara or Gunduphara, and proves that he was reigning there in A.D. 47.

Gondophernes was followed by the Kadphises kings, belonging to another branch of the Kushan tribe, who perhaps extended their sway farther into India, as far at least as Mathurā (Muttra), and reigned for about three-quarters of a century. For their period, and in fact for the whole time to the rise of the Guptas in A.D. 320 we have as yet but scanty help from the inscriptions in respect of the political history of Northern India: we are mostly dependent on the coins, which tend to indicate that that part of India was then broken up into a number of small sovereignties and tribal governments. An inscription, however, from Panjtar in the Yūsufzai territory mentions, without giving his name, a Kushan king whose dominion included that territory in A.D. 66. And an inscription of A.D. 242 from Mathurā has been understood to indicate that some descendant of the same stock was then reigning there. The inscriptional records for that period belong chiefly to Southern India.

Meanwhile, however, in the south-west corner of Northern India, namely in Kāṭhiāwār, there arose another foreign king, apparently of Parthian extraction, by name Nahapāna, described in his records, whether by a family name or by a tribal appellation, as a Chhaharata or Kshaharata, in whom we have the founder of the so-called Śaka era, the principal era of Southern India, beginning in A.D. 78: in respect of him we learn from the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea that he was reigning between A.D. 80 and 89, and from inscriptions that he was still reigning in A.D. 120 and 124: at the latter time, his dominions included Nāsik and other territories on the south of the Narbadā; and the Periplus names as his capital a town which it calls Minnagar, and which Ptolemy would locate in such a manner as to suggest that it may be identified with the modern Dohad in the Pañch Mahāls district of Gujarāt, Bombay. Nahapāna was overthrown, and his family was entirely wiped out, soon after A.D. 125, by the great Śātavāhana king Gautamīputra-Śrī-Sātakarṇi, who thereby recovered the territories on the south of the Narbadā. On the north of that river, however, he was followed by a line of kings founded by his viceroy Chashṭana, son of Ghsamotika, to whom Ptolemy, mentioning him as Tiastanes, assigns Ujjain as his capital: these names, again, show a foreign origin; but, from the time of his son Jayadāman, the descendants of Chashṭana became Hinduized, and mostly bore purely Indian appellations. The coins show that the descendants of Chashṭana ruled till about A.D. 388, when they were overthrown by the great Gupta dynasty of Northern India. Only a few of their inscriptional records have been discovered: but amongst them a very noteworthy one is the Junāgaḍh (Junagarh) inscription of Chashana's grandson, Rudradāman, bearing a date in A.D. 150; it is remarkable as being the earliest known long inscription written entirely in Sanskrit.

From Southern India we have, at Nāsik, inscriptions of the Śātavāhana king Gautamīputra-Śrī-Sātakarṇi, mentioned just above, and of his son Vasishṭhīputra-Śrī-Pulumāyī, and of another king of that line named Gautamīputra-Śrī-Yajña-Sātakarṇi; and other records of the last-mentioned king come from Kaṇherī near Bombay, and from the Kistna district, Madras, and testify to the wide extent of the dominions of the line to which he belonged. The records of this king carry us on to the opening years of the 3rd century, soon after which time, in those parts at any rate, the power of the Śatavāhana kings came to an end. And we have next, also from Nāsik, an inscription of an Ābhīra king named Īśvarasena, son of Śivadatta; in this last-mentioned person we probably have the founder of the so-called Kalachuri or Chedi era, beginning in A.D. 248 or 249, which we trace in Western India for some centuries before the time when it was transferred to, or revived in, Central India, and was invested with its later appellation: we trace it notably in the records of a line of kings who called themselves Traikūṭakas, apparently from Trikūṭa as the ancient name of the great mountain Harischandragad in the Western Ghauts, in the Ahmadnagar district.

We can, of course, mention in this account only the most prominent of the inscriptional records. Keeping for the present to Southern India, we have from Banawāsi in the North Kanara district, Bombay, and from Maḷavaḷḷi in the Shimoga district, Mysore, two inscriptions of a king Hāritaputra-Sātakarṇi of the Viṇhukaḍḍa-Chuṭu family, reigning at Vaijayantī, i.e. Banawāsi, which disclose the existence there of another branch, apparently known as the Chuṭu family and having its origin at a place named Vishṇugarta, of the great stock to which the Śātavāhana-Sātakarṇis belonged. And another Maḷavaḷḷi inscription, of a king Śiva-Skandavarman, shows that the Sātakarṇis of that locality were followed by a line of kings known as the Kadambas, who left descendants who continued to rule until about A.D. 650. From the other side of Southern India, an inscription from the stūpa at Jaggayyapeta in the Kistna district, Madras, referable to the 3rd century A.D., gives us a king Māḍharīputra-Śrī-Vīra-Purushadatta, of the race of Ikshvāku. And some Prākṛit copperplate inscriptions from the same district, referable to the 4th century, disclose a line of Pallava kings at Kāñchī, the modern Conjeeveram near Madras, whose descendants, from about A.D. 550, are well known from the later records.

Reverting to Northern India, we have from the extreme north-west a few inscriptions dated in the era of 58 B.C. which carry us on to A.D. 322. The tale is then taken up chiefly by the records of the great Gupta kings of Pāṭaliputra, i.e. Patna, who rose to power in A.D. 320, and gradually extended their sway until it assumed dimensions almost commensurate with those of Aśoka and Kaṇishka: the records of this series are somewhat numerous; and a very noteworthy one amongst them is the inscription of Samudragupta, incised at some time about A.D. 375 on one of the pillars of Aśoka now standing at Allahabad, which gives us a wide insight into the political divisions, with their contemporaneous rulers, of both Northern and Southern India: it is also interesting because it, or another record of the same king at Eraṇ in the Saugar district, Central Provinces, marks the commencement of the habitual use of Sanskrit for inscriptional purposes. The inscriptions of the Gupta series run on to about A.D. 530. But the power of the dynasty had by that time become much curtailed, largely owing to an irruption of the Huns under Toramāṇa and Mihirakula, who established themselves at Siālkoṭ, the ancient Śākala, in the Punjab. We have inscriptional records of these two persons, not only from Kura in the Salt Range, not very far from Siālkot, but also from Eraṇ and from Gwālior. And next after these we have inscriptions from Mandasor in Mālwā, notably on two great monolith pillars of victory, of a king Vishṇuvardhana-Yaśodharman, which show that he overthrew Mihirakula shortly before A.D. 532, and, describing him as subjugating territories to which not even the Guptas and the Huns had been able to penetrate, indicate that he in his turn established for a while another great paramount sovereignty in Northern India.

We have thus brought our survey of the inscriptions of India down to the 6th century A.D. There then arose various dynasties in different parts of the country: in Northern India, in Kāṭhiāwār, the Maitrakas of Valabhī; at Kanauj, the Maukharis, who, after no great lapse of time, were followed by the line to which belonged the great Harshavardhana, "the warlike lord (as the southern records style him) of all the region of the north;" and, in Behār, another line of Guptas, usually known as the Guptas of Māgadha: in Southern India, the Chalukyas, who, holding about A.D. 625 the whole northern part of Southern India from sea to sea, then split up into two branches, the Western Chalukyas of Bādāmi in the Bijāpūr district, Bombay, and the Eastern Chalukyas of Veṅgī in the Godāvarī district, Madras; and, below them, the successors of the original Pallavas of Kāñchī (Conjeeveram). These all had their time, and passed away. And they and their successors have left us so great a wealth of inscriptional records that no further detailed account can be attempted within the limits available here. We must pass on to a few brief remarks about the language of the records and the characters in which they were written.

The inscriptions of Aśoka present two alphabets, which differ radically and widely: one of them is known as the Brāhmī; the other, as the Kharoshṭhī or Kharoshṭri. For the decipherment of the Brāhmī alphabet we are indebted to James Prinsep, who determined the value of practically all the letters between 1834 and 1837. The decipherment of the Kharoshṭhī alphabet was a more difficult and a longer task: it was virtually finished, some twenty years later, by the united efforts of C. Masson, Prinsep, C. L. Lassen, H. H. Wilson, E. Norris, Sir A. Cunningham, and John Dowson; but there are still a few points of detail in respect of which finality has not been attained.

The Kharoshṭhī script was written from right to left, and is undeniably of Semitic origin; and the theory about it, based on the known fact that the valley of the Indus was a Persian satrapy in the time of Darius (521-485 B.C.), is that the Aramaic script was then introduced into that territory, and that the Kharoshṭhī is an adaptation of it. Except in a few intrusive cases, the use of the Kharoshṭhī in India was limited to the valley of the Indus, and to the Punjab as defined on the south by the territory watered by the Biās (Beas) and the Satlaj (Sutlej): and the eastern locality of the meeting of the two alphabets is marked by coins bearing Kharoshṭhī and Brāhmī legends which come from the districts of the Jālandhar (Jullundhur) division, and by two short rock-cut records, each presented in both the alphabets, at Paṭhyār and Kanhiāra in the Kāngra valley. Outside India, this script was notably current in Afghanistan; and documents written in it have in recent years been found in Chinese Turkestan. In India it continued in use, as far as our present knowledge goes, down to A.D. 343.

The Brāhmī alphabet, written from left to right, belonged to the remainder of India; but it must also have been current in learned circles even in the territory where popular usage favoured the other script. Various views about its origin have been advanced : amongst them is the theory that it was derived from the oldest north-Semitic alphabet, which prevailed from Phoenicia to Mesopotamia, and may, it is held, have been introduced into India by traders at some time about 800 B.C. It is, however, admitted that the earliest known form of the Brāhmī is a script framed by Brahmans for writing Sanskrit. Also, the theory is largely based on a coin from Eraṇ, in the Saugar district, Central Provinces, presenting a Brāhmī legend running retrograde from right to left ; from which it is inferred that that was the original direction of this writing, and that the script eventually assumed the other direction, which alone it has in the inscriptions, after passing, like the Greek, through a stage in which the lines were written in both directions alternately. But we can cite many instances in which ancient die-sinkers were careless, wholly or partially, in the matter of reversing the legends on their dies, with the result that not only syllables frequently, but sometimes entire words, stand in reverse on the coins themselves; moreover, the Eraṇ coin, being one of the earliest known Indian coins bearing a legend at all, may quite possibly belong to a period before the time when the desirability of working in reverse on the dies presented itself to the Indian die-sinkers. In all the circumstances, the evidence of the Eraṇ coin cannot be regarded as conclusive; and we require some inscription on stone, or at least some longer record on metal than a brief legend of five syllables, to satisfy us that the Brāhmī writing ever had a direction different from that which it has in the inscriptions. Further, if there is any radical connexion between the Brāhmī and the Semitic alphabet indicated above, so many curious and apparently capricious changes must have been made, in adapting that alphabet, that it would seem more probable that the two scripts were derived from a joint original source. In view of the high state of civilization to which the Hindus had evidently attained even before the time of Chandragupta, the grandfather of Aśoka, it must still be regarded as possible that they were the independent inventors of that which was emphatically their national alphabet. The Brāhmī alphabet is the parent of all the modern Hindu scripts, including on one side the Nāgarī or Devanāgarī, and on the other the widely dissimilar rounded forms of the Kanarese, Tamil, Telugu, and other southern alphabets; and the inscriptions enable us to trace clearly the gradual development of all the modern forms.


The great classical Indian language, Sanskrit, is not found in any inscriptional records of the earliest times. It is not, however, to be supposed therefrom that the use and cultivation of Sanskrit ever lay dormant, and that there was a revival of this language when it did eventually come to be used in the inscriptions; the case simply is that, during the earlier periods, Sanskrit was not known much, if at all, outside the Brahmanical and other literary and priestly circles, and so was not recognized as a suitable medium for the notifications which were put on record in the inscriptions for the information of the people at large.

In Northern India, the inscriptions of the period before 58 B.C. present various early Prākṛts, i.e. vernaculars more or less derived from Sanskrit or brought into a line with it. From 58 B.C., however, the influence of Sanskrit began to manifest itself in the inscriptions, with the result that the records present from that time a language which is conveniently known as the mixed dialect, meaning neither exactly Prākṛt nor exactly Sanskrit, but Prākṛt with an intermixture of Sanskrit terminations and some other features; and we have, in fact, from Mathurā (Muttra), a locality which has yielded interesting remains in various directions, a short Brahmanical inscription of 33 B.C. which was written wholly in Sanskrit. The mixed dialect appears to have been the general one for inscriptional purposes in Northern India until about A.D. 320. But a remarkable exception is found in the inscription of Rudradaman, dated in A.D. 150, at Junāgaḍh in Kāṭhiāwāar (mentioned on a preceding page), which is a somewhat lengthy record composed in thoroughly good literary Sanskrit prose. Also, the extant inscriptions of the descendants of Rudradāman (but only four of their records, ranging from A. D. 181 to 205, are at present available for study) are in almost quite correct Sanskrit ; and this suggests that, from his time, the language may have been habitually used for inscriptional purposes in the dominions of his dynasty. That, however, is only a matter of conjecture; and elsewhere pure and good Sanskrit, without any Prākṛt forms, appears next, and is found in verse as well as in prose, in the two inscriptions from Eraṇ and Allahabad, referable to the period about A.D. 340 to 375, of the great Gupta king Samudragupta. From that time onwards, as far as our present knowledge goes, Sanskrit, with a very rare introduction of Prākṛt or vernacular forms, was practically the only inscriptional language in the northern parts of India. We can, however, cite a record of A.D. 862 from the neighbourhood of Jodhpur in Rājputānā, the body of which was written in Mahārāshṭrī Prākṛt.

In Southern India we have an instance of the mixed dialect in the Nāsik inscription, referable to A. p. 257 or 258, of the Ābhīra king Īśvarasena, son of Śivadatta, which has been mentioned on a preceding page. With the exception, however, of that record and of the few which are mentioned just below, the inscriptional language of Southern India appears to have been generally Prākṛt of one kind or another until about A.D. 400, or perhaps even somewhat later.  Sanskrit figures first in one of the records at Nāsik of Ṛishabhadatta (Ushavadāta), son-in-law of the Kshaharāta king Nahapāna, which consequently gives it almost as early an appearance in the south as that which is established for it in the north; but it is confined in this instance to a preamble which recites the previous donations and good works of Ṛishabhadatta; the record passes into Prākṛt for the practical purpose for which it was framed. Sanskrit figures next, in an almost correct form, in the short inscription of not much later date at Kaṇheri, near Bombay, of the queen (her name is not extant) of Vasishṭhīputra-Śrī-Sātakarṇi. It next appears in certain formulae, and benedictive and imprecatory verses, which stand at the end of some of the Prākṛt records of the Pallava series referable to the 4th century; but here we have quotations from books, not instances of original composition. We have a Sanskrit record, obtained in Khāndesh but probably belonging to some part of Gujarāt, of a king named Rudradāsa, which is perhaps dated in A.D. 367. But the next southern inscription in Sanskrit, of undeniable date, is a record of A.D. 456, belonging to the Vyārā subdivision of the Baroda state in Gujart, of the Traikūṭaka king Dahrasena. The records of the early Kadamba kings of Banawāsi in North Kanara, Bombay, exhibit the use of Sanskrit from an early period in the 6th century; and records of the Pallava kings show it from perhaps a somewhat earlier time on the other side of India. The records of the Chalukya kings present Sanskrit from A.D. 578 onwards. And from this latter date the language figures freely in the southern records. But some of the vernaculars, in their older forms, shortly begin to present themselves alongside of it; and, without entirely superseding Sanskrit even to the latest times, the use of them for inscriptional purposes became rapidly more and more extensive. The vernacular that first makes its appearance is Kanarese, in a record of the Chalukya king Maṅgaleśa, of the period A.D. 597 to 608, at Bādāmi in the Bijāpūr district, Bombay. Tamil appears next, between about A.D. 610 and 675, in records of the Pallava king Mahendravarman I. at Vallam in the Chingalpat (Chingleput) district, Madras, and of his great-grandson Parameśvaravarman I. from Kūram in the same district. Telugu appears certainly in A.D. 1011, in a record of the Eastern Chalukya king Vimalāditya; and it is perhaps given to us in A.D. 843 or 844 by a record of his ancestor Vishṇuvardhana V. ; in the latter case, however, the authenticity of the document is not certain. Malayālam appears about A.D. 1150, in inscriptions of the rulers of Kerala from the Travancore state. And on the colossal image of Gommaṭeśvara at Śravaṇa-Belgoḷa, in Mysore, there are two lines of Marāṭhi, notifying for the benefit of pilgrims from the Marāṭhā country the names of the persons who caused the image and the enclosure to be made, which are attributed to the first quarter of the 12th century: this language, however, figures first for certain in a record of A.D. 1207, of the time of the Devagiri-Yādava king Siṅghaṇa, from Khāndesh in the north of Bombay.


The systematic publication of the Indian inscriptions has not gone far. Cunningham inaugurated a Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, by giving us in 1877 the first volume of it, dealing with the records of Aśoka; but the only other volume which has been published is vol. iii., by Fleet, dealing with the records of the Gupta series. The other published materials are mostly to be found here and there in the Journals of the Royal Asiatic Society of London, its Bombay branch, and the Asiatic Society of Bengal, in the Reports of the various Archaeological Surveys, and in the Indian Antiquary, the Epigraphia Indica and the Epigraphia Carnatica; and much work has still to be done in bringing them together according to the periods and dynasties to which they relate, and in revising some of them in the light of new discoveries and the teachings of later research. The authority on Indian palaeography is BÜhler's work, published in 1896 as part 2 of vol. 1 of the Grundriss der Indo-Arischen Philologie und Altertumskunde; an English version of it was issued in 1904 as an appendix to the Indian Antiquary, vol. xxxiii.

(J. F. F.) [= John Faithful Fleet]