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Śaka Clans, Pallava Royals, Śākya Nāyanār and Bodhidharma

 Śaka Clans, Pallava Royals, Śākya Nāyanār and Bodhidharma

Bodhidharma is the founder of Zen Buddhism in China. He belonged to the Kṣatrya royal family of Pallavas who ruled from Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu. Bodhidharma was a name given later, and his original name seems to be Bodhitārā. He was the third and last son of a south Indian great king. His teacher was Prajñātārā, who taught Lakāvatāra Sūtra. Throughout Buddhist art, Bodhidharma is depicted as an ill-tempered, profusely-bearded, wide-eyed, red-haired person. He is referred as "The Blue-Eyed Barbarian" (Chinese碧眼胡pinyinBìyǎnhú) in Chan texts. This is a very interesting information about Bodhidharma’s ethnicity and in general, about Pallava dynasty. Pallava itself is thought to be the Sanskritization of Pahlava of Iran. Pallava means “Toṇḍai” flowers, the tutelary plant of Pallavas, and the mythical first king was Ātoṇḍa Cakravarti”.  Kamil Zvelebil referred to Bodhidharma’s Pallava origin and wrote an essay in 1987 linking a Tamil proverb and a Kōan attributed to Japanese Zen master, Hakuin. I found a song in which a famous poet, Bharatidasan uses this same proverb, a little earlier than when Prof. Zvelebil collected data about various Tamil dialects in 1950s.  Bharatidasan’s song is given at the end after Zvelebil’s essay. It is possible that this proverb/kōan exists in some Chan/Zen works in Chinese or Tibetan sources earlier than Hakuin. Śākya Nāyanār, originally a Buddhist, is one of the 63 saints of Śaivism. Śākya Nāyanār, like Bodhidharma, was a Buddhist who lived in Kanchipuram.

India is a country known for its Oral traditions of preserving wisdom. Due to the Vedic texts available from 12th century BC onwards and, Sangam Tamil from 3rd century BCE, and also from Archaeological, Art Historical, Linguistic and Paleo-Genetics research, scholars illuminate the “Vedic Night” from the time of Indus Valley decline to Historic period. Vedic Night refers to the time period from Post-Harappan Copper Hoard culture in the Yamuna-Ganges plains to Pre-Sangam period in South India. Aryan language speakers from Central Asia enter India in three phases: (a) the First wave, creators of Atharva Veda in post-Harappan times merge with earlier religious traditions of Indus Valley. The Indus crocodile cult becomes Anthropomorphic Axe (AA) sculptures in Post-Harappan Indo-Gangetic doab area. A millennium later, during Iron Age, these AA sculptures are the first monoliths found in megalithic burial sites in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Pandya kings issue Aśvamedha sacrifice coins conducted showing crocodiles in tanks. 


 

 

 

Figure 1.  PĀṆḌYA Peruvazhuti Ashvamedha coin, 3rd century BCE (Note Makara crocodile outside water pond).

(b) The Second wave is the Rgvedic Aryans with Indra as the supreme deity (c) Finally, the Śaka tribes from Iran. Buddha, Mahāvīra, and much later Pallavas like Bodhidharma belong to the Śākya clan. An excellent reference is The Roots of Hinduism, The early Aryans and Indus civilization, by Asko Parpola (Oxford University, 2015). Some additional references given at the end to pursue more on the religious history in Tamil lands in First millennium BC when the Bodhidarma’s forefathers moved in from Central Asia co-opting with the Dravidian elites, a process that started from Atharva Vedic Aryan tribes (Dāśas/Daśyus) around 1700 BCE.

Two lasting influences of Śaka clans in India are (1) Creation of Brahmi script in North India and (2) Dog sculpture representing the star Sirius in Gaṅgādhara panels carved in Pallava caves. Brahmi script is formed with most letters formed from two basic forms - circle and square. Interaction with Greeks in the Persian empire during Darius the Great with Gandhāra forming part of his kingdom led to this development. Greek capital letters form the model for most Brahmi letters. In fact these basic geometric forms are inscribed at the end of Tamil Brahmi inscription at Kongar Puliyangulam, near Madurai (Cf. M. Lockwood).  An early form of Pre-Mauryan Brahmi letters appears in Anthropomorphic Axe (AA) sculpture with a Makara (crocodile) face in Sonipat, Haryana around mid 6th century BCE. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Fig. 2 Anthropomorphic Axe (Makara Viṭaṅkar) with Pre-Mauryan Brahmi

The Jaina emperor, Candragupta Maurya and his grandson, Aśoka spread Brahmi  throughout Indian subcontinent as the official script for all Indian languages. In Tamil Nadu, places like Kodumaṇal routinely yield pottery with Tamil Brahmi in the mid-5th century (K. Rajan, Early Writing System: A Journey from Graffiti to Brahmi, 2015, Madurai.) Dilip Chakravarti, Archaeologist, Cambridge Unversity wrote a book review.

In ancient Iran, the Summer festival of Rain is dedicated to Sirius, the brightest star in the Night Sky. Sirius is known colloquially as the "Dog Star", reflecting its prominence in its constellation, Canis Major (the Greater Dog). Canis Major was classically depicted as Orion's dog, Mṛgavyādha "hunter". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_Triangle Due to the Greco-Persian wars and trade, ancient Śaka folks took the Sirius "Dog star" idea to South India. Their descendants, Pallava kings, incorporate the dog star Sirius sculpture in Gaṅgādhara panels in the 7th century. Gaṅgādhara is very popular in Pallava art in Kanchipuram, Mamallapuram etc., 


 

 

 

 

 

Fig 3.  Śiva Gaṅgādhara with Sirius (Dog star) and Ganges, Pallava, Trichy, 7th century.

The melting snow in the Himalayas flow as the river Ganges in Summer and in Śaiva legends, Gaṅgā flows on the matted locks of the God Śiva. Michael Lockwood, in "Mystery Dog in Pallava Sculpture" (Indian Express, March 6, 1976) wondered about the significance of the dog, now mostly hidden under plaster. "What is surprising is that in many of these Gaṅgādhara panels a dog appears in one of the upper corners. To put it mildly, the dog is considered a lowly creature in Indian tradition. It is therefore difficult to guess why the Pallava artists should have introduced a dog into the Gaṅgādhara theme – a theme which represents such an auspicious event for the whole world." Śiva's nakṣatra is Ārdrā (Orion) meaning "moist"/"green" and He is correlated with monsoon rains through heliacal rising of Orion and Sirius in the month of June. Fertility is symbolized by Śiva Liṅga worship, and Śiva as Gaṅgādhara sports a dog (= Sirius) in the top corner. Like Bodhidharma and Śākya Nāyanār, Gaṅgādhara panels with dog are many in Kanchipuram Pallava era temples pointing to these kings' Śaka connections. Kōppeñciṅkan, in 13th century, calls himself a Pallava/Kāṭavan. His inscriptions in verse are in Tiruvannamalai temple. In a verse describing Gaṅgādhara form, Śiva appears in the form of a Dog, i.e., Sirius star (Mayilai Cīni Venkatasamy, Journal of Tamil Studies, 1974). This is akin to Varuṇa assuming the Crocodile form in the Makara Viṭaṅkar ("maḻu vāḷ neṭiyōn" of Sangam texts) in the Anthropomorphic Axe sculpture from Sonipat, Haryana. [Kak, Kurdush]. Much earlier, in Indus valley itself, Mahāyogi Paśupati has the legs of Gauṛ buffalo and wears the horns of Gauṛ.  A parallel seal shows "Paśupati" as a Gangetic crocodile while surrounding animals in both the IVC seals are identical.

Pāṇḍava and Pāṇḍya:

A. Parpola, ΠΔANΔAIH AND SĪTĀ: On The Historical Background of the Sanskrit Epics, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 122, No. 2, pp. 361-373, 2002.

"The culture distinguished by the use of iron, horse, and Painted Grey Ware (PGW) (c. 1000-350 B.C.) is found lowest at all major sites associated with the main story of the MBh. It thus offers a suitable archaeological correlate to the earliest layers of the MBh (cf. Lal 1981; 1992; Buitenen 1973: I, lf.; Erdosy 1995: 79ff.; Brockington 1998: 133, 159-62). I have suggested that the early PGW culture with few and small towns (c. 1000- 700 B.C.) represents the Middle Vedic culture and its Kuru kingdom, and the late PGW culture with many more towns including Mathurā (c. 700-350 B.C.) the Pāṇḍava period (Parpola 1984: 453ff.).

King Pāṇḍu and the five Pāṇḍavas are never once mentioned in any Vedic text (Weber 1853: 402f.; Hopkins 1901: 376, 385, 396; Horsch 1966: 284; Brockington 1998: 6). The Pāṇḍavas, therefore, have arrived on the scene only after the completion of Vedic literature. They could crush the Kurus by making a marriage alliance with the Kurus' eastern neighbors, the Pañcālas. To consolidate their rule, the victorious Pāṇḍavas let themselves be grafted onto the Kuru genealogy and be represented as cousins of their former foes (Lassen 1847: I, 589-713; Weber 1852: 130-33; 1853: 402-4; Schroeder 1887: 476-82; Hopkins 1889: 2-13; 1901: 376)."

"Apart from the absence of their mention in Vedic texts, there are other indications pointing to the foreign, and specifically Iranian, origin of the Pāṇḍavas (cf. Parpola 1984). Their polyandric marriage, which shocked the people present (MBh 1,197,27-29; Hopkins 1889: 298f.), can be compared to the customs of the Iranian Massagetae (Herodotus 1,216). Hanging their dead in trees (MBh 4,5,27-29; Brockington 1998: 227) resembles the Iranian mode of exposure of the corpse to birds.

Foreign, northerly origin is suggested by their pale skin color, which the MBh (1,100,17-18) connects with the name of Pāṇḍu, literally 'pale'; the name Arjuna likewise means 'white' (Lassen 1847: I, 634, 641-43). Sanskrit pāṇḍu-, pāṇḍura-, pāṇḍara- 'white, whitish, yellowish, pale', attested since c. 800 B.C. (SB, SA), are loanwords going back to the same Dravidian root as Sanskrit phala- 'fruit' (cf. Tamil paḻam 'ripe fruit') and paṇḍita- 'learned' (differently Mayrhofer 1996: II, 70f.,

201f.), namely paḻ- / paṇḍ- 'to ripen, mature, arrive at perfection (as in knowledge, piety), change color by age, (fruit) to become yellow, (hair) to become grey, to become pale (as the body by disease [esp. leukoderma])' (cf. DEDR 4004; Parpola 1984: 455)."

"PĀṆḌYAS OF SOUTHERN MADHURĀ

The second Siṃhala king was called Paṇḍu-Vāsudeva. Paṇḍu(ka) figures in names of other Sinhalese kings as well, and associates them with the Pāṇḍavas of the MBh (thus also Lassen 1852: II, 102f.), whose father Pāṇḍu is called Paṇḍu (Cullavagga 64,43) or Paṇḍurājā (Jātaka V, 426) in Pāli texts. Paṇḍu-Vāsudeva's father-in-law, who ruled in a kingdom on the Ganges river, was likewise called Paṇḍu. He belonged to the Śakya clan, being a relative of the Buddha. Śakya is derived from Śaka, one of the principal names of Iranian steppe nomads. Its association with the name Paṇḍu is an additional hint of the Iranian origin of the Pāṇḍavas. [...]

Southern Madhurā is modern Madurai in Tamil Nadu, the capital of the Pāṇḍya kings, whose dynastic name is irregularly derived from Pāṇḍu (Pat. on Vārtt. 3 on Pāṇ. 4,1,168). The Sri Lankan kings kept contact with this city also later on (cf. Malalasekera 1937: II, 439). Megasthenes, writing c. 300 B.C., refers to the Pāṇḍya country when speaking of the Indian Heracles:

this Heracles ... had only one daughter. Her name was Pandaea [Pandaiē], and the country in which she was born, the government of which Heracles entrusted to her, was called Pandaea after the girl.... Some other Indians tell of Heracles that, after he had traversed every land and sea, and purged them of all evil monsters, he found in the sea a new form of womanly ornament... the sea margarita [pearl] as it is called in the Indian tongue. Heracles was in fact so taken with the beauty of the ornament that he collected this pearl from every sea and brought it to India to adorn his daughter ... among the Indians too the pearl is worth three times its weight in refined gold. (Arrian, Indica 8,6-13, trans. Brunt 1983: 329-31)"

"Meanwhile some megalithic Pāṇḍus turned towards the culturally more advanced northern India. Through marital and other alliances they eventually gathered such a force that one group, the Pāṇḍavas, took over the rule even in the mightiest kingdom of north India. Another successful group was the family to which the Buddha belonged: the Śākyas, too, were Pāṇḍus, ultimately of Śaka origin, as their name reveals. In north India, the Pāṇḍus quickly adopted the earlier local culture and language. Their newly won positions were legitimated with fabricated genealogies that made them a branch of the earlier ruling family, and with the performance of royal rituals. The propaganda was disseminated by professional bards, leading to the creation of the Mahābhārata."

 References:

(1)  N. Ganesan, Indus Crocodile Religion as seen in the Iron Age Tamil Nadu, 16th World Sanskrit Conference Proceedings, Bangkok, Thailand, 2016.     https://archive.org/details/IVCReligionInIronAgeTamilNaduByNGanesan-2016-16thWSC

(2) M. Lockwood, Buddhist Influence in the Gospels and The Invention of the Brahmi Script, 2017.

(3) M. Lockwood, The Invention of the Brahmi script: Where and under what circumstances! 2020.

(4) Kurush Dalal, Metal Men of the Doab: Still Figuring it Out  https://www.livehistoryindia.com/history-daily/2020/06/17/anthropomorph

(5) S. Kak, A Reading of the Brāhmī Letters on an Anthropomorphic Figure

https://medium.com/@subhashkak/a-reading-of-the-br%C4%81hm%C4%AB-letters-on-an-anthropomorphic-figure-2a3c505a9acd

(6) India's Parthian Colony: On the origin of the Pallava empire of Dravidia

https://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/History/ashkanian/parthian_colony.htm

(7) Blue Eyes of Daruma san

https://darumasan.blogspot.com/2005/02/me-blue-eyes-of-daruma.html

(8) http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/bodhidharma.htm

(9) B. Faure, Bodhidharma as Textual and Religious Paradigm,

History of Religions, Vol. 25, No. 3, pp. 187-198, 1986.

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The Sound of the One Hand

Kamil Zvelebil, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 107, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1987), pp. 125-126

The Japanese Rinzai Zen master Hakuin (1686-1769) is credited with the invention of a famous kōan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?" He describes the kōan in a letter to a laywoman: “What is the Sound of the Single Hand? When you clap together both hands a sharp sound is heard; when you raise the one hand there is neither sound nor smell ... This is something that can by no means be heard with the ear. ..."[1] Virtually all experts on Zen ascribe this kōan to Hakuin, maintaining that it was composed or invented by him.[2] It is most often either this kōan or the kōan ‘Mu' which the novices receive as their first kōan when they begin their training in Zen Buddhism. Authors on Zen consider the invention of this kōan a very remarkable and very original achievement of Hakuin.

In Folklore 15.1,[3] D. G. Niyogi published some Tripuri proverbs in the original and in an English translation. One of these proverbs says, “One hand's clapping does not produce sound.” I admit that I was surprised to read this, and I began to search for parallels elsewhere in India. And, indeed, to my delight, I found in Herman Jensen's immensely valuable collection of Tamil proverbs,[4] under no. 2823, the following one: oru kai tațțināl, ōcai eumpumā? “If one hand (only) is struck, will the sound (of clapping) be produced?” I subsequently searched through my notes collected in 1958 when I investigated various local and social dialects of Tamilnadu, and indeed discovered this saying: irukayyi tațțina: tã: o:ce (Madras Non-Brahmin) “only if (one) claps two hands, (there's) a sound.”

There are three possible explanations of this striking 'coincidence’. The similarity between the Indian proverbs (from two vastly distant and linguistically unconnected regions of India) and a sophisticated kōan of a Japanese Zen master is "purely accidental,” as the saying goes. This is of course not ruled out; however, it seems to me to be rather improbable. The authorities on Zen consider Hakuin's kōan a truly creative, witty personal accomplishment.

Another alternative is that Hakuin indeed “invented” this saying, and that it has somehow entered Indian folklore. I consider this virtually impossible, taking into account Hakuin's relatively late date, the geographic distance, and the occurrence of the notion of “no sound produced by one hand's clapping” in two separate folk-cultures of India.

The last alternative is that Hakuin has not “invented” the kōan but that it was current in the oral (?) transmission of Zen Buddhism, and Hakuin knew it, used it, and popularized its use. Let us examine this possibility.

Persistent tradition tells us that the ‘first Zen patriarch' Bodhidharma (ca. 470-532) was an Indian monk, the son of South Indian ruler, a king of Kanchipuram, and that he appeared one day at the southern Chinese port city of Canton around 520 A.D. whence he traveled to see Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty. This tradition point thus to Bodhidharma as a member of the ruling clan of the South Indian dynasty of the Pallavas, the contemporary of Skandavarman IV or Nandivarman I.

It is well known that Kanchipuram, the Pallava capital, was one of the most important strongholds of Indian Buddhism. An ancient Prākrit charter (the British Museum plates of Queen Cārudevī) [5] mentions among very early Pallavas two kings called Buddhavarman and Buddhayānkura, obviously Buddhists, belonging probably to the 4th century A.D. Another Buddhavarman belongs to ca. 540-560 A.D. The well-known commentator Buddhaghoṣa lived in Kanchipuram probably in late 5th century A.D. The Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Hsüan Tsang who visited South India in the 7th century A.D. tells us that there were about a hundred Buddhist monasteries in the city with more than 10,000 monks, and he also refers to Kanchih-pu-lo as the birth-place of Dharmapāla, the reputed author of treatises on etymology, logic and Buddhist metaphysics.[6] Undoubtedly, the Zen tradition of a South Indian Buddhist monk coming possibly from Kanchipuram to China in the early 6th century may be regarded as trustworthy. If Bodhidharma was a Tamil-speaking South Indian (whether Brahmin, as one version has it, or a prince), the popular saying of one hand producing no sound might have belonged to his linguistic competence.

On the other hand, we know from Hakuin's own writings that he took a great psychological interest in the kōan approach to Zen meditation and, in fact, revived the entire kōan theory in Rinzai Zen Buddhism. We also know that he was vastly educated, and his writings show erudition and, at the same time, vigor and dynamism. Finally, we know that he first advocated the ancient Chinese kōan ‘Mu' for beginners, and only later in life introduced 'The Sound of One Hand'. It is thus tempting to argue that Hakuin has not devised this kōan as his personal, original contribution, but in the course of his experience or studies came upon it as current in some stream of the oral or (less well-known, forgotten or lost) textual transmission in Zen Buddhism, and that the image is ultimately of Indian origin.

In a closer analysis we see that there is a general basic ‘premise’ of the fact that (only) the sound of two hands clapping can be heard, while the sound of a single hand cannot. This commonplace observation is shared by the two Indian sayings and Hakuin's kōan. What Hakuin did was to reformulate (and transform) a commonplace saying as a Zen kōan; If (only) the sound of two hands clapping can be heard, what is the sound of one hand? In this transformation, and in the use (function) of the saying as a kōan consists Hakuin's ingenuity and contribution.

KAMIL V. ZVELEBIL

UTRECHT

[1] Yampolsky, Philip B. (trans.), The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings. New York, Columbia University Press, 1977, p. 164.

[2] E.g., Hoover, Thomas, The Zen Experience New York, 1980, p 230: “Initially he had advocated the “Mu” koan for beginners, but late in life he came up with the famous “What is the sound of one hand clapping?!” Cf. ib. p. 269, ftn. 18, “Hakuin's invention of his own koans, which were kept secret and never published ...” etc. Cf. also Joel Hoffmann, The Sound of the One Hand, Paladin, Frogmore, St. Albans, 1977, p. 208: “This koan was composed by the Japanese Zen Master Hakuin...," etc.

[3] Cf. Folklore (Calcutta) 15 (1974) 1.

[4] Jensen, Rev. Herman, A Classified Collection of Tamil Proverbs, Madras-London, 1897.

[5] Ep. Ind. VIII, p. 143-46.

[6] Watters, T., Yuan Chwang's Travels in India, Vol. II, 1905.

 

Bharatidasan song using the Tamil proverb that Kamil V. Zvelebil used in his 1987 JAOS article on Zen Koan.

பாரதிதாசன் பாடல்:

கூடித் தொழில் செய்க

கூடித் தொழில் செய்தோர் கொள்ளைலா பம்பெற்றார்
வாடிடும் பேதத்தால் வாய்ப்பதுண்டோ தோழர்களே!

நாடிய ஓர் தொழில் நாட்டார் பலர் சேர்ந்தால்
கேடில்லை நன்மை கிடைக்குமன்றோ தோழர்களே!

சிறுமுதலால் லாபம் சிறிதாகும்; ஆயிரம்பேர்
உறுமுதலால் லாபம் உயருமன்றோ தோழர்களே!

அறுபதுபேர் ஆக்கும் அதனை ஒருவன்
பெறுவதுதான் சாத்தியமோ பேசிடுவீர் தோழர்களே!

பற்பலபேர் சேர்க்கை பலம்சேர்க்கும்; செய்தொழிலில்
முற்போக்கும் உண்டாகும் முன்னிடுவீர் தோழர்களே!

ஒற்றைக் கைதட்டினால் ஓசை பெருகிடுமோ
மற்றும் பலரால் வளம்பெறுமோ தோழர்களே!

ஒருவன் அறிதொழிலை ஊரான் தொழிலாக்கிப்
பெரும்பே றடைவதுதான் வெற்றி என்க தோழர்களே!

இருவர் ஒருதொழிலில் இரண்டுநாள் ஒத்திருந்த
சரிதம் அரிதுநம் தாய்நாட்டில் தோழர்களே!

நாடெங்கும் வாழ்வதிற் கேடொன்று மில்லைஎனும்
பாடம் அதைஉணர்ந்தாற் பயன்பெறலாம் தோழர்களே!

பீடுற்றார் மேற்கில் பிறநாட்டார் என்பதெல்லாம்
கூடித் தொழில்செய்யும் கொள்கையினால் தோழர்களே!

http://www.tamilvu.org/slet/l9100/l9100pd1.jsp?bookid=146&pno=25

Journey-from-Graffiti-to-Brahmi-K.Rajan-book-review

 Dilip K. Chakrabarti, Cambridge University, Book Review: K. Rajan, Early Writing System: A Journey from Graffiti to Brahmi.  Indian Historical Review, Volume: 44 issue: 1, page(s): 136-139,  June 30, 2017.

https://doi.org/10.1177/0376983617694685

"K. Rajan, Early Writing System: A Journey from Graffiti to Brahmi. Madurai: Pandya Nadu Centre for Archaeological Research, 2015, XXII + 439 pp., Rs. 2290 (Hardback)." DOI: 10.1177/0376983617694685"

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There is a serious rift in the field of ancient historical and archaeological research between north and south India. One of the main reasons is the lack of familiarity with south Indian languages on the part of north Indian historians and with north Indian languages on the part of south Indian historians. The situation is not desirable, and I am not aware how it can be rectified unless the students are encouraged to choose their research topics in areas beyond their own regional and provincial linguistic domain. Considering the current state of ancient historical and archaeological research in Indian universities, much of which is due to the abysmally low academic quality of its teachers recruited most shamelessly on the basis of caste and regional/national politics, the situation is unlikely to change in the near future.

One of the manifestations of this dichotomy is the general lack of awareness of the various problems specific to different parts of the country. The beginning of writing is one such issue, on which a great amount of light is thrown by the book under review.

I am not competent to write about the graffiti or about what the author Professor K. Rajan calls Tamil-Brahmi. I shall only try to make clear how this book throws important light on the general issue of the beginning of writing in early historic India. Basically, the book is a report on the author’s Kodumanal excavations with special reference to all its excavated data on graffiti and other inscribed material.

The Asokan inscriptions provide a major fixed point of the early historic Indian script in the sense that it is the earliest material available. Not so long ago there were some scholars who believed that they could point out some pre-Asokan cases of Brahmi, especially in the script of the Sohgaura inscription from eastern Uttar Pradesh. It may kindly be noted that ancient historians are usually opinionated persons who operate mostly without firm evidence, that is, evidence which can be corroborated by any independent method or evidence. One of the men who refused to accept any pre-Asokan evidence of Brahmi was the late D.C. Sircar, and I suspect that it is primarily because of his academic eminence that the theory of pre-Asokan Brahmi has been held in abeyance for some time. In fact, a few scholars have emerged arguing that it was the King Asoka who was personally responsible for the discovery of Brahmi. Opinions such as these only show that given half the chance, modern historians of ancient India will not stop at anything!

What about the literary sources regarding the beginning of historic writing in India? The problem about these sources is that scholars are seldom unanimous about their dates. Let us take the case of the Buddhist Jataka stories. I believe that they relate to conditions around 500 BC and this I do mainly on the ground that the principality of Kasi was an independent kingdom under Brahmadatta when the Jataka stories were being narrated and that this independence was lost when the Magadhan king Ajatasatru annexed it in the sixth/fifth century BC. The logic splitting over the Jatakas has never ended; some people argue that their verse portion is earlier than their prose portion, and for some inscrutable reason, D.D. Kosambi, a mathematician who thought he knew how ancient Indian history should be written, took it for granted that the context of the Jataka stories included early centuries AD. In any case, the Jatakas were familiar with writing and this literary text should suggest that writing was known in historic India around 500 BC. By the way, why there is so much uncertainty regarding the dates of Indian texts? The reason is simple: they are usually undateable. You cannot date a  text on the basis of its language. You can put it in a linguistic frame, of whose general date you may have an idea but nothing more than that can be argued. Language per se does not date anything. Historians who call for ‘interdisciplinary’ historical research through language studies simply forget this simple truth. In some quarters of modern archaeology, what is happening in the name of ‘archaeo-linguistic’ studies is precisely this. The extent to which one can accept or deny the premises of ‘archaeo-linguistics’ depends on the extent of one’s faith in the premises built up by orthodox ‘comparative philologists’ of the nineteenth century. That ‘New Archaeology’ of the 1960s and 1970s, which began by swearing in the name of ‘science’, should reduce itself to linguistic mumbo jumbo of the nineteenth century is possibly an object lesson in how archaeology need not be confused with hard science. Current proponents of ‘archaeolinguists’ have also forgotten that ‘comparative philology’ which is the progenitor  of their ‘archaeolinguistics’ had a strong smell of racism about it. Proof—hard, solid and verifiable proof—is what any study—historical studies included—needs. At least, there should be strong circumstantial evidence or a strong circumstantial logic behind our historical premises.

One of the main reasons why such hard proof or hard circumstantial proof is missing from ancient Indian studies is that our writings were generally inscribed on palm leaves or birch leaves and such writings have not survived. We seldom wrote on perishable materials like clay which, once burnt, became well-nigh imperishable. This is how so much of the ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian literature has survived whereas the surviving Indus civilisation corpus of writing is amazingly incomplete. This must be the reason why the administrative archives of ancient India have not survived. Some inscriptions do, in fact, imply that there were administrative store houses of documents. That the Indians preferred to record most of the things of their lives on palm leaves has been known even as late as the late nineteenth century when the Indian census recorders of the period returned their ‘proformas’ incised on palm leaves.

Sringaverapura is a site on the bank of the Ganga, not far upstream of Allahabad. Birch leaf fragments have been identified in its Black-and-Red Ware level dated around 800 BC at the site. The nearest source of birch leaf (Betula utilis or bhurja patra) is the Himalayas, possibly Garhwal hills. What is the point in importing these leaves to Srinagaverapura unless they were used for writing? This is certainly a piece of hard circumstantial evidence in favour of pre-Asokan existence of writing in early historic India.

The volume under review puts forward the direct hard evidence in the form of incised Brahmi script dated around 500 BC at Kodumanal. This hard evidence has taken a long time in coming. Sometime in the 1990s, excavations at the Sri Lankan site of Anuradhapura yielded examples of Brahmi script inscribed on pottery in the radio-carbon-dated context of mid-fifth century BC. There was nothing to doubt this dating. Many examples of the so-called Tamil-Brahmi script they found at Anuradhapura have been found in many places in south India, and what the Anuradhapura discovery ought to have given birth to was the belief that similar inscriptions from the south should go back to the mid-fifth century BC. This regrettably did not happen. Our scholars preferred to ignore the Anuradhapura finding.

In the late 1990s, Professor Rajan was in Cambridge as an Academic  Staff  Fellow attached to me. We consequently had an opportunity to discuss the dates of  his Kodumanal excavations which had yielded no radiocarbon date then. However, Professor Rajan’s discussion on the stratigraphy of the site convinced me that its earliest level was certainly pre-300 BC. I believe I supported this opinion in my India—An Archaeological History published in 1999 and The Oxford Companion to Indian Archaeology (2006). Further, in my The Ancient Routes of the Deccan and the Southern Peninsula (2010), I laid down the archaeological and historical basis of my argument that the early historic urban growth in south India should date from about 500 BC. In the context of north India, I called it a process from 800 to 500 BC.

After the two relevant sites excavated by Professor Rajan—Kodumanal and Porunthal—and their radiocarbon dates are taken into account, there is no reason to doubt for a moment that the archaeological evidence of the Brahmi script in Tamil  Nadu is about 500 BC. Correspondingly, early historic urban growth in Tamil Nadu should also date from this period. This is an argument which I made in my The Ancient Routes of the Deccan and the Southern Peninsula without even the radiocarbon dates.

Archaeological discoveries when they upset the traditional beliefs should be matters of great rejoicings. Professor Rajan’s discovery belongs to this category, and I congratulate him on relentlessly pursuing his work and emerging eventually successful.

 

Dilip K. Chakrabarti

Emeritus Professor of South Asian Archaeology

Cambridge University Cambridge, UK



Tamil-Brahmi-Tamili-inscriptions-authors-Rajavelu

Who were the authors of Tamil-Brāhmī(Tamili) inscriptions- the earliest script of the Tamils?

                                      S.Rajavelu,*

Professor and Head

 

The earliest inscriptions of Tamil Nadu known as Tamil Brāhmī or Tamiḻi inscriptions are found noticed on the eye brow and on the stone beds of the natural caverns of the hills as well as on the hero stones in the remote villages of Pulimān kōmpai, Tātappaṭṭi in Teni District and Poṟpaaik kōṭṭai in Pudukkottai District of Tamil nadu. Besides, some of the coins, rings, seals and large number of Pottery pieces which are recovered from the excavations which bear the names of individuals are written in this script. The date of the script is now fixed on the basis of paleography as well as scientific dates (ASM) arrived from Porunthal and Koḍumaṇal by Rajan to 6th century BCE, [1] i.e., 300 years prior to Aśōkan Brāhmī of North India.

             From the 19th century till today a large number of Tamil-Brāhmī inscriptions have been discovered in the natural caverns located in an inaccessible heights and slopes of the hills in the hilly districts of Madurai, Sivagangai, Pudukkottai, Trichchirappalli, Tiruvannamalai, Erode and Villuppuram[2]. These natural caverns served as the rock shelters.  On the floor of the natural caverns   invariably one can see the polished fine narrow stone beds carved out in the natural rock surface measuring from 3 feet to 8 feet length.  In some of the caves, the top portion of the bed has been cut off little bit high which served as the pillow of the bed.  The drip ledge is shown above the overhanging roof boulder to prevent rain water flowing inside the cavern.  

These natural caverns mostly located far away from the habitation of the village. Many of them were surrounded with megalithic tombs. Around 4th and 5th century CE, these natural caverns were occupied by the Jaina monks and they carved out the figures of Tīrthaṅkaras and inscribed the details of the sculptures and the donor names in Vaṭṭeḻuttu characters. 

            Many scholars studied these inscriptions from the 19th century CE till today and made their attempts to decipher these inscriptions and believe the date of these inscriptions from the 2nd century BCE. Further they put forth various theories to its authorship and origin.  Three outstanding theories prevail amidst the scholars regarding the authorship and the association of beds of the caverns which housed with Tamil-Brāhmī inscriptions that are Buddhists, Jains and Ᾱjivikas.

            Venkayya, a pioneer Epigraphist in the field of South Indian Epigraphy claims that the Buddhist monks used these caverns to propagate Buddhism in Tamil nadu and they were the authors of the Tamil-Brāhmī script[3]. His theory is based on the spread of Buddhism by Aśōka and his successors around 3rd century CE in his Empire in Indian sub continent and further south ie., Sri Lanka. While Aśōka sent the Buddhist missionaries to Sri Lanka, they must have passed through the Tamil country, stayed in the caverns and propagated their faith in Tamil nadu, he added. His theory of Buddhist authorship was further supported by the eminent Epigraphist, K.V.Subrahmanya Aiyer[4].

            According to late Shri Iravatham Mahadevan, an outstanding scholar in the field of Tamil-Brāhmī inscriptions  who has produced magnum Opus volumes  in recent years inclined to claim that the author of these cavern inscriptions were Jains[5]. This theory was strongly believed by other scholars of Archaeology and many Epigraphists in Tamil Nadu and they claim that the Tamils borrowed the script from north India around 2nd century CE from the Jaina monks who settled in the cavern to lead a life of seclusion and meditation[6].

            T.V. Mahalingam, another notable scholar in the field opined that these caverns were associated with the Ᾱjivikas ascetics[7].  This theory was in recent years strongly advocated by Prof. Nedunchezhiyan[8]. He claims that the ancient Tamil people   were the followers of Ᾱjivikas sect and Markali kōsar, the founder of the Ᾱjivikas sect in Tamil Country. The worship of Aiyyanār is dominantly followed in Tamil nadu by the Ᾱjivikas in the early centuries of Pre Common Era.

            The present author in the light of recent discovery of a hero stone inscription at Tātappaṭṭi with other internal evidences of cavern inscriptions on the beds of natural rock shelters, the recent archaeological excavations carried out by Dr. K. Rajan at Porunthal and Koḍumaṇal categorically analyses the above theories of the scholars regarding the authorship of cavern inscriptions of Tamil nadu  and denied the origin of Tamil-Brāhmī from North India.  The paper discloses that the Tamil-Brāhmī script was created by the Tamil people to suit for their language from the graffiti writings.  Further, this paper analyses that the stone beds in the natural caverns are carved for the purpose of the dead as memorial tombs. The erection of memorials is a common phenomenon of the Tamils in the Sangam period and large numbers of megalithic monuments have been found throughout Tamil nadu. The stone beds are one such category which was scooped on the floors of natural caverns. It is closely associated with the megalithic practice of the Tamils.  The sizes of the beds are varying from place to place and mostly surrounded by the megalithic burials in the foot hills of the caverns. Sittaṇṇavāsal is one fine example of this kind.  Further, there is no single mention referring to any religious faiths in these inscriptions either in the form of religious symbols or in the form of religious words-invocatory messages (maṅgala sulōga). The auspicious marks or auspicious words are quite common in the inscriptions of north India from the time of Aśōka Maurya of 3rd century B.CE onwards.

            The scientific date arrived at by K. Rajan from Porunthal excavations and Koḍumanal excavations reveal the fact that the script in Tamil country was known by the native Tamils prior to 6th Century BCE. This period in North India witnessed the emergence of two religious orders namely Jainism and Buddhism. They were in the budding stage during this period.  None of the early Sangam literature records the existence of any religious faith and monarchism in Tamil country prior to 2nd century CE., In contrast these literature mostly dealt with love (agam) and war (puram) which are totally against the ascetic life or monarchism prescribed by the above three religions. Hence, this paper elaborately discusses the authors of the Tamil Brāhmī cavern inscriptions and examines its origin in a detailed manner with the recent archaeological and literary evidences.  

Indus valley and Dravidian

            The earliest evidence for written documents in India is recovered from the excavated sites of Indus valley in the form of seals. Nearly four hundred and odd seals bearing the symbols with the pictographs have not been till date successfully deciphered. However, scholars   have propounded many theories regarding the script of Harappan culture and the prime most theory among them is Dravidian theory of its origin.  If it could be successfully accepted, then the history of India, on the basis of written records has been started around 6000 years before the present. Till then we have to depend upon that the Tamil- Brāhmī (Tamili) script which was prevalent in Tamil nadu and Kerala around 600 BCE is the earliest script in India which was the mother of Pan Indian scripts including the Aśōkan-Brāhmī of 3rd century BCE and the Brāhmī script of Srī Laṅka of 4th century BCE.

Origin and Chronology of Tamil Brāhmī-Script

            Edward Thomas[9] an eminent scholar declared that the Brāhmī script was the invention of Dravidian people who were the original inhabitants of the whole of India and subsequently adopted by the Aryans in the later stage. He was followed by another eminent Epigraphist T. N. Subrahmanyan and he strongly put forth that the Tamil-Brāhmī was originally invented by the Tamil people for their Tamil language which was later borrowed by North Indians for their language Prākrit. Further he quotes that in all probability the Prākrit language itself in its original form was a South Indian product synthesizing the Dravidian language to make it understandable throughout the country.[10]  The origin of Tamil-Brāhmī script was further studied by the following scholars and they inclined to accept that the script was originally invented by the Tamils around 5 or 6th century BCE.             

Among them, Dr. K.V.Ramesh, Natana Kasinathan and the author of this article Rajavelu studied on the above subject and conclude that the Tamil-Brāhmī script is the earliest known script which was prevalent in Tamil country prior to Aśōkan Brāhmī around 5th or 6th century BCE[11]. They fixed this date on the basis of Palaeography, orthography, language, linguistic features and its simple form of the script as well as the potteries with Tamil-Brāhmī scripts, recovered from the stratums of the excavated sites in Tamil Nadu.  The basic symbols of the Tamil-Brāhmī script were taken to suit the Prākrit language. For which they created more symbols to suit the phonetic (varga sounds) for their Prākrit language around 4th century BCE.  The standardized and developed form of this script has been introduced by the Aśōka Maurya around 3rd century BCE in North India.

Iravatham Mahadevan’s theory on the Date and Origin of Tamil Brāhmī

            Shri. Iravatham Mahadevan strongly advocated that the Tamil-Brāhmī script was derived from Mauryan-Brāhmī of 2nd century BCE which was brought to Tamil Nadu by the Jaina monks from North India[12].       He traces the migration of the Jains from Śravaṇa-Beḷgola  in Karnataka.  A late Kannada literature records a traditional story of Chandragupta Maurya of Magadha came to South India along his preceptor Bhadrabāhu and finally settled down in Śravaṇa-Beḷgola when severe famine affected in his country Maghada. They spread Jainism in Karnataka around 4th century BCE. Bhadrabāhu’s disciple Visakha Muni went further to south along with Jaina monks and they only introduced the Tamil-Brāhmī script in Tamil Nadu.

The Date of Śravaṇa-Beḷgola

            This traditional story of Bhadrabāhu’s and Chandragupta Mauryas migration to Śravaṇa-Beḷgola appeared in the late inscriptions and in Kannada literature of late period[13]. The earliest inscription in Śravaṇa-Beḷgola belongs to the 6th century CE.  No single inscription of Brāhmī characters of pre Common Era is found in this hilly village. Even if we accept that the author of Tamil Brāhmī was the Jaina   monks of Viskha Muni, the disciple of Bhadrabāhu, certainly one should have come across some early inscriptions written in Brāhmī scripts at Śravaṇa-Beḷgola itself around 4th   or 3rd century BCE., as was found in the natural caverns of Tamil Nadu.   It clearly indicates that Iravatham Mahadevan theory on the origin of Brāhmī in to Tamil Country through the Jaina monks of Śravaṇa-Beḷgola is a farfetched one without any contemporary evidences.

Epigraphists of North India pointed out only 6 inscriptions which belonged to the pre- Aśōkan period. They were written on stones, copper plate and on the coin.[14] Aśōka himself in his edicts proclaimed that the people of North India did not have the knowledge of writing for which he appointed officers Dharmamahā māthrās and Dharma yuktās to read out the inscribed stones and explain the message to the people.

Mauryan Brāhmī

            Iravatham Mahadevan coined a term Mauryan Brāhmī of 2nd century BCE in the North India from which the Tamil Brāhmī scripts have been evolved, he quoted. After the demise of Aśōka practically we do not come across any inscriptions of this kind in North India except his grandson Dasaratha issued some three or four inscriptions in the Nāgarjuni hill region for Ājivika sects. After the demise of Aśōka, the Mauryan Empire, the north Indian kings have not issued many inscriptions with Brāhmī script. In the light of the above, It is surprising that how Iravatham Mahadevan arrived a conclusion that that the Jaina monks were the authors of these caverns as well as of the Tamil-Brahmi scripts. His theory of Mauryan Brāhmī is nothing but mere an exaggeration without any authentic evidences. As pointed out earlier no such inscriptions were found on the hilly region of Śravaṇa-Beḷgola where the settlements of Jaina monks were established by Chandragupta Maurya and Bhadrabāhu.  With the paucity of evidences of the existence of Mauryan Brahmi in North India during this period, the theory of Mahadevan on the origin of Tamil- Brāhmī baseless.

Pottery inscriptions in Tamil Nadu and abroad

            More over, Tamil Nadu is rich in pottery inscriptions of Tamil-Brāhmī characters. Nearly 35 excavated sites yielded Tamil- Brāhmī label inscriptions. These sites are closely associated with Sangam Period. Around 1200 potteries have been reported in these sites including the recent excavated site of Kīḻaḍi. All yielded the names of individuals written on Tamil- Brāhmī characters on the potteries which clearly suggest that the people of Tamil Nadu used to write their names on the earthen utensils. Further it proved that the Tamils were most literate people than the North Indians.

  This kind of potsherds with the Tamil names in characters of Tamil-Brāhmī scripts have also been reported in the Red sea area, as well as South East Asia and Sri Lanka. Quesir –al-Quadim, Berenike in Egypt, Khor Rori in Omen, Phu Khao Thong in Thailand, Tissamaharama and 6 more excavated sites in Sri Lanka yielded Tamil Brāhmī inscriptions.[15]  Large numbers of Ramayana and Mahabharata sites have been excavated during the last two and half centuries in North India by the British and Indian Archaeologists. So far, none of the sites yielded Brāhmī legend on the potteries in the excavations. It shows that the people of North India did not have any kind of writing system till the 4th century BCE.  

Palaeography of Tamil Brāhmī

Palaeography of Tamil Brāhmī, the simple and rudimentary form of letters both in the Cavern inscriptions and Pottery inscriptions, it is possible to arrive at the date of Tamil-Brāhmī to certainly earlier than the standard form of Aśōkan Brāhmī. The absence of varga systems,   (though Tamils used phonetic sounds where ever necessary with the usage of one letter); the absent of inherent a, the formation of letters such as short a  and long ā vowels, consonants symbols m,r, etc are comparatively in a standardized and developed  forms in Aśōkan Brāhmī where as these are in rudimentary signs in Tamil Brāhmī.  In the initial stage of the Tamil-Brāhmī inscription, the Vowel consonants and basic consonants do not have any differences either using conjuncts or pulli marks as we have seen the formation of conjuncts in the Aśōkan Brāhmī. This demarcation is clearly shown in the Aśōkan Brāhmī by using conjuncts. Either they were written jointly from top to bottom or side by side as we have seen in all Indian writing system at present.

            The Tamils recognize this later on around 2nd century B.C and introduced a new technique by using dot marks (pulli system) to indicate or differentiate the Consonants and Vowel consonants in the script. This is the major development of Tamil-Brāhmī script.  All these show that the Tamil-Brāhmī script is an indigenous one created by the Tamils for their language Tamil around 6th century BCE  from the Graffiti which were abundantly found on the potteries as well as some pre history paintings in Tamil nadu.

Scientific Date arrived from Porunthal and Koḍumaṇal excavations

The scientific date arrived at recently by Rajan is the turning point in the history of Chronology of Tamil-Brāhmī scripts which  strongly supports the Palaeographical date of the script. Rajan carried out excavations at a place called Porunthal in the year 2009 near Palani, the abode of Lord Murugan in Tamil nadu.[16]  The seven radiometric dates received from two different laboratories from USA pushed the date of Brāhmī scientifically to 6th century BCE.  The Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS dating) dates of Porunthal from the paddy grains dates to the 520 BCE.[17] The paddy grains recovered from the trench along with the ring stand with writing reads vayara in Tamil-Brāhmī characters. On palaeographical grounds this letters are assignable to the second stage of Tamil-Brāhmī characters.

 In the years 2012 and 2013, Rajan has conducted excavations in two seasons at Koḍumaṇal  in Erode District of Tamil nadu[18]. He collected five samples at various depths of the trenches for dating. The samples were sent to USA and five different dates have been obtained. The sample obtained at a depth of 120 cm shows that the date is 480 BCE. The total deposit of the trench further goes below 185 cm. According to the excavator Rajan, there is still 65 cm thick cultural deposit containing inscribed potsherds both Tamil-Brāhmī scripts and graffiti below this dated (480 BCE) level. Based on this one can easily push the date of the earliest deposit in this site to 6th or 7th century BCE. Koḍumaṇal , is the important commercial centre which yielded nearly 1200 potsherds with Tamil-Brāhmī letters till 2017 excavations. The lower most level of the trench yielded graffiti marks and on the above level the excavator noticed graffiti and Tamil-Brāhmī potteries within the thickness of 65 cm.  Above that the Tamil Brāhmī letters have been found along with some Prākrit letter. This is dated in 480 BCE. Tamil Brāhmī alone can be dated prior to 480 BCE in all probability it could be fixed to the 6th century BCE.

  The commercial and trade centers like Koḍumaṇal, Arikkamēḍu and Azagaṉkuḷm  yielded  6 signs of  northern Brāhmī letters viz., sa,śa ha, dha,da,bha on the potteries. They were all found on the upper layers of the trenches. At Koḍumaṇal it found along with the Tamil Brāhmī dated to 480 BCE. It gives the clue that the Prākrit form of writing too evolved in Tamil nadu and took by the traders of Sri Lanka and North India to suit their languages.   They learnt the Tamil-Brāhmī Scripts from the Tamil people and introduced a few letters here itself and took to their country innovated many varga and special letters for their languages[19]. In the 2017 recent excavations at Koḍumaṇal , the excavator found a pottery slate with Tamil- Brāhmī alphabets starting from a to i.  Since it is a broken piece, the remaining letters are missing. It shows that the non Tamil traders learned the script and practiced through pottery slates. [20].

Hence, the writing system in Tamil nadu could have been pushed earlier   to the 7th or 8th century BCE. The rudimentary nature of Māṅguḷam inscriptions and few cave inscriptions in Madurai region and the two Hero stone inscriptions at Pulimāṉ kōmpai in Teni region could have been dated to the 7th or 8th century BCE. In this connection, we should also recognize the c14 date of Koṟkai materials. Here the excavator assigned the   c14 date to 780 BC[21].  Koṟkai was the port city of the Pāṇḍyas where the excavator recovered some Tamil-Brāhmī potsherds.

Tamil Brāhmī inscriptions on Hero Stones

The discovery of Pulimāṉ kōmpai hero stone inscriptions, Tātappaṭṭi hero stone inscriptions and Porpanaikkottai Hero stone inscription in Tamil-Brāhmī characters are a clinching evidence for the widened usage of Tamil-Brāhmī script amidst the pastoral community in Tamil nadu.  These inscriptions are an indication of the social life of the Tamils of Sangam Period.  Sangam literature and the grammatical treatise Tolkappiyam    focuses the cattle riding, lifting and Hero stone worship and its associated funeral-burial practices.   The Pulimāṉ kōmpai hero stone inscriptions were found on the boulder of the megalithic burial complex where as the Tātappaṭṭi Hero stone inscription is a menhir variety. The fifth one from Porpanikkottai is dressed in a triangular shape which is on Palaeographical grounds assignable to 2nd or 3rd century CE.  No sculptural representation of a hero found sculpted in these early hero stones as generally we come across from the time of the Pallavas of 4th century CE in Tamil country. If we accept that the Tamil- Brāhmī script was introduced by the Jaina monks from Karnataka, It is not possible to reach to the pastoral community with a short span of time to the remote villages like Pulimāṉ kōmpai , Tattappatti and Porpanaikkottai.  The people of Tamil nadu were more literate people because of the antiquity of the Tamil Brāhmī script which is older than any other script in India.   

 Among the three hero stone inscriptions of Pulimāṉ kōmpai , one inscription on Palaeographical grounds and its letters formation belongs to 6th century BCE and the second one is 5th or  4th centuries BCE and the last one which mentions the word akol is  datable to the 3rd century BCE.   The Tātappaṭṭi inscription is broken on the top and it mentions the word Pakal pali  kal.  The word pāḻi, generally, we come across in the cavern inscriptions. According to Iravatham Mahadevan it was a Jaina Palli (Jain’s school)  in order to assign the authorship of cavern inscriptions to the Jains who had settled in Tamil Country around 2nd century BCE from Karnataka. From the Tātappaṭṭi Hero stone inscription, now it is clear that the word pāḻi indicates the memorial stone (pāḻi kal) installed to the deceased for his bravery activities in the society. The installation of memorial stones to the hero’s is the social customs of the Tamils. The practice was continued till 18th century CE. The paḷḷippaḍai temples (sepulchral temples) of the historical period, we come across in Tamil country from the time of Pallavas to the medieval period is the development of the Hero stone worship of ancient Tamils. Hence it earned the name paḷḷippaḍai [22]. This clearly indicates that these beds in the natural caverns were a kind of memorial beds for those who were diseased. The practice of fast unto death by the Jains in the latter period (sallēkanam) or niśidhikai were the development of the Jains when they occupied these places in the 3rd -4th century CE in Tamil Country[23].

The Nature and contents of Tamil-Brāhmī inscriptions

            The Tamil Brāhmī inscriptions are written in simple form consisting from single line to a maximum of five lines of writing. They had written without any religious words or auspicious symbols (maṅgala solōga) in the beginning of the inscriptions as we have come across in Tamil inscriptions from the time of Pallavas of 6th century CE. These inscriptions mostly record the donation of the beds in the natural cavern, the names of the donor and donee with their native place.  In Aśōkan Brāhmī, the edict generally starts with devanam piya  ( beloved to the god). In most of the inscriptions of North India, the auspicious signs or the auspicious word have appeared in the beginning of the inscriptions. The famous Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela has swastika and srivatsa symbols in the beginning of the inscription.  Here, in Tamil nadu the cavern Tamil Brāhmī inscriptions, though scholars like Iravatham Mahadevan claims the Jaina origin, none of these records proclaimed any religious faith of that period in these inscriptions or any religious symbols on them.  The earliest occurrence of auspicious word, we do come across around 3rd century CE in the Paṟaiyaṉpaṭṭu inscription near Gingee in Villpuram District.  It starts with the auspicious word namōtthu (Salute to the God) . From this time onwards inscriptions of Tamil nadu have the auspicious words like Śri, Svasti Śri, subhamasthu, naṇmaṅgalam unḍāgaṭṭum etc., as preamble of the inscriptions. These religious auspicious words were introduced by the Jains who came and settled in Tamil nadu around 3rd century CE.  

Sangam Literature

            The earliest literature in Tamil Country known as Sangam literature consists of Eṭṭuttogai (the eight anthologies), the Pattuppāṭṭu (the ten Idylls) and the Padinenkīḻkaṇakku (the eighteen works of shorter verses). These Sangam works are classified in to Aham and Puram works. They are the earliest works among the other Sangam literature.  Aham treats of love themes. Puram relates to warfare. The Tamils patronage these two folds of life in their living. These two folds of life are totally against the philosophy of Jainism and Buddhism. If we accept that the Jaina monks were the authority of introducing the Tamil Script in Ancient Tamilagam, at least some of their religious order or their philosophy must have been referred to in this literature.  There is no single evidence in Sangam literature referring to the Jaina religion or Jaina monks. They record the love and war fare of the people in an elaborate manner which was totally against the basic theme of Jainism. The social and political history of the Tamils, customs and manners of their day to day life, warfare has been narrated in these poems. The arrival and spread of Jainism or Buddhism are not figured in the early literature.     There is a reference of a word amanan in one or two cave inscriptions which is a general term to any monks who gave up the worldly life. Aśōkan inscriptions refer to the word sramana, the Prākrit form of Tamil amanan indicating as general term to all the saints or monks who withheld the worldly affairs. Both Jainism and Buddhism entered In to Tamil nadu only in the post Sangam period not earlier than that. The post Sangam works Nālaḍiyār, Tirikaḍugam, the twin epics Silappadikāram and Maṇimēgalai are the later literatures which referred to the above two religions Buddhism and Jainism in Tamil Country.

The Natural caverns in Tamil Country

The orientation of the stone beds in the natural caverns is mostly not perfectly curved.  They are varying in size and cut in all directions. One can see that these beds are not comfortable to the monks to sleep or for meditations. The sizes of the beds are ranging from 2 feet to 8 feet. All these give some clue that these were the beds curved for the purpose of the deceased. It is also remembered here that   almost all the Tamil-Brāhmī caverns are surrounded by megalithic burials.   All most all the natural caverns are narrow in size and inaccessible to reach and stay permanently by the monks.  They selected some natural caverns and made some drip lines on the eye brow of the caverns in order to prevent the rain water inside the caverns where they cut smooth beds as memorials. The beds in the cavern were generally referred to in the inscriptions as pāḻi or adhiṭṭānam.  These two words are synonyms to each other which mean memorial bed. It clearly indicated that these inscriptions are non-religious characters and scooped and cut by the Tamils for their diseased people. Almost all the Tamil Brāhmī caverns are surrounded by megalithic remains in the form of burials. The best example is Sittaṇṇavāsal. The Ēḻaḍipāṭṭam hill is surrounded by megalithic burials consisting of dolmans, cists, urns and menhirs[24].  These megalithic burials are locally known as pāṇḍavar kuzi or paṇḍu kuzi or Pāṇḍavar paḍukkai or Pañchapāṇḍavar paḍukkai. The hill where the natural caverns with beds are there, they are referred to as Pañchapāṇḍavar malai or Aivar malai.  The word Pāṇḍavar  is the derivation of māṇḍavar (one who died).  As discussed earlier, on the hilly tract in the natural caverns, they cut the beds as memorial tomb. This is another kind of burial customs of ancient Tamils.  It is also interesting to note here that  the rock cut architecture in north India begun around 3rd century BCE by the ĀAjivikaga saints, Jains, Buddhist and Vedic people, whereas in Tamil nadu the cave architecture came in to existence around 4-5th century CE., introduced by the Pāṇḍyas in the South and Pallavas in the North of Tamil nadu.  If the Jains or other sects of North India migrated in 2nd Century BCE, they should have also introduced this architecture along with script in the early stage itself.

Settlement of Jains in Tamil nadu

            We donot come across any early settlements of Jains in the Madurai and its neighboring regions of Tamil nadu where we get abundance of cavern inscriptions in Tamil-Brāhmī characters.  The earliest settlement of Jains in Tamil nadu is witnessed in the northern part of Tamil nadu consisting of Vellore, Thiruvannamalai, Kanchipuram and Villupuram districts of the Pallava region. They either migrated or converted into this religion during 4th or 5th century CE. This region is studded with many Jaina temples of early historic period and inscriptions of Jaina religions. The present nainār (Jain) community lived in the Gingee and Cheyyar and Kanchipuram regions were the early settlers in Tamil nadu. The temple at Jaina Kanchi received royal patronage of the Pallava kings.  It continued during the time of Chōḷas too. The Pallavas and Chōḷas gave liberal donations to the Jaina temples and constructed many temples in this region.  The reference of many Jaina monks  and samghas like nandhi samgha, Yāppiniya samgha, Drāvida samha etc are found in the  inscriptions of this region. They belong to   3rd or 4th century CE. The Jaina monks went to southern districts and stayed in the hilly regions and scooped bas relief sculptures of Jaina Gods and Goddesses with the Vaṭṭeḻuttu inscriptions in the vicinity of natural caverns.   For meditations and for the religious purpose they modified some of the caverns and scooped sculptures of Jaina pantheons around 4th -5th century CE not earlier to that. The Thirunātharkuṇṟu inscription and Paṟaiyaṉ paṭṭu inscriptions are the earliest inscriptions which are referring to the Jaina teachers and their religious practice like vaḍakkiruttal, sallēkanam, janam norral etc (past unto death practice). None of the cave inscriptions of Tamil-Brāhmī characters referred these terms to support the Jaina religion. The Pulankurichchi inscription in the Sivaganga District is the earliest inscription which refers to the existence of a Jaina palli in the southern region for the first time[25]. It belongs to 3rd century CE.

Conclusion

            From the above discussions, it is clear that the Tamil-Brāhmī script in Tamil Nadu is the earliest known script in India which was practiced by the Tamil People in the remote villages of Tamil nadu in 6th -7th centuries BCE.  This script was originated from the graffiti marks which were abundantly found engraved on the potteries of Tamil nadu.  The script was learnt by the merchants of Sri Lanka and North India and they introduced the varga system and some special letters to suit their languages Prākrit. It got its final shape by the Buddhists of Bhattiprolu monastery in Andhra where it travelled to north India. Finally, this was widely used by the Aśōka in his edicts.  The natural caverns with stone beds in various shapes and sizes yielded Tamil Brāhmī inscriptions which are scooped by the native people i.e., the Tamils for their departed souls as memorial beds. These places were later on occupied by the Jains around 3rd century CE and they modified these places for their meditation and stay; They sculpted Jaina Tirthankaras around 5-6th centuries CE with the Vaṭṭeḻuttu  inscriptions in these places.  The Late reference of Bhatrapagu arrival of Karnataka and the absence of early Brāhmī inscriptions at Śravaṇa-Begola do not suit with in the chronological frame for Tamil-Brāhmī script. The Radio carbon date, palaeographical and orthographical features of Tamil-Brāhmī clearly suggest that the Tamil Brāhmī was in vogue amidst the people of Tamil nadu around 7th-6th centuries BCE. In contrast, the spread or migration of Jaina monks took place in the later period around 3rd or 4th century CE when the Pallavas established their capital city Kanchipuram in the northern part of Tamil nadu .

            The   natural caverns were mostly utilized by the local people for scooping the memorial beds for their departed soul as these places were surrounded by other megalithic tombs like stone circles, Menhirs, Dolmens and Urns. The Tātappaṭṭi hero stone inscription is the clinching source for the word pāḻi-kal which indicates that the memorial stone was erected for the deceased.  Even if we accept the Jaina authorship for the caverns as well as for the Tamil-Brāhmī script, naturally the script could not have been spread to the remote areas like Koḍumaṇal  Tātappaṭṭi, Pulimāṉ kōmpai , porunthal and Porpanaikkottai at an early stage. The pastoral and agricultural Tamil people practiced the script for writing their names on the potteries and Hero stones without any orthographic mistakes. It could be possible only they knew the art of writing for a long time.  When there was no script in Tamil nadu before the advent of Jain, how the local pastoral people in the remote villages learnt this script within a short period; those who are claiming the Jaina origin they could not answer for this positively. The theory of Jaina authorship to the natural caverns and the Tamil Brāhmī associations with Jains are fully based on conflicting and contradictory nature of evidences. Those who are claiming the Jaina origin for Tamil Brāhmī have not given any authentic and contemporary evidences to prove the spread of Jainism in Tamil country around 2nd century CE,

The migration of Jains from North India to Śravaṇa-Begola under Bhadrabāhu is totally based on traditions. This tradition appeared in the late literary sources and inscriptional evidences. There are a variety of stories regarding this migration in the following literature of later period. The Sanskrit work Brhat-Kathakōsa (10th century CE), Kannada work Manivamsa  (1680),  Rājavalikathe of Devachandra (1838) contain different  story on migration of Bhadrabāhu.  The migration of Jains into Karnataka in 3rd century BCE was questioned by several scholars like Hoernle. V.A. Smith, the well known British historian. He quotes that the traditional story of migration of Chandragupta along with the Jaina guru is totally an imaginary one. This may be accepted with all probability, he says. [26]   The other notable scholars to deny the above theory were Fleet, Shama Sastri and Govinda Pai. They identified Chandragupta with the Chandragupta II of Gupta dynasty and Bhadra bahu with Bhadra bahu II  of 4th century CE. [27]

On the light of the above, It is certain that the migration of Jains to Tamil nadu must have taken place during the time of Pallavas not earlier than that and they first settled in the Vellore, Kanchipuram, Thiruvannamalai, Villupuram regions. At present, the Tamil Jaina communities are still living in the above regions of Tamil Nadu.  Jaina monks went to further south and selected their abode in the caverns which was free from the crowd of people. They scooped sculptures of Jaina Gods with the Vaṭṭeḻuttu inscriptions around 5-6th century CE for meditation. The Jaina works Ᾱyaraṅga quotes the Jaina ascetics put up their abode in the cemetery and mountain caves.[28] Hence, all the evidences and scientific analysis proved that the author of Tamil Brāhmī was the Tamil people. They started their writing system in graffiti in the early stage and later on developed the Tamil-Brahmi scripts from it. The natural caverns with beds are the creation of Tamils as one of the burial customs of ancient period. They engraved the donation of the beds in Tamil Brahmi characters.  The simple aksharas (letters) of Tamil Brāhmī was later on borrowed by the merchants of Sri Lanka and North India. They introduced the varga letters and some modification in their writing system with the help of Jaina and Buddhist monks around 4th century BCE in North India as well as in Sri Lanka.

Appendix –I List of Tamil Brahmi inscriptions with Date in Natural caverns

S.No

Name of the village

District

No of inscriptions

Period ( Earliest date is figured here)

1.

Mangulam

Madurai

6

5th century BCE

2

Arittapatti

Madurai

2

4th century BC

3

Tiruvadavur

Madurai

2

3rd century BCE

4

Kilavalavu

Madurai

1

3rd century BCE

5

Kongarpuliyankulam

Madurai

3

3rd century BCE

6

Marukaltalai

Tirunelveli

1

3rd century BCE

7

varichiyur

Madurai

3

3rd century BCE

8

Vikkiramangalam

Madurai

6

3rd century BCE

9

Mettuppatti

Madurai

10

3rd century BCE

10

karungalakkudi

Madurai

1

3rd century BCE

11

Mudalaikkulam

Madurai

1

3rd century BCE

12

Alagarmalai

Madurai

13

3rd century BCE

13

Sittannavasal

Pudukkottai

1

3rd century BCE

14

Aiyarmalai

Karur

1

3rd century BCE

15

Tirumalai

Sivaganga

2

3rd century BCE

16

Samanar malai

Madurai

1

3rd century BCE

17

Tirupparankunram

Madurai

4

3rd century BCE

18

 Muttuppatti

Madurai

3

3rd century BCE

19

Jambai*

Villupuram

1

3rd century BCE

20

Anaimalai

Madurai

1

2nd century BCE

21

Pugalur

Karur

12

2nd century BCE

22

Mamandur

Tiruvannamalai

1

2nd century BCE

23

Kunnakkudi

Sivaganga

2

2nd century BCE

24

Tondur

Villupuram

1

1st century BCE

25

Kudumiyanmalai

Pudukkottai

1

1st century BCE

26

Tiruchirappalli

Trichirappalli

1

1st century BCE

27

Edakkal

Kerala (Wynadu)

5

1st century BCE

28

Nekanurpatti

Villupuram

1

1st century CE

29

Ammankovilpatti

Salem

1

1st century CE

30

Arachalur

Erode

3

1st century CE

31

Mannarkovil

Tirunelveli

2

1st century CE

Total

93

 

*Jambai inscription is Contemporary to Asoka which mentions Satiyapoto Adhiyan of Asokan inscription.

Appendix-II List of Hero stone inscriptions with Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions

S.No

Name of the village

District

 

Date

1

Puliman kompai

Teni

3

5-6th century BCE

2

Tatappatti

Teni

1

3rd century BCE

3

Porpanaikkottai

Pudukkottai

1

3rd century CE

Total

           5

 

Appendix- III- List of villages yielded Pottery inscriptions

S.No

Village/site

District

Number of inscribed Sherds

1

Alagankulam

Ramanathapuram

98

2

Alagarai

Tiruchirappalli

3

3

Ambal

Nagapattinam

1

4

Andipatti

Tiruvannamalai

3

5

Arikamedu

Puducherry

66

6

Attur

Karur

1

7

Boluvanpatti

Coimbatore

1

8

Jambai

Villupuram

1

9

Kadattur

Dharmapuri

1

10

Kanchipuram

Kanchipuram

1

11

Karur

Karur

15

12

Kattupudur

Tiruchirappalli

1

13

Kaveripumpattinam

Nagappattinam

1

14

Kodumanal*

Erode

1110

15

Korkai

Tirunelveli

8

15

Kovalanpottal

Madurai

2

16

Kiladi(near Madurai)

Sivagangai

85

17

Maligaimedu

Cuddalore

8

18

Mangudi

Tirunelveli

9

19

Marungur

Cuddalore

3

20

Mathagam

Pudukkottai

1

21

Mayiladumparai

Krishnagiri

2

22

Otaikalpalayam

Coimbatore

1

23

Palayarai

Thanjavur

1

24

Pattanam

Thrissur (Kerala)

3

25

Pillaiyarpatti

Thanjavur

1

26

Poruthal*

Dindugal

1

27

S.Pappinayakkanpatti

Madurai

1

28

Salaiyur

Coimbatore

1

29

Sivakasi

Virudhu nagar

1

30

Somavarappatti

Erode

1

31

T.Kallupatti

Madurai

1

32

Teriruveli

Ramanathapuram

1

33

Uraiyur

Tiruchirappalli

20

34

Vallam

Thanjavur

4

35

Virapandipudur

Coimbatore

1


*C14 date has been arrived at Korkai 780 BCE.  ASM Date at Porunthal-  540 BC

ASM Date at Kodumanal – 480 BCE. This date is at the depth of 120 cm. Further 65 Cm below this the excavator noticed the undated cultural material. Hence the date could be pushed to 6th or 7th century BCE at Kodumanal.

 

Appendix –IV- List of Tamil-Brahami inscribed potsherds discovered outside India

 

S.No

Excavated Site

Country

Numbers

1

Berenike

Egypt

2

2

Khor Rori (Sumhuram)

Oman

1

3

Quseir al Quadim

Egypt

2

4

Anuradhapuram

Sri Lanka

1

5

Kalmunai

Sri Lanka

1

6

Kantarodai

Sri Lanka

1

7

Mannitalai

Sri Lanka

1

8

Poonagari

Sri Lanka

1

9

Vettukkada

Sri Lanka

1

10

Tissamaharama

Sri Lanka

1

11

Phu khao Thong

Thailand

1

 

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Tamil Literature

Agananuru

Purananauru

Tolkāppiyam  Eḻuttadikāram, Sūtra,15,16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

,

Photographs

                       

Earliest Hero stone in India- Pulimankompail, Teni District, Tamil Nadu, 600 BCE

Mangulam Tamil-Brahmi inscription eyebrow of the natural cavern- 600BCE

 

 

Inscribed potsherd from Kiladi mentions Person Name cantanan. 3rd century BCE

 

Natural cavern and un sized memorial beds for the dead-Tirumalai

 

 

Jaina Tirthankaras bas relief sculptures with Vatteluttu inscription at Samanar malai- occupied by Jaina monks in the later period.

 

Jaina loose sculpture of Late period (9th century CE) in the Tamil Brahmi natural cavern at Muttuppatti.

 

 

 

ASM Date received from USA  540 BCE.

 

Rock cut cave at Barabar (Bihar) for Ajivikas 3rd century BCE

 



* Department of Maritime History and Marine Archaeology, Tamil University, Thanjavur

[1] K.Rajan 2015

[2] List of villages in Tamil Nadu and Kerala yielded Tamil Brāhmī inscriptions have been enclosed in the Appendix of this article.

[3] H.Krishna Sastry 1910 &1919

[4] K.V.Subrahmanya Aiyyar 1924

[5] I.Mahadevan, 2003 & 2014

[6]  T.S.Sridhar(ed),2006.

[7] T.V.Mahalingam,1974, 2011(Reprint),pp.188-189

[8] K. Nedunzheliyan, 2014

[9] Edward Thomas,1883.

[10]  T.N.Subramaniam 1957.

[11] K.V.Ramesh,1980 2010,Natana Kasinathan, Rajavelu,S. Nedunzheliyan, 2010.

[12] Iravatham Mahadevan,2003.

[13] Epigraphia Carnatica, Vol II, Tr.pp1-2   Brhat-kathakosa a Sanskrit Jaina literature of 9th century CE records the story of Chandragupta  and Bhatrabahu’s arrival to Sravanabelagola. These are all later evidences.

[14]  Mahalingam, T.V., 1974. The Eran coin legend, The Taxila Coin legend , The Mahasthan stone plaque inscription, The Piprahwa relic casket inscription, The Sohgoura Copper Plate inscription, The Bhattiprolu Relic casket- Dravidi inscriptions are considered to be the pre Asokan period inscriptions of North India and Andhra.

[15]  Pottery with Tamil-Brahmi is listed in the Appendix of this article.

[16] Rajan and V.P Yathees Kumar,2013.pp279-295

[17] Ibid,

[18]  Rajan,K.2015,

[19] It is interesting to note here to remember the eminent scholar T.N. Subrahmanyan quotes that the Prakrit itself in its original form was a South Indian product synthesizing the Dravidian language to make it understood throughout the country.

[20]  . Archaeological survey of India carried out excavations at Kodumanal in the year 2017 and the author of the article personally verified the pottery and took photographs of the same.

[21] Nagaswamy,R.1970 (ed) Damilca, 

[22]  The earliest paḷḷippaḍai temple in Tamil nadu is at Cholapuram very near to Vellore belongs to Pallava period. The Arinjigai Isvaram at Melpadi, Arrur tunjiya devar paḷḷippaḍai  at Khalahasti and Panjavan Mahadevi paḷḷippaḍai at Palaiyarai and many paḷḷippaḍai i temples in and around Dharasuram near Kumbakonam are the sepulchral type of temples housed by Sivalinga in the garbhagriha.

[23] Tirunatharkunru and paraiyanpattu inscriptions record the nisidigai.SII Vol XVII and EI.40.

[24] Rajavelu, S. G.Thirumurthy, 1990. pp 67

[25] Y. Subbarayalu, 2001

[26] T.V. Mahalingam,1974 pp-165-170

[27]  Ibid

[28] S.B., Deo, 1955.