Inscriptions of Ancient India

There are different varieties of inscriptions found during archeological excavations. These inscriptions constitute one of the major sources of evidence of the depiction of ancient society and culture.

Types of Inscriptions

In the early historical period of India, there were mainly two varieties of scripts namely Brahmi and Kharoshthi. In addition to this, there are several cave inscriptions which have the same level of importance. Further, they also provide information with regard to the Indian history.

Kharoshthi Script

The Kharoshthi script was, however, restricted only to the north-western part of India. The earliest reported were the Ashokan edicts while the most recent belonged from the 4th – 5th centuries AD. Hence, the use of this script was comparatively short-lived. It is believed that the origin of this script probably had its origin from the Aramaic script. This script came to be introduced during the Achaemenid rule in the north-western part of ancient India.

Inscriptions of Ancient India
Kharoshti Script on a Wooden Plate

This theory, however, has been propounded depending upon the similarity of many signs having similar phonetic value as well as the direction of writing from right to left. Apart from this, there have been certain signs which have been borrowed while some have been derived as well as added.

Brahmi Script

Along with the Kharoshthi script, there was another script which developed. This was the Brahmi script. This script had a pan-Indian distribution. This root formed the base for most of the major modern Indian scripts. Apart from this, this script has also managed to influence some scripts in Central Asia, Tibet as well as south-east Asia.

Inscriptions of Ancient India
Brahmi Script

When this script first appeared on the Ashokan inscriptions, it had considerable variations with respect to the forms of letters. These variations have been explained as local varieties namely Northern as well as Southern along with the presence of cursive and advanced forms of letters.

Inscriptions of Ancient India

The general agreement among various scholars as well as historians has been that the Brahmi script originated even prior to Ashoka dynasty’s rule. Various kinds of mythological evidence point out that the origin of this script went back at least to the 8th or 7th century BCE.

Inscriptions of Ancient India
Old is India Civilization: Indus Valley Civilisation

The tradition of Indian writing continued in the late Harappan civilization until the 1300 BCE. As a result of this, the time-gap between the close of the Indus Valley Civilization and the beginning of the early history was comparatively lesser than what used to be thought before.

Importance of Inscriptions in History

Apart from this, the Harappan also closely interacted with the Neolithic-Chalcolithic communities outside their distribution area. This resulted in the Indus writing lingering on in perishable medium till the dictates of the new socio-economic contexts of early historic India. All this led in its resurrection though in a changed form after the discovery of some potsherds with disconnected Brahmi inscriptions in contexts dated around 450 to 350 BCE at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka.

This discovery only affirmed the archeological evidence of the Brahmi script earlier than what was believed to be. Also, several Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions found in South India are equally early.

Ashokan Inscriptions

Additionally, the earliest recorded illustrations of historical inscriptions are the Ashokan inscriptions. These inscriptions have been found in some places and are some of the most important sources of Indian history. These inscriptions which are so found are non-political more so emphasizing on Emperor Ashoka’s concepts of morality or ‘dhamma’ as it was called.

Inscriptions of Ancient India
Erragudi Ashoka Major Rock inscription

The post-Ashokan inscriptions, however, underwent a drastic change in the subsequent centuries. Then it records only the gifts of various ordinary classes of people towards the construction of the Buddhist stupas.

The inscriptions in the Jogimara caves, Surguja in Madhya Pradesh explore certain historical facts. The Junagadh rock inscriptions of Rudradaman, as well as the Nashik cave inscriptions of Ushavadata, have been considered unique in their own ways.

Rudradaman Inscription

The Rudradaman inscription is located on the Girnar hill dating back to the mid-second century AD. This inscription attempts to record the restoration of the Lake Sudarsana which was first constructed during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. It was constructed by his provincial governor, Pushyagupta. Pushyagupta belonged to the Vaisya caste and was adorned with a medium during the rule of Emperor Ashoka by his provincial governor ‘Yavana king’ Tushaspha.

Inscriptions of Ancient India
Andhau stone inscription of the time of Rudradaman Saka Year

Epigraphy is a specialized branch of study. It deals primarily with the actual style of the script used; the language, the meaning of technical terms, and the analysis of the information contained. All these necessitate the story of the period as well as of its kings and such other issues. Apart from this, most of the times are used as evidence of the socio-cultural as well as the religious background of that era.