An essay on the civilisational, cultural and spiritual value of the Hebbale Inscription of the Hoysalas
Our story begins in a nondescript village named Hebbale, one of the countless such Kugramas that knit the sacred landscape of Bharatavarsha like tiny buttons. Hebbale is located about 45 kilometres southeast of Hassan, one of the cradles of Kannada culture and civilization. Today its population is a meagre thousand-plus people and it languishes underneath the ash-pile of historical amnesia. Unremembered. Uncelebrated. Uncared for.
Few, if any of its inhabitants are even aware of the magnanimous role it played about eight hundred years ago and earned glorious distinction as a sacred space that rendered a momentous service to one of the core, enduring, outward expressions that keep Sanatana Dharma alive even today: the unparalleled, inimitable and irreplaceable cultural-national institution known as Tirtha-Yatra.
One of the more successfully-concealed and shrewdly-downplayed elements of Islamic history across the world is the barbaric monstrosity called Jizya. No matter how hard apologists try, it is nearly impossible to whitewash or wish away the real-life implications and manifestations of Jihad. However, owing to vastly changed circumstances, it was easy to sanitize Jizya as simply, “poll tax,” a terminological and historical subterfuge designed to camouflage the sheer barbarism at its core. In simple terms, Jizya is Jihad in peacetime where “peacetime” is defined as a “pure” Islamic rule.
In theory, Jizya was a conception and exposition that, in Sita Ram Goel’s memorable words, rationalized “the lowest human passions and stamped them with the supernatural seal of an almighty Allah.” In practical implementation, Jizya was a daily-life expression of peerless savagery. And in both theory and practice, the ultimate intent and goal of Jizya was to force the infidel victim to finally choose between the Islamic binary: conversion or suicide. Here is a representative verse delineating Jizya, provided by the arch-bigot Mujaddid-i Alf-i Thânî, hailing from the fanatical Naqshbandi School and a contemporary of Jahangir, still revered as a champion of Islam by the Islamic clergy.
Wa maqSûd-i aSlî az jizyah giriftan az îshâN khârî-i ishân ast.
Wa în khârî ba-Hadd-î 'st ki az tars-i jizyah jâmah-i khûb na mî-tawânand poshîd,
wa ba-tajammul na mî-tawânand bûd,
wa hamîshah tarsâN wa larzâN mi-bâshand
The real purpose of imposing Jizya on the Kâfirs is their humiliation.
And the humiliation goes to the extent that for fear of Jizya
They may not put on good dress and live with dignity and in prosperity
And they may always live in trembling fear.
In modern parlance, there is a case to be made for how the infamous “Halal certification” is the contemporary equivalent of Jizya; only, it is far more insidious, a quiet, creeping poisonous vine that has not just the consent but a glad embrace by the infidels themselves who pay for it from their own pockets for “Halal certification,” a warrant for their eventual civilisational destruction.
Historically, the Jizya-misery imposed on Hindus was multipronged, and one of the crueler edges included the notorious “pilgrim tax,” euphemism for truly fiendish oppression of the infidels. For glaringly obvious reasons, the Jizya levied on pilgrims going to Kashi and Prayag was the most extortionate. The actual payment of the Jizya was secondary, in a manner of speaking. It was the appalling humiliation and degradation that the Hindu pilgrims were subjected to even after paying the Jizya is enough to thaw the hardest rock. On their part, the Jizya-collectors relished heaping these indignities in full public view: the undertone of this humiliation was to remind Hindus at every step the supremacy of Islam. The subliminal message conveyed to these hapless Hindus was this: convert to Islam and you can also become Jizya-collectors like us. However, the fact that majority of Hindus cutting across Varnas and languages, cutting across several centuries bore these heinous insults but did not abandon their ancient Dharma is what makes India still a Hindu nation and the only surviving civilization. This is the glorious reflection of another facet of the same Kshatra spirit that broke the backbone of Islam whose greatest failure is Bharatavarsha. Instead of celebrating this, our textbooks and public discourse feels apologetic if not ashamed of it.
It is in this context that the service rendered by Hebbale becomes relevant and earns our everlasting gratitude. This story has thankfully been preserved in a copperplate inscription dated 1279 CE, a grant endowed by the penultimate Hoysala emperor Vira Narasimha III. The inscription is both in Sanskrit and Kannada. Here is the relevant portion in (transliterated) Kannada:
Hoysala-bhujabala-sri-Narasimha-devarasaru saka-varsha 1200 neya Bahudhanya-samvatsarada Magha-bahula Chaturdasi Vaddavaradandu Konganada Hebbale-vittiya Hebbale-pravishta-giidi tamtamma kaluvalligalu sahita sasana-maryadeyalu teruva siddhaya…antu naduvadavidlade kuttu-vittiyagi kattuguttage pindadana sarva-badha-pariharavagi varsham prati teruva…visa Varanasiyaliha ella kshetravasigalu Turahkarige teruva siddhayakke kotta honnina kula Karnnatigaru teruva…Telugaru teruva…Tulu-Maleylaru teruva…Lalaru teruva…Pattavalarugalige…Ariyaru teruva…Tirabuttiyaru teruva…Gavudiyaru teruva…antu ivarugalu teruva siddhayakke kotta…A-Sri-Visvesvaradevara amritapadige…A-nandadivigege…A-devarige parichariya maduvarige…acharyarige…parupatara satrakke…alliya sambharakke….bhikshakke…A-banasigarige…agnishthagege…adhikariya bhagege….antu… Sri Varanasiyaliha ella-kshetravasigalu Turahkarige teruva siddhayakke A-Visvesvaradevara amritapadi satra bhikshe modalada ella dharmake A-Vira-Narasimha-devara sarakuttu vittiyagi madi kattuguttage pindadana sarva-badha-pariharavagi ga 645 nu varaham prati teruva A-Konga-nadoLagana Hebbaleyanu A-Varanasiya ella-kehetravasigaLige Sri-Visvesvaradevara amritapadi modalada ella dharmakam A-chandrarka-tarambaram saluvantagi yA-sri-Visvesvaradevaru satra-dharmavagi madi dhara-purvakam madi kottaru ||
Its essence can be translated as follows:
In the Magha Saka 1200, the “Mighty Armed” Hoysala Emperor Sri Narasimha granted the revenues amounting to 645 Varahas (or Nishkas) a year of a village named Hebbale to the pilgrims of Varanasi and to offer various sevas at the nectar-feet of Lord Sri Vishveshwara. The grant also included the purpose of enabling the pilgrimage to Kashi so that the pilgrims could pay off the tax levied by the Turukas [or Turushkas or Muslims]. The pilgrims covered under the grant hailed from the entire country of Karnata [Karnataka], Tamil, Telugu, Tulu, Malayala [Kerala], Tirhut [Tirabhukti or the general Mithila region], and Gauda [Bengal region].
By all accounts, this is a truly extraordinary inscription, which caught the attention of that colossus of Dharmasastra scholarship, Acharya P.V. Kane who calls it “remarkable.” The fact that he devotes more than half a page to this inscription in his encyclopedic work spanning six thousand-plus pages speaks volumes of its significance.
On plain sight, the fact that Vira Narasimha could offer the entire land revenue (Siddaya) of the Hebbale village shows the splendid fiscal health and robust administrative system of the Hoysalas. Typically, land revenue formed one-third of the total revenue of a village. According to the inscription, the 645 Varahas earmarked for Varanasi was further split as follows: 402 to be remitted to the Turuka Jizya-collector and the rest for the maintenance, upkeep of and for various Sevas at the Sri Vishveshwara Temple.
Several lessons and insights of history flow from just this one obscure inscription.
Vira Narasimha III was the contemporary of the semi-barbaric Turkish bigot, Ghiyasuddin Balban into whose despotic pockets the Hoysala offering to Varanasi went. It was Balban who solidified the Delhi Sultanate and actually began the first Muslim dynasty for what it was worth. The process involved leading an extensive trail of Hindu genocide, plunder, and despoliation across vast swathes of north, east, and middle India, to put it mildly. Needless, its aftermath witnessed the imposition of the vicious Jizya and Kharaj (land tax on infidels) on Hindus in all these regions. These naked, Islam-inspired indignities are sexed up as “administrative reforms of the Delhi Sultanate” and entire volumes devoted to it by our eminent historians. The most shameless apologist for Balban is Satish Chandra who almost literally “rescues” him but that’s a topic for another day.
Vira Narasimha III ascended the throne at a time when the Hoysala dynasty was tottering towards extinction, a fact that puts the story of Hebbale in proper perspective. His illustrious son, Vira Ballala III would prove to be the last bright flame after which the glorious Empire would permanently be extinguished and become bloodlessly absorbed into the fledgling Vijayanagara Empire. This account has been outlined in my monograph, The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History. By most counts, Vira Narasimha III had endowed the Hebbale grant largely during troubled times. More interestingly, Narasimha III was a staunch adherent of the fabled 23rd Jain Tirthankara, Parshvanatha, and his spiritual advisor was a Jain Muni named Mahanandi Siddhanta.
The Kannada words, Turukarige teruva siddhaya in the Hebbale inscription has a direct parallel with the well-known Sanskrit term, Turushka-danda, which occurs—for example—in numerous Gahadavala inscriptions. Both terms mean the same: the pilgrim tax levied on Hindus by Muslim rulers. The Gahadavala inscriptions also reveal another important historical truth. For the longest period, the capital of the Gahadavalas was Varanasi. Its last great emperor was the unlucky Jayachandra (the same Jaichand who has been unfortunately maligned as a traitor) whose defeat and death gave Kashi its first-ever deadly taste of Islamic piety.
In turn, all these facts of history compel the following questions.
Why would a Hoysala king located so far down south even bother to care for pilgrims going to Kashi while he was personally an adherent of the Jaina philosophy? Neither was it limited to the pilgrims alone: his grant covered payments to the staff of the Sri Vishveshwara Temple, its maintenance, and various sevas such as lighting the Nanda-Dipa, for the Acharyas, for preparing the Prasadam, Bhiksha, and so on. What does the fact that he endowed sixty percent of the revenue of Hebbale explicitly for paying the Jizya show? All this in a region completely under the despotic sway of the selfsame Islamic despot, Balban. Apart from the Kashi pilgrims hailing from Narasimha’s dominions, his grant money was largely used by virtual strangers in a faraway, sacred land who he would never meet.
What do all these things tell us about the cultural unity and indivisibility of Bharatavarsha?
In the final reckoning, there’s no doubt that there are hundreds if not thousands of Hebbales across the sacred geography of India just waiting to be rediscovered. These places are the true repositories of the real history of Sanatana Bharatavarsha.
The weekend urban trip-goers from Bangalore (or any urban city) would find it highly rewarding to visit places like Hebbale. With children.
There’s a profound reason our ancients held obscurity and reclusion in such high esteem.
1. Epigraphia Carnatica: Vol 15: Mysore Archeological Survey
2. History of the Dharmasastra: Vol 4: Pandurang Vaman Kane
3. Belur Inscription Of Narasimha III: An Economic Analysis: Smt (Dr) Usha Rani
4. Muslim Separatism: Sita Ram Goel
5. Conversion and Poll Tax in Early Islam: Daniel Dennett
6. The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History: Sandeep Balakrishna