WHILE EPIGRAPHY is undoubtedly a daunting profession, Indian epigraphy, especially, the study of Hindu inscriptions is also a sacred calling depending on how one regards it. It is also a science, craft and art. Purely speaking from the confines of my limited reading, a gold standard introduction to the subject is D.C. Sircar’s authoritative volume, Indian Epigraphy. This used to be the textbook for M.A. students of history for several years in universities in Bengal and Orissa.
This apart, Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri’s classic work in Kannada, Purātatva śōdhane (Archeological Research) is an invaluable guide on the subject. It too, was prescribed as a textbook for postgraduate history students for several years at the Mysore University.
Other excellent works include D.C. Sircar’s Select Inscriptions Bearing on Indian History and Civilisation (in two volumes) and Indian Epigraphical Glossary, and G.H. Ojha’s Bhāratīya prācīn lipimālā (Ancient Indian Scripts) and Prachin Bharatiya Abhilekha (Ancient Indian inscriptions )in Hindi.
The downfall of Indian epigraphy after independence is another but familiar chapter in the tragic saga of our cultural destruction manned, helmed and directed by Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and frontally executed by Communist Party workers disguised as historians and scholars.
We have already noted the encyclopaedic and expert-level, multidisciplinary knowledge required for a study of inscriptions. However, after independence, a new breed of “historians” began to pass conclusive verdicts over crucial points in our history in a messianic tenor without knowing even a syllable of Sanskrit, forget understanding inscriptions, which are the most authoritative raw material for writing Indian history. As early as December 1961, Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri traced the progressive vandalism of the archeology and epigraphy departments as follows:
Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri: Bhāratadalli purātatva śōdhane: Prajāvāṇi, 10 December 1961
From this perspective, the well-known story of the slaughter of Indian history by Marxists could not have been so effective without first destroying archeology and epigraphy. Or, if not destroying, at least rendering them toothless and de-mainstreaming them. Akin to a manifestation of poetic justice, the epochal litmus test for the Marxists came during the excavations at Ayodhya in the aftermath of the destruction of the disputed structure in 1992. Indeed, the Marxists had no answer to the conclusive findings of the team of archeological experts led by Dr. B.B. Lal. The event is too familiar to bear repetition here.
In other words, the inestimable value of the work and the cultural dedication of the aforementioned pioneering epigraphists was butchered by a determined group of ideological merchants committed to the undoing of India’s peerless cultural heritage. What these past luminaries of epigraphy have done is nothing short of a lasting civilisational service. Their bequest is akin to a discharge of Sāmskrtika rṇa (Cultural Debt) because they were innately attuned to the impulses of our civilisation, which was birthed not by kings but by Rishis.
BUT TO REITERATE the evident truth, it is clear that our epigraphs reveal the real history of Bharatavarsha in an all-encompassing fashion. They also tell us how to look at our history: i.e., as an agglomeration of facts or as a gigantic repository of values. The former approach gives us dates and names and lists and tables and figures and graphs while the latter dignifies our spirit and purifies our lives and souls. The following is Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri’s majestic epigraph that brilliantly expounds on the real value of studying inscriptions. Indeed, some meanings of the word epigraph include “injunction,” “dictum,” “quotation,” and “maxim.”
Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri: Purātatva śōdhane. Sumeru Sahitya, Bangalore, 2016. Text on back matter.
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