The Sprawling Cultural World that Hindu Inscriptions Reveal

The treasure-trove of Hindu inscriptions is perhaps the most glaring proof that Hindus did have a sense of History.
The Sprawling Cultural World that Hindu Inscriptions Reveal

Read the Previous Episodes in this Series

The Sprawling Cultural World that Hindu Inscriptions Reveal
Indian Epigraphy or an Invitation to Profundity: Where the True History of India Resides
The Sprawling Cultural World that Hindu Inscriptions Reveal
The Golden Age of Indian Epigraphy
The Sprawling Cultural World that Hindu Inscriptions Reveal
The Nehruvian and Marxist Slaughter of Hindu Inscriptional Studies
The Sprawling Cultural World that Hindu Inscriptions Reveal
Deciphering Hindu Inscriptions: A Brief Tour
The Sprawling Cultural World that Hindu Inscriptions Reveal
The Intrinsic Character of Hindu Inscriptions and their Classification
The Sprawling Cultural World that Hindu Inscriptions Reveal
The Three Elements of Hindu Inscriptions and Why Dāna-śāsanas are Central to Hindu History

IN THE BACKDROP OF the rather lengthy discussion in the earlier episodes of this series, it is astounding to note that till date, there are any number of Indian history “scholars” who parrot the colonial British lie that Hindus have no sense of history. The treasury of our epigraphical evidence is perhaps the most glaring proof of the contrary. Purely on the physical plane, our inscriptions reveal an extraordinarily intricate system of administration and governance, a robust military machinery, a Dharma-based jurisprudence, a well-oiled and stable social order and a sprawling economic system bursting with material abundance. And an incessant continuity underscoring all these despite waves of alien invasions.  

Just as India is home to the world’s largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it also has the world’s largest repository of inscriptions. According to an estimate made in 1975, the number of inscriptions discovered in Karnataka alone exceeded twenty-five thousand. But it occupies the second place after Tamil Nadu. Our inscriptional goldmine is indeed, nearly inexhaustible. The more we dig, the more emerges. It is comparable to the sky in its vastness, to the ocean for its depth, to a forest for its variety, and to the cosmos for the indescribable awe it inspires.  

To repeat a truism, our inscriptions are the mute witnesses waiting to narrate the story of our civilisation, culture, and our ancestors to the willing listener. They will reveal their inner lives to the earnest and dedicated artist who is patient and diligent and modest enough to acquire intimacy with them. This is pretty much the essence of Dr. Srikanta Sastri’s aforementioned dictum that the epigraphic researcher must also be an artist.

Here is a glimpse of what we discover when we study our epigraphs. Almost an uncountable number of inscriptions reveal that even the most ordinary people — hailing from all varnas — have left behind profound bequests spanning a wide gamut as the stories in this book show. These inscriptions also give us beautiful portraits of the customs, practices, traditions, lifestyles, poetry and music of various Jatis, communities, etc. And when considered as a whole, we get a vividly brilliant panorama of the Sanatana society itself. 

But above all, every inscription — drawn from any part of Bharatavarsha — is unambiguously consistent in one aspect: the fundamental values that Hindus lived and died by and unanimously extolled throughout an incredibly long stretch of time. Truth, Dharma, piety, charity, compassion, sacrifice, loyalty, heroism, and valour.

When these are translated into specific actions in real life, this is the picture we get: donating cows is extolled, temple-building is revered, learning and scholarship are prized and patronised, reverence and respect for women are held paramount, people who die while protecting the honour of women are commemorated with tombstones, valour and death in battle are celebrated, delivering justice based on Dharmic precedents is hailed, composing, singing, and discoursing on our sacred literature are venerated, works of public welfare are supported and praised, and even the most minor act of piety is explicitly recognised and eulogised. Overall, even a superficial study of our inscriptions evokes admiration, intensity, depth, joy, inspiration, and elevates us.

One of the towering pioneers of Indian epigraphy, Dr. R. Narasimhacharya puts it beautifully.

The importance of our inscriptions is not merely confined to their literary merit. They… throw considerable light on the political, social and religious condition of the times to which they relate. The historical information…is of great value. The references to certain customs and practices in vogue in that [period] are full of interest.

On the philosophical plane, the study of Hindu inscriptions can also be approached as a study of values (Maulya-Mimamsa). From this perspective, the historical facts embedded in our inscriptions merely provide the spatiotemporal context in which these values unfurl themselves through the lives and deeds of our ancestors.

The whole experience of writing this series has been delightful at one level and sanctifying on a deeper plane. The purpose of this introductory series will be fulfilled if I have succeeded in transmitting my experience to the reader. And it will attain fruition if it kindles an abiding interest in the proverbial general reader to pursue epigraphy as a sacred vocation if not an ennobling hobby.   

|| Īśāvāsyamidam sarvaṁ ||

Series concluded

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