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Vol. XXVIII No. 18, January 1-15, 2019

Mahadevan – and Tamil-Brahmi

Continuing T.S. Subramaniam's tribute to the great scholar Iravatham Mahadevan.

(Continued from last fortnight)

Page 5_1Mahadevan in quest of Tamil-Brahmi script at Jambai.

It was the discovery of an extremely important Tamil-Brahmi inscription at Jambai, near Tirukkoilur, that revealed Mahadevan’s determination to get at the truth of a controversy that surrounded this discovery. The Jambai inscription was important because it proved that the “Satiyaputo” mentioned by Emperor Asoka in one of his rock edicts was none other than the Atiyaman dynasty, which ruled from Tagadur, modern Dharmapuri.

Dr. Rajagopal narrated what happened in October 198. He had asked K. Selvaraj, one of his students in epigraphy, to climb the hill at Jambai and read the Chola inscription found there. On the way to the hill-top, Selvaraj found two potsherds with Tamil-Brahmi scripts on them. He collected the potsherds. When he was climbing the hill further, he found a Tamil-Brahmi inscription engraved on a boulder behind two natural caverns. After Selvaraj came down from the hill, he sent a telegram about his find to Dr. Rajagopal, who was then based in Madurai in the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department. Dr. Rajagopal asked Selvaraj to inform Dr. R. Nagaswamy, then Director, Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department, about the discovery. When informed, Dr. Nagawamy was delighted to hear about it. He travelled to Jambai and read the Tamil-Brahmi inscription discovered by Selvaraj. The inscription spoke about how Satiyaputo Atiyaman Neduman Anji donated the palli, that is, the bed there, for the Jaina monks to take rest.

According to Dr. Rajagopal, doubts were soon raised about the genuineness of the discovery. The doubting Thomases alleged that the inscription was “too neat” to belong to Atiyaman Neduman Anci of the Sangam age. The controversy snowballed.

In his foreword to Dr. Nagaswamy’s book Roman Karur, Mahadevan wrote elaborately about what happened. Here is Mahadevan’s account:

“Dr. Nagaswamy had a very similar experience years later when he was looking at the Jambai record of Atiyaman Neduman Anci, one of the most celebrated heroes of the Sangam Age, and a contemporary of the Irumborai rulers of the Pugalur inscriptions. I can even now recall vividly his excited voice over the telephone one early morning in October 1981 informing me about the telegram received from Selvaraj, his student, announcing the discovery of a Tamil Brahmi inscription at Jambai near Tirukkoyilur in South Arcot District. As Dr. Nagaswamy was rushing to the site, I wished him god speed and remarked jocularly that he might have stumbled on an Asokan Rock Edict. As it turned out, I was not too far off the mark. Dr. Nagaswamy did discover the title ‘Satiyaputo’ at Jambai known earlier from the second Rock Edict of Asoka. This finding clinched once for all the identification of ‘Satiyaputo’ with the Atiyamans of the Tamil Country.

“There can hardly be any doubt that the Jambai record of Atiyaman Neduman Anci read by Dr. Nagaswamy is one of the most important epigraphical discoveries in Tamil Nadu and ranks with those of the Chera inscriptions at Pugalur and Nedunjeliyan’s inscriptions at Mangulam, all belonging to the Sangam Age. I was then working in the Indian Express. I invited Nagaswamy to contribute two articles explaining the significance of the discovery, one in English to be published in all the editions of the Indian Express and the other in Tamil, Dinamani. One would have thought that such a major discovery would have been hailed by epigraphists. That is not what happened.

“A whispering campaign through foot notes citing footnotes was set afoot casting doubts on the ‘authenticity’ of the Jambai inscription. How could a Sanskrit expression like Satiyaputo occur in a Tamil-Brahmi record? And why is the dental ‘n’ used instead of the correct alveolar ‘n’ in the inscription?

“Neither objections can stand scrutiny. Apart from the well-known occurrences of numerous Prakrit loan-words in the Tamil-Brahmi cave inscriptions discovered earlier (and published by me in the Corpus of the Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions in 1966 in a volume edited by Dr. Nagaswamy), we now have the Prakrit grammatical form Utayana-sa occurring in the newly-discovered Mettupatti inscription and a similar expression Peruvaluti-sa occurring in one of the bi-lingual coin legends on an Early Pandyan coin. As regards the second objection, Tamil epigraphists know only too well that the use of the dental for the alveolar ‘n’ is one of the commonest errors in Tamil inscriptions. The examples are too numerous to need citation.

“I became so concerned with these unfair criticisms that I decided to visit the site once again for more detailed investigations. With the co-operation of the District Collector of South Arcot, I convened a meeting at Jambai on 14th December 1991, attended by the Tahsildar, the village revenue officials and some prominent citizens. The Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology was represented by Thiru Kulandaivelan. (Dr. M.D. Sampath of the ASI, Epigraphy Branch, was to have attended, but got held up in Delhi). At this meeting, Appavu, the retired Talayari of the village said that he took Selvaraj to see the inscription in 1981. Appavu had known the inscription since his boyhood as he used to rest in the cavern when grazing his cattle nearby. Two other villagers also corroborated the testimony and stated that they had also often visited the cavern with the inscription. All the three volunteered to make sworn affidavits duly attested by the Revenue Officials.

“And then the clinching evidence turned up. A Senior PWD Engineer who was present on the occasion, made arrangements to remove the top-soil from the two caverns situated opposite to each other. The cavern opposite with one with the inscription was found to have now rock-beds, a large broad one near the entrance and a smaller one in the middle of the cavern. The existence of the rock beds proved Jambai’s association with the Jambai caverns. This discovery, I note, has given the final quietus to an avoidable controversy.”

As Dr. Rajagopal said, Mahadevan was a scholar who aimed at the truth and perfection in whatever he did.


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