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Exhaustive and Systematic Study

Rajan Gurukkal

By Iravatham Mahadevan
Cre-A , India & The Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University, USA, Chennai, 2003, pp. xxxix 719, Rs. 1500.00


Iravatham Mahadevan, an administrator- turned scholar noted for his profound scholarship in multiple aspects of the science of ancient scripts in general and Harappan writing in particular, belongs to the galaxy of the leading epigraphists of the world and ranks foremost among the scholars in Brahmi script. The study under review, Early Tamil Epigraphy is his magnum opus, the fallout of four decades long dedication and sustained engagement with a set of hitherto obscure inscriptions in what he finally identified as Tamil-Brahmi characters and Old Tamil language. It is a landmark in the history of epigraphy, in terms of concepts, design and thoroughness.   The book has three parts: Early Tamil Inscriptions, Studies in Early Tamil Epigraphy and the Corpus of Early Tamil Inscriptions. Part I is a general introduction to the subject matter of the book divided into four chapters describing discovery and decipherment of cave inscriptions and their language and contents. Part II consists of specialized studies divided into three chapters respectively on the palaeography, orthography and grammar of the inscriptions. Part III forms the core of the book comprising the corpus of early Inscriptions in Tamil Brahmi and early Vatteluttu scripts belonging to the period from ca. second century BC to AD sixth century. The texts of the inscriptions are presented with transliteration, translation, illustration of tracings made directly from the stone, estampages and a few direct photographs and explanatory notes. There are three maps showing sites of early Tamil inscriptions, detail showing concentration, and sites of pottery inscriptions respectively; eight palaeographic charts; fifty-one figures (including photographs); thirty tracings of inscriptions; and twenty-seven estampages, in the volume.   The author discusses in Part I the discoveries of inscriptions since 1882 in detail, consisting of a spate between 1906 and 1918, a revival of interest during 1961 – 1980 and fresh additions of 1981 – 2000. It is a very carefully done appraisal of salutary contributions by early epigraphists like Hultzsch, Venkayya, Krishna Sastri, Subrahmanya Aiyer, and others down to the contemporary scholars and the vicissitudes of development involving delay, neglect, loss, oversight, mixing up, confusion and so on. It helps us proudly recognize the author’s awe-inspiring success attained in the field by way of copying the known inscriptions through a new technique of tracing, analyzing their texts, intensively searching for the unknown, discovering the new, and deciphering and interpreting them.   There is an annexure to the section on discovery, dealing with the Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions on pottery and ...

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