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Literature » History

Recent Discoveries Of Jaina Cave Inscriptions In Tamilnadu

By Mr. Iravatham Mahadevan

INTRODUCTION - The cave inscriptions of Tamilnadu are the earliest lithic records of Jainism in South India. It is even likely that some of them may ante-date the earliest Jaina inscriptions in the rest of the country. While the earliest known Jaina inscriptions from Mathura and Orissa (Kalinga) are assigned to the middle of the second century B.C., the earliest Tamil-Brahmi cave inscriptions have been dated on palaeographical grounds to the end of the third century B.C. or the commencement of the second century B.C. These inscriptions provide valuable data for the study of the early phase of Jainism in the Tamil country, apart from being important sources for the early history of Tamil society and Tamil language. Until recently however even specialised works in these fields have passed over the Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions with cursory references on the plea that these inscriptions are still 'undeciphered' or an 'unsolved riddle'.

This is certainly not the case at present. After the pioneering efforts of K.V. Subrahmanya Ayyar (1924) who identified for the first time the four special characters for Tamil sounds in this script and demonstrated that the language of these inscriptions is Tamil, the present author published the Corpus of the Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions (CTBI) in 1966 and also showed that the early Tamil cave inscriptions exhibit special orthographical features related to, but not identical with, those of the Bhattiprolu casket inscriptions (1968). A number of other Tamil scholars including T.V. Mahalingam (1967), R. Nagaswamy (1972), R. Panneerselvam (1972) and M. S. Venkataswamy (1981) have followed with their own readings and interpretations of these inscriptions. Making allowances for the inevitable differences in readings and interpretations as well as dating of some of the inscriptions, a broad consensus has emerged in recent years on the nature of the language, script, chronology and contents of the inscriptions.

LANGUAGE - There is no longer any doubt that the language of these cave inscriptions is Tamil. K.V. Subrahmanya Ayyar has shown that as the inscriptions lack aspirates, voiced consonants and sibilants (with rare exceptions confined to prakrit loan-words occurring in these inscriptions are mostly in tadbhava forms, 'Tamilised' to suit Tamil phonetics. In any case the occurrence of Prakrit words in the Brahmi script in the early Tamil cave inscriptions should be considered no more abnormal than the occurrence of Sanskrit expressions written in the Grantha script in the later Vatteluttu and Tamil inscriptions.

SCRIPT : The early Tamil cave inscriptions' are written in a special regional and linguistic variant of the Brahmi script adapted to the needs of Tamil phonetics. This script, now generally referred to as Tamil-Brahmi, is most probably the one named Damili in the Jaina canonical works Samavayanga Sutta and Pannavana Sutta (assigned to the Pre-Christian Era), and as Dravidalipi in the Buddhist work Lalitavistara (probably written in the early centuries A.D.).

PALAEOGRAPHY - The special palaeo graphical features distinguishing the Tamil-Brahmi script may be briefly summarised as follows:

(i) Omission of Brahmi characters not required in Tamil viz., semi-vowels, anusvara, visarga, voiced consonants, aspirates and sibilants. The conjunct-consonants (samyuktaksharas) are also not used.

(ii) Addition of new characters to represent sounds peculiar to Tamil, viz., I, I, rand n.

(iii) Modification in shapes or sounds of some letters, viz., use of the long i symbol to denote the short i in the earlier inscriptions and a special form of m.

ORTHOGRAPHY - The Tamil-Brahmi script evolved no less than three distinct orthographic systems, all of them different from that of Brahmi, for the notation of medial vowels. It was the failure of the earlier scholars to understand these systems that stood in the way of satisfactory readings of the Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions for a long time .The main features of the three orthographic styles, labelled here for convenience as TB- I to III, are briefly as follows:

TB-I - The consonant character is treated as basic, that is, read without the socalled 'inherent' -a medial vowel. The medial vowel markers for -a and -a as well as the initial and medial signs for u and u are written alike and can be distinguished only from the context.

TB-II - The consonant character is read either as basic or with the inherent -a depending on the context. The medial vowel-marker for -a and the initial and medial signs for u do not denote the respective short vowels in this system.

TB-III - The consonant character is always read with the inherent -a. A basic consonant is indicated by the pulli (dot) mark.

CHRONOLOGY - The earliest Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions are palaeographically near-identical with the southern Edicts of Asoka. Allowing for a further period of time for the evolution of Tamil-Brahmi from the Brahmi script through a process of experimentation and adaptation, we can date the Tamil-Brahmi script from the end of the third century or the beginning of the second century B. C. This dating has been confirmed by the independent stratigraphic evidence of inscribed sherds excavated in large numbers in recent years from several ancient Tamil sites.

While there are still differences of opinion among experts on the dating of individual inscriptions, we may assign the Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions approximately to three broad chronological stages on palaeographical and orthographical grounds:

Early Tamil-Brahmi

2-1 centuries B. C.

Middle Tamil-Brahmi

1-2 centuries A. D.

Late Tamil-Brahmi

3-4 Centuries A. D.

The Tamil-Brahmi script gradually evolved as the Vatteluttu script, the characters becoming more and more 'rounded' with the passage of time. In the northern parts of the Tamil country ruled by the Early Pallavas of Kanchi, writing was influenced by the contemporary Andhra-Karnataka scripts and developed into the Tamil script. These evolutionary changes may be said to have been completed during 5-6 centuries A. D. In this transitional period, the characters may also be described as Early Tamil or Vatteluttu as the case may be.

CONTENTS - Jaina character of the inscriptions - The cave inscriptions are votive, recording the gift of cave-shelters or rockbeds to the monks residing therein. The inscriptions record the names of the donors or the monks or sometimes the stone-masons who executed the work. It is now generally accepted that the rock-shelters in the natural caverns of the Tamil country were occupied only by the Jaina monks. While there is hardly any evidence linking these cave-shelters with the Buddhist or the Ajivika monks, compelling evidence for the Jaina association has accumulated over the years on a proper reading of the cave inscriptions.

The Mangulam and Alagarmalai inscriptions (CTBI. 1-4 and 32) of about the second century B. C. refer to kani (Pkt. gani, Skt; ganin), a well-known Jaina term denoting a senior monk heading a gana. The newly discovered Mettupatti cave inscription of about the same period refers to an amanan (Pkt. samana, Skt. sramana). The two Chera inscriptions from Pugalur of about 1-2 centuries A. D. (CTBI. 56-57) also refer to an amannan. According to the universal usage in Tamil literature and inscriptions, the Tamil words camana and amana denote only the Jaina monks. Other names of the monks occurring in these inscriptions, nanta (nand a}, nata (nada), nanti (nandi) and natti (from nandi), and of the nuns pamitti (probably cognate with paimmai mentioned in the Tamil nikantus) and kanti are clearly Jaina. We also find in many of these caverns later Jaina vestiges like sculptures of the Tirthankaras and !.lames of Jaina monks and nuns written in Tamil and Vatteluttu scripts of 7th to 10th centuries A.D.

Some newly discovered Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions - The Corpus of the Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions (CTBI) published in 1966 contain 74 Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions from 19 sites and 2 inscriptions of the Transitional Period. In subsequent years 10 more Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions and about 20 inscriptions of the Transitional Period have so far been discovered. I have selected four of the newly discovered and still not fully published Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions for a detailed study here as these are specially important for the light they shed on the early history of Jainism in Tamilnadu. One each of the inscriptions belong to the Early and Middle Periods and two to the Late Period of Tamil-Brahmi.

As this presentation is intended for the general reader, I have avoided footnotes and kept technical details and documentation to the bare minimum. I have however appended a" short reading list for the intereste.d readers to obtain more information on the Tamil-Brahmi cave inscriptions.

1. METTUPATTI (Nilakkottai Taluk, Madurai District) - SITE - Mettupatti is a small village 10 kms. south of the town of Nilakkottai and 40 kms. to the north-west of Madurai city. About 1.5 kms. to the north of the village is a hill known as Siddharmalai. From the summit of this hill one can have a commanding view of the Peranai Dam and the Vaigai river flowing through the picturesque countryside. On the southern slope of the hill is a large natural cavern (PI. 1) known locally as the Pancha Pandavar Padukkai ('beds of the Five Pandavas'). Inside the cavern are found two rows of nine beds with raised pillows chiselled on the rock floor (PI. 2). On the pillow-side of each bed is inscribed a short label in the Tamil-Brahmi script recording the names of the donors or occupants of the beds. These inscriptions have been published long ago and studied by many scholars. (ARE. 45a-j of 1908; CTBI. 18-26).

A NEW TAMIL-BRAHMI INSCRIPTION - More recently another Tamil-Brahmi inscription from this cavern was discovered in 1982 by Emmanuel Jebarajan of the American College, Madurai. This still remains unpublished except for brief notices in epigraphical publications. The inscription deserves wider attention as it is among the earliest Tamil-Brahmi records and adds significantly to our knowledge of the early history of Jainism in Tamilnadu.

The inscription is found engraved in one line on the brow of the overhanging boulder above the entrance to the cavern. As the usual drip-line is absent, the inscription has worn very thin due to weathering and has thus escaped attention all these years. However, now that the inscription has been spotted, it is not difficult to make out the text (Ink-impression in PI. 3).

TEXT AND TRANSLATION - amanan matirai attiran urai utayanasa
The abode (urai) of Attiran, the Jaina monk (amanan) of Madurai (matirai). [Gift] of Udayana (utayana).

LANGUAGE : The inscription is written in Tamil as shown by the words amanan and urai and the characteristic-an ending of masculine personal names. However an unusual feature of the inscription is that the name of the donor is found written in Prakrit as utayanasa with the addition of the genitive case-ending -sa to the name (though da has become ta and na replaces na under the influence of Tamil).

SCRIPT - The inscription is written in the Tamil-Brahmi script as shown by the use of the characteristic Tamil-Brahmi letters r and n not available in the Brahmi script.

However a noteworthy feature of the inscription is the use of the Brahmi letter sa in the expression Utayanasa.

ORTHOGRAPHY - The inscription shares the peculiar orthographical style (TB-I) of most of the earlier Tamil-Brahmi cave Inscriptions especially in the Pandyan country. Thus, for example, Attiran and urai have the apparent forms a-ta-ti-ra-na and u-rai. However, we do not find the apparent -a medial sign in the second and the penultimate aksharas ma and na. They are either worn off or omitted by the scribe. (It may be noted that I have transliterated the text as it is intended to be read.)

CHRONOLOGY - The Inscription may be assigned on palaeographical grounds to the second century B.C.

CONTENTS - The inscription records the donation of a cave-shelter by Utayana to Attiran, a Jalna monk from Madurai.

Amanan - This is the earliest instance of the use of the term amanan in Tamil Inscriptions. The occurrence of the word in a second century B.C. Tamil inscription is conclusive proof that Jalnism had spread to Tamllnadu even by that date. The linguistic testimony furnished by this word goes even beyond. The use of the evolved form amanan (formed by the loss of the Initial palatal c in camana) shows that the loan-word must have been borrowed into Tamil much earlier to allow sufficient time for the linguistic assimilation and transformation. On the basis of this evidence we may date the spread of Jalnlsm to the Tamil country in at least the third century B.C.

Matlral - The ancient name of Madural. This is one of the earliest inscriptional references to the city found so far. The name also occurs as ma(t)tirai in two Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions at Alagarmalai assigned to about 2-1 centuries B.C. (CTBI. 30 and 33, revised). Judging from the evidence of the Tamll-Brahmi cave inscriptions clustered around Madural, the city seems to have been the most Important centre of Jainlsm in the Tamil country receiving royal patronage of the Pandyas from the earliest period (d. Mangulam inscriptions of Netunceliyan) (CTBI. 1 & 2).

Attlran - Name of the Jaina monk to whom the cave-shelter was gifted. The name does not seem to occur elsewhere in Tamil Inscriptions or literature and remains unidentified for the present.

Ural - Literally a 'residence', but used in the Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions in the technical sense of a cave-shelter gifted to the Jalna monks. The term also occurs in a cave inscription of the same period at Tiruvatavur (CTBI. 8) and in two other inscriptions of 1-2 centuries A.D. at Pugalur (CTBI. 56 and 57, revised), A cognate expression uraiyul with the same meaning is found in the Anaimalai Tamil-Brahmi inscription of 1-2 centuries A.D. (CTBI. 55).

Utayana - The donor of the cave-shelter. He was most probably a lay Jaina devotee. The name is of exceptional interest. Udayana (Utayanan in Tamil literature) was the famous hero of the Jaina epic Brihatkatha composed by Gunadhya in the Paisaci Prakrit, probably in about the first century A.D. The work Is not extant, but has served as the source of several renderings In Sanskrit and other Indian languages. Konguvel, a Jaina author, rendered this epic in Tamil under the name Perunkatai (assigned to various dates between 6th and 10th centuries A.D.). The point of interest here is the occurrence of the name Udayana in a second century B.C. Tamil inscription, ante-dating not only the Tamil epic but probably even the original work by Gunadhya. It is likely that the story of Udayana is an ancient folk tale on which several later literary works were based. The legend must have been popular with the Jainas in the Tamil country even in this early period as attested by the occurrence of Udayana's name in this inscription.

II. Jambat (Tirukkoyilur Taluk, South Arcot District)
SITE - The village of Jambai is on the north bank of the South Pennar river at a distance of 15 kms. from Tirukkoyilur town. Jambal was an important Jaina centre in the medieval period. We learn from an inscription of Parantaka Chola (ARE. 446 of 1937-38) of the existence of a Jaina temple here called Valaiyur Nattu-p-perumpalli. Another Inscription of Rajaraja III (ARE. 448 of 1937-38) mentions the name of Kandaradltta-p-perumpalli, a temple of Nemlnatha at Jambai. A remarkable feature of this temple was that a portion of it served as place of refuge (ancinan pukalltam) In accordance with Jaina precepts. Even as late as the 15th century A.D. in the Vijayanagar period, there was a Jaina temple here under the name of Nayanar Vljayanayakar (ARE. 449 of 1937-38). And now the discovery of a Tamil -Brahmi inscription in the nearby hill pushes back the antiquity of Jainism at Jambai to at least the beginning of the Christian. Era.

TAMIL-BRAHMI INSCRIPTION - Selvaraj of the Tamilnadu State Department of Archaeology discovered a Tamil-Brahmi inscription in the hill near Jambai in 1981. It is a pity that this Important Inscription has remained unpublished except for a couple of newspaper articles written by R. Nagaswamy soon after the discovery. On a rocky outcrop (PI. 4) one km. to the east of Jambai are two natural caverns locally known as Dasi madam and Sanyasi madam. The former is a deep cavern, facing south with a narrow entrance (PI. 5). There is no drip-line on the brow of the cavern above the entrance. However there are post-holes' indicating the former existence of temporary structures when the cavern was occupied. There is a large high boulder with a flat top inside the cavern which probably served as the bed or at least as a seat for the monk who resided here.

In December 1991 the top soil which covered the rock floor of the cavern was removed to see whether there are any rock beds on the floor. None was found. However when the operation was repeated in the nearby cavern (Sanyasi madam) two large beds were uncovered on the rock floor indicating Jaina occupation of the caverns. The Tamil-Brahmi inscription is engraved in one line on the rear rock-wall inside the first cavern (Ink-impression in Pl. 6). The inscription is neatly engraved and in an excellent state of preservation being fully protected from the vagaries of weather by the depth of the cavern.

TEXT AND TRANSLATION - satiyaputo atiyan netuman anci itta pali
Cave-shelter (paIi) gifted by (itta) Atiyan Netuman Anci, the Satyaputra (satiyaputo).

LANGUAGE - The inscription is in Tamil as shown by the words itta and pali and the -an endings of personal names. However the inscription commences with the title satiyaputo written in Prakrit. Another unusual feature is the erroneous use of dental n in lieu of the alveolar n in the final postion of the names spelt as atiyan and netuman.

It is however unfair to question the 'authenticity' of the inscription on these grounds as some epigraphists have sought to do. The use of a Prakrit grammatical expression in another Tamil-Brahmi inscription is now attested by the recently discovered Mettupatti inscription discussed above. As Tamil epigraphists know, incorrect use of the dental n for the alveolar n is not at all uncommon in Tamil inscriptions. The recent discovery of rock beds from another nearby cavern on this hill confirming the Jaina occupation of the site should set at rest any lingering doubts about the authenticity of this very important Tamil-Brahmi inscription.

SCRIPT - The inscription is written in the Tamil-Brahmi script as shown by the presence of the special character I in t)1e word pa Ii. However the Brahmi letter sa is used in Prakrit expression satiyaputo. While the earlier Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions employ the long i symbol for the short i sound, the present record uses the long i symbol for the long vowel.

ORTHOGRAPHY - The orthography of this inscription is different from that of the Mettupatti record noticed above and is in TB-II style. Thus a-ti-ya-na should be read as atiyan and so on.

CHRONOLOGY - I agree with R. Nagaswamy who has suggested first century A.D. as the most probable date of the Jambai inscription.

CONTENTS - The inscription records the endowment of a cave-shelter by the chieftain Atiyan Netuman Anci who sports the title Satiyaputo. The name of the recipient of the gift is not mentioned.

Satiyaputo - The occurrence of this significant title in the Jambai epigraph has settled once for all the longstanding controversy over the identity of satiyaputo mentioned by Asoka in the Second Rock Edict at Girnar, where the name occurs along with Coda (Chola), Pada (Pandya) and Ketalaputo (Keralaputra). The suggestion made by Burrow and K.G. Sesha Ayyar on linguistic grounds equating satiya with Tamil atiya and puto with makan (man) has now been vindicated with the present discovery of the title satiyaputo in an inscription of Atiyan (referred to as Atiyan or Atiyaman in the Tamil Sangam literature).

Atiyan Netuman Anci - The donor of the cave-shelter. The inscription gives the name of his clan (Atiyan), of his father (Netuman) and of himself (Anci). This clear statement enables us, for the first time and with absolute certainty, to identify a chieftain mentioned in the Tamil Sangam literature with a personage figuring in a Tamil-Brahmi inscription. With the exception of the three crowned kings (Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas), Atiyan Netuman Anci is the most celebrated hero of the Sangam Age with a large number of poems on him by many famous Tamil poets. The Atiyar were an ancient Tamil lineage ruling from Tagadur (modern Dharmapuri). Their ancestors are reputed to have introduced sugarcane cultivation in the Tamil country. Anci is said to have conquered seven famous chieftains in a battle. He took Kovalur (modern Tirukkoyilur near Jambai) from Malayaman, the local chieftain. The historicity of this event is confirmed by the present inscription recording an endowment very near the city he conquered. Probably the donation was made to comemmorate the victory.

One of the famous legends connected with Anci is that when he was presented with a miraculous myrobalan fruit (nelli) which would confer immortality on the person consuming it, he chose to give it away to the poetess Avvaiyar as her longevity would be more beneficial for the public good. Anci was not only a great warrior but also a liberal patron whose portals always remained open for the poets. Finally Anci met with a heroic death when he fell fighting Perunceral Irumporai, the Chera king, who took Tagadur from him. Incidentally this Irumporai is most probably one of the kings mentioned in the two Pugalur Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions (CTBI. 56-57).

Palli - Same as palli of the later inscriptions. It means literally 'a place for sleeping' and originally referred to the rock-beds in the cave-shelters. By extension the word came to mean a Jaina monastery or temple.

III.TONDUR (Gingee Taluk, South Arcot District)
SITE - Tondur village is 19 kms. north-east of the town of Gingee (Chenji). A number of Jaina families still live in Tondur and the neighbouring village of Agalur. Both these villages were important Jaina centres in the medieval period.

There are two Jaina inscriptions at Tondur belonging to 8-9 centuries A.D. One of them in the sixth year of Dantivarman refers to a local chieftain's offerings to Bhatari of the temple in the village (ARE. 283 of 1916). Another inscription in the third year of Parantaka Chola (ARE. 83 of 1934-35) refers to the local Jaina shrine called Valuvamoli-p-perumpalli and to the Jaina teacher Vaccirasinga lIam Peruman Adigal.

There are two Jaina inscriptions at Agalur also assigned to 8-9 centuries A.D. One of them inscribed in the 50th year of Pallava Nandivarman II refers to an endownment to the bhatarar (in the local Jaina temple) by a chieftain named Kampaiyan. Another inscription nearby informs us that Kampaiyan destroyed Tondur under the orders of Vijayaditya (probably a Bana chieftain) and fell in the battle (ARE. 258-259 of 1968-69).

TAMIL-BRAHMI INSCRIPTION - On a hillock about 1.5 kms. south of Tondur, there are three natural caverns with rock-beds locally known as Pancha Pandavar Padukkai. One of these caverns has seven beds and another has two beds, but neither has any inscription or sculpture. The third cavern called Panchanampadi, named after the crude footholds cut into the sloping rock leading to it, has three rock-beds on the floor and a bas-relief image of Parsvanatha on a rock wall assigned to the 8th century A.D. (P1. 7).

Though the existence of the rock-beds and the sculpture has been known for a long time, the Tamil-Brahmi inscription in this cavern was discovered only in 1991 by M. Chandramurthy of the Tamilnadu State Department of Archaeology. A preliminary newspaper article on the discovery has been published by Natana Kasinathan. The inscription is engraved in two lines on the sloping rock-floor just outside the cavern of Parsvanatha. The inscription is exposed to sunlight and rain and has worn very thin, but can still be made out with effort. (Ink-impression in PI. 8).

TEST AND TANSLATION -
L.1 elankayipan eva akal ur-aram
L.2 moci ceyita atitanam 3
L.1 Endowment (aram) [by the village] of Akalur at the bidding of (eva) Elankayaipan.
L.2 3 beds (atitanam) made by Moci.

Language - The language of the inscription is Tamil. A noteworthy feature is the occurrence of sandhi in Elankayipan (Elam kayipan) and uraram (ur aram). However the name of the village Akalur is written as two separate words (akal ur).

The adjective ila(m), 'younger, junior' occurs in the colloquial form ela(m). Kasyapa and adhishthanam and written in the Tamil forms Kayipan and atitanam respectively.

SCRIPT - The script is Tamil-Brahmi at a late stage as seen from ''the evolved forms of letters like pa, na etc. The medial -i sign occurs in the earlier angular form as well as in the later cursive form. The letter ra is peculiarly written as in a mirror-reflection, an obvious instance of scribal error. A remarkable feature is the indication of the number three by a numeral comprising three hprizontal parallel strokes. This is the only Tamil-Brahmi cave inscription discovered so far in which a numeral occurs. In the absence of the pulli marks, the orthography of the inscription is classified as TB-II style.

CHRONOLOGY - On palaeographical grounds the inscription may be assigned to the Late Tamil-Brahmi Period (about 3-4 centuries A.D.)

CONTENTS - The epigraph records that the village of Akalur made an endowment at the command of Elankayipan and that Moci made the three rock beds.

Elankayipan - Almost certainly the Jaina monk who occupied the cavern, though he is not described as such in the inscription. A joint endowment by the whole village and the expression eva, 'at the bidding or command' reveals the great regard in which this monk was held.

Akalur - Same as the modern village of Akalur (pronounced Agalur) lying next to Tondur. As mentioned earlier the village still continues to be a Jaina settlement.

Aram - An endowment or religious gift. The present record is the earliest known instance of the occurrence of this word in Tamil inscriptions. (The earlier Mangulam Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions of about the second century B.C. employ the equivalent Prakrit expression dhammam or dhamam (CTBI. 1-2).

Moci - The name of the stone-mason who chiselled the beds, though he is not described as such in the inscription. The name Moci was borne by several persons recorded in the Tamil Sang am literature.

Atitanam - The standard expression occurring in several Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions to denote the rock-beds (lit., seats) occupied by the monks. The present inscription referring to '3 atitanam', there being exactly three rock-beds in this cavern, proves that the term meant a rock-bed and not the whole of the rock-shelter, the latter being denoted by words like urai, uraiyul, pali, palli etc., in the Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions.

IV. NEGANURPATTI (Gingee Taluk, South Arcot District)
SITE - Neganurpatti is a small village 5 kms to the north of the town of Gingee (Chenji). About 1 km. to the west of the village and on the northern shore of a small lake called Sitteri, there is a remarkable formation of boulders stacked one on the top of another, locally known appropriately as Adukkankallu, 'stacked boulders' (PI. 9). There is a small natural cavern here facing east. It has a low ceiling but good depth. There is no drip-line on the brow of the cavern. There is just one bed inside the cavern chiselled on the rock floor. In front of the cavern is a circular water cistern scooped out of live rock. The cistern gets filled up in the rainy season by overflow from the lake. A remarkable feature is the existence of five small paintings done in white pigment on the ceiling of the cavern. These depict the figures of four men, one of them an archer, and two of them with upraised hands, and a woman. The paintings belong to the Megalithic Period and may be dated to about the first half of the first millennium B.C.

TAMIL-BRAHMI INSCRIPTION - A Tamil-Brahmi inscription was discovered in this cavern very recently (1992) by S. Rajavelu of the Epigraphy Department of the Archaeological Survey of India and C. Veeraraghavan, a local school teacher. The inscription has not yet been published apart from a preliminary newspaper report announcing the discovery. The inscription is engraved on the southern side of the rock outside the cavern. With no drip-line to protect it from rain, it has worn very thin and the letters are seen only faintly. The inscription is in four lines contained within a rectangular border. ( Ink-impression in P1.10.)

TEXT AND TRANSLATION -
L.1. (siddham* ) perumpokal
L.2. cekkanti tayiyaru
L.3. cekkantanni ce-
L.4. yivitta Palli

Success (siddham). Cave-shelter (palli) caused to be made (ceyivitta) by Cekkantanni, mother (tayiyaru) of Cekkanti of Perumpokal. (* by symbol.)

LANGUAGE - Tamil. The influence of Kannada language is seen in the form tayiyaru, for Tamil tayar, 'mother'.

SCRIPT - Late Tamil-Brahmi. Many of the letters like ka, va, ra, and ta, have rectangular 'serifs' (headlines) on the top. ka with slightly curved horizontal line, pa with equal limbs and ta exhibit later forms. The -i medial sign has become a semi-circular curve to the left. The inscription follows the TB-IIl orthographic style employing the pulli, 'dot' above or to the right of many (but not all) basic consonants. The peculiar reversal of I as in mirror-reflection is due to a scribal error.

CHRONOLOGY - The inscription belongs to the end of the Late Period of Tamil-Brahmi and may be assigned to about the end of the fourth century A.D.

CONTENTS - The epigraph records' the gift of a rock-shelter ( palli) by Cekkantanni, the mother of Cekkanti belonging to the village of Perumpokal.

Symbol for Siddham - Very faintly seen at the commencement of the inscription and could be mistaken for a natural depression in the rock. If the proposed identification is correct, this is the only known occurrence of the symbol in Tamil inscriptions.

Perumpokal - Name of a village. The village may probably be identified with the modern village of Perumpokai about 5 kms. south of the cavern.

Cekkantanni and Cekkanti - Names of the donor of the cavern and her daughter respectively. The expression Cekkantanni is probably to be split up as Cekkanti (name) and anni, honorific suffix for an elder woman (not to be understood in the literal sense of 'elder brother's wife' in this context). If this is indeed the case, we have to presume that the mother and her daughter had the same name, not a very unusual phenomenon.

The names ending in kanti are interesting. According to the Cutamani Nikantu, kanti and kavunti are terms denoting a Jaina nun. According to an old Tamil tradition, Kantiyar was a po~tess who interpolated as many as 450 verses in the Tamil Jaina epic Civakacintamani. The expressions kanti and kantiyar frequently occur in Kannada inscriptions where they refer to Jaina nuns, This is the first time this term has been found in a Tamil-Brahmi inscription, However, it is a moot point whether the two kan tis, mother and daughter referred to in the present inscription, were nuns or lay devotees. The interpretation suggested here is provisional and the question requires further study in the light of Jaina monachist tradition.

The symbol for siddham, the form tayiyaru and the names ending in kanti clearly indicate interaction with Jainism in Karnataka in this period.

Palli - Cave-shelter. This is the only occurrence of this form so far known in a Tamil-Brahmi inscription, The earlier Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions have the form pali. In later Tamil inscriptions palli is the standard term for Jaina monasteries 'and temples.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS - The present study is part of a larger project undertaken by me as a National Fellow of the' Indian Council of Historical Research to compile a revised and enlarged Corpus of the Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions, I thank Dr. K.V. Ramesh, former Director of the Epigraphy Department, Archaeological Survey of india, Mysore, and Mr. Natana Kasinathan, Director, Tamilnadu State Department of Archaeology, Madras, and their colleagues for active co-operation and assistance during my field work, The photographs of the caverns and ink-impressions of the inscriptions published here are by the courtesy of the. Tamilnadu State Department of Archaeology. I thank Mr. N.Mahalingam, Chairman, Sakthi Group of Companies, for providing transport to the remote sites and arranging for steel scaffoldings for close study and re-copying of the inaccessible cave inscriptions.

 

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Author : By Mr. Iravatham Mahadevan, National Fellow, Indian Councial of Historical Research, No. 18-A, IV Seaward Road, Valmiki Nagar, Tiruvanmiyur, Madras - 600 041.

Article Source : Book "Rishabh Saurabh" Published on the occasion of Seminar on "Jaina Heritage of Karnataka, held at Bangalore ( Organised by Rishabh Dev Foundation , Delhi ) on 4th & 5th April 1994"

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