“LIKHITHANGALUDE PORUL THEDI (INSEARCH OF THE ESSENCE OF INSCRIPTIONS)”
(“Likhithangalude Porul Thedi (In search of the Essence of Inscriptions” is a series by Sebastian Joseph, Published in Malayala Manorama Daily from 27th February 1996 to 29th February 1996. It is an is an account of the efforts of a team of Historians exploring and unraveling the mysteries of the world famous Edakkal Caves of Wayanad)
IN SEARCH OF THE ESSENCE OF INSCRIPTIONS-1
EDAKKAL INSCRIPTIONS ARE ANCIENT AS CHERA DYNASTY
Kalpetta: A team of renowned historians have discovered two more inscriptions in the ancient Edakkal Caves of Wayanad which were hitherto unknown. They could also read three inscriptions, so far none could read. From this, it is revealed that Edakkal inscriptions have a history that stretches up to the time of Chera Empire.
The team consisted of Iravatham Mahadevan, the famous epigraphist of India, Dr.Rajan Gurukkal (later Vice Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University Kottayam), renowned numismatist H Seetharaman and Dr.S Swaminathan of Archeological Survey of India. They reached Edakkal owing to the special invitation of Wayanad District Collector Vishwas Mehtha. It was in 1894 that the inscriptions and representations were discovered in Edakkal Caves for the first time, by the erstwhile Malabar District Police Superintendent F Fawcett, who happened to go there on a game hunting trip. Edakkal Caves are on the crest of a hill known as Ampukuthi mala, belonging to the Western Ghats, situated 10 kms south west of Sulthan Bathery.
It is a pre-historic rock shelter formed naturally out of a strange disposition of three huge boulders making one rest on the other two with its bottom jutting out in between and serving as the roof. Edakkal literally means a stone in between. Representations and inscriptions are on the inner side of the two rocks. They are engraved using stone hatchet. Fawcett first discovered five inscriptions in four lines. Among these, two were read earlier by the renowned German Epigraphist Dr Goolf.
The team could not only read three inscriptions (in two lines) which were so far not read by anybody, but also discovered two new ones. They said that the new inscriptions are to be read as “oappane pavira” and “kadumi puth Chera”. But they could not interpret the meaning of first inscription. ”Chera is the son of Kaduva” is the meaning of the second.
Among the inscriptions which Fawcett recorded, the third one was not read by anybody so far. But the new expert team could read it as “venkomalai kachavana”. Its meaning is interpreted as “Kashyapan of Vengo Hills”. The team’s conclusion is that “Kashyapan” is the name of a Brahmin clan. The first inscription of the fourth line that Fawcett discovered is to be read as “ko puthi vira”. Its meaning is “puthi vara raja (king)”. The team also presumes that the second inscription in the same line may be “koda va”. The epigraphists were unable to read it clearly due to the overwriting of own-names over it (without knowing the value of invaluable inscriptions) by the ignoramus antisocial people who visited the caves recently.
Thee inscriptions are in Brahmi script. Dr Iravatham Mahadevan said that these inscriptions might have been written in the third century A.D. It is noticed that the term “chera” which means “king” has been used in more than one inscription. Since the term “chera” is interpreted, it is presumed that all those whose names engraved in the caves, belong to Chera dynasty. All the seven inscriptions in the caves are the oldest ones hitherto discovered in Kerala. In South India the caves at ‘Perumukal’ in Tamilnadu alone seems similar to Edakkal. The team also thinks that the representations in Edakkal are almost 5000 years old.
IN SEARCH OF THE ESSENCE OF INSCRIPTIONS-2
THE CAVE SURFACE, A TREASURE HOUSE OF TRADITIONS
Kalpetta: The remnants of a historical culture that extends up to Neolithic Age. Among them many are not still interpreted. Edakkal Caves are a treasure house of the unraveled and unrevealed cultural tradition of Wayanad. The various representations are across the surfaces of walls on the north and south of the cave. The renowned historian Dr Rajan Gurukkal opines that there is no other cave shelter in Asia, so rich with so many representations and inscriptions. In a cave in Chota Nagpur there are a few scratches. But they are not clear or significant as that of Edakkal. The representations in Perumukal near Puthukkotta in Tamil Nadu are similar to that of Edakkal. But it is not as extensive as in Edakkal.
A prominent human figure with a head gear, a back view of a human figure with head gear and other decoratives, a human figure with elaborate dress, a tall human figure with head gear, an elephant, a wild dog, a peacock, a couple of wild dogs, plants and flowers, a human figure with a long hand shaped like a jar, a human figure with a square head dress, a wheeled cart, a few geometric signs etc. are the objects of gallery text on the southern surface of the wall. On the northern surface the representations include a few geometric signs, a few male and female figures, and a triangular sign representing a human figure, a human figure on a wheeled cart and a human figure with conical sign attached.
In all these representations mono dimensional system of manifestation is resorted. Dr Rajan Gurukkal is of the view that in a pre historic period, (some 5000 years back), the people may have lacked the imaginative capacity to generate two dimensional representations. Therefore cross triangle signs are dominantly used in these representations. The male sexual organ (phallus) is also represented in the triangular mode. It is partially departed from the body of the male. The deficiency of imaginative capability to represent them together may be the reason-Dr.Rajan Gurukkal again says.
Among this, many of the representations are related to fertility cult. These representations are in such a way that they can be etched standing straight or slanting sideways. There are a few representations which have been scratched climbing a little, perhaps on a rock. Different types of scripts have been used for the inscriptions in Edakkal. The first inscription recorded by Fawcett, though the script is Southern Brahmi, the language used is Sanskrit. The team of historians concludes that this might have been that of the fifth century A.D. It is interpreted as “Sree Vishnu Varma kudumbia kulavardhanasya”. The German Epigrahist Dr Hultzh had read this inscription in 1900 itself. But Dr Hultzh had read the second inscription as “palampuli nanamthakari”. But on the grounds of elaborate studies made by renowned epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan and his team, it has been noted that Dr Hultzh have erred to a small extent in reading this. They say that that inscription is to be read as “palpuli thaathakari”.
The script used in the second and third inscription is “vattezhuth” (primitive alphabet). And the language is Tamil. The script of the fourth and fifth inscriptions on the fourth line is Tamil Brahmi. The script of the inscriptions discovered a couple of days back are also Brahmi. And the language is again Tamil. It is almost a century since the inscriptions in the Edakkal caves have been discovered. It was in the last months of 1994 and the early months of 1995 that F Fawcett, the then Malabar Police Superintendent visited the caves for the first time. It is amidst the passing off the centenary, sans any celebrations, the inscriptions so far unknown to the world, were able to read and interpret last day. At least in that way, the commemoration of centenary has become significant-historians say.
IN SEARCH OF THE ESSENCE OF INSCRIPTIONS-3
WHAT IS BEING DESTROYED IS THE TALE OF AN EPOCH
Kaipetta: “You may all laugh it at as silly. But my mind is writhing in agony and anxiety. The invaluable inscriptions which shed light into the mysteries of history are being devastated by the scoundrels.” The eyes of the famous epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan flickered with a sense of loss. He was making a perilous task last Sunday, to read the inscriptions on the walls of Edakkal caves, written centuries back. He felt an unbearable pain at the moment when he failed to read the fifth inscription which Fawcett discovered in 1894.
The scratching of the name “Anil C” in English, over the inscription, created problems for the epigraphist to read. Infact the letters ‘A’ and ‘C’ destroyed a part of the inscription. So Iravatham Mahadevan could not ascertain exactly what it is written in the middle part of it. The epigraphists unanimously opine that the devastation during the very many centuries, until the discovery of the caves by Fawcett is only a small fraction when compared to the destruction during the last one century. They are sure that the future generations will not forgive for these deeds of the miscreants. Now the names written on the wall by the antisocial people who visited the cave is more clear than the letters in the inscriptions.
Last Sunday the team of historians consisting of Iravatham Mahadevan, Dr Rajan Gurukkal and Dr Swaminathan together rubbed with a wire brush, washed and cleaned the middle portion of northern wall of the cave. When weeds were removed completely the undetected inscriptions became clear. At that moment the ecstasy felt on their faces soon became desperation when they were not able to read the fifth inscription recorded by Fawcett. The photos of five inscriptions were included in the article entitled “Rock Carvings in the Edakkal Caves”, written by Fawcett in the “Indian Antiquity” magazine in 1991. It was with the help of this photograph that Iravaatham Mahadevan could somehow read the fifth inscription to a certain extent.
The most alarming problem now is the lack of any restriction for the visitors to the caves. As per records the caves have been taken over by the State Archeology Department. But so far no action has been taken by the authorities for its protection. There was a board warning that those who destroy the inscriptions and representations will be punished. But it is a pity that so far none is punished for destroying the inscriptions. Also not a single miscreant is caught. “These visitors are to be controlled. For that an iron gate is to be set up at the earliest. Also a person of the archeology department should be posted to look after the caves.”-Iravatham Mahadevan proposed.
This Edakkal cave shelters one of the most ancient inscriptions in South India. The people of present age do not know its value. The historians vehemently said that to understand for the posterity the life style of our ancestors millenniums back, this caves should outlive the test of time. This kind of invaluable inscriptions and representations are few abroad. If they have any they will protect it as something precious. For example in Canada at Kingston there is a stone and a few scratched signs. They have been protecting it in a glass palace. But it is a pity that there is not any humble effort to protect Edakkal caves which have a history of 5000 years habituation, related to fertility cult. More serious is the threat for the caves at Perumukal in Tamilnadu. There quarrying is in progress. In the greed to mint money, the existence of the caves is not at all a problem for those who mine boulders. In this context, the team of historians gives an advance warning that the same can happen in Edakkal too.
Edakkal caves are a treasure house of very many mysteries that may shed light into the evolution of mankind to the new Stone Age. The crux of these representations is the life style of the pre historic people. The present generation is entrusted with a big responsibility on their shoulders to preserve them for the posterity.