Stone writing where two languages blend together

Stone writing where two languages blend together

Halmidi is a village in Hassan district located three kilometres away from Belur. Near Halmidi western entrance, the villagers found an inscription in 1930. They carried it away from there and installed it on the premises of Veerabhadreshwara Temple in the same village. 

Now famously known as the Halmidi inscription, this is widely believed to be the earliest known instance of Kannada being used in an inscription stone.

This was found in 1936 by M H Krishna, then director of archaeology of the State of Mysore. The four-foot tall, one-foot wide, nine-inch thick inscription was transported to the office of the Director of Archaeology and Museums in Bengaluru almost 80 years ago.

The inscription has two lines of a Sanskrit prayer dedicated to Lord Vishnu, written in Brahmi script, meaning “...the one who is embraced by the Goddess of Wealth, bender of Sharnghya bow, unconquerable-one, a fire-doom to the demons, protector (Sudarshana) of the benign and accultured shall be victorious.”

The meaning of the rest of the inscription, as detailed in an article, Halmidi Inscription of Kakustha’s Period: An Epigraphical Study by C B Kamati, goes like this: While Kakustha Bhattora, the protector of the Kadamba rajya, was ruling, Mrigesh and Naga were the officials of Nandidavile region and were ferocious soldiers. They destroyed enemies in hundreds in a war and emerged victorious against the Kekayas and the Pallavas. They are “entitled to 1/6 of the revenue exempted Karumtidi (a form of tax) in Palmadi” (Halmidi).

This inscription points to the propagation of Sanskrit through native scripts. This undated inscription is supposed to be written during the reign of Kadamba King Kakustha Varma, and thus points to the time period of 435 BC.

According to C B Kamati, the inscription is in typical 5th-century Brahmi script. “Excepting the first sentence being in Sanskrit, the rest is in ancient, prosaic Kannada language.” The inscription depicts a blend of classical Sanskrit and Kannada, indicating that the contact between the two languages must have commenced before this, and that a classical early
Kannada style had already become established by then.

The inscription, in sum total, has a reformed form of pre-old Kannada with proper structure, which later evolved into old Kannada, middle Kannada and eventually modern Kannada. The inscription is the earliest evidence of the usage of Kannada as an administrative language.

“This inscription is an object of interest for the researchers “interested in Kannada script, etymology and Dravidian linguistics”, says the book Karnataka’s Rich Heritage - Art and Architecture: From Prehistoric Times to the Hoysala Period, written by Lalit Chugh.

The original inscription is now displayed at Bengaluru Government Museum.

A fibre replica of the inscription has been displayed in Halmidi after the local residents demanded that the original inscription be moved back to the village.

However, not all scholars agree with the timeline of Halmidi inscription. D C Sarkar, an epigraphist, opined that the inscription belongs to 6th century, while another scholar, G S Gayi, said this was from 9th century.

Some scholars argue that there are some inscriptions older than the Halmidi inscription.

Prof S Settar, a scholar, has found five to six inscriptions said to be older than this.

The Tamatakallu inscription in Chitradurga is supposed to have Sanskrit words in Kannada stanza, and is supposed to be older than the Halmidi inscription. The Tagarthi inscription by the Gangas in Shivamogga has a mix of three different scripts, Brahmi, Nagari and Kannada, and is believed to be in a form of Kannada used prior to pre-old Kannada, dating back to 350 AD.

M G Manjunath, an epigraphist and an authority on Nishadi (Sallekhana Samadhi or Nishadi Memorials, related to Jainism) inscriptions based in Mysuru, found the Gunabhushitana Nishadi inscription, one of the 271 inscriptions near Parshwanatha Basadi, on Chandragiri Hill of Shravanabelagola, to be at least 50 years older than the Halmidi inscription, after a detailed study and based on palaeographical and linguistic inferences.

An inscription in Pranaveshwara Temple in Thalagondi in Shikaripura, Shivamogga, some experts argue, is older than the Halmidi inscription. However, the debates have not reached an educated conclusion due to differences among academics.

There were attempts to gather the academics and conduct discussions, which did not materialise, says Dr R Gopal, Director, Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage.

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