×
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Answer to a literary conundrum

This inscription counts as yet another precious gift the Chalukyas of Badami gave the literary tradition in general and Sanskrit literature in particular.
Last Updated 21 February 2024, 21:47 IST

The rule of the Badami Chalukyas is considered as one of the most glorious periods in the annals of Indian history. The monuments at Badami, Aihole, Mahakuta, Pattadakal and Alampur show their pioneering efforts in evolving new idioms of architecture. The study of an inscription at the Pune-based Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) a few months ago sheds light on one such Badami Chalukyan royal poetess of antiquity, who was known by the name of Shilabhattarika. This inscription, called ‘The Sikkatteru’ or the Pune copper plate inscriptions of Badami Chalukya emperor Vijayaditya mentions that this critically acclaimed, widely quoted Sanskrit poetess Shilabhattarika of the 7th century, is the daughter of ‘Satyashraya’ Pulikeshi II, a Chalukyan emperor.

These inscriptions were received by Shreenand L Bapat, an epigraphist and registrar, BORI, from Ameet Lomte, an antique collector. While Bapat was deciphering these inscriptions, the assistant curator at BORI, Amruta Natu, drew attention towards the name ‘Shilabhattarika’ mentioned in the inscriptions. That was an incidental finding but, nonetheless, made all involved look forward to the new information that could settle a literary conundrum more than a thousand years old. 

After that, Shrinivas V Padigar, an eminent epigraphist also studied these inscriptions and identified the geographic locations recorded. When I visited BORI to learn more, many remarkable details came to the fore during discussions with the epigraphists.

This inscription comprises five copper plates bearing the ‘varaha’, the boar insignia which is the royal emblem of the Badami Chalukyas. The charter contains a total of 65 lines written in Sanskrit and the script used is pre-old Kannada. It is a grant or endowment charter, which records the grant of a village named Sikkatteru in Kogali Vishaya by the emperor, Vijayaditya, to a Brahmin scholar named Vishnusharma. 

Today, Sikkatteru is Chigateri village in Harapanahalli taluk of Vijayanagara district and Kogali-Vishaya refers to today’s Kogali in Hagaribommanahalli taluk of Ballari district.

The charter details that a person named Mahendravarma had appealed to the emperor Vijayaditya to grant the village to the scholar. It records Mahendravarma as the son of Dadiga and Shilabhattarika. 

Had it been only an endowment charter, then this inscription would have become just one among the numerous such charters. But the exceptionality of this charter is in how it bears the name of Shilabhattarika. 

An eminent critic of the 10th century, Rajashekara, in his work ‘Kavya Mimamse’ calls Shilabhattarika the one poetess of ancient lore who could stand equal in literary flair with commended poet Bhanabhatta. In the 11th century, noted Sanskrit rhetorician Mammata Bhatta, in his treatise ‘Kavya Prakasha’, immortalises Shilabhattarika by quoting her verse, pointing out the exquisite word play. In the 12th century, renowned prosodist Hemachandra, in his poetic critique ‘Kavyanushasana’, records Shilabhattarika’s work. 

The identity question 

Thus, the name of Shilabhattarika and her rather critically admired verses find mention in almost every significant Sanskrit anthology starting from the 10th century onwards. But the history, personal details and identification of this Shilabhattarika remained unknown. 

Before the analysis of this inscription, there were some whispers in the literary world, assuming her to be another namesake Shilamahadevi, who was the wife of Rashtrakuta king Dhruva Dharavarsha and daughter of Vengi Chalukya king Vishnuvardhana-IV. However, this assumption was not accepted as there were inconsistencies in matching the chronology and a lack of any irrefutable proof. 

But now, this inscription has drawn the curtains on such assumptions and has established who Shilabhattarika was. The introductory line unambiguously declares that Shilabhattarika is the daughter of ‘Satyashraya’. Now, in the inscriptions of the Chalukyas of Badami, only Pulikeshi II is referred to as ‘Satyashraya’ without his proper name. 

All other Chalukyan emperors, though eulogised with this epithet of ‘Satyashraya’ in the inscriptions, have their proper names inscribed along with this laudatory sobriquet. 

This inscription counts as yet another precious gift the Chalukyas of Badami gave the literary tradition in general and Sanskrit literature in particular. It gave equal status to women poets and held them in as much a revered position as their male counterparts. In affirming this, the inscription stands as an ancient record in a class of its own.

Views of the inscription which mentions Shilabhattarika.
Views of the inscription which mentions Shilabhattarika.
Views of the inscription which mentions Shilabhattarika.
Views of the inscription which mentions Shilabhattarika.
ADVERTISEMENT
(Published 21 February 2024, 21:47 IST)

Follow us on

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT