Philosophy on the rocks

Gavimath edict, Photo credit Prakash Kandakur
Highlights: 
Currently, the edicts face a threat of being wiped out, owing to the lack of maintenance and exposure to harsh weather conditions

This emperor of the Mauryan Dynasty is known for his contribution to Buddhism. He preached peace and non-violence through numerous edicts, still seen, across the country. No prizes for guessing, it’s Ashoka. One of the many places that contain his edicts is Koppal district in the State.

Koppal has two of the eight sites in Karnataka with minor rock edicts of Ashoka. One is located behind the Gavimath and the other atop Indrakeela Hills. The minor rock edicts are the early edicts of the emperor and are said to be one of the oldest records in India. 

Well placed

Historians say that these edicts were inscribed in strategically important locations, apart from being inscribed in the pilgrimage towns of the Mauryan Era. Koppal was perhaps chosen for its commercial importance. It is said that the edicts of Gavimath, Palki Gundu, and Maski in Raichur were inscribed by the same person, who was an expert.

The edicts of Koppal are inscribed in Prakrit, written in the Brahmi script. The Gavimath edict is located on a boulder behind the math. It is a flat-shaped rock, resembling a pistol and forms a canopy over the boulder. The canopy shelters the feet (paduke), while the inscription falls outside the canopy. About three-and-a-half km from the Gavimath lie the Indrakeela Hills, with the Palki Gundu edict on its peak. A flat-shaped rock stands atop two boulders forming a canopy. This is called Palki Gundu because it resembles a palanquin. It is said that Jain monks would meditate near these two edicts.   

Up until 1930, these edicts were unknown to the world and were discovered by the head of Gavimath in 1931. He noticed the strange script and informed N B Shastri, who was interested in studying the history of Koppal, about it and he, in turn, got in touch with the authorities in Hyderabad for assistance. Syed Yusuf, assistant director in the Nizam’s archaeological department, was sent to survey the inscription, and later the director,
G Yazdani, confirmed that it was an Ashokan edict. Soon after, the Palki Gundu edict was discovered, it was translated and published by RL Tuner, an orientalist, in the same year. 

According to historians, the last few lines of the edict are important as they indicate that prior to inscribing on these sites, Ashoka’s men wrote on perishable material. Later on, they decided to carve his messages on stones, with the intention that if a few people understood the message they would propagate the same and the knowledge would spread. 

“Rendering of these rock edicts offers insights into a powerful and capable ruler’s attempt to establish an empire on the foundation of righteousness. The edicts stand as testimony to the glory of the bygone era as they remind one of the rich heritage,” says M M Kambalimath, a retired history professor. 

Not in a good state

Currently, the edicts face a threat of being wiped out, owing to the lack of maintenance and exposure to harsh weather conditions. The letters in the Gavimath edict are barely visible. It’s difficult to distinguish the letters from the natural patterns in the rock. The letters become visible only after water is poured over them, and they’re on the verge of being wiped out. According to the locals, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has done very little to protect the edicts. The apathy of the government and ASI’s inability to preserve the edicts’ resplendence have angered many. Except installing boards about the content, its Kannada and English versions, and the department guidelines, the ASI hasn’t done anything beyond.

 “It is painful to see the dilapidated state of the edicts. The frequent pleas for the protection of monuments have fallen on deaf ears,” says Kambalimath. “Maybe in another 30 years down the line, the letters and the edicts may become a thing of the past,” he adds. “These treasures are in our hands and we must do everything to save them. The ASI should act before the edicts fall apart,” says Ashok Ojanalli, a professor. “Koppal is close to Hampi, there should be boards in Hampi, and on both sides of the Ballari-Goa highway that passes through Koppal about them. Publicity about the edicts and their maintenance should be ASI’s top priority.”

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Philosophy on the rocks

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