Articles and Reviews

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Dr. S. Shettar, Halagannada: Lipi, Lipikara and Lipi Vyavasaya

Dr. S.  Shettar, Halagannada: Lipi, Lipikara and Lipi Vyavasaya
  Bengaluru: Abhinava Prakashana, 2014             P. 502; Price : 600/-
      “Monumental Study of Kannada Script, Literature and Scribes”
     Dr. S. Settar is a historian with a difference; he is not only interested in reconstruction of the past based on reliable evidence, but also in the common people like the sculptors and scribes and artisans who are usually ignored.  A bilingual writer, Settar shot into fame with the publication of
Shangam Tamilagam  in Kannada, in 2007; it has already seen nine reprints  besides bagging  the central Sahitya Akademi award for scholarly works.  The present work,  Halagannada, is more ambitious than the earlier one;  it studies, for the first time, 2020 edicts and inscriptions in Kannada during the first millennium, on the basis of which it throws new light on the evolution of  Kannada script & language, the scribes, and  social history of the period.  In this review, I shall confine myself only to a few of the major findings of Setter, documented in this work.
i)                    Evolution of Kannada script and language:
a)     After the first period (3rd century B. C.--3rd century A. D.) during
which the only official script was Brahmi  and the language was Pali  as evidenced by Ashokan minor edicts,   during the second period (3rd century  A. D. – 4th century A. D.), while  Brahmi script  was continued, Sanskrit  gradually replaced Pali.  During and after the fourth century,  Brahmi and  Sanskrit were gradually replaced by early Kannada script and language.   Sanskrit inscriptions on copper plates also began to appear in this period, the Nagarjunakonda inscription being the first Sanskrit inscription in the South.
b)     the Tagarti edict of 349 A. D.  could be the first Kannada edict, a
century before the famous Halmidi edict of A. D. 450. 
c)     Bilingual edicts/inscriptions begin to appear during the 6th
century.  While in a few the Kannada script was common for both Sanskrit and Kannada  (Tagare copper plate, 6th C), in others,  two scripts and two languages were used in one edict (ex. Alampura edict, 713 A. D.;  this edict is split into two vertical parts; while the left part uses both Kannada script & language, the right part uses Nagari script and Sanskrit language).  Similarly, there were inscriptions in Kannada and Telugu (Kannada script) and inscriptions in three languages in Kannada script (Kannada, Telugu & Tamil; Rameshwaram Copper plate, A. D. 803). 
d)    Contrary to the prevalent opinion,  Kannada borrowed ‘voiced-
aspirated consonants’ and nasals not from Sanskrit but from Prakrit.    
e)      Sanskrit-Kannada influence was mutual.   Just as Sanskrit
influenced Kannada  Kannada also influenced  Sanskrit script and morphology.  ( Ex. use of now extinct  shakata refa and rala of old Kannada in the two Talagunda edicts .  In fact, according to Settar, the above two letters are used in at least 30 Sanskrit edicts.)  Also, Sanskrit morphology borrowed words like ‘naadu,’ ‘palli,’ ‘ooru,’ etc. from Kannada.
     II  Scribes:  Scribes (here, meaning those who carved on stone or on copper plates) were known by different names such as twashta, tattakaara, tattaara,  Vishwakarma, and such.
a)     The first scribe known to us was Chapada,  sent to Karnataka by
Ashoka,  who belonged to Gandhaara.   There were many other illustrious scribes like Jayasena, Sriramapunyavallabha, Vishwakarmacharya, and such; and most of the scribes were non-Brahmins.
b)     Contrary to the existing belief, Brahmins were not the composers of the
‘edict-texts’  up to the 8th century.  Till that period, the scribes were both writers of texts and carvers on stones and copper plates.
III Caste-relations:  Brahmadeyas (land-gifts  given to Brahmins) and devadeya (land-gifts given to temples) decreased considerably by the 8th century; and, in their place, those who fought for the rulers or undertook public service  like building tanks in villages began to be honoured.  Nolamba Pallavas didn’t  care much for either the Vaidics and Sanskrit or  temple-culture. 
       The criterion of a great research work is the amount of arguments and debates it provokes, and Settar’s work is no exception. Some of the points raised in the Seminar (centred on  this work) were: the very use of the term ‘halagannada’  and whether it denotes an established early  form of Kannada or different versions of Kannada prevalent in different parts of Karnataka; whether Sanskrit really lost its prestige after the 9th century since literary histories tell us otherwise; and such.  Most importantly, edicts and inscriptions have limited purposes; and the knowledge gained through them has to be supplemented with other sources like oral & written literature, discursive writings, and travelogues.  Otherwise, we will reach such indefensible conclusions like ‘ since  terms  such as ‘varna,’ and ‘Jaati’ (in the meaning of caste)  are not to be found in the edicts, there may not have been Varnashrama hierarchy in the first millennium’ (as Settar speculates in his Preface).
     The only way we can honour Settar’s seminal and pains-taking research is through engaging ourselves in serious debates provoked by this work.

                          ----------------------         C. N. Ramachandran 

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