Early Inscribed Hero Stones in Tamil Nadu

Richard Salomon rsalomon at U.WASHINGTON.EDU
Tue Mar 4 02:49:30 UTC 2008

Interesting discovery. George Hart's comments on early literacy in Tamil 
seem to accord well with those of I. Mahadevan in his Early Tamil Epigraphy 
(2003), pp. 160-1.

Richard Salomon

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "George Hart" <glhart at BERKELEY.EDU>
To: <INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk>
Sent: Monday, March 03, 2008 6:38 PM
Subject: Early Inscribed Hero Stones in Tamil Nadu

> Recently, 4 inscribed hero stones (naTu kal) have been unearthed in  Tamil 
> Nadu.  The writing on them, in Tamil Brahmi script, can be  conclusively 
> dated to the 2nd or 3rd century BCE.  They show that even  at this early 
> date, literacy was common in Tamil Nadu and was not  confined to a small 
> elite group -- hero stones were most often erected  to men who died in 
> cattle raids (such inscribed stones are mentioned  several times in Sangam 
> literature).  The language is pure Tamil;  there are no Prakrit or 
> Sanskrit words.  Archeological evidence shows  extensive trade and 
> connections with North India during this period,  and it is not surprising 
> that the Brahmi writing system made its way  down the coast (probably 
> through traders) and was adopted in Tamil  Nadu in about the the 3rd 
> century BCE.  The Sangam poems can be dated  to the first two or three 
> centuries CE on much evidence -- linguistic,  historical, paleographic 
> (inscriptions found with the name of the  Sangam king Atiyamaan), etc.  It 
> makes perfect sense that this great  literature was written about 3 
> centuries after writing was adopted and  literacy became fairly 
> widespread.  A similar thing happened in Greek  5 centuries earlier.
> The finds have been written up by Prof. K. Rajan, Dept. of History, 
> Pondicherry University: "The Earliest hero Stones of India" in 
> International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics (vol.36 no.1 Jan. 2007, 
> pp.51-57) and "Thathappatti:Tamil-Brahmi Inscribed Hero Stone in Man  and 
> Environment" (vol.32, no.1, 2007, pp.39-45.)

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