Early Inscribed Hero Stones in Tamil Nadu

Tieken, H.J.H. H.J.H.Tieken at LET.LEIDENUNIV.NL
Tue Mar 4 11:42:28 UTC 2008

Dear Richard,
Mahadevan's conclusions regarding literacy in early Tamilnadu should be
treated carefully. See my review of Mahadevan's edition of the Tamil
Brahmi inscriptions, which has appeared in ZDMG 157/2 (2007),
pp.507-511. In it I discuss, among other inscriptions, no. 54. If my
interpretation is correct, it would follow that the scibe who was
responsible for engraving the text could himself neither read nor write.
He was a stone mason, whose job consisted mainly in copying the letters
of his examplar, which for him was just a string of images. I, for one,
am unable to follow Mahadevan where he argues that the inscriptions
testify to the widespread literacy in Tamilnadu at the period and that
literacy had spread to all strata (sic) of the population. The same
question, namely if the stone mason could read or write, arises in
connection with one of the inscriptions discussed by Rajan. In any case,
his inscription no. 1 shows a highly curious word order. Actually, it
seems to consist of three parts: 1. kal "stone", 2. petutiyan antavan,
personal name, 3. kutal ur a kol, "of kutal ur" and "stealing of
cattle". Rajan translates: "This hero stone is raised to a man called
tiyan antavan of petu village who died in the cattle raid that happened
at kudal ur", ignoring the irregular word order.
Apart from all this, the use of the northern Brahmi script does testify
to an amazingly sharp observation of Tamil phonology, in which the
voiceless and voiced plosives are allophones.
Kind regards
Herman Tieken

-----Original Message-----
From: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk] On Behalf Of Richard
Sent: dinsdag 4 maart 2008 3:50
To: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
Subject: Re: Early Inscribed Hero Stones in Tamil Nadu

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
> Nadu.  The writing on them, in Tamil Brahmi script, can be
> dated to the 2nd or 3rd century BCE.  They show that even  at this
> date, literacy was common in Tamil Nadu and was not  confined to a
> elite group -- hero stones were most often erected  to men who died in

> cattle raids (such inscribed stones are mentioned  several times in
> 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
> 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.
> 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
> Environment" (vol.32, no.1, 2007, pp.39-45.)

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