All About Incriptions

You visited a place and found one or many stone inscriptions-Shasanas and wondered what they say and wished you could read it? Here we have given brief information about inscriptions, what they are made of, how they are made, how the content is structured and various types of stone inscriptions found in Karnataka.

The systematic study of Kannada inscriptions were started in early 1800 by Colonel MacKenzi, a British officer in erstwhile state of Mysore under the British rule. Then scholars like Walter, Fleet, Rice and many other foreigners continued the work. After Rice, R. Narasimhachar led the Department of Archaeology and continued the work in the same was as Rice. Them M.H. Krishna continued the tradition. He was the person who found Halmidi inscription believed to be earliest Kannada inscription. Next, R.S. Panchamukhi, Dr. M. Chindananda Murthy and in recent times several scholars like Dr. Devarakonda Reddy and others have extensively studied the Kannada inscriptions and published them. The dept of Archaeology and the universities, museums, Kannada Sahithya Parishat, Karnataka Itihasa Academy and many others have undertaken the study and publication of inscriptions.

Shasana – Inscriptions

Inscriptions are glittering source materials which throw light on the history of a place. They are documents inscribed on permanent materials like metal, conch, stones or boulders. The root of the word ಶಾಸನ –  ‘Shasana’ is ‘Shas’, which means an order, a punishment, a control. The king usually publicized his order, he would keep a copy of his order written on copper plates, on palm leaves in his treasury with the intention of preserving it to the future administrators or rulers. The orders were also inscribed on stone slabs or boulders, a simple material available. The slabs were established in places of public activity.

Script Used in Inscriptions

The science of character in script writings is called Paleography. To read a record, knowledge of the script in which it is written will always help. Kannada has undergone many stages during its development through centuries.

The Kannada language in inscriptions is identified as PreOld and Old Kannada. Records written in Old Kannada format correspond to the period 800 to 1000 AD. Records written in PreOld Kannada format correspond to the period 450 to 800 AD.

Go to this page ‘Evolution of Kannada Script’ to know how Kannada alphabets evolved over a period of 1500 years and variations in the scripts used by different dynasties.

Types of Inscriptions

Prashathi records

They eumanize the kings and officials and are usually written by the court poet.

Dana Shasana

These are found in large numbers; they are the official documents or charter conveying the grant or gift of lands by kings, officials or common man.

Veeragallu-Hero Stones

Best of inscriptions found in India are Hero Stones. They depict a heroic story and are with or without inscriptions. The varieties in them are stupendous. Hero stones are memorial stones erected in memory of heroes who died in a battle field while defending kings, or defending the cattle or women in distress.

There are various types of Hero Stones VeeragalluThurugol,  Sidithale, Handi Bete/Huli Bete/Aane Bete, Mastigallu, VeeraMasti kallu and Nishadi.

Visit the page Hero Stones to know the meaning these types and to view beautiful pictures.

Inscriptions are also available on bells, earthen pots, conchs etc. We find label inscriptions of devotees in temples. Label inscriptions consists of the name of the devotee or donor.

Kuta Shasana

Study of copper plate grants is be undertaken carefully because of their spurious nature in some cases. Kuta Shasana is fake inscription prepared by greedy persons to grab others property. To know whether an inscription is a fake one or not, one has to study its script, language and the dynasty referred in it. The first scholar who brought out such inscriptions was J.F. Fleet.

Writing an Inscription

Establishing an inscription is also an art. It includes, writing the script, carving it on stone, as well as some sculptures. At the first instance, the record is written by the official writer by the orders of the king or the official. The writer is usually referred to as Shasana kavi or the scriptor. Then a suitable stone slab would be selected and the surface is dressed to make it plain and even. Text of the inscription is written on the stone by using chalk or ink. The writer of the record or the one who is proficient in the art of writing would write the text on the stone slab. The stone mason called ruvari would carve the writings on the stone.

Content Structure

An in depth analysis of the text in inscriptions show a definite pattern in the narration. Almost all the records start with an auspicious note such as Om, Siddham, Swasthi, Shri. With this, there will be always the verse which praises the God of the respective faith of the donor. Shaiva records have the verse

ನಮಸ್ತುಂಗ ಶಿರಶ್ಚುಂಬಿ ಚಂದ್ರ ಚಾಮರ ಚಾರವೇ ।
ತ್ರೈಲೋಕ್ಯ ನಗರಾರಂಭ ಮೂಲಸ್ಥಂಭಾಯ ಶಂಭವೇ ।

Nasthunga Shiraschumbi chandra chamara charave,

Trailokya nagararambha mulasthambhaya shambhave


“Obeisance to Sambhu, beauteous with the chamara like moon kissing his lofty head,

The original foundation pillar of the city of three worlds”

Vaishnava records usually start with the verse

ಜಯಥ್ಯಾವಿಷ್ಕ್ರುತಂ ವಿಷ್ಣೋರ್ವಾರಾಹಂ ಕ್ಷೋಭಿತಾರ್ಣವಂ

ದಕ್ಷಿಣೋನ್ನತ ದಂಷ್ಟ್ರಾಗ್ರ ವಿಶ್ರಾಂತ ಭುವನ ವಫುಃ ॥

Jayanthya Viskritham Vishnorvaaraham Kshobithaarnavan dakshinonnatha damstraardha…..


“Victorious is the revealed boar form of Vishnu, stirring up the ocean,

holding the earth resting upon the tip of his lofty right tusk….”

Jaina records praises Jina as…

“May the doctrine of Jina be victorious, the doctrine of the lord of the three worlds

the unfailing characteristic of which is the glorious and most profound syadvaada”

After the invocation to the gods, the record always refers to the contemporary king and his family. And then the record would give the details of the grant given and the receiver of the grant, with mention of the auspicious day on which the grant was executed.

Shapashaya or Curse:

To protect inscriptions from violations and destruction, the writer of inscription follow a method. That is, they mention, at the end of the order, the curse they get if anybody violates the order. This is known as ಶಾಪಾಶಯ ‘Saapaashaya‘.

Example of Shaapashaya

‘Poison is no Poison at all. A person who consume poison may die.

The grant given to the service of a god is more dangerous than the poison,

Because it kills not only the person who stole them, but also destroys his whole family.’

When people not cared for ‘simple curses’, inscription writers used ‘harsher curses’ to deter the violators. For example, we see statements such as

‘whom so ever destroys this inscription will go to dirty hell or is like drinking cow dung liquor or is a sin same as killing a calf feeding cow etc..’

Impricatory verses are followed by the name of the composer of the record and the inscriber. However this may not be the case in all records.

The top portion of Inscriptions

There are many significant carvings of architectural importance on some inscriptions. A donation record will usually have the god worshiped by the donor. The Shaivait record will have a Shiva linga sculpture with a bull in front of it or the sculpture of a Shaiva saint worshiping the linga. If it is Jaina record, the god would be Thirthankara sculpture. A Keshava sculpture flanked by Shanka, Chakra, if it is Vaishnava record. Almost all records usually have the Sun and the Moon carved at its top. It is believed that the donations as given in the record should exist as long as the existence of the Sun and the Moon. In rare cases, sculpture of a Brahman sitting in front of a desk called Vyasa peeta is seen. One of the carvings is a cow standing and feeding its calf and a sword shown by its size. They indicate that the theft of the grant is as sinful as killing a studious Brahman or a cow feeding its calf in presence of a deity.

Technical words in inscriptions

Maha RajadiRaja – meaning king of kings

Titles such as talakadugonda, maleparaganda, nolamba kulanthaka, kaligalankusha, would refer to the valor shown by the king.

pancha maha shabdha which denoted five big percussion instruments such as horn , tower , a conch a shell, a kettle drum and a gong.

Titles such as Uurodeya, Gaavunda, Gowda refer to the village chiefs

Words such as kadithavergaDe or seenabhoova are designation given to the village accountant

Measuring units

Land was measured in different scales in different parts of Karnataka and was referred to as kolu. The length measured of kolu was measured by respective regional practices.

For example, 28 genugale, koogaliya kolu, manikeshwarana kolu, vishuvardhanagale.

The lowest measure of length was chadura kolu or gane.

Maximim was mattharu, for eg., Gangana mattharu, manikeshwarana mattharu.

The area was measured in kamba or kamma. The area of a house site was measured in a measure called ankana.


Coins which were in use are called Gadyana, pana, adda, haaga, bele, viisa and so on.


Thalabandada sunka – a tax for marketing goods

kurumbathere – tax to be paid by shepherds.

maddarike – tax on bamboo weavers,

kodathivana – tax on carpenters,

aaleya sunka – tax on sugarcane industry.

bitti – tax levied on workers, now the meaning has changed to work done without any wage.

Administrative units

Administrative units were called, mandala, nadu, uuru, sometimes with number suffixed to them. For example, Banavasi 12000, The number may suggest the number of villages in that region or the income of the region.


Dates in Karnataka inscriptions are especially refereed to as Shaka – year, it was started in AD 78. To convert a shaka year to the year in christian era, one has to add number 78. For eg., to convert a shaka year 1930 + 78 = 2008 AD in christian era.

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