Kannada region is unique with respect to abundance of historical markers like temples, inscriptions and hero stones. Aihole Pattadakallu region is popularly known as Cradle of Temple Architecture in India. Karnataka is the destination for researchers, scholars and history enthusiasts owing to the well preserved regional history and well documented chronological study of history of more than 1800 years. More than 30,000 Inscriptions etched in stone are documented in the region. Here is an overview of inscriptions that are found in Karnataka. Stone inscriptions issued by various dynasties that ruled over the region present unique features in their style:
- Type of Stone
- Composition of text
- Inscribing on stone in colour
- Engraving the text in stone
- Erecting the inscription in appropriate, suitable place.
Type of Stone
This is an important aspect of Karnataka inscriptions. Inscriptions from all the dynasties display their distinctive style in epigraph writing and selection of stones.
The early Kadambas selected block hard stone for inscriptions, as is evident from Talagunda, Gudnapur and other pillar inscriptions of this period. In Pranaveshwara Temple at Talagunda, one can find granite stone inscription on door jambs.
Chalukyas of Badami
In chronology after Kadambas, Chalukyas of Badami ruled the region, with Badami or Vatapi as their capital. Chalukyas exploited the amply available sand stone in the surroundings of Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal region for their art media, for both temple construction and inscriptions. Most of their inscriptions are engraved on walls, fort walls, basements and pillars of temples. The inscription of Chalukya Pulikeshi – II is inscribed on block stone and fixed to a wall of a Basadi. Badami Chalukyan inscriptions are usually found in Sanskrit and Kannada script, very few of them are found in northern Nagari Script. The Pattadakal pillar inscription is in Sanskrit language written in both Kannada and Nagari script on the same pillar. This is a clear indication of northern Indian influence on Chalukyan society.
Rashtrakutas of Malkhed , ruled over present day Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and northern parts of Tamil Nadu. Rashtrakutas continued the tradition of Badami Chalukyas in construction of temples, donations, grants for maintenance and repair of temples. Rashtrakutas introduced block soft stone for construction purpose and Gosasa type of inscription is first found during this period. Their hero stones are ornately decorative, also are their temples.
Some of the salient features of Rashtrakuta inscriptions are:
- Depiction of plough in their inscription
- Elaborate detailed text
- About 9 to 10 lines of text
- Introduction of numerals system for mentioning the dates in their inscriptions along with encrypted text mentioning saka year.
After Rashtrakutas conquered Malwa region, there was inflow of population from that region. Feudatory chiefs, priests, literary persons, intellects, Jain monks migrated to the kingdom and started using Kannada language and script . The Rashtrakuta patronized Kannada and Sanskrit language. A prashasti (eulogy) record of Rashtrakuta Krishna–III written in Kannada language and script can be found in Satna district near Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh.
Chalukyas of Kalyana
Tailapa, a feudatory of Rashtrakuta overthrew Rashtrakutas, replaced and re-established the Chalukyan dynasty. This era of later Chalukyas are referred as Chalukyas of Kalyana by historians. Inflow of population from north, mainly from Kashmir, continued during this period. As a result, we find emergence of new influence in all aspects of society like literary works, inscriptions and temples. Text of inscriptions became poetical in some manner; inscriptions stones became more ornate. Temple construction style also differed and much more ornate and intricate designs were introduced in the architecture. The medium used for the art work differed from that of Rashtrakutas. Chalukyas used schist stone (Balapada Kallu in Kannada) which is a soft stone. Chalukyan inscriptions are detailed and most of them contain about 150 lines. Some of the noted Kannada poets like Janna, Ranna also composed the text for inscriptions. The top portion was highly decorative with stylized script. This period of 10th to 12 th century is considered as Golden age in Karnataka epigraphs. Hoysalas, Kakatiyas, Sindhara, who were feudatories of Chalukyas of Kalyana followed the same style in their architecture and inscriptions.
Chola Influence on Karnataka Inscriptions
Gangas who ruled the southern parts of Karnataka were feudatories of Rashtrakutas. In 1004.A.D, Chola King Raja Raja over threw Gangas and took control of south eastern and southern regions of Karnataka. The Cholas made granite as their art medium, as their artisans were experts on working with granite stone. The Cholas inscribed their epigraphs on temple walls, instead of separate stone slabs, which was usually the practice till then in Karnataka. Influence of temple wall inscriptions can be seen in Kolar, Bangalore, Ramanagara, Mysore, Mandya and Hassan districts. The famous Kolaramma temple in Kolar is the best example of Chola art and their wall inscriptions in Karnataka. It is a granite structure and walls are filled with inscriptions.
Hoysala Vishnuvardhana liberated Gangavadi and took control of South Eastern and Southern regions of Karnataka from The Cholas. Vishnuvardhana extended his empire up to Nangali (Mulbagal taluk, Kolar district), in the eastern front. To increase its influence over the region, many Hoysala temples were constructed by the King and their feudatories. Hoysalas used schist stone for their art medium. Their inscriptions use highly stylized script and have decorative panels.
With advancemennt of Muslims rule to south, the mighty dynasties of south, The Yadava of Devagiri, Kakatiyas of Warangal, Hoysalas of Dwarasamudra were literally reduced to village chieftain status and got lost in wilderness of oblivion and so was the case of smaller feudatories. In this span of time, craftsmen, artisans lost their jobs and gradually artisans were in the twirl of forgetting their knowledge of temple construction. In such, chaotic and disturbed times, Vijayanagar Empire was established by the Sangama brothers. During the same period, Bahamani Kingdom also got established to the north of river Krishna. Vijayanagara rulers as matter of priority and to instill security and confidence in the minds of their subjects took up the task of renovating the temples vandalized by Muslim attack. Particularly Harihara-I, Bukkaraya-I and Harihara-II renovated ruined temples, restored regular services in affected temples. Welfare activities like construction of forts, canals, temples stared with a thrust and this activity was continued by successive rulers. As a result, massive constructions of lofty temples, fort, fort walls, palaces etc were witnessed. Vijayanagar Empire used granite as medium for their display of art. Inscriptions took separate place during their period; letters were big and text portion was limited. Composition of text shifted form poetry to prose and was limited to few lines. This practice continued till advent of British rule. Vijayanagar rulers encouraged construction of temples and there was heightened construction activity as contrast to that of adjacent Bahamani region. Stone construction as well as epigraphical activity was very much limited during this period in their kingdom. As there was a decline in royal patronage for construction activity and only Persian an Arabic language was in use, local stone artisans and the scriptors who were not aware of this language gradually went to oblivion.
With the advent of Europeans (Portuguese, French and British) in the region, the epigraph inscribing activity gradually became void., since they extensively used paper for their administrative purpose.