Open main menu

Indian copper plate inscriptions

Example of a Chola inscription in Tamil from the 12th century CE

Indian copper plate inscriptions play an important role in the reconstruction of the history of India. Prior to their discovery, historians were forced to rely on ambiguous archaeological findings such as religious text of uncertain origin and interpretations of bits of surviving traditions, patched together with travel journals of foreign visitors along with a few stone inscriptions. The discovery of Indian copper plate inscriptions provided a relative abundance of new evidence for use in evolving a chronicle of India's elusive history.



The Sohgaura copper plate inscription, the earliest known of its kind, 3rd century BCE
The Taxila copper plate, 1st century BCE (British Museum).

Indian copper plate inscriptions (tamarashasana), usually record grants of land or lists of royal lineages carrying the royal seal, a profusion of which have been found in South India. Originally inscriptions were recorded on palm leaves, but when the records were legal documents such as title-deeds they were etched on a cave or temple wall, or more commonly, on copper plates which were then secreted in a safe place such as within the walls or foundation of a temple, or hidden in stone caches in fields. Plates could be used more than once, as when a canceled grant was over-struck with a new inscription. These records were probably in use from the first millennium.

The so-called Sohgaura copper-plate inscription, inscribed in the Brahmi script, and possibly from the 3rd century BCE Maurya Empire, is a precursor to the later copper-plate inscriptions.[1] However, it is actually written on a small plaque of bronze (a copper alloy).[2] The Taxila and the Kalawan copper-plate inscriptions (c. 1st century CE or earlier) are among the earliest known instances of copper plates being used for writing in the Indian subcontinent. However, these are not proper charters, unlike the later copper-plate inscriptions.[3]

The oldest known copper-plate charter from the Indian subcontinent is the Patagandigudem inscription of the 3rd century Ikshvaku king Ehuvala Chamtamula. The oldest known copper-plate charter from northern India is probably the Kalachala grant of Ishvararata, dated to the late fourth century on palaeographic basis.[4]

Some of the earliest authenticated copper plates were issued by the Pallava dynasty kings in the 4th century, and are in Prakrit and Sanskrit. An example of early Sanskrit inscription in which Kannada words are used to describe land boundaries, are the Tumbula inscriptions of Western Ganga Dynasty, which have been dated to 444 according to a 2004 Indian newspaper report.[5] Rare copper plates from the Gupta period have been found in North India. The use of copper plate inscriptions increased and for several centuries they remained the primary source of legal records.[6]

Most copper plate inscriptions record title-deeds of land-grants made to Brahmanas, individually or collectively. The inscriptions followed a standard formula of identifying the royal donor and his lineage, followed by lengthy honorifics of his history, heroic deeds, and his extraordinary personal traits. After this would follow the details of the grant, including the occasion, the recipient, and the penalties involved if the provisions were disregarded or violated. Although the profusion of complimentary language can be misleading, the discovery of copper plate inscriptions have provided a wealth of material for historians[6][7]

Tirumala Venkateswara Temple have a unique collection of about 3000 copper plates on which the Telugu Sankirtans of Tallapaka Annamacharya and his descendants are inscribed.[8]

Tamil copper-plate inscriptionsEdit

Tamil copper-plate inscriptions are engraved copper-plate records of grants of villages, plots of cultivable lands or other privileges to private individuals or public institutions by the members of the various South Indian royal dynasties.[9] The study of these inscriptions has been especially important in reconstructing the history of Tamil Nadu.[10] The grants range in date from the 10th century C.E. to the mid 19th century C.E. A large number of them belong to the Chalukyas, the Cholas and the Vijayanagar kings. These plates are valuable epigraphically as they give us an insight into the social conditions of medieval South India; they also help us fill chronological gaps in the connected history of the ruling dynasties. For example the Leyden grant (so called as they are preserved in the Museum of Leyden in Holland) of Parantaka Chola and those of Parakesari Uttama Chola are among the most important, although the most useful part, i.e., the genealogical section, of the latter's plates seems to have been lost.

Unlike the neighbouring states where early inscriptions were written in Sanskrit and Prakrit, the early inscriptions in Tamil Nadu used Tamil [12] along with some Prakrit. Tamil has the extant literature amongst the Dravidian languages, but dating the language and the literature precisely is difficult. Literary works in India were preserved either in palm leaf manuscripts (implying repeated copying and recopying) or through oral transmission, making direct dating impossible.[13] External chronological records and internal linguistic evidence, however, indicate that extant works were probably compiled sometime between the 4th century BCE and the 3rd[clarification needed] century CE.[14][15][16] Epigraphic attestation of Tamil begins with rock inscriptions from the 3rd century BCE, written in Tamil-Brahmi, an adapted form of the Brahmi script.[17][18] The earliest extant literary text is the Tolkāppiyam, a work on poetics and grammar which describes the language of the classical period, dated variously between the 5th century BCE and the 2nd century CE.

Copper plates of KeralaEdit

Between the eighth and tenth centuries, rulers on the Malabar Coast awarded various rights and privileges to Nazranies (Saint Thomas Christians) on copper plates, known as Cheppeds, or Royal Grants or Sasanam.[19] Parochial writers twist history to give superior status to their community. As a matter of fact the word 'Nazarene' was a later invention and the presence of St. Thomas Christians during the regnal year of Veera Ragava Perumalhas not yet been established.

  • Iravikorthan Sassanam, awarded by Shri Veera Raghava Perumal (in c. 774 CE)
  • Tharissapalli Chepped, awarded in 849 CE by the King of Venadu (Quilon), Ayyan Atikal Tiruvatikal, to Sapir Isho, the leader of Syrian Christians in Malabar Coast in the 5th regnal year of the Chera ruler Sthanu Ravi Varma. It is historically wrong to call Mar Proth (Sapir Isho) "leader of (St. Thomas Christians/Syrian Christians). Mar Sapir Isho was not from Syria but from Persia. He was a Persian refugee and he had to flee from his country because of persecution by Zoroastrian rulers. Ayyan Atikal Tiruvadikal thought that Mar Isho was a Persian merchant. It was the custom of Chera rulers to give certain privileges to foreign merchants with the intention of improving trade relations with foreign countries. Sanghom literature tells about the presence of Greek and Roman ships on the Malabar Coast. During Tiruvadikal's regime there were Persian and Jewish merchants, as evidenced in the inscriptions. Tiruvadikal gave a village inhabited by lower castes to Mar Iso. This is recorded in the copper plate. Mar Iso being a missionary converted the inhabitants of the village and this increased Christian population in Kollam region. Since Iso came from Persia the first converts were trained in Nestorian belief with Syriac liturgy. Syrian Christians live in Syria and even the missionaries to Kerala came from Persia and not Syria. When the Portuguese came to Kerala they found the Nestorian Christians using Syriac liturgy. So to distinguish them from Christians converted by the Portuguese who were using Latin liturgy, they called the local Christians Syriac Christians. Gradually the word'Syriac' evolved into 'Syrian' in the local parlance. These local converts of Travancore, although came to be known as 'Syrian Christians' in later years had absolutely no connection with the Syrian Christians of Syria. Christians of Syria were Semitics like the Arabs and they are ethnically, linguistically and culturally completely different from the local converts of Kerala, although the converts are inappropriately flaunting the name 'Syrian Christian' to usurp false caste and racial status in Kerala's social fabric. It is the first important inscription of Kerala, the date of which has been determined with accuracy.[20][21][22] It is historically incorrect to say that it was the first inscription. Tracing the chronicle of copper plates in South India, Dr. Nagaswamy, former Director of Tamilnadu Archaeological Department writes in the Hindu that "most of the early Pallava ( first century to third century A.D) were written in Prakrit language. From the sixth century AD of the Pallava rule, copper plate grants were bilingual (Sanskrit and Tamil)" --- The Hindu dated December 26, 2009. In light of this statement, the date of Tiruvadikal's copper plate and the arrival of Mar Iso are to be researched. Tiruvadikal's copper plates, it is claimed, have inscriptions engraved on copper plates in vatteluttu and signed by 25 witnesses. Names of fifteen of them are in Kufic, ten in Pahlavi, and four i Hebrew.But Kerala was under the Pallavas during the period and it is to be probed by research scholars whether the scripts are Kufic and Pahlavi. As Logan says: " Judging from the fact to be alluded presently that the whole of South India , including Kerala, was in the seventh century A.D. under the sway (suzerainty) of the Pallavas of Kanchi and from the fact that the Tamil and Malayalam languages were in those days practically identical ..." ( Logan, Malabar Manual, p. 257)
  • Jewish Copper Plate, awarded by Bhaskara Ravi Varman I Perumal (962-1019 A.D.), is a Sasanam outlining the grant of rights of the Anjuvannam and 72 other properietary rights to local Jewish Chief Ousepp Irabban


Paramara ruler Siyaka's Harsola copperplate copper plate of 949 CE

One of the most important sources of history in the Indian subcontinent are the royal records of grants engraved on copper-plates (tamra-shasan or tamra-patra; tamra means copper in Sanskrit and several other Indian languages). Because copper does not rust or decay, they can survive virtually indefinitely.

Collections of archaeological texts from the copper-plates and rock-inscriptions have been compiled and published by the Archaeological Survey of India during the past century.

Approximate dimensions of copper plate is 9​34 inch long × 3​14 inch high × 1/10 (to 1/16) inch thick.

The earliest known copper-plate, known as the Sohgaura copper-plate, is a Maurya record that mentions famine relief efforts. It is one of the very few pre-Ashoka Brahmi inscriptions in India.[23]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ F. R. Allchin; George Erdosy (1995). The Archaeology of Early Historic South Asia: The Emergence of Cities and States. Cambridge University Press. pp. 212–215. ISBN 978-0-521-37695-2. 
  2. ^ D. C. Sircar 1996, p. 79.
  3. ^ D. C. Sircar 1996, p. 107.
  4. ^ Emmanuel Francis (2018). "Indian Copper-Plate Grants: Inscriptions or Documents?". In Alessandro Bausi; Christian Brockmann; Michael Friedrich; Sabine Kienitz. Manuscripts and Archives: Comparative Views on Record-Keeping. De Gruyter. p. 389. ISBN 978-3-11-054139-7. 
  5. ^ N. Havalaiah (2004-01-24). "Ancient inscriptions unearthed". The Hindu, Saturday, Jan 24, 2004. Chennai, India: The Hindu. Retrieved 2006-11-25. 
  6. ^ a b Keay, John (2000). India: A History. New York: Grove Press. pp. 155–157. ISBN 0-8021-3797-0. 
  7. ^ "Nature and Importance of Indian Epigraphy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-03-16. 
  8. ^ Epigraphical lore of Tirupati published in Saptagiri magazine. Archived 2003-02-16 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ "Nature and Importance of Indian Epigraphy - Chapter IV". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  10. ^ "History and Culture of Tamil Nadu : As Gleaned from the Sanskrit Inscriptions". Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  11. ^ Rice, Benjamin Lewis (1894). Epigraphia Carnatica: Volume IX: Inscriptions in the Bangalore District. Mysore State, British India: Mysore Department of Archaeology. Retrieved 5 August 2015. 
  12. ^ Caldwell, Robert (1875). A comparative grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian family of languages. Trübner & co. p. 88. In southern states, every inscription of an early date and majority even of modern day inscriptions were written in Sanskrit...In the Tamil country, on the contrary, all the inscriptions belonging to an early period are written in Tamil with some Prakrit 
  13. ^ Dating of Indian literature is largely based on relative dating relying on internal evidences with a few anchors. I. Mahadevan’s dating of Pukalur inscription proves some of the Sangam verses. See George L. Hart, "Poems of Ancient Tamil, University of Berkeley Press, 1975, p.7-8
  14. ^ George Hart, "Some Related Literary Conventions in Tamil and Indo-Aryan and Their Significance" Journal of the American Oriental Society, 94:2 (Apr - Jun 1974), pp. 157-167.
  15. ^ Kamil Veith Zvelebil, Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature, pp12
  16. ^ Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1955). A History of South India, OUP, New Delhi (Reprinted 2002)
  17. ^ "Tamil". The Language Materials Project. UCLA International Institute, UCLA. Retrieved 2007-03-25. 
  18. ^ Iravatham Mahadevan (2003). Early Tamil Epigraphy from the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D. Cambridge, Harvard University Press.
  19. ^ SG Pothen. Syrian Christians of Kerala (1970). p. 32-33.
  20. ^ A. Sreedhara Menon. Kerala History (1999). p.54.
  21. ^ N.M. Mathew History of the Marthoma Church (Malayalam), Volume I. p. 105-109.
  22. ^ Cheriyan, Dr. C.V. Orthodox Christianity in India. p. 85, 126, 127, 444-447.
  23. ^ Thapar, Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas,2014, pp. 10


External linksEdit