The Epigraphy Branch of the Archaeological Survey of India came into existence in the year 1886 at Bangalore. The British who were the first to realise the importance of inscriptions for the reconstruction of our country's history, opened a separate branch under their administration for the collection of inscriptions. Since then the Epigraphy Branch has not only collected thousands of inscriptions, but also edited and published them. After some years this branch was shifted to Ootacamund in 1903 and functioned there till 1966 and there after, it was shifted to Mysore where it continues to function.
Later, a separate Branch for the study of Arabic and Persian inscriptions was established at Nagpur in the year 1950. Further, to accelerate systematic survey of Sanskritic and Dravidian inscriptions, two zonal offices were established at Lucknow and Chennai respectively, during the year 1990.
The main function of the Epigraphy branch with its headquarters located at Mysore with its zonal offices functioning from Chennai and Lucknow, is to undertake epigraphical survey of several states in India and to copy the inscriptions on stone, copper-plate and other materials, written in Sanskrit, Dravidian and other languages. So far about 73,000 inscriptions have been copied from different parts of India by the ASI. After the annual collection, these epigraphs are deciphered and reported with their summaries in English in the
Annual Reports on Indian Epigraphy. Important inscriptions are critically edited in
Epigraphia Indica, a renowned research journal, while other inscriptions are edited in the other departmental publications viz.,
South Indian Inscriptions, North Indian Inscriptions and
Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum. Besides the above publications, this branch also brings out special monographs of dynastic and regional importance.
During the last one hundred years and more, the Epigraphy Branch of the Archaeological Survey of India was headed by many eminent German, English and Indian scholars. Dr. E. Hultzsch was the first Government Epigraphist to head the Epigraphy Branch in the year 1886. Subsequently, the post of Government Epigraphist was successively held by James Burgess, Rao Bahadur Venkayya, C.R. Krishnamacharlu, H. Krishna Shastri, Hirananda Sastry, B.Ch. Chhabra, N.L. Rao, Dr. D.C. Sircar and Dr. G.S. Gai. The designation of the Government Epigraphist for India was later changed as the Chief Epigraphist.
Dr. G.S.Gai was the last Government Epigraphist and the first Chief Epigraphist. After him Shri P.R. Srinivasan, Sri K.G. Krishnan, Dr. K.V. Ramesh, Sri Madhav N.Katti, Dr. M.D. Sampath and Dr. K.M. Bhadri held the post of Chief Epigraphist. The post of Director (Epigraphy) was created in the year 1977 and Dr. Z.A. Desai was its first Director. Thereafter Dr. K.V. Ramesh, Sri Madhav N. Katti and Dr. M.D. Sampath held the post of Director (Epigraphy) one after the other. At present there are two posts of Director (Epigraphy), one at Mysore for Sanskrit and Dravidian Inscriptions and another at Nagpur for Arabic and Persian Inscriptions.