Preservation of Inscriptions
Approximately over a hundred thousand inscriptions in a span of over 100 years by the Archaeological Survey of India, State Archaeology Departments, and Institutions fostered by old native states and other private organisations. They include writings on copper plates, rock surfaces, stone-slabs, pillars, walls of temples or shrines and even bricks.
It is a well-known fact that south India possesses a large number of temples which are remarkable for their size and for the enormous wealth of art and architecture which is rarely found elsewhere in India. The vast number of inscriptions running into several thousands carved on the walls of these extensive monuments are the most authentic source of history and a veritable mine of information about the paramount and feudatory dynasties that ruled in the past. Thousands of these inscriptions have already been copies, studied and published.
However, the general attitude towards these store-houses of knowledge, history and our culture has been either of utter indifference or disregard. Often inscriptions are neglected and more often they are disfigured by the vested interests and vandals. Not long back, the celebrated Asokan inscription on a boulder at Udegolam in Bellary district, Karnataka was reduced to pieces by the ignorant villagers.
Inscribed stone slabs, not forming integral parts of structures and lying loose in the villages and towns, stand the danger of being misused as washing slabs or stepping stones and many ties they are used in place of bricks for constructing walls.
Inscriptions that were copied till recently are no longer available in their original places because they were either displaced or they disappeared due to whitewashes which are so injudiciously laid over them.
It is a painful experience of the epigraphists that the white-washes have to be scrapped off before a good copy of an inscription is taken. Equally baneful and injurious is the practice of burning oil lamps and applying sindoor indiscriminately on the sculptured and inscribed portions of temples.
These practices not only spoil the sculptures and inscriptions but also make it very difficult to copy the latter. Quarrying operation is yet another factor that destroys valuable inscriptions. Especially in Tamil Nadu many early Brahmi inscriptions are being lost because of this pernicious practice.
It is yet another unfortunate thing that copper-plates containing invaluable historical information are often smelted for their sheer metal value. The Archaeological Survey of India, State and Central Museums have the provision to purchase such metal antiquities having historical and archaeological importance and hence for the mere metal value destruction to these veritable important antiquities has to be discarded.
The public has to come forward and inform the concerned archaeological departments and museums about any discovery and the owner of the antiquity is suitably compensated based on the metal value.
The general public shall realise that these veritable sources of information engraved on the pillars, boulders, rock-surfaces, temple walls, copper-plates, etc., must be preserved as it is our common heritage and needs to be preserved for posterity.
These inscriptions are an important source to know our past, and without knowing our past, we cannot understand our future. The local governing bodies and educational institutions should join hands with Archaeological Survey of India in educating the masses on the importance of these epigraphs and the need to preserve them.
The temple administrators should also be equally vigilant in preventing the general public from damaging temple walls, sculptures, paintings and inscriptions so that this rich cultural heritage could be preserved for the posterity.