About Epigraphy and Epigraphy as a source of history
The word ‘epigraphy’ is derived from two Greek words, viz., epi meaning on or upon and graphie meaning to write. And hence, epigraphy is the study of writings engraved on stone, metal and other materials like wood, shell, etc., known as ‘inscriptions’ or ‘epigraphs’. Though engraving is the chief characteristic of an epigraph, there are some exceptions where old writings in ink on rocks, boulders, etc., are also accepted as epigraphs. A person who is engaged in the decipherment and interpretation of the epigraphs is called an ‘epigraphist’.
Epigraphy as a source of history
India is enormously rich in epigraphical wealth. It is estimated that so far more than one lakh inscriptions have been discovered from the length and breadth of the country through the collective efforts of various agencies like Archaeological Survey of India, State Departments of Archaeology and various research institutions. However, still a large number of inscriptions await to be discovered. Epigraphy forms one of the very important sources for understanding the history and culture of the period starting from the time of Mauryan Emperor Asoka (3rd century B.C.) to the late medieval period. It is only from a patient and painstaking study of a large number of connected inscriptions that a reconstruction of not only the political and dynastic history, but also the social, religious, administrative and economic history of a particular period or reign or region could be undertaken.