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Language of the inscriptions

Epigraphical Studies in India

Epigraphical Studies in India – Sanskrit and Dravidian

The language of the earliest written records, viz., the Asokan edicts, is Prakrit. Besides Prakrit, Asokan edicts are written in Greek and Aramaic languages also. All the edicts of Asoka engraved in the Kharoshthi and Brahmi scripts are in the Prakrit language. Thus, originally the language employed in the inscriptions was Prakrit and Sanskrit was adopted in the inscriptions only at a later period.

After the period of Asoka, the use of the Prakrit language continued in inscriptions for a few more centuries. In north India, Prakrit was replaced by Sanskrit about the end of 3rd century A.D. while this change took place about a century later in south India. Some of the inscriptions though written in Prakrit language were influenced by Sanskrit and vice versa. The epigraphs of the Kushana kings are found in a mixture of Prakrit and Sanskrit, while the Mathura inscriptions of the time of Sodasa, belonging to the first quarter of the 1st century A.D., contain verses in classical Sanskrit. From the fourth century onwards, the Guptas came to power. They were great patrons of Sanskrit language and literature and hence Sanskrit became the language of the inscriptions.

In western India and also in some regions of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Prakrit was used till the 4th century A.D., mostly in the Buddhist inscriptions though in a few contemporary records of the Ikshavakus of Nagarjunakonda, Sanskrit was employed. The inscription of Yajna Satakarni (2nd century A.D.) from Amaravati is considered to be the earliest so far. The earlier inscriptions (4th century A.D.) of Salankayanas of the Telugu region are in Prakrit, while their later records (belonging to the 5th century A.D.) are written in Sanskrit. In the Kannada speaking area, inscriptions belonging to later Satavahanas and Chutus were written in Prakrit.

From the 4th century onwards, with the rise of the Guptas, Sanskrit became the predominant language of Indian epigraphs. The contemporary rulers of the Guptas, in central India and parts of the Deccan, like the Vakatakas, the Kadambas and later Gangas of Karnataka and the Pallavas in south India also employed Sanskrit in their inscriptions.Sanskrit continued to be employed in the inscriptions of all parts of India along with the regional languages in the subsequent centuries. At the same time different regional languages began to appear in the inscriptions from different regions. The copper-plate charters of the Pallavas, the Cholas and the Pandyas are written in both Sanskrit and Tamil languages. Kannada is used in the inscriptions dating from about the 5th century A.D. and the Halmidi inscription is considered to be the earliest epigraph written in Kannada language. Inscriptions in Telugu language began to appear from the 6th or 7th century A.D. Malayalam made its beginning in inscriptions from the 15th century A.D. onwards.

Languages like Marathi, Oriya, Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, etc., appeared in inscriptions at a comparatively later date.

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