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The Pallava Script Some Riddles

The Pallava Script 


Some Riddles



K. V. Ramakrishna Rao, M.A., A.M.I.E., C.Eng (I)., B.L.,


Introduction: The Pallavas were not known to historians before later 19th century of our Current Era1. According to Vincent A. Smith2 the Pallavas were unknown to Europeans before 1840 and constituted one of the mysteries of Indian history!  The synchronism of the defeat of Harsha by Pulikesin and Pulikesin II by Narasimha-varman (c.625-45) Pallavan appear to be more dramatic than historic for the readers of history. The origin of the world famous monuments at Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram is also not satisfactorily explained. The present day archaeological evidences prove that Mamallapuram had never been a port demolishing the myth created earlier about the Pallavas. Perhaps, though western archaeologists, historians and other experts knew details, they wanted to withhold and publish later with their own interpretation. Most of the western scholars tried to deny the Indian origins or play down their importance3. They had discovered many Pallava inscriptions in the South East Asian countries - Indonesia, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Campa, and Kambodia. However, all of them have not been published so far. In fact, some of them (discovered in the Malay Peninsula) were missing4 as long as during middle of 19th century. They were definitely taken aback by the Pallava influence on SEA Countries, that too, when, it was dating back to a �pre-Pallava� period, just like �Jesus� going before �Before Christ�! So, they tried to confuse or get confused Pallavas with others (Kurumbas, Pahlavis, Pahlavas, Pahnavas, Palhavas and so on). Here, the riddles connected with the inscriptions are taken up for study.


The script used in Inscriptions of the Pallavas has been found surprisingly in vast area spreading from South India to South Asian Countries. Its occurrence in South Asian countries proves the dominance, wide usage and acceptance for official and social recordings. The dating of inscriptions and thus the script in India is placed in the range 2nd cent.CE to 9th cent.CE, evidently matching with the fixed dates of the raise and fall of the Pallavas. The Copper-plate charters ranging from the middle of the 3rd to the end of the 6th cent.CE poses another problem5. However, the dating of Pallava script-inscriptions of South East Asian Countries to a �pre-Pallava period� has surprised the author leading to analyze the issue and present the paper.


Who were the Pallavas?: The origin of the Pallavas has been a riddle for scholars of epigraphy, history, archaeology and others. Different hypotheses, theories and facts are as follows:


]     Manu (Chap.x., vv, 43, 44) says that the Pallavas were a degraded division of Kshatriya caste.

]     Puranas also trace to the Mahabharat period after 3102 BCE., i.e, to a prince after Asvattama marrying a Naga princess.

]     According to Amaravati inscription of Simhavarman period (c.5th cent.CE), Pallava origin was traced to a son born of Madhvi, a goddess and Aswattama. Vellorepalayam Copper plate of Nandivarman period traces origin to the son born of  Aswattama and Menaka (SII, Vol.III, Part.V). Kasakkudi plate also informs the same fact (SII, Vol.II, p.III). Thus, Pallava inscriptions trace their origin to Aswattama i.e, after Mahabharat dated to c. 3100 BCE period.

]     Tamil scholars trace it to Cholas (a son born of union of Chola prince with Naga princess at Kaveripumpattinam) taking cue from the Tamil Epics (Silappatikaram and Manimekhalai). Similar legends are found among SEA literature � Cambodia, Khotan etc.

]     The inscriptions in spite of the unsettled, disputed and provisional datings, connect every event or description mentioned to Mahabharat names, characters, without any doubt.


Reference to Mahabharat

Inscription reference

Pahladpur pillar inscription

Sisupala, protector of the army of the Parthivas.

Gupta Inscriptions, p.249.

Amaravati inscription of Simhavarman period (c.5th cent.CE),

Pallava origin was traced to a son born of Madhvi, a goddess and Aswattama.


Vellorepalayam Copper plate of Nandivarman period

Traces origin to the son born of  Aswattama and Menaka

SII, Vol.III, Part.V.

Tandantottam plates of Nandivikramavarman

Grant given for recitation of Mahabharat in temples.

SII, Vol.II, pp.517 ff.

]     J. F. Fleet, based on the Puranic evidences, concludes6, �It seems likely, however, that, whatever may be the ancestral and racial origin of the kings with whom we have now to deal, their name simply represents, in a Sanskritised form, that of the Pahlavas, Pahnavas, or Palhavas, who are mentioned in the Puranas�.

]     Modern scholars� interpretation or word-play (as accepted by John Faithful Fleet), traces �pallava� � a heap of sprouts (shoots, vegetation).

]     Weber7 concludes that, ���.as the name of a people, the word Pahlav became early foreign to the Persians, learned reminiscences expected; in the Pahlavi texts themselves, for instance, it does not occur. The period when it passed over to the Indians, therefore, would have to be fixed for about the second to the fourth century, A. D.; and we should have to understand by it, not directly the Persians, who are called Parasikas, rather, but specially the Arsacidan Parthians�.


ing Pallava-grantha characters.

]     The usage of Sanskrit language.

]     The antiquity of Stone inscriptions before Copper-plate inscriptions.


The Remarkable details found in the Inscriptions: The inscriptions provide interesting and thought provoking details for researchers, which differ and coincide with Indian counterparts.


]     The close resemblance between Pallava and Khmer rulers has been pointed out by Reginald Le May. Both trace their origins to lunar dynasty and their prince marrying to a Naga princess. This is similar to the Manimekhalai / Pilivalai story, one of the Five Tamil epics dated to 2nd cent.CE. Surprisingly, the same story is prevalent in SEA countries in different forms.

]     Buddhism spread in India since Asokan period c.3rd cent.BCE, but, it was Vedic religion to reach SEA countries first. The worship of Siva and Vishnu had been in vogue since 5th century CE.

]     Unlike India, Siva and Buddha worships exhibit blended characteristics, as both are represented alike.

]     The Agastya worship has been prevalent in the SEA, but not in South India. The resemblance between the Agastya stories and Pallavas are interesting. Both are connected with Vatapi (Agastya defeats Vatapi � Pallavas conquers Vatapi); origins traced to inexplicable sources (water pitch and vegetation); exploits of oceans (Agastya drinking ocean � the influence of Pallavas found overseas);

]     SEA people had been familiar with Indian chronology, elements of Sanskrit literature (particularly, the Epics) and some Puranas as early in the first centuries of CE13.


Conclusion: It is pertinent to note that historians of Indian history have not explained or cared to tell readers / students what happened between the end of Mahabharat War and the advent Mauryans. Even taking the peak period of Indus Civilization c.2250 to 1950 BCE, they have been reluctant or silent to account for the intervening period from 2500 BCE to 300 BCE. As nothing comes from vacuum, so also Indians, Indian philosophy, literature, arts and sciences and other factors could not have come physically leaving no material evidences. If the inscriptions go on record myth � mythical kingdoms and kings; people and society; thinking and acting processes in the inscriptions, first, careful research should be done as to why the inscribers should have recorded such myth. For modern scholars, explaining away is aided and abetted with �myth� and of course, that is not the way of scientific research. If one has to analyze all the evidences without bias, prejudice and preconditions, he has to do so with all available evidences. The authors who taken steps in this regard and their works are tabulated as below:


Author / Authors

Title of the work

Published by

K. P. Jayswal (With the Sanskrit text revised by Ven. Rahula Sankrityayana)

An Imperial History of India in a Sanskrit Text [c.700B.C � c.770 B.C] (With a Special Commentary on Later Gupta Period).

Motilal Banarasidas,Lahore, 1934.

D. S. Triveda

Many papers published in �The Annals of Bhandarkar Oriental Institute� (ABOI).

Bhandarkar Oriental Institute, Pune.

Madan Mohan Singh

Life in North-Eastern India Pre-Mauryan Times (With special reference toi c. 600 B.C. � 325 B. C).

Motilal Banarasidas,New Delhi, 1967.

K. D. Sethna

Ancient India in a New Light (1989),

Problems of Ancient India (2000)

Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi.


The gap can thus be explained with the following possibilities:


]     India was without civilization after the destruction of Indus Valley Civilization or Mahabharat War, according the respective sources and interpretation.

]     Mauryan civilization came into existence only during 3

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