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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

World's Earliest Inscription of Love

(For a Hindi version please Click Here)
Recently I was on a family trip to visit the Golden Triangle consisting of Bhubaneswar, Konark and Puri in Orissa. While at the Udayagiri caves near Bhubaneswar (ancient name Ekamra), on the extreme left, there was a cave chiselled to look like a lions mouth. There was a platform in front of it. The site is also datable to 2nd Century BC on the basis of an inscription of Kalingaraja Kharavela at the nearby Hathigumpha. The cave aforesaid, had a resemblance with some similar cave structure I had in my memory. That was the oldest rock cut cave theatre (Amphitheatre) in the Ramgarh hills of Sarguja District in Chhattisgarh (India). This is said to belong to the 3rd Century BC on the basis of a "first ever message of love" found inscribed on the walls of a nearby cave. The cave housing the "Natya Shala"(theatre) is known as Sitabengra. It is about 45 ft long and 15 ft wide. The stage is at a lower level while the gallery for seating the people is elavated. Caves were reportedly used as pleasure resorts in the ancient times.
The other cave nearby is Jogimarha which is 15 ft long and 12 ft wide. The roof here is higher than Sitabengra and is adorned with rock paintings. Monks could also be seen depicted in those paintings apart from other subjects. The name 'Jogimarha' itself suggests its association with Jogis or Monks. The message of love referred above could be found engraved on its walls. The script is Brahmi of the Asokan period (3rd Century BC). This is said to be the only inscription from any period preserving pure Magadhi. The reason being the pronunciation of 'Dasi' as 'Dashi'.
The original text appears in the photograph below.

The English transliteration (Indian Epigraphy - Richard Salomon) is as follows:
Sutanuka nama
Sutanuka nama I devadashikyi I
tam kamayitha bal(a)naseye I
devadine nama I lupadakhe I
Although scholars are not unanimous about the exact translation, conversely we may put it as:
"Devidin a Sculptor from Varanasi fell in love with Sutanuka, a Devadasi"
Some doubts do arise in my mind when I look at the message. Devidin, apparently a person skilled in carving, as the adjective 'lupadakhe' suggests, has failed to do justice with the inscription. Geometrical proportion in lettering has been totally ignored. We may compare the Brahmi Characters with that appearing in the Asokan edicts for the purpose. Here is an example of his
Girnar Inscriptions.