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Inscriptions


Inscriptions (Ancient) Inscriptions on stones, copper-plates, coins, terracotta seals, earthen wares and pedestal of deities, have been discovered from all over Bengal. Most of the inscriptions have been deciphered and their readings have been published in rcognised journals and books. It can be said that undoubtedly these inscriptions form the mainstay for the reconstruction the history of ancient Bengal. Some of the inscriptions are dated in recognized eras, such as Gupta Era, Saka Era and Vikrama Samvat, which help us in determining the chronology of events as well as the paleography of the writings.

The inscriptions range from the Maurya period to the period of advent of the Muslim rule in Bengal. Two Prakrit inscriptions of the Maurya period are the earliest epigraphic evidence that we have so far. But it was from the Gupta age onwards that we get inscriptions in the Sanskrit Language on stones and copper-plates and their number increases along with time. After the Muslim occupation of Bengal not a single epigraph on copper-plates has been found.

The mahasthan brahmi inscription is considered to be the oldest inscription of Bengal. It is now preserved in the indian museum of Kolkata. It is inscribed on a piece of stone in Brhami script of the 2nd or 3rd century BC, its language is Prakrit and it contains a royal order to the administrator of Pudanagala. Another inscription of the Maurya-Sunga period has been discovered, inscribed on the back of stone deity, from Shilua of Noakhali district of Bangladesh. It has not yet been deciphered.

In the copper and gold coins of the Kushana period, discovered from various places of Bengal, we notice the Brahami and Kharosti inscriptions of the period. These coins may have arrived in Bengal through trade. Besides, from Mahasthana in Bangladesh, and Pandurajar Dhibi, Berachapa and Chandraketugarh of west Bengal, Brahmi and Brahmi-Kharosti inscriptions of the Kushana period of 1st century AD have been discovered. Prof. BN Mukherji has deciphered the Kushana period Brahmi-Kharosti inscriptions incised on the terracotta seals and earthenwares and published them in the bulletin of the Indian Museum.

A revolutionary change occurred in the Brahmi script in the Gupta period, when Sanskrit was given the status of the official language. Along with the development of the Sanskrit language and literature the changes also came in the paleography. The practice of inscribing on copper-plates started from that period. During that period literary works were written on palm leafs or birch-skin. Since these materials were easily perishable, the land records, which had to be preserved for ages, came to be inscribed on copperplates. The numerous copperplates that have been found in Bengal serve as the most important source for the reconstruction of the history of ancient Bengal. One stone inscription and 11 copper-plates of the Gupta period have so far been discovered. The stone inscription had been inscribed on a rock in the Susunia hills in the Bankura district of West Bengal, and this has been ascribed to one Chandravarman, who was defeated by Samudragupta. The copper-plate found at Dhanadaha in the Rajshahi district is earliest Gupta copper-plate found in Bangladesh. It is dated in 113 Gupta Era (432-22 AD). Five other copper-plates of the time of Kumaragupta. 1 have been discovered in northern Bangladesh, 2 from Damodarpur (Dinajpur district), 1 from Kalai-kuri (Naogaon district), 1 from Baigram (Bogra district) and 1 from Jagadishpur (Rajshahi district). All these copper-plates are dated in the Gupta Era and were issued to record land grants. One inscription issued in Gupta Era 159 (479 AD) records the name of king Budhagupta, and this has been found in Paharpur (Naogaon district). Besides two other copper-plates of the same king have been found from Damodarpur as also one of king Visnugupta.

From south-eastern Bengal two inscriptions on copper-plates of a king Vainyagupta have been found; one from Gunaigarh (comilla district) and the other from the Salvana Vihara in Kotbari, Comilla. Barrie M Morrison mentioned about the latter plate, but its whereabouts is not known. The Gunaigarh inscription was issued in the Gupta Era 188 (507 AD). A substantial amount of Gupta coins with the names of the kings inscribed on them in the Brahmi script have been found in many places of Bangladesh.

After the downfall of the Gupta empire independent kingdoms emerged in Vanga and Gauda, and these kings issued copper-plates and coins. Among them most notable are three copper-plates of Shashanka found in the Medinipur district of West Bengal and two plates issued by the independent Vanga kings found from kotalipara and Kurpala (Faridpur district). From Kotalipara two copper-plates of king Dharmaditya and one of king Gopachandra have been found. Later one copper-plate of Samacharadeva was discovered from Ghugrahati and another copper-plate of the same king was discovered from Kurpala. Both the plates of Samacharadeva are now preserved in the Bangladesh National Museum. Another two plates of Gopachandra have been found: one from Jayarampur in Orissa and the other from Mallasarul of Burdwan district. One of the Kotalipara plates has recently been deciphered and it contains the name of a post-Gupta king with the name of Dvadasaditya, who in all probability was connected with the family of Dharmaditya.

Shashanka's all three copper-plates were found in the Midnapur district of West Bengal, and all of them have been deciphered and published. All the post-Gupta copper-plates are documents connected with land transactions and they contain lot of information on the socio-economic aspects of our history. The terracotta seal bearing the name of Mahasamanta Shashanka found at Rohtasgarh of Bihar has been inscribed the northern Indian Brahmi script of the 6th century AD.

A few significant copper-plates of the Natha, Rata and Khadga kings (all of 7th century AD) of South-eastern Bengal have been found and these throw a flood of light on the history of the region. One of the copper-plates was issued by Samanta Lokanatha and later on another copper-plate was discovered bearing the name of Raja Marundanatha, possibly belonging to the family of Lokanatha. The copper-plate found in Kailan village of Comilla introduces us to a Rata royal family; the issuer of the plate was Samatatesvara Sridharana Rata, whose capital was at Devaparvata. Three other copper-plates of the same king were found in 1979 from the village Urisvara under Comilla district, and these placed are preserved in the Bangladesh National Museum. Some imitation Gupta gold coins with the names of Sridharana and Jivadharana Rata inscribed on them in the 7th century Brahmi script have also been found.

The royal dynasty of the Khadgas fist came to be known from the two Ashrafpur copper-plates, discovered long ago and published by Gangamohan Laskar. The plates were issued from the capital city of Jay-karmanta by Devakhadga. Three copper-plates of this dynasty were later discovered from the Salvana Vihara of Comilla; two belong to Devakhadga and the third belong to his son Balabhatta. These three plates are now preserved with the Archaeology Department of the Government of Bangladesh. An inscription on the pedestal of a deity found at Deulbari, Comilla, records the name of Devakhadga's queen Prabhavati. Many coins, both gold and silver, of the Khadgas have been found and they all bear the inscription in the 7th century Brahmi scipt.

In 1953 a copper-plate was discovered from Comilla which introduced us to line of Deva kings in the area; this one belonged to Samatatesvara Bhavadeva. Later while digging at Salvana Vihara another copper-plate issued by the Deva king Anandadeva was discovered.

An unfinished copper-plate was discovered from Chittagong (now preserved in the National Museum) which contained the name of King Kantideva of Harikela. Besides this two inscribed copper-vases have been found in the Chittagong region. The names of two other kings of Harikela, Devatideva and Atyakaradeva, are found in the vase inscriptions. A few 9th century AD silver coins, discovered in Chittagong-Noakhali-Comilla region bear the name of Harikela and 'Akara' kings, inscribed in the Proto-Bengali script.

In south-eastern Bengal the Chandras ruled in the 9th-10th centuries, and of all the Chandra kings we have found a large number of copper-plates of' Srichandra. In all seven plates of Srichandra have been found from different places of Dhaka and Faridpur area and from Paschimbhag of Moulvibazar district. Two plates of Kalyanachandra have so far been discovered. From the Charpatra Mura of Mainamati three Chandra plates ' two of Ladahachandra and one of Govindachandra ' have been discovered. Besides copper-plates a few inscriptions on sculptures have been found of the Chandra kings and from all these sources now the history of this dynasty has been revealed to us in greater details.

Epigraphic records on Copper-plates, stones and on sculptures of the Pala dynasty of Bengal have been found in large number from many places of Bengal (mainly west and north) and Bihar. No records of the time of Gopala (the founder of the dynasty which ruled in parts of Bengal and Bihar for about four centuries) have yet been found. Most important of all the inscriptions of the time Dharmapala, the second ruler of the dynasty, is the copper-plate found at Khalimpur of Maldah district of West Bengal. This inscription mentions the state of affairs that prevailed in Bengal before the rise of Gopala as 'matsyanyayam'. Recently a new copper-plate of Dharmapala, found at a place under Murshidabad district, has been published. So also a new copper-plate of king Mahendrapala, found at Jagjivanpur of Maldah district, have been published. Two new copper-plates of Gopala II have recently been published, and a third one has recently been found from Sherpur in Bogra district, which is now being preserved in the department of archaeology of Bangladesh Government. These new discoveries are definitely going to alter the Pala chronology and the details of the rule of many of the Pala kings. Besides copper-plates, stone inscriptions and inscriptions on sculptures have been found in large number to supplement the information gathered from the copper-plates of the Pala rulers. The Badal Pillar Inscription (Dinajpur district) which records the activities of a ministerial family who served three generation of Pala kings from Devapala to Narayanapala.

Quite a few inscriptions have been found of the Sena rulers of Bengal. Beside the only copper-plate of Vijayasena, the founder of the Sena dynasty, two other inscriptions on stones- the Deopara Stone inscription (commonly known as Deopara Prsasti in Rajshahi district) and the Paikore Pillar inscription supply us valuable information about the assumption of power by Vijayasena and his activities. A number of copper-plates of his successors have been found in various places of north and west Bengal. Two copper-plates of the last known Sena king, Surya Sena, have been found from Madanpara and Idilpur under Faridpur district. These two plates were later issued by Visvarupasena by correcting the name from Surya to Visvarupa. But the Idilpur plate has so far gone in the name of Kesavasena. The wrong reading of Kesava arose due to the correction made in name of the issuing king. In order to accommodate the name Visvarupa in the space for the two lettered name Surya, gave the wrong reading of Kesava.

Copper-plates also form the main source for the reconstruction of the history of the Varman kings. Recently a stone inscription of the 7th regnal year of Bhoja Varman has been discovered from Vikramapura and it has been published by the asiatic society of bangladesh. Besides this recently a broken copper-plate of Syamalavarman has been found from the village Vajrayogini near Munshiganj and has not yet been deciphered.

After the Varmans, South-eastern Bengal came under the sway of the Later Devas. Three copper-plates have revealed the history Damodaradeva from Mehar (Comilla district), Shobharampur (Dhaka district) and Nasirabad (Chittagong). Copper-plates have also been discovered of his successor, Dasarathadeva. One copper-plate of Ranavankamalla Harkaladeva was discovered long ago and another of Viradharadeva from charpatra mura. Though their connection with the Later Deva rulers is not certain, but the inscriptions have been placed palaeographically to the near about period. Two copper-plates found from the Bhatera village of Sylhet also introduce us to a line of kings with their names ending with Deva ' Govindadeva and Ishanadeva.

In conclusion it may be said that the inscriptions are the mainstay for the reconstruction of the history of ancient Bengal. New finds are being reported from time to time and their decipherment would add to our knowledge of ancient Bengal. [Sharif Ahmed]

Inscriptions (Medieval) A large number of inscriptions were crafted during the Sultani period mainly for religious institutions, such as, mosques, madrasahs and graves. Evidence has been found of some stone inscriptions crafted during the Mughal era, for non-religious buildings in addition to those for religious buildings. The inscriptions found in Bengal of the Sultani period (1204-1538 AD) were usually written in Arabic. Inscriptions in Persian script were rare. The inscriptions usually contained verses from the holy Quran and Hadith, introduction of the sultan and of the craftsman and date. Most of the inscriptions were crafted for mosques, madrasahs, khankahs, palaces, bridges, and sites for Eid congregations, or gates or while digging ponds and wells.

The Medieval stone inscriptions in Bengal were inscribed in various styles of Islamic calligraphy. As Islam forbade depiction of human figures, the craftsmen inscribed alphabets, flowers, leaves, trees and patterns. The use of Arabic calligraphy is also noticed in the stone inscriptions. Stone inscriptions with attractive artwork outside these inscriptions marking the beginning of the Muslim rule were also found. These were not a new kind of inscriptions; rather a finer expression of the traditional style. For finer style, the craftsmen presented the Arabic alphabets in various shapes, at times elongating them and at times squeezing them.

The inscriptions of Sultani Bengal had some significant messages. Firstly, the names of the sultans with their titles would often be engraved. In some stone inscriptions the names and titles of the officials engaged by lakhnauti used to be mentioned. Secondly, some inscriptions mentioned a variety of qualitative titles of officials in addition to their official titles. For instance, (a) Official titles' shahzada, wazir, sher-e-laskar, munsiff, diwan, kotwal, bakwali, mahlian, naobad ali, jamadar boirmahli, marabdar, ghoirmahli, meenbok,shikdar, jangdar, meer-i-bahr, sher-i-khel, kara-e-farman, kazidastar, sher-e-gumastah etc. (b) qualititative titles gausul Islam wal Muslemeem, mugis al mulk wal salateen, mueen al mulk wal salateen, naser al mulk wal salateen, saheb al adl wal bafat, saheb al saif wal kalam etc.

Some inscriptions mentioned names of sufis giving an indication of their positions and spheres of work. The stones placed at the Muslim educational institutions had 'Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim' inscribed at the beginning. Sixthly, an analysis of the inscrptions of Sultani Bengal gives ideas about some areas. For instance, Arsa Sajla Monkabad, town or thana Laobala, town Simlabad, arsa and mahal or town Hadigarh, town Mashhur Husainabad, Iklim Mubarakabad, Arsa Srihatta, Mahmudabad etc.

Among the Muslim rulers of Bengal, the earliest stone inscription mentions the name of SultanGiasuddin iwaz khalji (1213-1227 AD). It was engraved in 1221 AD and was fixed at the dargah of Makhdum Shah in the district of Birbhum in West Bengal. A few inscriptions of the period of early Muslim rulers were also found in Bihar. Of the period of independent Sultans the first inscriptions found spoke of the Iliyas Shahi Sultans. A temporary decline in the rule of Bengal occurred after gHiYasuddin azam shah, the third Sultan of the Ilyas Shahi dynasty. Taking advantage of this weakness, an official Ganesh established Hindu rule in Bengal for a brief period. No inscription having the name of Ganesh has however been found. Ganesh's son Jadu accepted islam and occupied the throne assuming the name of Sultan jalaluddin muhammad shah. Of the period of his rule (1415-1433 AD) two inscriptions have been found in Rajshahi and Dhaka. The only undated inscription bearing the name of his son Ahmed Shah was found at Muazzampur in Sonargaon.

A fairly large number of inscriptions of the succeeding Ilyas Shahi sultans have been found in different areas of Bengal. Seventeen of these inscriptions belong to the period of Sultan nasiruddin mahmud shah (1436-1459 AD), eighteen belong to the period of Sultan ruknuddin barbak shah (1459-1474 AD), eleven to the period of Sultan Shamsuddin Yusuf Shah (1474-1481 AD) and ten to the period of Sultan jalaluddin fateh shah (1481-1487 AD).

Habshi (or Abyssinian) sultans followed the independent sultani rulers of Bengal. Quite a few inscriptions of this period have been found. Five of the inscriptions belong to the period of rule of Sultan Saifuddin Feruz Shah (1484-1490 AD), and five more belong to the period of rule of Sultan shamsuddin muzaffar shah (1490-1493 AD).

The most prosperous period of rule of the independent sultani rulers of Bengal was the Husain Shahi era. A considerable number of buildings were constructed during this era and therefore the number of inscriptions found is also quite high. Seventy-seven of them belong to the period of rule of Sultan alauddin husain shah (1493-1519 AD), twenty-three belong to the period of Sultan Nasiruddin Nusrat Shah (1519-1532 AD), one belongs to the period of Sultan alauddin firuz shah (1532-1533 AD) and eight belong to the period of Sultan Giasuddin Mahmud Shah (1533-1538 AD).

For a short period after the end of the rule of the independent sultans, Bengal was under Mughal emperor humayun. Thereafter, Bengal went under the rule of the Afghan sultans. Quite a few inscriptions bearing the names of Afghan sultans of the period 1541-1572 AD were found. Four of these were 'cannon inscriptions' (engraved on cannons) bearing the name of Sultan sher shah (1538-1545 AD), one bearing the name of Sultan Shamsuddin Muhammad Shah Gazi (1554-1555 AD), five bearing the name of Sultan Giasuddin Bahadurshah Shah Sur (1556-1560 AD), three bearing the name of Sultan Giasuddin Jalal (1560-1563 AD) and five bearing the name of Sultan sulaiman karrani (1564-1572 AD) were found.

During the Mughal rule in Bengal the subahdars and the local administrators undertook many constructions. The inscriptions usually had the names of the ruling Mughal emperors engraved. Quite a large number of inscriptions of this period have been found. Five of them are of the period of Emperor jahangir (1605-1623 AD), eighteen are of the period of Emperor shahjahan (1628-1658 AD), twenty one of the period of Emperor aurangzeb (1659-1707 AD), one of the period of Emperor Shah Alam Bahadur Shah (1707-1712 AD), one of the period of emperor farrukh siyar (1717-1718 AD), ten of the period of Emperor Muhammad Shah (1719-1748 AD) and' inscriptions of emperor Alamgir ll (1754-1759 AD).

Stone Inscriptions

Stone Inscriptions (after 1760 to end of nineteen century) Stone inscriptions of the medieval period were found mainly on the buildings, the vast number of which were mosques. As most of these buildings were constructed under official patronage, the content of their inscriptions were more or less uniform. Most of the inscriptions were written in Arabic or Persian and very few in Bengali. As there was no recorded history of the medieval period, analysis of the stone inscriptions was essential to reconstruct that history. The picture of the colonial period was however different. The arrival of the Europeans saw a transformation in learning languages and in cultural arenas. In this era inscriptions written in English and Greek were fixed on churches, at homes of Europeans and at graves of the English and the Greek. Only at some houses of zamindars and mosques in different parts of Bengal some inscriptions written in Bengali were found, giving an indication of the owner and builder and the date.

At times, memorial columns of foreigners had inscriptions engraved on them but were not as useful for history as were the inscriptions of the medieval period. Their number was also small. This is why the inscriptions of the colonial days have not acquired any significant place in the reconstruction of history. But some inscriptions of the colonial days have been identified within the geographic boundaries of Bangladesh.

These are: (1) Aukara mosque at Dinajpur (1758-59 AD);' (2) Mithapur's Fulchowki in Rangpur (1759-60 AD); (3) Nabiganj in Narayanganj (1777-78 AD); (4) Garhgram in Nilphamarri (1777); (5) kadam rasul dargah at Nabiganj in Narayanganj (1805-06 AD); (6) mazar of shah ali baghdadi at Mirpur in Dhaka (1806-07 AD); (7) Matubi mosque in Noakhali (two inscriptions 1814-15 and 1901-02 AD); and' (8) shahi jami mosque in Chittagong (1855-56 AD). [AKM Shanawaz]