‘Shankhalipi’ Inscriptions

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    In News 

    • Recently, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) discovered remains of an ancient temple dating back to the Gupta period (5th century) in a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Etah district. 
    • The stairs of the temple had ‘shankhalipi’ inscriptions.   

                                                                                                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            (Image Courtesy: IE)

    About the archaeological findings

    • The  Etah’s Bilsarh village site was declared ‘protected’ in 1928. 
    • Every year, the ASI undertakes scrubbing work at the protected sites. 
      • This year, the team discovered “two decorative pillars close to one another, with human figurines.
        • To understand their significance, they conducted further excavation and found the stairs.
    • The inscription on the stairs was deciphered by the archaeologists as saying, ‘Sri Mahendraditya’which was the title of Kumaragupta I of the Gupta dynasty.
      • In the 5th century, Kumaragupta I ruled for 40 years over north-central India. 
        • The Guptas were the first to build structural temples, distinctly different from the ancient rock-cut temples.
    • As per the ASI, the stairs led to a structural temple built during the Gupta period. 
    • The discovery becomes significant since only two other structural temples from the Gupta age have been found so far — Dashavatara Temple (Deogarh) and Bhitargaon Temple (Kanpur Dehat).

     (Image Courtesy: IE)

    What is the Shankhalipi script?

    • Shankhalipi or “shell-script” is a term used by scholars to describe ornate spiral characters assumed to be Brahmi derivatives that look like conch shells or shankhas. 
    • They are found in inscriptions across north-central India and date to between the 4th and 8th centuries. 
    • A similar inscription was found on the back of a stone horse sculpture from that period that is at present in the State Museum at Lucknow.
    • Both Shankhalipi and Brahmi are stylised scripts used primarily for names and signatures. 
    • The inscriptions consist of a small number of characters, suggesting that the shell inscriptions are names or auspicious symbols or a combination of the two.
    • Shankhalipi is found to be engraved on temple pillars, columns and rock surfaces. 

    Chronology and meaning

    • The script was discovered in 1836 on a brass trident in Uttarakhand’s Barahat by English scholar James Prinsep, who was the founding editor of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. 
      • A year later, he came across two more similar scripts at Nagarjuna group of caves in the Barabar Hills near Gaya. 
    • Prominent sites with shell inscriptions: The Mundeshwari Temple in Bihar, the Udayagiri Caves in Madhya Pradesh, Mansar in Maharashtra and some of the cave sites of Gujarat and Maharashtra. In fact, shell inscriptions are also reported in Indonesia’s Java and Borneo.
      • Scholars have tried to decipher shell script but have not been successful.
    • Detailed study of shell inscriptions: It was undertaken by Professor Richard Salomon of the University of Washington
    • There are a sufficient number of shell characters to represent the syllables of the Sanskrit language and tentatively assigned sounds to some of the characters. 
    • In recent years, historian B N Mukherjee proposed a system of decipherment based on a few key inscriptions, but his suggestions do not bear scrutiny.

    Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)

    • It is an attached office under the Department of Culture, Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
    • It is the premier organization for the archaeological research and protection of the cultural heritage of the nation.
    • It regulates all archaeological activities in the country as per the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. It also regulates the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972.

    Source: IE