dharma in inscriptions 1

“For the dharma (pious act)”
Uttiramērūr, Vaikuṇṭhaperumāḷ Temple, 9th c.
Photo by Emmanuel Francis 2019

On the picture above, this word dharmattukku (Grantha script in bold, Tamil script in roman) is taken from a 9th-century Pallava inscription, that still can be read on the base of the Vaikuṇṭhaperumāḷ Temple in Uttiramērūr (Northern Meru village), 50 kms as the crow flies south-west from Chennai.1

The inscription starts with the usual benediction/auspicious beginning svasti śrī in Grantha script (Fig. 2). The rest of the inscription is mostly in Tamil language and script, but there are some Sanskrit words (dharma, sarva, sabhā realised as sabhai), that are consistently written in another, specific, script used for Sanskrit in South India and named Grantha.2

Fig. 2. Lines 1 to 4 of IP 227, starting with svasti śrī.

The inscription (Fig. 3) records the dharmam, “pious act,” that Maṇṇipākkiḻāṉ made to a temple (maṇṇipākkiḻāṉ koyilukku Ivaṉ ceykiṉṟa dharmmattukku). This pious act consisted in a endowment in gold for the upkeep of the banks of the lake named Vayiramēka-taṭākam.

The term dharma is here used, by metonymy/synecdoche, with the meaning of “pious act” sustaining the dharma.

Fig. 3. The full inscription, west base of the platform of the Vaikuṇṭhaperumāḷ, Uttiramērūr.

  1. ARIE 1898/84; SII 6.369; IP 227; 21st year of the victorious Pallava king Kampavarman. []
  2. The word dharmattukku is thus inscribed in two alphabets: Grantha script for the Sanskrit word dharma and Tamil script for the oblique and dative ttukku, although the letter t is common to both alphabets. []

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