Task-force B. From the Deccan to Arakan

Task-force B members :

Annette Schmiedchen (supervisor)
Daniel Balogh
Natasja Bosma
Amandine Bricout
Ryosuke Furui
Samana Gururaja

Vincent Lefèvre
Coline Lefrancq
Nina Mirnig
Rajat Sanyal
Jens Thomas
Vincent Tournier


Deccan and Āndhra Epigraphy, Art, and History

The impressive mass of documents makes a comprehensive study of the “early medieval” Deccan kingdoms—yet to be achieved by historical research—an important goal of our project. In the study of the Āndhra region, we will follow in the footsteps of the pioneering digital publication Early Inscriptions of Āndhradeśa, which is focused on the abundant epigraphical production of the area dating from the first half of the first millennium or before.
Drawing on the results of this ongoing project, we will focus on the subsequent centuries, and investigate the main changes in the religious landscape, such as the dwindling patronage of Buddhist institutions. The documents we will study indicate a clear-cut trajectory in the formation of institutionalised forms of “Hinduism”.
Up to the 10th century, religious patronage in most parts of Maharashtra seems to have been dominated by royal endowments in favour of individual Veda-knowing brahmins, mainly documented in Sanskrit copper-plate charters. In contrast, foundations of temples and maṭhas, as well as plentiful grants in favour of such institutions occur much earlier already in the southern Deccan, in a west-east political, cultural and linguistic axis, ranging from Karnataka (and south Maharashtra) to Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. This shift towards an institutionalised “Hinduism” coincides with a larger involvement of regional and local elites as patrons, and with the more frequent use of vernacular languages (Kannada and Telugu), as well as of stone as the epigraphic medium.

The Deccan team will concentrate on the following six groups of data:

(1) Inscriptions of the Bādāmi Cālukyas (c. 160 documents; Fleet 1896, Dikshit 1980, Shrinivas 2010, Kadambi 2011, Virkus 2014). From the 6th to the 8th century, an early branch of the Cālukyas ruled in the Deccan.
Their political centre is usually identified with the monumental site of Bādāmi (ancient Vātāpi), which formed together with Aihoḷe and Paṭṭadakal (all in Bagalkot district, north Karnataka) a cultural triangle where these kings have left important early records and sponsored the construction of significant Vaiṣṇava, Śaiva and Jaina monuments.

(2) Kannada Stone Inscriptions of the Rāṣṭrakūṭas (c. 160 documents; Schmiedchen 2014). The Rāṣṭrakūṭas, unlike the Cālukyas, always kept their centre of influence in Maharashtra, even after they had shifted their capital to Mānyakheṭa in northeast Karnataka in the 9th century. Their rule is associated with the development of some of the most renowned religious monuments in the Deccan, such as the Ellora caves, which attest to their having supported “Hindu” traditions as well as Jaina temples and monasteries.

(3) Inscriptions of the Kalyāṇa Cālukyas (c. 400 documents; Gopal 1981, Nagaraja Rao & Ramesh 1985, Cox 2010). This lineage ruled over most of the Deccan until the 12th century, interacting with the other major polities of the South, such as those of the Cōḻas and the Hoysalas.

(4) Inscriptions of the Eastern Cālukyas (c. 180 documents; Ganguly 1937, Venkatara-manayya 1950, Rao 1973, Ramesan 1975, Ramamurthy 1970, Suryanarayana 1993). The so-called “Eastern Cālukyas” were established as a collateral branch by the Bādāmi Cālukyas in the 7th century, and interacted with some of the main polities of the area during their rulership: some scholars believe that they ousted the Viṣṇukuṇḍins from the Veṅgī region, while remaining strong adversaries of the Rāṣṭrakūṭas, and were annexed to the Cōḻa state in the 10th century.

(5) The Telugu Cōḻa material will be studied from the perspective of language- and script-based identities as well as the potential revision of Cōḻa dynastic history.
Additionally, (6) some early Andhra material will be included in the DHARMA base.

Greater Bengal, Orissa, Arakan: Epigraphy, History and Archaeology

The northern quadrant of the Bay of Bengal, corresponding to the Indian states of Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal, to the whole of Bangladesh, and to the Arakan region (i.e., the state of Rakhine in Myanmar), is characterised by the fact that its inscriptional record from about 500 to 1300 CE is exclusively in Sanskrit, with local languages making their epigraphical debut rather later here than in South India and Southeast Asia.
These records are found in four varying contexts: (1) the panegyrics drafted under direct royal patronage and found engraved on stone slabs; (2) official settlement documents incised on copper plates, recording transactions of land; (3) small institutional or personal epigraphs recording names of Buddhist monastic establishments or individual traders or donors; (4) inscriptions of private donors engraved on hundreds of images sculpted in stone or cast in metal.

Unlike in the South, the epigraphic sources from Orissa and Greater Bengal consist in several relatively small dynastic corpora. Much of the Orissa material (Singh 1994) is preserved in the State Museum in Bhubaneswar, to which we have secured access. The following corpora have been chosen, which represent a chronological sequence of religious patronage in Orissa:

(1) c. 90 inscriptions of the Śailodbhavas, so-called Bhauma-Karas and Somavaṁśins from the 6th to the 12th centuries (Tripathy 1997, 2000, Shastri 1995, Shastri & Tripathy 2011–12)

(2) c. 85 inscriptions of the Eastern Gaṅgas from the 11th to 14th centuries (Pattanayak 1988). We will include new documents (e.g. Girish 2006) and use the results of the temple mapping by the 2nd Orissa Project funded by the DFG till 2006, in a way similar to the approach currently applied for the neighbouring area of Chattisgarh (Bosma 2013).

The Greater Bengal corpus comprises:

(3) 113 copper-plate inscriptions between the late 5th and the end of the 13th century

(4) some 130 stone epigraphs and image-inscriptions of Bengal of the same period.

The material from Arakan is more limited in extent:

(5) a dozen substantial items are known (Johnston 1944, Sircar 1962 and 1967, Griffiths 2015), mainly stone inscriptions (often weathered), one copper plate and two dedicatory inscriptions on bronze bells. Additionally, (6) some 70 inscriptions from Dakṣiṇa Kosala will be included in the DHARMA base.

Archaeology : 

The site of Mahasthan (Bogra district in Bangladesh) has been recognised as ancient Puṇḍranagara, one of the main cities (if not the capital) of Puṇḍravardhana in the Barind tract of Northern Bengal.
Perched on a small hill on the right bank of the river Karatoyā (now a stream but once a mighty river), it is surrounded by an imposing rampart (1.5 km from north to south, 1 km from east to west). Inside the citadel are remains of “Hindu” temples, a palace-complex as well as different sorts of dwellings and urban infrastructure. The surroundings are scattered with numerous archaeological sites of varying size: mostly “Hindu” temples and Buddhist monasteries (especially Basu Bihar), while two very important monasteries lie further to the northwest: Paharpur (ancient Somapura Vihāra) and a more recently found site near Dhamuirhat which has been tentatively identified as Jagaddala Vihāra by Bangladeshi archaeologists. Digs at Mahasthan and its surroundings started in the 19th century and continue today.

Since 1993, the France-Bangladesh joint archaeological mission has conducted the longest continuous excavation of the site. Its first aim was to establish a precise chronology of the citadel, which is now known to have been founded around the 4th century BCE and to have lasted beyond the 13th. Current excavations focus (leaded by Coline Lefrancq and Vincent Lefèvre) on the urban organisation and on the relationship between the Śaiva religious ensemble called Bairagir Bhita and the habitation areas.

In parallel with the ongoing excavations, funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the French team will contribute to the DHARMA project a systematic survey of the entire Barind region (±2500 km2), in order to identify other religious foundations active during our period of interest (6th–13th c.) and understand the role of Mahasthan within this network.

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