Tamil-Brahmi on gold bars

Print edition : February 19, 2016

It is a discovery that has not got the attention it deserves. Finding the Tamil-Brahmi script carved on the rock-brow of natural caverns, pottery, coins, metal bangles and rings has become common place, but when it was found inscribed on gold bars even archaeologists were astonished. The discovery was made in 2009 on seven gold bars that formed part of a gold hoard kept in a pot at Tenur village in Madurai district.

The pot had been buried under a tree, but when the tree got uprooted in gusty winds the pot was thrown up to the surface. Besides the seven gold bars, the hoard consisted of 33 small disc beads, 21 big-sized collared beads and a pendant, all crafted in gold. The entire hoard weighed 755 grams. Of this, the bars weighed 662 g, and they varied in length from 7.6 cm to 8.2 cm.

Amarnath Ramakrishna, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, said the finding was “unique for the occurrence of the label inscription on gold”. Although such label inscriptions have been reported from the Karur region, Tamil-Brahmi letters inscribed on gold had not been found anywhere until then. “Hence this find should be considered the first of its kind, providing insight into the mode of writing on solid valuable metal, a practice hitherto unknown in Tamil Nadu,” he said. On paleographic grounds, involving a comparison with the Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions carved on the brow of caves around Madurai, this inscription could be dated between the second century BCE and the first century C.E.

All the gold bars carry the same 10 letters in Tamil-Brahmi and they refer to the name of an individual. The script reads, “po ku i e ku n ri ko ta i”. It means “Kotai” (name of an individual) who belongs to “pokui kunri” or “pokui kunru”, that is, Pokui village surrounded by a hill (kunru). The inscription of the name on the gold bars was perhaps an indication that the bars, and the jewellery, belonged to that person. Unlike the Tamil-Brahmi script found on other materials, in which they were normally inscribed in fluent strokes, the letters on the bars were formed through a series of dots punched with a sharp instrument.

Vedachalam said the hoard was of “historical importance” because Tenur belongs to the Sangam Age, and “Aiyngurunuru,” a Sangam Age literary work, mentions it. Black and red ware, belonging to the Iron Age, have been found at Tenur. The gold bars could have belonged to a chieftain or a big trader, Vedachalam said. He cited the instance of Chera coins inscribed with names such as “Maa Kothai”, “Por Kothai” etc.



T.S. Subramanian

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor