Minor Rock Edicts at Erragudi
Abstract: This note examines minor rock edicts at Erragudi and shows that the bidirectional writing in the inscription is not boustrophedon style of writing.
KEY WORDS: Brahmi, bidirectional, ancient inscriptions, edicts, boustrophedon, Asoka.
Asoka's edicts are found in many places. At Erragudi, two minor and 14 major rock edicts are inscribed on 6 boulders. D. C. Sircar1 has published images of the rock faces as well as the text in his "Asokan Studies". Not all the inscriptions have survived well and the best readable are the minor edicts, found on boulder F. This note examines some of the notable features present in these minor edicts including bidirectional writing and whether that represents boustrophedon style of writing.
The inscriptions are all in Brahmi. In the note Roman characters are used to represent Brahmi using the Kyoto-Harvard transliteration scheme and are printed in red.
Plate II in D. C. Sircar's "Asokan Studies" is based on the impressions taken by N. P. Chakravarti2 and is reproduced here as Image 1.
Image 2 is the upper half of Plate II. It covers most of the first MRE. Only the last few characters at the end are missing. It is this image that is used to trace the inscription, showing the changing direction of writing. It relies totally on Sircar's reading of the text regarding the direction of writing.
Most of the text is engraved to be read from left to right with a few lines running from right to left. In places a segment of text is detached from a line and located elsewhere. To distinguish these differences, separate colours are used in the tracing.
Normal left to right text is in green, right to left in red and the detached segment in purple. It so happens that the detached segments are all running left to right. The flow of the text is indicated by the pencil lines, the direction indicated by the arrows on these lines. All this can be seen in Image 3.
Writing where alternate lines change direction is known as boustrophedon style of writing. Characters orient with the changing direction. Same character on two adjacent lines will appear as mirror image of each other. In the MREs at Erragudi this does not happen. The characters do not orient themselves to the changed direction of writing. The inscription in these MREs is not boustrophedon style of writing in the conventional sense.
In Image 3a black lines point to same syllable on lines engraved in opposite directions. Syllables marked out are ha and sa.
An examination of the image shows that the characters are of varying size. Their alignment is not regular either. None of the lines runs strictly horizontal. The first three lines are nearest to being horizontal for majority of their run. There is certain amount of undulation, dictated, no doubt, by the surface of the rock.
The first line of the engraving starts from left and at the end carries on the line below, from right to left. The scheme of alternating directions breaks down when the fourth line, starting at right edge, cuts off before reaching the left edge. Here a segment of six characters (in purple) is engraved on the same line, starting from left edge and running towards the point where the break occurred. The reason for this is not obvious. Defects in the rock could not be the cause as the six characters could easily have carried on to the left edge, completing the line.
Even stranger is the positioning of the last character of this detached segment. The character descends by almost a line height so that it is just above the character on the continuance line below, which is engraved from left to right. In this way the last two characters from the detached segment and the first character of the next line form a staircase, as if to gently guide the reader down to the point on the next line where to continue reading. These three characters are pointed to by blue lines in Image 3a.
This is an amazing feature but it is not repeated elsewhere in the inscription. It may be that an attempt was started on the next detached segment but then abandoned. This can be seen in the second 6 character segment in the line below (in purple). The first two characters are starting to form a staircase but the third is pulled up and the remaining continue on a more or less horizontal line. The continuance (in green) is at the left edge of the line below this segment. Yellow lines in Image 3a point to these three characters.
An examination of the alignment of the characters shows that very few are perfectly aligned to the vertical while many characters lean to the left and a few lean to the right.
Another peculiarity observed with the MREs is the cursive rendering of the diacritic for i, which was observed in the Girnar Rock Edicts, discussed in the Note3 entitled “Artistry at Girnar”. This means there are two places identified with this particular style of diacritic for short i. Four such examples in MRE I are pointed by red lines in Image 2a.
Image 4 is part of the 13th. Erragudi rock edict and shows the state of the rock face. It is possible, despite the chipped face, to recognise some of the characters. They appear regular, like those at Jaugada and Dhauli. In this they represent considerable improvement from the characters engraved in the MREs. In this image it is not possible to check whether the cursive rendering of diacritic i is present. A modern digital image would be a great help.
Image 5 is a trace of the second minor rock edict at the site. Bidirectional writing and detached segments are identified using the same colour scheme employed in MRE I. The black arrow marks the start of this edict. Some of the characters in the first line are truncated. The engraving is fairly regular even though the lines are not horizontal, particularly at the beginning. Not many lines are written from right to left. The detached segments are short, the longest having just two characters. There is no staircase.
The Erragudi MREs display a few interesting features.
The characters vary in size and shape. This is particularly true with MRE I.
A few of the lines are engraved to be read from right to left whereas the normal direction is from left to right, as observed in MREs at other sites as well as all the other edicts in Brahmi. These irregular changes of direction do not make the writing boustrophedon in the conventional sense since the characters do not alter their orientation.
A staircase in MRE I, from line 4 to 5 can hardly be accidental but is not repeated elsewhere in the two MREs.
Lack of familiarity with the script could explain the inconsistency in the shape and size of the characters. More than one person could have been involved in the engraving of these edicts. Haphazard changes in direction is a little difficult to explain. Perhaps the engravings were not continuously supervised. The staircase could be an experiment to put matters right. Some of these features have been smoothed out in MRE II. They appear to be absent from the major rock edicts at the site.
1. Asokan Studies
by D. C. Sircar, Indian Museum, Calcutta, 1979
2. D. C. Sircar, op cit, page 2
3. Artistry at Girnar, 2010
© 2012 Chandrakant Doshi