We are not makers of history. We are made by history. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We don’t know where does ‘preserving our history’ stand in the priority list of Himachal Government but by the looks of things, it surely ranks way below than organizing dog shows and celebrating Punjabi Music Nights in the name of cultural extravaganza.
Language, it has been said, travels far and wide in the form of poems and speeches and music. Across the barriers of political boundaries and sometimes even beyond the barriers of wisdom. Today, our Pahari ‘Boli’ doesn’t have any script but not so long ago, these very mountains were the breeding grounds of ancient texts and historical inscriptions recorded in two of the most popular and time honored scripts; Brahmi and Kharoshti.
In Tikka Timbar near Village Pathiar of District Kangra, there is a 2000 year old stone inscription in Brahmi and Kharoshti Scripts dating back to Maurya era. Rahul Sankrityayan visited this area somewhere around 1950-55. There are no signboards or directions leading to this place of such historical significance. A pothole strewn road leads to this archaeological site. Probably that’s an indirect measure adopted by the ASI to stop people from constructing homes and establishments within 100 meters of the protected monument.
Who would want to inhabit a place without proper road facility in 2016?
Long ago when I was collecting information about Tankri Script, I stumbled upon stone inscriptions near Dharmshala and Pathiar as mentioned by Rahul Sankrityayan. I was intrigued by this piece of local history but was disappointed to know that so called local experts on the subject were oblivious of the significance let alone be aware of it’s existence.
Locals believe that it’s a strange inscription and nobody has been able to read it till date. Contrary to the common knowledge that Brahmi and Khrasohti can easily be read.
The inscription has been laid on a stone that reads ‘Vayulis Pukarini’ in Brahmi which happens to be the source of many Indian languages. Just below this, there is another inscription reading Rathidaras Vayulus Pukarini in Kharoshti script.
In Rahul Sankrityayan’s opinion, Vayul could not have been a common man. He had put Rathidar in front of his name indicating that he must have been then Village Headman or some person of high social stature. It is possible that Rathidar indicates his post. The official of Rath was called Rathik. It is likely that here Rathik has been called Rathidar.
Even today, in Chamba and Kangra, Rathi’s can be found who probably are descendants of the above mentioned highly placed officials. The Pushkarini (water reservoir) that is mentioned in the inscription is nowhere to be seen today.
It is difficult to locate Vayul’s Pushkarini after 2200 years, even difficukt to ascertain whether it was for the use of common public or monks. It is highly likely that in this vast valley of Kangra, Buddhism must have been preached during the times of King Asoka.
Vogel (1902-1903) describes Rathi cast as a peasant cast of Kangra. On this stone there are two lines, upper one is in Brahmi Script which is written from left to right like Devnagri and English. In this two words (Vayulus Pukarini) are inscribed and in the end there’s a Swastika insignia and a foot-mark. Lower line is in Khrashoti Script, which is written from left to right like Urdu and three words, Rathidarasa, Vayulus, Pukirini can be seen inscribed.
Brahmi is an ancient script from which countless Asian scripts have emerged. Some excellent examples of this script can be seen in the form of various stone inscriptions which were created in the Asoka Regime in 3rd Century BC.
Based on recent research, some of this data dates back even to the 6th Century BC. Asoka has called this script as Dhamma script but by referring to Jain, Hindu, and Buddhist scriptures, one can draw the conclusion that this script had been Brahmi indeed.
Barring pictorial script of Indus Valley, Kharoshti is one the two oldest scripts which were being used in India during prehistoric times. The oldest inscriptions of Kharoshti are located around Takshila and Pushklawati, however it was mainly centered around North Western India and Eastern Afghanistan.
4th Century BC to 3rd Century AD, Kharoshti was prevalent in use in North Western India. After Kushan Age, it entered Turkistan and was in use there for atleast a decade. Kharoshti script has presence of sound of ‘A’ in each consonant, absence of long vowels and vowel signs etc.
Likewise, there are numerous stone inscriptions around Dharmshala. For instance Brahmi inscription near Khaniara and another untranslated inscription near Tibetan School Darnu.
These inscriptions are ‘unintentionally’ participating in a brutal race against time. With the selfie-obsessed crowds invading every nook and corner of our mountains, these inscriptions might even fade away if not protected or at least translated in time.
This article originally appeared in a Hindi Weekly 'Focus Himachal'. Arvind Sharma, the author, is a Dharmshala based writer and cartoonist. His team is working diligently to translate these old inscriptions and develop a system to preserve our cultural heritage. They have even developed 'fonts' in Tankri. Interested readers may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org