He tells ancient stories written in stone

Anyone who has tried researching history will know that attempts to look into the past often raise more questions than they answer.

Published: 14th February 2021 05:55 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th February 2021 06:28 AM   |  A+A-

Monappa Shirwal with an inscription at Shirwal village of Shahapur taluk in Yadgir district

Express News Service

KALABURAGI: Anyone who has tried researching history will know that attempts to look into the past often raise more questions than they answer. But that is also what makes history so interesting, as Monappa Shirwal knows all too well. Monappa’s fascination with history began as a boy growing up in Shirwal village of Shahapur taluk, Yadgir district.

“My birth place was my inspiration. There is a 11th century temple dedicated to Nannaiah and Naadaiah in my village. There were lots of inscriptions lying around,” the 45-year-old government official says.
He was awarded a PhD in history by Gulbarga University for his thesis titled ‘The Cultural Study of Inscriptions of Kalaburagi district’ completed under the guidance of Prof P K Khandoba.

And even though he passed the Karnataka Administrative Services exam in 2015 and became an Assistant Treasury Officer, he has continued to indulge his passion for the mysteries of inscriptions, and spends two hours a day for some kind of epigraphy-related research. In the past decade, he has found and researched 22 stone inscriptions and 15 stone sculptures in Yadgir, Kalaburagi and Raichur districts, and narrated the stories hidden in them in newspaper articles, research papers, and a book recently published by Kannada University.

One of those inscriptions raises interesting toponymic questions about present-day Shahpur. “Previously, most inscriptions found on the Sagaradri hills of Shahapur town were written in Persian and Arabic. But during my field work a year ago, the first inscription written in Halegannada was found,” Monappa says. The thousand-year-old inscription talks about a Sagara town located in the Sagaradri hills, which ended up being divided into Hale Sagara, Dodda Sagara and Sagara due to war.

Even today, a large village called Sagara still exists. The inscription also mentions that the place was previously called Devadurga, he says. While this inscription has thrown up a puzzle for researchers, others have thrown light on the socio-cultural life of their times. Monappa has found many memorial stones containing inscriptions. For instance, a 10th century inscription on a memorial stone at Hosakere village of Shahpur taluk details an instance of atma bali, or self-sacrifice, in this case, committed for the welfare of the king. It could take days or even years to wade through the maze of information that an inscription contains. One must first figure the language it is written in and then be able to understand the script. Several of the inscriptions Monappa has found are written in the Brahmi script.

Monappa is multi-lingual: He can read and write Kannada, English and Hindi, and understands Telugu, Gujarati and Marathi. Most important perhaps, is his ability to read the Brahmi script. But a lot of the information contained in archaeological objects is eroded due to exposure to the elements and disfiguration by humans. “Sometimes people disfigure inscriptions without knowing their importance, and it becomes more difficult to read them,” he says.

As if this were not enough, people like Monappa are often mistaken for looters. “I almost got beaten up when I was looking for inscriptions in Doranahalli in Shahpur taluk and Bandahalli in Yadgir taluk.”
Despite all this, Monappa and others like him are undeterred. Seven of them formed the Kannada Samskruthi Samshodhana Sangha in 2014 to collaborate and exchange information. Inscriptions on stones that weigh up to 40 kg have found a place in Monappa’s home. “I plan to start a museum if I get support,” he says.

2010 2nd century Brahmi inscription on the bank of the Bhima, Hosur village, Shahpur taluk

2010 Inscription dated 1861 found on the wall of a well in the house of the Desai of Sagara

2011 Inscription at Jewargi village, Kalaburagi district

2013 Brahmi inscription at Shirwal village

2015 Hallegannada inscription dated 1076 of the Chalukya dynasty, Halkarti village, Chittapur taluk


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