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Halmidi village finally on the road to recognition

By Muralidhara Khajane

HASSAN NOV. 2. Kannada is considered the oldest language next to Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Tamil. According to linguists, Tamil and Kannada branched off simultaneously from the Dravidian language of South India before the Christian Era.

According to the noted writer and linguist, M.V. Seetharamiah, the names of a few places referred to by Ptolemy (A.D. 150) in his geographical treatise are undoubtedly the ancient forms of present day names of places in Karnataka.

The etymology of the words `Kannada' and `Karnataka' continues to be debated. Although inscriptions from the early centuries of the Christian Era are found in the State, they are either in Prakrit or Sanskrit, and are generally in the Brahmi script.

However, the "Halmidi inscription" has put an end to many controversies surrounding the evolution of Kannada. The 16-line inscription, which is on rectangular sandstone with a height of 2.5 ft. and a width of 1 ft., has a Vishnu Chakra on its top.

The earliest Kannada inscription found at Halmidi in Belur taluk of Hassan district is dated 450 A.D., and it is the earliest known record in Kannada characters.

The language is known as "Poorvada Halegannada" (primitive Kannada), with distinctive characteristics resembling those of Tamil. Halmidi is a small village in the north of Hassan district with a population of 1,200, and was known as `Palmidi' and `Hanumidi'. However, the people of the village recently decided to retain the name Halmidi.

According to Srivatsa S. Vati, who has studied the ancient inscription, it is located in front of a mud fort at Halmidi.

People were unaware of its importance and it was neglected for many years. However, a few villagers identified the writings on the stone tablet and moved it to the Veerabhadra Temple.

M.H. Krishna, noted archaeologist, was surprised to find the Brahmi script in the inscription, and he concluded that it was the oldest Kannada inscription available. He published the details of his study in the Mysore Archaeological Report, and shifted the inscription to the Archaeological Museum, Mysore, and later to the Government Museum in Bangalore.

The inscription has become a subject of study for those who conduct research on the Kannada script, etymology, and Dravidian linguistics.

Noted linguists and writers including Govinda Pai, T.V. Venkatachala Shastry, M. Chindanandamurthy, R.S. Panchamukhi, D.L. Narasimhachar, Ram Sri Mugali, and M.M. Kalburgi have studied the inscription in depth and published papers.

Every word of the inscription has inspired linguists and set off debates on etymology. Kannada publications such as Prabhuddha Karnataka, Manavika Karnataka, Kannada Sahitya Parishtpatrike, and Kannada Nudi have published articles, and Epigraphia Karnataka has dedicated a chapter to the study of the inscription.

Writers including S. Srikantashastry, T.A. Gopinatha Rao, T.N. Srikantaiah, S. Nagaraju, M. Mariyappa Bhatta, K.V. Ramesh, K. Shivarama Aithala, M. Hanumantha Rao, M.B. Neginahal, G.S. Gaai, and Devarakondareddy have, in their books, discussed the important issues raised by the inscription.

Although Halmidi has made a significant contribution to the history and culture of Kannada, the village has been neglected. Till recently, there were no proper roads to reach the village. However, realising the historical importance of Halmidi, the Hassan district unit of the Kannada Sahitya Parishat has taken steps to make it an important centre for students of literature and linguistics.

H.B. Madana Gowda, President of parishat unit, says that a Rs. 3-lakh "Nenapina Mantapa'' (Memorial Hall) has been built in the village, and it will be inaugurated on November 30. As the inscription cannot be read easily, a replica is being readied in the Memorial Hall to give all information contained in it. A separate summary of the inscription will be written to help researchers.

``A fibreglass replica is being built at a cost of Rs. 11,000," Mr. Madana Gowda says. "Attention is also being given to the development of the village, and roads are being laid. The Government released Rs. 1 lakh for the construction of the Nenapina Mantapa. Members of the Belur Taluk Panchayat contributed Rs. 5,000 each for the construction of the hall, and Chandrakala, ZP member, donated Rs. 1 lakh from her fund,'' he adds.

He said that the Minister of State for Primary and Secondary Education, B.K. Chandrashekar, announced at a recent meeting that a directive had been sent to the Commissioner of Public Instruction and DDPIs of all districts that schoolchildren taken on excursions to Halebeed and Belur should be taken to Halmidi.

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