Dr. K.V. Ramesh, retired joint director general of the ASI, who passed away recently, contributed immensely to the cause of epigraphical studies and research.
In 1965, epigraphist N. Lakshminarayana Rao, one of the examiners of a young Ph.D candidate, recommended that he be awarded a PhD, but also commented, “This candidate thinks he is infallible, like Brihaspati.” Dr. K.V. Ramesh, retired Joint Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), would recall the comment with amusement, for he was that young candidate!
Ramesh grew up in Triplicane and studied at the Hindu High School. Son of Sanskrit scholar Vyasaraya Sastri, Ramesh completed his post-graduation in Sanskrit from the Presidency College, with a gold medal. Joining the ASI as an Epigraphical assistant in 1956, Ramesh’s rise was rapid. Dr. Ritti, who worked with him in Ooty, says, “By all standards, amongst the epigraphists of the present generation, Ramesh has contributed the most for furthering the cause of epigraphical studies and research.”
Ritti used to have many lively arguments with Ramesh regarding the origin of the Brahmi script. Ramesh was firmly of the opinion that Tamil Brahmi was the earliest. He said that the Bhattiprolu inscription marked the intermediary stage between Tamil Brahmi and Asokan Brahmi. He wrote that “decipherable writing in India did not go back much beyond the beginning of the 4th century B.C.”
Ramesh’s re-editing of the Peddavaduguru inscription is beautifully argued and presented, so that it seems as if one is reading a mathematical proof, and yet it is written in a flowing style. This inscription refers to a grant of Sri Prithvivallabha, Maharajadhiraja Parameswara Satyasraya. It goes on to say that Ereyitiyadigal mortally wounded Ranavikraman in the battle which took place in Elpattu Simvige in Naadanooru, and was pleased to grant a tax-free village to the mahajanas of Naadanooru. When the mahajanas were asked by Banaraja to pay taxes, one Golimaduvara Santappa cited the earlier grant of Ereyitiyadigal. Banaraja was pleased to record in writing that the grant was to be tax free.
Ramesh established the identities of the persons mentioned in the inscription. The word ‘Satyasraya’ clearly indicated the Chalukyas. Ranavikraman was Mangalesa’s epithet. To establish who Ereyitiyadigal was, Ramesh cited an inscription from Lakashmeswar in Dharwad, which refers to Ereyamma, also called Satyasraya. Ereyamma is described as the son of Ranaparakrama.
Ranaparakrama was the favourite epithet of Kirtivarman I, who was the father of Pulikesin II. So Ereyamma was Pulikesin II. Ereyitiyadigal was a variant of Ereyamma. So Ereyitiyadigal mentioned in the Peddavaduguru inscription was none other than Pulikesin II. This inscription is very important from a historical standpoint. It establishes the killing of Mangalesa by Pulikesin II in the battle fought in Elpattu Simvige, in Naadanooru. Pulikesin must have made the grant to the mahajanas sometime in 609-610 A.D. But palaeographical features place the Peddavuduguru inscription in the middle of the 7th century. So Ramesh concluded that although Pulikesin had made the grant, it had not been recorded on stone. Some decades later, the Bana King recorded it in stone. One cannot locate Naadanooru on a map today, but Ramesh thought Peddavaduguru, where the inscription was found, had perhaps once been known as Naadanooru.
Ramesh was aware of the limitations of palaeography in the matter of dating early inscriptions. There is a well preserved inscription of Pulikesin I dated 543 A.D., high up on a cliff in Badami. There is also an inscription of Narasimhavarma Pallava, who vanquished Pulikesin II. This is assignable to 642-643 A.D. Below this are a few damaged lines of some inscription, which, in South Indian Inscriptions Vol I, part I, are stated to belong to the 7th century A.D. Ramesh found that what was readable in these damaged lines seemed to suggest that it was a replica of the cliff inscription of Pulikesin I. He felt that the damaged one was the original inscription. It was possible that the Pallavas had damaged the original inscription, and that after the Pallavas were driven out in 642-643 A.D., the same inscription was re-engraved on the cliff, probably to “symbolically retrieve Chalukyan prestige.” So the cliff inscription, in spite of its express date viz Saka 465 that is 543 A.D., was in fact engraved only in 642-43 A.D. So Ramesh said that “whether an inscription is expressly dated or not, if it is an inscription prior to the 7th century A.D., palaeographical features alone won’t help establish the date.”
Ramesh was an avid reader and read a wide range of books from the classics to the lectures of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. “He always recommended to his junior colleagues that they should read two books - Gibbon’s ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,’ and Sewell’s ‘A Forgotten Empire- Vijayanagar’,” says Dr. Ravishankar, Director of Epigraphy ASI, Mysore. Ramesh wrote in an elegant style, and even when he wrote history, it had the pace of a racy novel.
Dr. Swaminathan, Deputy Superintending Epigraphist, points to the chapter headings in Ramesh’s book “Chalukyas of Vatapi” as proof of his dramatic way of presenting history. Swaminathan mentions Ramesh’s graciousness in acknowledging a mistake, even when it was pointed out by a junior. Dr. S. Nagaraju, retired Professor of history, Hyderabad Central University, says, “Ramesh felt that many of the ideograms of the Indus culture had a parallel in Vedic culture. He was working on the idea. Had he lived for a few more years, we would probably have seen an interesting paper from him on the subject.”
A felicitation volume was being planned to honour Dr. Ramesh for his services to epigraphy. But sadly, it will now be a commemoration volume!