A Tamil-Brahmi script on a pot rim, reading “a ma na”, meaning a Jaina, has been found at Pattanam in Ernakulam district, Kerala, establishing that Jainism was prevalent on the west coast at least from second century CE (Common Era). The script can be dated to circa second century CE. The three Tamil-Brahmi letters are followed by two symbols generally called Megalithic graffiti and these two symbols could not be identified. This is the third Tamil-Brahmi script to be found in the Pattanam excavations.

The Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) has been conducting excavations at Pattanam since 2007, with the approval of the Archaeological Survey of India. The pot-rim was found during the sixth season of the excavation currently under way. Pattanam is now identified as the thriving port called Muziris by the Romans. Tamil Sangam literature celebrates it as Muciri.

P.J. Cherian, Director of the Pattanam excavations, said: “The discovery, in the Kerala context, has a great significance because of the dearth of evidence so far of the pre-Brahminical past of Kerala, especially in relation to the socio-cultural and religious life of the people. We have direct evidence from Pattanam now with the Brahmi script which mentions “a ma na” [Jaina] and so we have evidence that Jainism was present in Kerala.”

Iravatham Mahadevan, a scholar in Indus and Tamil-Brahmi scripts, said the discovery showed that “there was Jainism on the west coast at least from second century CE. The importance of the finding is that it stratigraphically corroborates the earlier datings given to the Tamil-Brahmi cave inscriptions in Tamil Nadu on palaeographic evidence. I will date this sherd, on palaeographic evidence, to circa second century CE.”

The Tamil word “a ma na” meaning a Jaina was derived from Sanskrit Sramana via Prakrit Samana and Tamil Camana, said Mr. Mahadevan. The two megalithic graffiti, following the three Tamil-Brahmi letters, could not be identified. “But we know from similar finds in Tamil Nadu, especially at Kodumanal, that Tamil-Brahmi letters and megalithic graffiti symbols occur side by side,” he said. Mr. Mahadevan was sure that “many more exciting finds will be made at Muciri [Pattanam] which was a flourishing port on the west coast during the Sangam age in Tamil Nadu, which coincided with the classical period in the West.”

Mr. Cherian, who is also Director of KCHR, said the discovery “excites me as an excavator because it was for the first time we are getting direct evidence relating to a religious system or faith in Kerala.” The pot might have belonged to a Jaina monk. The broken rim with the script was found at a depth of two metres in trench 29 in the early historical layer which “by our stratigraphic understanding could belong to third-second CE period,” he said. The associated finds included amphora sherds, iron nails, and beads among others.

In a trial trench laid earlier at Pattanam by Professor V. Selvakumar, Assistant Professor, Department of Archaeology and Epigraphy, Tamil University, Thanjavur and K.P. Shajan of KCHR, a pot-sherd with the Tamil-Brahmi letters reading “ur pa ve o” was found. Later, another Tamil-Brahmi script with the letters “ca ta [n]” was found. Mr. Mahadevan praised the Pattanam excavations as “the best conducted excavations in south India.” He said it was “a potentially important site and excavations are being done in a competent way by Mr. Cherian and his team from the KCHR and they have involved experts from around the world.”