Muralidhara Khajane

Realising the historical importance of Halmidi, the Kannada Sahitya Parishat has taken the initiative to make the village an important centre

HASSAN: While the State is set to observe the golden jubilee year of its formation, the Government is pleading with the Union Government to accord the classical language tag to Kannada.

Though Kannada language is held to be next only to Sanskrit and Tamil (that secured classical language status recently) in respect of antiquity, the Union Government is dragging its feet on it.

There is evidence to prove that Kannada and Tamil branched off simultaneously from the original proto-Dravidian language of South India even before the Christian era.

According to linguist M.V. Seetharamaiah, the names of a few places referred to by Ptolemy (150 AD) in his geographical treatise are undoubtedly the ancient versions of present-day names of places in Karnataka (viz., Pounnata, Modougalla, Kaligeris and Banavoause). The word "Karnataka" and "Kuntala" that are mentioned in the Mahabharata and the grammar of Panini are a Sanskritised form of a Kannada word, which is according to many scholars "Karunadu," meaning large or an elevated country or black soil.

However, the etymology of the words "Kannada" and "Karnataka" are still a matter of controversy. Mr. Seetharamiah points out that the inscription found at Halmidi in Belur taluk of Hassan district is dated 450 AD, and it happens to be the earliest known record inscribed in Kannada characters; the language what can be termed as "Purvada Halegannada" and primitive Kannada with distinctive characteristics resembling those of Tamil.

A large number of inscriptions found later are recorded in Kannada representing a transitional stage of progress from primitive Old Kannada to Old Kannada of classical age, besides throwing light on their historical importance. These inscriptions of 6th and 7th centuries judging from their

literary style bear ample testimony to a highly developed state of the language. According to linguists, the Hamidi inscription has put an end to many controversies surrounding the evolution of Kannada.

The 16-line inscription on rectangular sandstone with a height of 2.5 ft., and width of 1 ft., has helped in Kannada claiming its antiquity to 450 AD.

Halmidi is a small village with a population of 1,200 and was known as Palmidi and Hanumidi. However, the people of village recently decided to retain the name Halmidi.

According to researcher, Srivatsa S. Vati, who studied the ancient inscription, it was located in front of a mud fort and people who were unaware of its importance, neglected it for several years.

However, a few villagers, who identified the writings on the stone tablet moved it to Veerabhadra temple and protected it.

M.H. Krishna, archaeologist, was surprised to find the Brahmi 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. Noted linguists and writers including Manjeshwara Govinda Pai, T.V. Venkatachala Shastry, M. Chidananda Murthy, R.S. Panchamukhi, D.L. Narasimhachar, Ram. Sri. Mugali, and M.M. Kalburgi have published research papers on it.

Although Halmidi has made a significant contribution to the antiquity of Kannada language, the village has been neglected over the years.

However, realising the historical importance of Halmidi, the Kannada Sahitya Parishat took initiative of making the village an important centre.

A "Nenapina Mantapa" has been built in the village at a cost of Rs. 3 lakh and as the inscription cannot be read easily, a fibreglass replica giving all the information contained in it has been designed and installed there.