Erode: The oldest Isai Tamil inscription, dating back to the 2nd century, is no longer visible clearly. Soot, ash and stones have rendered illegible the inscription, which is in Tamil Brahmi, a script like Devanagari. It is in a cave, on the western end of the hillock in Arachalur.
The inscriptions are tala notes (adavu) that a Bharatnatyam dancer dances to. It has five lines and as many rows, resembling a five-row - five-column matrix. It has been arranged in such a way that read either from left to right or top to bottom it reads the same. It is a palindrome as well.
Close by is another inscription, which is also in Tamil Brahmi.
It talks about the person who chiselled the above-mentioned lines. Most of it is damaged.
The third inscription is equally bad. Tamil Brahmi Kal-vettukkal, a book on Tamil Brahmi, published by the State Department of Archeology, acknowledges the damage. What is pitiful is that the inscriptions came to light only about five decades ago, when Prof. S. Raju, an epigraphist of Erode, discovered them in the early 1960s. He says they were carved by wandering Jain monks, who came south during Chandra Gupta Maurya's time.
On the importance of the inscription, Prof. Raju says it is the oldest in Isai Tamil. He adds that apart from what the inscriptions convey, they hold additional importance in that they are a very important link in the evolution of Tamil vattaezhuthu (cursive letters).
Most of the inscriptions on Malai Vannakkan Devan Sathan are damaged. That these inscriptions were chiselled inside caves where the Jain monks used to rest has only compounded the damage. For, using the perfect cover that the rock-roof provides, locals indulge in merrymaking. Prof. Raju says he wants the State Department of Archaeology to immediately take up conservation work.