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Volume: II, Issue I, January-June 2011



Ever since A. S. Altekar wrote his famous treatise on ‘The position of Women in Hindu civilization’ [Motilal Banarsidas, Delhi, 1959, first published in1938] the reconstruction of history of women in India has come a long way. Position of women in different epochs has been studied as a part of total reconstruction of history of specified periods. Works have also been undertaken reviewing the historiographical positions taken by various historians while writing about Indian women from the past. Literary sources have been specially revisited from the feminist perspective, if not fully, at least, partially. The time has come now to turn to such sources which are not studied exclusively from a feminist perspective so far, like the epigraphical sources. The epigraphists have certainly taken note of women appearing through the inscriptions; however, there is no special attention paid to the appearance or non appearance of women in the epigraphs. This mainly happened because the majority of inscriptions are studied from the perspectives of the producers of such documents. The primary purpose is so obvious and demands immediate attention as a source for the reconstruction of such historical facts of which the inscriptions are the solitary evidences. Women known from the inscriptions are found in the role of being the queens of the ruling houses, wives of administrative officers, donors, and members of different ascetic groups. However, it is not sufficient to say that the women are also there, rather special attention needs to be paid to various roles they have played in different historical contexts. Besides, if they are not there that also needs to be seen as historical evidence and studied further. The time has come to sharpen the methodological tools for the reconstruction of women’s history from the inscriptional sources.  The approach can be called a feminist historiography which focuses on the gender relations in any given society. That also makes this study intensively interdisciplinary.  Present article would be an attempt on two levels. First, presenting the data from some of the early medieval inscriptions as regards to the appearances of women in various socio-political and religious contexts; secondly, there would a discussion as regards to developing a proper methodology to study such sites from the epigraphs which can be identified as the gender sites.

Keywords Content

The epigraphical research has come a long way ever since it’s beginning in the nineteenth century. The early epigraphists meticulously created drafts of the inscriptions and suggested the readings of the lost or damaged portions of the inscriptions. Inscriptions were studied from the language perspective and valuable information as regards to the linguistic history of India came to light [Hultzsch, 1922, Pp.lvi-cxxxi]. The socio-economic conditions of different historical periods based on the inscriptional data are frequently brought to light by historians. (Sircar, 1969). The religious history writing also gets a substantial support from the epigrahical source.(Gokhale, 1991Pp. 19-36). Now we are in a stage where the inscriptions are revisited with specific objectives and that is leading to more and more in-depth study of the inscriptions which have been studied by other historians earlier. This can thus be considered as a paradigm shift in the epigraphical studies.  While trying to locate women in different periods of Indian history with the help of inscriptions it is realized that there is a need to develop a different kind of methodology than the existing one to reach up to some new findings. The earlier studies have provided information regarding women primarily as names of women and the role that they might have played in the given context. Thus majority of women who find mention are either Queens (or women from the royal household) or women donors (along with their positions if that is mentioned in the inscriptions). Besides the data being scanty the analysis based on this scanty data is also some what problematic. No doubt Nagaṇikā (Mirashi,1981, Pp.[16]-[21]) or Prabhāvati Gupta (Mirashi,1963, Pp. xxiii-xxiv) were very important women in Indian history however such references cannot be generalized as indicators of superior position of women in different epochs of Indian history. Secondly at a still higher level the issues related to class and the issues of exclusiveness of certain women remain unaddressed. The conditions in which women got the opportunity to take the positions as has been seen in the cases mentioned above needs to be focused and critically examined. Did these women get the positions because they were more deserving or accepting them at that position was more fruitful? There are graphic descriptions of the times while a particular ruler, a man takes the throne.  Do we have evidences of similar descriptions as regards to a woman ruler? No doubt that the inscriptions are not the only sources of history, none the less they do give evidences of the kind mentioned here for men and probably not for women. Such paucity needs to be problematized rather than drawing conclusions on the basis of what is there in hand.   

The beginning of a fresh enquiry should start by classifying the women related data acquired from the epigraphs as being primary, secondary and tertiary. The references to women whose act is the main focus of the inscription must certainly be treated as a primary data. (Mirashi, 1981, Pp. 5-16). The numerical presentation of the women having such importance would be extremely important to decide about the proportion of the women’s participation in various social, political, economic and religious activities. That in itself is not sufficient for drawing any conclusion as regards to position of women in a given society; however that can initiate an enquiry in this aspect. At the secondary level all such references related to the women as important persons along with men can be put together. (Gokhale, 1991,P. 62). Also such women whose mention is important from the point of the object of the inscription but on their own accord they are not important. At the tertiary level all the nonspecific data regarding women can be placed. In other words the women just happen to be there without any exclusivity. By widening the scope of what is being categorized as non-specific much more evidence can be brought to light.   

Having placed the data related to women together with a classificatory treatment one can start analyzing it with various points of view. It can be initiated by a numerical comparison of occurrences of informative statements regarding men and women. Giving due consideration to the primary object of the   inscription generalizations can be drawn regarding the presence of women felt in the social and political hierarchies. Further with the help of the practices in the study of cultural ethnography the names of the women can be studies to see if they show any affinities to particular religious sects, particular communities, particular geographical and linguistic zones, etc. If the names occur with some specifications of the position held by the particular woman mentioned in the epigraph then that would need to be dealt with more focused attention. This would be very important for understanding the location of women in structures of power.   

As far as the data in the second category is concerned it would require a different kind of treatment. Here the analysis would start at an individual to individual level, and then that relation would be brought to the point of generalization. In this category there would be a lot of scope of speculation which at times can become problematic. Evaluating the exact merit of the data here would really be challenging. In this section some sub categories are possible placing women in relation to the object of the inscription. The women in this section would be important for the men who are the decision makers and it is their choice to do whatever they have done for the women mentioned. Having seen this then one can start looking at the intensions with which the recorded act is performed.

The information that is placed at the tertiary level forms the category of such references in absence of which the inscription would not have remained incomplete. A number of gender stereotypes can be understood with the help of this category. These references would be very important for the reconstruction of social history from the feminist perspective. Slightly different but very much related is the data related to goddesses which can also be put in this category. This area is still quite unexplored in the field of epigraphical studies. Placing the data in this category in a chronological sequence it would be possible see the changing perceptions regarding women in different historical periods. The information collected in this category would need corroboration much more than the other two categories. This can be corroborated with the help of literary and sculptural evidences.
With the above mentioned methodology there is an attempt to present data gained from the inscriptions of the Śilāhāras of Konkaṇ in the present paper. The inscriptions are compiled and translated by V. V. Mirashi in the sixth volume of Corpus Inscriptionaum Indicarrum, Archaeological Survey of India, Delhi, 1977.
Out of forty-five inscriptions compiled in this volume five inscriptions mention women with their names and their spiritual welfare is the main object of the inscription. (2 of queen Padmala, 1 of queen Padmai, 1 of mother Lilādevi, 1 of granddaughter Annana). Two inscriptions mention the same person named Padmaldevi, who was the mother of the ruling kings. Two of her sons approved of the settlements related to land donations made by her. The third one is the queen of the ruling king named Padmai for whose spiritual welfare a huge land donation was made. In fact this is the biggest donation known from the records under review. The fourth one is a donation made by the ruling king for his grand daughter named Annana. Though these are the only inscriptions recording the presence of women, each one is extremely significant from the point of view of socio- economic and political history.  First two are the settlement charters ‘Vyavasthās’ as it is called in the inscriptions. Each one’s position seems to be very important. They seem to be indispensable for the administration of the Śilāhārās and their presence was acknowledged accordingly.

The first is the Vyavasthā (Bhoighar Plates of Chittarāj, A.D. 3/9/1024, in Mirashi1977,Pp.274-279) in the form of reduction in the tax to be paid on the arecanut plants and stating that the coconut, jackfruit, Champak are to be totally exempted from the taxes. However the inscription also records that the plants called Suramanda (probably such plants from which liquor can be extracted) are not included in this Vyavasthā, these plants will remain with the state. The Donees were Brahmins well versed in the Vedas and other related knowledge of sacrifices. One of them is mentioned as Kramavid (Those who have mastered the Kramapāṭh of the Vedas). This reference shows that the Brahmin must be a very high order Vedic teacher. Because in two of the earlier inscriptions a Brahmin, probably the same Brahmin is mentioned with the same specific title and was the donee receiving land donation in the near by location. One of the said inscriptions mentions that the Brahmin was residing at a far off place and was on a visit for some purpose (probably for a holy dip on the occasion of solar eclipse) where the king also came for the ritual bath after a solar eclipse and made the donation. In these earlier inscriptions the said Brahmin is mentioned along with his Gotra (Kashyapa) and the branch of the Veda (Ṛgveda) and his father is mentioned as being an expert of Sāmaveda recitation. These two inscriptions record the donations made by the Aparājita (Janjirā plates of Aparājita, 2 sets. Mirashi 1977, Pp. 17-35) The Vyavasthā charter for which queen Padmaladevi (Samastābhyudayabhāgini Mahārājñi: the illustrious and all prosperous) ordered her son (Though there is no mention that she was the mother of Chittaraj, the expression used here means an order (Tasyādeśena) hence it is thought that she must be the mother and not the wife of the King) Chittarāj mentioning the same Brahmin draws special attention. Queen Padmal was the mother of the ruling king who approves of the Vyavasthā on her behest.  Was it that she was concerned about the fame and name acquired by the earlier rulers of the dynasty and considered herself responsible for maintaining it to the same degree? Was she intervening in some kind of problem emerging due to  change in the taxation policy or any disturbance occurring due to some unsocial element and she takes it on her to protect the Brahmin donees of such high order whom the earlier generation paid so much of respect?

The second Vyavasthā charter by queen Padmala is also very important. (Dive gar Plates of Mummuṇirāj, in Mirashi 1977, Pp. 107-110) It records the terms of the settlement for the donated orchards given to the Brahmins probably on some earlier occasion. Besides the reference to the learned Brahmins the Vyavasthā refers to the ‘Ṣodasa(ś)bhihi Smārikā’ (some kind of advisory council of having sixteen members who were experts on law codes). Does that mean that while drafting the terms of settlement it was seen that it is the most lawful settlement? Dose it reflect the concern of the queen for her son getting the proper advice according to the Smṛti- codes? Since her husband does not seem to have lived long was she behaving as a true advisor to the ruling King? Did she show a preference to the rule according to the Smṛti codes? Interestingly the inscription mentions the queen twice which is rare. Once while stating the terms of the settlement and second time while giving the details about the drafting and engraving the inscription. Such a meticulous observance certainly needs to be treated with special attention.

The king who has approved of the settlements on behest of his mother also has given a huge donation dated earlier to the one mentioned above for the welfare of his crowned queen Padmai. (Thane plates of Mummuṇirāj, dated 20/02/1049) This is the largest donation made at any one point in the history of the Śilāhāras. All together 21 Brahmins were given donations in the form of produce from the land. The inscription contains all the customary details about the family of the Śilāhāras and about the Brahmins who received donations. The occasion was of a lunar eclipse and the donees were expected to perform their duties of sacrificial offerings. The donation was for the maintenance of the families of the Brahmins. There is nothing specific about the grant except for the fact that it was given for the welfare of the queen which is so far the only reference of its kind known from the Śilāhāras records. Usually the donations are found to be for the welfare of the donor himself and some times along with the parents. Why king Mummuṇi goes beyond the family tradition and makes an endowment in the name of his queen needs to be explored.   

One more inscription mentioning the queen mother (Clear mention of the queen being the mother of the ruling king) is the Chanje stone inscription of Aparāditya I dated 3/1/1139. This inscription records that a part of the donation was meant for the welfare of the mother of the king. Here the mother of the king is simply mentioned by her name and not with any title. (Swakiya Matuh Śree Lilādevyā Śreyortham). Some thing which is common to the records mentioning these queen –mothers is that the recipients are Brahmins of a high level of Vedic learning.  In this inscription as was the case of the inscription of Padmal the recipient is mentioned as being a Kramavid. Dose it reflect a preference?  Second common thing is the mention of the king’s advisory council. In the earlier inscription the queen mother seems to have taken a special interest in protecting some rights of the members of the council however this inscription does not have any such reference. Could the references to the Kramavids and the council of the king in these inscriptions where the queen mothers are mentioned be taken mere coincidences or there is an indication of the women of earlier generation discharging an important function of keeping the council and learned Brahmins in favor or support of the ruling kings?  The inscription mentioning Lilādevi is important for one more thing. The inscription is of the time of Aparāditya who is identified as Aparārka who wrote a commentary on Yajñyavalkya Smṛti – Aparārka Tīkā. In the Tīka, Aparārka supports Sati (Aparārka Tīkā I. 2.87) but his mother who must be a widow while he was ruling as a king has not performed Sati and is found getting her wish fulfilled by her son. Having said that one can also pay attention to the fact that she is not mentioned with any royal title probably indicating her ascetic like life, which Aparārka approves of as an alternative to Sati. Where as in earlier times not only there was no Sati but probably even the widows could be referred to with their royal title as has been indicated in case of queen Padmal. 

Another inscription which records a donation made for the welfare of a woman from the royal family is the Ballipattan plates of Rattarāj dated 24/12/1010. (Mirashi 1977, Pp.193-199). Here the king is seen making the donation for the benefit of his granddaughter but the exact reason for doing so is not recorded. Except for the reference to the granddaughter there is nothing striking about the record.  The inscription in the customary verses states that the donation was to be protected by the sons and grandsons of the ruling king. If this is to be taken as having any merit other than being customary then the reference to the granddaughter becomes extremely important. What was the condition in which even when there were the male descendents in the family a granddaughter is given this special attention? Whatever was the condition it is certainly noteworthy that there could be occasions when the women could be given sole attention. In case of this inscription the evidence becomes more important for the fact that this is the last known inscription of the southern branch of the Śilāhāras. If the reference to the sons and grandsons is just a customary part of the inscription then could it be that the family of this house was likely to be continued from the granddaughter’s side as the solitary descendent of the family.
In the second category of women known from the inscriptions of the Śilāhāras there can be placed references to parents to whom the merit of the donations were supposed to be going along with the donor. The common expression used in these records is Mātāpitarau, meaning mother and father both thus, woman also is there. Apart from this no other mention of relation of a man to a woman gets recorded. Twice there are references to prostitute like women mentioned as ‘Dārikā’ and ‘Vārastree’. Out of which reference to Dārikā is very important. It comes from the Khārepātaṇ plates of Rattarāj dated 22/5/1008 (Mirashi 1977, P.189). Dārikās were the temple related women otherwise known as Devadāsis. They were expected to serve the God by Dancing and singing and doing other maintenance related activities. The inscription is of the southern branch of the Śilāhāras. It is well known that the practice of the Devadāsis was very common in Goa till recently. Thus present inscription can be taken as an evidence of this practice going back to the early eleventh century. The same inscription states that a family each of the potter, washer man, gardener, oil-man were established within the precincts of the temple but of the Daraikas a plural form was used. Taking note of the fact that this was a form of the temple prostitution it can be stated that it started in Konkaṇ at the time of the Śilāhāras. There is no evidence of this practice in the records of the earlier period from this region. From the point of view of women this reference certainly draws special attention. In this context another reference needs to be quoted though it is not directly mentioning the involvement of women in the temple prostitution. In the Berlin museum plates of Chhittarāja dated 5/4/1034 it is stated that the donation provides for the service of the god in all the usual offerings of sandal paste, oil lamps, incense and also by singing and dancing (Mirashi 1977 P. 67). It almost goes without saying that women must be permanently attached to the temple as Devadāsis for this purpose. One of the inscriptions of a feudatory of the Shilāhāras dated 15/9/1034 (Chinchani plates of the reign of Chhittarāja, Mirashi 1977, P. 73) mentions Kautuka Maṭhikā of the goddess Bhagavati. Kautuka Mathikā was probably an attachment of the main temple where the movable icon of the deity was to be kept and on occasions there would be dance and music performances. Here again there is a possibility that the Devadāsis were attached to the temple. In the want of more reference this remains to be corroborated.
In the third category the women related literary stereotypes could be listed and analyzed. Most of them indicate the sensuous appeal of men to the body of a woman. Few are indicative of decency of manly behavior towards women. Some are extremely derogative. The line between virtue and arrogance is too thin and at times it is difficult to separate one from the other. The references vary in the degree of intensity of intention. The target is the enemy who would be a man but it is expressed through the vulnerability of women associated with the enemy. A celebration of conquest invariably gets reflected in the pitiable condition inflicted upon the women dependents of the conquered. There is nothing peculiar about as regards of the Śilāhāras but still is important for the very occurrence of it. First and foremost is that it gives an idea of what kind of gender stereotypes were popular at a given period of time especially in the literary works. There corroboration with the contemporary art and literature would help in reconstructing more reliable history of perceptions about the women in historical times. These expressions are absolutely irrelevant in the context of the object of the inscription. These irrelevant references none the less seem to be necessary for highlighting the achievements of the rulers. It was supposed to present most impressive aspects of the personality of the rulers, e.g. in the Junagaḍh rock inscription of Ruradāman, the western Kṣatrap ruler it is stated that he had won over the hearts of many maidens in the Swayamvara. ‘Kanyāswayamvarānekamālyaprāptadāmnā’ (Mirashi, 1981, P.126 )

This category can further be divided as the non personalized expressions and personalized expressions. Thus following are examples of the cases of non personalized expressions:

Reference (All in Mirashi 1977)

Non personalized Expression

Kānheri cave inscription of Pullashakti, A.D. 843-44. Line 6. P.

Donation to be protected as wife and sons.

Thāṇa plates of Arikesarin, A.D.1017, Verse ,19 and Khārepātaṇ plates of Rattarāj, A.D. 1008. Line 35

Youth being devoured by the demoness of old age inside (body), Youth being devoured by Putanā in the form of old age inside

Janjirā plates of Aparājita, A.D. 993

Donated land together with all rights…..fines levied for crimes against unmarried girls……….right to property of sonless persons

Māhul stone inscription of Harapāladeva, A.D. 1153.

Ass curse which occurs for the first time in the Śilāhāra inscriptions.



Reference (All in Mirashi 1977)

Personalized Expressions

Janjirā plates of Aparājit, A.D. 993, Line 38 and Thana plates of Mummuṇiraja, A.D. 1049, Lines33-34 and Pattaṇkuḍi plates of Avasara II, A.D. 988 Line 26-27 and Khārapataṇ plates of Rattarāj, A.D. 1008 Lines 10-11 and Dive agar plates of Mummuṇirāj, A.D. 1053, Lines 6-7.

He appears as the god of love to young women

Cupid incarnate

Who being attractive like Cupid made the minds of proud women give up their vanity.

He is like Kṛṣṇa always surrounded by a multitude of excellent women.

An incantation attracting the hearts of young women.


Prince of Wales plates of Chadvaideva, c. A.D. 965, Line 15

Thāṇā plates of Arikesarin A.D. 1017.Lines 12-13 and Thāṇā plates of Mummuṇirāj,, A.D. 1049, Lines37-38

Lord of earth who has the four oceans for her girdle


Goddess of fortune shines on his chest like it does to Murāri.

The self chosen husband of the earth adorned with the heads of foes.

Thāṇā plates of Nāgārjuna, A.D. 1039, Line 31 and Panhāe plates of Vikramāditya, A.D. 1139, Line 35, 37

Nārāyaṇa in respect of good nature while dealing with courtesans.

Who treats ladies courteously…….in whom dwell the goddesses of fortune and learning

Thāṇā plates of Arikesarin A.D. 1017.Verse 17-18

One who caused the ladies in the harems of his enemies, slain by him, to have dangling unbraided hair, to discard necklaces from their pitcher like breasts and to discard the use of black colour (Kajjal) to the eyes.

The creeper of whose fame rises above this bower of Brahmāṇḍa as if it is made to grow by the sprinkling of water in the form of rears from the eyes of the wives of the enemies slain.

The above survey is an example of how with the help of feminist historiography inscriptions of the early medieval period can be studied. This can be taken as the preliminary work in the direction of reconstructing the history of women in different regions and time frames. Early medieval period experienced an emergence of local cultural identities. The kind of study presented on the basis of the inscriptions of the Śilāhāras from Konkaṇ would certainly help in tracing the regional traits emerging during the period under review, e.g. the terms mentioned in the Vyavasthā charters of queen Padmala.  She was a widow and still she takes the royal title ‘Mahārājñi’ (Mirashi, 1977, p. 277) but in the subsequent period queen Lilāvati does not take any such title. The second inscription is of the later period and the then ruling king is supposed to have set new codes in the form of a Tīkā on Yajñavalkyasmṛti. Could it be that these inscriptional evidences point to the fact that there was a change in the position of widows? The gender stereotypes are another issue that demands attention. The persons drafting the inscriptions are supposed to be exhibiting their scholarship in the classical literature and if they are using the types of expression mentioned above then that certainly reflects upon the contemporary values of the learned audience. The human gender relation is also applied to the gods and goddesses hence the divinities also can not be excluded as has been seen in the examples of Umā Maheśwar or Laxmi- Viśṇu pairs. A typical expression of erotic mysticism is used in some of the inscriptions to express the velour of a king, e.g. ‘Royal fortune, approaching him, all of a sudden and of her own accord, on the battle field, felt delighted while sporting on the bosom of him whose strength lay solely in his own arm, as she does on that of ‘ Murāri’. (Mirashi, 1977, p. 51).  It reminds of a later text called Gītagovinda where Radhā sporting on the chest of Murāri is described. (Gītagovinda, V, 2, iv) Could it not be possible to trace the eroticism of Gītagovind from the inscriptions of earlier period? Such and many more correlations can be established between inscriptions and other sources once a paradigm shift takes place in the epigraphical studies.

Gokhale S., 1991, Kanheri Inscriptions, Poona: Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute.

Hultzsch E., 1922, Inscriptions of Ashoka, Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, reprint 1991.

Mirashi V. V., 1963, Inscriptions of of the Vakatakas, Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India; Inscriptions of the Shilaharas, Delhi: Archaeological survey of India, 1977; The History and Inscriptions of the Satavahanas and Western Kshatrapas, Bombay: Maharashtra State Board for Literature and Culture, 1981.

Sircar D. C. 1969, Landlordism and Tenancy in Ancient and Medieval India as Revealed by Epigraphical records, Lucknow: University of Lucknow)