Vale an Extraordinary Tamil Scholar: Mahadevan decoded the Indus Valley and Brahmi Scripts

EDITOR, News-in-Asia, 26 November 2018where the title is as follows: “Eminent epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan who deciphered Indus Valley and Tamil Brahmi inscriptions passes away”

Renowned epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan, who passed away early Monday, was instrumental in reviving interest in Sangam literature, said R. Nagaswamy, veteran archaeologist. Recalling Mahadevan’s contributions, Dr. Nagaswamy said the epigraphist’s reading of Tamil Brahmi inscriptions in Pugalur near Karur had shown that there were three successive generations of Chera kings of the Sangam era, and this had re-kindled interest in the Sangam literature.

Pic by T.Ramakrishnan/The Hindu

His study of Tamil Brahmi inscriptions in Tamil Nadu was “thorough and systematic” and his work came to be recognised nationally and internationally. Mr. Mahadevan’s ‘Indus Script – Texts, Concordance and Tables’ had generated enormous scope for further research, said Dr. Nagaswamy, who headed the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department between 1966 and 1988.

Referring to Mr. Mahadevan’s work, ‘Early Tamil Epigraphy,’ Indira Parthasarathy, a leading Tamil literary figure and former Tamil professor, hailed it as the epigraphist’s magnum opus and quoted from what he wrote about it in this paper 15 years ago: “Nothing has been written until now, on Tamil Epigraphy, so rewarding and communicating, as this book is. It is a comprehensive in-depth treatise, in which a multi-disciplinary learning of an awesome dimension is much in evidence.”

“Iravatham Mahadevan was a statesman among scholars, enabling the world to marvel at the unsolved puzzles of the Indus Valley Civilisation and draw from patient study satisfaction no less fulfilling than solutions,” former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi said.

Describing Mr. Mahadevan as an outstanding person, Prof. Parthasarathy said it was his work on Tamil Brahmi script that had established yet again the greatness and antiquity of Tamil.

T. Satyamurthy, former Superintending Archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India and founder-president of REACH (Rural Education and Conservation of Heritage) Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation, said Mr. Mahadevan’s work on numismatics was as significant as the other areas of archaeology he focused on. His knowledge of Indology and palaeography was “remarkable.” He was a “perfectionist” as he relied essentially on primary sources of knowledge.

R. Kannan, former Additional Chief Secretary who had headed Archaeology and Musuem Departments, commended Mr. Mahadevan for his contributions in the area of deciphering the Indus script.

The Hindu adds: Iravatham Mahadevan, passed away after a brief illness. He was 88. A former member of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Padma Shri-awardee joined the service in 1954 and took voluntary retirement in 1980 after holding various positions in the Central and Tamil Nadu governments.

He was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship in 1970 for his research on the Indus script and the National Fellowship of the Indian Council of Historical Research in 1992 for his work on the Tamil Brahmi inscriptions.

In August 1987, he became the Editor of the Tamil daily, Dinamani, where he succeeded A.N. Sivaraman, who held the post for over 45 years.

In the last three decades of his life, he devoted himself to the study of India’s early writing systems. He kept in active touch with leading scholars of early India, including the historian Romila Thapar and the Finnish specialist on the Indus Valley Script, Asko Parpola.

‘The Indus Script – Texts, Concordance and Tables,’ compiled by Iravatham Mahadevan with a grant from the Indian Council of Historical Research and published by the Archaeological survey of India in 1977, continues to be a definitive and an indisputable resource for Indus Valley scholarship.

His ‘Early Tamil Epigraphy’, first published jointly by Harvard University and Cre-A in 2003 and later by the Central Institute of Classical Tamil as a thoroughly revised version in 2014, is regarded as the most authoritative work on early South Indian epigraphy. Mr Mahadevan also established the Indus Research Centre at the Roja Muthiah Research Library with his personal funds.

Mr Mahadevan was awarded the Padma Shri in April 2009.

A man of letters, principles, and philanthropy, he founded the Vidyasagar Educational Trust, in memory of his late son, to support under-privileged students.

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