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Epigraphist extraordinaire

A. Saye Sekhar



Parabrahma Sastry. — Photo: Mohd. Yousuf

HYDERABAD: So what if you could read between the lines? Can you go beyond the printed words and decipher those inscriptions on stones and copper plates of yore. What looks like Mandarin to many, makes delightful reading for this octogenarian.

Parabrahma Sastry is one of the very few, if not the only, living epigraphists who can decipher the Brahmi script (Prakrit language), the archaeological DNA code to the hoary past of Telugus.

His unique scholastic pursuit fetched him the State Government's Ugadi Visishta Purasakaram this year, but he is not enthused. He revels in the joy of his biggest success - fixing the chronology of the Satavahana dynasty.

"I fully claim credit for it. A small token - trade licence - with an inscription of the picture and period of Roman king Tiberius on one side and of Satavahana ruler Haku Sri on the other clinched the issue. I could establish the period of Siri Satavahana, Satakarni-I, Simuka and the others thereon," he recalls flashing a grin.

Surprise journey

A post-graduate in Sanskrit and doctorate in history, Dr. Sastry's journey with history came as a surprise even to himself. Though he worked as a headmaster in Jangaon in Warangal district and an eight-year stint at Keshav Memorial High School in Hyderabad, he was chosen as an epigraphist in Archaeology Department. With his passion becoming his profession, he never looked back.

He deciphered many epigraphs, particularly those in Brahmi, Sanskrit, Telugu and Kannada. Until the 12th century AD, Kannada and Telugu had a common script. Dr. Sastry says Telugu and Tamil had evolved from the inscriptions on crystal caskets in which the Buddha's relics were preserved at Bhattiprolu in Guntur district. But Telugu eventually developed into the current form from the Brahmi script.

Prolific output

The boulder with inscriptions of Vishnukundins period at Chaitanyapuri in Hyderabad was one of his discoveries. Dr. Sastry has authored over a dozen books and several research papers on history, epigraphy and literature. He laments the dwindling passion for preserving the proofs of history and suggests a study into ancient social history and lifestyle.

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