SOME EPIGRAPHICAL REFERENCES TO IRON WORKS IN EARLY ORISSA (A.D. 400-1000)

Dr. R.C. Misro

In the rural society of early Orissa, black-smiths seemed to be the most sought after artisans as they manufactured agricultural tools and implements, weapons of war and hunting, and other articles of domestic requirements.  In this paper, an attempt has been made to show how the epigraphic records throw light on the existence of various iron articles in the villages of early Orissa during the period under study.

In a number of inscriptions, we get references, to the existence of black-smiths (tathākāra) and heaters (tāpitakāras) in the villages.  Most probably they helped the people in making various kinds of axes and sickles, nails, vessels of daily use, plough-shares, and other iron instruments necessary for tilling the soil.  The black-smiths also manufactured different kinds of weapons like daggers, arrows, swords, etc. which prove that iron was the most useful metal for the village life in early Orissa.

We have epigraphic references to weapons and armaments such as axe, sword, shield, etc. used by the village people in the period.  For instance, the Sirpur stone inscription of the time of Mahāśivagupta (cir. 8th-9th century A.D.) refers to an axe (verse 39, Kudāla).  Such Kudālas (axes) were mostly made of iron. The Kondeddā grant of Dharmaraja (cir. 7th century A.D.) of the Śailodbhava family refers to weapons. It records that Dharmarājadeva collected weapons (śastras) of foot-soldiers of different kinds after vanquishing the enemies.  The śastras is also occurs in the Copper-plate grant of Dandi-mahādevī (cir. 9th-10th century A.D.) in the Gaṅga-grant from Gañjam (cir. 10th century A.D.), and also in the Bālijhari (Narasinghpur) Copper-plates of the Somavaṁśi ruler Udyotakeśarin Mahābhavagupta (cir.  11th century A.D.).  And such weapons (śastras) of the time must have been made of iron.

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We have adequate epigraphic references to the use of swords in the period.  The word aśi-dhārah, meaning sword, is found in line 5 of Jirjingi plates of Gaṅga Indravarman (cir. 5th-6th century A.D.) of Eastern Gaṅga family, in lines 15-16 of the Puri Copper Plate grant of Dharmarāja, dated 590 A.D.  of Śailodbhava family; in line 23 of Banpur Plates of Madhyamarāja alias Śaśānka Dhavala, early part of 6th century A.D.; in line 3 of Achytapuram Plates of Indravarman (cir. 6th century A.D.) of Gaṅga family, in line 3 of Sāṅtābommāli Plates of Indravarman of Gaṅga family; in lines 17-18 of the Puri Plates of Mādhavavarman-Śainyabhita (cir, 7th-8th century A.D.); and also in line 9 of the Talcher Plate of Gayaḍa-tuṅgadeva (cir. 9th century A.D.) of the Tuṅga family.  Similarly, the term Khadgaḥ dhāra, meaning sword, also occurs in lines 11-12 of the Plates of the Śailodbhava family; in line of Rāgholi Plates of Jayavardhana II (cir. 8th century A.D.); in line 5 of Siddhāṅtam Plates of Devendravarman (cir. 10th century A.D.) of Gaṅga family; and in line 9 of Two Copper-plate   inscriptions of Kulastambhadeva, and Eastern Chalukya King (cir. 10th century A.D.).  The word Karavāla, referring to sword, is also found lines 11-12 of Talcher grant  of Kulastambha (cir. 9th century A.D.) of Śulki family; in line 12 of the Dheṅkānal Grant of Raṇastambha (cir. 9th-10th century A.D.); and in line 12 of the Grant of Jayastambha Deva from Dheṅkānal (cir. 10th century A.D.) of Śulki family.  Thus the expressions aśi-dhāraḥ, khadgaḥ dhāra and karavāla which occur in the epigraphic records definitely refer to the edges of the swords.  Though the manufacture of weapons including the swords.  Though the manufacture of weapons including the swords was a subject of state regulation, yet it is not unlikely that a small quantity of them were being manufactured by the village black-smiths for local use.    R.L. Mitra rightly points out that small swords or daggers were most probably a great favourite in Orissa.  This leads us to assume that orissa was probably famous for various types of swords.  Since several villages in early Orissa were situated near forest regions, it is quite likely that most of the villagers had used them in their hunting expeditions and even for defence purposes.

Inscriptions also refer to the use of arrows (dhanus) in the period.  The expression dhanus (arrows) occur in lines 43-44 of the Banpur Plates21 of Madhyamarāja alias Śaśānka Dhavala (cir. 6th century A.D.) of the Śailodbhava family; in line 42 of Banpur Grant of Ayasobhita II Madhyamarāja (cir. 7th century A.D.); and in lines 7-9 of the Taltāli Plate of Dharmamahādevī (cir. 9th century A.D.) of the Bhaumakara family.  The arrows (dhanus)  mentioned in the epigraphic records were most probably made out of iron, and used generally for hunting purposes.  Similarly the word trisūla (trident) i.e. spear with tree pints also occurs in the Lodhia Plates of Mahā-śivagupta (cir. 6th century A.D.). These undoubtedly emphasises the use of iron in the rural society of early Orissa.

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Again the rural people of Orissa must have depended on the village blacksmiths who supplied them various from tools and implements that were necessary for carving of stones and for building purposes.  In this connection, reasonable assumption could be made that while exhibiting fine workmanship on stone in the rural areas, the village architects and artists must have used various kinds of iron tools and instruments manufactured by the local black-smiths.  The black-smiths, therefore, were certainly important craftsmen in the rural society.

Villages of the period had also Tathākāra (metal workers), Tāpitakāra (heater) and Kamāra (black-smith).  There are inscriptions which refer to Tathākāra (metal worker) who actually belonged to the Kamāra (black-smith) class.  The Teruṇḍiā Plate of Śubhākara II (cir. 8th century A.D.) was engraved by the tathākāra (metal worker) Āghākā who was the son of Māllu.  This plate was heater (tāpita) apparently for soldering the seal by the Pedapāla, found in many other records, has not been satisfactorily explained, yet it could be presumed that he might have been a storekeeper of the king’s records department.  Pedapāla Nārāyānakara acting as the tāpitakāra (heater) of the present plate denotes that he might have belonged to the Kamāra (black-smith) class.  Again, it would not be wrong to think that the store-keeper of the king’s records department were appointed from teh Kamāra (black-smith) class.  This might not have been a general feature, but few such appointments from among the Kamāras cannot be altogether ruled out.  In all probability, the tāpitakāras were also metal-workers.  Tāpitakāras might have formed a branch of the Kamāra (black-smith) class.  The Balasore Plate of Bhānu (datta) (cir. 6th century A.D.) was also heated (tāpitam) by the Pedapālaka Pratishthitachandra. This tāpitakāra of the present record, thus, might have belonged to a particular branch of the Kamāra (black-smith) class.

In the rural society, the black-smiths also rendered other functions that were greatly required for the village economy.  For instance, they supplied agricultural implements, plough shares, axes, sickles, knives, spears, arrow-heads, iron utensils, hunting implements etc. to the village people and this reveals definite advancement in iron technology.  Thus, all these necessarily suggest that the technological knowledge about the smelting and working of iron prevailed in different villages of Orissa during the period of our study.

References

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  2. EI. Vol. XIX, 1927/28, pp.265-271.
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  13. Vol. VI, 1900/01, pp. 143-146.
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  20. L. Mitra, Antiquities of Orissa, vol. I, pp. 123.
  21. JKHRS. Vol. II, no.1, June 1947, pp. 59-65.
  22. EI. Vol. XXIX, pt. 2, 1951, pp. 32-38.
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Sources

The article is taken from the Journal of Indian History and Culture, March 1997 published by the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Institute of Indological Research, Chennai.

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