Iravatham Mahadevan
Born(1930-10-02)2 October 1930
Died26 November 2018(2018-11-26) (aged 88)
Chennai, India
OccupationCivil servant

Iravatham Mahadevan (2 October 1930 – 26 November 2018)[1] was an Indian epigraphist and civil servant, known for his decipherment of Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions and for his expertise on the epigraphy of the Indus Valley civilisation.[2]

Early life

Iravatham Mahadevan was born on 2 October 1930 in a Tamil Brahmin family of Thanjavur district in British India.[3] Mahadevan had his schooling in the town of Tiruchirapalli and graduated in Chemistry from the Vivekananda College, Chennai and law from the Madras Law College. Mahadevan successfully passed the Indian Administrative Service examinations held in 1953 and was allotted to the Tamil Nadu cadre.[3][4]

Civil service

Mahadevan worked as an Assistant Collector in Coimbatore district and Sub-Collector at Pollachi.[3] In 1958, Mahadevan was transferred to Delhi as Assistant Financial Adviser in India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry serving from 1958 to 1961.[3] In 1961, Mahadevan was posted to Madras as Deputy Secretary in Government of Tamil Nadu's Industries Department and served as Director of Handlooms and Textiles Department from 1962 to 1966.[3] Mahadevan voluntarily retired from the civil service in 1980.[3]

Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions

According to an interview given to an e-journal Varalaaru, Mahadevan revealed that he started researching the Tamil-Brahmi script following a casual suggestion by Indian historian K. A. Nilakanta Sastri during a meeting in 1961.

There are several caves in Tamil Nadu with inscriptions in the Brahmi script. K. V. Subrahmanya Aiyar says they are in Tamil. It is an unsolved problem. Can you give it a shot?[3]

Earlier, during his stint in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Delhi in 1958–61, Mahadevan had become acquainted with the noted epigraphist and art historian C. Sivaramamurti who was then working as a curator at the Indian Museum next block. Sivaramamurti initiated him into the basics of South Indian epigraphy.[3]

Mahadevan first published his study of Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions at Pugalur in 1965 following those of Mangulam, the next year.[3] In the same year, Mahadevan presented his paper on Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions in Madras which was later published as the book Corpus of the Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions.[3] After a brief period of research with the Indus script, Mahadevan resumed his work on Tamil-Brahmi in 1992 with active support from the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department. In 2003, he published a revised edition of the 1966 book which has since acquired the status of a classic.[5]

Indus script

Mahadevan started his research on the Indus script following a brush with W. W. Hunter's book on the Indus Script at India's Central Secretariat Library in Delhi.[3] In 1970, Mahadevan was offered the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship to do his doctoral research on the Indus Script.[3] Mahadevan continued his research even after his fellowship ended and published his first book Indus Script: Concordance and Tables in 1977.[3] Following a break from 1991 to 2003 to complete his research on Tamil epigraphy, Mahadevan resumed his studies again in 2003.[3]

Gregory Possehl called Mahadevan a "careful, methodical worker, taking care to spell out his assumptions and methods. ... 'Tentative conclusions' and 'working hypotheses' are more his style than set ideas and fait accompli".[6]

Significant contributions

Iravatham Mahadevan's The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables (1977) is the only openly available corpus of the Indus Script. He wrote over 40 papers to further the Dravidian hypothesis of the Indus Script and argues for a continuity between the written records of Indus and the oral transmissions from the Rig Veda. He was instrumental in firmly establishing the view of K.V. Subrahmanya Aiyer that the writings found in the caves of Tamil Nadu in a script similar to Brahmi are a variant of Brahmi, which Mahadevan calls Tamil Brahmi, and in ascertaining that the language of the script is indeed Tamil.[7] Mahadevan went on to read the names and titles of several generations of Pandiya and Chera kings in Tamil Brahmi writings,[8] all corroborated in early Tamil literature.[9]

Awards and honours

Iravatham Mahadevan was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship in 1970 for his research in Indus script and the National Fellowship of the Indian Council of Historical Research in 1992 for his work on Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions.[10]

In 1998, he was elected the president of the Annual Congress of the Epigraphical Society of India and in 2001 he became the general president of the Indian History Congress. He received the Padma Shri award from the Government of India in 2009 for arts.[11] He was conferred the Tolkappiyar award for lifetime achievement in classical Tamil by the Government of India for the year 2009–2010.[12]

He was conferred the Campbell Medal by the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, formerly the Royal Asiatic Society, in November 2014.[13]

A bronze bust of Mahadevan was created by artist G. Chandrasekaran and placed at the Roja Muthiah Research Library.[14]


See also


  1. ^ Iravatham Mahadevan passes away
  2. ^ "The Hindu : Magazine / Culture : Towards a scientific study of the Indus Script". 6 February 2007. Archived from the original on 6 February 2007. Retrieved 6 November 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Straight from the Heart – Iravatham Mahadevan: Interview with Iravatham Mahadevan".
  4. ^ Ancient Indus Valley Script Iravatham Mahadevan Interview
  5. ^ R. Champakalakshmi. "A magnum opus on Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions". Frontline.
  6. ^ Gregory L. Possehl, Indus Age: The Writing System (1997), p. 130
  7. ^ Early Tamil Epigraphy. Revised Enlarged Edition. Iravatham Mahadevan. 2014. pp. 96
  8. ^ Corpus of Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions. I. Mahadevan. 1966; Early Tamil Epigraphy. I. Mahadevan. 2014.
  9. ^ Early Tamil Epigraphy. I. Mahadevan. 2014
  10. ^ Review of Mahadevan (2003).
  11. ^ "Honour for Iravatham Mahadevan". The Hindu. 17 April 2009. Archived from the original on 21 April 2009. Retrieved 4 July 2009.
  12. ^ "Presidential awards for classical Tamil presented". The Hindu. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  13. ^ "'Indus script early form of Dravidian'". The Hindu. 15 November 2014. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  14. ^ "Dravidian scholar Iravatham Mahadevan's bust unveiled". The Hindu. 21 September 2019. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  15. ^ "A magnum opus on Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions". Frontline. 3 July 2003. Archived from the original on 22 April 2023. Retrieved 6 November 2023.
  16. ^ Sankalia, H. D. (1 January 1977). "The Indus Script : Texts, Concordance, and Tables". Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute. 37 (1/4): 193–197. JSTOR 42936591.
  17. ^ Mahadevan, Iravatham (30 November 2003). Early Tamil Epigraphy from the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D. Harvard Oriental Series. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01227-1.
  18. ^ Salomon, Richard (1 July 2004). "Early Tamil Epigraphy: From the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 124 (3): 565–569. doi:10.2307/4132283. ISSN 0003-0279. JSTOR 4132283.
  19. ^ Mahadevan, Iravatham. "Akam and Puram : 'Address' Signs of the Indus Script" (PDF). The Hindu. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 January 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2023.
  20. ^ Mahadevan, Iravatham (2014). Dravidian Proof of the Indus Script Via the Rig Veda: A Case Study. Indus Research Centre, Roja Muthiah Research Library.
  21. ^ "Dravidian Proof of the Indus Script via the Rig Veda: A Case Study". Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.
  22. ^ Mahadevan, Iravatham; Bhaskar, M. V. "Toponyms, Directions and Tribal Names in the Indus Script" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 May 2023. Retrieved 6 November 2023.