INDELIBLE IMPRINTS OF HISTORY IN THE HIMALAYAS
THE COPPER PLATES OF UTTARANCHAL
UTTARANCHAL is the youngest state of India, carved out in November 2000 out of the hill districts and adjoining foothill region of the Shivalik range of the Himalayas. Today after achieving as identity of its own Uttaranchal is in the process of tracing its roots.
Its history is steeped into millennia in time, for good part of which, solid documentation is available in the form of engraved Copper Plates.
Compared to all other archaeological, palaeontological or lingual resources, these copper plates have proved to be the most illuminating proof of history of Uttaranchal for the period of about 1200 years, right from the dynasty of ‘Katyuri’ rulers ( around 700 BC ) unto the late 18th century rules of the ‘Chand’ and the ‘Parmar’ dynasties.
Hundreds of these Copper Plate documents are available with the villagers all over the state, who have preserved these from generation to generation as emblems of their class-superiority
However, deeper research into inscriptions on these plates has revealed following interesting facts :
Instead of being a token of superiority, these plates are ‘hard’ documents regarding succession of property awarded by the king to his subjects from time to time. Each Copper Plate bears inscriptions giving the Name of the king, date of issue, place of issue, location and area of the land or property and recipient’s name and particulars. Collective study of such plates, therefore, gives clue to the era and its socio-political structure.
Ownership of the land was vested in the King. The society was very religion-oriented, hence most of the Copper Plate Grants were issued by the king to Brahmins/priests and temples, with a view to oblige them in return of worships and rituals to grant health and prosperity to the family and the subjects, and stability to the regime.
That is why today most of the Plates are found in possession of Brahmins. Any infringement to the stipulations of the Plates was considered offence and was punishable by law.
Kshatriyas (the warrior class) were also issued land grants for gallantry and faithfulness, but on paper. As soon as the loyalty of a warrior shifted in favour of some other family of the ruler, the Grant used to become void by law and had to be renewed. Thus, during renewals the loyalty of the recipient was automatically tested.
Copper Plate Grants also used to be issued to distinguished craftsmen and artists regardless of their caste or creed, but less frequently.
The Copper Plates pertaining to the era of the ‘Chand’ dynasty are distinctly lighter and brighter compared to earlier, indicating superior copper melting and refining skills in their era.
A number of these invaluable documents were stashed away by their possessors in their coffers to preserve their symbol of superiority. Some ignorant possessors, not aware of their historical value, even melted them off to make utensils. However, the awareness is now dawning and structured study of Copper Plate Grants now appears possible. A chronological study of these documents in future is hoped to throw more light on the glorious history of Uttaranchal.
Author: Pooran Bisht, in the newspsper: Sahara Samay Dehradun dt. 7.8.2005- 15.8.2005.