Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions/Foreword

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Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions

Tej Ram Sharma

Concept Publishing Company Delhi, 1978

The full text of this chapter has been converted into Wiki format by Laxman Burdak



'What is there in a name?' There is definitely much more in a name than may appear to be the case on a superficial survey. Names may appear to be quite casual, so much so that the man bearing them has hardly any say in the matter. We find some people adopting new names or adding aliases. In many cases the name does not have any equation with the personal qualities of the man concerned. The titles assumed by a man may reflect something of his inner personality, his ambitions, and his emotional complexes; the epithets bes- towed by others, if not created by greedy flatterers, reveal his assessment in the eyes of others. Whereas the surnames may often depend on the accident of birth in a given family or a social group, the personal names are labelled long before any of the recognisable attributes begin to emerge. The story of names would have assumed a highly romantic colour if the names had been assumed by people and had not been thrust upon them.

The names may not reveal the man, but they do provide penetrating peeps into his family, his society and his times. The name-patterns have a vital connexion with the social realities and cultural values of the group to which they belong. There is a distinct individuality in them and they reflect in a microscopic miniature the traditions and values of the people concerned. Poeple do not take to names in as casual a manner as they are sometimes taken to do. Of all-the people the Indians seem to show a much serious concern for the question of names and to have set down definite rules governing their formation. These rules are not mere grammatical ones to cover the linguistic forms of the names. There are prescriptive norms and prohibi- tive rules in accordance with the socio-cultural traditions and the advancements made in various fields of knowledge. Not many

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nations of antiquity can claim a parallel progress in this area of culture. These elaborate rules did not result merely from the typically Indian genius for systematisation and elaboration of its fund of knowledge in all spheres. It arose out of a cons- cious appreciation of the significance of names and their great relevance for the cultural traditions. The rules about names prescribed in the grammatical works and the Grhyasutras and the Smrtis were elaborated in subsequent times and led to the composition of separate treatises on various aspects and problems connected with the giving of names.

The names can provide a reliable clue to the understanding of the socio-cultural life. They can serve as a barometer for recording the historical realities of culture in a particular period. A study of the name-patterns can be a useful measuring rod for a historian; but, it has been rarely used. A name can reveal the personal equipment of the bestowing parents and also their emotional concern for their child. Above all, it tells us about the gods and goddesses and their comparative popularity, the religious ideas and beliefs current among the people, the social structure and the differences in the various social groups, and the realities of the linguistic phenomenon. In view of the elaborate rules about the grammatical, astronomical, religious and social considerations, an analysis of the pattern of names in different historical periods can give us a vital indication of the extent to which the traditional rules were respected and of the influences which were introducing changes in the traditional beliefs and systems.

Considering the rich possibilities in a historical and com- parative analysis of the name-patterns, it is surprising indeed that, with a few singular exceptions, historians have not paid to this area of study the serious attention it deserves. Obviously this type of study is more demanding in respect of the discip- lines involved. The historian, who undertakes the work, has to possess a comprehensive knowledge of different aspects of an ancient society. He has to combine a knowledge of Sanskrit grammar and linguistics with a proficiency in palaeography and competence to handle the original texts bearing on the subject. Happily Dr. Tej Ram Sharma, one of my early research scholars, assiduously cultivated the qualities and acquired the

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necessary command over the concerned disciplines. It is gratifying to find that Dr. Sharma has produced a first-rate study on the subject and has covered himself up with glory.

The study of the Gupta period of Indian history has been enriched by the contributions of many a competent scholar. But, without there being any significant addition to the original sources, some of the many publications have only been reproducing already well-known material. The approach adopted in these studies being regularly repetitive has acquired a chilling monotonousness. Dr. Sharma deserves commendation for attempting an analysis of the culture of the Gupta period from an altogether new angle. His fresh approach has imparted a living warmth to the socio-cultural life of the period. Dr. Sharma has definitely made significant improvement upon our understanding of the Classical Age of Indian history.

In introducing the present study to the world of scholars 1 must express my fervent desire and sincere hope that the present publication will be followed by many other scholarly studies by Dr. Sharma.


Banaras Hindu University,


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