Iravatham Mahadevan

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Iravatham Mahadevan (Tamil: ஐராவதம் மகாதேவன் [ʌjrɑːʋʌt̪ʌm mʌxɑːd̪eːʋʌn], transliteration: airāvatam makātēvan; born 15 January 1930) is an Indian epigraphist, specializing in Indus script and early Tamil epigraphy.


Iravatham Mahadevan was born in 1930 to a Tamil Brahmin family of Thanjavur district.[1] He was conceived in British Burma where his father Iravatham was practising as a doctor.[1]

Mahadevan was educated in the town of Tiruchirapalli. After graduating in Science and Law, he joined Indian Administrative Service.[2]

Mahadevan deciphered the earliest Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions. The term Tamil-Brahmi is his coinage, to distinguish it from other variants of the script such as Mauryan Brahmi, Asokan Brahmi, Southern Brahmi and Sinhala Brahmi. A longtime civil servant, he used a fellowship opportunity to put together the first script concordance of Indus seals in 1977. 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".[3]

Significant contributions[edit]

Iravatham Mahadevan's "The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables (1977)" is the only openly available corpus of the Indus Script. He has written over 40 papers to further the Dravidian hypothesis of the Indus Script, and argues for a continuity between the Indus Script and the Rig Veda. He has been instrumental in firmly establishing the view of K.V. Subrahmanya Aiyer that the writings found in the caves of Tamilnadu in a script similar to Brahmi is a variant of Brahmi, which Mahadevan calls Tamil Brahmi, and in ascertaining that the language of the script is indeed Tamil. Mahadevan went onto read the names and titles of several generations of Pantiya and Cera kings in Tamil Brahmi writings, known to the world till then purely through literary sources.[4]

Awards and honors[edit]

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.[5]

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.[6] He was conferred the Tolkappiyar award for lifetime achievement in classical Tamil by the Government of India for the year 2009-2010.[7]

He was conferred the Campbell Medal by the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, formerly the Royal Asiatic Society, in November 2014, and a D. Lit. by the Dravidian University, Kuppam in 2015.


  • Corpus of Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions (1966)
  • The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables (1977)
  • Early Tamil Epigraphy : From the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D. (Crea-A:; Harvard Oriental Series, 62) (2003)
  • Early Tamil Epigraphy : Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions. Revised and Enlarged Second Edition: Volume 1 (Central Institute of Classical Tamil) (2014)
  • Akam and Puram : ‘Address’ Signs of the Indus Script (2010)
  • Dravidian Proof of the Indus Script via the Rig Veda: A Case Study (2014)


  1. ^ a b "Straight from the Heart — Iravatham Mahadevan: Interview with Iravatham Mahadevan". 
  2. ^ Ancient Indus Valley Script Iravatham Mahadevan Interview
  3. ^ Gregory L. Possehl, Indus Age: The Writing System (1997), p. 130
  4. ^ Early Tamil Epigraphy, 2014
  5. ^ Review of Mahadevan (2003).
  6. ^ "Honour for Iravatham Mahadevan". The Hindu. April 17, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  7. ^ "Presidential awards for classical Tamil presented". The Hindu. October 10, 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-10. 

External links[edit]