Iravatham is known for deciphering the Tamil-Brahmi scripts and for his research on the Indus scripts.

Noted epigraphist and Indus scholar Iravatham Mahadevan passes awayIravatham Mahadevan receiving the Padma Shri in April 2009 (PTI)
news Death Monday, November 26, 2018 - 10:39

Noted epigraphist and former IAS officer Iravatham Mahadevan passed away early on Monday. He was 88. He passed away at 4 am at his residence in Chennai. Iravatham is known for deciphering the Tamil-Brahmi scripts and for his research on scripts from the Indus Valley Civilisation. He was also the former editor of Tamil daily Dinamani.

Iravatham was born on October 2, 1930, and completed his schooling from Tamil Nadu’s Tiruchirapalli. He attended college at Vivekananda College in Chennai and studied law at Madras Law College.

He completed his civil services examination in 1953 and in 1953 and was posted to the Tamil Nadu cadre. He took voluntary retirement from the civil services in the year 1980 to get back to academics.

After a casual suggestion from a fellow historian in the year 1961, Iravatham began to research the Tamil-Brahmi script. His first study on the scripts was published in 1966. Shortly after, Iravatham was offered the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship to do a doctoral research on the Indus Script. Iravatham completed the research and awarded the fellowship in 1970.

Even after he received his fellowship, Iravatham continued his research. His research was later published as a book titled The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables in 1977.

After his research on the Indus script, Iravatham went back to his study on the Tamil-Brahmi script and received active help from the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department. A revised edition of his 1966 book on Tamil-Brahmi scripts was published in the year 2003. In 1992, he was honoured with the National Fellowship of the Indian Council of Historical Research for his work.

Iravatham was the former editor of the Tamil daily ‘Dinamani’ from 1987 to 1991. He was awarded the Padma Shri in April 2009 for his work in epigraphy.

Iravatham also founded the Vidyasagar Educational Trust for underprivileged children in the year 2010.

Speaking to TNM, Vijay Kumar, author of The Idol Thief and the co-founder of India Pride Project, said, "I fondly remember sir for his child-like glee whenever we talked of scripts. At that time, he was working on the reprint of his magnum opus, the corpus of Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions and what struck me was his discipline and diligence to details. He always relied on first-hand research and without his work, we Tamils would still be arguing about the antiquity of our script. Many know that his unfulfilled wish was to decipher the Indus script and he had left behind a large corpus of meticulous research on that front. He had two more unfulfilled wishes - one was to create an institution for such classical research and the other was to bring back a trafficked gold sangam sage signet ring seal found in Karur. If at all any private collectors had acquired this ring, I hope they return it to India in his memory." 

Journalists, meanwhile, term him a stalwart in the field and remember him as a great leader. Several of them recall him as a perfectionist who focused on accuracy and stressed of the social commitment of a journalistic organisation.

A few years ago, on the occasion of New Year's Day, Iravatham had given out a message to the youth of India. He said, “My message to the young people on this New Year's day will be: learn to respect and understand your culture and your heritage. When you visit a temple, look at the sculptures, look at the paintings and the inscriptions. When you go to museums, look at the coins, these are the living symbols of a very rich heritage. We may live in the modern age surrounded by computers and cell phones, but we cannot afford to lose our roots which sustain us.”

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