BnF INDIEN 720: Eye-Copy of an Indian Inscription

The source of all the pictures of INDIEN 720 is BnF

BnF INDIEN 720 (ex- Indien 74; Cabaton, Catalogue sommaire, 1912, p. 104) is a large paper sheet in plano (approximately 196 x 98 cm; Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 — BnF INDIEN 720, the sheet, unfolded — Courtesy of BnF

It is made of several sheets pasted one to another on their edges. It bears the eye-copy of an unindentified inscription, presumably from India or a neighbouring South Asian country (Figs. 2‒3).

Fig. 2 — BnF INDIEN 720, detail (left side) — Courtesy of BnF

Fig. 3 — BnF INDIEN 720, detail (right side) — Courtesy of BnF

The old access No. “Ind. 74” is inscribed in black ink on the folded sheet (Fig. 4). The paper sheets have the watermark “B&T SWEETAPPLE 1829”.

Fig. 4 — BnF INDIEN 720, the sheet, folded — Courtesy of BnF

The sheet is kept folded in a cardboard sleeve (265 x 165 x 8 mm) tight with ribbons (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5 — BnF INDIEN 720, the cardboard sleeve — Courtesy of BnF

The sleeve bears inside the label “R.B. N° 52 1833,” (Fig. 6) where R.B. stands for “Registre B” which is the second register of acquisitions of the BnF. In this “Registre B”, at the date of June 20th, 1833, we learn that this item, described as the facsimile of an Indian inscription made on the spot in 1817, was given by the Colonel Franklin.

Fig. 6 — BnF INDIEN 720, label inside cardboard sleeve — Courtesy of BnF

The inscription is in four lines. The letters, undubitably in an Indic script but not all easy to decipher, are very big (10 to 19 cm), possibly reflecting the original size. The letters are written in ink, apparently, by a skilled hand, as the edges of the letters are sharply neat.

At the bottom middle of the sheet is a written annotation (Figs. 7‒8) in cursive writing, with the stamp “BIBLIOTHEQUE ROYALE” and, again, the label “R.B. N° 52 1833”.

Fig. 7 — BnF INDIEN 720, handwritten annotation — Courtesy of BnF

Fig. 8 — BnF INDIEN 720, handwritten annotation — Courtesy of BnF

This annotation is not easy to read and could not be entirely deciphered. What can be gleaned from it is that the inscription is in Sanskrit, is found in a mountain (Mesdun? Mbsðûn?) situated 30 miles south of a placename (Bhinoyno[k/g]oor?) and west of another (Seeta ― that is, Sītā?― Thoun?).

In a personal communication Dominic Goodall pointed out that dūn means “valley” in Hindī and that Bhinoyno[k/g]oor and Seeta Thoun could be transcriptions, filtered through early 19th-century English orthography, of the terms Vijayanagara and Sītāthān (Sītāsthāna).

We finally find a personal name (H. Franklin, Lieut Col) and a date (1817).

As for the discrepancy between the date in the annotation (1817) and that of the watermark (1829), it might be that 1817 is the date of the discovery of the inscription and 1829 that of the eye-copy.

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