The otherwise-articulate historians of Vasai in Maharashtra, India, have been left fumbling for words as they try to explain a new discovery. Earlier this month, a team of historians recovered a 750-year-old stone tablet with a sexually explicit inscription that would make a sailor blush. A bygone local king or chieftain, whose identity is yet to be ascertained, had most likely commissioned the carving as a warning sign either to keep intruders at bay or to ensure that tax collectors deposited their revenue, said the historians.
"The stone bears an image of a donkey copulating with a human female, perhaps threatening transgressors that a similar fate would befall their women should their menfolk ignore the warning," said historian Shridatta Raut, of Kille Vasai Mohim, who chanced upon the tablet. Traditionally, property owners in the area placed carved stones at the entrance to their plots, a practice that Vasaikars follow to this day. Intruders were warned with abusive words, although such pictorial abuse is uncommon. The stone, dating back to 1268 AD, was recovered from Kiravali village. It measures 126cm in length, 56cm in width and 22cm in breadth.
The 'bliss water' picture with carvings of the sun and moon on the stone are meant to signify the respected nature of the person who issued the warning and his protection day and night. "The stone dates back to the era of the Shilahara kings, who ruled Vasai around 1,000 years ago. It bears a few lines in Sanskrit that we are trying to decipher. Years of exposure to the elements and accumulated dirt have blurred the inscription, but we have read a series of 'Shri Shri Shri Shri' , which shows that the tablet must have been commissioned by a senior courtier or perhaps a Brahmin," said Raut. The Shilahara kings ruled over Vasai before the advent of the Portuguese rule in 1536. Raut says an unexplained gap in leadership spanning centuries may be solved with this recovery.
Interestingly, the tablet was once a venerated artefact in the village. It lay in the Chankai Devi Mandir, where villagers used to break coconuts upon it on amavasya or new moon day. Later, it was kept beside a nearby pond. Raut was visiting the temple when villagers mentioned the tablet. The historian and his team carefully removed and cleaned the tablet and were surprised at its historical value. The villagers are determined not to hand over the treasure to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for safekeeping. "For one thing, the ASI did not find it. Moreover, its record of conservation and storage of artefacts is so poor that some years later you might not know if the tablet belonged to Vasai or Churchgate," said Raut.