Any transaction is considered legal only when it is in a written form and complete with all particulars without ambiguity. The template of any valid legal document, conveying title to a property, is more or less standardized. The template that is currently being used, has been followed since centuries in our Country.
On a study of the epigrahical evidence, across the country, majority of them contain the following key elements.
- Auspicious Sign : Majority of the inscriptions have an auspicious sign at the beginning. Symbols such as svastika (well-being) and the triskele (Spiritual expansion) are used in some of the Asokan inscriptions, in rock edicts at Jaugada. The word siddham (success) was also noticed in the inscriptions.
- Recording of Date based on Almanac. The inscriptions are usually dated, with full details of year, month, fortnight, tithi, weekday, and sometimes also naksatra and other astronomical information.
- Place of event : It is normally the capital city of the issuing king or a military camp. Most often this is just a single word or phrase, but in some inscriptions this part is expanded into an elaborate poetic description of the place.
- Lineal ascendancy of the grantor, normally a king, is supplied along with his titles and epithets and detailed genealogical and other information.
- Schedule for property : The inscriptions usually specifies the name and location of the property. This may be one or more villages or fields, specified in terms of the administrative subdivisions (visaya, mandala, bhukti, ) in which they fall. The territory in question is often further delimited by specifying its borders with reference to neighboring villages and natural or artificial features such as rivers, forests, marking stones, and so on.
- Particulars about Receiver are given with appropriate identification as to their descent, place of birth or residence, and so on. The number of such parties may be anywhere from one to over a hundred. In the case of multiple recipients, the shares to be enjoyed by each grantee are usually separately specified. The right, which normally is in perpetuity, is suggested by the following statement (shall enjoy this as long as the moon and the sun endure).
- Penalty for non-compliance is stated by the wordings like ‘Whose ever injures this meritorious gift, that man shall incur the sin of one who has killed a black cow on the bank of the Ganga’. ‘Nobody shall cause obstruction to this (grant) ; he, who does it, becomes possessed of the five great sins’ etc.
- Registration : The inscription specifies the officers and other authorities who are to be officially informed of the transaction. These are mentioned such as djnapayati or adisati (‘commands) or bodhayati (informs), followed by a formulaic phrase such as viditam astu vo yad. .. (“Be it known to you that. ..”). These inscriptions were engraved by the keeper of records Akshasalin (GoldSmith).
- Seal : The transaction is further authenticated and guaranteed by the royal seal on the ring attached to the plate(s), which is often inscribed with a dynastic motto and/or the royal insignia.
- Stylish Signatures : The practice of following a different style for writing the name at the end of an inscription was started by Harshavardhan. The following was noticed in an engraving: [Signature of King Harsa on the Banskhera copper plate: svahasto mama maharajadhijraja-sriharsasya (“This is the signature of me, the Great King of Kings, SrI-Harsa”)].
The following features were also noticed in the copper plate inscriptions.
- Line Number : The verses are often numbered consecutively (Allahabad inscription of Samudragupta).
- Punctuation Marks : Line Breaks are identified by like (|,||) the single mark is used to mark the half verse and the double mark or full stop the end of a verse. (Mandasor pillar inscription of Yasodharman). Alternatively, a half stop with a single line and a full stop consisting of two lines are also used.
- Word division: Words or phrases are separated by a space. Also found are marks consisting of two short vertical lines one above the other, indicating a word divided between lines (equivalent to the modern hyphen; Nalanda inscription).
- Page Number: All of them have a number for each copper plate.
- Abbreviations: The word samvatsara ‘year’ has been mentioned as samvat, samva, sam, sa etc., Also du for dutaka, bra for brahmana, or dm for drama have been used.
- Recording of Corrections in Alphabets and Words and indicating such corrections in margins. Longer omissions would typically be added in the margins. The placement of an addition is indicated in the text by the cross-shaped mark ( ^) known as Kakapada or Hamsapada (Crow feet).
- Draft and Final Version: The draft letters were written in chalk or paint and only on approval, the final version was carved. Also, the draft inscriptions were written on a rough surface with little or no preparation. Thereafter, the final inscription was done on very skillfully dressed and prepared polished stone slabs, by a skilled engraver. Name of the engraver and the composer/scribe were mentioned in the bottom of the inscriptions.
- Multi-lingual Pattadakal pillar inscription of Chalukya king Klrttivarman II (A.D. 754), has the full text given in both northern Indian Siddhamatrka and in local southern (proto-Telugu-Kannada) script. Similarly, Kangra Jvalamukhl inscription is part written in the local script (Sarada) and the rest in Devanagari. Basim copper plates of the Vakataka ruler Vindhyasakti II has the introductory genealogical portion in Sanskrit, and the remainder functional portion of the grant, in Prakrit.
- Filing system: The copper plate inscriptions are usually prepared with raised rims, to prevent the plates from rubbing together, and sometimes the outer plates or faces are left blank. On the front side of the first plate engraving of an image suggesting the nature of the event is found. The first plate is engraved on one side only, the second and the third plates are engraved on both sides. The copper plates had a hole on the left hand corner to enable thick elliptic rings made of copper or bronze, to pass through them, to hold them together. The ends of the ring are soldered together onto a seal, usually of bronze, which is intended to certify the authenticity of the document and to prevent tampering by the addition or removal of plates.