FLEET, JOHN, FAITHFUL, 1847-1917  

 

J. F. Fleet (ಫ್ಲೀಟ್, ಜಾನ್, ಫೇತ್ ಫುಲ್)  is one of the pioneers in Western India who evoked and sustained an abiding interest in the fields of epigraphy, numismatics and history. The fact that he could be so passionately involved in these activities in addition to looking after his official duties bears testimony to his commitment.

             Fleet was selected for the Indian Civil Services after studying a number of subjects in addition to Sanskrit in the University of London. He was appointed as an assistant collector in the revenue department at Bombay in 1867. He served in various capacities for thirty years and retired in 1897 as the Customs Commissioner. He held the post of the Chief Epigraphist of India for some time.

            He had to tour extensively in the western part of the country during his official tenure and he developed a keen interest in the inscriptions of Southern Maharashtra which was historically the seat of many dynasties of Karnataka.

            There is an inseparable relation between Fleet’s interest in inscriptions and his panache for reconstructing history because of his firm conviction that inscriptions were the most reliable sources of history relative to literature, local legends and coins. He has demonstrated that inscriptions help in tracing the administrative practices, religious rituals and the development of the script. Consequently, he has published more than two hundred articles based on the inscriptions unearthed and analyzed by him. They have succeeded eminently in adding to the pages of political history of those regions. His articles were published in reputed journals such the Indian Antiquary and the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. In fact, he was the editor of Indian Antiquary for seven years along with R. C. Temple. His contributions for the reconstruction of the lives of Basavanna, Ekantha Ramayya as also the material collected by him about the Kadamaba dynasty are of immense value.

            ‘Some Sanskrit, Pali and Halakannada Inscriptions’ (1878) delineates the important contribution of the inscriptions from Karnataka in the structuring of Indian history. ‘Dynasties of the Canarese Districts of the Bombay Presidency’   which was first published in the Bombay Gazater (1882) and came out later in the form a book (1895) throws light on the political history of the Kannada kingdoms of north Karnataka such as Kadamba, Kalachuri, Badami Chalukya, Rashtrakuta, Hoysala, Ratta and Yadava. He collated and published the inscriptions of the Gupta regime in the series called Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum. This series itself was a brain child of Fleet.

            Fleet’s knowledge of astrology and the art of determining the time of inscriptions contributed hugely in recognising various eras that were in vogue in ancient India such as Shalivahana shaka, Vikrama shaka et al.

            Another unique contribution of Fleet is his collection of ballads and folk songs. The fact that he evinced a keen interest in the oral traditions of a language is to be appreciated. They include ballads about individuals such as Sangolli Rayanna and Kitturu Eeravva as also events such as Naragunda rebellion and Badamikote rebellion. ‘Halagaliya Bedara Laavani’ collected by him narrates the plight of the hunter communities after the official order seeking disarmament. The fact that Fleet published these ballads even though they contained subversive elements is remarkable. Fleet worked as the secretary of the London Asiatic Society even after his return to the United Kingdom. 

            J.F.Fleet has thus rendered invaluable service to the cause of history and epigraphy in Karnataka. His work in the northern regions of Karnataka can only be comapred with the monumental work of B.L.Rice in the princely state of Mysore.

 

     

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