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Difference between Manuscripts and Inscriptions

We have heard about many autobiographies, biographies, manuscripts, etc. But still, there is a kind of doubt among all of us. All these terms appear to be the same, but they aren't. Manuscripts and inscription are the two most confusing terms. We often feel that the manuscript is a piece of art written before it actually came into being. The history of India has recorded many such manuscripts in their original form. However, only half of which were written has been retrieved by the archaeological department. Both manuscripts and inscriptions are a source of history. Students often read religious scriptures, which are a form of manuscripts and inscriptions. For instance, Ramayana, written by Rishi Valmiki, is a manuscript.

Be it religious scriptures or any other form of historical account; they are regarded as manuscripts and inscriptions. The history of India is vivid and varied, and there are a lot of unspoken historical accounts that are regarded as manuscripts and inscriptions. Now, let us look at the basic meaning and the major contrasting points between them.

Manuscripts vs Inscriptions


Manuscripts are defined as the sources of historical knowledge that are written by hands. These accounts were generally written on the palm leaves. Manuscripts were used to record a particular piece of information that has happened in the past. Now, many of us relate manuscripts with prophecy. It is not so. Apart from Ramayana, everything that has been written or recorded has already happened in the past. Manuscripts were written so that the history of the period is preserved in the later periods. In the modern day, a manuscript is defined as a piece of art that has been written for the purpose of publishing. The piece of art is a creative work that has been written by hand instead of being typed. For instance, Ruskin Bond always writes by hand. So, the first copy that he gives for publishing can be labeled as a manuscript (i.e., the handwritten piece of work). Well, it is interesting to note that there are four significant types of manuscripts. They are original research, rapid communications, review articles, and case studies.


The inscription is defined as an act of writing. The small piece of the inscription can be recorded on a stone or a leaf. Inscriptions are generally written to remember the meanings of a particular object/ thing. According to history, inscriptions are small pieces of information engraved on a stone or metal. Many historical pieces of evidence can be seen inscribed on such stones. For instance, a graveyard has many gravestones upon which the birth date and the date of death are inscribed along with one or two-liner poems. In the modern day, an inscription is considered as an autograph given by an author or a celebrity. It is the one or two sentences that are written on the front page of the books. Inscriptions are now called short messages that are given to people. Now, let us look at the major contrasting points between manuscripts and inscriptions.

1. Manuscripts are defined as the piece of information written in the past to preserve it. Manuscripts are generally written by hand. On the other hand, inscriptions are defined as the act of recording small pieces of information in order to remember the meaning of an object/ phrase.
2. Manuscripts were used to record ancient history like World War I, World War II, etc. Inscriptions are used to record ancient and present-day information.
3. Manuscripts were written on palm leaves or the tree trunk. Inscriptions are written on the stones, metals, and pages of a book.
4. Manuscripts are bulky accounts of historical information. On the other hand, inscriptions are the one-liner or two-liners recorded information like the birth date or death of a particular king or queen.
5. Manuscripts are handwritten. Inscriptions are engraved.
6. Manuscripts are difficult to preserve because they are written on fragile surfaces. Inscriptions can be easily preserved because they are written on hard surfaces.
7. Since manuscripts are handwritten, they can be easily created and destroyed. Since inscriptions are engraved on stones, so they are difficult to create and destroyed.
8. Manuscripts cannot be modified. Therefore, museums help in preserving these pieces of information. On the other hand, inscriptions are easily modified. They may or may not be preserved.
9. Examples:
  • Vedas
  • Puranas
  • Works of Banabhatta, Kalidasa, etc.
  • Shastras
  • Sangam Literature
  • Inscriptions of Ashoka
  • Inscription of Bodhgaya
  • Iron Pillar of Delhi
  • Inscription on Buddha Images
  • Allahabad Pillar

So, these are some of the significant differences between manuscripts and inscriptions. Manuscripts are ancient pieces of information/ art, while inscriptions include ancient and modern day creative works. Now, let us look at some of the types of manuscripts and inscriptions.

Types of Manuscripts

  1. Research Articles: Research articles provide research information regarding various subjects. Research articles comprise of abstract information, discussions, references, etc.
  2. Case Studies: A case study is a report of a particular case. The cases can be real or hypothetical, depending upon the situation. This is a common form of manuscript among the practitioners. The case studies help people in finding out the solutions to a particular problem. Case studies are used as a practice exercise for people.
  3. Reflective essays: The reflection of a person's work or an organization is termed as a reflective essay. It is almost similar to the case studies, but they are more personal and subjective.
  4. Book Reviews: Materials related to books, reports, films, etc., come under book reviews. Book reviews are specific, i.e., related to a particular subject.
  5. Policy Briefs: A thorough analysis of a private or government policy is called a policy brief. The issue and details of a policy are recorded in policy briefs.

Types of inscriptions

There are more than 100,000 inscriptions found in India. Some of them are listed below.

  1. Edicts of Ashoka (first inscription)
  2. Mangulam Inscription (Tamil)
  3. Gupta Script (Kanheri Caves)
  4. Badami Chalukya Pillar
  5. Junagarh Rock Inscriptions
  6. Allahabad Pillar Inscription
  7. Nanaghat Inscription
  8. Inscription of Nasik
  9. Inscription of Hathigumpha
  10. Inscription of Mandsaur
  11. Garud Pillar Inscription
  12. Mahrauli Inscription

So, these are some of the significant types of inscriptions and manuscripts. There are many more unnamed inscriptions and manuscripts that are found in India and across the globe. Manuscripts are inscriptions are a source of knowledge to the present generation. Therefore, we must try and preserve them as much as we can.

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