The Halmidi inscription is the oldest known Kannada language inscription in the Kannada script. Experts agree on the relative date (it is the oldest), but differ on absolute date. Estimates vary by about 100 years either side of about 550 AD (see details below). The inscription was discovered in 1936 by Dr. M. H. Krishna, the Director of Archaeology in the (princely) State of Mysore (present-day Karnataka region of India), in Halmidi, a village in the Hassan taluk.
In a report published in a Mysore Archaeological Department Report (MAR) in 1936, Krishna dated the inscription to 450 A.D., on paleographical grounds. Later scholars have variously dated the inscription to 450 A.D., 470 A.D., 500 A.D., "about 500", and "end of the fifth century A. D. or the beginning of the 6th century A.D." Epigraphist, D. C. Sircar has dated the inscriptions to "about the end of the 6th century," and epigraphist Richard Salomon to the "late sixth or early seventh century."
Epigraphist, K. V. Ramesh has written about the differing estimates:
And I attribute the origin of this doubt in their minds to the fact that scholars, even the reputed ones, have held differing views, mostly to prop up their preconceived notions, on the palaeographical dating of any given undated or insufficiently dated inscriptions. ... The undated Halmidi (Hassan District, Karnataka) inscription, allegedly written during the reign of Kadamba Kakusthavarman, is taken by some scholars to belong, on palaeographical grounds, to the middle of the 5th century AD, while a few other scholars have held, on the same grounds of palaeography, that it is as late as the second half of the 6th century A.D.
– K. V. Ramesh
He also hypothesized that, compared to possibly contemporaneous Sanksrit inscriptions, "Halmidi inscription has letters which are unsettled and uncultivated, no doubt giving an impression, or rather an illusion, even to the trained eye, that it is, in date, later than the period to which it really belongs, namely the fifth century A.D."
Epigraphist G. S. Gai however disagrees with the view that Halmidi is a record of the Kadamba dynasty identified with King Kadamba Kakusthavarman. According to (Gai 1992), the inscription, which is dedicated to, "Kadambapan Kakustha-Bhaṭṭōran," refers to another ruler, Kakustha of the Bhaṭāri family, who is explicitly identified in line 13, "baṭāri-kuladōn=āḷu-kadamban;" in addition, the inscription does not "include any of the epithets like Mānavya-gōtra, Hāritī-putra, and most important Dharma-maharājā" that are a part of all Kadamba inscriptions.
The inscription is in verse form indicating the authors of the inscription had a good sense of the language structure. The inscription is written in pre-old Kannada (Puruvada-hala Kannada), which later evolved into old Kannada, middle Kannada and eventually modern Kannada. The Halmidi inscription is the earliest evidence of usage of Kannada as an administrative language.
The pillar on which the inscription was written stands around 4 feet (1.2 m) high. The following lines are carved on the front of the pillar:
1. jayati śri-pariṣvāṅga-śārṅga vyānatir-acytāḥ
dānav-akṣṇōr-yugānt-āgniḥ śiṣṭānān=tu sudarśanaḥ
2. namaḥ śrīmat=kadaṁbapan=tyāga-saṁpannan kalabhōranā ari ka-
3. kustha-bhaṭṭōran=āḷe naridāviḷe-nāḍuḷ mṛgēśa-nā-
4. gēndr-ābhiḷar=bhbhaṭahar=appor śrī mṛgēśa-nāgāhvaya-
5. r=irrvar=ā baṭari-kul-āmala-vyōma-tārādhi-nāthann=aḷapa-
6. gaṇa-paśupatiy=ā dakṣiṇāpatha-bahu-śata-havan=ā-
7. havuduḷ paśupradāna-śauryyōdyama-bharitōn=dāna pa-
8. śupatiyendu pogaḷeppoṭṭaṇa paśupati-
9. nāmadhēyan=āsarakk=ella-bhaṭariyā prēmālaya-
10. sutange sēndraka-bāṇ=ōbhayadēśad=ā vīra-puruṣa-samakṣa-
11. de kēkaya-pallavaraṁ kād=eṟidu pettajayan=ā vija
12. arasange bāḷgaḻcu palmaḍiuṁ mūḷivaḷuṁ ko-
13. ṭṭār baṭāri-kuladōn=āḷa-kadamban kaḷadōn mahāpātakan
14. irvvaruṁ saḻbaṅgadar vijārasaruṁ palmaḍige kuṟu-
15. mbiḍi viṭṭār adān aḻivornge mahāpatakam svasti
The following line is carved on the pillar's left face:
16. bhaṭṭarg=ī gaḻde oḍḍali ā pattondi viṭṭārakara