“Megaliths were not built for commoners. They signify the emergence of a ruling class or elite who presided over a surplus economy,”
Ravi Korisettar, Retired Professor of Archaeology, Karnatak University.
The mega mausoleums and charming Chattris (cenotaphs) did have a predecessor in megalithic sites strewn all over the world. Megalithic culture whose remnants in the form of neatly arranged stone slabs encapsulating a burial site is a fascinating insight into a time and culture of which little is known and a lot is speculated. Though there is no consensus on the dates but evidences and a few radiocarbon dates reveal that this culture arrived in the country much later than it did in Europe. Stonehedge was built roughly 5000 years ago !
The term Megalith is derived from two Greek words ‘Mega’ meaning huge and ‘Lithos’ meaning stone. ‘Megalithic Culture’ is an intriguing subject of study in the Archaeological field. In India, majority of the archaeologists trace the Megalithic sites to Iron Age i.e., the period from 1500 BCE to 300 BCE, though there are a few sites dating back to 2000 BCE (close to 4000 years ago). There are more than 2000 prehistoric sites in peninsular India, most of which are neither studied nor documented properly.
The Neolithic people were simple hardworking folks who practiced agriculture, made stone tools and lived in a fairly organized society that had their own belief system. The recovery of pieces of pottery and rice husk along with tools from megalithic sites reveal how strongly the pre-historic people believed in afterlife. The final stages of megalithic culture that was extant mostly in the Deccan Plateau and the entire South India overlapped with the Sangam Age of Tamil literature. Therefore, one finds references in the Sangam epics about various burial practices
“Those who cremated, those who cast away or exposed the dead to the elements or animals. Those who laid the body in pits which they dig into the ground, those who interred the body in subterranean cellars or vaults and those who place the body in a burial-urn and inverted a lid over it.” (Ch 6.11)
Manimekalai, one of the 5 epics of Tamil Sangam literature
Mallachandram in Krishnagiri is one such megalithic site in Tamil Nadu. Though similar to the megalithic site of Hirebenekal in Koppal district (close to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hampi), Mallachandram remains unknown. It is considered to be an important megalithic site and is home to numerous Dolmens along with some prehistoric paintings.
Mallachandram is one of the best sites to understand prehistoric settlements as it seems that the site was occupied for a long period of time by various ancient settlements. The same is evident from the dolmens of different designs. Though it is difficult to ascertain the exact period of the prehistoric settlement here, a rough estimate would be about 3500 years ago. R.A. Cole, an archeological investigator who did extensive studies on the megalithic tombs of Coorg/ Kodagu had the impression that these structures may have served as altars or temples. Whereas, the accepted theory beyond the construction of the dolmen and other megalithic structures is that they are associated with burying the deceased and this theory is time and again substantiated by the findings of skeletal remains when these structures were excavated.
Dolmen is a megalithic structure which since prehistoric times is believed to have been used for burials of the dead. A Dolmen structure comprises of a cap-stone, floor-stone and four vertically standing stones.
Menhirs are monolithic undressed/dressed stones planted vertically into the ground, which can vary in height and structure size from small to gigantic. Few researchers believe Menhirs to be associated with burials, while many relate them to the Solstice.
The mysterious Mallachandram dolmens, numbering more than 200 have survived the test of time and are standing tall. Majority of the dolmens here are of porthole type except for a few earlier ones, and they can be categorized into four types. The most common type of dolmen found here is surrounded with dry masonry stone circle called dry masonry walled cists. The second type of dolmen found here is surrounded with dry masonry stone circle and menhirs (standing stones). These menhirs have been beautifully dressed to have similar shape. The third type of dolmen here is the dolmenoid slab cist, which are very few in number probably indicating that these were the graves of the leader/ king/ god man of these people. The fourth type of dolmen is plain, devoid of structures around it. Another interesting structure seen here is the one with a central standing stone surrounded by a stone circle.
There are prehistoric paintings in white, seen on the inner walls of a few dolmens. Most of these paintings depict scenes of hunting and activities from daily life with some paintings of various animals. All the dolmen structures are spread across two hills near the village of Mallachandram. The dolmens on the first hill seemed to be more disturbed when compared to the dolmens on the second hill. This site has survived vandalism owing to the low quality stone used here for construction of dolmens and the presence of many other sources of stones around. A little further from the dolmen site is an ancient quarry.
Mallachandram is an interesting megalithic site with formations that have evolved and replaced the other over time. This site needs to be subjected to further archaeological studies and investigations. But before that, Mallachandram’s megaliths need to be protected and preserved.
How to reach : Mallachandram is about 3 km away from National Highway NH44, about 25 km from Hosur towards Krishnagiri is Samalpallam, take left near Samalpallam to reach here.
Reference and suggested reading:
- “The Megalithic Culture in South India” by B.K. Gururaja Rao
Author – Dhiraj Shenoy. He is a travel blogger and blogs here
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