I was always curious to know how people used to stay, before the concrete buildings and huge palaces were built. In school we were taught about the Indus Valley Civilization and many more such early settlements.
It came as a surprise when I came across a megalithic site in one of the least expected places in the state of Karnataka. Hire Benakal is the site which was found near the historical town of Hampi; without wasting much time I decided to head to this place which has around 400 megalithic funerary monuments.
Since Hampi is a well known town, there are plenty of buses which operate from Bengaluru to Hospet. I booked tickets for me and as well as my travel companion and headed out without a second thought.
The huge, heaped, boulders at Hampi get transformed into the rocky hills of North Karnataka and evident, fabled landscapes. The sun begins to go down as we climb up a trail which goes in a zig zag pattern uphill.
A herd of goats run past us, crying and swarming towards the green patches; the goat herd slowly brings up the rear. Further ahead, I spot slot bear droppings. My guide informs us that there are plenty of bears and it is dangerous to move around here after sunset.
As a matter of fact, we appeared to be transported to the rocky landscapes of Flinstones; here we saw a cluster of small stone houses that the villagers call Moriyara Mane or the houses of dwarfs.
The locals told me how the stone huts, the simplest of them are slabs of granites raised atop small rocks were built long ago by the Moriyas who happen to be people of a dwarfish race but had superhuman strength, which allowed them to lift the heavy slabs with ease.
The first sign of human involvement we come across is the naagara gund which is a hemispherical boulder which is neatly divided into two equal parts. My guide told me that the villagers used to beat this stone drum during one of the annual festivals.
Archaeologists believe that the naagara gund function was similar to a rock gong which was part of the ritualistic equipment of the place about three millennia ago. When beaten, the sound could be heard a kilometre away.
Thats when I saw clusters of stone houses; the small ones are packed all around with stone blocks with only a small opening. As we move, we come upon much larger Moriya houses which have a wider clearing.
At a distance, they resemble flimsy card houses but come closer and they would turn out to be granite slabs, within which a person could stand erect, if he could crouch through the small entrances. Moving around these stone cubes is an experience which is spooky, something like entering an abandoned town.
As I walked among these quiet structures, I had a feeling, what if out of the blue one of the Moriya guys would pop right out through one of them!
However, archaeologists have eliminated visions of the super strong dwarfs. According to them, these structures are not homes, but tombs from the Iron Age which were built around 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. These stone structures are known as dolmens and belong to the division of prehistoric monuments which are called Megaliths.
One can also find prehistoric rock art panels which are possibly ritualistic on the rock shelters on the hill. A large rock pool to the east was purposely enlarged by the megalith builder, maybe to provide water for rituals.
It is certain that 3,000 years ago, this remote mountain top must have been an important ritual site for the locals, which you can make out by looking at the amount of hard work undergone for extracting stones, shaping the slabs and erecting monuments which have stood the test of time.
PC: Sudeep m
The spectacles of ritual practices must have played out against the booming sound of the naagara gund, where today, the only noise heard is the wind blowing and the bears' prowl.
Who were the gods worshipped by our Iron Age Ancestors? What were their concepts of death and afterlife? We can only make guess works. The silent stones of Moryar Guddda only hint at the answers.