Megalithic burial site, also a place of worship, unearthed

Researchers from the city-based Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute recently unearthed four megalithic burials at Hirapur in Chandrapur district, which, the researchers say, were used for more than just burying the dead. 

The dolmen at Shankarpur village in Chandrapur [Credit: Times of India]
Material evidences unearthed at the excavation sites testify that these burials or 'megaliths', dating between the 3rd and the 2nd century BC, were also worshipped by the local rural communities, and guarded with Laterite protection walls. Archaeologists said this is perhaps the first time that a megalithic structure has been found to have been worshipped. Archaeologists said the megaliths might have been erected and protected during the Asmaka Janapada or in the Satavahana periods. 

Archaeologists have termed the four non-sepulchral megaliths as unique burial-cum-temple architectural structures, discovered for the first time in the South Asian megalithic culture. 

The excavation was carried out under the supervision of Kantikumar A Pawar, assistant professor at the Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune. Ismail Kellelu, Ganesh Halkare, Amod Gaurkar, Kim Yongjun and Akash Srinivas were also part of the research team. 

"One of the four megaliths is intact. In fact, it is huge and is perhaps the largest in India. It was made of laterite and sandstone. The height of the dolmens' standing stones is about 10 ft, whereas the covering capstone is 17 by 15 ft (length) in size and weighs 80 tons. The structure has two separate chambers with big rectangular portholes (usually small circular window) designed for offering food to the dead as well as for worshipping them," said Pawar. 

According to archaeologists, since megalithic people believed in life after death, there have been evidences of materials offered to appease the dead. "We have also found glass bangles, a copper bangle, stone Celt and various potsherds (fragment of broken pottery) from the site. The second and third megaliths found were quite small, yielding only a few potsherds, some iron ore and its residue, which suggested that the nearby area could be used for iron smelting purposes. This is interesting because megalithic burials have never before yielded iron ore," said Pawar. 

The fourth megalith had a unique architectural pattern. "This single-chambered structure was probably disturbed by human activities, evident by its missing cap-stone. The chamber itself is floored by seven properly dressed laterite blocks, which are placed in the east-west direction. In the west corner of this chamber, above the dressed stone block, a huge ceramic assemblage was placed. Similarly, in the eastern corner, close to the northern standing stone, one punch marked coin, having the 'Three-arch hill' symbol was placed. This shows some sort of royal treatment conferred upon the dead buried inside the chamber," he said. 

Pawar added that the arrangement goes on to show that the location of all the burials could have been the result of meticulous planning and deep devotion for the dead. "Adjoining this burial is a huge, enclosing linear laterite structure, 11 metres in length towards the northern direction. It then turns west and again towards south, serving the purpose of a protection wall, which is first of its kind evidence available anywhere in Indian sub-continent," he added. 

Though the excavated site falls under the jurisdiction of the forest department, a major portion of it is inhabited by villagers. 

"And yet, this place is used as a cremating ground by the villagers. This shows a continuation in the tradition of parting with the dead bodies at the same place. In addition, this is perhaps the first site in the region which was not only used for burying the dead, but was also used as a place of worship," said Pawar. 

He said given the site's rich archaeological and cultural nuances, the urgency to preserve it cannot be discounted. "In fact, one of the double-chambered megaliths found is still worshipped by a tribal community after they harvest their fields," he said. Other necessary details would come out only after the remaining excavation of this site. "Also, Carbon-14 dating would also be done to assign an exact date to this site," he added. 

Source: The Times of India [March 12, 2012]

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