Sep 29, 2012

Moreyara Mane - the megalithic tombs of Hirebenakal

July 27, 2012

Our day had started with a visit to Gavisiddeshwara Mataha at Koppal followed by Irakalghad fort, Chilakamukhi fort, Acrobatic rocks of Chikkasoolekere, and Kanakagiri. Mohan mama, Malatesh and Neelappa were accompanying me. After lunch, we left Kanakagiri and reached Hirebenakal village by 4-15PM. My plan was to find a guide, fix a deal and come back next morning to visit Moreyara Mane. However at Hirebenakal, our inquiries for a guide got quick responses. As several people were quoting rates, a man walked towards our car; one of the prospective guides said he's the right person, that would be Pampapathi. After a bit of haggling we closed a deal; Pampapathi and Animesh would be our guides. It was almost 4-30PM, I was skeptical if this is a good time to start. I could feel humidity in the air, a sign of  oncoming rain. However, Mohan mama said we'll go. Fine, let's go then.

We parked the cab off the road about 1.5 km from the base of the hill we were headed for. We walked through paddy fields and then open fields.

Animesh wanted to take a shortcut route but Pampapathi suggested we take the ASI trial. The trial picture below is a photo of one of the four info boards ASI has fixed for tourists' benefit. The board titles are self descriptive;
  • Hirebenakal Prehistoric Site
  • Megaliths around the world
  • Understanding your megalithic past
  • All about megalithics
Who ever was in charge of this project had done a good job. One board enroute, one at Chitra Gundu and three more at the burial site;
  • Layers of history
  • Painted rocks
  • Memorials and burials
  • Anatomy of megaliths
  • A Quarry and a pond
A Wikimapia screen-shot of the hill, part of the trial can be seen here.

A - Chitra Gundu, rock with ochre paintings
B - Megalithic Burial site, mostly dolmen and few port hole tombs
C - Megalithic Burial site, mostly port hole tombs, quarry and pond
The dark band stretching across the screen is something I remember crossing in the trial.

We climbed at a consistent pace, rejecting our guides' suggestions to sit & take rest. I was eager to get to the site... by 5PM we were at Chitra Gundu. The rock's overhang makes a small shelter. As we came under the rock, rain drops fell and soon it was a good shower. Pampapathi said this was the first rain of 2012. We could dark clouds all over, no sign of rain letting up. Wind was blowing in rain drops into the shelter... there was barely space enough for six of us. 
Transcript of the signage:
Painted rocks
More than 2000 years ago, people stood close to where you are right now, and painted on the rocks to your left. Why? We may never really know. but historians think it probably had something to do with religion. Perhaps shelters with paintings were sacred sites. Painting may have been part of hunting rituals. Or was rock art idle doodling to while away the time, as some suggest?
At least ten rock shelters in Hirebenakal have rock paintings.
Red ochre: These paintings were made using red ochre, a pigment that is still used to dye clothes and colour pottery. It is made by mixing powdered heamatite (an iron ore) with water and sometimes a little organic matter for binding. Some of Hirebenakal's painting seem to have plant material incorporated as binders.
Scenes from the past: Hirebenakal's paintings have not been dated using direct methods like radiocarbon dating. Based on styles and themes, scholars believe that some of these paintings  - those showing horses, for example - were made by the megalithic-builders. Other painting, such as those showing only cattle, may be older.
These paintings vividly depict scenes from the lives of the people who produced them. Hunting is a recurring theme: Many paintings show people carrying spears, axes, bows, or lances, while hunting deer, tigers and antelope. They also seem to have been very fond of dancing.

There are four or five groups of drawings on this rock. Two of the groups are shown below. The large painting consists mainly of men in some type of ritualistic dance, men holding lances and a man wielding a lance on horse-back. The inset shows a group of standing human figures holding hands; is that a group dance?

Most of the paintings have faded. The other paintings depict deer, bull and humans wielding lances.

We must have sat in the rock-shelter about 15 minutes, the rain had subsided a bit. I decided we move on, surely we few drops of water cannot harm us. Few minutes uphill walk, a half-cut lemon shaped rock was seen. The flat surface f the rock looked as though it was polished. Makes me wonder how it was formed or was it created for some purpose. It is called as the Kettle Drum.

I wanted to check it out but time was a constraint. I got some info about this unique artifact; This roughly hemispherical stone has a diameter of over 2 meters. When beaten with  a wooden hammer it makes sound which can be heard a kilometer away. Archaeologists think this drum might have been used to announce religious congregations or to warn settlements inhabitants of invasions.

Few more minutes later, our guides told that we had reached Morayara Mane. At the site entrance was this rock, it looks as though it is showing its bones.

Transcript of the signage:

Memorials and burials

You are now within Hirebenakal's main megalithic mortuary complex. Look for these different types of megaliths in this 3 square kilometer site.

Dolmen literally means 'stone table', which describes these tree-sided megaliths quite nicely. Did you see the small dolmens besides the path on your way here? There are larger such memorials further inside the site. Many have circular or semi-circular openings called port holes on one side.

Cists are underground box-like structures containing burials. Like dolmens their sides are made of single granite slabs. The projecting edges of each slab stopped the cist from collapsing inwards. Usually, a few inches of these side walls protrude above the ground. Some cists have capstones covering them. Most have port holes. A few cists are divided into multiple chambers.

Dolmeniod cists are like cists but are partly above ground.

Cists are sometimes surrounded by stone circles of either huge boulders or slabs. A few still have cairns - heaps of loose stones piled on top of the burial.

Did the different types of megaliths built indicate a person's social status within the community? Why are some types built in some areas and others elsewhere? Scholar are still finding answers to these abd other questions. by surveying and studying sites like Hirebenakal.

On the right is are few dolmens.

This hill has plenty of rock shelters, surely we can find more with paintings. We are on a plateau now, right at the center of the burial site marked B in the screen-shot. The massive rock looks like a bean.A dolmen on the right. As you see the site has been vandalized thoroughly; these structures have seen more damage in the past few decades than the past two & half millennia.

More dolmens.

Burial chambers with port hole. Slabs are broken by vandals seeking treasure. In the foreground are present day replicas.

This tomb seems to be in fairly well preserved. One of the granite slabs forming the cist is just above the ground, left of the port hole.

Another tomb with a heavy capstone. Constructing these tombs could have been a relatively easier job because the slabs are not really heavy.

On the way from burial site B to site C, we happened to see these pits in the rock bed. They do not look like entirely natural creations. Were they grinding pits to prepare color or pastes used in rituals?

Couple of minutes later we were at site C. Unlike site B, site C is not entirely level ground. Also the place is packed with large tombs, heights varying from 4 feet to 10 feet.

Some where here, Mama confessed that he thought we had come to see a house owned by a person named More. Neelappa was one step ahead, he thought we were visiting More the prominent politician of Dharwad. It seems he was wondering why More had a house in Hirebenakal. Amazing characters!?!  We had a good laugh :O

I was captivated by these structures! Granite tombs in every direction I turned. I thought it was best to start from the lowest level of the site, close to the stone wall marking the boundary and then move up. Close to the site border is one of the largest burial chambers, its almost 10 feet high.

Close to the border was a signage:

Anatomy of megaliths

The dolmens here are some of the largest you can see in Karnataka. Some were probably once surrounded by walls of granite slabs. In some dolmens, the port holes are closed with a slab forming a 'door'. Such kinds of dolmens, rarely seen in other sites, ar called the Hirebenakal type.

More than meets the eye: Both to the east and west of here are clusters of cists. Some are surrounded with stone circles and topped with cairns. Research in other megalithic sites have revealed astoshnishingly elaborate constructions underneath cists. At Brahmagiri, seventy kilometers away archeologists unearthed concentric circles of granite boulders and slabs around some cists. Some had carefully constructed walls of rubble built around them, And like in Hirebenakal, some cicts in Brahmagiri had passages leading upto their port holes. Historians think bones and ritual offerings to the departed soul were inserted through these port holes.

Buried treasure...of a different kind: What lies inside cists? Usually bones, clay pots, beads, tools and weapons. The megalithic period coincides with the Iron Age in south India, so most implements found are made of iron, rather than stone. Megalithic sites in this region rarely have gold. But clay pots and rusted tools are treasure troves for researchers who study them to learn more about how people lived and died here more than 2000 years ago.

This drawing shows an excavated megalith in Brahmagiri. Notice the grave oods and circles of stones and slabs around the cist. Hirebenakal cists ar probably similar.

Builders had a standard design, all these structures look similar. Its really sad to see so many destroyed. When asked our guides told us that thunder and lightning have damaged many. I did not agree; then why thunder and lightning chose not to damage them in the last 500 years or thousand years or ever 100 years since they were created?

These tombs have be built over dirt since a body or bodies are buried and then stone slabs are erected. Mohan mama next to a open tomb. The floor was covered with a slab too. below the floor slab would be the cist with skeletal remains of a male human. Namah Shivaya, we are treading over the ground sacred to our ancestors.

A well preserved structure surrounded by remains of demolished ones.

 
One thing that amazed me is the skill of creating the circular port hole, most of the port holes were nice circles. In fact we could see the circular cut out lying next to the structures. I guess some were left in place as doors.

Pampapathi, Mohan mama and Neelappa settled on a rock at the center of the site. Malatesh was out of sight and I went exploring southern border, that's where the pond is. I remember seeing pictures of the site with water in the pond. I went as far as the last tomb, I wanted to explore beyond but time was running out. We had to start back while it was still light. On the way up uur guides had mentioned bears and leopards on these hills.

Transcript of the signage about the pond and quarry:

A Quarry and a pond

During the Iron Age, this place regularly resounded with the sounds of quarrying. Some for building the megaliths was obtained here. the pond is possibly a natural one but was enlarged with a bund in its southern side.

Where did people live?

You may have noticed that except for the rock art, everything in Hirebenakal is associated with the dead. but where did the megalithic builders live? Archeologists have found evidence that they probably stayed on the Durgada Dadi hill half a kilometer away. This makes hirebenekal one of very few megalithic sites with an associated habitation site. This may be because, unlike the megaliths, people's houses were most likely made of perishable materials like wood and thatch.

Granite was propably cut in much the same way as today, using pegs and hot water. Sheets of granite were then pried apart using iron wedges likethe ones shown here.

Mega-mysteries: Megalith builders were almost certainly not nomads. We know they practiced agriculture, animal husbandry and hunting. But there is still much we do not know: For example, why were megaliths built only for some people in the community? What were their religious beliefs? Was water from this pond used for rituals?

Scientific excavations may help answer such questions. So will studying the placement and orientation of megaliths. As you walk around, please ensure that you do not disturb the megaliths in any way. We may yet learn more about our ancestors.

Animesh was with me when I was near the pond. For some reason he wanted me to join the rest of the group. Anyway, since the Sun was going down and I wanted to shoot the site from a elevated position, I joined the group perched on boulders. Mama chose to stay down and gave the first sign of leaving.

We heard an explosion, I could actually feel it. Pampapathi said blasting was in progress in the neighboring hills. I never knew quarry explosions were so powerful that shock waves could be felt kilometers away. No wonder so many of these structures have collapsed. Besides quarry explosions, there are other reasons vandalism by treasure hunters and tourists too. Pampapathi mentioned that some Western tourists danced on these monuments as though it was a dance floor. I was surprised, normally Western tourists respect monuments... Who ever it is, please respect these monuments. Would be great if you just wee them and not touch them.


Malatesh, Animesh, Neelappa, Pampapathi and Mohan S Patil.

I left the place reluctantly. This place had three types of artifacts; rock-paintings, megalithic tombs, and a musical rock. My mind was made up to come back and spend a day exploring the site and the surroundings too. Our ancestors have left us so much to see and learn. I just wish we, the present generation take steps to preserve these monuments for the generations to come.

Our descent was slow because of slippery rocks, Malatesh missed his steps couple of times. By the time we reached the plains it was getting dark. We took a different route, avoided the paddy fields. We passed by a house, the taller girl asked me to take a picture... sweet kids. I was telling Malatesh we should spend a night in these fields and have food in their house.

The walk from the base of the hill to the village seemed longer than the trek on the hill. We had bajji and tea, exchanged numbers and paid our guides. We said bye and told them to expect us again. With a hectic day behind us, we were exhausted. We checked into the first hotel we saw, it was a new one, clean, fresh and spacey family room. A fresh cool bath washed off all the dust, sweat and grime. My body temperature came down couple of degrees. Dinner was at a khanawali, we finished off some left over lunch too. Back at the hotel, I just crashed into the bed and lights off. Goodnight.

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5 comments:

mustangally said...

So interesting! Thanks for sharing, Alexis.

Meera said...

Lovely write-up. Incidentally, I couldn't resist crowing about this a bit: I'm glad you liked the signs - I did those:)

siddeshwar said...

Thank you Alexis.

Thank you Meera. I don't know what to say ...glad to meet you on this post. If not for those signs, we would not have known so many facts about megalithic tombs.

Adi said...

I haven't been to your blog in a while but you never cease to amaze me with your determination and travel lust :)

siddeshwar said...

Thank you Adi.