Aeons ago, these rocks were clock, compass, calendar | India News

How did ancient agricultural societies keep track of seasons? How did they know which seeds would sprout when, and if the time was ripe for sowing? The menhirs of Mudumal have some answers
Every day for the past one year, Baswaraj Vakati has made it a point to visit Mudumal village in Telangana’s Narayanpet district. The 30-year-old is a native of Mudumal but works as an engineer at a thermal power plant on Telangana’s border. What draws him back irresistibly now is a cluster of rocks that he grew up seeing but didn’t know the importance of until recently.
Mudumal village is home to one of South-East Asia’s largest clusters of menhirs. You might not have heard the word before, but if you’ve seen pictures of Stonehenge in England, you have an idea of what menhirs look like.
In Mudumal, there are about 80 standing rocks and an ancient burial site spread over 5 acres. The locals call the rocks ‘Niluvu Rallu’ – literally, ‘standing rocks’ – and as a child, Baswaraj heard from his elders that they were people who had turned into stones from a curse.
Of course, on school picnics he did receive a historical perspective on the 15-foot stones, but he didn’t become interested in them until the launch of Planetary Society of India’s ‘Orbit 2022’ programme last year. Now, Baswaraj has become a history and astronomy buff intrigued by the mysteries of his village.
“For the last whole year, some of us youths have been visiting this site. We take photos of the menhir rocks from one particular point daily,” Baswaraj told TOI in Mudumal. Their goal is to track the changes in the sun’s position and the interplay of shadows on the rocks. But why?
A Prehistoric Observatory
Planetary Society of India director Raghunandan Kumar says menhirs enabled the early agrarian people to chart the movement of the Sun, and so, were key to their survival. “The knowledge of the Sun’s movement through the year would have helped them understand the seasons. And this understanding was life for an agrarian community. ” Observations made at the menhirs would have told them when to sow seeds, when to expect rains, and when to harvest crops.
Professor KP Rao from University of Hyderabad, who formerly headed Andhra Pradesh Archeology Department, said the megalithic community that placed the menhirs in Mudumal also used them as a clock and a calendar. They could measure time, and identify specific days, months and seasons from the shadows.
“These menhirs are arranged in rows, and each one is 5 metres away from the one behind it. Although many of the menhirs have fallen, their arrangement indicates they were erected in such a way that they aligned exactly with the sun on days of solar significance, like the summer solstice and the winter solstice,” added Rao.
Other Buried Secrets
The site has two other elements that might provide clues to the lives of the ancient community that raised the menhirs.
“Apart from the 80-odd standing rocks, which acted as a memorial site for the departed and also an observatory, there were several thousand smaller rocks arranged in rows and pointing in different directions. Their purpose is yet to be ascertained,” said Rao. The second feature is rocks standing 1-2 feet high and arranged in circles of 10-12 metres diameter. Rao said digging under them might reveal burial pits containing the skeletal remains and animal remains with funerary material like iron weapons, beads, pots, etc. Yes, metallic tools existed in that age, and they were used to chisel and shape the rock. It’s interesting that the menhirs have no sharp edges at all.
“Since the site has not been excavated, one can only speculate,” Rao said, adding, “Based on the information we have of other megalithic communities, some of which practise megalithism to this day – we can assume they were a pastoral and agrarian community. ”
Drawing comparisons with the Savara community in present-day Bastar, Chhattisgarh, he added that the Mudumal people might have had a priest-like figure who played a crucial role in selecting these rocks for the site. “The megalithic community believed in afterlife and souls, so to give them a resting place, large rocks were selected as menhirs. These rocks were selected by the priest and a group of 200-odd people dragged and erected them in the patterns specified. ”
It’s likely that they dragged some of the rocks from the Krishna river because the menhirs are a mix of black and granite rocks, Rao said.
Seeking Unesco Tag
The Mudumal site has one of South-East Asia’s largest collections of menhirs and some experts say it covers almost 80 acres. So, ever since the Telangana government proposed to recommend the site for a Unesco World Heritage tag, locals and experts have redoubled their efforts to strengthen its case. Throughout the past year – especially on the two solstice and two equinox days – they have been snapping photos of the menhirs, with the rising sun in the backdrop.
When the images are placed together, the sun’s position can be seen to change from extreme south-east to east to extreme north-east, all in a span of 12 months.
The locals have also formed a foundation called Jai Makthal Trust to keep pushing for research and development at the site, to claim the Unesco tag. “Apart from Orbit 2022, we had a delegation of researchers and students from South Korea’s Sejong University visit us,” said Sundeep Makthala, founder of the trust. But he said the lack of good roads and protection for the site make it difficult to attract researchers. “We are hoping that the government will take strong steps to ensure the local community and the state can reap benefits
of this heritage,” he said.

  • The megalithic community in Mudumal knew the stars well. Experts have found an inscription of the Ursa Major constellation on a flat rock here. “This is the only depiction of the night sky from the megalithic ages in South-East Asia. It is interesting that they chose to depict the Ursa Major constellation, as two stars in this constellation – Dubhe and Merak – can help identify the North Star and indicate the north direction,” said Professor KP Rao from University of Hyderabad.
  • The inscriptions on the rocks are in the form of a series of cup markings with each cup denoting a star in the constellation. The marking was possibly done using a stick and sand.
  • The ability to point north might have helped the community make small expeditions and return to the same spot. “Since they were still into pastures and hunting, knowing the north direction helped. World over, when a community knows north, they are able to locate other directions easily,” said Phani Babu, an independent archaeologist.

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