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Friday, December 03, 2021

Heritage enthusiasts of Telangana seek UNESCO tag for Menhirs at Mudumal

It is believed that the site at Mudumal is the biggest in South India. Spread across nearly 89 acres, there are close to 80 tall menhirs of 10 to 14 feet height, accompanied by nearly 3,000 alignment stones related to the funerary rights of the ancient community.

Written by Rahul V Pisharody | Hyderabad |
Updated: October 17, 2021 8:46:04 am
Menhirs of 10 to 14 feet height at Mudumal. (Credits: Special Arrangement/KP Rao)

K Anjappa, a farmhand in his fifties, along with his two brothers and family, has lived all his life in Telangana’s Mudumal village amid strange-looking stones as tall as 10 to 14 feet high and randomly placed across the neighbourhood. These stones are accompanied by smaller stones placed in circular formations and also thousands of boulders appearing to be placed in certain alignments across an 80-acre spread of land – all of which hint at something unique about the location.

The recent inscription of Ramappa (Rudreswara) temple in Mulugu district in the list of UNESCO world heritage sites, the first for the state of Telangana, has now inspired a bunch of youngsters affiliated with an IT association to strive for a similar tag for the site at Mudumal village of Narayanpet. According to Professor K P Rao of the University of Hyderabad, the Menhirs at Mudumal is probably the largest megalithic-era burial site in south India and is as old as 3,500 years. Rao, a former Director of the State Archaeology Department, has been researching Menhirs since 2003 and presented several research papers at international fora. He says apart from the archaeological relevance, these stones have astronomical significance as well.

A formation of stone circles. (Credits: Special Arrangement/KP Rao)

Narayanpet District Collector Hari Chandana recently tweeted, “Megalithic stones, Mudumal village #Narayanpet. This pre historic stone arrangement dates back to #Neolithic age. Their precision of arrangement & purpose still remains a #mystery across the world.:

“We believe people who lived here were turned into these stones by an angered local goddess after they disrespected her,” says Anjappa. The legend is that Yellamma, the local deity, had visited the locality under disguise and sought food from the farmers. Instead of offering food, they are said to have served her sand mixed with millets.

“She cursed the people and all of them became standing stones. All those who tried to touch them and disturb them also became stones,” Anjappa adds. His father had bought the 5-acre land, acquired five years ago by the Department of Telangana Heritage (state’s archaeology department), about sixty years ago. “Since our childhood, we have seen elders telling time based on shadows of these stones. It is only in the last 20 years that we have been hearing about the archaeological significance of these formations,” he notes.

An alignment stone with depiction of Ursa Major, said to be the earliest depiction of the constellation in South Asia, according to Prof KP Rao. (Credits: Special Arrangement/KP Rao)

Sundeep Kumar Maktala, a native of nearby Maktal, has recently registered Jai Makthal Trust, with the main intention of securing a UNESCO World Heritage Site status for Mudumal Menhirs. Makthala, who is the global president of Telangana Information Technology Association (TITA), has already called on Union Tourism Minister G Kishan Reddy, Telangana Tourism Minister V Srinivas Goud, with a request for the government’s support. In the recent Telangana Assembly session, Makthal MLA Chittem Ram Mohan Reddy raised the issue of protection of the site and promotion of the same as a tourist destination. Legislative Affairs Minister Vemula Prashant Reddy took note of the matter and promised to discuss it with the minister concerned.

Apart from Prof K P Rao who has researched extensively on Menhirs of Mudumal, Kumar has also roped in Prof M Panduranga Rao of Kakatiya Heritage Trust, who played an instrumental role in the inscription of Ramappa temple in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Site, for guidance in the preparation of the dossier.

“From what I know, these structures certainly merit consideration. I am yet to visit the site. We have to study at length and plan for the dossier. It is a long-drawn process,” says Prof Panduranga Rao. Retired bureaucrat B V Papa Rao and Prof Panduranga Rao had founded Kakatiya Heritage Trust in 2010. They prepared voluminous reports and dossiers that were sent to the UNESCO’s ICOMOS committee for Ramappa Temple to be considered a World Heritage Site, and their efforts were fructified in 2021.

A land dug up and stones removed for agriculture purposes. (Credits: Special Arrangement/KP Rao)

According to Prof Panduranga Rao, certain criteria such as the outstanding universal value of the monument, the creative genius of the sculptors who built these structures and also their contemporary contribution needs to be identified, projected and also be defended before the ICOMOS committee. “In the case of Ramappa Temple, we had features like floating bricks, sandbox technology, etc for the creative genius. We prepared volumes of research documents and it took 11 years. These Menhirs are certainly very important structures and we need to make a case by comparing these monuments with those in India and abroad,” he says.

Prof KP Rao believes the site at Mudumal is the biggest in South India. Spread across nearly 89 acres, there are close to 80 tall menhirs of 10 to 14 feet height, accompanied by nearly 3,000 alignment stones related to the funerary rights of the ancient community. These stones are arranged in lines or rows in a 20-25 feet gap, according to Prof KP Rao. The taller Menhirs are restricted to about 3 acres of area. Also present in the same area are about 20 boulders, each of 3 to 4 feet in diameter, arranged in a circular formation of 50 to 70 feet diameter.

“These Menhirs and alignment stones are arranged in different directions. But when we carefully observe them on different days, especially days of solar significance like Equinox and Solstices, some of these rows align exactly with the sun. It appears they have been designed in a manner such that they align with the sun on particular days,” he says, adding that the sun’s propagation can be used to calculate the dates and calendrical events, and change of season, etc. by carefully observing the movement of the sun in relation with these monuments.

Speaking of another interesting aspect, Prof KP Rao says one of the stones with a flat face present here is the earliest depiction of the night sky and a star constellation from anywhere in South Asia. “We have an alignment stone here with cup-marks of 3-4 mm depressions. It has seven prominent stars. This is a depiction of Ursa Major or Saptarshi Mandal. When an imaginary line is drawn between the top stars of the rectangle Merak and Dubhe, it points to the pole star or north star. So, we can know the north direction at night. This is the earliest depiction of a constellation from South Asia,” he claims.

Sundeep Kumar Makthala says a team of researchers from Cambridge University studied the menhirs site in 1952 and similarly another team from the University of California too did a research study on this site. “Our goal is UNESCO WHS status for Menhirs of Mudumal. We have been meeting different experts in the last two months and are in the process of preparing a physical as well as a 3D dossier. We are going to use artificial intelligence tools to find out the age of these large number of stones over here. We will also use drones to survey the area to understand the patterns of rocks, the distance between them, etc,” he asserts.

Though the five-acre land acquired by Heritage Telangana is secured with a fence, Prof KP Rao says these structures in the rest of the 80-odd acres are under threat. “In the last 10 years, at least 3 spells of despoliation have taken place. A large portion was dug up and about 1,500 alignment stones were removed and around 3 acres land in the area was converted into agricultural land. For a long time, I have been writing to authorities about the destruction that has happened already,” he said. Meanwhile, Anjappa notes that the family has not been duly compensated yet for the land they sacrificed. “We were paid much less than the market rate for our land and we have not yet received alternate land as promised. We are happy that a lot of people have started visiting this place already but we only hope we get our fair share,” says Anjappa, a father of three daughters and now a landless farm labourer.

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