Massive stone structures dotted across the subcontinent provide a fascinating glimpse into India’s prehistoric past. What is the most strikingly common feature of prehistoric cultures, from the icy fjords of Norway to the Hazaribagh plateau? All of them, seemingly independently, struck upon the idea of erecting massive stone structures during the same era in history. These monuments — yes, these are the earliest surviving man-made monuments we know of — are called megaliths, derived from the Latin mega (large) and lith (stone). Megaliths were constructed either as burial sites or commemorative memorials. The origin of megaliths in India is not clearly determined. Although they occur in profuse and bear close resemblance with those of Europe and Western Asia, the cultural link is still far to be established.
Megalithic monuments are among the earliest and most permanent of archaeological structures, and so many of them were used, or more properly, have been used and reused for thousands of years. Their original intent is likely lost to the ages, but they may have had multiple functions as they were used by different cultural groups over the centuries and millennia. In addition, a few probably retain their original configuration, having been eroded or vandalized or quarried or added to or simply modified for reuse by subsequent generations.
Taken together, these monuments lend these disparate people the common traits of what we know as megalithic culture, one which lasted from the Neolithic Stone Age to the early Historical Period (2500 BCE to 200 CE) across the world. In India, archaeologists trace the majority of the megaliths to the Iron Age (1500 to 500 BCE), though some sites precede the Iron Age, extending beyond 3000 BCE. The particular people, whose culture had been represented in Megaliths, are not yet clearly identified.
The sepulchral ones were obviously built in the memory of the dead but amongst the non-sepulchral ones, a fair number of such stone structures have been shown to be for astronomical purposes.
There is a group of megaliths found close to Barkagaon that is about 25 km from Hazaribagh town, the headquarters of the district in the Indian state of Jharkhand. At Punkri Barwadih, Hazaribagh’s pre-eminent megalith site, there is a calendrical archaea-astronomical observatory that is the axis of a plethora of major megalith sites throughout the Hazaribagh plateau. The megaliths are arranged in such a manner that two of the most distinguished megaliths create the alignment for the formation of an Equinox point. Punkri site is in the middle of a series of concentric circles having a major megalithic cluster on the rim. These sites, in turn, are aligned through other sacred sites to a number of more distant sacred sites.
On every March 21 and September 23, many villagers, tourists, and researchers visit this place to observe the Equinoxes. The observation takes place for 30 minutes. It is also known to offer great views of the sunrise and sunset throughout the annual Solstices. The scientists and researchers, who study the movements of the Sun, verify with these megaliths, as observatories from the prehistoric times. Punkri Barwadih megalith site of Hazaribagh has been proven to date back to beyond 3000 BCE.
A small stone has been made to function as a pointer, is arranged in a North-South position to the west of a larger menhir. This stone is placed in such a manner that it is linear to the crevice between the two larger menhirs which faces the mid-winter sunrise.
Tribals believe the point of sunrise on the vernal and autumnal equinox is considered the true ‘east’. Ancient tribes here erected two stones (menhirs) to form an angle through which the sunrise can be viewed.
The observatory can be reached from Hazaribagh, on the Hazaribagh–Barkagaon Road, just before Barkagaon, the megaliths can be seen on the left side of the road.
Hazaribagh based researcher Subhashis Das is working on megaliths of India for two decades. He has published many books on megaliths of India. He is trying hard to get these silent megaliths to get their due recognition. He has reported in his blog that this historic sun-aligned site is currently in danger of being destroyed due to lack of protection from the authorities. Several other sites in this region have already been spoiled due to expanding industrial activities.
Belying their historical significance, megalithic sites today are found in various states of neglect. There are no plans for preservation of this feat of monumental architecture. These historic and cultural monuments are found in various states of neglect. While some are still intact, many have been damaged by entrepreneurial folks carrying away the stone slabs for construction purposes.
Megaliths are not protected as heritage monuments, and they are being destroyed constantly by the villagers in the greed of buried treasure. Many ignorant of megaliths, cart away menhirs to their homes, using them as drain covers or as washing stones by their wells. Compare this with the Stonehenge, a world-famous megalithic monument which draws millions of visitors from all over the world. The government should build megalithic parks to help preserve these fast-disappearing monuments.