Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hirebenkal and History

   We visited Hirebenkal one fine morning. Hirebenkal is about thirty odd kilometres from Hospet, and is spectacular, since it suddenly springs into view almost unexpectedly. India's Valley of the Dead, so called, because of the enormous quantities of  megaliths that are spread through an entire stretch. At some point the dead were ritually buried under these huge capstones, dolmens, and hut like structures with portholes. No evidence now remains of any  human bones, nothing except these large stones all over the place,  washed clean by centuries of wind and rain. The entire hillside looks like an abandoned village.
 The men and maybe women who set up this burial site, possibly commemorative or ceremonial,  lived on another stretch of the mountains, but even less trace remains of their daily lives.  Rural  and pastoral lives, framed by thatched roofs, cannot be expected to survive a period of over two thousand years.
So these monuments to the dead are all we have, to understand these ancient people by, and we drink in the   rich, green gorgeous landscape, plentiful with  water, where they once lived. The ASI has identified the place and put up some signs and posts, but it is still rather difficult to access. Notices  warn people not to disturb the stones because no treasure lies buried underneath. Not that anyone is reading these instructions or taking them to heart. The entire stretch  is in need of   urgent attention.  It needs to be made visitor accessible and visitor friendly, and there is desperate need both for information from human sources as well as public conveniences. The ASI officials are probably busy doing good work elsewhere but surely they could consider recruiting  young people living in the area to guide people around the megaliths.   We were lucky to have people working with the ASI who could take us there, but this is not really the norm.

This picture is typical of the landscape we walked through to access this  secluded and little mentioned area.

What continues to puzzle me is that I grew up reading about Stonehenge in the English Countryside and the men and women who might have built it as a site of worship, and the  barrows in the adjoining vallleys where they were buried. How is it that years of history lessons never alerted me to the presence of such a marvellous site, in my own country? I received my schooling long years after the ASI had identified this as a protected monument!
 What is it that stops our historians and our administrators from disseminating information about such astounding sites?   Hirebenkal is definitely an important marker of an ancient civilizational cradle, but it exists outside the imagination of  our countrymen and women. Anywhere else in the world, such a site would have been treated as a national treasure trove and local adminstration would have vied to increase the footfalls.   Schools all over the country that incorporate educational trips could definitely take their students to visit this megalithic site , thereby sensitizing them to our rich heritage.
The countryside around the megalithic site, well outside a hypothetical three kilometre radius has great potential as camping and trekking grounds. Greater visibility would add to the lives of the people who continue to live in the area. It would also substantiate our claims  to  cultural and geographical diversity as  a nation and make history come alive instead of being neglected in terribly produced black and white textbooks? And perhaps  young people would  dream of   trekking in Northern Karnataka and visiting  Hirebenkal someday because it is a worthwhile thing to do?
In today's newspaper,  Justice Katju speaks of  our poets, Ghalib, Sarat Chandra and  Subramania Bharathi and the need to be honour them with the Bharat Ratna, our highest civilian award, so that we  create  a long history of  real heroes to look up to, albeit posthumously.  He accurately pinpoints our national reading deficit and the abundant poetry and prose in our national languages which  have generated  very limited interest. What we as a nation  also suffer from is a deficit of both real and imagined spaces. This is a huge pity because we have abundant sources in the vast peopled expanses  of our country and in the landscape, both natural and man made. We must make much  much more of our geography, history and literature!


  1. Dodge Caravan AC Compressor
    I enjoyed your post. It’s a lot like college – we should absorb everything we can but ultimately you need to take what you’ve learned and apply it.Nice man. Extremely informative post. I'll be sure to pass this along to my friends.

  2. i've driven past Hospet on the way to Hampi, and had no clue about this place! maybe we should be making a list of 'must-see's in our country.

  3. I havent been to this place but I am sure it is like one of the numerous places in India which have a lot of history attached to it. Well worth a visit!

  4. I think I came across Hirebankal in my history textbook! I really like your shift towards history in your recent blogs. The pictures reminded me of Flintstones! How fascinating the megaliths sound and appear. Especially liked your last para, but we could have done without the exclamation mark, methinks. :)

  5. Similar structures are reportrd from Krasnodar Regions of Russia and are thought to be 3000-4000BCE old.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolmens_of_North_Caucasus