Megaliths are spread across the Indian subcontinent, though the bulk of them are found in peninsular India, concentrated in the states of Maharashtra (mainly in Vidarbha), Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Megaliths were constructed either as burial sites or commemorative (non-sepulchral) memorials. The former are sites with actual burial remains, such as dolmenoid cists (box-shaped stone burial chambers), cairn circles (stone circles with defined peripheries) and capstones (distinctive mushroom-shaped burial chambers found mainly in Kerala). The urn or the sarcophagus containing the mortal remains was usually made of terracotta. Non-sepulchral megaliths include memorial sites such as menhirs. (The line separating the two is a bit blurry, since remains have been discovered underneath otherwise non-sepulchral sites, and vice versa.)

Taken together, these monuments lend these disparate peoples the common traits of what we know as megalithic culture, one which lasted from the Neolithic Stone Age to the early Historical Period (2500 BC to AD 200) across the world. In India, archaeologists trace the majority of the megaliths to the Iron Age (1500 BC to 500 BC), though some sites precede the Iron Age, extending up to 2000 BC.

The discovery of a stone axe with what seemed to be inscriptions in the Harappan script from a burial chamber in Tamil Nadu did bring up the tantalizing possibility of cultural contact between Harappans and the megalithic people.

Iravatham Mahadevan, renowned epigraphist and vocal proponent of the Dravidian origins of Harappan civilization, had declared, “This confirms that the Neolithic people of Tamil Nadu shared the same language family as the Harappan group, which can only be Dravidian. The discovery provides the first evidence that the Neolithic people of the Tamil country spoke a Dravidian language.”

According to archaeologists R.K. Mohanty and V. Selvakumar, around 2,200 megalithic sites can be found in peninsular India itself, most of them unexcavated

Based on archaeobotanical research, Mukund Kajale of University College London posited that megalithic people carried out agricultural activity in both the rabi and kharif seasons. A large variety of grains such as rice, wheat, kodo millet, barley lentil, black gram, horse gram, common pea, pigeon pea and Indian jujube have been recovered from habitations, showing that the subcontinent has displayed remarkable gastronomic continuity over three millennia.

the collapse of trade gave rise to a change in the urban character of the Harappan civilization. The Harappans then diffused eastwards and came into contact with the early agricultural settlements in the Gangetic plain and moved southwards, and gradually reverted to a more primitive way of life. This is indicated by the smaller, but greater number of settlements found after 1800 BC, compared to earlier sites.

“They again gradually developed themselves into prosperous agricultural communities and began to develop into complex societies. Megalithism indicates the developments of a second urbanization, a chieftain society or chiefdoms, as reflected in monumental architecture as well as other aspects: surplus being generated, multiple crops including cash crops and horticultural crops, mineral, stones. Essentially, the emergence of Megalithic period marks the beginning of second urbanization in various parts of India beyond what was covered by Indus Valley Civilization,” says Korisettar.
n concordance with their belief in life after death, the megalithic people were in the habit of interring burial goods along with mortal remains. These can be broadly categorized as “ceramic, iron and copper artefacts, beads of various raw materials, gold & silver ornaments, terracotta objects, objects of art and miscellaneous objects”, according to Chakrabarti.

The range of iron artefacts recovered indicate that the megalithic people practised a wide range of occupations and included carpenters, cobblers, bamboo craftsmen, lapidaries engaged in gemstone work, blacksmiths, coppersmiths and goldsmiths, proof of complex social organization. Beads made of various semi-precious stones and steatite have also been found. Bronze figurines of animals like buffaloes, goats, tigers, elephants and antelopes have been recovered from inside urn burials at the site of Adichanallur in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.

Significantly, Roman coins have been found in some megalithic burials in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. “Finding of coins from megalithic burial has chronological significance of their [megalithic people’s] continuation till the early historic period and interaction of trade,” notes Chakrabarti.

In fact, megalithic culture finds several references in ancient Tamil Sangam literature. For instance, menhirs are referred to as nadukal. Ancient Sangam texts lay out, in detail, a step-by-step procedure for laying a memorial stone or nadukal in honour of a fallen hero. According to an article by E. Iniyan, former guest lecturer at the University of Madras, in the International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, this procedure later evolved into the rituals for the consecration of idols in Hindu temples, as described in the Tamil Agamas, a collection of sect-specific scriptures.

“Manimekalai (5th century AD), the famous Buddhist epic, refers to the various kinds of burials namely cremation (cuṭuvōr), post excarnation burial (iṭuvōr), burying the deceased in a pit (toṭukuḻip paṭuvōr), rock chamber or cist burial (tāḻvāyiṉ aṭaippōr), urn burial encapped with lid (tāḻiyiṟ kavippōr). Even in the Sangam age (when kingship and a well ordained society had emerged) the above modes of burials survived,” writes Iniyan.

Also, there are indirect references to dolmens as pantar kal, which has evolved into today’s pandal, a temporary tent-like structure, says Selvakumar.

sourced from credits Rajat Ubhaykar