Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A tribute to Prof. Achyutha Rao

The late Prof. D. S. Achyutha Rao

It has been more than 2 years since I was awarded the Prof. D. S. Achyutha Rao Memorial History Research Fellowship for the year 2007 to conduct research on the megalithic monuments of south India. Prof. Achyutha Rao was an eminent Professor of History at the graduate and post-graduate level at Maharaja's College, Mysore and later at "Manasa Gangotri", University of Mysore till his unfortunate demise in 1965. I applied for this fellowship with a fascination for the enigmatic structures called megaliths found all over southern India. Of course, megaliths are found all over the world and India is no exception. From my college days, I was enamored of these strange looking structures and enjoyed reading about the possible connection of these with astronomy. Books such as "In search of Ancient Astronomies" by E. C. Krupp whetted my appetite and I wanted to know if such connections were true for Indian megaliths as well. Was there a Stonehenge somewhere in the wide expanse of our motherland, waiting to be discovered..?

The Fellowship gave me the opportunity to follow my heart and I set off on megalith-hunting jaunts from my base in lovely Manipal. Of course, I concentrated mainly on Karnataka, with the occasional foray into neighbouring Kerala and one trip to Burzahoma in Kashmir. I travelled hallowed terrain like that of Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal, Hanamsagar and Vibhutihalli, marvelled at the dolmens and rock art of Hire Benkal and stood in awe at the menhir site of Nilaskal, Baise... In the course of my travels, I passed the wonderful architecture of Hampi, Aihole, Badami etc. and, though they were not the immediate focus of my study, could not help being moved deep down inside by the sheer magnificence of these sites.

I made progress on the megaliths, too. I found that most of the sepulchral megaliths (mostly burials) were oriented to face sunrise or sunset at some day of the year, though there were sites like Meguti Hill at Aihole where all the megaliths faced all points of the compass with no preferred orientation towards any point of celestial interest on the horizon. As for the non-sepulchral sites, I found that many of the stone avenue sites (where a large number of stones are arranged in rough grids) like the ones at Vibhutihalli and Hanamsagar were roughly oriented to the cardinal directions.

The dolmens of Hire Benkal

But it was at the menhir sites of Nilaskal and Baise (also nearby are 2 more sites - Hergal and Mumbaru) that I found definite astronomical purpose in the layout of the stones. Many pairs of stones align up to dramatically frame the sunset on winter solstice day (the shortest day of the year). These same stones team up with other stones to frame the winter solstice sunrise and summer solstice sunrise and sunset. The apparently haphazard distribution of these stones seem to follow a sort of distorted solstitial grid.

The menhirs of Nilaskal

Sunset on midwinter day at Nilaskal

I have a lot of people to thank for the enormous support that I have received for this project. I thank Dr. Prasanna and Dr. (Mrs.) Rajani Prasanna from the botton of my heart for taking personal interest in this project. I also wish to thank Manipal University for seconding the grant. Dr. Vinod Bhat- Registrar, International Programs, Manipal University has been a source of strength throughout this project and instrumental in guiding me and keeping me on track. Prof. S. Settar of NIAS has given me valuable advice. My guide Prof. M. N. Vahia and co-guide Prof. Sudhakara G. have given me invaluable guidance and support. Stalwarts from the field of megalithic research have helped me in innumerable ways - Prof. A. Sundara, Dr. U. S. Moorti, Dr. Ganapaiah Bhat, Dr. Ravi Korisettar are some of the people who have helped me a lot. Kailash Rao has been a co-traveller on many of my site visits and surveys. And lack of space prevents me from naming innumerable persons at these scattered sites who have offered hospitality and guided me to several of these monuments.

Mrs. Chitre, Prof. S. M. Chitre, my team of young surveyors, Mayank and me on location at Baise

During these travels, I believe I have seen the Karnataka that few tourists see. Near Aihole and Badami, Hampi and Shahpur, I have been chasing monuments that are not remarkable for their architectural splendor. But these few stones hobbled together in innovative ways mark the true beginnings of architecture - when man started expressing his belief systems through the medium of architecture. And in following this trail of ancient architecture, I have passed through beautiful country and made friends with the rural folk of Karnataka. In the process, I have come to love this part of the world with a passion I didn't know I was capable of... Thank you, Prof. Achyutha Rao, for the entire experience; but most of all, for opening my eyes to the beauty and splendour of this magnificent part of India.

1 comment:

P.M. said...

Something to tell me more about your interesting work after I leave...great way to put across your work...