Megalith: Notes for UPSC Art and Culture

A megalith is a large stone that has been used to construct a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones.

Latest Updates about Megalith for UPSC Prelims:

  1. In February 2021, in a news article of The Hindu, there was a mention of Pillar of Blood (Netturu Sthambham). It is an 11-foot high menhir at Telangana (Padurivarigudem village in Nakrekal.)
  2. An article on Megaliths of Pattadakal (Bagalkot District, Karnataka) cropped up in September 2020. Megalithic dolmens are evidence that the Pattadakal region was settled in prehistoric times.

Megaliths are a topic regularly featured in the art and culture segment of the UPSC Syllabus.

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Definition and Types of Megaliths

While “megalith” is often used to describe a single piece of stone, it also can be used to denote one or more rocks hewn in a definite shape for special purposes. It has been used to describe structures built by people from many parts of the world living in many different periods.

To know more about structures from the Sangam Age, visit the linked article

Some types of Megalith structures are given below:

  1. Menhir: Menhir is the name used in Western Europe for a single upright stone erected in prehistoric times; sometimes called a “standing stone”.
  2. Monolith: Any single standing stone erected in prehistoric times. Sometimes synonymous with “megalith” and “menhir”; for later periods, the word monolith is more likely to be used to describe single stones.
  3. Capstone style: Single megaliths placed horizontally, often over burial chambers, without the use of support stones.
  4. Stone circles: In most languages, stone circles are called “cromlechs” (a word in the Welch language); the word “cromlech” is sometimes used with that meaning in English.
  5. Dolmen: A Dolmen is a megalithic form created by placing a large capstone on two or more support stones creating a chamber below, sometimes closed in on one or more sides. Often used as a tomb or burial chamber.
  6. Cist: Cist is a small stone-built coffin-like box or ossuary used to hold the bodies of the dead. Burials are megalithic forms very similar to dolmens in structure. These type of burials were completely underground. There were single- and multiple-chambered cists.

Megaliths in India

Megaliths in India are dated before 3000 BC, with recent findings dated back to 5000 BC in southern India. Megaliths are found in almost all parts of southern India. There is also a broad time evolution with the megaliths in central India and the upper Indus valley where the oldest megaliths are found, while those in the east are of much later date.

A large fraction of these is assumed to be associated with burial or post burial rituals, including memorials for those whose remains may or may not be available. The case example is that of Brahmagiri, which was excavated in 1975 and helped establish the culture sequence in south Indian prehistory. However, there is another distinct class of megaliths that do not seem to be associated with burials.

In India, megaliths of all kinds are noted; these vary from Menhirs, Rock-cut burial, chamber tomb, dolmens, stone alignment, stone circles and anthropomorphic figures.

Some of the megalithic sites are given in the table below:

Megalith Sites in India

Site Name and Types of Structures District State
Nilaskal Hosanagar Karnataka
Hire Benkal Thrissur Kerala
Chamber Tomb: Hire Benakal Koppala Karnataka
Dolmens: Hire Benakal Koppala Karnataka
Hanamsagar Koppala Karnataka
Kudakkallu Parambu Thrissur Kerala
Junapani Nagpur Maharashtra

For more UPSC related preparation materials and articles, visit the links given in the table below:

Related Links

Indus Valley Civilization Types of Vedas
16 Mahajanapadas Gupta Empire
Foreign Travellers in Ancient India Vedic Civilization


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