BIG PICTURE – TUMBLEDOWN HERO STONES TELL A SORRY TALE

by Rohith BR,

 

Circa 750: Long before Bengaluru was born, KR Puram was surrounded by several other villages. And they faced threats from dacoits who would target their cattle.

During one such attack, a villager named Mareya put up a strong fight against the dacoits and saved the cattle of his village. As he lost his life in the battle, the villagers erected a Veeragallu (hero stone) with inscriptions depicting his valour.

2015: The hero stone lies unattended next to a garbage pileup outside the Mahabaleshwara Swamy temple on the banks of Vengayyana Kere at KR Puram. Half of the five-foot-high stone is buried in the debris. Lying neglected nearby are six more hero stones -stones waiting to narrate tales of bravery , but no one to hear them.

This is not an isolated case. Memorial stones erected in honour of those who died while defending their kings or cattle or women in distress, are fading in Bengaluru, which historians say, is home to a huge variety of hero stones.

 

One such hero stone from 10th century , discov ered at Begur in southeast Bengaluru, elucidates the techniques and strategies used in battles then.With details of sword fighting and spears-throwing techniques, this hero stone is considered the best discovered in the country till now.

Thankfully , it is preserved at the Bengaluru Museum on Kasturba Road. However, the same is not the case with hundreds of other hero stones.

During the 10th century , the Begur region witnessed battles between communities over conthe trol of the region, which changed political dynamics here. After every battle, hundreds of hero stones were installed in honour of martyrs.

Over the centuries, as human habitation expanded and urbanization crept in, Veeragallus started losing their identity. Some of them became foundation stone for houses and a few broke down while others found themselves a resting place near garbage dumps.

TOI found several hero stones amidst construction material on the premises of Nageshwara Swamy temple in Begur. Shalini Saha, a stock market associate, who was at the temple with her father, was trying her best to make out what was on the hero stone. She said, “These stones have a lot of stories to narrate, but I feel sad for the way they are kept. If the 1,200-year-old temple nearby can be maintained well, why can’t these memorial stones be kept intact?“ SK Aruni, deputy director, Indian Council of Historical Research, said Avenue Road, Shivananda Circle, Good Shed Road, Magadi Road and Frazer Town in Bengaluru had a lot of hero stones. “Most of them belonged to the postmedieval period. In the modern era, it has become difficult to protect hero stones at the place of their origin. It is better to collect the stones and keep them in a museum,“ he said.

Basavaraj Kalgudi, professor of Kannada, Bangalore University , has a different take. “While hero stones are important to record the cultural heritage of the bygone era, I doubt whether we should consider them a chronicle of history . During the Vijayanagara empire, many chieftains encouraged villages to join their army to wage war against other regions. Some of them, from the lower class, were forced to join the battle. As a consolation, hero stones used to be erected,“ he added. Kalgudi, however, said efforts should be made to establish hero-stone museum at least at the district level.

5,000 MEMORIALS IN MYSURU

Veeranagere, near St Philomena’s Church in Mysuru, had 114 hero stones, believed to have been installed by Mysuru rulers more than 250 years ago. These stones commemorate the services of wrestler community, which served the Mysuru rulers. Hardly 60 of them remain now, and in neglect.Local say many memorial stones have been removed from the spot, while others are dumped in a corner. NS Rangaraju, retired professor of ancient history and archaeology, University of Mysore, said, “Sadly most of them are neglected. Some of them are used to tie cows.“A couple of memorial stones can be found near Kukkarahalli Lake. There are some 5,000 memorial stones across the district -nearly 300 of them in the city alone -but one has to search for them.

SUBMERGED IN BACK WATERS

British archaeologist and epigraphist B L Rice, who served as director of archaeology in the Mysore state, identified

more than 1,500 stone inscriptions in Shivamogga district -a majority of them in Shikaripur, Soraba and in Sagar taluks.According to archaeologists, many of them submerged during construction of dams; some can be still found at Kaubatur in Sorab taluk. The Veeragallus date back to 1235 AD.

Sidi Tale (jumping head), a memorial stone found at Bandalke near Soraba, is unique as it depicts human sacrifice.

Historians have also unearthed a number of Veeragallu and Mastigallu (dedicated to women’s sacrifice) from Hosagunda, near Sagar, an important centre of Jain rulers.

HALF-BURIED IN MANDYA

Bidarakote, a village about 25 km from Mandya, could have lost its prized possessions, but for the efforts of historians.Many Veeragallus here are halfburied, unattended, and neglected. The reason: villagers thought these stones would bring them bad luck and stayed away from them.When Alakere Siddaraju, a history professor, learnt about the Veeragallus through a student, he decided to preserve them. With the help of his students, Siddaraju retrieved the stones and installed them at a mantapam they built for Veeragallus. Now, villagers worship these stones. “We knew Veeragallus had been installed by our ancestors. But we neglected them due to misconceptions,“ Jagadish, a villager, said.Siddaraju said Mandya district has many such hero stones that lay neglected.

8FT-TALL MEMORIAL IN DAVANAGERE

An eight-foot-tall granite stone commemorating the death of two heroes of the Belagutti Sindu dynasty and their wives’ `sathi sahagamana’ (wife’s sacrifice) could be seen at Kumkuva village of Honnali taluk of Davanagere district. The two men are believed to have lost their lives in a battle between the Belagutti Sindu and the rulers of the 12th century. A 14thcentury Veeragallu installed in honour of one Banumaiah Nayaka lies unattended at Vasana village, near Harihara and Harapanahalli taluks of Davanagere district. Same is the condition of another Veeragallu installed in the memory of one Sunkanagowda, a hero in the Hucchangi Pandyaru dynasty.

RARE HERO IN TROUBLE AT VIJAYAPURA

Two professors from Sri Khasgatesh Arts College, Talikoti, found a rare veeragallu lying in a state of neglect at Bandeppanahalli Salawadagi village in Muddebihal taluk of Vijayapura district. The stone depicts a fight between two warriors using bow and arrows.The professors who discovered the stone with the help of their students five years ago, have been trying to preserve it and highlight its importance.Veeragallu experts say they are yet to identify the year in which the structure was installed. “The stone pertains to Gograhan, meaning a hero who died while protecting the cattle. Local youths are trying to protect and maintain it,“ they said.

CHALLENGES GALORE

HT Talwar, director (museums), department of archaeology, said while urbanization is burying hero stones in cities, in villages they are facing altogether a different challenge. “When we tried to shift out some unique hero stones from Begur a few years ago, there was opposition from people who feared ill would befall them if they let stones go.Preserving them at the place of their origin is a tough task. We are creating awareness about the importance of such stones,“ he said.

Source: The Times of India (Bangalore), May 04 2015  

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