Meghalaya’s Ancient Sentinels
We have all heard of Stonehenge and its almost mystical megaliths, that attract millions of tourists each year. But did you know that there are many such megalithic sites scattered around India and the largest concentration of these large stones, in one place, can be found in the small village of Nartiang, 68 km from Shillong in Meghalaya.
Commonly found in pre-historic sites, a megalith (big stone shaped like a menhir) was mainly used as markers of graves. The practice of installing these large blocks of stone, continued among many of the tribes living in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya and the Kachari tribe, predominantly in Assam, through millennia. Archaeologists studying the megalithic sites have found that these stones were erected in different periods - through history. The earliest come from pre-historic times and they were used varying as grave markers, commemorative stones or as markers of a religious sites.
While we don’t know exactly when the megaliths at Nartiang were erected, local folklore gives us a clue. According to this they were built by a man named U Mar Phalyngki, who is said to have been a minister in the Jaintia kingdom which controlled the region from 1500 CE, till its annexation by the British in 1835 CE. Given that, Naritang was the summer capital of the Jaintia kings, while their main capital was in Jaintiapur (now in Bangladesh), this story could well be true, indicating a much more recent origin of these megaliths.
The Nartiang megaliths are diverse. They consist of the menhirs locally known as Moo Shynrang (Men) and dolmens (the flat stones in the horizontal position) known as Moo Kynthai (Women). The tallest menhir is almost 8 meters high and 18 inches thick.
Despite being declared as ‘Monument of National Importance’, the Naritang megaliths hardly attract any attention from tourists. They should because they give us a sense of how pre-historic traditions continued for millennia among the tribes of India.
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