Rocks of Ages

Jharkhand’s millennia-old megalithic sites are under threat

The megaliths at Punkri Barwadih have been used since ancient times to view vernal and autumnal equinoxes, but are being threatened by mining operations for a local thermal power plant. Deepanwita Gita Niyogi
31 October, 2021

The day was about to end. The last rays of the setting sun glimmered through a partly cloudy sky. My guide, who had been showing me since the morning around the village of Isko—famous for its prehistoric rock art—parked his motorbike near the Punkri Barwadih megalithic site near Barkagaon, twenty-five kilometres from Hazaribagh in Jharkhand. The light was adequate for me to quickly capture a few photos of the two stunning menhirs.

Later that evening, I met Subhashis Das, an independent researcher who has spent over two decades studying the megaliths of Jharkhand, which have been erected for millennia by the tribal communities of the region. He explained that a megalith is a living entity and that the Punkri Barwadih site is on the brink of obliteration.

In Hazaribagh, where ancient caves bear Meso-Chalcolithic rock art—dating back almost nine thousand years—coal-mining has vastly altered the land. Standing at the spot where two reclining menhirs formed a V shape, I could see the local National Thermal Power Corporation plant looming in the distance. “My research has shown that hills were a prerequisite,” Das told me. “Without them, not a single megalithic site could be erected. Thus, it is important to appreciate how people in those ancient times had aligned the stones towards the peaks and notches of the surrounding hills. But now, sadly, the alignment is obstructed.”