Portals to another world

C P Belliappa hunts for pre-historic stone cairns in Kodagu district and finds one of the best preserved structures in a private coffee estate near Virajpet. The area is popularly known as Pandavapare, since it was believed that the Pandavas were responsible for these mysterious stone structures.

EYES ON THE PAST: A cairn near Virajpet.

Kodagu is home to mysterious pre-historic stone structures popularly known as cairns or dolmens.

 However, similar ancient cairns are also found in many parts of peninsular India.

 What is even more intriguing is that these primitive megaliths resemble the Allemanic tumuli found in Germany, France, and Switzerland.

It is estimated that the cairns in Kodagu are more than 3,000 years old and belong to the Megalithic age. Credit for the first written documentation of a dolmen in Kodagu goes to Reverend Herman Moegling. 

Moegling’s discovery 

The German missionary who spent many years in Kodagu found a dolmen in the southern parts of Kodagu in 1856; which he pried open to find it filled with several pottery objects.

The pots were well-formed and were of different shapes and sizes. Some of the pottery objects found were miniatures resembling children’s toys. They contained earth, ash, beads, grains, and bones. Reverend Moegling concluded that it was obviously an ancient sepulcher. 

He also concluded that the current inhabitants of Kodagu had no relationship or common ancestry with the people who constructed these structures. The mystery as to who these ancient people were still remains unsolved.

In 1868, Lieutenant Mackenzie, the Assistant Superintendent of Kodagu, was amazed to find a large number of stone cairns near Virajpet. 

Soon after this discovery, much better preserved ones were found in northern parts of Kodagu in Madapur, Kushalnagar, and Somwarpet.

The Superintendent of Kodagu at the time, Captain Robert Andrew Cole, took a great deal of interest in excavating these sepulchers, and made systematic recordings of his findings. In some of the dolmens, iron implements, arrow heads and spears were also discovered. 

The potteries found in these dolmens are displayed in the Archeological Museum at Bangalore. The most remarkable of them is an elegantly shaped three-legged vase which proves that this ancient community was quite artistic.

 It is also reported that some of the earthenware had simple patterns in basic colours. However, none of them were glazed. It was also found that quite a number of the sepulchers were already opened by tomb-raiders of yore looking for valuables. 

I have been on the lookout for these stone cairns and finally managed to find one with help from a friend. One of the best preserved in southern parts of Kodagu is located in a private coffee estate near Virajpet. 

The estate belongs to the Palecanda family, and over several generations they have taken care to preserve one of the cairns. They allowed me to photograph the remarkably well-preserved dolmen.

 According to the family, their property had many of these ancient structures, and over the years, most of them got integrated with the landscape during the process of opening up coffee plantations. 

It is highly likely that these were the same dolmens discovered by Lieutenant Mackenzie in 1868. The remnants of the remaining megaliths are strewn all over the estate.

 Interestingly, this entire area is popularly known as Pandavapare, since it was believed that Pandavas were responsible for these mysterious stone structures.  The British wryly mention in their records that the locals invariably attributed anything unexplainable to their epics!

The dolmens found in Kodagu were of two types.  Some were of single chamber, and others were with two chambers.  The one in the estate of Palecanda family is twin-chambered with a stone partition in between.  

It has two irregular shaped apertures of nearly two-feet in diameter accessing each of the chambers.  

The twin-chambered dolmen is about ten-feet long, six-feet wide and four-feet high. The stone slabs used are solid pieces with rough finish, which the British sardonically describe as ‘rude construction’.  It is fascinating that the openings of all the dolmens face east. 

These megaliths are as intriguing as those at Stonehenge and Easter Islands. Scientific archeological study could throw more light on these very interesting relics left behind by our ancestors. 

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