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Volume 1 | Issue 3 | October 2006 | 

Umbrella Stones- A Megalithic Remain


Umbrella Stone seen at Pambirikunnu, in Koyilandy Taluk of Kozhikode District of Kerala is a rare monument the like of which are seen in a few places of Kerala. This tomb is preserved by the Post Graduate Dept of History, C.K.G. Memorial Govt. College, Perambra. The growth of grass and other plants and ivies make it a part of the vegetative landscape. But this is a remnant of Megalithic culture supposed to have flourished about 2000 BC to 1500 BC IN Kerala. The special feature about the monument is its shape. It is called umbrella Stone, most probably not from its shape. It has a shape of mushroom rather than an umbrella. It is a huge mass of latourette shaped in the form a mushroom hood supported by its stem-like pillar growing upward in a conical shape. This pillar is actually constructed with four concave pillars constructed of latourette. The bottom part of the pillar thus creates a cave in it, within which the burial relics are placed. The hood and pillar are finely shaped and polished so that it contains the life of a soul that would have to live for the eternity to come. Below we give a write-up on the umbrella stone or Kodakkallu as it is known in these parts of Kerala. The write-up is prepared by Prof. C.P.Aboobacker with the help of the Dept of History, CKG Memorial Govt. College, Perambra.

Umbrella Stones- A Megalithic Remain
A typical umbrella stone stands like a giant Mushroom in the Kodakuthi compound owned by Sri Kodakuthiyil Rajan nair of Pambirikunnu in Cheruvannur Panchayath. The term Kodakuthiyil is indicative of the presence of the umbrella stone. Koda means umbrella. There are scholars who believe that Koda pertains to the funeral offerings; according to them the term is derived from Kodukkal (offering) or Kodu (again, offering) in Malayalam and Tamil languages. They argue that the shape of the stone is that of a mushroom and not that of an umbrella and therefore identifying the Kodakkallu with an umbrella is untenable. As the scholars generally agree that the Kodakkallus were post burial tombs during the megalithic period, the argument on the shape and etymology of the tomb is not solicited. However, this is not to deny the right to argue. For the people, the tombs have always been umbrella-like although resemblance to mushroom cannot be ruled out categorically.

Kodakkallus are mentioned by Sewell and Logan in their works. They are deemed to represent the great megalithic civilization in the different parts of Kerala. The kodakkallus are sparsely located in different parts of Kerala. The ones in Quilandy Taluk represented by the Paithoth Kodakkallus and Pambirikunnu kodakkallu are deemed to be made by about 1500 BC. The presence of the iron implements within the Kodakkallus shows that they were made after iron came into use and therefore they represent an advance stage in human development.

But how could we ascertain the date and antiquity of the tombs? Whose remains were buried in these tombs? The second question seems easy to answer. The privileged in the society were the ones that could have been buried in these tombs. The kodakkallus are a real marvel of architecture. The mushroom like hood is a giant block of latourette polished and shaped into an umbrella form. It is supported by four blocks of latourette that also are polished and refined, and also shaped in to one-fourth of a conical pillar. Four pillars support the hood to stand erect. When the four pillars are joined, it becomes a conical pillar the bottom of which is a chamber. It is in this chamber the burial remains along with iron tools, ornaments, vessels etc. are placed. The presence the tools, vessels ornaments etc. shows the belief of the people in life after death; in the life after death, man requires tools, ornaments, implements and food. Food grains also have been unearthed from a few Umbrella stones. This much attention to the dead could be given only in the case of the well-to-do in the society. Only the wealthy could afford to construct such huge tombs. Although, compared with Egyptian or American pyramids, these stone tombs are small in size, its construction required great attention and technological skill. Thus the presence of the umbrella stone in an area shows the crude form of a religion, which was totally based on life after death. So two things are clear in this problem: 1. the well-to-do people arranged for the construction of the tombs in t5he umbrella or mushroom shape, 2. the people of the society had belief in life after death. This was the beginning of religion in Kerala Society.

On the question of ascertaining antiquity, the only way out is to ascertain it by subjecting the tombs for chemical examination, like carbon test. On examination, it is generally understood that the umbrella stones are as old as 2000 BC to 1500 BC.
And if this much skill in latourette technology was in vogue some 4000 years ago in our localities, why didn’t our ancestors leave any other evidence of a civilized life? The question is easy to ask, but very difficult to answer. Only guesswork will have to be relied on to get an answer. The people of the period were so much involved rites and practices as preparation for the life after death; they were almost absent-minded as far as life in this world was concerned. Another possibility is that the affluent rains always washed off the micro-level implements and materials from the soil. The umbrella stones withstood the ruinations of rains and time.

The Examination of the social strata prevalent in the localities where umbrella stones are seen will not help us because there have been a great intermingling, desiccation, and disappearance of human races and types through millennia. So, the presence of a particular trade or craft group in these areas today will not take us anywhere. May be, trading is prevalent, or industrial communities live in the area today. But this does not mean that they are descendants of people who inhabited the place some four thousand years ago. Human habitats have changed, human races have changed, migrations led to intermingling and changes in climate have brought out even total extinction of the people that inhabited a place in the ancient times.

Still the places where umbrella stones are found, the presence of trading communities is a noticeable factor. Just for the fascination of imagination, let us think of a people who had migrated into these places from some sources, for example, a foreign source. And then we will find that South India witnessed immigrations during the Iron Age. It was on the basis of this theme that Dr. K.K.John of the University of Calicut addressed the students of the college, while he was inaugurating the Centre For The Study And Research In Local History organized under the auspices of the Dept of History of our College on 5th July 2006.

Inaugural Address by Dr. John
Historians and scholars like Sewell and William Logan have clearly stated about the importance of local history and also about the richness of the history of Malabar. People who knew the uses of iron immigrated to South India during the ancient times. Following this a new culture was evolved in the peninsular India. This is generally christened as the Megalithic Culture. The Sangam literature refers to certain types of burials. The Sangam age reached its culmination during the famous Troika of Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas. The Megalithic culture normally must have preceded the Moovendras (Troika). The Moovendra period witnessed the rise of a number of trading centres dominated by foreigners.
It can be aptly said that the foundations of Kerala culture were laid down by the Megalithic culture. This originated from the reverence for the dead. The society was characterized by belief in life after death. They must have believed rebirth was possible if the dead were not properly buried. Rebirth would be the result of sins and rebirth would be a kind of punishment. Moreover, after rebirth, the dead souls would disturb the peace of the living ones. In order to avoid rebirth to the dead, the burial was arranged in such a way that the dead received all facilities in life after death. The burial tomb was furnished with all kinds of necessaries and materials that would be useful in normal life. Thus the megaliths were the shelters of the dead.
The customs of payamkutti, kodukka etc. prevalent in different parts of Kerala are the remains of the megalithic culture. Payamkutti means the old debt. Payamkutti is performed for the dead. Muthappan Daivam is one of the most widely worshipped gods in Kerala. Muthappan is nothing but Grand Father. Payamkutti is the worship of Muthappan or Grand Father. Thus payamkutti is the fulfillment of the old indebtedness to the grandfather.

Likewise, Kodukka is observed in Hindu houses even today. It is the consecration of things the dead liked most, generally. The things the consecrator likes most also are some times offered. The souls of the dead are pleased by this. This is a remnant of the megalithic culture.

Several types of burials have been discovered. Rock-cut caves, umbrella stones, hat stones, dolmens, urn burials etc are a few of them. Of these rock-cut caves, hat stones and umbrella stones are seen only in Kerala. These are remains of megalithic culture in Kerala. The various types signify the difference in the land types of Malanadu (mountains), Idanadu (midlands) and plains.
The tombs in the highlands are generally made of granite and carved in granites. It is not possible to construct a kodakkallu with granites. Kodakkallus are found generally in Idanadus (midlands). This is due to the availability of latourette in the midlands. IN the plains burial was in urns made of earthen ware. The examinations of urns have revealed that the remains of women and children were generally buried in them.

The dead were buried inv various types. Of them two types are very predominant in most of the societies. First is the direct burial known primary burial. In this method, dead bodies are directly buried. The next is the secondary burial in which ashes or skeletons after cremation or some other process are buried. The difference in burial methods might be due to the existence of different social strata. Likewise, the difference in tombs also might be due to some kind of stratification in society.

Megalithic burials existed in countries from Ireland to Japan. We do not when this practice reached in India. We also do not know whether this practice was taken form India. But one thing is beyond doubt and speculation: South Indian burial systems and megalithic culture are similar in many ways to the Mediterranean culture. Gordon Childe has categorically stated this.

IN Kerala megaliths are seen northwards from Thrissur. IN Malappuram District there are a lot of Kodakkallus. In Kozhikode district also Kodakkallus are seen in many places. The structure of Kodakkallus proves beyond doubt that they were meant for burial. Thus kodakkallus are the remains of a society dedicated to a worship of the Dead. Kerala has a number of historical remains. Unfortunately most of them are being destroyed without their values being realized. All people must have a sense of history, an awareness of history. It is in this context that the work of the Centre for the Study and Research in Local History becomes significant.










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