India’s largest ancient megalithic site with alignments to the solstices and equinoxes is spread across 80 acres of farmland near Mudumal village in India’s southern State of Telangana.
The site is undoubtedly an important part of India’s heritage by any measure, being the oldest observatory in South Asia according to a team of historians and archeologists. It could be as old as 5000 BC.1
However, its design may also provide clues that shed new light on the possible ancient megalithic roots of India’s sacred architectural traditions. Its distinctive square and grid layout — a style found in a number of megalithic sites in that part of India — is reminiscent of the Vedic architectural system used to design sacred spaces, such as Hindu temples, that also uses square and grid based designs to convey spiritual principles of creation. This tradition, known as Vāstu Shāstra, has been in use for thousands of years and is still used today. Could this ancient tradition have links to an even older neolithic past?
India’s largest megalithic site
A report by The Bangalore Mirror, describes the megalithic site in Mudumal as having “80 big menhirs [standing stones] as tall as 12 to 14 feet, and about 2000 alignment stones of about 1-2 feet high”. It is estimated to be as much as 7,000 years old by local researchers, and consists of a number of stone arrangements spread across the area, some older than others.2 More conservative estimates date the site at between 3,000 to 3,500 years old, although its exact age is unknown.
Most of the larger standing stones have fallen down over the passage of time, and many still standing have become slanted. Unfortunately, the land around the stones is actively farmed, so the soil is tilled and crops are grown and harvested right around the base of the stones. Sadly, the site has not been well preserved.
Nevertheless, enough remains to determine the archaeoastronomical basis of the site. Archeologists and historians from the Telangana Archaeology Department and Hyderabad Central University describe it as “undoubtedly the earliest astronomical observatory from India or even south Asia” due to its age and various astronomical alignments.3
This local TV news report on the site is not in English, but the footage provides a good on-the-ground perspective of the site (there are very few pictures of the site available for use):
Grid layout of alignment stones
Rather than circle formations, the larger megalithic arrangements in South India tend to be square-like formations “arranged in a grid usually aligned to the cardinal directions”.4 5 This layout style is described as follows:
The plan consists of stones arranged in parallel rows with equal spacing. The stone arrangements are either square-like, a checker board, or a square with a diagonal arrangement consisting of one more stone in the centre of a mini-square formed from a set of four stones.6
At Mudumal, rows of stones running east-west in these grid formations have been found to align to different significant solar events. Professor KP Rao from Hyderabad University has been studying the site for more than a decade, and his team has discovered a number of solstice alignments:
…some of these alignments are planted in such a way that the rows are exactly in line with the rising and setting sun on the days of solar significance. Observations made on 20-21 June (summer solstice) and 21-22 December (winter solstice) revealed that specific alignments are aligned to the sun on morning and evening. Thus each row is planned in such a way that it gets aligned to the sun at specific time and date. If one row gets aligned in the morning, another row gets aligned in the evening.7
“Sky-map” made of cup marks
Professor KP Rao also found what he calls a “sky-map” on one of the stones, formed by cup marks, or “cupules”, which he says depicts the Ursa Major constellation:
Among a group of stone circles, a square stone has a number of cup-marks. These cup-marks resemble the pattern of the Ursa Major constellation. Apart from similarity in the pattern, even the orientation of the stars is followed carefully in the depiction. This sky-map is probably the earliest chart of the night-sky found anywhere in South Asia.8
KP Rao asserts that “Mudumal has a near perfect depiction of this constellation” known as the Great Bear or Big Dipper in other parts of the world, and Saptarshi Mandal in ancient Indian literature. He notes this constellation had significance in the ancient world because a line connecting two of its stars always points due north. He found cup marks representing these stars that also align north in the same way.9
The footage in this local language news report shows scientists visiting the site and pointing out cup marks on one of the stones (at the 27 second mark):
Equinox alignments and local ceremonies
KP Rao reports that local people still use the site for religious practice, with a northern menhir worshiped as a representation of a male deity, and another nearby stone, shorter and dark in color, venerated as a representation of a female deity. 10
Another team of researchers also observed local religious practices. Researchers N. Kameswara Rao, Priya Thakur and Yogesh Mallinathpur visited the Mudumal site on the equinox to discover if it had equinox alignments, and observed local people coming to the site to offer prayers and celebrate the occasion. In a research paper published in 2011, they stated this could demonstrate a continuing tradition linked to ancient times, based around the alignments found there.11
Megalithic sites in India have been found to feature both equinox and solstice alignments, such as the endangered Punkri Burwadih sacred site in Jharkhand state. The above mentioned researchers also documented both equinox and solstice alignments at the Mudumal site in Telengana state.12
Their study focused on the largest of the Mudumal Menhirs, a formation known by local villagers as “Nilurallu”, which means “standing stones” in the area’s regional language, Telugu. They note the site has been designated “non-sepulchal”, meaning it was not used for burials, but more likely for its “astronomical connotations”.13
While they could not confirm the existence of a star-map on site, their survey confirmed “the rows of stones are aligned to the directions of sunrise (and sunset) on calendrically-important events, like equinoxes and solstices”. They also found that the stones were arranged in a manner that allowed their shadows, cast by the sun, to be used to measure the time.14
It is very clear… the stone rows are distinctly aligned to sunrises and sun-sets during both the equinoxes and the solstices. Several issues regarding the squarish plan— a general feature of all of the stone alignments in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh region… apply to Nilurallu. Although the present site lacks the sharp-edged demarcations… it does look to be a square.15
A link to Vāstu Shāstra – sacred Vedic architecture?
The incorporation of the square in ancient Indian sacred sites has a long history, having found expression in Vedic principles and Hindu sacred architecture, as described below:
According to the Vāstu Shāstra, the traditional Hindu system of architectural design, the structure of a building mirrors the emergence of cosmic order out of primordial chaos through the act of measurement. The universe is symbolically mapped onto a square, vāstu-mandala, that emphasizes the four cardinal directions. The basic forms of this square are used as the basic plan for the house and the city.16
Vastu shastra means “science of architecture”. It is described in the Vedas and later Hindu texts. The square based arrangements are organized in grid layouts called Mandalas which represent the structure of the universe, such that the building reflects principles of creation on a microcosmic scale. The principles of this form of design are incorporated into Hindu temples and can be seen for example at the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia, which also aligns to the equinox. 17
A square is based on the number four. In the book The Path of the Spiritual Sun, Belsebuub and Lara Atwood describe how the number four is intrinsically related to the process and structure of creation, which is a principle conveyed in a number of ancient traditions, including Hinduism:
The number four is related to the process of creation, which is connected to the time of the winter solstice. …ancient Vedic texts describe the sun as a lotus flower with four petals […] Four forms the foundation of life and encompasses the bounds of creation.It is found in the four cardinal directions; the four points of the cross of the year, which are the solstices and equinoxes; the four elements; the dimensions of our physical world which are length, width, height, and time; and the four material bodies within each person—physical, vital, astral, and mental. The birth of stars, which then produce the rest of matter, can be found in the birth of the Son/sun and child of light, who brings the light of the first day, and proceeds to make the rest of creation. The Son, who in Hindu accounts of creation splits everything into three and stretches it out to make both earth and sky—creating the four corners of the world—is like the expansion of three-dimensional space, as well as the fourth dimension […] Thus, in creation, the Son who is one of the three forces of creation establishes the four, creating the space-time continuum in which space and time are joined together to create the four-dimensional object we all live within, which is the foundation of life and found in the movement of the sun, forming a cross of four arms and the rotating swastika.18
It is interesting to note that Indian megalithic sites like the one at Mudumal, and later Hindu temples, both appear to incorporate designs based on a square and grid layout aligned to the cardinal directions, to create a sacred space, principles which are also found in Vedic scripture.Could the Mudumal observatory be a proto-Vedic design? Was it perhaps an early example of people in India seeking to encode these design principles in a sacred space—principles eventually formalized in Vedic Vastu Shastra architectural manuals that informed later Hindu temple designs? Could this mean Vedic architectural traditions have roots in an older neolithic past of megalithic construction? Or was this site more a case of local people adapting sacred design principles to their own regional megalithic culture?
The answer may become clearer by understanding and confirming the true age of the site, which so far has been a matter of estimation. What seems evident however, is that the site has more than a regional significance—it likely has global connections as well.
Connection to ancient global sun religion
The Mudumal site is just one of many little-known megalithic sites in India. Megaliths are found right across India and South Asia but are comparatively far less studied or protected than their counterparts in Europe. No one knows how many there are, but there are estimated to be thousands, covering a range of different types including “menhirs, alignments, avenues, cists, dolmens, dolmenoid cists, stone circles, cairn burials (burrows), rock cut chambers”.19 Some estimate there are more than 2,200 megalithic sites just in the Southern peninsular region of India alone, none of which has been properly excavated.20
Megalithic sites aligned to the sun are found right across the world. Interestingly, cup marks have been found on other megalithic sites not just in India, but worldwide on every continent except Antarctica21 although the most well-known and studied are perhaps in Atlantic Europe.22
This suggests the builders of the Mudumal site may be linked to the ancient global civilization of the sun which arose at the end of the last ice age, from which a number of other ancient cultures descended, including ancient India — whose mythology concerning the re-seeding of civilization by the sea-faring wisdom bringer Manu after catastrophic flooding, parallels the mythology of other ancient civilizations linked to the Religion of the Sun like Ancient Egypt and Sumer. This common mythology in the ancient world likely derives from actual flooding that occurred at the end of the last ice age, 11,500 years ago.232425 Ancient chronicles record that survivors of an older advanced civilization set sail to re-seed civilization around the world and bring the knowledge of the Religion of the Sun at this time.2627 28
The recent nearby discovery of 4000 year old jewellery, also in the State of Telangana, as reported by The Hindu, is perhaps further evidence of such a connection. The diamond-shaped jewellery features the symbol of three concentric rings (view picture here). 29 This symbol, similar to the cup marks, has also been found across the world in cultures and places linked to practice of the ancient Religion of the Sun. It can be seen as representing the source of creation and the trinity of forces which underpin it.30 This gallery provides examples of its widespread global use in the ancient world.
How was it built?
How the site was built remains a mystery. The Mudumal menhirs stand out in India due to the size of the site which consists of thousands of stones. The tallest are said to be approaching 5-6 metres in height. 31
The stones are made of granite, one of the hardest stones around, yet none of the menhirs show any signs of being chiseled.32
Rao, Thakur and Mallinathpur were also mystified as to how it could have been built:
Answers to the questions of where the stones come from, how they were shaped and transported, and how they were erected are not clear. Our survey of the terrain immediately surrounding the site did not reveal any stone quarries, which indicates that the stones originated from somewhere else […] A granite stone 4 meters in height and 1.2 meters in radius would weigh ~48 tons, so it is a major challenge to determine how such stones could have been transported to the megalithic site and erected […] Considerable knowledge of engineering and astronomy was required for the successful construction of this megalithic structure.33
The footage in this local language news report gives a perspective on the size of the stones as it frequently shows people standing next to them:
The need for protection and preservation
The Mudumal site is on private farmland, and like many megalithic sites across India, it is not well-known nationally or globally. However it has fared better than many other megaliths which have been destroyed by development in the country, in part at least because local people still treat some sections of the site as a sacred place. 34
Nevertheless, Dr. Pulla Rao says that menhirs scattered throughout the surrounding fields need further protection.35
Six years ago, Rao, Thakur and Mallinathpur described the situation surrounding the preservation as very dire:
It is a pity that such an impressive structure is slowly being destroyed: stones are being removed, and because the land is under cultivation the stability of the stones is threatened. During the two years or so that our study was carried out several stones were removed from the site, and its long-term survival is under threat. The area is at present privately owned, but we would urge relevant Government and other agencies to now make every effort to preserve this unique heritage site.36
However, there has since been renewed interest in the site by local authorities, including the Telangana Archaeology Department.
According to a Bangalore Mirror report, State archaeology director Visalakshi “directed officials to fence off the area which has been unprotected so far” in October 2016, and pledged to submit a report to the government calling for more protection. Officials expressed interest in purchasing the land to allow it to be turned it into a tourist site.37
Interestingly, the site was examined by South Korean researchers in January 2017 who noted similarities between petroglyphs in the region and rock art found at megalithic sites in South Korea. They expressed sadness at the site’s deterioration however.38
It remains to be seen how the preservation of the site will unfold, but it is clear this is just one of a number of megalithic sites in India that needs greater protection, which are an important part of the region’s ancient heritage—it may even be an ancient megalithic link to Vedic principles of sacred architecture still used in Hinduism today. The building of sacred sites with solstice and equinox alignments in India appears to have carried through at least into the medieval period in temple architecture, and indeed some Hindu temples in use today still feature these alignments. However, the celebration of solstices and equinoxes was once much more central in India culture. The knowledge and significance of these events, and alignments to them in sacred spaces, seems to have faded or been forgotten over time at many sites—though certainly not all— while in other cases archaeoastronomical temples were outright destroyed by Islamic invaders in the medieval period.39
Researcher Megaliths in India.has been dedicated to raising awareness about India’s megaliths and calling for their protection. More on the Mudumal site and other megaliths in India can be read about on his website
Last updated 20 November 2017
Earliest astronomical observatory dating back to 5000 BC found in Telangana village, P Pavan, Bangalore Mirror Bureau, Oct 24, 2016: http://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/news/india/earliest-astronomical-observatory-dating-back-to-5000-bc-found-in-telangana-village/articleshow/55016926.cms
Srikumar M. Menon, Mayank N. Vahia, Kailash Rao, Stone alignment with solar and other sightlines in South India, CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 102, NO. 5, 10 MARCH 2012, available here: http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/102/05/0683.pdf
N. Kameswara Rao, P. Thakur and Y. Mallinathpur, The Astronomical Significance of ‘Nilurallu’, The Megalithic Stone Alignment at Murardoddi in Andhra Pradesh, India, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, 14(3), 211-220 (2011). Available here: https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1112/1112.5814.pdf
“Ancient Sky-Map From Mudumal” K.P. RAO: http://serialsjournals.com/serialjournalmanager/pdf/1328955790.pdf
K.P Rao, Astronomical Relationship of South Indian Megaliths, Published in Proceedings volume of the 7th Oxford International Conference on Archaeoastronomy held at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaﬀ, Arizona, Viewing the Sky through Past and Present Cultures, Todd W. Bostwick and Bryan Bates (Ed.), City of Phoenix, 2006. pp.421-432. Accessed here: https://www.academia.edu/27901901/ASTRONOMICAL_RELATIONSHIP_OF_SOUTH_INDIAN_MEGALITHS
N. Kameswara Rao, P. Thakur and Y. Mallinathpur, The Astronomical Significance of ‘Nilurallu’, The Megalithic Stone Alignment at Murardoddi in Andhra Pradesh, India, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, 14(3), 211-220 (2011). available here: https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1112/1112.5814.pdf
Subhash Kak, Clive Ruggles, Michel Cotte, Heritage Sites of Astronomy and Archaeoastronomy in the context of the World Heritage Convention: A Thematic Study, Chapter 6: India, ICOMOS-IAU Thematic Study no. 1 (2010), available here: https://www3.astronomicalheritage.net/index.php/show-theme?idtheme=11
Wikipedia, Vastu Shastra: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vastu_shastra
Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed, Megalithic wonder, Frontline Magazine, January 11, 2013: http://www.frontline.in/arts-and-culture/heritage/megalithic-wonder/article4265456.ece
Wikipedia “Cup and Ring Mark”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cup_and_ring_mark
Note: The last major ice age was known as the “Younger Dryas”. According to the US National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI): “The end of the Younger Dryas, about 11,500 years ago, was particularly abrupt.” NCEI. Accessed August 03, 2017. https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/abrupt-climate-change/The%20Younger%20Dryas
Note: The end of the Younger Dryas was marked by a surge in sea levels known as “meltwater pulse 1B”, driven by the higher temperatures of sudden climate change melting ice caps. According to NASA, this occurred, “11,500-11,000 years ago, when sea level may have jumped by 28 m according to Fairbanks, although subsequent studies indicate it may have been much less [around 6 or 7.5 m, which is still a major rise].” NASA. Accessed August 03, 2017. https://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/briefs/gornitz_09/
Paul A LaViolette, “The Generation of Mega Glacial Meltwater Floods and Their Geologic Impact”. Hydrol Current Res 8:269. doi: 10.4172/2157-7587.1000269, March 2017. Accessed August 3 1017: https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/the-generation-of-mega-glacial-meltwater-floods-and-their-geologic-impact-2157-7587-1000269.php?aid=86686.
The most common such story is the destruction of Atlantis in 9,600 BC, given in Plato’s Critias dialogue, a date which correlates with the dramatic sea level rise of “meltwater pulse 1B” at the end of the last ice age. This dialogue recounts the information Plato claimed was given to a Greek during his visit to an Egyptian temple. However other cultures retain stories of the coming of wisdom bringers from a lost civilization, including those of Mesoamerica
Graham Hancock describes this lost civilization as “a maritime civilization: a nation of navigators” and cites in support of this the “remarkable ancient maps of the world, the ‘Pyramid Boats’ of Egypt, the traces of advanced astronomical knowledge in the astonishing calendar system of the Maya, and the legends of seafaring gods like Quetzalcoatl and Viracocha. Hancock, Graham, Fingerprints of the Gods (Three Rivers Press, 1995), 443.
Lara Atwood, The Lost Civilization of the sun – A Missing Link in our Ancient Past, Sakro Sawel: https://sakrosawel.com/lost-civilization-sun-missing-link-ancient-past/
Serish Nanisetti, The Hindu, Revealed: 4,000-year-old bone jewels, 07 August 2017, http://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/revealed-4000-year-old-bone-jewels/article19440713.ece
Bangalore Miror, 24th October, 2016, Earliest Astronomical Observatory Dating Back To 5000 Bc Found In Telangana Village: http://telanganamuseums.in/newsclipping/earliest_astronomical_observatory.pdf
Rajitha S, The New Indian Express, South Korean archaeologists find Telangana connect to art work on megaliths, http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/hyderabad/2017/jan/01/south-korean-archaeologists-find-telangana-connect-to-art-work-on-megaliths-1554964.html
Aravindan Neelakandan, Discovery Of India’s ‘Oldest Observatory’ Reconnects Us To Our Ancient Sacred Culture, Swarajyamag Dec 31, 2016: https://swarajyamag.com/culture/discovery-of-indias-oldest-observatory-reconnects-us-to-our-ancient-sacred-culture