Subject: Veeragallu - Hero Stones
Place: Kabini, Karnataka
Camera: Yashica Mat 124 G
Film: Ilford HP5 Plus
Memorial stones date back to the iron age and were a part of many civilizations that honoured their fallen heroes. They are also found in many parts of India, particularly in the south. Tamil Nadu is home to the oldest of these memorial stones dating back to around 2400 years at the time of the Sangam era.
Popularly called Hero Stones, these were erected in various villages to commemorate the valour of an individual who had given his life in sacrifice to protect his community from wild animals or human enemies.
The largest concentration of Hero Stones – Veeragallu – is in the state of Karnataka in southern India, that has recorded as many as 2650 of them, the oldest being traced back to the 5th century.
Hero Stones could be seen as serving the purpose of a totem in ancient societies. In its commemoration to the memory of a fallen hero of a clan or community, the memorial took on the role of a sacred object venerated by the community serving both as its inspiration and pride.
Hero Stones were unique in their form and presentation. Set almost like a template, they had three panels arranged vertically, one on top of the other. In some cases, there were more than three panels. But these were the exceptions.
Each panel represented a certain part of the hero narrative. The lowest panel referred to the battle or the act that took the hero’s life. The second showed the hero being transported to the heavens by apsaras, while the topmost panel depicted the hero in the presence of the lord of the universe. Taken together, they map the extraordinary journey of an individual from death to his ascension into the upper worlds as a consequence of his act of exceptional valour.
The Hero Stone in this picture was discovered close to the environs of our resort in the area of the Kabini catchment near the Nagarhole wildlife sanctuary in Karnataka. Its provenance, though uncertain, is undoubtedly very old. It attests to the existence of such unique social practices that were probably common to these parts in ancient days.