ASI Seeks To Declare Site Near Mizoram-Myanmar Border Of “National Importance

More than 170 menhirs with different carved figures that lie near India’s border with Myanmar in Mizoram have caught the attention of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and a proposal to declare Vangchhia (a village hosting the site) of “national importance” has been floated by S S Gupta, Superintending Archaeologist at ASI’s Guwahati Circle.

“The menhirs at Vangchhia in the border district of Champhai are unique to India’s north-eastern region,” Gupta said, “They carry carved or embossed figures of human beings and animals. We see similar carvings from the historic period in Central and South India, and hope to study these (in Mizoram) further, once they are protected.” No one is certain what these carvings are supposed to represent, but Gupta said they may be akin to the “heroic stones” found elsewhere in the sub-continent—commemoration stones that carry images of game or warriors hunted or killed by chiefs or warriors of a particular clan, tribe or community.

He estimates the menhirs must be about 300 years old “looking at their state of preservation and features”, but that would be clear only after further studies, he said. Gupta and his team have also found “neolithic implements” like stone axes, vessels and bowls on a nearby hill called Dungtlang, where stone foundations of up to 3500 ancient houses have been discovered and preserved already. But whether this settlement and the menhirs are related, remains a question.

For the Mizo experts who directed the ASI’s attention to these sites, the menhirs in themselves are a wonder. “It seems to me these carvings were not the work of our ancestors. The style—the figures are raised from the stone, most of the rock is chipped away to make these figures—is quite unique. So the question is, was there an older civilisation that lived here?” asked Rohmingthanga Pachuau, a retired IAS officer who is now the Convener of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage’s (INTACH) Mizoram chapter. Having visited the site several times, Pachuau recalls the largest of them is up to 15 feet tall, perhaps four feet wide and about two feet thick—“Did Mizos have the technology to transport and erect such massive stones since they seem to have been taken from the bed of the Tiau river (which forms the present-day border with Myanmar)?”

The Mizos have no script of their own and the Mizo language uses the Roman script (“Even the menhirs have no inscriptions,” Gupta pointed out), and Mizo historians believe the community—of Tibeto-Burman descent like most other north-eastern communities, migrated into their present hilly home no more than 400 to 500 years ago. Even their history was not documented in writing, and the British were the first to document it from what they heard from the locals. Later, Mizo historians took it further, but most Mizos agree that even today their own history remains a subject of speculation rather than recorded fact, and their origins remain an enigma.

In a recent state government-sponsored documentary about the state’s landmarks and monuments, noted writer-historian-politician Chawngkunga explained Vangchhia and the hills of Mizoram in general may have hosted what the Mahabharata and the Vedas refer to as Kirata —migrants from the east who moved into the hill tracts from Burma during their unending wars with the Shan people about 2000 years ago. The actual site where these 171 menhirs stand is known locally as “Kawtchhuah Ropui” (literally translated as the ‘Great Entranceway’), and C Laitanga, former Joint Director of the state’s Art and Culture Department, said in the documentary that this entranceway is connected with a stone pathway that runs all the way till the Tiau river.

“After the Sailo Era, no one practices these carvings” (Sailo is the chieftain clan that ruled over most of present-day Mizoram in the stretch of history most well-known about the tribe), Laitanga said.

Whatever the origins of the menhirs, Mizos have interpreted them into their folktales—a group of menhirs with similar carvings erected in another village in the same district are locally called Chhura Farep . (It refers to one of the many adventures of a comic Mizo folktale hero who, in one of the stories, smokes the children of an Ogress.) Gupta said while the folktales cannot be ruled out as a starting point, he and his team are keen to “excavate further, especially the original sites,” he said. Keeping in mind the Tibeto-Burman descent of the Mizos, he said the ASI would explore if there are other sites and monuments in South-East Asia, Myanmar and China that show similar markings.
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