The hero-cult and the philosophy underlying the process of commemoration are deep-rooted in our ancient literature and history. Memorial stones have been found in different parts of India for over a century. They are known locally by various names such as virakals, paliyas, nadukal, govardhan-stambas, kiriti-stambas, chaya-stambas or merely khatrias, stambas, devalis, etc. Dr. S. Settar has rightly pointed out that the lack of co-ordination on the one hand and slow-pace of recognition of their artistic importance on the other, kept this vast body of sources away from the serious consideration of scholars.1

Studies in the history of hero-stones have become very popular only after the 1970s, according to Pulavar Rasu.2 He points out that a seminar on hero-stones was organized on 25th February, 1973, by the Tamil Nadu State Archaeological Department in Chennai. Another seminar at the All India level was organized in 1982 by the Institute of Indian Art History, Karnatak University, Dharwad and South Asia Institute, University of Heidelburg, Germany. The papers read and discussed in this seminar were published in a separate volume Memorial stones – A Study of their Origin, Significance and Variety. Articles on different aspects of memorial stones were presented. They dealt with the meaning, significance and origin of memorial stones in India; folk, tribal, local traditions and memorials, regional varieties and characteristics and memorials and society.

Similarly, N. Jayaraman has written a dissertation on Sanga llakkiyathil Padanthinai (Tamil).

Kesavaraj has probed the hero-stones of South India3, R. Poonkundran has examined the memorial stones of Chengam taluk in Thiruvannamalai District4, and K. Kailasapathy, G.L. Hurt and Natana Kasinathan are some of the distinguished scholars who have evinced keen interest in the study of Memorial stones.

R. Nagasamy, N. Vanamamalai and Maylai seni Venkatasamy have also published a number of articles on different aspects of memorial stones. The study of memorial stones is very helpful and useful in the reconstruction of the history of Tamil culture, art, history and literature. Hero-stones throw light on the customs, practices and life-style of ancient Tamilians.

In Tamil Nadu, hero-stones are available in large numbers in Chengam taluk of Thiruvannamalai District and in Dharmapuri District. The hero-stones of Dharmapuri are generally classified into two.

  1. Memorial stones with inscriptions
  2. Memorial stones without inscriptions

Most of them were discovered at Harur, Uthankarai and Hosur taluks. A sword in the hands of the warrior, a shield, an arrow, a sickle etc., are depicted in the hero-stones. Since this region comprised forests and hills, wild animals are found in large number on these age-old hero-stones.

The memorial stones of Dharmapuri may generally be classified into five on the basis of the information available from them:

  1. Memorial stones erected in honour of those warriors who fought bravely against the tigers and died. They are called pulikuthi pattan kal (in Tamil). It deserves mention here that tiger was the most popular wild animal in Dharmapuri during the olden days. Many villages and places are named after tiger, such as Pulikarai. (tiger bund), Puliyur (tiger village), Puliyampatti (tiger hamlet), etc.5
  1. Memorial stones erected in honour of those soldiers who fought against hogs and lost their lives. Such hero-stones are called panrikuthi pattan kal6 (in Tamil).
  1. The petty chieftains fought among themselves for trivial reasons and indulged in cattle-lifting or cattle-retrieving. Hero-stones were erected in praise of such heroic petty chieftains.7
  1. The memorial stones erected in honour of those brave and courageous soldiers who fought for protecting and defending the ladies.8
  1. The soldiers who accompanied merchants during inter-state commerce and defended them from the robbers and wayfarers. When the soldiers lost their lives while fighting against them, memorial stones were erected in honour of them.9

… to be continued

Dr. Major Syed Shahabuddin
Reader in History, Islamiah College, Vaniyambadi


Anbalagan, M.Phil
Research Scholar

Source: Journal of Indian History and Culture, March 1999

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