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Sittannavasal Monuments
by Subramanian Swaminathan

February 2008

The Megalithic burial sites
There are megalithic monuments like urn-burials, stone circles and cists in plenty, near to the hillock.

Megalithic burial is a typical mode of disposing the dead in most part of Tamilnadu in the past. Some suggest the period 3rd century BC to 1st century AD is considered to be when this was practised. It may be remembered that this period is also the period of Sangam. Loosely called 'dolmans', these are stone-capped burial monuments with chambers and similar interment arrangements in stone. These monuments are found in many places in Tamilnadu like the districts of Chengalpattu, Vellore, Pudukkottai, Ramanathapuram, Salem, Coimbatore and Tirunelveli.

Locally known as Pandava-kuzhi ('pits-of-Pandava-s'), mandavar-kuzhi ('pits-of-the- dead'), kurangup-pattadai, or kurangup-pattarai ('monkey's-workshop') and mudu-makkalthaazhi ('burial-pots-of-the-old-people'). The last name is the most widely used.


There are mentions about the various burial customs like urn-burial in the Sangam literature. Mani-mekhalai, one of the twin epics of the post-Sangam period, enumerates classes practising different modes of disposing of the dead, namely, those who cremate (Suduvor), those who simply expose the body and leave it to decay (Iduvor), those who bury the dead in deep graves (Thodukuzhipaduppor), those who entomb the dead in strong low vaults (Thaazhvayin-adaippor) and, those who inter them in urns and cover them up (Tazhiyir-kavippor) (Mani-mekhalai vi, 67-68).

Though the first mode of cremation came to be adopted under the influence of Vedic culture, the other methods were also being practised. Exposing the dead body to natural decay was in vogue till recent times. Burial is common even today in Tamilnadu.

The Pudukkottai district was a home of the pre-historic man. A very large number of megalithic burial sites have been found in the district, generally near watercourses. One can see a number of burial sites even today in several places like Ambur-patti, Ammachatram, Annavasal, Kizhaiyur, Melur, Mootamapatti, Narangianpatti, Perungalur, Peyal, Poyyamani, Puttambur, Sathyamangalam, Sengalur, Sittannavasal , Tayinippatti, Tekkattur, Tiruppur, Vadaguppatti, Vattanakuruchi and Vilappatti. They are easily identifiable by the appearance of a circle of laterite or granite stones and small boulders on the surface of the spot.

A few burial sites, belonging to the 1st century BC – 1st century AD, have been excavated, revealing pottery and ornaments, some of which are exhibited in the Government Museum at Pudukkottai.

Excavations have revealed three types of burials in Pudukkottai region. They are (1) grave-burials; (2) urn-burials and (3) burials in deep stone-chambers formed of stone slabs (cists).

1. Grave-burials
This mode of burial is simple, where the body interred in a horizontal posture. Some experts feel that this was adopted by the poor. There is another view that women were buried in this way and men were normally buried in urns. The finding of urn-burials side by side with these sites might have contributed to this view.

2. Urn-burials
The urns were earthen pots, large enough for a man in a sitting posture. They varied in size, the largest measuring 4 feet in height and 3 feet 6 inches in diameter.

P. T. Srinivasa Ayyangar, who was among the people who did excavations here, writes: 'The dead men were placed in a sitting posture in an earthenware pot. The pot was then let into a pit and half filled with sand and rice, and other grains on a tray were placed before the dead man. His stone tools were also inserted at the sides of the pot. The foodstuff and the tools were no doubt, intended for the use of the dead man in his post-mortem life, for they believed in life of the spirit of men after death. Then more sand was poured into the pot till it was full and the pot covered with an earthenware lid. The pit was then filled in and a stone slab placed on it. Then more sand was poured and another stone slab, this time very large and oval in shape, was placed above the grave and upright stone about a cubit long planted all round the slab….'.

Most urns did not contain any ornaments, but some did, such as bracelets made of bronze or chank shells, nose-rings, and cornelian and glass beads bored with a hole. Some times elegant bronze vessels were found. In some places iron swords, daggers, spear-heads and arrow heads with spiked or hollow handles, valari-s, and other weapons were found buried round the urns with their point downwards. Less usually similar but smaller and more elegant weapons were found inside the urns themselves. The urns generally contained human bones, and two in the Pulvayal forest contained complete skeletons, seated and holding short swords in their right hands, while the left arm rested on the thighs. In one of the Pulvayal urns was found a sword 18 inches long with human teeth adhering to the blade which bore embossed decorations near the handle.

3. Burials in subterranean chambers formed of stone slabs (cists)
A number of burials of this type have been excavated. The main burial chamber, as large as 8 feet square and 7 feet deep, was placed at about 2 to 3 feet below floor level. In addition were elaborate smaller chambers and partitions, and access between chambers in the form of man-holes. The slabs that enclose the cists project to a height of two to three feet above the ground.

All finds of any importance were found at a depth of about four to five feet below the ground level and only in the two partitions of the main chamber. Surprisingly no traces of human bones were found, but only some baked earthenware utensils and iron weapons of different sorts. Among the findings were corroded weapons, saucerlike iron vessel about 7 ˝ diameter, thin bronze plates and a stoneball, evidently a missile.

There are extensive Megalithic burial sites near the hillock in the Village. It contain both cist and urn burials.

The visitors are suggested to visit these burial sites while they are returning from the visit to the other monuments. One can locate them on both the sides of the road leading from the monuments to the main road, after about 100 meters from the Ezhadippattam. More of such burials can be located on the left side of the main road, leading to Pudukkottai, after about 200 meters from the junction.

Some of these were excavated in 1934-35.

Specimens of garnet, red jasper and rock crystal have been picked up near the foot of the hill. Pieces of pottery coated inside with molten and coloured glass, and loose pieces of coloured glass have been found in the fields opposite the hill. These indicate that in olden times glass making was probably a flourishing industry in these parts.