The Nartiang Monoliths is one of the most fascinating megalithic sites in India. Located in the Jaintia hills of Meghalaya, roughly 60 kms from the state capital of Shillong, it has the largest concentration of monoliths at one place in the state.

The locals refer to the place as "Kper Mawbynna", which means "Monolith Garden". As per Jaintia legends, the biggest monolith in the site was raised by a "giant" man named U Mar Phalyngki, a trusted lieutenant of a Jaintia king, to commemorate his victory in battle. The other monoliths were erected by U Mar Phalyngki, U Luh Lyngshkor Lamare and various clans of the Nartiang village between 1500 - 1835 AD.

The Jaintia kings ruled in these parts from 1500 - 1835 AD, with their capital in Jaintiapur, in the plains of Bangladesh at the foot of the Jaintia hills. Nartiang was, apparently, a summer capital of the Jaintia kings. As I roamed around in the monolith garden, I was struck with wonder at this large collection of megalithic monuments. Some of the stones were gigantic, and I wondered how such large stones were transported to the hilltop, and what made the ancient inhabitants of this place expend so much time and effort for erecting these formations. I will share my observations as we go through the photo journey.

The Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya, India
This is a typical monolith configuration of the Khasi and Jaintia hills: One or more vertical pillars or menhirs (Moo Shynrang) with a horizontal stone or dolmen (Moo Kynthai) placed in front. The monoliths were raised in memory of clan ancestors, particularly those who showered their blessings on the clan when called on for aid. They were also raised for heroes who died in battles, or for departed parents.
The Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya, India
There is much that we still do not understand about this typical monolith configuration of the Khasi Hills. Did the menhirs represent a specific clan ancestor and his immediate family members, or multiple clan ancestors? Did the flat surface of the dolmen (which did not have any funerary purpose, as determined by archaeologists) serve as an offering table for making ritual offerings to the revered clan ancestors?
The Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya, India
Some of the horizontal slabs are quite large. Here you can see my son (who is 4 feet tall), walking along one of the pathways through the site.

The Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya, India
The horizontal slab in the center of this image was one of the largest that I saw at the site. It was roughly spherical, with a diameter of around 20 feet and thickness of nearly 1 feet. Since the stones are granite, my rough calculations indicate an approx. weight of 23 tons. How were such heavy stones dragged to the hilltop and placed on top of the supporting stones?
The Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya, India
One of the meandering alleys through the site with monoliths on both sides.
 
The Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya, India
A strange contrast between these ancient stones and the modern houses on the other side of the road.
The Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya, India
My son is trying to prop up one of the pillars that may be on the verge of falling down:)
He enjoyed his walk through the monolith forest. All the time he was asking me which one is the soul stone, the time stone, the space stone and so on...Marvel comics has changed the way kids look at the world.
The Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya, India
Nartiang truly lives up to its name "Monolith Garden". I wonder why this particular site was selected for raising these megalithic structures. Perhaps it was a sacred grove in the bygone ages, where the villagers gathered on auspicious occasions for offering prayers to their clan ancestors. The Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya, India


The Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya, India



The Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya, India
This inclined pillar appears to have an image carved on its surface, but its difficult to make out what it is.
This is one of the tallest pillars in the site, with a heavy slab in front. The really big "royal monoliths", which were built to commemorate the glorious events of the Jaintia Kingdom, are concentrated in this part of site.
The biggest monolith at Nartiang, Meghalaya. It is known as "Moo Long Syiem" and it is 26 feet 5 inches high, 6 feet 9 inches wide, and 18 inches thick.
The biggest monolith in the site! According to Jaintia legends, this was raised by a "giant" named U Mar Phalyngki, who was a trusted lieutenant of a Jaintia King.The ASI has built steps to climb up on the dolmen top
The biggest monolith at Nartiang, Meghalaya. It is known as "Moo Long Syiem" and it is 26 feet 5 inches high, 6 feet 9 inches wide, and 18 inches thick.
This picture gives you an idea of the size of the monolith: its wider than my outstretched arms. This menhir is known as "Moo Long Syiem" and it is 26 feet 5 inches high, 6 feet 9 inches wide, and 18 inches thick. Since it is made of granite, my calculation indicates a weight of approx. 20 tons.
The biggest monolith at Nartiang, Meghalaya. It is known as "Moo Long Syiem" and it is 26 feet 5 inches high, 6 feet 9 inches wide, and 18 inches thick.
The horizontal slab in front of the menhir is also very large and could weigh upto 20 tons. It is said that during the days of the kings, an annual durbar (royal court) used to be held here.
Horizontal dolmen slabs at Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya
The view from the base of the tallest menhir "Moo Long Syiem". There are a number of large horizontal slabs, and one can clearly see that the upper surface of these horizontal slabs have been deliberately flattened and polished. This means they were intended to serve a specific function. Perhaps, royal ceremonies and rituals were carried out on top of these slabs, and the King addressed his subjects standing in front of the pillar.
Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya
More menhirs and dolmens hidden behind the trees
 
Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya
Another big monolith...probably set up to celebrate a royal victory or some importan event
Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya
A few smaller monoliths set against the backdrop of the rolling Jaintia hills.
 
Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya
Meghalaya is the wettest state in India, and the lush paddy fields were brimming with the late summer rains.
Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya
More monoliths against the backdrop of the rolling green hills. These smaller monoliths were probably set up by the villagers of Nartiang in memory of their clan ancestors.
Nartiang Monoliths, Meghalaya
A last look back at one of the meandering alleys before leaving this fascinating "Monolith Garden" of Meghalaya.
Truly, the Nartiang Monoliths took me by surprise. I had not expected such a dense concentration of monoliths, nor did I have any idea that some of them would be so massive. There are important questions about this place that remain unknown. Apart from local legends, there is apparently no archaeological evidence, inscriptions or otherwise, to suggest that the largest monoliths were raised during the period of the Jaintia Kingdom from 1500 - 1835 AD. It is quite possible that some of the monoliths predate the reign of the Jaintia kings, and were raised much earlier.

We have little idea about the kind of technology that was used to cut and transport these massive granite blocks to the site. Who was this "giant" called Mar Phalyngki who is credited with raising the biggest menhir? Do we know anything else about him?

There is no clear understanding of the purpose of the dolmen slabs that were placed in front of the memorial pillars. It is clearly evident that, in most cases, the upper surface of the dolmen slabs were deliberately flattened and polished. This suggests that the smaller slabs may have been used for making ritual offerings to the clan ancestors, while the larger ones served as platforms for carrying out royal ceremonies.

The English topographer and geologist Godwin-Austen had surveyed the monoliths of the Khasi Hills in the mid-19th century and wrote an article titled, "On the Stone Monuments of the Khasi Hill Tribes, and on Some of the Peculiar Rites and Customs of the People", which was published in The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Vol. 1 (1872), pp. 122-143. In this article, he mentioned a large collection of monoliths at a place called Lailang-kote, which, unfortunately, was destroyed in a subsequent earthquake. Godwin-Austen wrote,
"The largest collection of huge slabs and upright stones that I have seen anywhere in the Khasi Hills, is at Lailang-kote, the arrangement is so different in every way, that there can be little doubt that it was erected for a very different purpose, and was probably a place of meeting of the chiefs and elders of the clans. The steps to ascend it would indicate such a purpose, and we can imagine all the men of rank and influence seated around, and harangued by one of their number. I could never learn the history of this structure; although I made frequent inquiries, they could not say when or by whom it was set up."
It appears from this that even Godwin-Austen thought that the large dolmen slabs were used for some kind of ceremonial or social purpose. It has been archaeologically established that these dolmens, which were placed in front of the menhirs, served no funerary purpose, and no cremated remains have been found under them.

Unfortunately, not much attention is given to these monoliths by modern archaeologists or historians, and they seem to languish in isolation. Archaeological data about these monoliths is scarce, and the brief signboard at the site is practically the only source of information available about these stones, which is repeated endlessly in different websites. I also found it surprising that only a handful of people were at the site during the time we were there, although it can be easily reached from Shillong in 2 hours. Surely, this amazing and unique monolith garden, which preserves an important part of our ancient heritage, deserves a lot more attention and publicity.


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Bibhu Dev Misra

Independent researcher and writer on ancient mysteries, cultural connections, cosmic wisdom, religion and science. Graduate of IIT and IIM with two decades of work experience in different fields

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