Tirupati district is dotted with anthropomorphic burial sites, said to be the largest as a collection in Andhra Pradesh.
Anthropomorphic sites are those marked by a representation of human form above the megalithic burials. However, most of them are in a state of neglect, with neither the government nor the local residents caring to protect what could become a cherished heritage.
The most prominent one is the ‘pillared dolmen’ of the megalithic era, found at Mallayyagaripalle, nestling on a hillock between Chandragiri and Dornakambala, 20 km from Tirupati. The structure locally referred to as ‘Pandava Gullu’ or ‘Pandavula Banda’ in memory of the Pandavas, is estimated to be 2,500 years old.
Compared to other districts, the erstwhile combined Chittoor district [Tirupati district was carved out of it in April 2022] has an array of such structures, found almost in every mandal. “This could be an indication to the presence of humans living in groups during the megalithic period (300–500 BC) in this region,” observes noted archaeologist Sivakumar Challa, who is associated with the Archaeology Research Group (ARG).
The pillared dolmen with rock art beneath the capstone at Mallayyagaripalle came under threat owing to granite mining in the vicinity. The site escaped damage by a whisker after local villagers, supported by anthropologists, intervened and got the mining activity stopped. The Mines department is said to have granted licence for mining without verifying the importance of the site.
The Mallayyagaripalle structure is a cist burial chamber. Such chambers are built by arranging slabs neatly broken from huge stones at a time when there were no proper tools.
There is another endangered megalith monument in Palem village near Kallur, which resembles a bull’s horn. Called locally as ‘Devara Yeddhu’, the site has suffered repeated damage due to clandestine excavation by treasure hunters. Also, an electric post was fixed very close to the site, which is indicative of official apathy.
Yet another type of a megalithic burial site is the ‘stone circle’, where the tomb is surrounded by round stones arranged in a circle. One such site in Venkatapuram, 15 km east of Tirupati near Karakambadi, is damaged due to the installation of a mobile tower.
Late V. Ramabrahmam, an assistant professor of history and archaeology at Yogi Vemana University, Kadapa, who had done extensive research on dolmens, had stated in one of his works about the megalithic people’s staunch belief in life after death and the travel embarked by soul to other worlds.
Confirming the belief, Mr. Sivakumar said the megalithic people used to keep food and tools inside the chamber for use by the dead person.
A menhir – a tall or grand structure erected in memory of a dead person – found at Boyapalle near Sodam, is also in a damaged state. ‘Slab circles’, an arrangement of three or seven slabs in a circular fashion, found in Eguva Gunthalacheruvu of Annamayya district, is also in a state of neglect.