Veeragallus: Stories Of Valour Sculpted In Stone
Veeragallus are memorial stones erected to honour those who died performing exceptional acts of valour in service of society.
They are one of the most notable features of Karnataka's heritage.
Be it the pyramids in Egypt or the steles in Greece, civilisations all around the world have had different ways of honouring their departed.
When it comes to India, Veeragallus are the civilisation’s unique way of honouring its martyred. Veeragallus are memorial stones, erected to honour those who died performing exceptional acts of valour in service of society. These hero stones are one of the most notable features of Karnataka's heritage.
Though predominantly found in Karnataka, Veeragallus have also been discovered in the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh. Typically, they can be classified into the following:
- Yuddha - A hero who died in the war
- Ooralivu - A hero died defending his town/village
- Gadi Kalaha - A hero died preventing entry of invaders
- Go Harana - A hero died defending cattle during a cattle heist
- Pendirudeyurch - A hero died defending the honour of women
- Bete - A hero died during a hunt.
Of the many found in the state, the Veeragallus of Begur are most renowned. Housed in the Bengaluru Museum, they depict a diverse variety of tales. The first category of these are the Yuddhagallu. They typically depict scenes of battles, usually of warriors laying siege to forts. They are generally erected by Kings or patrons to honour the glory of such sacrifices.
One such Yuddhagallu, discovered at the Panchalingeshwara temple, bears the oldest recorded evidence of the existence of the city of Bengaluru. The 1,100-year-old inscription which dates back to 890 AD is an ode to a warrior who died defending the city. It reads: “Bengaluru kaleghadhul Buttana Setti sattam” which translates to “Buttana Setti died in the Bengaluru War”.
Similarly, Ooralivu Veeragallus chronicle the exploits of those heroes who were martyred while defending their towns or villages and Gadi Kalaha Veeragallus portray the exploits of heroes warding off invaders while protecting their borders.
In Bengaluru’s Hebbal village exists an Ooralivu Veeragallu dedicated to one Kittayya, who was martyred during his defence of Bengaluru from the onslaught of the Rashtrakutas. Kittayya happens to be the first known citizen of Bengaluru.
The Go Harana Veeragallus are a testament to the primacy accorded to cattle. These hero stones are dedicated to those who fought and perished while defending cattle during a heist.
References to this battle form can be found as far back as the Mahabharata where the third part of Virataparva (the fourth of the eighteen books of Mahabharata) that is Go Harana Parva narrates the capture of cattle of Virtanagari (Matsya).
Next are the Pendirudeyurch Veeragallus; they are erected in honour of those heroes who died fighting for the honour of women. More recently, Veeragallus that honour the valour of women themselves have been discovered. In 2017, members of Krishnagiri District History Search Organisation (KDHSO) discovered stones in Sandhanapalli village near Denkanikottai in Tamil Nadu. These thirteenth-fourteenth century Veeragallus depict brave women on horses going off to battle.
The next kind of hero stones are the Bete Veeragallus, they are categorised on the basis of the animal the hero died hunting. These include wild boars (Handi Bete) and tigers (Huli Bete).
Within the campus of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) lies a tenth century Huli Bete Veeragallu likely from the period when the Gangas ruled Bengaluru. Though part of the stone is missing one can clearly see an arrow on a bow targeting a tiger ready to pounce.
Interestingly, Bete Veeragallus have also been dedicated to the dogs and hounds that died helping with the hunt. Some notable examples include a 949 AD inscription in Atakur, erected by an owner in the memory of his dog that died during a wild boar hunt.
As per the Karnataka Itihasa Academy, in Melagani of the Mulbagal taluk exists two tenth century memorial stones dedicated to the heroic pursuits of the hounds Loga and Dhalga. Loga had the record of attacking and killing 70 boars in his lifetime while Dhalga is said to have killed 50 boars.
Veeragallus have been referred amply in the Sangam Literature of Tamil Nadu. Take for instance the Tolkapiyam, considered to be the earliest extant of grammatical treatises Tamil, it has also been a great source for insights into early Tamil history and culture. In it lies an extremely detailed enumeration of the six stages involved in the erection of a Nadukal (another name for Veeragallu). The stages are as follows:
- Katci - The process of searching for a suitable stone to make it into a hero stone.
- Kalkol - This is when an auspicious time is chosen and invitations are set out for the ceremony of setting up the stone.
- Nadukal - It is the act of setting up the stone.
- Perumpadai - This is the subsequent celebration and feasting.
- Valttal - The final stage, involves praising and worshipping the hero stone by singing invocatory songs.
As inheritors of a long and rich history of honouring our martyred, it would only be fitting for Bharat to continue the tradition by choosing to honour heroes who have sacrificed their lives in service of the country through Veeragallus.
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