Monday, April 4, 2016

Adam Saprinsanga - The Discovery of Vangchhia

Hundreds of ancient menhirs have stood sentinel for years in a little Mizoram village. As an excavation by the ASI shows, they could be a gateway to a mysterious past. Is this the detritus of a lost civilisation? Could it finally lift the fog over the history of how the Mizo community came to occupy the lands they do today?

Runneihthanga remembers it as a place of shadows. “When we were children, there were hundreds of menhirs. They cast long shadows and we often played among them,” said the 69-year-old villager. There were so numerous that no one seemed to have kept count of how many were lost over the years. “Every time someone died in the village, us children and teenagers would come here with the blacksmith. He would pound off a piece with his big hammer, large enough for us to carry, and all of us would carry one or two each and give it to the young men making the grave,” he says.

At the cemetery, older villagers would use these rocks to build a particular kind of grave, verily a casket of stone. Called tianhrang, they are no longer as common throughout Mizoram. But for many generations, there was nothing but these graves. Whenever there was a death in the village, explains F Laldawla, a villager in his sixties, the young men would dig the ground at the cemetery, slightly bigger than would fit an average person.

Then they would line the bottom and the sides with flat pieces of rock and then — with great care and in a particular way that often ended in a cave-in if it was done otherwise — stack the rocks atop each other while leaving just a couple of feet, or even less, open. When the body arrived at the cemetery after the funeral, they would inter it by sliding it in through the mouth of this small, man-made cave, stack more rocks on top so it became a coffin of stone, and then shovel earth on it.

At Vangchhia, Champhai district, perhaps because so many flat rocks were available at the field of menhirs just outside the village, the practice was in vogue for a long time. Laldawla or his wife did not immediately remember when the practice stopped.

“Which year did Nu (aunty) Saii die? It was the year K Hminga came preaching…” “Let me think, it was….” she mumbled, putting her open palms together as if in prayer and resting her chin on them. “K Hminga… Nu Saii… it was 2000. Yes, 2000!” she said. “So yes, the last tianhrang I remember being made at this village was in 2000,” said Laldawla.

The best rocks were, of course, pieces hammered off from the menhirs that stood at what is now famous across Mizoram as Kawtchhuah Ropui — the first and only archaeological site to have so far been protected (and led to a full-fledged excavation project) by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Mizoram. The current interest in the area, and sites around it, many hope, will help lift the fog over the history of how the Mizo community came to occupy the lands they do and perhaps reveal some hidden histories... read more: