“Possibly, the tallest stone was erected for someone important in the clan, and the rest were added for other members over a few generations. The site progressively became a marketplace, and the stone slabs were used as stalls to display and sell wares or to sit on and rest,” he said.
The monoliths continued to play an important role in Jaintia society, even after the kingdom began to lose its power with the advent of colonial rule.
In the early 1800s, after establishing its foothold in Bengal, the British East India Company was eager to expand its land revenue areas. They began exploring regions farther east and came upon the Jaintiapur kingdom in Sylhet. In their attempts to gain control of the territory, the British exiled the Jaintiapur raja (king) to the hills in the north in 1835. The raja chose his summer capital Nartiang deep in the northern hills as his new seat of power and continued his political affairs from there.
“Nartiang’s political importance grew once the Jaintia king was forced to abdicate his seat in the Sylhet plains. The area with the monoliths too gained prominence for different activities, such as the coronation of rajas or for conducting judicial and administrative deliberation,” said Dr Reeju Ray, a historian and author of Placing the Frontier in British North-East India. “It thus appears that the Nartiang monoliths may have had some political significance too.”
Even though the folktales surrounding the Nartiang monoliths sound fantastical, it’s evident that these structures served real purposes through the ages.
“There is a certain overlap of myth and memory in the case of the Nartiang monoliths. The locals’ account of how the place came to be is based in myth or folklore. But they also remember it for the purpose it served their ancestors – as a weekly marketplace, a memorial, a place for political gatherings. That is how oral history works, it blends fact and fiction into collective memory,” Ray said.
Today, the Nartiang monoliths serve no purpose except to stand as towering relics from a time gone by. Detailed archaeological work is yet to be carried out to explore the exact whys and hows of the site. Even though the folklore and more substantiated historical accounts offer some insight to the site, the mystery of the stoic stone giants lingers on.
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