The North-East of India is full of hidden treasures. Ms Paul’s article in the BBC is about one such hidden gem: “Hundreds of standing stones, some 8m tall, stand sentinel in Nartiang, Meghalaya, with their origin shrouded in fantastical folklore.”

Nartiang is two hours south of Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. Ms Paul says, “I found myself standing in the shadow of the giant monoliths of Nartiang. While similar structures, roughly carved from single blocks of granite into upright pillars or horizontal slabs, are found at locations throughout Meghalaya, Nartiang is home to the densest and largest collection in the region.

As we entered the site, I could see several hundred monoliths of all sizes packed on a small hillock, some lying prostate, others rising tall and vying for attention alongside huge trees. A perpetual mist hung about the place, adding to the air of mystery.

The site was unmanned and there was only a dusty signboard to provide information. Among the few facts listed, one grabbed my attention: “The tallest menhir is 8 metres high and 18 inches thick and according to Jaintia legend was erected by a giant named Mar Phalyngki.”

Nobody knows who exactly erected these vast stone forests. A village elder told Ms Paul that “Our ancestors weren’t the average 5ft-something Meghalaya men of today; they were quite the giants back then,” she added earnestly, noticing the look of incredulity on my face. “Mar Phalyngki was known to be 7ft tall and was a Syiem (chieftain) of the Mars (an honorary title granted to strong, powerful and honest statesmen).”

Further research suggested that the menhirs of Nartiang were erected by the Jaintia people: “The Jaintiapur kingdom was a matrilineal kingdom that extended from the province of Sylhet in present-day Bangladesh to the hills of Meghalaya, and their people were believed to have been exceptionally tall and strong, although no official evidence exists. Given its cool climate and ideal location in the hills, Nartiang served as the summer capital of the Jaintiapur kingdom and the monoliths are believed to have been erected during their reign between 1500 CE and 1835 CE.

According to Dr Vinay Kumar, assistant professor in the Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture & Archaeology at Banaras Hindu University, the monoliths in Meghalaya including Nartiang may have served as megalithic tombs. “The Khasi and Jaintia people of Meghalaya and the Nagas of Assam erected single standing stones or alignments of stones in honour of the dead,” he wrote in The Tribal Tribune, an online academic publication focussed on India’s tribal communities.”

But many mysteries about Nartiang remain including where did the 7ft tall people who erected these menhirs go. Why can’t they be found anywhere in North-East India?

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