MADURAI: Hero stones and sculptures, predicted to be 300-400 years old, have been found in the foothills of E Pudupatti village near Thottappanayakkanur in Usilampatti block of Madurai.
Speaking to TNIE, art historian KT Gandhirajan, said the landmark where the artifacts were found is of geographically significant.
"It was the main access point between Pandya and Chera countries. This is the first mountain one would meet while going from Madurai to Kerala. A fortification structure linking two hillocks for a stretch of over one kilometer has been built earlier and the remains of it are still found in parts here. It has been used as a watch tower and check post to monitor anyone entering or going out of the Pandya country. In the later period, Nayak Zamin settlements were found. The hillock is also the house for the tribal population," he said, adding that the pathway was a trade route and a war zone.
During the recent exploration, two hero stones and a sculpture of a woman were identified in an open site in the foothills of E Pudupatti village. Each of them was three feet tall and 1.5 or 2 feet wide. The style of sculptures reveals that it has been designed by different sculptors during different periods and in a gap of 50 to 100 years.
"The first sculpture is of a tribal chief with his wife. He has a bow and arrow. A wild boar and deer representing a hunting society are also engraved. It also has an inscription measuring six to seven inches, which could be deciphered as 'A hero stone erected by the father for a son'. Commissioning the sculptures or hero stones has been a known practice in royal families. But this hero stone found with inscription provides evidence that such practice has also existed in a tribal society," said Gandhirajan.
Another hero stone, which has been carved on three sides, has a King on a horse and the Queen standing nearby. An attendant holding an umbrella is also there. Another side of the stone has a soldier walking by controlling the horse and there is yet another soldier guarding the King from behind.
"It is a beautifully carved sculpture," he added.
The third one is a statue of a woman in a standing position with hands joined as a sign of welcoming or worship salutation. It was half-buried and the team had dug it out.
"The gods or goddesses would not be engraved in such postures. It symbolizes those involved in royal patronage. This road is known as Mangammal Road, named after Rani Mangammal - the Queen of the Nayak Kingdom who is known for her road infrastructure developments. As this was found in the Mangammal road and considering the age of the statue, dating back to around 300 years old, we predict that it could be a portrait of Rani Mangammal herself," he said, adding that she was the only famous Queen of that era.
Similar artifacts were earlier found in the nearby hillocks and it is scattered across the region.
"The locality is strong in performing arts, rituals, and other folk art forms. This could be an interesting tourist or research spot for those with imagination and curiosity for history, art, and culture. Such findings have to be documented properly," he said, adding that the artifacts found in the region are likely to be displayed for exhibition in the coming days.