Herostone Worship in Ancient South India
THE DISCOVERY of 126 herostones in Chengam taluk in the North Arcot district of Tamil Nadu1 marks an important archaeological event enriching perspectives of the social and cultural history of the Tamil people. The inscriptions on the stone monuments to dead heroes give added significance to this find: the chronological range and the qualitative differences in the iconographic and palcographic representations open up a rare opportunity to make investigations and postulate hypotheses about the beliefs of the people who erected and worshipped the stones.
Fresh material unearthed bv the archaeologists under the guidance of R Nagaswamy must be put alongside literary material of the olden days to help us form an idea of the set of beliefs that inspired the herostone worshippers. In this article I propose to construct a series of conceptual images of ancient faiths and beliefs about the herostones "of different epochs, link these images historically on the basis of literary and archaeological evidence, and trace the development of foll^ beliefs regarding the souls of heroes. I shalLusc data available ^iil literature, c®l--tural anthropology, folklore and epigraphy, on herostones and other monuments to ancestors. Herostones in Chengam are dated from the fifth to the sixteenth centry AD. There are others discovered earlier in parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.