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Archaeological Mystery of Gulem Menhir

Nandkumar Kamat

This six metre tall, almost conical blackish brown granitic rock (at least 2500 million years old) standing in a farm close to a rocky outcrop and sacred grove, projects abruptly from the soil like a sore thumb. Is it natural or artificial? Former Head of Goa University’s Earth Sciences Department AG Dessai had researched extensively on Geology of Canacona and the unique local mesoarchean granite rocks. The place with thumb shaped rock is known as “Gulem” in Canacona. It is close to the narrow road connecting the National Highway to Palolem beach. Although local people in Canacona have forgotten the etymological roots of the place name “Gulem”, it means “polished spherical rock (gulo) or a rotund object”. Naturally the place’s name must have originated from the mysterious landmark – the granitic monolith.

Why the Gulem monolith is mysterious? First it is close to a very ancient trade route which linked the Western Ghats to the west coast and such routes all over the world are marked by megaliths. Second – it clearly stands out as a landmark in a low lying sub-coastal area. Third – it has too symmetrical shape as if touched by human hands. It appears like a miniature mountain. Ex director of Goa archives, Prakashchandra Shirodkar has shed light on 2500-3000 years old megalithic culture of Goa. Megaliths in Goa are classified as menhirs, dolmens and hood stones. Granite, basalt or laterite stones are used for these megaliths.

Shirodkar has listed megaliths from Quepem, Paroda, Cumbarmol, Adnem, Vhalshi, Shirvoi, Sao Jose de Arial, Pulamaol, Balli, Padi, Malar-Corlim, Rivona, Usgao, Pilgao, Assagao, Mardol, Kundaim, Adacolna, Chandranath, Chorao, Curdi, Aroba, Tuem, Mole, Shigao, Kakumoddi, Verna, Velinga, Narve, Aquem, Nagarcem etc. On four occasions in past twenty years I had chance to inspect the Gulem monolith. Such tall single rocks surrounded by flat, plain land are known as “inselbergs” (terrestrial islands). But Gulem monolith appears more like an artificial entity and big challenge to archaeologists. There are two possibilities which I explored – first, whether this monolith could be an undocumented, forgotten rock edict of Mauryan emperor Ashoka. A close examination of the exposed surface up to two metres height from ground level did not reveal any inscription although there are some mysterious marks which cannot be deciphered easily. Due to torrential rainfall, exposure to sun and wind the surface of the monolith has eroded and developed fissures, so after standing for 2300 years, inscriptions if any carved on surface would not have survived. But if Gulem is plotted on the locational map of 33 edicts of Emperor Ashoka in Indian sub-continent then we find an interesting quadrilateral tetrad pattern in western India – linking it with Sopara, Sannati and Brahmagiri edicts of emperor Ashoka.

Konkan and Goa region was known from Mahabharata period as “Aparant” and during Buddhist period as “Sunaparant” or “Shonaparant”. It was part of Mauryan Empire. So archaeological investigations are required to verify whether Gulem, Canacona granitic monolith could be a forgotten, eroded Ashokan rock edict? Even if it’s not the question still remains about its astounding homology with menhirs found in Europe.

Menhirs are tall rocks which are dragged to a particular place and erected vertically. Until excavation is done all around and below the Gulem monolith it’s impossible to say whether it was dragged there and erected. But for several square kilometers in that area we see irregular, natural rock outcrops but we don’t come across similar monoliths. Ground penetrating radar can map the foundation of Gulem menhir and establish its identity either as a natural geological oddity, a natural inselberg or a manmade menhir. If it turns out to be a menhir then it would confirm historian DD Kosambi’s hypothesis that prehistoric humans migrated from Deccan towards the west coast in search of fresh sea salt.

Indeed, natural, pure sea-salt is available plentifully inside the depressions, fissures, cavities of granite rocks on Palolem beach. So to exploit these salt deposits salt trails could have been laid out by the megalithic people. These salt trails linked the coastal areas to mountain passes. If Gulem menhir turns out to be a natural geological oddity then also certain question remains about its occurrence.

We see a similar rocky outcrop at the entrance of Benaulim village. Local people call it “Pandvache Talop” or “Pandava’s rocks”. Fifteen years ago I had discovered stone cupules at that site thus proving its use from prehistoric times. This granitic rocky platform is used by local farmers to dry their crops. Farming still goes around Gulem monolith. But it has escaped any damaging human influences so far.

Visitors are requested to leave it alone without carving of any graffiti or bruising. The monolith needs to be thoroughly mapped. Its full exposed surface needs to be minutely scanned for any inscriptions. If we get any archeologically important, intelligent clues from the mysterious Gulem monolith then it would shed new light on history of Canacona taluka researched extensively by Pandurang Phaldessai who had accompanied me in most of the inspections. He also feels that the monolith has a fascinating story to tell. But the big question mark is what the story is and who would unravel it through systematic scientific investigations?

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