A paradise unexplored, northeast India is not just a treasure trove of cultural and natural wonders, it also has an astonishingly rich archaeological heritage. Recently, Indian archaeologists made an exciting discovery in Mizoram – the jungle-clad remains of a lost civilization that may hold the key to hitherto unknown facts about northeast India.
Located close to the Myanmar border, the lush forested village of Vangchhia lies nestled in the Champhai-Farkawn mountain range of Mizoram. For years, hundreds of megalithic stone sentinels or menhirs have stood guard in this little village.
A revered site for them, the locals call it the Kawtchhuah Ropuithe or the Great Gateway, a name that was as enigmatic as the engravings on the menhirs.
It was in the summer of 2010 that this rare site finally came into the archaeological spotlight. P Rohmingthanga, the convener of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH)’s Mizoram chapter, was touring the Mizo countryside to discover and document lesser-known heritage sites. Fascinated by the mysterious menhirs of Vangchhia, Rohmingthanga urged the Archaeological Survey of India to investigate the site.
Thanks to this retired IAS officer’s consistent efforts, ASI’s director-general Rakesh Tiwari (the first archaeologist to hold the organisation’s top job in over two decades) accepted an invitation to visit Vangchhia. Accompanied by a team of ASI archaeologists and INTACH officials, he visited the remote village in November 2015.
Excited by the discovery of ancient pot shards at one of the sites, the ASI director-general soon dispatched an excavation team to Vangchhia.
In the excavations that followed, the team discovered as many as 20 cobbled stone structures, reminiscent of ancient graves, fragments of ancient charcoal and several organic remains that were sent to specialized laboratories for radio carbon dating.
However, the find that excited the team the most, was a 200-meter long water pavilion(a pool of water surrounded by an elevated platform that acts as a recreational area), a stone structure similar to those found in Mughal cities that was probably used as an entertainment arena.
This was a huge discovery because the archaeologists believed that the existence of a water pavilion indicated the strong likelihood of a prosperous ancient settlement in the region.
Recalling the expedition, Dr. Sujeet Nayan (Assistant Superintending Archaeologist at ASI Delhi and Director of the Vangchhia excavation) told Northeast Live,
“We were exploring what lay beneath the bushes and thick foliage of the forest. It was amazing to stumble upon so many things. This site could hold traces of a lost city or even a greater lost civilization. Which is why we need more time and research to reach a final conclusion.”
The first ASI excavation team camped at Vangchhia for about a month. Their preliminary archaeological excavations suggested that the village could be one of the largest necropolis sites in the world, besides providing clues to an ancient civilization.
Over the following months, other teams came to the area to try to uncover the secrets of the settlement that may have once existed there. Efforts were also made to gain some insight into the unclear and undated origin of menhirs.
One of the most fascinating discoveries made at Vangchhia is the Pipute Lamlian. Roughly translating to ancestors’ pathway in Mizo, Pipute Lamlian is the apparent remains of a footpath that travels through Vangchhia before ultimately forking out in three directions, the north, the south and the east. Lined with rocks bearing engravings of bison-heads, flowers and human figures (similar to those at Kawtchhuah Ropui), the pathway looks like a rough staircase had been built into the mountainside.
Similar megalithic stones have also been found near the villages of Farkawn, Lianpui, Khankawn, Khawbung, and Vaphai in Mizoram. In another unique find, remnants of small man-made cave dwellings, topped with menhirs taller than an average full-grown man, have been unearthed at the hilltop village of Dungtlang.
Locals believe that a historic migration across the Chin Hills of Myanamar was documented for perpetuity in the mysterious engravings on these menhirs. There is even a local folk legend that Kawtchhuah Ropui is the entrance to a secret pathway that runs all the way to the Tiau river on the Indo-Myanmar border. This is why researchers believe that these megalithic stones could finally lift the fog over the history of how the Mizo community came to occupy the lands they do today.
While the ASI’s research teams have gleaned some interesting information about the menhirs and settlements through their excavations, the big questions still remain. How old are these menhirs? Who were the people who erected them and used them as a canvas? How were these huge boulders transported up the steep mountainside from the riverbanks (the only apparent stone quarry) deep down in the valley? With the current interest in Vangchhia, and sites around it, it can only be hoped that further research will help decipher the mystery of Mizoram’s fascinating monoliths.