Like the rest of South India, the state of Kerala is a treasure trove of megalithic sites. The most impressive of these is the one at Ariyannur near Kandanassery Village in Thrissur District. This is what the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India), Thrissur Circle page has to say about the site:

Ariyannur is a megalithic site with huge umbrella-like stones (Topikkal) covering the burial. Six umbrella stones stand here in a group. Of them four are intact and two are partly broken. An umbrella stone consists of a curvilinear laterite stone with a wide circular flat base resting on four clinostats. The clinostats bevelled on the outside and each one of them faces cardinal direction. The umbrella stone looks like an oversize mushroom lopping a stem of truncated paraboloid figure. It would seem that the stone structures erected over an urn burial. Locally it is called as Kudaikkallu (umbrella stone). Recent excavations at Ariyannur have revealed two urns, small one and large one. The bigger urn has the ring chain decorations with parallel symmetrical ends. The site is a centrally protected monument under the control of Archaeological Survey of India since 1951.

The mushroom stones are more famously known as the Ariyannur Umbrellas. As mentioned in the excerpt, they are said to be an example of ‘Toppikal’ (cap stone). However, the more appropriate term seems to be ‘Kodakkal’ (umbrella stone). The megaliths of Kerala have been categorized by archaeologists as follows:

  1. Toppikal or Cap Stone: Monument made of a semi-circular laterite stone block covering a huge underground urn burial. ‘Toppi’ means hat in Malayalam and is a reference to the hat-like appearance of the stones.
  2. Kodakkal or Umbrella Stone: Monument made of two sets of stones – one large, semi-circular, convex stone with a flat base held up by three or four upright stones beneath. The Ariyannur Umbrellas are an example of this type. Another example are the Kudakkallu Parambu of Chermanangad, also in Thrissur District.
  3. Muniyara or Rock Cut Sepulchers: These are carved out of laterite rock (found in hillocks, plateaus or cliff sides). They can have one or more chambers with entrances, passages and portholes.
  4. Kalvalayam or Stone Circles: These are stone circles made up of upright granite or laterite slabs. Some believe that corpses were left within these circles to decay or be consumed by scavengers.
  5. Muniyara or Cist Burials: These are burial structures marked off by upright stone slabs. Sometimes, the cist was underground and had a capstone marking it above the ground. These were believed to be resting sites of holy men (Munis).
  6. Nadukkal or Menhir: Monument comprising a huge upright stone commemorating a warrior or chief. Very often, the stone had the name or image of the deceased inscribed on it.
  7. Nannangadi or Giant Urns: These are huge funerary stone or terracotta urns, covered by lids, and containing burial goods.

This list of terms is not exhaustive. I will be posting about more megalithic sites from the state. Archaeologists associate them with the emergence of Iron Age settlements in the region and the appearance of Dravidian culture.

Image Attribution:  The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows one of the six Ariyannur Umbrellas. One can notice the mushroom-like appearance. This photograph was uploaded by Ranjith Siji of Ernakulam, Kerala.