Understanding the Art and Culture of the Begur Hero Stone
The Begur hero stone is one of the most significant art objects from the medieval Deccan. At about 6 and a half feet wide and 6' 8" tall, it is one of the largest such art works ever discovered. The hero stone is fashioned from a granite slab, carved and inscribed in mid- to- low relief. It features six lines of text in Old Kannada, detailing the death of a lord called the Nagattara in battle and his succession by one Iruga. The Ganga king Ereyappa then granted Iruga a number of villages in commemoration of his predecessor's valour in battle.
I've created a reconstruction of the hero stone, colourised to try and capture the imagery that its creators might have had in mind. Below, I analyse the hero stone to extract information about medieval South Karnataka.
The elaborate headgear of the Nagattara and his elephant-riding enemy, Viramahendra, provide an insight into the material culture of medieval South Deccan courts. Hero stones are a useful historical resource because these details - clothing, hairstyles and headgear can sometimes be used to date them if there isn't an inscription.
The presence of the apsaras alongside the Nagattara also reveals something about medieval attitudes to women. In other hero stones, the valiant dead hero is carried to heaven by apsaras and once there, he is again entertained by women. Other courtly texts, such as the Manasollasa, suggest that rulers were meant to be surrounded by beautiful women as symbols of their virility and prowess. Women were also frequently the targets of violence or abduction when armies clashed, suggesting that in medieval Indian cultures and religions, just like the rest of the world, women were objectified, "trophies" to be earned by men through brutal martial achievements.
Written, illustrated, and designed by Anirudh Kanisetti. This first appeared on the Instagram page of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, Bengaluru Chapter.
Adiga, Malini. The Making of Southern Karnataka. Orient BlackSwan, 2006.
Ali, Daud. Courtly Culture and Political Life in Early Medieval India. Oxford University Press, 2006.
Fleet, J.F. "Begur Inscription of Ereyappa" in Epigraphia Indica, vol VI.
Illustration of the Begur Hero Stone by Anirudh Kanisetti. All rights reserved. Do not reuse without permission.