The Mamallapuram Shore Temple, constructed on the deep southern shores of the Bay of Bengal, is one of the oldest stone structures on the planet. It was built around the beginning of the Anno Domini (AD). The site consists of three temple structures, subsidiary structures, and statues primarily built with granite. Prominent statues are that of a lion and elephant with great significance in the way it was rock-cut. Chariots are the primary subsidiary structures other than the temple. It is inevitable not to be marveled at the temple design, intricate and precise carvings and inscriptions. Carvings are made on a monolithic rock on which the works of an elephant and its ear with its loose skin are nearly impossible even today. Inscriptions, according to linguists, is poetic and metaphorical, a sophisticated language nevertheless. Another marvel is Krishna’s Butter Ball, a massive boulder of rock sitting tight above a rocky slope.
Lying on the shores, the town at the time was prosperous and crowding with business from the port. The temple itself was a landmark for the sailors.
That’s just a tourist guide for the ones who would enjoy strolling the area munching chips and peanuts, take a few snaps leaning against the stone walls and sitting on the animal statues.
For the inquisitive and insightful, it is a different story altogether. For one, the structure still stands tall! The structure shames the fact it was built several centuries ago. There is no doubt it has withstood the test of time — earthquakes, meteor showers, seismic sea waves, climate changes and other natural calamities (possibly manmade ones too).
Secondly, the site is a treasure trove of information — temple design, extremely detailed and precise carvings, inscriptions. The inscriptions particularly are brilliant and interesting. It tells us that there was a language (several centuries ago), written and spoken, and proving a literate population. Not only that the language, accordingly to genuine linguists, is highly sophisticated, poetic and metaphorical. It is also rhetorical enough to trick us in receiving only the literal meaning unless we look deeper. In other words, there was a medium to convey — language, and a medium to persist — stone, both of which our ancestors seem to have known well to last for a very long time.
Lastly, we fail to wonder about the purpose, science and tools behind building these stone structures. Massive boulders perfectly balanced in position, either on a dome or on land and haven’t moved a bit as if in penance.
There are several other marvelous structures (consider Brihadeeshwara Temple that tell the same or similar tale offering information of some kind. The structure, if not the information, is an evidence that our ancestors lived in ancient times, and mostly definitively wanted to communicate with their descendants — us!
Or perhaps they are providing us a strong hint to know or learn something that we still are missing in our lives in the modern age — something we should do or refrain from doing. Maybe they wanted to tell us how life was in their times because they had the information of a doomsday, like the Mayan calendar (definitive or not).
Whatever it is, the structure is talking to us; more like our ancestors themselves having a conversation with us even after they are long gone; a conversation between the past and the future. The question is are we listening.
Leaving such hard artifacts to last for millennia should only encourage us to think that our ancestors left it for a reason. It is left to us to understand the reason and decipher what they truly intended to say.
We can continue to fool ourselves in thinking that our ancestors built such structures with chisels and sandstones, spoke aboriginal dialects, and lived a primitive life. On the other hand, we are proud of our inventions that combust our planet from within. No matter what, these structures will continue to exist and echo the information that our ancestors intended to broadcast for any generation that is willing to receive, if not us.
What would be the case with us and our descendants?
All our information — history, science, culture is primarily electronic — bits and bytes; forget paper, you will know why. Will what we intend to convey if we intend to, reach our descendants?
If the sun were to yawn a little wider, the solar waves would scorch our planet. With the moon drifting away a few centimeters every year, there will come a time sooner or later when the waves will rampage the land mass. Wild seismic movements, meteors or asteroids escaping Jupiter’s watch, the Universe expanding and inducing climatic changes, and the worst calamity of all times — Wars that man has always been notoriously known for. Should we be exposed to any of these, there is no hope for any evidence of our existence to be left behind. All our megastructures, which most definitely will not stand tall like the structures that our ancestors built, will be crumbled into a pile of debris or fly away as dust later. The bits, bytes, and paper will all be scorched into ashes, or soak and disintegrate into food for the algae, leaving no trace of our history, science, culture and the technological advancements that we are proud of. Our very existence would be wiped off clean. Or in the aftermath present us as primitives that failed to develop intelligence.
Perhaps that is why we are firing vehicles out of our orbit to broadcast our existence elsewhere. We seem to be too certain that we will leave this planet … uninhabitable. Or possibly have reserved the information of having to leave this planet on account of a known future celestial calamity. Have our scholars and leaders understood what our ancestors intended to convey, and miseducated the rest of us?
Eons later, if the future inhabitants, our descendants or not, were to explore our existence, our history, our culture, our science, what would we have left for them to learn about us? With all the bits and bytes scorched or washed away.
Maybe that’s why they say written in stone.
The original idea of this post came from Sanjeev during an interesting broader conversation. I am lucky to be the messenger.