Hire Benakal (or Hirebenakal) is a site with megalithic monuments in the Indian state of Karnataka. It lies 10 kilometres west of Gangavati in the district of Koppal. Built between 800 and 200 BC, the complex consists of around 400 monuments, making it the largest megalithic complex in India – and India can boast of 2,000 such sites! Since 1955 the complex has been protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). On 19 May 2021 Hire Benakal was nominated for a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The complex was built more than 2000 years ago between 800 and 200 BC. That was during the Indian Iron Age which lasted for more than 1000 years. The first mention of the complex dates from 1835 in a report written by Philip Meadows Taylor in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. Nothing was heard for a century after that until an article by the famous British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler who researched the site in 1944-1948. However, this was not published until 1975. Only during the last few years has further archaeological research been carried out by Andrew Bauer of the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University in California. Within a total area of 20 hectare he has discovered more than 1000 different monuments, a collection of all kinds of burial structures including menhirs, stone circles and dolmens.
The area contains more than 400 dolmens, most standing close together in clusters. They are all chambers with three sides covered with a capstone. The smallest examples measure 50 to 100 cm, the largest up to three metres. There are also dolmens or coffins which have been buried, most having collapsed. Many have a round hole in the wall (a porthole) which allowed the soul to pass through it. Overhanging cliffs in the area have rock drawings of dancing people, hunting scenes and animals. One remarkable find is a sort of stone drum with a diameter of 2 metres, which stands on top of a large rock 10 metres high. When beaten with a wooden hammer, the sound can be heard up to one kilometre away.
The area has unfortunately not always been well protected. There have been many illegal excavations and dolmens have been used for cattle shelters. As a result, many have collapsed. Now that it is nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the compex will be far better protected.