Friday, February 29, 2008

Mysterious monolith - grows and shrinks with the moon

Ranchi, Jharkhand, India - It is a treasure of the bygone era. The capital's heart was named after it. Shady trees stood by it to protect its sheen. Tribals worshipped it, foreigners used to see with astonishment and locals used to measure it on every full moon and no-moon nights.

The thar pakhna (thar: stone, pakhna: living) might have gone into oblivion, but not its characteristic. Considered as a blessing to the tribal people, the living stone, now sandwiched between the hostel of the Government Girls' Polytechnic and its boundary wall, once enjoyed pride of place at Charan Pahan's garden.

Charan, the Munda headman of the locality in 1860, did not know how the stone increased and decreased every fortnight, but took the trouble to get the fact entered in the District Gazetteer, lest people forget it.

Documentary evidences support the fact that the monolith increased by a foot or so on every full-moon night and again shrunk within the next fortnight. A few books and souvenirs published from Ranchi in the late 19th and early 20th century, have mentioned about the monolith and its interesting characteristic.

According to geologist Nitish Priyadarshi, it is a rock with perforations that soak water during high tide. "It is a tidal occurrence. The rock being porous, it absorbs water during the phase of full moon. By the night of full moon it attains its maximum height. As it gradually exudes water during the no-moon phase, the height decreases and on the no-moon night it has the minimum height," explained Priyadarshi.

He, however, pointed out that Ranchi rocks do not have the similar kind of characteristic. "The rock must have been planted at its place years ago (may be thousand years ago). Other rocks in this region are not porous," he added.

Ironically, very few residents of the city now know the monolith, which remained the talk of the town till 1985. The guards of the Government Girls' Polytechnic do not know about it, neither the students putting up at the hostel. Not even the girls know about the uniqueness of the stone whose room is situated just opposite to it on the hostel premises.

"How do you expect young girls to know about the history of this place? No one has made any effort to popularise it," said the tribal gardener, Mahesh Mahato, of the hostel. "I know because we worship it," he added.

Jalendar, the little cook of the hostel, too knows about it, because he heard about the stone's peculiarity from an old guard of Chhotanagpur Girls High School (opposite the polytechnic). "The stone is more than seven feet, my hands do not reach to measure it on new-moon or no-moon nights. I wish I could measure it," said Jalender.

The teachers of the polytechnic feel that it is a real treasure that should have been protected by the Government, but refuse to talk about it, fearing it would draw unwanted visitors to the girls hostel.

"Had it been protected before construction of the hostel and the polytechnic, we would have had nothing to say. But now the institution is functioning and we do not want any kind of disturbances here," said a teacher.


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