Hindu funerary stones. A study of their iconography, function and variety as from the context of South-Eastern Maharashtra


Letizia Trinco

PhD defended at: 

Sapienza University of Rome



The present study aims at throwing light on a lesser explored facet of the Hindu set of beliefs on death and afterlife, that is to say their material culture expressions resulting in the erection of funerary monuments.
Although widespread all over India and known to scholars since the colonial time, only few systematic studies have been so far carried out on the wide number of structures which can be ascribed to the Hindu funerary milieu since ancient time to present; this was certainly favoured, on one hand, by the paucity and ambiguity of references to them contained in literary sources, and, on the other, by the highly destructive nature of the corpse treatment in India, something which is too often associated with a supposed lack of regularity in the production of semata.
Ethnographical and archaeological surveys actually reveal an authentic proliferation of such materials in the frame of Hinduism, for which the present study proposes a first consistent classification. Taking into account the manifold regional varieties of shapes and designations - too often flattened by the English umbrella name “memorial stones” – this work proposes a categorization of the Hindu funerary artifacts on the ground of three objective parameters (structure, function and nature) and analyzes their coming into existence as a consequence of that attitude towards the commemoration of the deceased that at the level of folk religion may turn into the divinization of the departed soul by different degrees of identification with God.
Focusing on the subclass of materials which are dedicated to individuals who perished in extraordinary circumstances (namely, hero-stones), the present work also offers an illustrated catalogue of materials, which is the result of the collection of over three hundred specimens in a selected region of India (the south-eastern districts of Maharashtra) and the first of its kind encompassing a detailed art-historical appraisal.